Learning Conversation_ Part I

It was refreshing to hear Maureen Dockendorf, our staff development co-ordinator, (Director of Instruction), speak at our Building Leadership Capacity (BLC*) series introduction.

She encouraged us to become ‘intellectual companions’ that enter into ‘learning conversations’. The part I liked most about her talk was the direction of the conversation. She spoke of:
Not the Knowing, but the Process of Inquiry.
Not covering the curriculum, but ‘uncovering’ the curriculum.
A focus in innovation and creativity… how do we model this… every day?

Maureen also spoke of the 5 needs that we (students/teachers/learners) have:
The need to feel confident,
The need to feel like we belong,
The need to be potent- feel you have made a difference,
The need to feel useful, and
The need to have a sense of optimism.

(She identified her source for this, but I didn’t write it down.) [“The reference to the needs of the 21st learner were from the former president of ASCD , Martha Bruckner.” -Thanks for passing on this information in your comment Maureen.]

I think that when using technology in the classroom, it would be prudent to keep these needs in mind!

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Learning Conversations Part II

I started by saying Maureen’s presentation was refreshing. I think I felt that way because when I look back at my blog, I can see parallels to what she spoke about. I think that it is significant that the Director of Instruction in our district is prioritizing these ideas when talking to teachers interested in leadership… especially as more and more pressure is being placed on districts to perform well on standardized tests. So here is my take on what Maureen said relative to what I have written about, (here in this blog so far). Also note my Meta-Analysis of these two parts below.

Not the Knowing, but the Process of Inquiry:

Student leader writing in a Reflective Journal

Articulate your Thinking
One overall school goal of”Articulate Thinking”.
Building the skills necessary to develop articulate students who can express their thoughts in meaningful, articulate ways.

The Philosophical Bent:
I don’t really care if my daughters, upon graduation, can identify the subordinate clause in a sentence or if they can tell me how to find the volume of a cone… I do care that they can express themselves in thoughtful, meaningful ways and demonstrate social responsibility in their decision making.

Sharing and Engaging: Web 2-point-0h-Yeah!
Vanja both wanted, and demanded a learning conversation. For me it was wonderful to see a student expecting more from her peers, or should I say, from her community of learners.
From Cynthia, “I learned more by sharing than by searching.”
From Mona, “You actually get to learn with each other and help others learn.”
From Lily, “It was fun doing this project and I enjoyed this kind of learning experience when you get to find your own knowledge rather than laying it all out for you. I feel that I have achieved something really good each time I’ve found some interesting facts on the blog and the dialogues, which made me put more time into these things. I realized that this could be another way of learning new things and also communicating with each other rather than finding information by yourself.

“How do you know when your students are learning?… When they are asking the right questions.

“the use of blogs to learn not just to teach”
I need to ask myself:
‘Am I adding technology to my teaching or providing students with new learning and new ways to learn?’
‘Am I creating an environment where students will express, synthesize, and reflect on their (and each other’s) learning, or am I creating a new way to report out?’ (A glorified poster board).
‘Am I encouraging students to be lifelong learners?’

A side note: The curriculum does not come up in my line of questioning… it seems almost insignificant in this meta conversation. Does it matter what the content is, or isn’t the process far more important?

I think that if we want students to be lifelong learners, and we want them to take ownership of their own learning to any extent, then subject discipline must be, at the very least, ‘loosened’ up. [Which leads us to…]

Not covering the curriculum, but ‘uncovering’ the curriculum:


David Warlick’s K12 Online Conference Keynote (Derailing Education)
“This is why the foundation of education systems today should not be the rails, but it should be the side trips. It should not be the central standard curriculum, but it should be those directions that students, that learners, both teachers and students, can navigate to on their own.” (David Warlick)

…the teacher as the compass. We point in a direction, (not necessarily the direction that the student is going), and we are a reference point or guide to the learning. As students sail (rather than ride the rails) they must choose their destination, (what they want to learn), and tack and adjust their path as they go… using the teacher as a compass that keeps them on their ‘learning’ course.

The way of the teacher is a practice in trust- (Stone Soup)
“In keeping with “the Stone Soup” metaphor, the teacher brings the cauldron, builds the fire, puts the “magic” stone into the boiling water and trusts that eventually the audience will engage enough to bring their own hidden ingredients to the process.” (Mia Lobel, Michael Neubauer, Randy Swedburg)

Christopher D. Sessums :: Competing Paradigms and Educational Reform
(Linked above to his post, not my short exerpt)
The crucial elements that will sustain school improvement is not high-stakes testing, standards, or reactionary accountability programs – “it is simple human trust… that rests on four supports: respect, competency, integrity, and personal regard for others” (George 2006). “
In terms of education, the alternate paradigm acknowledges the following broad perspective:

  • Curriculum is best derived from the needs and interests of the learners.
  • Developmental appropriateness should supersede national assessment.

“The developmental needs for learners are widespread and cannot be easily or meaningfully reduced to a pencil-based exam.”

Articulate your Thinking (again, but this time from Gary Kern)
I would differentiate all learning, but I would try to cluster learning objectives so that teachers can continue to play a crucial role in learning and still be the main facilitator for learning. The computer, in its ideal form, is the tool that allows us to individualize student work. It will allow us to communicate in real time, learn in real time, and assess in real time. It will be the lever to better learning. Teachers, however, will need to be better than ever before. They will be the fuel for the flame.

…Teams of teachers would still work together to deliver the curriculum, but the interaction and model would be much different than today. Some genius will lay out the curriculum into standards and objectives that are clear and easy to follow. Teachers will bring the objectives to life, and technology will allow students to demonstrate their learning in ways unimaginable only a few short years ago. Problem based learning and rich task learning will be for the masses.

A focus in innovation and creativity… how do we model this… every day?

Bloom's Taxonomy (Revised)

Square Peg, Round Hole
Sir Ken Robinson, Ted Talks: Do schools today kill creativity? (Worth watching again!)

Many of the Square/Round Peg Students (that don’t fit into our other-shaped schools) are the future thinkers/dreamers/innovators that are going to meaningfully change our world. We need to recognize their future value… We have an obligation to nurture them, and to develop their enthusiasm for learning. It isn’t just about not stifling creativity or not making schools so alien… it is about creating an environment where every child can thrive… Not making the misfits fit, but rather helping them create a space that fits them.

Application of Constructivist Principles to the Practice of Instructional Technology

  • Think in terms of designing learning environments rather than selecting instructional strategies. Metaphors are important. Does the designer “select” a strategy or “design” a learning experience? Grabinger, Dunlap, and Heath (1993) provide design guidelines for what they call realistic environments for active learning (REAL); these guidelines reflect a constructivist orientation:
    • Extend students’ responsibility for their own learning.
    • Make learning meaningful.
    • Promote active knowledge construction.
  • Think of instruction as providing tools that teachers and students can use for learning; make these tools user-friendly. This frame of mind is virtually the opposite of “teacher-proofing” instructional materials to assure uniform adherence to designers’ use expectations. Instead, teachers and students are encouraged to make creative and intelligent use of instructional tools and resources. (Bonnie Skaalid)

Synthesize and Add Meaning [To some extent, this fits in the above two categories as well.]

“High expectations are important and needed, but not within a rigorous environment that does not encourage differentiation and flexibility within classrooms. Learning is inherently a dynamical process, not isolated events that can be entirely centrally planned, and our educational language as well as policies should recognize this. We need to embrace differentiation, flexibility and high expectations for all students.” (Wesley Fryer)

But there is a dichotomy here: Our ‘educational language’ around standardization and accountability juxtaposed with differentiation and flexibility… we seem to have two mutually exclusive camps, yet there seems to be a move to embrace both. To embrace both is to accomplish neither.

We need to be adept at creating flexible, differentiated learning environments.

We need to be computer literate, and also be able to teach a new kind of literacy. (Warlick)

We need to challenge students by asking questions, guiding their learning, and helping them to develop their own personal learning environments.

We need to teach students to synthesize information and add new meaning.

We must change what we do. (And we need visionary leaders to lead the way!)
“We need visionary educational leadership that understands and effectively communicates the importance of emphasizing student CREATIVITY and the creation of original (and remixed) knowledge products.” (Wesley Fryer)

A Story About A Tree
…This started out as a story about a tree, and it will end with the planting of some seeds…

How will we use the community building aspects of the internet to foster learning in schools?

How do we make schools into ‘modern day’ learning communities?

How do we get students to engage rather than escape?

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Meta-Analysis: Hyperlinks fuel the fire


At first, this post was going to be a short reporting-out of my BLC meeting, or more specifically Maureen’s talk. Then I reflected on her words and created Part II, which was going to become this post… but the process of creating Part II ‘planted the seed’ for this post to evolve as it has.

In creating Part II, I tried to put enough information into each section that it really wasn’t necessary to follow a link unless the reader had a personal interest in the specific topic. The ‘effort’ to create this section, in itself, was a meaningful learning experience. Searching for relevant connections and following the hyper-linked-thoughts transformed the post from a simple learning conversation to multiple learning conversations… it allowed me to synthesize ideas and add meaning to the words that I originally heard at the meeting. It took hours to do this, but it was worth it – I became a participant in the learning process – I created internal learning conversations and expressed them externally here.

How does the presence of hyperlinks change the experience of this post for the reader? I can answer that for myself having been consumed by my own reading of edublogs over the past few months. The challenge I now face is being selective on which hyperlinks, which side trips, I choose to go down… this is proving to be a skill that I am learning/honing… but the decision-making process has more to do with personal interests than a logical/deductive process. In keeping with the theme of this post, the act of effectively following hyperlinks is in and of itself a process of inquiry, it requires taking tangents from the curriculum and seeking to ‘uncover’ what is interesting, and it requires the participant to creatively select (personal) relevance. Teaching this skill will be a challenge… one that cannot be measured by standardized tests, but will be a necessary skill for the 21st Century.

Feb. 5th… I have to add hyperlinks to this section! Jesse Lubinsky from Irvington School District in NY sent a video link to Jennifer Cronk. Her post was picked up by Will Richardson who is in my Netvibes feedreader. The video is from, “Digital Ethnography @ Kansas State University“. It is a fantastic video that exemplifies how web2.0 is changing how we connect, what we do… and who we are. I have tried to ‘say’ things on this video… it doesn’t just speak what I have tried to say, (a number of times on this blog), it breathes it!

Digital Ethnography @ Kansas State University

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*What is the BLC series?
The Building Leadership Capacity series is open to teachers interested in both formal and informal leadership. The four sessions will focus on inquiring and exploring the building of personal leadership capacity through a variety of experiences. The series puts a high priority on opportunities for participants to talk about leadership, bringing the unique perspective of a diverse group of educational professionals together in one room (using the School District Learning Team model**).

**What is a Learning Team
Learning teams are small groups of educators that meet to engage in a professional growth experience focused on improving instructional practice and student learning. Learning teams are facilitated by a variety of educators who have expertise in the topical/curricular area, and in facilitation. Two to three hour meetings occur six times in the year and take the following format: individual write, sharing, discussion, work-time, reporting back and a commitment for the next meeting.
Learning teams offer an opportunity for teachers to meet in a meaningful learning environment. My last post on Articulate Your Thinking came out of a conversation in a learning team. They are an innovative approach to Professional Development in that they provide teachers with an opportunity to engage in ‘learning conversations’ that we want to have, but never seem to be able to find the time to have!

Originally posted: February 4th, 2007

Reflection upon re-reading and re-posting:

I won’t add anything here… at this time. I’ve already done a meta-analysis and the idea behind this post will be developed further for one of my presentations at Alan November’s BLC08.

Maureen’s Comment on my original post:

I have greatly appreciated your meta analysis and the potential for deep and thoughtful conversation based on your writing. The reference to the needs of the 21st learner were from the former president of ASCD, Martha Bruckner. I continue to ask myself how to replicated the level of engagement of the skateboarders into who we are as teachers, administrators in schools?

3 comments on “Learning Conversations

  1. click on leave a comment was done automatically and the new window have appeared on my screen. That was so symbolical- my comments will show my application of what was grasped by me to my practice. Wow, the window was empty – that was the challenge.
    Everything was clear thus far, however, what of it? What’s further? Am I to rewrite you post with adding wow after each your statement?
    I didn’t guess for a long, because I noticed the inscription under the window for the comments. It was “share your wisdom” It was wow indeed. The key word was share and Thank you came out of itself.
    I was glad to bookmark your blog
    Thank you once again

    Sincerely yours
    Tomas Karkalas

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