Pedagogy v. Andragogy

Take a look at this chart shared by Marc Ecko during his presentation at the #140edu Conference on Tuesday.

His point here, one among many that came through during his ten minutes, was that we are missing the mark with our conversations about learning and education reform in the United States.  We are talking about teaching, and not necessarily about learning.

Granted, the conversation needs to be much larger than the short time frame he was given, and I hope it will be, but the descriptors in the chart really stirred me to think about some things.

As much as this is a system-wide issue, I truly believe its more of an elementary/primary issue.  What I mean by that is exemplified in the last box under pedagogy:

Students arrive at high schools, even middle schools driven by the idea that the sole reason they are in school, for the most part, is the process of getting good grades thereby getting into a good college and ensuring a quality life.  By the time they reach middle and high school with those motivating factors, breaking that idea apart is very difficult.  Re-structuring the nature of learning and its motivations at the elementary level is key to any change being implemented going forward.

At one point, Jack Hidary described a student interview his group did where a student described school as a place where:

“they feel like they are being transported back to a time when their parents went to school–”you shall learn as we shall learn–” so that they understand what school was like for their parents”

And later in the day, Dale Stephens, founder of the UnCollege Movement, talked about “Majoring in Life” rather than the protracted process of getting into and going to colleges we can’t afford.  In my house, we often talk about what school will mean to our kids as they get older, and what role it will play in their adult lives.  For my wife and I, both educators, it has played a huge role in shaping who we are and how we approach the world.  But for our kids, when what I see happening in schools often is so steeped in ideas that don’t work well anymore, I wonder.

And sometimes I think I don’t wonder loudly enough.


A Foray into the Paperless Fray

Today we were fortunate to Skype in Shelley Blake-Plock into a lunch-hour session in our high school.  Blake-Plock, the driving force behind the recent paperless push by educators on Earth Day, spoke to our staff about his classroom design, philosophy, and practice in a 45-minute session today.

When I originally contacted Shelley last week to inquire as to whether or not he would be willing to talk to my staff, he jumped right in, and he didn’t disappoint.  What impressed me most about him as I listened to him describe his practice was his clear vision of what it meant for his students to function in a classroom that he designed: it was about them learning.  He truly designed the environment with their learning–their unbridled learning–in mind.  His decision was not a secretarial one, but rather came from a desire to push students to take control of information gathering, processing, and creating.

At one point, a teacher from our Social Studies department asked about how he assesses his students if he doesn’t give tests or quizzes on paper.  Did he design them through some sort of CMS in the formed of timed essays, or online quizzes?

Shelley’s answer was flat-out brilliant.  He described the manner in which students are required to keep a blog that he is tied into via RSS, and daily they add content to that blog in the form of class notes, personal reflections, or other media.  His assessment then becomes his analysis of their thinking and reaction, and he does this using screencasting (he uses Jing).  This way, instead of notes in the margin that are loosely tied to anchors in the text, he can pinpoint exactly where in the writing he is talking about and offer precise, quasi-one-on-one feedback even though he is not present.  I just dug this.  We often bemoan our students willingness to skip past any comments we make on their writing in their desperate rush to find out their grade, but what Shelley is doing is removing much of that and asking students to take constant feedback and do something with it.  Our teachers have long lamented the amount of grading that has to be done, our parents and students complain about the length of time it takes to get it back, and all research shows that feedback given after a certain point is nearly useless to the student in terms of increasing achievement.

What if they got feedback consistently over time?  Would that change the final outcome (the grade)?  In my follow-up with the staff, I am going to be sure to inquire about that one.  With a budget that includes nearly 60% of supplies being cut, looking at alternative options in terms of assessment–and those options that are grounded in formative assessment–is necessary.

Mobile Phones, They Just Won’t Go Away

For the last few days, I have been party to three separate conversations about mobile phones and schools, and in the conversations, the only common denominators have been the shoulder shrugs that each conversation has ended in.
The use, or in some cases the possession of, a cellular phone in a classroom is often times a material disruption to the learning process.  Let’s face that right off the bat.  Yes, we can do some truly amazing things with any cellular phone within the classroom, but from a management situation, even those teachers who truly get it when it comes to relevance and utility of mobile computing are irked by students constantly turning their wrists or sliding their keypads out to check for texts.  And we cannot blame students for that either; what do most of us do at the precise moment our phone either rings, dings, buzzes or whispers?  We reach for it.  We are overridden with curiosity, not to answer it, but just to see who it trying to capture our attention.  Imagine what that feels like to an adolescent struggling with identity, peer acceptance, and societal norms?  Yeah, I am reaching for that phone too.
Those that I work with, a group of very forward thinking educators, often struggle with the use of mobile phones in the classroom for different reasons.  They tend to see it as a situation where there are other solutions that work better or just as good as would the use of a cellular device.  My thinking in these situations is always centered on trying to find that sweet spot, that activity or learning experience that could not be done better than if everyone was using their mobile device.  I don’t do this because I am some crusader for cell phones, but rather because I think they have leverage.  Paul Allison tweeted about writing with cell phones tonight after asking students to do some independent reading for thirty minutes and then check in via their cell phones:
I just love stopping and asking students to write with their phones. They have such a warm response, like “Oh, of course I can do that!”
For me then, it becomes clear where they have their use, and not for everyone, nor every situation.  But think about what Paul did with his students.  He didn’t ask them to interrupt the flow of their reading to take out pencil and paper and craft a response to a packet question, and he didn’t ask them to open up a laptop or move to a computer and find the discussion page on the wiki for that book and add an entry.  He asked them to do what they probably wanted to do anyway: send someone a text about what they were doing.
Flow.  Sense.
I don’t have the full details of what Paul was trying to carry out with his lesson, but if his intent was to engage students in reading and then have them reflect, then re-engage with the reading, doing it through that medium makes sense.
Our mindsets,  our infrastructure, and out pedagogy have a long way to move before we massively adapt to the use of cellular phones in classrooms, and I am beginning to see that its due mainly to our adult sensibilities about usage.  Our habits speak a different language, as we have very similar habits to our students, but our grip on how we should behave with cell phones is still strong.  Renny Gleeson, in his brief TED Talk, shows how we as a society have not yet normed our usages with our phones:

As we look at the inclusion (or as some would say, intrusion) of cell phones into our classrooms, we have to center on Gleeson’s point: are they making us more human?  Or, as Allison’s example more aptly shows, are they becoming invisible?

Discussion Protocol

Of the many things I pulled out of EduCon this past year, the most useful has been a tool that Chris Lehmann asked a few of us to use as we led reflections sessions at the end of the day.  This discussion protocol has come in handy after working with teachers showing them new tools or methodology, especially those that are particularly complex and paradigm-shifting.  It’s simple:

  • What?: What did I see today that caused me to think, wonder, dream, plan, or question?
  • So What?: What are the consequences, ramifications of what I saw?
  • Now What?: What are the next steps for me?  my school?  my district?

When we are confronted with new knowledge or ideas, it’s easy for us to become overwhelmed, either by the potential positive effect of the that change, or the magnitude of changing our own or our district’s practices.  This protocol slims it down for you, paring your thoughts into three linear categories that intersect nicely in various places.

After being here for the last few days, there has been a mix of things I know about already, things I needed to see to believe, and a budding sense of practicality that was wholly necessary for me to see–it’s the reason I wanted to come in here in the first place.  Several of my conversations lately have centered on the very fact that I am ready to move away from the theoretical and land firmly in the practical and the applicable.  Sitting and listening to Darren yesterday explain in a calm, measured, and often hilarious way, how he began his journey with his students, gave me some real perspective in regards to how a classroom can be structured not around, but infused with, the tools we have all come to use in our professional practice.  I can take that back.

For now, as I sit here with about 40 minutes to go before heading to see Darren and Clarence present together, I focus on the first question:

  • What?: What did I see today that caused me to think, wonder, dream, plan, or question?

One of the first things I pulled from Ewan’s keynote was that we should view all of our teachers as researchers. I see the need to create a culture in our schools that pushes thinking and learning at all levels: teacher, student, administrator, etc.  As Ewan stated, “Everyone should be in R and D.”  I began to think what that would look like in the buildings I work in, and luckily, the principals or assistant principals are here with me to bounce those ideas off of.  What we’ve decided is that it has to begin with our own practice.  Run our faculty meetings as we want them to run their classrooms: worksessions and discussions rather than announcements.  If we want to spread information, send an email or post to the wiki, but if it’s about pedagogy and teaching and student issues, make it face-to-face, and make it worthwhile.

There is a theme running through a lot of the workshops here that incorporates the idea that we should promote the teachers that “get it.”  Which teachers get it, and I don’t mean technologically only, but which teachers will look at something new and attack it, refine it and make it their own?  Find them and ask them to show how they do it.  Let students show teachers how things work.  Have you heard Alan’s quote: “always bring a student to a technology conference.”  Let students show their teachers what they are actually capable of (from Eric Marcos‘ presentation today)

Next: So What?

Ad Revenue Matters to You

I’ll admit that my inner geek drives the direction of my reading lately; I tend to read Techmeme as often as I read Edutopia. However, one of my all time favorite reading topics has always been the direction and drama associated with mainstream media and its delivery to consumers. Odd, I know. Most people would say they love to read trashy novels, or scan baseball scores (which I often do), but not this guy. Give me an opinion piece about the future of participatory media, the changing of the guard in the newsroom, or something like this one from the New York Times:

For newspapers, the news has swiftly gone from bad to worse. This year
is taking shape as their worst on record, with a double-digit drop in
advertising revenue, raising serious questions about the survival of
some papers and the solvency of their parent companies.

and I am like the proverbial pig in…well, understood.

I don’t know if this story piques my interest for the usual reasons, but I know that it makes me begin thinking about the world that I am helping teachers prepare students for. It’s topics conjure up all kinds of reminiscences from last summer when we were all struggling to shrug off Andrew Keen’s attacks on connective writing and citizen publishing, and it calls to light the profound changes in literacy many of us have been discussing for several years.

Connection to Teaching and Learning

Often, I’ll find myself looking out at the vast expanse of my RSS reader and see similar topics being bandied about, and articles debated back and forth between individuals much smarter than me, and I’ll wonder where my connection back to the classroom teacher is–where is the correlation between George Siemens and the work he does, and the elementary teacher I work with who wants to differentiate instruction? Many times I find myself at a crossroads wondering how to find common ground for the theoretical applications I see, and the practical situations that teachers live through.

This article in the Times, amazingly, though obscurely, shows me a connection. When we look at the trends, just in the last two years (ad revenue dropped 8% last year, and is already down 12% from that number), that tells me that the sellers/advertisers are following their buyers/consumers eyes.  With that, come so many negative consequences:

  • assimilation of major newspapers or ownership groups perhaps taking away a decidedly local flavor
  • massive job losses in the printing industry
  • ink-stained elbows on Sunday mornings

The last bullet above, while in jest, does reflect some sentiment that, if you dig on Nicholas Carr, you might agree with.  We aren’t interacting with print media as often as we used to, and what effect will this have on our ability to read deeply?  Moreover, the real impetus behind my writing this tonight was to truly ask myself what are we preparing our students to consume?  Is literacy solely the manipulation of a texted page, or does it involve, as the article hinted at, the ability to decipher and decode the “vastly more choices” that online advertising offers to sellers?

So, I look at the classrooms I’ve been in this year and wonder, are we doing all that we can to prepare our students for a world with decidedly less printed paper than our own?

Positive Consequences:

Here’s another discerning thought that rises from this: how can we pull positives out of this development?  As with any technology, it’s social ramifications are natural offspring.  In this case, I see a lot of good coming out of the move to online news consumption:

  • smaller ecological footprint: fewer papers, fewer trees, fewer inks, fewer distribution trucks
  • more opportunities for connective writing
  • greater opportunity for dialogue between writer/publisher and reader through comments and forums

Erica had just reminded me of Pink’s book yesterday as she wrote about being able to finish it on her way out to San Jose for the Google Teacher Academy.  What this exemplifies is the shift away from one mode of production, to another that will involve some creative thought processes and a distinct need to train people in how to produce this new product.  It’s examples like this one that really make me analyze what we are asking our students to do in our classrooms;  are we preparing them for the classified ads of the future?