Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I WILL Talk in Class, I WILL Talk in Class, I WILL Talk in Class!

Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation. 

-Mark Twain

Yesterday, while discussing social media in education with Eric Sheninger and NPR’s Claudio Sanchez, a question arose regarding the stigma associated with social media. To paraphrase, Claudio basically asked Is social media “good or bad” for students, and if it is good, then why is it so negatively perceived? Of course, there are several reasons for the stigma, some more valid than others, but what occurred to me as another top culprit is much more fundamental and has very little to do with media.

The social component of social media runs contrary to the archaic yet ubiquitous reverence for silence over conversation in the classroom. While many innovative educators would much rather have a slightly noisy yet energetic and focused classroom, a vast majority of teachers and the public are still reassured that learning is taking place if students are quietly focused on “the task at hand”. In conferences with parents, the academic and social development of students is often referred to as mutually exclusive, with the focus on socialization frequently serving as a detriment to the other, much more valued skill set.

Silence over socialization is a flawed and severely outdated educational value, however. As a learner, I thrive on connection with others, picking up favorite bits of knowledge in Twitter chats as well as face-to-face conversations. As I write this, I’m very quiet and focused, and there is indeed a time for that in learning, but I am demonstrating learning and analysis in this task whereas yesterday, while engaged in conversations both online and off, I certainly did more actual learning. Collaboration and communication are two of the 4 Cs of the 21st Century Skills Framework (Partnership for Partnership for 21st Century Skills) and two of the 6 Cs from NAIS’s list. How are we to foster collaboration and communication without valuing our old nemesis talking-in-class? This is about as paradoxical as Twain’s sentiment.

Our underlying perception of social as separate from (or worse, an obstacle to) learning prevents us from embracing social media as a platform to even greater academic growth. Once we place a premium on talking-in-class and out of class, we can take a step in reversing the stigma of all forms of social learning, including social media in education.   

Photo Credit 1: NBC Latino:

Photo Credit 2: Partnership for 21st Century Skills p21_rainbow_id254.jpg

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Introducing #smEDchat

This is what I love about my PLN. A few days ago, I went onto Twitter to explore the use of social media in education. I figured there had probably been a chat started, and my critical thinking skills led me to infer that it would likely have the hashtag, I typed it in. While there wasn't a full thread of ideas already on it, the idea had been discussed by a group of educators interested in starting it. I reached out to them, connected with Jodie Morgenson @morgetron and voila, #smEDchat was officially started. We held our first live chat today at 11 AM EST with a great group of innovative educators sharing ideas. Here's the archive from our inaugural #smEDchat. Join us next Tuesday at 11 EST for more learning together.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Teachers Have Style Too!

Something has been nagging me for a few months, specifically since returning from the ASCD conference in Chicago this past March. I’d tell you the whole story of what caused me to pause and reflect, but I’d probably be banned from presenting again. It’s not really something one should share on a public forum like a blog. On the other hand, I likely won’t have the funds to travel there anyway this year, so what the heck, right? Also at this point, I’d feel a little guilty about leading you on only to let you down. Perhaps what we could do is have you email me, and if you email me (off the record), we can have a private exchange (encrypted of course). Sound good?

I’m sure if you’ve made it this far into the post (thank you), you might be feeling a little cheated by that proposition, but I’m here to share that that, my friends, is the “taboo hook”, a presentation hook shared with me when I attended the ASCD session of Dave Burgess, a.k.a. “Teach Like a Pirate” original pirate, author, and presenter. The taboo hook is intended to snag learners, drawing them into the content or experience by making them believe it is forbidden. Essentially, you are sharing a secret...and because it is a secret, it is by nature juicy, forbidden--and highly desirable.

I met Dave the night before my 8 AM presentation when I realized I had forgotten my dongle, an essential tool for presenting. With no hope of hitting an Apple store at 11:30 PM, I frantically tweeted out an S.O.S. and Dave, being the true kind pirate he is, offered up his booty and even attended my session. Of course I wanted to support him, but even more, I wanted to know what “Teach Like a Pirate” meant, so later that afternoon, I found myself sneaking past the “session full” sign into a standing-room only “Pirate” presentation. What Dave did during his presentation was essentially turn teaching into performance art. He went through the ABCs of Pirating a class’s attention--Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask & Analyze, Transformation & Enthusiasm--and then he shared some “stand and deliver” style hooks. As a one-time rebel, the taboo one was my favorite.

When I left his presentation, however, I was stumped. Surely, I had just witnessed great teaching. On the other hand, all I did was stand, listen, and watch. I didn’t engage in a problem-solving initiative, collaborate, discuss, or do any hands-on learning. BUT...I learned! What Dave did for me in that session was not just share information which stuck but also inspire me to learn more about how to “teach like a pirate”.

As I learned more, though, I wasn’t sure I was cut out to be a pirate. I find that the best learning in my class takes place when I’m not presenting, or at least through a combination of teacher-centered discussion and student-centered experiences. I’m also not a great performer. I have terrible timing in my delivery, I’m not funny, and I don’t come across as particularly rebellious. If I tried to be a pirate, I believe my students would force me to walk the plank until the real Mrs. D returned.

This has had me pondering teacher style and whether we are allowing for each teacher to rock his or her best in the class or whether we are forcing all teachers to believe there is one “best” style of teaching. We all see how students thrive when allowed to play in their style of learning, so why wouldn’t the same logic apply to teacher presentation style?

Recently, Edutopia shared via Facebook a post by Principal Ben Johnson entitled “Great Teachers Don’t Teach”. In it, Johnson proposed that “great teachers engineer learning experiences that maneuver the students into the driver’s seat and then the teachers get out of the way.” As an educator whose style is aligned with this sentiment, I read it and said, “Yes, I completely agree!” Then, however, I thought of Dave, and I thought back to my own high school experiences and whom I would consider my best teacher, Mr. Craft.

Mr. Craft was charged with teaching us either honors World History or U. S. History, I really can’t recall, because all he did teach us conspiracy theory, and particularly the history and conspiracies surrounding the Kennedy family. As a teacher, I would argue that by the book, Mr. Craft was a terrible teacher. We did not learn the prescribed curriculum, we never engaged in collaboration, formal assessment, project-based learning, hands-on learning, writing across the curriculum, experiential learning. In fact, I would say we only ever engaged in auditory learning and discussion through debate. But Mr. Craft did something no other teacher in my K-12 educational experience did...he captivated my curiosity completely and inspired me to learn outside his class. I did all of my projects for every class that year on something Kennedy related (even my physics project), and my friend Ryan and I were the only people under forty when the JFK and Ruby movies premiered as we finished high school.

Mr. Craft was a great teacher because he was great at how he taught. He could not have been any other style of teacher--when he tried, he failed miserably and we were similarly miserable. When I shared Edutopia’s link and asked my Facebook friends to reflect on what made their “best teachers” great, they all made very different points. Not surprisingly, one of my friends also cited Mr. Craft.

Maybe there is room for differentiated style in teaching and a place for balance in the classroom. Instead of measuring a teacher’s presentation method against today’s “best practices”, perhaps we should be measuring it against student indicators of best learning. And, to be clear, by best learning, I don’t mean standardized assessment. Like many things in life, the best learning can be measured in the love it produces, the spark it ignites, the relevant connections it builds. I would argue that great teaching happens not when a particular method of teaching is employed but rather when great learning is achieved.