Thursday, August 09, 2012

#cebc #ce12 Book Club: The Connected Educator

I just stumbled on the Connected Educators Book Club. The first live webinar was last night, but the archives are posted. Plus, there is a Ning for discussing the books. Being a Ning, I had to create a user name/password, so the discussions are semi-private. After the amazing learning via #cyberPD, I figured I would jump into this one. For more information go to the Club's website:

The first book in the book club is Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s The Connected Educator (co-authored with Lani Ritter Hall), “which compellingly lays out a step-by-step path to using online connected communities to become a connected learner engaged in do-it- yourself professional development” according to the website. I checked our university library and will be picking up the book this afternoon, but the first chapter is available at Solution Tree. Bill Boyd has a nice overview at his site, The Literacy Adviser.

Nussbaum-Beach's introduction says that the purpose of the book is to address teachers as learners first and educators second. In other words, the book is to help readers/users learn how to create and maintain personal learning networks (PLN) and communities (PLC), which will then help educators envision how to use them in the classroom. I've been involved in Twitter and the ECNing for a while, but I know I could be more organized and more strategic with my PLN.

One statement that resonated with me immediately was the recognition of the traditional solo learner.  Nussbaum-Beach says, “Yet in most schools, still, the assumptions are that learning is an individual process, that learning has a beginning and an end, that learning happens in schools separately from the rest of life’s activities, and that learning is the result of teaching. Technology is beginning to shift those assumptions and change the way, we, as educators, learn” (p. 10). As I've mentioned before, I struggle with creating “group” projects that require interdependence between students because, being American, I've grown up in a culture of Me-cracy and individual competition. As my mom has often told me, I was a stubborn child and would stamp my feet and say, “I'll do it myself” while she watched in frustration as simple tasks took much longer than necessary. Guess I ignored Vygotsky's theory of learning via the zone of proximal development (ZDP) and the more knowledgeable other (MKO)! I know I need to break my own habits of working alone and create spaces and opportunities for my students (and their parents) to learn how a community of learners is more powerful than learning alone.

I had the great fortune of having a computer-savvy husband/teacher, who took me to the NECC conference for many years, which is now the International Society of Technology in Education conference. Through that experience, I started this blog (see first post) and have been posting intermittently and connecting to others through this blog. Nussbaum-Beach highlights the importance of participating in the cyberworld, which makes sense to me because just being a lurker doesn't provide long-term learning and change. She says, “Becoming a connected, do-it-yourself learner begins with your willingness to be a findable, clickable, searchable-on-Google person who shares openly and transparently. From there we can form a connection, a conversation, a relationship and begin to collaborate” (p. 11).

I find the “Do-it-yourself learner” term to be quite intriguing. I've been listening to Daniel Pink's Drive:The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and am currently on the chapter on Mastery and Flow. The do-it-yourself learning reminds me of the importance of autonomy and choice. Pink states, “While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night” (p. 112). So much of schooling – professional development for teachers and daily classes for students are about compliance. However, when learners get to CHOOSE what and how they want to learn, they become ENGAGED and enter a state of FLOW. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (in Finding Flow) identified nine elements of flow:
  1. There are clear goals every step of the way.
  2. There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
  3. There is a balance between challenges and skills.
  4. Action and awareness are merged.
  5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
  6. There is no worry of failure.
  7. Self-consciousness disappears.
  8. The sense of time becomes distorted.
  9. The activity becomes “autotelic” (an end in itself, done for it’s own sake).

When I am working with others – talking with student teachers, collaborating with teachers, facilitating a classroom lesson, giving a workshop – I find my flow. Again, that is the power of learning together, rather than learning alone! Nussbaum-Beach says, “The simple truth is that there is a limit to how much we can learn if we keep to ourselves (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1991). By deepening our connectedness to the level of true collaboration, we can best meet the needs of today's students” (p. 12).

I've read many technology for teacher books that insist that they are “interactive” but I have to say, this one is impressive so far. The authors have provided many active links at the publisher's website, plus have “Get Connected” activities at the end of each chapter.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

#CyberPD WrapUp - Growing Our Thinking Together

Like Johnston, Gail Tompkins advocates for the creation of a community of learners in the classroom. In Literacy for the 21st Century: A Balanced Approach Tompkins (2009, p. 17) describes the characteristics of a community of learners environment:
Responsibility - Teachers set guidelines and expect students to be responsible. They also model responsible behavior. Students assume responsibility for their learning and behavior in the classroom.
Opportunities -Teachers provide opportunities for students to read and write in genuine and meaningful activities. Students actively participate in activities, for example, reading independently and sharing their writing with classmates.
Engagement - Teachers nurture students’ engagement through authentic activities and opportunities to work with classmates. Students become more engaged in literacy activities and spend more time reading and writing.
Demonstration - Teachers model what good readers and writers do using think-alouds to explain their thinking. Students carefully observe teachers’ demonstrations and then practice by modeling their thinking for classmates.
Risk Taking - Teachers encourage students to take risks while exploring a new idea and de-emphasize the need to always get things “right.” Students understand that learning is a process of taking risks and exploring ideas.
Instruction -Teachers provide explicit instruction through mini-lessons and provide opportunities for guided practice. Students participate in mini-lessons and apply what they’re learning in literacy activities.
Response - Teachers provide opportunities for students to respond to books they’re reading and to classmates’ writing. Students respond to books in reading logs and grand conversations and listen attentively to classmates share their writing.
Choice - Teachers offer choices because they understand that students are more motivated when they can make choices. Students make choices about some books they read, projects they create, and compositions they write.
Time - Teachers organize the schedule with large chunks of time for reading and writing. Students understand the classroom schedule and complete assignments when they’re due.
Assessment -Teachers monitor students’ learning and set guidelines about how students will be graded. Students understand how they will be assessed and often participate in self-assessment.

For the past year, I've had the honor of visiting two third-grade classrooms with two teachers who worked hard to create a community of learners with their students and I want to share a story of the students' view of this type of classroom.

To help students practice listening to each other and speak to and build off of each other's ideas, the teachers provided sentence starters to help the students develop the language of connecting ideas. The rules of engagement for this particular discussion was that everyone had to speak once before anyone could speak a second time and that the comment had to connect to another student's comment (agree, disagree, add to etc). After this especially intense discussion that included both third grade classes, the teachers asked the students to think about the process and reasons for having discussions. As scribes, the teachers captured the thinking of the students on a chart. The students said:

Growing Our Thinking Together
  • Our thinking grows like a balloon with each comment from a friend
  • It gives us confidence
  • We capture other people's thinking
  • We build on what others say, like knots in a rope (they had studied Quipus (talking knots) of Peru)
  • We cooperate, listen and ask for clarification
  • We restate our ideas
  • Everyone contributes
  • We yield to each other
    • Let less talkative people go first
    • Person with relevant information goes first (valuable)
    • Let the person who is responding to another go first

This metaphor, of growing our thinking together like a balloon, carried over for the rest of the year. If a student derailed a conversation, it was called “popping the balloon.” It was so powerful to hear the students recognize the power their own language had on others.

Like many others have said, I will need to re-read Opening Minds to really let the ideas simmer. It is my goal this school year to create a community of learners in my classroom where I learn along with my students and honor the contributions they provide.

If you would like to join the conversation about Peter Johnston's book Opening Minds:Using Language to Change Lives, check out #CyberPD on Twitter, or this week's host, Carol, at Carol's Corner.