User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

How Language Affects Our Teaching Practices

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I had the privilege of hearing two Native American women, Rina Swentzell and Tessie Naranjo, talk about their mission to “save” the Tewa language from extinction.  What was profound about their talk was their discussion of the power that language has to influence how we think and what we do; and that language is culturally determined.

Rina Swentzell posed the following questions during her talk:

  • What is our relationship to words?
  • How does language connect us?
  • How does language become representative of our hearts?

 tewa

Dr. Swentzell went on to contrast Tewa to the English language.  Tewa language is softer, European languages harsher and harder.  Tewa language focuses on verbs; as a doing-ness.  European language emphasizes noun – the things.  Tewa is inclusive, European languages often are not.  She also discussed how very similar words have different meanings,  For example, the Tewa words for to teach and to learn are closely related to “to breath”.  She also wondered, “How does English affect our thinking and change us?”

Guy Deutscher author of “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages” notes:

When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself, affecting your experiences, perceptions, associations, feelings, memories and orientation in the world.

As an educational reformer, this lead me to give more thought about the language used for educational culture in the United States and how this language affects teaching and learning practices.  Some common educational terminology includes (a sampling):

  • Standards
  • Objectives
  • High Stakes Tests
  • “Class” room
  • Accountability
  • Schedule
  • Benchmarks
  • Mastery
  • Methodology
  • Performance-Based

This words, as analyzed in relation to Dr. Swentzell’s comments, are nouns, do not focus on the doing-ness or actions that can/should be taken by administrators, teachers, and students, are non-nurturing, and do not emphasize relationship.

So maybe, as in line with the language of the Tewa, the discussions surrounding education could/should focus on the verbs, on the doing-ness of administrators, educators, and learners with each other, the content, and the world-at-large. A sampling of action verbs for education include:

  • Teach
  • Learn
  • Think
  • Give
  • Plan
  • Support
  • Experience
  • Engage
  • Inspire
  • Inquire
  • Change
  • Grow
  • Discuss
  • Dissect
  • Affirm
  • Analyze
  • Relate
  • Empathize
  • Connect
  • Create

2014-10-18_0900

Such intentional use of language would, as research suggests, change the way we think about and ultimately DO education.

Math teacher, Jason Faulkner , How We Talk About Education Shows What It Means To Us reflects on how his thinking about education affects his teaching practices.

As I reflect on how this narrative is told in my own classroom, Parker Palmer’s words weigh heavily on my heart. As the teacher, one who Palmer calls “the mediator between the knower and the known, the living link in the epistemological chain,” do I not surreptitiously perpetuate an “epistemological error” in my classroom whenever I present knowledge as something to possess or control or master, rather than as a gift to love?

Those serious about educational reform based at putting the learner at the center, need to take a long, critical, dissecting examination at the terminology we use to explain teaching and learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 18, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Maker Education Conference Workshop

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The slide presentation and participant photos from a professional development workshop for educators:

 

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 11, 2014 at 5:20 pm

The Mindset of the Maker Educator

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Here are some graphics, Thinglinks, and the slideshow I created for my Mindset of the Maker Educator Workshop:

perfect stormhttps://www.thinglink.com/scene/575147870160683008


educator_as_maker_educator_1http://www.thinglink.com/scene/529031635128025090


makingreflection

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 8, 2014 at 12:24 am

How Educators Can Assist Learners in Developing a Growth Mindset

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I have written, described, and presented about the growth mindset in education settings, see

This post delves a little deeper, and hopefully provides some additional ideas for how educators can assist their learners in developing a growth mindset.

Part of facilitating a growth mindset within learners involves changing some preconceptions of the role of teacher.  One such change is in viewing one of the roles as being that of a coach.  As Kirsten Olson discusses in Teacher As Coach: Transforming Teaching With the A Coaching Mindset:

Coaches operate with an underlying assumption that giving advice to others undermines the confidence and self-worth of others.  Others don’t need to be fixed.  In teaching we need to move to exactly this stance in order to foster creativity in our students–to allow our students the choice, control, novelty and challenge that builds their creativity.  Without the assumption that our students are already competent, imaginative, and ready to burst forth with regular exhibitions of novel and valuable ideas and products, we are limiting their creative capacities before they’ve even had a chance to discover them.

The educator, as a growth mindset facilitator and coach, has a different, often unique, set of beliefs about students learning and growth. The following infographic shows (1) the common beliefs of an educator who promotes a growth mindset, and (2) some reflection questions about instructional practices that reinforce the growth mindset:

Growth Mindset_ Educator Edition-2

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 28, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Growth Mindset: Personal Accountability and Reflection

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I am an adjunct faculty for several teacher education and educational technology programs.  I have been so for a few decades.  During that time I have noticed the changing nature of student behaviors and expectations regarding their class projects and assignments.  Students seem to expect perfect grades for not so perfect work.  I can predict that when I “mark down” a student, I will receive a complaint about that mark down (it happened just this evening) even with clear cut and concrete grading criteria like uses references to support ideas in blog posts, includes copyright available images.

I have been studying, blogging and presenting about the growth mindset (see The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop).  When speaking of a growth mindset, a fixed mindset also needs to be discussed and described.  Fixed mindsets are associated with avoiding failure at all costs.  What I don’t see mentioned as part of a fixed, or maybe they be called toxic mindsets, are characteristics or attitudes like:

  • Mediocre is often good enough for me as long as I get the work done.
  • I expect my teachers to give me full credit for completion and submission of my work.  Quality is not a variable.
  • It is okay to just do “enough” work to minimally fulfill the requirements.
  • Good grades are what really matter to me.  I am not really interested in receiving qualitative feedback.

In response to these experiences, I developed a Personal Accountability and Reflection series of questions.  I will suggest that students use this “checklist” in order to develop and enhance their growth mindsets through personal accountability and reflection.

  • Did I work as hard as I could have?
  • Did I set and maintain high standards for myself?
  • Did I spend enough time to do quality work?
  • Did I regulate my procrastination, distractions, and temptations in order to complete my work?
  • Did I make good use of available resources?
  • Did I ask questions if I needed help?
  • Did I review and re-review my work for possible errors?
  • Did I consider best practices for similar work?
  • Is my work something for which I am proud – that I would proudly show to a large, global audience?

Growth Mindset_ Personal Accountability and Reflection

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 13, 2014 at 3:11 pm

The Intersection of Growth Mindsets and Maker Education

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I have a recent interest in both Growth Mindsets and Maker Education; and have blogged and presented on both of these topics.  As such and because of my passion for both of these area, I have been thinking about the intersection between the two.  This intersection, I found, is strong and powerful.

A growth mindset tolerates more risk and failure, while a fixed mindset tends to avoid risk and its accompanying frustration. It is obvious which mindset helps someone adapt to and contribute to a world that is constantly changing. Dweck points out that many who excel academically have a fixed mindset, which limits them to exploring only the areas they were told they were good at. Such mindsets are often found within the teaching profession itself, and presents a true challenge in adopting Maker principles to the classroom of the near future. Conversely, many who do poorly in school have taken too seriously the judgment of others about their abilities in subjects such as math or science. In both cases, such limiting views of oneself are self-defeating and can hold people back from exploring new areas and developing unknown capabilities. Making is about developing one’s full potential. (Ed Tech and the Maker Movement)

Craig Lambert notes the connections between a growth mindset and maker movement in a blog post he wrote for the Maker Faire Atlanta.

I’m aware that many, if not all, Makers seem to hold the growth mindset. They relish challenges, they want to stretch themselves, they want to try and do things that they have never done before.  In fact, it seems that what we really need as a human race is a whole lot more people with the growth mindset in order to tackle and overcome the many challenges we face. (A Growth Mindset)

Some of the characteristics of the intersection of a Growth Mindset and Making include:

  • Effort is valued.
  • Hard work leads to positive results.
  • Growth & development are at the forefront.
  • Everyone can do.
  • Focus is on the process of learning.
  • One’s personal strengths, creativity, curiosity breed results.
  • Challenges are seen as opportunities.
  • Capabilities and skills can be developed, improved, and expanded.
  • Failure is approached as iterative.
  • Feedback, positive and constructive, is openly accepted and used for growth.

growth&makerCreative Commons License
Growth Mindsets & Maker Education by Jackie Gerstein is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 7, 2014 at 9:13 pm

School Should Be More Like Camp

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Some things about me:

  • I love to learn, create, invent, ponder and imagine what can be.  I consider myself insatiable when it comes to learning
  • I hated school from 2nd grade through college.  It was painfully boring for me.
  • I loved summer camp.  I went to day camp for 10 years.
  • I have vivid memories of my camp experiences.  I have vague, blurred memories of school.
  • I feel that I learned so much more at camp than I did at school.
  • I believe that school wasted and basically stole my time.

So needless to say, I promote the idea that school should be more like camp. What follows is a chart comparing school to camp.  Which would you prefer to attend?  Which would you prefer your own children to experience?

traditionalvcamp

What follows are some excerpts of articles that reinforce these ideas.

From Why Can’t School Be More Like Camp

Focus on Relationships, Team Building, and Goal Setting

The first day of school would start with the teacher leading the students in team building activities and giving them ample opportunities to get to know each other. Kids would be paired and grouped in different ways to make sure that everyone learns everyone else’s name. New kids would be warmly welcomed by returning kids.  They would also learn about each other’s talents and interests. This conversation would be ongoing throughout the year to give kids the chance to share with and encourage each other as they learn new things.

Hands-On, Active Learning by Doing

If school were more like camp, hands-on activities would far outnumber multiple-choice tests. The information that really “sticks” is the stuff we do, so why is so much time spent on memorizing things that are forgotten within days?

If school were more like camp, students would spend less time sitting at a desk quietly working by themselves on a work sheet and more time practicing teamwork and collaboration, working on science projects and presentations, acting out a book they are reading, and building their creativity and problem-solving skills.

Students would be encouraged to delve deeply into topics that interest them, regardless of what’s on the list of standards.

A Positive Culture

If school were more like camp, teachers would be trained to create a fun, warm, and inviting place as much as they are trained to teach math skills. They would learn how to find what is special and unique about each of their students and help their students feel valued and included.  Teachers would check in with each student, every day, asking how they’re doing and providing support if they are struggling. Kids would be excited to get to school, and teachers would greet each student with a smile and a high five, hug, handshake, or fist bump.

If school were more like camp, kids would be cheering for and supporting each other as they learn new skills. Kids would celebrate each other’s successes by making daily “WOW” announcements and leaving encouraging notes. For kids who are struggling in some area, supportive peers would provide guidance and encouragement. Kids would openly talk about their areas of strength and weakness and support each other in improving.

Core Subjects Plus “Free Choice” Learning and Pursuit of Passions

At camp, we require that kids participate in certain activities, even if they’re a little scared. We know that they benefit immensely from challenging themselves and building new skills. But we also allow kids to pursue activities that they are passionate about. What if school could be the same way? Kids would be required to learn specific skills, of course, just like they are now. But they would also have more free choice options to pursue things they’re passionate about. Aspiring writers could have their own blog. Future doctors could do extra science research and experiments. If we showed more respect for kids’ interests and desires and let them spend more time on things that they are passionate and excited about, school would be a much happier place for them.

. . . and some more characteristics of camps which should be common school practices – from 5 Ways School Should Be More Like Summer Camp

Intentional, Intense Community

Summer camps make a point of helping the community to bond quickly through playing games, hiking and camping together (a.k.a. meeting and coming through a challenge together), telling stories around a fire, sharing sleeping quarters, and creating rituals around daily tasks like eating.

Facing Fears and Pushing Comfort Zones

At summer camp, kids do things they are afraid of.  They go swimming in creeks with snakes, they sleep in cabins with creepy crawlies, they go on 3-day hikes and sleep in the woods with who knows what kinds of monsters, they scrape their knees, and they don’t have their parents around to rely on.  Now if that isn’t just a recipe for learning coping skills and how to handle the unexpected, I don’t know what is.

Outdoors and Interactive

We already know that sitting in a desk and being lectured at is not the best way to learn.  There are also studies showing that environmental education boosts creativity, social skills, and problems solving skills.  So it’s clear that education should be more hands-on and more out of doors.

Regular Communal Singing

Singing a beautiful or lively group song is different than singing along to the radio.  It can bring a group together and can infuse a relatively mundane task with humor and joy.  But it takes time and commitment to build up a community repertoire of songs.  We have to take the time to teach them and sing them regularly so that is an inclusive activity.  There is little quite so touching as a group of young people harmonizing around a camp fire, or singing a song of gratitude to the cooks, or merrily caroling as they walk to the next activity.

Mixed Age Groups and Mentoring

This is something that summer camps get really right and most schools get really wrong.  At summer camp, kids are constantly mingling across ages.  Teen-age counselors are leading the activities and what could be more hip than that to a 10-year old?  Here is this older, totally cool person, who isn’t nearly so old as their parents, who they can jump on, and look up to and learn games from.  They get to see this older person making jokes, having conversations, dealing with problems, singing songs, having fun and generally being a model of (more) mature, multi-dimensional life.  In schools we separate the teen-agers from the pre-teens and both suffer.  The teens lose out on that sense of responsibility and accountability; they don’t get that sense that their behavior might influence someone else.  And the young ones only have teachers and parents to look up to, who seem so distant and foreign, instead of learning from a variety of ages and outlooks.

. . . and some others based on my own experiences.

Arts Integration

Doing art with a fully stocked art room is a central activity at camp.  All kids are artists at camp with accessible art projects like scratch art, lanyards, leaf rubbings, tie dying.  Children smile with pride at their creations rather than saying things like “I can’t draw” or “I am not an artist.”

Informal drama and theater is also part of the camp experience with talent shows, charades, and paper bag dramatics.   There is innate joy to expressing oneself through drama and theater without the fear of being graded or judged harshly.

Games, Sports, Movement

Sitting around passively isn’t part of the camp experience.  If the camper isn’t playing a sport, s/he might be going for a swim.  Then s/he runs to the art room, and after that – maybe a quick game of tag.  Kids aren’t (or shouldn’t) be told not to run (as in run in the halls).

Learning from Multiple Sources with Ongoing, Informal Assessment

Multiple means and avenues are used to learn to swim, tie a knot, identify a leaf, make a lanyard, and/or sing a song,  A combination of direct instruction, peer modeling, peer feedback, and natural consequences work together to help insure that most campers learn these skills.  Evaluation and assessment are indirect and ongoing – again coming from multiple sources.

. . . and finally, if we are serious about student engagement, motivation, and retention, then student satisfaction with and enjoyment of school should be a primary goal.  From the New York Times article, Why Can’t School Be More Like Summer?

Summer camps are by design happy places, run by people who clearly have been selected for their genial and outgoing personalities as well as their willingness to be ridiculous and silly on short notice. Camps embrace what Robert Louis Stevenson called “the duty to be happy”  Happiness is embedded in the summer camp business plan, and is central to what they do. If children  aren’t happy; they won’t come back.  Schools could learn a lot about student retention and achievement by taking a page from the summer camp happiness playbook.This is especially true right now.  Yet in all the talk about education reform, happiness rarely seems to make the list, even though there’s plenty of evidence out there about what an improved school environment might mean for learning and test scores, not to mention student attitudes and drop-out rates.

The bottom line, which is the focus of many of my blog posts, is that there is a belief that schools need to be the way they are.  They do not.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 31, 2014 at 9:38 pm

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