Realism, Relevance, Retention


This is a bit of a passion piece, but I think it’s important to say. I listened to some of the audience’s questions during Will Richardson’s presentation in Sydney last Friday. As ever Will was pulling out the main issues that face parents and teachers. As ever, some questions were very specific ‘which blog do I use’ or system-damming ‘but it’s blocked’ and ‘but I don’t have time’.

The Industrialist 3Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic), are still being cited as the capstones of learning –  when learning is cited as ‘failing’-  the call is to go back to basics – as if technology is somehow disconnected from these things. Learning with technology is part of the ‘digitial’ 3Rs – realism, relevance and retention. These are things to strive for in relation to a broader array of classroom activities. They are enhancing the capabilities of gifted teachers, not displacing them. But even motivated teachers find it difficult to access professional learning that is going to allow them to learn to do it. We have the ability to transform learning  and increase motivation though technology, and still address traditional ‘values’.

Imagine a global virtual world in which students have to negotiate through the complex politics surrounding a wildlife habitat construction project in the developing world, making the case for its economic and environmental benefits. Students take on the ‘role’ of diverse stakeholders, and though classroom research – the can role-play, using exploratory and explicit learning to put forward their solution for a negotiated outcome. They interact in a virtual world, develop models and ideas – blended these with reflection and discussion in other online media such as a blog or wiki to collect and justify their collective action.

picture-11We now have 6Rs, Reading; Writing; Arithmetic; Realism; Relevance and Retention. The above experience can be created using a range of technologies; MeetSee, Edublogs; Skype; Google Docs etc., and easily blended into the classroom. Teachers can connect with other schools (see Jenny Luca’s recent presentation), and can easily ‘chat’ using very low bandwidth, low-tech web tools such as Tiny Chat. In primary years, this can be created with Quest Atlantis, or ever the excellent eKidnaworld (an Australian parent developed virtual world – that needs your support!).

What is critical is that teachers have access to ongoing ‘mentors’ that can show them how to create this – though adaptation of existing, readily available technologies.

To be effective, teachers need to learn about more than Bloom’s taxonomy, but to learn how to develop learning frameworks that contructively align outcomes (what do we want them to learn), activities (how to be create motivating classrooms) and assessment (how to we know they did it). Teachers also need to learn about ‘communication’ with digital media. More often that not, they focus on ‘marking’, and not ‘talking with’ students using more informal strategies.

So before teachers begin to utilize new laptops and faster networks, there remains a huge need to help schools develop goal-orientated, achievable learning frameworks to renew curricula, and will place valid, relevant arguments to the Department of Education as to why students need to access curricula that motivates. Duty of care relates to a physical state, not a virtual one.

The current policy of ‘banning’ sites is at best inconsistent. Are schools breaching Google’s AUP in schools?. If a child is bullied on their way home on a mobile phone – does the school breach it’s duty of care? If someone complains about a ‘blog’ then, despite following policy,are teachers are left at the mercy of the legal system? In short, unless ‘we’ move to a  position where we have effective policy, effective leadership, professional learning and on the ground ‘help’ for teachers, we might as well return to the 3Rs of the 1950s. We will fail and continue to orbit the issues and not end the digital winter. The best professional learning is happening inside personal networks, not systemic ones – and I don’t see any movement forward in public schools.

The DET needs to be brave, it needs to release teachers to mentor based professional learning, and link that with clear assessment via the NSW Institute of Teachers, in co-operation with the Teaching Unions to ensure equity. Instead we find Queensland and Western Australia blocking Quest Atlantis (as the data is held off-shore) and the DET using Twitter to make announcements, but blocks it in school. In short it is a mess and the debate over laptops and school intrastructure is meaningless unless clear policy and action is taken at DET level. I’d love to have that conversation.

Will’s session was another demonstration that teachers want to learn, but lack access to people who can help curriculum leaders, libraries and classroom teachers renew curricula and develop 21st Century pedagogy. There is no preparation for the introduction of fibre connectivity or laptops in the classroom, and well over a decade since the DET ‘re-trained’ teachers.

Realism is not present; what we are doing is no longer realistic. Relevance; current professional learning is limited to policy implementation. Retention; motivated teachers are ‘expelled’ by systems unable to recognise the significance of what they are trying to do. In our desire to be equitable, we fail students. Access to powerful professional learning and therefore powerful schools is increasingly limited by geography and social capital. Bringing any scale to what is a massive problem is difficult in Australia, imagine how much more complex it is in the UK or USA.

However, I wonder at what point someone (maybe me?) form some organisation to deliver 21st Century Learning in whole school, public access level in Australia. PLNs are great, but I think that we need to start something far more significant, that is recognised as professional learning and in some way aligned to recognition and motivation, and in such a way that it transcends the organic and provides constructive advice, policy and lobby for change.

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Creativity, Curiosity, Consideration, Consistency Part 3

Science Cafe Seminar @ 21st Century Kaitokudo
Image by skasuga via Flickr

The final part of this three part look at how we got here, looks at engagement.

In just a few years, Web2.0 has re-energised teachers to discuss and share ideas about learning frameworks on a global scale. Learning is changing on a global scale, the personal learning network is the learning management tool for many educators. These teachers see more than software and more than the internet. They see an opportunity to recreate learning frameworks, adapt technology and the re-engagement of students. The generosity of these people allows the rest of us to understand how they are doing it, and to me, these people demonstrate some common traits.

How effective 21st Century teachers tap into student interest.

  • Creativity: Cognitive skills applied to creating and making using technology – that the activity allows interest driven opportunities to remix, remake and construct understanding by ‘doing’.
  • Curiosity: Enquiry approaches, not knowing all the facts and not needing to have all the answers. Encouraging students to ask their ‘own’ questions is more important than answering the teachers’.
  • Consideration: How students learn using technology. How they collaborate, what it means to be a global citizen and develop an ePortfolio to build a positive digital reputation as a life long learner. Preparation for examination and assessment, balanced with our responsibility to adequately prepare novices to become life long learners.
  • Consistency: Establishing pedagogical ‘norms’ that allow students to learn inside frameworks that support learners, using relevant language, protocols and mediation.

Insistence that a teacher has to include ICT in an assessment task is just a bad idea if they are not able to do it. It doesn’t matter if the school is instructional based, inquiry based, under or well resourced. If schools are going to use the Internet, and offer students access to information and services on it – then these are criteria in which they can assess their learning frameworks. We simply need to admit that might have to start again, to accept that building planes in the sky is not working. We may need to accept that we are no longer able to teach effectively with ICTs until we re-evaluate how we use them in the 21st Century Context.

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Leadership 2.0

I listened this week to people talking again about the ‘skills’ students need as 21st Century Learners. They spoke of their frustration that their community leaders didn’t ‘get it’. This made me think about the polorisation they were discussing; advocates talk of media literacy and collaboration while many schools focus on ‘skills’ that deliver the current measure of attainment – examinations. So what makes a ‘great’ leader?

picture-31Firslty I think they demonstrate an understanding that‘skills’ are a continuum that ranges from ‘reproductive’ to ‘productive’. Reproductive requires students to repeat a set performance to required standard. Productive requires students to apply their knowledge and skills to new situations that may be unique in that context. While technology that is powering social media and connected learning makes productive not just possible, but easy – we still have to recognise that to do so they need reproductive skills to be learned and practiced – and curriculum leaders that can understand that relationship – not just do as they are told – they have to know it.

In this regard I don’t support the ‘either or’ approach to learning. I get a chill when people talk about a ‘model’. We live in times where schools have to take new risks and media literate curriculum leaders need to be installed to  inspire, advocate and bring new ideas to what has been essentially a reproductive approach to learning. Chris Lehmann leads by doing – and the culture that he creates fuels the wider community. You have to ask – does yours? if not, what can you do about that?

Your childs curriculum leader should be talking to parents and staff about

  • Students interpreting situations;
  • Calling up knowledge of strategies and procedures to solve problems;
  • Students planning their responses – setting their own goals and asking their own questions;
  • Students performing – delivering on the continuum – demonstrating collaboration, social sensitivity, fluidity – whatever may be characteristics of skilled performance identified.

If they are not creating opportunities to talk about these things with parents and staff – then don’t be suprised if little changes in anything they ‘control’. We need to design learning better and deliver reproductive skills by teachers who do that well, and pass productive skill based activities to others who are more media literate and understand how to leverage Web2.0 technologies. We don’t need to be ‘either or’ or ‘model’ something that has worked in the past, in another context. That is a huge risk and huge strain on everyone. We need people who can assess risks, take a change, but not be polarized or paraluysed by their decisions. “Risk recovery is more important that failure avoidance” as the guy from Pixar says. PBL is not a panacea for learning in the 21st Century any more than technology, the internet or laptops are. It’s the degree to which the curriculum leader can understand and mange students on the skills continuum.

Skilled curriculum leaders are using frameworks:

  • to allow self-instruction;
  • intensive reproductive learning workshops;
  • workplace and authentic experiences to apply productive learning.
2nd half of 14th century
Image via Wikipedia

They must be talking clearly about the limitations of resource-based learning and the benefits of embedding flexibility in the programme of study. The must place value on the preparation of materials for resource based learning and offer flexible delivery options. For example – discipline intensive workshops, online self-exploration, and practical constructive.

Students need to select how best to learn – and not be placed into ‘either or’ situations, or no choice at all. I don’t think one teacher should be pressuring another is a productive use of time. They should want to do it, and understand why – because of the leadership. You simply don’t need ‘everyone’ – but you do need to elevate people who do amazing things with technology and renewed pedagogy to positions where they can influence. Right now, we still appoint people on time served and qualifications, and that is no longer a valid indicator of leadership ability.

I sympathise with the comments I listened to this week. Change in teachers, or even in groups of teachers – must be recognised, valued and enriched. In 2009, though the number of teachers who have extended their own continuum is growing, sadly the furstrations I am hearing have changed little in the last few years. How do we infuse curriculum leaders? How do we break the glass ceiling? How do we get then to authenitcally join the conversation?.

I think this is a powerful conversation we need to have again and again this year.

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