Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chris is to Collegiate Renewal as thinking is to brain- ISTE 2010, Day 3

My first morning session this Wed. is called Beyond Tools: Thoughtful 21st Century School Reform. It is presented by Chris Lehmann. Chris starts by reinforcing that pedagogy drives technology not the other way around.

He says the push for him comes from watching his elder son go from loving learning to hating learning, especially reading, in kindergarten. He also says being trusted with other people's children makes him want to be better everyday. Students are able to do more than ever before, but this creates a madden paradox of education in 2010. Kids are learning all the time digitally, and then the go to the school where the learning stops. This was basically the last thing he said that related to technology.

Next Cris moves to the difference between change and innovation. Change is just differently and innovation is completely new. In most schools, we have school plus computers. Technology needs to be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary and invisible. It can be transformative because we can create, research, collaboration, presentation and network, but these all existed. We may just be doing them better.

In order to tell a better story, we must have vision.  There is a profound difference between "I teach Math" and "I teach kids Math". Students should never be the objects of their own education. Schools need to be inquiry given and student-centered. It must be about their learning not our teaching. That doesn't mean we don't need teachers - we need them more than ever because they need strong mentors. Schools need to be collaborative and students need to engage at the synthesis level. The work needs to mater, so schools are a place of passion. Schools should not be preparation for life, it should be life. One way to do this is change how many classes we have and see them as lenses not silos. That means we have common themes and content is integrated across curriculum. More than anything else our students need to reflect and be metacognitive. They need to know how they learn. 

As I listen to Chris, I hear all the basic tenants of Collegiate Renewal. Our goal "All collegiate students will be engaged in their learning so they will graduate as active participants in lifelong learning and as responsible and caring citizens in the community, nation, and world" has much in common with the vision Chris is articulating. It's like his thinking is a part of the overall structure we have developed to guide everything.

Chris asked us to talk to a partner about our vision, and my partner was Tim from New York. Tim works as a professional developer for 22 schools, and his main vision is student engagement. Tim is hoping to change his professional development practice so that teachers pick one main goal connected to engagement and go after it, rather than attending sit and get sessions and getting a point or credit for them. Sounds like the shift in our professional learning practice over the last 5 years. Tim and I talked about the strengths and pitfalls of our approach.

Once we got back in the big group, Chris talked about some ways you know when you are getting to your vision (here is Chris' vision):
  • Your vision exists in the structure of the classrooms, not in the practice of a few teachers
  • We use common language intentionally
  • We use a common process of planning and assessment
  • The thing you use to assess at the end is the measure of the real focus of the class and articulate the most important learning in the class
These would be good ways of framing evidence around Collegiate Renewal. On thing I have noticed, is that some of the things Chris is talking about are givens in my teaching. He talked about releasing their grade 12 students to work on an independent inquiry, for example. I taught that same class last year to grade 11s - it was called Inquiry 20. However, to Chris' point, my teaching opportunities have not been standard, nor is the resulting learning students experience.

The next question Chris asked was "What is one structure you would change and how would you change it?" If I could pick one thing to change would be the rigidity of class structures. Although I have taught integrated classes, classes with community time, etc., I think few teachers have the opportunity to structure the learning so it is about what you learn not the time spent in the seat. One of the teachers stood up and talked about his experience in Maine, which works in that direction.

One of Chris' points in that each of the great changes we make also has problems. His goal is empowerment and his demon in entitlement. He asked us to think about some hard questions:
  • What is the worst consequence of your best idea and how will you mitigate it?
  • What are the obstacles to the change and how can you overcome them?
  • If you make these changes, how will the lives of teachers be different?
  • How will the lives of students be different?
  • How will you deal with the change?
Chris notes that at his school, students work really hard because of the projects. However, there needs to be balance. When you do real work, you need to do less of it, because it is much more demanding.

Schools must be transformative for students, and for teachers. Being willing to be transformed means that we have so much left to learn. That is the critical element of Collegiate Renewal for me is just that, engagement for both students and teachers through a growth mindset. Want to read more about Chris' ideas? Check out his site or follow him on twitter.

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