Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why we want students on Youtube

When we changed filtering policy, lots of people have been asking why we want to give students access to social networking site. They are worried that students will be off task, post dumb things on line or endanger themselves. What could possibly be worth these risks?

1. Students are already on social networking sites and they are already creating digital footprints. We need to teach them to create footprints that really show their strengths. If they can access Facebook, we can teach them how to protect their privacy. Teaching media literacy is critical responsibility for the modern teacher.

2. If students are bored and want to be using technology, the logical solution is to use the technology to promote learning not attempt to prevent them from accessing it. Technology is intimately connected with choice, which increases both motivation and potency.

3. Think about AFL classrooms. These are classrooms where students use products, conversations and observations as evidence of their learning. What holds evidence over time, shares it with authentic audience and provides opportunity for many iterations of feedback? Web 2.0 (no cape or tights or speeding bullets are needed).
4. There isn't much evidence that many students are lured or tracked more often virtually. Research says they are much more likely to be the targets of in person predators. The place where they are most often hurt online? Cyber-bullying. What does the research say can prevent it? Open dialogue in schools using social networking and cell phone examples.
In the end, we need to think about what our goal is for our high school students. I think it is education - give them the tools to learn, make good choices and represent themselves well. That means they need access and we have to teach them to use it responsibly.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Technology and AFL - signs of change

Today I was working with a group of secondary instructional technology leaders, secondary teacher librarians and learning leaders. We were discussing the connections between assessment for learning (afl) and technology. And as we discussed, we talked at lot about the challenges of both afl and technology as change. Take a look at the backchannel from our morning to see some of our discussion.

As I was reflecting on the challenges that this group faces in trying to support teachers, I was reminded of a graphic a teacher friend sent me last week. (I wasn't able to backtrack it fully to site it properly - if anyone finds correct attribution, I'd like to know. This wiki is the earliest use I could find.)

Change, particularly transformative change, is a very difficult thing in education. Because I work in technology and professional learning, virtually everything I read is focused on how to create change in one way or another. I liked this graphic because it really summarizes how gaps create barriers to the change process. It also helps me to think about why many of the teacher leaders I work with feel frustrated.

Technology requires both pedagogical and structural change that never really stops. Software, hardware, filtering, and policy must adjust as new technologies are available, and many people need to be a part of the process of deciding to change. Most of the time, those people aren't teachers, but they hold the keys to the resources that teachers need to make the change. Teachers fall into loops of frustration and treadmill because they can't access the resources or there isn't an effective plan for action, and teacher leaders are sandwiched between the angry teachers and the needs of students. Trapped by the inexorable slowness of institutional evolution and pressure from teachers and students who want change, teacher leaders can sometimes feel powerless.

At the same time, we teachers are often the source of our own confusion, anxiety and resistance when we don't want to use technology. Sometimes we can't envision why a technology is worth using and feel it is pushed on us. We often feel that our skills sets aren't as good as they should be, or as good as our students, so we feel heavy anxiety and say we "don't do computers." We are also busy people and don't want another thing to do - and while extrinsic incentives may cause us to use technology in the classroom, only a deep belief in student centered learning will cause us to use it well.

Back to frustration for teacher leaders, who are swished between desires of the converted and the slow pace of change, then pressed from above by the confusion, anxiety and resistance of those who don't want change at all.

Many divisions, including my own, have made tremendous progress in the last few years. I have seen us change filtering policy, put more money into professional learning on many subjects, and start to provide teachers with laptops. All of these things are correlated with better student outcomes and deeper student engagement. I know we are on the right track. So why are teacher-leaders frustrated, even as we are excited about the opportunities technology and afl offer for our students? I actually think it is a good sign. Stay with me here for a moment. . .

Take a look a the wallwisher exit slips from the end of the day. Many of these people want in, not out. That is a sign of people who believe in students, want to help teachers and can articulate what they need to do to gain more opportunities to influence how professional learning happens in their schools. I know frustration isn't always a sign of good things, but in this case I think it is a positive portent. If we can keep giving them resources and reducing the barriers, many of the teacher-leaders I worked with today will keep working until they can actually create significant change.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Real Choice

I was speaking to two teachers yesterday about real choice. I distinguished it from fake choice this way. When my children were 2 and 3, and in a phase where they really wanted to do and choose everything "self", I often provided the illusion of choice to gain compliance.

Me: Well, it is almost bedtime. Would you like to put on your pajamas first or brush your teeth first?

See? Looks like choice, but it isn't. You might get to choose your order of operations, but you are still in bed by 8 and your choices made no difference to the outcome. I think school functions on many of those algorithmic (finite sequence with instructions) choices.

Me: Today we are going to show we can suit what we write to our intended audience. Would you like to write a descriptive poem or a narrative poem?

Never mind that almost none of you see poetry as a way you choose to express yourselves and the intended audience will be me. I've given you choice - and it is about as genuine as the "Have a nice day" you get in a fast food drive through.

If you haven't read Daniel Pink's new book DRiVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us, you should. You can get the synopsis by watching his TED talk, but you miss some really important stuff.

In the book, Pink talks about our world has shifted from algorithmic tasks to heuristic ones. 70% of the new jobs created are heuristic and need people who can think creatively, plan their own task and solve problems. In short, the type of people who have experience choosing in complex situations without a template. Pink argues that schools need to shift to providing choice where ever possible, and that those choices need to be about things that are important. If we want students to be engaged, we need to avoid rewards and punishment and focus on creating opportunities for flow.

Dangerously Irrelevant, a blog I read, was on this very topic recently. The essential argument was that we let students choose content but not delivery, and they need to choose both. I think I'd take it a bit farther.
  1. We need to make the content essential questions, so it is worth studying and full of choice.
  2. Then we need to co-construct what is worth doing and how we can tell if it is done.
  3. Lastly, we need to allow students to show us what they know in a wide variety of ways (not just deliver it differently).

Let's try the classroom conversation again.

Me: When you write a text message or an essay, or you compose a digital story, you use different conventions. Let's view some pieces of text and talk about the differences (class discussion ensues).

Me: Make a list of three things that you think people need to hear. For each one, write what the message is, which people really need to hear it, and what type of writing, audio/video or speaking they will listen to the most. When you are done your list, pick the one that draws you the most (students start thinking about what they believe and how to communicate it).

Me: Now when someone really communicates well for an intended audience, how do you know? (Assessment for Learning process follow. The class brainstorms criteria. I help them group the criteria, prompt for criteria that might be missing and help them think about value the criteria in relation to each other).

Me: Now look at your plan. Will you be able to show us what you know? Get a buddy to help you revise it, so you can meet our criteria for communicating well for the intended audience (good critical thinking and an opportunity for powerful descriptive feedback before the product is even created).

In my newer version, virtually ever stage of the task is heuristic. My students are designers, arts and writers, and problem solvers. They are thinking critically and making choices about a subject that matters to them. In short, they are engaged because they are choosing and their choices really matter. They are motivated by the worthiness of what they choose not the mark they hope to get, and get much closer to mastery as a result (Pink has lots to say on this subject as well).

I don't have time to do this with every lesson, but I do it every time the thing my students are learning is important. And like with my children, I have taught my students about how to make effective choices and provided a safety net for the inevitable bad choices (if it isn't safe to fail, it isn't safe to take the risk of learning).

That's what real choices are, complex problems with significance - things that encourage engagement in deep learning rather than driving through on the way to a credit and a forgettable, nutrition-less meal.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Just like Parallel Play

Every time I think I need something, Wes Fryer finds it somewhere. I was working with teachers on social networking in the classroom last week. I showed them Clay Shirky's TED talk on social networking and had them categorize their own learning traits as digitally immigrant or native so they could think about providing digital learners opportunity to engage.

As we were doing it, I wished that I had a good interactive visual that provided facts on who our students are digitally. Today as I was checking my RSS feeds, Wes' blog Moving at the Speed of Creativity linked me to an interactive image full of interesting facts about digital learners.

I keep trying to persuade others that it is really worth their time to develop some form of on-line learning network. RSS is great for those who aren't really ready to talk to others yet and just want to lurk. In the workshop I lead on Friday, one of the teachers remarked that seeing teenagers in a circle texting each other is a lot like watching toddlers when they are at the parallel play stage. For me, watching others get information by searching but not use a digital PGN is the same thing. They are all playing near each other, but no one is playing or learning together. Anyway, thanks to Wes for being a great digital play-date and PBS for another great toy.