The Power of Conversation

I have been reading Tom Peters (Blog, Twitter) work for almost 25 years now. I find it insightful, inspiring, and occasionally infuriating. I always wanted to have a chance to meet Tom and have a conversation over coffee. He does not address the topic much, but his thoughts about education, and what it means to learn, are filled with great potential for rethinking school. I have found that many of his best ideas are not business specific, though he presents them in that context. These ideas are foundational to the process of learning by doing – a critical idea long ago removed from our schools. On numerous occasions I have used a video clip of or quoted Tom in my posts here.

I have also have been following Tom on Twitter since he jumped into that pool about a year ago. I enjoy what he shares in 140 or fewer. This morning one really struck me and I decided to respond. I have responded to other “top shelf gurus” not expecting a response, and they have never let me down. Tom responded. Now, it was not an hour over coffee, but I appreciate his attention to “customer service” (the man practices what he preaches!) and count myself lucky to have had the brief interaction.

Reflecting on the momentary experience I find myself asking, “What power can be brought into classrooms around the world by ensuring interactions between our students and experts in the fields of architecture, art, medicine, sciences, business, engineering, technology, and especially authors, artists, thinkers and inventors?”

There is tremendous power in establishing, within our classrooms, the reality that we as teachers don’t have all the answers. At the start of every year in the classroom I began with a statement of my manifesto (of sorts) for the learning that would occur over the next nine months. My first line was an unapologetic announcement that they better be prepared for the fact that, “Your teacher doesn’t have all the answers.” Following on the heels of that announcement was a promise to always work with students to discover the answer to any question when none of us in the room knew the answer. I remember that every year at least one student would comment on how shocking it was for a teacher to admit the truth. They would also remark that teachers they had had previously allowed the “sage” aura to be perpetuated and they admitted they would often remark (usually under their breath or in their heads), “But you’re suppose to know, you’re the teacher” (my own kids have a version of that statement using “dad” in place of “the teacher”).

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Thoughts on Assessment 3: Writing the obit on summative assessment

This is the third in a series of posts on assessment. I imagine that it won’t be the last, but I think this is the most important of the three thus far. The first post was inspired by a post by Henrick Oprea (Blog, Twitter) and developed as I read posts by Steven Anderson’s (Blog, Twitter) and Jan Webb (Blog, Twitter). If you are just checking in at this point, here are the links to the first to posts (Note: I had started this post prior to attending Educon 2.2 at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, January 29 – 31, and worked on it while I was there, thus there is an Educon influence):

Thoughts on Assessment 1: A response

Thoughts on Assessment 2: A conversation

I have been researching and toying with this post for a few weeks and recently saw a link, in my Twitter stream, to a post by Jim Blecher (Blog, Twitter), entitled, “SocialMedia CreativityCommunity.” It really clicked for me and brought the pieces of this post together. I am a firm believer that even the most jaded students enjoy learning, what they hate, is school. There can be any number of reasons this is true, but one that is arguably universal across the student spectrum is the fact that far too much of school is organized around testing and not around learning. School is focused on the process of knowledge inoculation as opposed to knowledge appropriation. Teachers need to vaccinate themselves against the evils of high stakes testing and in order to do that, they design learning that focuses on the fractured knowledge that is required to successfully produce on those tests. Students, on the other hand, want to know “stuff” and want to see what can be created out of it, they want to appropriate the knowledge to themselves, shall we say, Construct Meaning. The missing element in the equation is relevance and it is missing because it has been tested out of the school process. I am not referencing just the high-stakes standardized tests, those are merely the most egregious example. What I want to focus on in this post is, hopefully writing an obituary for the idea of summative testing, or at least declare it in critical condition.

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Four “Must See” Presentations for Educators

I am not going to do more in this post than hopefully connect you with powerful thinking that I feel is essential for framing the conversation about rethinking school and discovering what its purpose is – why do we bother perpetuating school – which I fear has evaporated over time. I will cite what I think are key ideas – but you watch them and see what you can discover and then share your reactions/responses.

Larry Lessig

Key Idea: “We can’t stop our kids from using it [technology]; we can only drive it underground. We can’t make our kids passive again; we can only make them, quote, “pirates.” And is that good? We live in this weird time, it’s kind of age of prohibitions, where in many areas of our life,we live life constantly against the law. Ordinary people live life against the law, and that’s what I — we — are doing to our kids. They live life knowing they live it against the law. That realization is extraordinarily corrosive, extraordinarily corrupting. And in a democracy we ought to be able to do better. Do better, at least for them, if not for opening for business.”

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Rethinking School 101: Seven Ideas to Inspire Conversation

I am regularly amazed at the effect that Twitter can have on my thinking. Actually, not so much Twitter itself, but rather the links, shared by others, that I click through on. Today I came across an article by Maria Lorena Lehman at the web site SensingArchitecture.com titled 7 Ways to Keep You Inspired for 2010. Right away the title caught my attention. Isn’t there a constant lament heard from teachers, “How do I inspire my students to learn?” The initial thought is what can teachers do “to” students that will cause them to be inspired. Instead, what if the thinking were turned in the other direction, “What can I, as a teacher, do “to” myself that will cause my students to be inspired?”

The idea of professional development is, in my opinion, predicated on reflective activity. Without asking ones self questions, there can be no growth. What most caught my attention, after the title, was the list of seven items that Lehman identified:

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Status Quo 101: It’s a Race to the End

I started this as a response to Clay Burell’s (Blog, Twitter) post, “Barbarians with Laptops: An Unreasonable Fear?” and half way through decided to move it to my blog due to its length. The spark for this train of thought was the statement by Nathan Lowell (Blog, Twitter):

Does the challenge become one of changing the politics so that learning is more important than coverage? If you can take away the opportunity cost of floundering and instead *use* that floundering as the lesson, then this is no longer an obstacle but an advantage.

And Clay’s response:

I’ll start with saying I’m still uncomfortable with the opportunity cost notion. As a history teacher — which to me means “preparation for informed citizenship” teacher — I’m not sure I want to sacrifice time that could be used learning and drawing conclusions from human history on the altar of failed web 2.0 experimentation.

I see the value of both, though. I’m thinking a separate course — a sort of “Intro to Web 2.0″ — might be more useful than teachers across the curriculum failing and flailing about with the tools when their primary job is teaching content.

And I’m still traditional in thinking content is more important. Without it, we risk churning out what I’ve recently been calling, in my internal monologues, “barbarians with laptops.”1

Teachers and philosophers across the centuries have taught successfully without the new tools (to whatever degree we can certainly debate, and could also debate whether the percentage of students who don’t learn well under traditional methods would learn any better via digital means).

And the new tools also enable “connections to knowledge via people” that can be unreliable, which opens a new can of worms.

The responses were also intriguing, but I kept coming back to a singular point, resparked by the above exchange, that I find fundamental to the discussion. I have worked with students in Grade 5 (US) through grad school, both online and in a physical classroom. Caveat: I have worked in self-contained classrooms, teaching almost all subject matter and settings were I worked only with specific disciplines.

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Thoughts on Assessment 2: A Conversation

Last week #edchat on Twitter focused on assessment, including both formative and summative. Since that conversation there has been a further exchange of ideas. It started with Henrick Oprea (Blog, Twitter) and his post, On Assessment – part 1. His post got me thinking and I responded by posting Thoughts on Assessment: A response. soon after, I picked up a link (via Twitter) to Steven Anderson’s (Blog, Twitter) post  offering his thoughts, “Summative? Formative? I Just Wanna Know What My Kids Don’t . . .” The next day, after brief conversation, Jan Webb (Blog, Twitter) offered her take, “Assessment.” Henrick followed up with “On Assessment – part 2.”

I have spent time letting my thoughts about assessment and this sharing of ideas develop and want to add some additional thoughts to the conversation. I am not “against” assessment. I am against the way assessment is being administered in education today, especially summative assessment. I am reminded of Franks Smith’s comments,

Like memorization, testing has become central to education. Many people, teachers included, can’t imagine teaching or learning without it. 1

Assessment, currently, is primarily a teacher directed activity and focused on a fixed amount of information, learned over a fixed amount of time. It is time to rethink assessment and discover how it can be used to bring relevance back to the educational experience.

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Thoughts on Assessment 1: A response

I “met” Henrick Oprea (Blog, Twitter) in #edchat on Twitter last night and enjoyed a conversational exchange with him. Henrick is an English teacher in Brazil. The discussion in #edchat last night revolved around assessment and was lively, informative, and a pleasure to take part in. I spent time, following the discussion, letting the conversation mature and develop in my thoughts. I have often had strong opinions about assessment, especially standardized forms of assessment. I think that standardized assessments are disingenuous tools inserted in the educational process from a purely profit motive mindset.

Earlier this year I responded to “It’s not ‘the tests.’ It’s us.” a blog post by Dr. Scott McLeod (Blog, Twitter). “It is the test! Or is it . . .” I said commented that:

[Standardized tests are] an analytical tool too often abused and misused. It is not wrong to take regular snapshots of learning, analyze them, and improve practice. The problem arises when these snapshots are given an undo amount of significance in the process of improvement.

I mention this because, I do believe that assessment is a useful and necessary tool. However, I also believe it is rarely used in a way that benefits either the teacher or the student and I mean all assessment, whether standardized or teacher generated. I want to respond to some portions of Henrick’s post, an outgrowth of last nights #edchat, that concerned me – not concerned me about him (he’s a stand-up guy), but because I think they are generally applicable to a wide segment of the teaching force in this country.

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Rethinking School 101: The Changing Human Experience

I recently made a new acquaintance (via Twitter), Venessa Miemis (Blog, Twitter), who is “pursuing a Masters in Media Studies at the New School in New York City, exploring the intersection between technology, culture, and communication. She is a member of the Space Collective community, and has contributed guest posts to Blogging Innovation, MediaRights, gnovis, and Memebox.” Vanessa maintains a blog that is focused on metathinking, Emergent by Design, it is a great “thinking” blog and a recent post caught my attention. The pertinent part for me was:

For several years now, I’ve been studying the intersection of technology, culture and communication, the impacts of social media, the relationship between creativity, innovation and design, and the potential of various futures.

I’ve had this gnawing sensation at the edges of my mind that all these areas were held together by a common thread, but I couldn’t put my finger on the connection. My intention is that by taking this out of the incubation stage in my head and putting it into words, it will become clarified and provide some value.

First off, let me lay out a framework . My ideas are based on 3 main concepts:

* Social media is fundamentally changing the human experience.
* The world is increasing in complexity.
* We are experiencing accelerating change.

I was especially focused on the three bulleted items:

* Social media is fundamentally changing the human experience.

This is, of course, a very accurate statement that, calls into question the foot-dragging that currently is the method of educational reform. I think it important to state that I am not an advocate of reform. During my twenty-three years as a classroom educator I saw one reform after another be presented in the fall only to find it dead by Thanksgiving.

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Edublog Awards, A First Time Experience

This is the first time I have involved myself in this set of awards. This is also the first time I actually felt qualified to do so. So, here are my Edublog Awards (The Edublog Awards Homepage) nomination suggestions:

Best individual blog: Will Richardson: Webblogg-ed (Twitter)

Best individual tweeter: Steven W. Anderson @web20glassroom Twitter, Blog

Best group blog: Change.org’s Education Blog

Best class blog: Alice Project (Christian Long: Blog, Twitter)

Most influential blog post: David Jakes, Strength of Weak Ties: Me? Obsessed? (Twitter)

Best teacher blog: Wes Fryer: Moving at the Speed of Creativity (Twitter) (Note: You don’t have to have a single classroom to be a teacher)

Best leadership blog: David Warlick: 2 Cents (Twitter)

Best educational tech support blog: Sue Waters Blog (Twitter)

Best elearning blog: Steve Wheeler: Learning with ‘e’s (Twitter)

Best educational use of a social networking service: The Educator’s PLN (Tom Whitby: Twitter)

Best new blog: Venessa Miemis: Emergent by Design (Twitter)

Lifetime achievement: Diane Ravitch: Bridging Differences, (Twitter)

I feel the need to add a category. I don’t know if this is allowed or not, but here goes:

Best Educational Change Blog: Scott McLeod: Dangerously Irrelevant (Twitter)

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