Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beneath the surface-

A recent, welcome email from a former honors student— Quickly skimming, searching for the word “interesting”-- for that was the word she always used when life became too tough, too overwhelming, interfering with her learning— Not finding, replying remembering our quiet talks--

Apathy and reluctance from a gifted student after selecting a program of her passion-- Searching for phrases, approaches -- Listening-- Failing to connect—

A phone call and a joyful visit from a former student significantly challenged by a reading/ writing disability-- Relishing the connection as he reveled working in his passion in a local garage with vehicles— Not forgetting the trials and tribulations he endured as colleagues repeatedly questioned his lack of responsibility—not even carrying home his marketing textbook—he read at a second grade level –

Rejoicing for just one moment upon realizing that reaching beneath a young person allowed me a different perspective; yet always, always regretting my failures to interpret what was beneath the surface so a youngster might become engaged in learning.

And ever questioning —

Beneath the surface-- what role does a learning disability play? How often do students with invisible disabilities present another face to the world? How best might I reach them and advocate for them in a world that expects everyone to read and write?

Beneath the surface-- where and what are their interests? How might I help young people engage in learning for which they hold a passion?

Beneath the surface-- what role might the wounds from negative school interactions have on their reluctance to learn? How can I attend to student’s school wounds?

Beneath the surface-- how might living in a culture of poverty influence attitudes toward learning? What approach may help me to reach more students who life circumstance is beyond their control?

Beneath the surface-- in what way might a fixed mind-set influence learning? What strategies might I employ to change a student’s mind-set to that of growth?

And wondering---

What if I had always listened more carefully, observed more closely as I worked with students challenged by learning?

What if I had adopted Konrad Glogowski’s perspective on passion based learning?
“If I am really serious about helping my students find ideas and topics they are passionate about, I need to forget about my course content and step outside that “comfort zone of content.” What I have prepared, what I deem pedagogically sound, may be wonderful but, to my students, it will always be mere course content, something one learns in order to “do well” - a hoop that every student needs to jump through and certainly not something that one wants to come back to and keep exploring.

As an educator, I need to step outside my “comfort zone of content” by sharing my own self: things that I myself am passionate about. I need to stop peddling content and show that I am a learner too."
What if I had followed Kirsten Olson’s suggestions for preventing and healing wounded students?
"Acknowledge school wounds. …The first step in healing is listening to the student, acknowledging that his or her feelings are real, and giving the student space to talk about and reflect on those feelings.

Question labels. We need to question many of the ways in which schools judge, sort, and classify students and help students understand that these labels need not be with them for life. Whenever a student receives a test score or a class placement, teachers should remind both students and parents of the plasticity of ability and the power of individuals to change their academic paths through effort(Dweck, 2006).

Remind students of their own contributions to school success or failure. Most researchers find that self-discipline, persistence, and ambition are at least as significant to academic success as innate ability (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). Students need to focus on working hard, establishing good work habits, and setting high goals. If students have received negative evaluations, teachers should both encourage them to question the kinds of judgments school authorities make and support the students in their efforts at self-definition and redefinition.

Reflect on how you speak with students. In the crush of the school day and the pressures of accountability, school personnel often cease to hear how they sound to students.

Don't Label—Listen. By listening to our students attentively and without judgment, we can help them heal.”
What if I had been more cognizant of the concept of a “Warm Demander”?
“The good news is that although engagement is affected by students' economic and social conditions, teachers can organize the classroom in ways that dramatically increase student engagement.

Becoming a warm demander begins with establishing a caring relationship that convinces students that you believe in them. The saying goes, "It's not what you say that matters; it's how you say it." In acting as a warm demander, "how you say it" matters, but who you are and what students believe about your intentions matter more. When students know that you believe in them, they will interpret even harsh-sounding comments as statements of care from someone with their best interests at heart.

Use your knowledge of culture and learning styles to increase your understanding of individual students. Warm demanders observe students closely to learn more about their idiosyncrasies, interests, experiences, and talents.

What makes warm demanders different is that they insist on students meeting those expectations. They establish supports to ensure that students will learn, and they
communicate clearly to students that showing respect to the teacher and to classmates is nonnegotiable.” Elizabeth Bondy and Dorene D. Ross
What if I had been familiar with fixed/growth mind-set
“Students who are mastery-oriented (with a growth mindset) think about learning, not about proving how smart they are. When they experience a setback, they focus on effort and strategies instead of worrying that they are incompetent.

Teachers should focus on students' efforts and not on their abilities. When students succeed, teachers should praise their efforts or their strategies, not their intelligence. (Contrary to popular opinion, praising intelligence backfires by making students overly concerned with how smart they are and overly vulnerable to failure.)

When students fail, teachers should also give feedback about effort or strategies -- what the student did wrong and what he or she could do now. We have shown that this is a key ingredient in creating mastery-oriented students.
In other words, teachers should help students value effort. Too many students think effort is only for the inept. Yet sustained effort over time is the key to outstanding achievement.

In a related vein, teachers should teach students to relish a challenge. Rather than praising students for doing well on easy tasks, they should convey that doing easy tasks is a waste of time. They should transmit the joy of confronting a challenge and of struggling to find strategies that work.

Finally, teachers can help students focus on and value learning. Too many students are hung up on grades and on proving their worth through grades. Grades are important, but learning is more important.” Carol Dweck
How much more might my students have learned? How might my classroom have been more joyous?

I’m wondering, how many educators, unaware or overwhelmed by expectations, fail to look beneath the surface and lose opportunities to engage, to share in the delight of learning?

To each of my students for whom I didn’t seek deep enough beneath the surface, this is for you---

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Urgent?? Facing the future--

In 2006, from Clarence Fisher:
“I was worried about hundreds and thousands of teachers who were trying to "catch up" with skills their kids were learning, thinking that if they worked bit by bit, over time, they would be in the same place as their students were. I thought at the time (and realize even more strongly now) that this simply isn't true.

Working incrementally will only leave us further and further behind the literacies that our kids are working with, playing with, growing. I believe that we are soon reaching that "all - or - nothing" point that Doug talks about. It is a tipping point, but I believe (without trying to be too dramatic) that we are currently standing on a dangerous edge. We have created a lot of resources, momentum, and pedagogy this year as a blogging network striving to understand what many of these new technologies mean for classroom life and learning. We have demonstrated the value of these tools, and have learned how to use them. But if these efforts are cut off, either for political reasons, or through reaching a point of stasis for some other reason such as a simple loss of momentum, we will be in a troubling area.”
Jump to 2007 From Futurelab on 2020:
“By 2020, digital technology is embedded and distributed in most objects. All personal artifacts – your keys, clothes, shoes, notebook, newspaper – have devices embedded within them which can communicate with each other. As a result, we will interact with these technologies in ways which are more seamlessly and invisibly integrated into normal activities...

Digital technology is everywhere; it is embedded in everything around you from city streets, to buildings, to flagpoles and bus stops. These technologies can talk to each other and to the technologies and sensors you have embedded in your own clothes. As a result, your environment can adapt to you and connect with you and know everything about you – where you are, how you feel, what you’ve done, what you might want to do.” ...

If educators are to shape the future of education (and not have it shaped for them by external technical developments) it is crucial that we engage with developments in digital technologies at the earliest stages. We need to understand what may be emerging, explore its implications for education, and understand how best we might harness these changes."
From Miguel Guhlin via Scott McLeod:

Urgent?? Would you agree?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Wayfinding in an online community of practice--

“On the side, in the middle, questioning, nudging, modeling, holding back sitting on my hands”

“Where I once might have suggested or pushed in a conversation, now others begin to take that lead. As an almost out of body experience, I hear my voice slowly morphing from that of leader as trust builds and the voices of the community grow and mature.” --Powerful Learning Practice
Deeply honored, humbled by the opportunity to undertake the role of community leader in the private virtual learning community of the Illinois/Ohio Cohort of Will and Sheryl’s Powerful Learning Practice

Tentative, not always confident in the best response to a reluctant member--

Enthusiastic, sensing the incredible synergy that arises from teaming with creative, smart, and innovative educators

Hesitant, at times unsure of when that “sitting on my hands” will engender passioned discussions--

Confident, absolutely sold on the PLP model and its value--

These tensions, this dissonance—only compel my own stretching, my moving out of my comfort zone as I find my way as a community leader. At this point, it's messy, it’s exhilarating, it’s formidable and it’s stupefying – 21st century learning at its best!!! Learning that brings new meaning to being open to new ideas, to flexibility, to being nimble— challenging and demanding.

As I find my way, seeking tone that is most welcoming, and yet again true, I find myself on the side in private emails and comments to walls on the NING encouraging those who continue to find this environment daunting. I’m more comfortable here—

And then in the middle, asking questions of clarification, hoping to push folk deeper in thinking or in considering an alternate perspective. Composing these questions—again with attention to tone –does not come easily-- wanting just the right words, just the right phrase, in my own voice--often going off to think on the best approach as I walk in the park or finish the dishes or wash my hair before returning to respond. I’m glad to be stretching a bit here –

Most challenging – sensing the right time to be quiet at the computer, just sitting on my hands, letting go -- allowing members of the community the opportunity for their own personal messy learning. I often feel like I’m on a roller coaster as passioned conversations take off and then suddenly few voices are raised-- I’m confident with my choice to step back and then I’m questioning the appropriateness-- I’ve been using my “gut feeling” since it often worked when I was back in the classroom, yet that was then and face to face and not messy. And I’m out of my comfort zone, and I’m supposed to be leading – therein, for me, lies the pull of a community of practice—an ongoing wayfinding toward an accomplished global practice.

This community is growing and maturing, members are emerging as leaders—and as I noted “my voice is morphing” -- its authenticity, regard for tone always constant, yet a nebulous evolution with perhaps less need for me to make those difficult choices— I’m wondering how far we may travel? With Sheryl’s brilliant path markers, I’m guessing there are no boundaries, no limits to my wayfinding and that of those emerging community leaders. This journey is one special one indeed to be continued---

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