Response to Lisa

27 Nov

Last night I read Lisa M Lang’s post Going to Extreams but I realized that I had a lot to say about it so I decided to do it in my own blog.  Lisa writes about the risk, dangers and issues with education reform especially related to social media and technology.  While she raised some points that I agree with and made me think about some things that I had never thought about before, I  would like to address some things that she said.

Before I begin I would explain my position.  I structure my practice from a constructivist position.  I believe that students should be taught to question, discover and share their learning and not be fed what they are to know and asked to restate it in a fancier way or on a test that only those with good memories will do well on.  My belief is that digital media, web 2.0 tools and social networking is only neccesary in classrooms where learning is being encouraged from this inquiry model.  For example, Twitter would not be neccesay in a traditional classroom as it would probably be used by students to ask their teachers if their answer to question 10 is correct.  That is boring and only useful for holding the student’s hands through their learning.

I teach 12 and 13 year olds in a split 7/8 classroom at an upper middle class school in a small city.  My students can read, have supportive parents and for the most part do not have the issues that some students in our city have.  Because of this, I am able to set my expectations for their learning higher than the average 7/8 classroom and they are able to meet them.  Inquiry and Project Based learning have been initiatives of my school board for the last two years but I have been structuring my classroom this way for the last four.  In addition to inquiry and project based learning within the structure of our curriculum, we also throw in a dash of social justice education.  My class uses technology as a support for their learning as it allows wider access and more options. Having explained this, I will now address Lisa.

Lisa says:

1. I am at the center of my learning.
This is good for me — I like it. I want my PLN and my instant information, my Google maps and my blog. But I already went to school, and know how to learn and what might be worth investigating. Is it good for my students, who want to spend all day playing video games? whose idea of the future is after class? Does such an approach encourage narcissism and narrowness? I’m starting to think so.

My response to this is: in the new constructivist classroom, it is my responsibility to help my students narrow down what they are trying to learn about a topic, what their question really is and help them choose what is worth investigating.  I do not leave them to hang out to dry on their own and tell them to google stuff.  I am trying to teach them to be in charge of their own learning and how to do it.  When school is approached in this manner, I think that students should be the center of their own learning. I think that if I do this now at the age they are at, when they get to high school they will be better prepared to think outside the box and do more than what is expected of them. I also think that it will make learning easier because they will know how to analysis what they are being asked to learn and figure out the best way to learn it for themselves.

From Lisa:

2. If I can’t find it, it isn’t there, because everything is on the web.
Everything is not on the web. Most of the sources I used for my thesis are not on the web, nor are they likely to be. And it’s not just a lack of sources. One of my top students, now at university, asked me recently, “what do we need older people for, when we can look up all the knowledge on Wikipedia?” I explained the difference between data or information, a lot of which you can find on the web, and wisdom, the meaning that is developed using information. He understood. Many of my younger students don’t.

This one, I agree with for the most part, especially the wisdom. My students often ask me how I know so much stuff, I tell them that I pay attention to life  AND that when I don’t know something, I find out.  Which means, sorry Lisa, I google it.  This just shows that teachers are still necessary in the classroom.  The web is good for data  and information as Lisa says but we still need actual classroom teachers to mentor students about how to use the data and information and put it into a real life context, or share their wisdom and experience.

From Lisa:

3. My interests are of high importance in my ability to learn.
We keep assuming that engagement is crucial to learning. I haven’t seen evidence of this.

Sorry, but I have. Case in point; I have a boy who is well above grade 8 ability and is bored out of his tree. When he is able to take the content that I am expecting him to learn turn and morph it into something that he cares about, he blows me away with his sophisticated thinking.  When he is not, he does either nothing or crap. (We’re working on the whole, sometimes you have to just learn things even though it’s boring thing, and he’s getting better but, man does he shine when he’s engaged.) I discovered this earlier this year when we were in the phase of teaching/reviewing the Inquiry process.  I was in charge of a group of about 12 “experts” and he was one of them.  This group was supposed to choose a question for inquiry and use it to model the process to the rest of their classmates.  This boy chose “Is World of Warcraft Really Addicting?” I thought “whoa boy,  a project about a video game and how awesome it is, not what I had in mind.” But I let him go on it. When he presented his project, I was blown away.  He used World Of Warcraft to teach everyone about the psychological aspects of addiction.  It was amazing but I was worried that it was a one time shot because he was able to do anything he wanted and that would not happen again.  During his parent conference, I discussed this with him and his mom and stressed that if he could take the material that we were learning in class and do something with it that would make him care about it, he would soar this year.  I guess he listened because he blew me away again yesterday.  We have been learning about how European immigration and settlement changed Saskatchewan’s ecosystem and how it affected the First Nations people. Their culminating assignment is a summary of learning.  He and his partner chose to make a game that we could play as a class.  My experience with student made games has not been great, but I let them go ahead.  Yesterday, they explained how the game works.  If you have played Civilization, you will understand how it works and I am not going to explain their game here because it will take too long.  But let me tell you, I have tried Civilization before and it was very complex.  So, my point is, he is engaged on his own terms and he is learning. You will also notice that there is no technology involved in this except that his inspiration game is online.

Lisa says:

4. My teachers are there to understand my needs and meet them.

I really liked the part of working against your leaning style.  I never thought of that but I will now be challenging them to do so.

and finally the last of Lisa’s statements that I would like to comment on:

So do we try to reform the whole educational system in a way that encourages these extremes? Do we hold up the student in the New York Times article “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” as what we want? a young man who cannot get through a book and thinks that you can get the “whole story” of a novel in a 6-minute YouTube video?

As I said earlier, I do not believe that educational reform should be about just digital media, it should be about teaching kids to questions, discover and learn from that instead of being fed information and regurgitating it. That is how I learned and yes, I turned out okay but I only really figured out how to learn for myself as an adult.  Imagine how much more I could have done if I had learned that when I was 8, 12, 15,  or even 20. That is what I think education reform is really about.  Digital media, the web, social networking and all those technologies just give us more tools to do it.


3 Responses to “Response to Lisa”

  1. Lisa M Lane November 27, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    This is so cool that you worked on my work, Danielle!

    A couple of brief responses:

    – Half of what I do in my own teaching is also constructivist. I haven’t gone all the way for obvious reasons, but if I were teaching younger people, I undoubtedly would. I’m also a big fan of John Holt and unschooling, and am much more concerned about the young adults in Jenkins’ study than young children. Constructivism tends to be adopted by people who see it holistically and as appropriate for their students, as you do, and assist with the inquiry skills that are precisely the higher-level meta-skills I’m on about. That’s far more than just saying, use this process of inquiry, now go. Instructivists would do far less well with being told to use this method.

    – I Google it too! Better, I tell the students to Google it. When they ask why I don’t know it (I had this just happen earlier this week), I explain that historians don’t memorize facts. We look them up as needed, but we know the overall context so we know what to look up and why.

    – Your example of the bored child is testimony to individually helping children, not to changing the whole system to emphasize engagement. He is learning. They are all learning, regardless of what they’re doing: climbing trees, playing Civilization, working in the sweatshop with their parents. School should be helping them develop cognitive skills. The ability to “reach” an individual child to do this may or may not be related to technology. Technology tends to work best as a tool provided by a caring teacher, such as yourself.

  2. shelleywright November 29, 2010 at 5:12 am #

    Danielle, you’ve done a great job thinking this through. I found myself agreeing with many of your points, and thinking, “Yep, I do that to.”

  3. byrnesa November 29, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

    Great job Danielle, I was thinking many of the same things you were so thank you for the blog post.

    I love that there are so many perspectives in this class. We have some who teach in the K-12 education system, we have those who work in post-secondary institutions, we even have some outside of the field of education. I think that all of the differing perspectives is enriching our own learning in this class.

    Thanks Danielle and Lisa!

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