Saturday, December 31, 2011

Re-Conditioning Learners

I was hoping to share this thought earlier but failed to do so. The title of this post comes from a conversation I had with an English teacher during the final week of class before winter recess.  I was informally checking in and stopped by a classroom where an English teacher was enjoying a prep period.  During the course of the conversation, I asked what her class would look like after break.  The teacher responded by saying that she needed to alter the classroom structure with the hope of re-conditioning learning.  I was struck by this response and asked for the teacher to explain what was meant by the term re-condition.

This particular English teacher expressed a desire to have her students become more self-reliant.  She observed that far to often students rely on the teacher to solve problems.  Students are quick to seek an "answer" from her as opposed to figuring out solutions on their own or in conjunction with peers.  It was noted that this was pronounced in her honors English classes, where students sought a quick remedy.  This English teacher was struck by the extent to which students turned to the teacher not so much for help, but rather an answer.  Additionally, she was concerned by either the unwillingness or diminished capacity for students to construct a problem-solving process. 

It was the hope after the break to alter the structure to where students had to actively develop a process through which complex problems could be addressed. She saw herself stepping back and providing space for students to work through complex tasks.  She was going to refrain from offering answers and or solutions.  Her efforts would be focused on mentoring students through what potentially could be a frustrating process of developing the capacity to solve problems independent of the teacher.   The term re-conditioning was used to capture both her observations and future intentions.  I agree with her observations that learners are quick to turn to a teacher for an answer.  I am not sure if it is a matter of effort, but instead, a system that fails to foster problem-solving skills.  There is a need for to re-condition learners into imaginative and industrious problem-solvers. 

It will be interesting to see how this process plays out and in particular whether students realize the importance of developing the capacity to be capable problem-solvers.  I asked this English teacher to archive her reflections and encourage students to do the same.  Hopefully, somewhere in the future both the teacher and students would be willing to publicly share their reflections and comment on this idea of re-conditioning learning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Actually Measuring Learning

I am in the middle of reading DIY U: Edupunks,Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education (Kamenetz).  In discussing how certain universities are leveraging technology to re-envision the higher ed experience, Ms. Kamenetz refers to Western Governor's University (WGU).  WGU was formed a in the late 1990s when the governors of 19 Western states attempted to use the Internet to expand educational access to rural students.  Ms. Kamenetz shares that WGU has grown to include over 12,000 online students in all 50 state.

Quoted in the book is Bob Mendenhall, the president of WGU.  Mr. Mendenhall shared the following in talking about programs offered by WGU:

We do not have credit hours, we do not have grades.  We simply have a series of assessments that measure competencies, and then on that basis award the degree.

WGU started from scratch, convening external councils of employers like Google, Oracle, and Tenet Healthcare, along with academic experts.  We asked employers, what is it the graduates your are hiring can't do you wish they could?  We've never had a silence after that question.

Seems like a good idea- right?  Why not consult professionals when building programs of study?  Schools intend to prepare students to be successful for decades to come not just the next phase of their educational career.  Our courses should be influenced by the professional world.   Think about the question shared by Mr. Mendenhall.  Even the most well-intended schools/educators could be liable for failing to prepare students to successfully compete in intensifying global marketplace. 

WGU's convening of external councils supports the first statement regarding grades.  Schools should be building experiences around core proficiencies. Grades are a recognition that core proficiencies/competencies have been demonstrated.  Content is important and strong knowledge foundations needs to be erected.  However, what students need to be able to do and demonstrate should serve to anchor assessments and support the rewarding of credit.  The process to filter, curate and exhibit information encompasses core proficiencies students will require to compete for jobs at Google or oracle or even build companies to challenge current corporate giants.

A question worth considering is how do elements of WGU's philosophy trickle down into thinking about K-12 experiences and force educators, parents and students to critically evaluate the manner in which students are assessed.  Are we, in a meaningful way, determining growth?

If you have not read Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education,  I would encourage you to pick up a copy.  Anyan Kamenetz presents an intriguing look into higher education.  Additionally, other elements of the system develop by WGU are explored.  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Caught My Eye: December 16, 2011

I wanted to share articles, posts and resources I stumbled upon this week.

1. It's Never Just a Comment-  post about a first grade class where students are blogging and following one another.

2. On A New Edtech Community- developing a DIY edtech ecosystem

3. Helping Students Own the Learning Environment- fostering student ownership over learning and the learning environment

4. John Seely Brown-  New Ways of Learning in a Rapidly Changing World

5. All I Want for Christmas- careful of who you run into at the mall

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mediating Sharing Behaviors

Welcome to the next installment of my not so weekly podcast series.  This podcast discusses the need to developing sharing behavior in the classroom.  The post was inspired by a section from the the text Beyond Smarter.  I started of the podcast with the following excerpt.  As always your thoughts and feedback is appreciated.

In our world- a world in which there are many situations of social alienation, where individualism is increasingly valued, and is, at times, extreme, the ability to share experiences with our fellow human beings and to participate in their experiences is most necessary and desirable.
In our day, the need and readiness to share with others our experiences and to participate in their experiences is an adaptational necessity.


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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Feeling of Competence

I am in the middle of  reading Beyond Smarter Mediated Learning and the Brain's Capacity for Change (Feuerstein, Feuerstein and Falik).  Chapter Seven is about fostering positive attitudes towards learning.  One of the parameters discussed in the chapter has to do with creating a feeling of competence.

The following importance is assigned towards this development:

For human beings to act with confidence, meet challenges, and cope with situations that are now for them, they must feel they are competent to control these situations- to overcome difficulties, become familiar with the new and unknown, and approach them with the expectation they will master them (p.50).

How do we go about cultivating a feeling of competence in schools?  What could more important than building a sense of competence within every learner.  Take into consideration the rapid rate of change that has come to characterize our world.  Students have to become familiar with the new and unknown and approach change with the faith that they can be successful.  As much as we want students to be successful in the now, it is important to develop the skills and dispositions that can ensure achievement for decades to come.

Think about where a sense of competence is raised most in classrooms.  A sense of competence is translated when assigning grades.  Again I turn to Beyond Smarter to highlight a point- 

In many contemporary schools, across a wide diversity of cultures, it is considered that the best way to get children to achieve is to evaluate only their products and to give them proficiency marks for them.  This approach often has a negative impact on the feeling of ability... If the marks do not reflect either the students' immediate level of functioning of the level of improvement that they achieved in relation to their initial performance, they will offer no sense of accomplishment other than a general comparison to their peers, which can exaggerate feelings of incompetence (p.51).

Are assessment systems found in most contemporary schools supporting inspiration and growth or creating a spiraling scale of negative feedback?  The better inquiry to engage in is how do schools construct feedback systems aimed at imparting feelings of ability and competence?  Additionally, how can greater value be placed on unique growth?  Think about the need to situate learners where they can observe and comment on how they have grown.  There should be a balance between providing constructive commentary and presenting avenues where learners can recognize success and develop faith in their abilities.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Expression of Interest

 I would like to thank @maryannreilly for sharing this video during her presentation on Instructional Rounds.  The video was developed by the principal at Coburg Senior High School in Australia. The purpose behind the video was to present context for a cohort of educators who were conducting an observation of Coburg Senior High.

The entire presentation is worth watching.  However, I would pay particular attention to the principal's explanation of how students apply to the school and the initial meeting that transpires between families and members of the Coburg staff.  In addition to taking a series of standardized tests, incoming students have to complete an expression of interest survey.  The survey asks students to share personal information such as classes they like and dislike, career interests and skills they have developed.  Students also take a multiple intelligence tests.  All of this information is collected and reviewed by families and members of the Coburg faculty and serves an anchor when discussing a unique learning plan.

After listening to the principal at Coburg Senior High I could not help but think why not us.  At Coburg students are entering into a new learning environment.  However, as opposed to entering devoid of any academic or social history, incoming learners at Coburg are accompanied by a collection of unique and genuine data and a highly personal learning plan. The same process could be mirrored at any school.  As a high school administrator I see tremendous value in sitting down with 8th graders to build a comprehensive profile.  Think about how teachers could benefit from access to detailed interest surveys and cognitive profiles.  Additionally, think about the scheduling process.  A true pathway through high school can be crafted when this level of personal information is shared.

Let me know what your thoughts are about the video.  I'm curious if others are motivated by some of the structures in place at Coburg Senior High.