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Visions of Education Futures Floating Around in My Head

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Walk into a classroom in any part of the United States, even the world, and you most likely will scratch your head in disbelief asking yourself questions such as:

  • Why do the classrooms look pretty much like the ones in which I, my parents, and my grandparents learned?
  • Many students (of all ages) own computers in the form of their cell phones that are more powerful than all of the computer power of NASA back in 1969, when it placed two astronauts on the moon. Why aren’t they using them for learning?
  • Why are the kids still categorized and sorted by date of manufacture (birthdates)?
  • Why are the students using paper-based textbooks that are older than the students, themselves, and provide no options to check for information accuracy or to extend their learning based on areas of interest?
  • Why is there one person standing in front of the room doing all of the talking with students sitting passively at uncomfortable desks when we know that active, social, and experiential learning promotes interest, engagement, and deep learning?

Slowly, ever so slowly, 21st century technologies, networking, and daily living practices are inching their way into our public school institutions. It may, to the chagrin of many of us, be at a glacier’s pace, but there is hope for the future of education. Technology will free us to ask questions that have never been posed, to envision beauty never before unveiled in the mind’s eye. To achieve this, though, we’ll need to educate people very differently (Robot-Proof: How Colleges Can Keep People Relevant in the Workplace). This generation has never known a life without technology and are constantly inventing new ways to use it for education, communication, innovation, recreation, and creation. Their visions for how people should learn will permeate the current systems of education and they will hopefully be the change agents bringing in a new era of education. They are growing up in a world full of connection, networking, and innovation and will demand that their educations reflect that connectedness, inventiveness, and orientation towards the future.  “By creating millions of networked people, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being (PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future).  There needs to be a different type of learning experience to prepare students for the future. The potential for the future of education is limitless. A vision for this future given technological and crowdsourced inspired advances include the following:

Information is abundant and education will become more evenly distributed. Our world is now marked by information abundance, surplus, and access. Learners are consuming real time and constant information, media, and news via Google, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and forms of social media via their mobile devices. Due to the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices and increased bandwidth, quality education will be accessible to everyone regardless of geographical location and socio-economic status. The futures of education will include learners being given the skills and agency to access this information and use it to inform their learning. The human mind plus our current technologies will far exceed the sum of these individual parts potentially for everyone throughout the globe.

Social based and networked learning will become the norm and an expectation by both educators and learners within all types of educational venues – formal, online, face-to-face, and job training. The borders such as those between grade levels, communities, ethnicities, states, countries that, in the past, way too often created artificial demarcations in educational opportunities will diminish and eventually disappear as globalization reinforces and rewards learners’ collaboration and interdependence with one another.

The emerging pedagogy of this century isn’t carefully planned. Rather, it’s developed fluidly. Our traversals across networks are our pathways to learning, and as the network expands, so does our learning. We share our experiences, and create new (social) knowledge as a result. We must center on the ability of individuals to navigate this space and make connections on their own, discovering how their unique knowledge and talents can be contextualized to solve new problems ( http://www.manifesto15.org/en/ ).

We have technologies to access any type of information and to create products that match the pictures and voices in our minds. We will use technology to get the assistance and feedback from folks around the globe for own personalized learning.

The technologies associated with customized avatars, haptic sensors, and online language translators will evolve enabling us to hold Holographic Meetings. This will allow learners from all over the world to meet virtually face-to-face and network in real time where they can see and hear one another as if they were in the same space. Learners will come together for real time communications, brainstorming, problem solving, and collaborative learning.  Learners of all ages from all geographical locations will meet via these holographic meetings to discuss areas of personal and academic interest, ideas for creative pursuits, and entrepreneur-related initiatives.

Textbooks and lectures of the past will be replaced by augmented and virtual reality simulations. 3D, 4D and even 5D will create many opportunities for learners. Informational texts in the future will not just show 2D pictures and plain text. It will be built to display 3D images, videos, and simulations.

Project Based Learning and DIY (do it yourself) will replace drill and kill instruction. Today’s education too often focuses on thinking about things rather than actually engaging in hands-on and experiential learning. Learners will embrace the DIY movement, making and creating as much or more than consuming. Humans have an innate need to create, innovate, dream  . . .  to do rather than just to be. The learners will be the voices and drivers of their own self-tailored, real world, and authentic projects. Their educations will be interdisciplinary as is life. Skills such as reading, writing, math, and other related disciplines will be learned within the context of real life projects.

Learners along with their connected networks will create their own mash-up of learning materials – print, online, video, and others forms of media. These educational resources will be gathered, curated, and disseminated freely and openly through a sharing economy. Educators and learners as well as policy makers and businesses will embrace this sharing economy as they realize how much a sharing economy can benefit current and future learners.

On the local level, learners will find their way to Neighborhood Learning Centers. These neighborhood learning centers will combine the best of coffee shops, libraries, technology centers, and makerspaces. The sites, sounds, smells, and interactivity that attract people to these places will replace the dry, often lifeless classroom environments filled with uncomfortable desks, only one person taking at a time, passive learning, and lack of real life learning opportunities. Educators would be the facilitators in these spaces acting as mentors, coaches, guides on the side especially for the kids and young people who come there.

In other words, these meeting and learning spaces will be learning labs. Learning labs are innovative spaces that prepare learners to meet the challenges of a complex global economy and gain the skills they need to succeed in a rapidly changing world, while allowing them to follow their passions and to inspire one another. Learning labs enable people to build the skills and knowledge to pursue a personal interest or passion in an environment that provides support from friends and caring adults, and can link this learning and interest to academic or career success or to civic engagement (The Spread and Evolution of Learning Labs).  The learning centers and labs will drive technological and human advancements rather than being environments characterized by late adoption as is typical of today’s school systems. They will act as think tanks, be the hubs for visionaries and trendsetters, and be the leading edge of innovation that will influence all other institutions.

Interest and passion-based learning groups will form within these learning communities and labs. These groups will emerge as members interests emerge. They will be fluid as membership changes and members’ interests grow, evolve, and change. Because there will be a number of neighborhood learning centers in every community, each center will have its own unique voice, personality, and passion-based groups. This not only will give learners choices within a given neighborhood learning center but additional choices within other neighborhood centers.

The groups will be mixed ages and genders where members act both as learners and as teachers. There will be situational teaching and learning.  This means that if someone has the knowledge or skills related to a certain area of learning, then that member will emerge as the teacher regardless of age.  Contributions by all not only will make everyone feel valued, the community as a whole will benefit.

The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.

John Dewey, Education Philosopher in Early 20th Century

Professionals will go to these learning labs to locate and recruit learners to come to their organizations for short and longer apprenticeships. Learning in apprenticeship is not just about learning to do (active learning), but also requires an understanding of the contexts in which the learning will be applied. In addition there is a social and cultural element to the learning, understanding and embedding the accepted practices, customs and values of experts in the field (Models for teaching by doing (labs, apprenticeship, etc.). The organizations will benefit by having the fresh perspectives of the apprentices who received their training and educations at the learning centers. The apprentices will benefit through gaining experience in the real world of work, and the learning centers will benefit as the apprentices bring back their experiences to the centers creating a full and fresh cycle of learning.

Learners will be asked to publish apps, articles, videos, or games; or develop a new invention or some form of new technology in order to graduate. New technologies are emerging at rate never seen before in the history of humankind. Each day brings new ways in which media, news, entertainment, photos, videos, games, apps, and augmented and virtual reality are being conceptualized, produced, and disseminated. Graduation requirements from High School and College will be based on learners adding something of value to their fields of interests and thus, to the world. Educational institutions, including the learning centers discussed earlier, will create ecosystems that support all kinds of student entrepreneurship and reinforce the values of inventiveness and innovation. Knowledge and skills will be demonstrated through portfolios and public demonstrations of completed projects. It’ll be a micro-credentialed and competency based education so employers and interested others will know the knowledge and skill sets of potential employees. This will include service to others.

Globalization creates an increased awareness and fuller picture of world issues which often leads to increased empathy. Today’s kids are growing up witnessing social activism via social networks, crowdsourced fundraising for those in need with initiatives like DonorsChoose and Indiegogo, and resourceful students doing projects to serve the underserved such as creating prosthetic arms with 3D printers and turning plastic bags into sleeping mats for the homeless. The result will be a world where Altruism and Service will become the norm addressing the need for humans to create safety, opportunity, and prosperity (intellectual, emotional, social) for all. We will err towards humanitarianism as global stewardship will permeate all aspects of education. Writing, inventing, creating media, and entrepreneurship for change will drive educational endeavors supporting the belief that all humans want to live a life based on, “I want to do things that will change people’s lives.” Problems will always exist in the world, but the collective whole of the human race, given the advancements specified in this article, will actively and proactively seek their amelioration.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 5, 2016 at 11:22 pm

The Maker as a Reflective Practitioner

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This coming year, I am doing several keynotes and workshops on the reflecting on the making process. Two elements from my training as an educator lead me to really embrace this topic:

  1. Background in Experiential Education
  2. Studying the Reflective Practitioner During Graduate School

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing.” Experiential learning is distinct from rote or didactic learning, in which the learner plays a comparatively passive role. The general concept of learning through experience is ancient. Around 350 BCE, Aristotle wrote in the Nichomachean Ethics “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experiential_learning)

Experiential education is a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities. (http://www.aee.org/what-is-ee)

There are several elements of experiential learning that are relevant to this discussion. First is that learning starts with an experience. This permits learners to have a direct and sensory experience interacting with the instructional materials. This often permits deeper and more significant learning. Second is that there is a huge reflective component to experiential learning. A saying from this field is that if there is no reflection on the experience, then learning is left to change.

The Reflective Practitioner

During several of my graduate courses, the idea of the reflective practitioner was introduced through studying the works of Donald Schon and Stephen Brookfield. Donald Schon explains the characteristics of the reflective practitioner:

The reflective practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomenon before him, and on the prior understandings which have been implicit in his behavior. He carries out an experiment which serves to generate both a new understanding of the phenomenon and a change in the situation. (http://infed.org/mobi/donald-schon-learning-reflection-change/)

Stephen Brookfield describes reflective practice as:

Reflective practice has its roots in the Enlightenment idea that we can stand outside of ourselves and come to a clearer understanding of what we do and who we are by freeing ourselves of distorted ways of reasoning and acting.  There are also elements of constructivist phenomenology in here, in the understanding that identity and experience are culturally and personally sculpted rather than existing in some kind of objectively discoverable limbo. (http://elearning.olc4tpd.com/enrol/index.php?id=5)

A recent research study published via Harvard Business Review concluded that:

  • Learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection-that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.
  • Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
  • Reflection builds one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning. (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7498.html)

Reflection in the Maker Process

The maker movement and maker education are becoming very popular in school and after school settings, libraries, and community centers. If making is to go beyond something that is just fun to do while doing it, then reflection can and should be used to help insure that the knowledge, skills, dispositions, attitudes, and values learned through individual making sessions are transferred to other settings.

Here is the slide deck I started for use during my presentations this year:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 2, 2016 at 12:21 am

A Natural and Experiential Cycle of Learning

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Given this era of learning where information is abundant and easily accessible, it is even more important than ever to help learners understand the learning process. As such, one of the major responsibilities of an educator in this era of education is to make the learning process overt and intentional so learners develop skills for becoming more effective learners. To do so, though, educators need to explore and deeply understand the processes and cycles of learning. Real life learning or learning outside of school usually doesn’t entail studying textbook materials and then taking tests to assess learning.

I’ve discussed the learning cycle in The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture, the need to provide context to learning, being intentional with students about the metacognitive process, and the importance of reflection in the learning process. These ideas and the works of John Dewey, Carl Rogers, and David Kolb provide the foundation for a natural and experiential cycle of learning presented in this post:

An educative experience, according to Dewey, is an experience in which we make a connection between what we do to things and what happens to them or us in consequence; the value of an experience lies in the perception of relationships or continuities among events. Before we are formally instructed, we learn much about the world, ourselves, and others. It is this natural form of learning from experience, by doing and then reflecting on what happened, which Dewey made central in his approach to schooling. (http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1914/Dewey-John-1859-1952.html#ixzz3x3JsjkBP)

The famous psychologist and a founder of humanism, Carl Rogers, also emphasizes the importance of experiential learning:

Rogers distinguished two types of learning: cognitive (meaningless) and experiential (significant). The former corresponds to academic knowledge such as learning vocabulary or multiplication tables and the latter refers to applied knowledge such as learning about engines in order to repair a car. The key to the distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs and wants of the learner. Rogers lists these qualities of experiential learning: personal involvement, self-initiated, evaluated by learner, and pervasive effects on learner. To Rogers, experiential learning is equivalent to personal change and growth. Rogers feels that all human beings have a natural propensity to learn. According to Rogers, learning is facilitated when: (1) the student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction, (2) it is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems, and (3) self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success. Rogers also emphasizes the importance of learning to learn and an openness to change. (http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/experiental-learning.html)

David Kolb proposes that experiential learning has six main characteristics:

  • Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.
  • Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience.
  • Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world (learning is by its very nature full of tension).
  • Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world.
  • Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment.
  • Learning is the process of creating knowledge that is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge. (http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/styles/kolb.html)

Too often in way too many school settings of all grades and levels; concepts, ideas, and skills are presented as abstract concepts. Students can learn these concepts theoretically but not with deep understanding. Deep understanding often requires learners to intimately interact with the material and for them to interact intimately with material, they need to learn about and know the material experientially.

Kolb conceptualized learning as a cyclical model.

Effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: of (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences. (http://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html)

[I am referring to and discussing Kolb’s ideas re: the natural cycle of learning not his ideas re: learning styles].

An Experiential and Natural Cycle of Learning

What follows is my version and explanation of the Experiential Learning Cycle:

CycleofLearning

The Stimulus; Gaining Interest

Gaining interest through some form of stimulus is a precursor to and a necessary component of engagement and entering into the experiential learning cycle. Gaining attention or interest is actually the first event of Gagne’s 9 events. According to Gagne’s nine events of instruction, gaining attention is the first key step taken into account when designing instruction. The basic idea is to grab the learners’ attention by presenting an interest device or a teaser. (http://elearningindustry.com/5-step-design-model-gain-attention-learner)

Both in real life and in the classroom, the learners’ attention and interest occurs when some stimulus is found to be interesting, novel, engaging, and/or exciting by the learner. It can be a demonstration, video, something someone has said, something a friend explained, a magazine article, a game. But again, it is something that the learners, themselves, find inherently interesting; something they want to learn more about due to some characteristics they find intrinsically motivating.

For example, I started playing Pickleball a few months ago. The stimulus came from several friends who began to play it at a local community college and told me repeatedly how much fun it is. This combined with my desire to add some fun sports-related work-outs to my routines acted as motivator for me to try it out for myself.

The Experience: The Doing and Redoing

The idea of experience as part of the learning process is central to John Dewey’s beliefs about powerful education.

The underlying philosophy of experiential learning cycle (ELC) models is Deweyian.  By Deweyian is meant that Experiential Learning Cycle models emphasize that the nature of experience as of fundamental importance and concern in education and training.  A further, Deweyian assumption underlying ELCs is that people learn experientially and that some experiences are educative whilst other experiences are miseducative.  All experiences are understood to be continuous, that is, each experience influences each future experience.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to structure and organize a series of experiences which positively influence each individual’s potential future experiences (Dewey, 1938/1997).  In other words, “good experiences” motivate, encourage, and enable students to go on to have more valuable learning experiences, whereas, “poor experiences” tend to lead towards a student closing off from potential positive experiences in the future.  (http://wilderdom.com/experiential/elc/ExperientialLearningCycle.htm)

Once attention and interest are sparked, learners typically have a desire to try that thing out. There are lots of ways the learners to have an experience including sensory-rich and kinesthetic experiences; hands-on use of and experimentation with materials and objects; and well designed virtual experiences and simulations. For my Pickleball example, it simply meant joining the group who play at the local community college.

The Reflection: Self-Assessing

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience. – John Dewey

I believe as John Dewey does that deep, meaningful, long-lasting learning is left to chance if it is not a strategic, integrated part of the learning process.

Critical reflection is an important part of any learning process. Without reflection, learning becomes only an activity — like viewing a reality TV show — which was never meant to have meaning, but was only meant to occupy time. Critical reflection is not meditation, rather it is mediation — an active, conversive, dialectical exercise that requires as much intellectual work as does every other aspect of the learning process, from analysis to synthesis to evaluation. But in reflection, all the learned material can be gathered about, sorted and resorted, and searched through for greater understanding and inspiration (https://canvas.instructure.com/courses/612829/wiki/heres-what-to-do-on-saturday).

In terms of this learning cycle, it becomes reflecting deeply on what worked, what didn’t work during the doing phase and exploring reasons why. For my own Pickleball example, I spend time after each play day assessing which individual plays went well and which did not along with coming up with my own reasons why for each.

The Conceptualization: Researching

Once learners have the experience and have reflected on the experience, they are ready to research ways to improve and increase their learning. The research is designed to hone skills and improve future performance. Since learners have had the experience of doing and reflecting on what worked and didn’t work in the implementation of the doing, they can research specific and personalized ways to improve. This research can come in many forms based on learner preferences. It can include doing online research, watching videos, talking to friends, colleagues and experts, and/or watching experts in action.

In my example of learning Pickleball, I went online and read blogs as well as viewed Youtube videos on how to play pickleball. I learn more about how and where to stand in the court, how to hold the racket, and how to read my opponents. None of these ideas or tips would have made any sense to me had I done the research prior to playing Pickleball.

Return to Doing and Redoing

Once the learner completes the cycle of experience, reflect, and research, they return to the doing phase to try it, reflect on it, and research it again.

For Pickleball, I return to the court to try out my new skills.

Going back through the cycle repeatedly reinforces that learning process is iterative. Iteration is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration”, and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iteration)  This cycle of learning reinforces that learning any new skill – making something, writing something, learning new technology, developing skills in physical movement, music, the arts – is an iterative process.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 13, 2016 at 11:12 pm

An Educator’s Gift to Their Learners: Seeing Each One of Them

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SeeingStudents

One of the greatest gifts an educator can give to their learners is to see each one; really seeing each and every one of them. . . . seeing each student’s uniqueness and interacting with each one based on that uniqueness. Some strategies to do this include:

Listen More Than Talk

If educators talk to their learners more than listen to them, then this is a problem.  Traditional education models have focused on the teacher being the content area expert – disseminator of information. But we are living in an age where traditional education should no longer be the norm; where the educator should be doing a lot more listening to their learners.

In an interview of Lady Gaga by Soledad O’ Brien at the Born This Way Emotion Revolution Summit where Gaga stated, “It’s time to stop telling learners what to do and start listening for we can do for them.” One of those accepted practices, sadly, in most educational settings is that the teacher is the authority to be respected and listened to without question. Listening to students is not a practice that is often taught in teacher education programs. (Student Voice Comes With Teachers as Listeners)

One of the first skills counselors are taught is how to listen. This should be the same for teachers. All pre-service teachers should be taught effective listening skills. Strategies for developing listening skills as an educator can be found in Student Voice Comes With Teachers as Listeners.

Set Up the Conditions to Give Learners Voice

A corollary to listening to learners is giving them voice.

In essence, giving students voice in their own learning is allowing them to express their views, opinions, and thoughts on how they feel they should be taught. If we truly believe in making our classrooms student-centered, led and directed by students, then we need to give them that voice. (Giving Students a Voice Models High-Quality Learning Processes)

Students want to achieve in school. They want to find purpose being in school. They want to discover their talents. Without students having a voice, we cannot collectively ensure that this will all happen for every student. (How Can Students Have More Say in School Decisions?)

This is further discussed in my post, Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice. Some ways educators can give students voice is by:

  • Giving learners an opportunity to use their unique voices to show what they know-what they learned (see UDL’s multiple means of action and expression).
  • Giving learners options to use their voice in a way that works best for them. Some may want to write, some may want to use art, photos, videos, and others may want to talk.
  • Helping learners find authentic audiences with whom they can share their voice.
  • Giving learners a say in how their school and classroom operate – being part of a democratic process.

Act Upon What Learners Say

The ultimate way to show learners that you’ve heard them is to act upon what they’ve said. For example, some learners might mention an interest in Minecraft. The educator can offer those learners an opportunity to use Minecraft to demonstrate their learning in one of the content areas. It is pretty magical watching a learner’s reaction when an educator implements a practice based on a learner’s comment. In such cases, learners often seem say with their nonverbal behaviors, “Wow, you really heard what I said!”

Give Learners Choice

Giving learners choice gives them an opportunity to self-differentiate and to be responsible for their own learning while giving them the message that the educator respects who they are as unique individuals. Giving learners choice also respects their need for freedom as discussed by John Dewey:

The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.

– John Dewey
Democracy and Education

This is further discussed in my post, Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice. Some ways educators can give students voice is by:

Personalize Learning

Personalized learning is yet another way to see each learner – it honors their individual needs, interests, penchants. Personalized learning, as described in http://www.personalizelearning.com, is all about the learner and starts with the learner. It is about the learner self-directing and driving their own learning. Personalized learning means learners…

  • know how they learn best.
  • self-direct and self-regulate their learning.
  • design their own learning path.
  • have a voice in and choice about their learning.
  • are co-designers of the curriculum and the learning environment.
  • have flexible learning anytime and anywhere.
  • are motivated and engaged in the learning process.

Personalizing learning gives learners the message that they are valued for who they are not who others want them to be.

Be Present

In order to be aware of and make the most of the interactions you have with your students, you have to be able to be to be “in the moment” with them in the classroom. In order for teachers to extend student’s learning, we must first “be present” with them. This means being aware enough of our own thoughts and emotions that we are able to adjust them and tune into the student’s immediate thoughts, needs, and emotions. This is no easy task, especially during busy classroom activities. In order to stay in the moment, teachers have to purposefully set aside thoughts about a) what just happened; b) what happened yesterday or this morning; c) what we have to do next; d) how we need to prepare for later; and e) we they feel about XYZ. Specific suggestions for staying present in the classroom can be found at Teacher Tips: Being “In the Moment” with Children.

Put the Learners at the Center

In these days of accountability and high stakes testing, too often the lessons, the curriculum, the standards, and the tests are put at the center of teaching rather than the learners.

The term student-centered learning refers to a wide variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students.  The term student-centered learning most likely arose in response to educational decisions that did not fully consider what students needed to know or what methods would be most effective in facilitating learning for individual students or groups of students. (Student-Centered Learning)

Putting learners at the center of learning translates into in honoring and leveraging their strengths and interests, grasping onto those teachable moments based on learner inquiry, and having the learners develop and explore explore their own essential questions. Most of all, putting the students at the center of learning translates into assisting them in internalizing that their own unique selves are of utmost importance in the learning setting.

Acknowledge  “Blend in the Woodwork” and Disengaged Learners

The idiom “to blend into the woodwork” means “to behave in a way that does not attract any attention; to disappear or hide.” These are the learners who aren’t the best students nor are they the worse. They do what is told without making any noise or a big deal about it. They are the learners who when asked years later about them, the educator has trouble remembering them.

Seeing each and every learner means that the educator also looks for and acknowledges the achievements of “blend in the woodwork” and disengaged learners. This acknowledgement comes in the form that works best for these learners – a note or quiet comment showing that the educator sees them; that s/he recognizes that they are an important part of the learning environment.

Develop Strategies for Dealing With Annoying Learners

Educators are humans first and there are going to be learners who get on an educator’s nerves. An effective educator acknowledges that s/he might not like all students the same but works hard to treat them all fairly. To do so, though, educators need to first identify when a student is touching upon a nerve, and second, to develop strategies for dealing with that student.

By developing some personal intervention strategies, the educator is actually owning the problem with a self-acknowledgement that: “This is my problem not that student’s problem. I need to develop strategies to help me cope with his or her annoying behaviors.” Although, that student doesn’t know it, the educator, in this case, is showing the utmost respect as s/he attempts to develop effective and unique ways of building an authentic relationship with that student.

Overtly Show Learners That You Care

Many, too many in my opinion, teacher education programs instruct teachers to not get emotionally involved with their students. I believe the opposite. Effective and caring teachers do get emotionally involved with their students to the point that they actually love them. This is actually congruent with research that indicates that relationships are key to student achievement. The teacher-student relationship needs to remain at a professional level but teachers can use their own individual style and techniques to show that they care for each and every learner. It can be as simple as giving a handshake or high five with eye contact and a smile to each learner as she or he enters and leaves the classroom.

Perhaps you’ve heard the statement, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When students are asked about the qualities of good teachers, they confirm the truth of that statement—caring is always at or near the top of the list. Caring is evident when you recognize students as unique human beings with different learning needs and preferences, and when you “check in” with students through actions such as walking around the classroom, talking to everybody to see how they are doing, answering their questions, and expressing confidence in their ability to improve. (6 Ways to Let Students Know You Care)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 2, 2016 at 11:48 pm

A Model of Good Teaching?

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One of my guilty pleasures is watching MasterChef Junior, a cooking competition for 8 to 12 year olds, and as an educator, I have been analyzing it as a model for good teaching.  My observations include:

  • The challenges are hands-on and naturally engaging for these kids. They are based on the kids’ passion for and interest in cooking.
  • The kids don’t need to be graded about their performances. Consequences are natural. Food gets burned. The kids sometimes get burned. The food dishes taste good or they don’t.
  • There is a gamelike atmosphere. There are elements of play, leveling up (each subsequent challenge is more difficult), a sense of mastery or achievement upon accomplishing each challenge. The experience is immersive with the kids living the part of a chef. The kids get to try new roles such as team leaders, lead chefs, team representative, and being popular (this is one of the first situations that some of these kids get to shine).
  • The kids push themselves to the limit within seemingly impossible challenges – mostly because of their love for cooking, a strong intrinsic motivator. The kids often create very difficult food dishes that they have never created before. They often rise to the challenges surprising both themselves and the judges with what they created.

Just seeing the kids … when their hands go up, and the look on their faces of what they have done is unbelievable. You can tell right on their face at that moment if they’re happy or if they’ve completely blown it. Obviously there are failures, and they’re crying. For the ones that have done well, when they put their hands up and they are proud of what they just put on the plate, that look — there’s no words to even go there with it. It’s unbelievable, because you know that they put everything into it. (Inside “MasterChef Junior,” the best cooking show on television)

  • The challenges are designed to be novel and create excitement and joy for the kids – there are things like mystery food boxes; the judges introduces challenges are astronauts; the kids cooking for other kids at an amusement. The kids visible shake with excitement and anticipation while the challenges are being introduced.
  • The judges are clear, specific, and truthful with their feedback: both positive and negative. The judges give brutally honest feedback. They are very specific in describing what worked and what didn’t work about about the kids’ food creations. Sometimes the kids cry but there is visible respect that the kids have for the judges and that judges have for the kids.

Even when Gorden (the top chef and host) is disciplining them, or yelling at them about something, there’s this level of respect that the child has for him, and he has for the child, that total care. They know, they get it. He’s this grandiose father figure that has the career of their dreams, and he just does it so naturally. He doesn’t sugarcoat things for them like they are a toddler. I mean, he really goes at them when they need it, but there’s always this wonderful constructive element. So that was awesome to see. (Inside “MasterChef Junior,” the best cooking show on television)

  • There is an atmosphere of mutual respect . . . kids for the judges, judges for the kids, and kids for one another.
  • The adult judges will come in and help the kids if they see any individual being pushed too far over their limits and capabilities. This intervention is based on teaching the kids proper technique not doing it for them.
  • There is a healthy competition where the kids have to compete against one another. The objective is to win but the kids seem more concerned about their own performance rather than the performance of their peers.
  • The kids, through working together on many of their challenges, develop into a close knit team and visibly support each other. Even though they are competing against each other, they seem to understand they are with like minded peers. In effect, they develop their own PLNs based on similar interests. For some, it is the first time they have been with peers with a passion for cooking.  Many cry when one of their peers in eliminated from the competition and say that they made friends for life.

goodteaching.jpg

What I believe the kids learn during their MasterChef Junior experiences:

  • Additional cross-curricular skills including math skills, oral communication, following directions;
  • Working with a team;
  • Tolerance for frustration;
  • That their passions and interests are valuable and meaningful.

Many of the kids in interviews following their elimination from the competition state that it was the best experience of their lives.  I have a hunch that many of these kids would say their MasterChef experiences taught them as much or more than all of the school years combined. I’ve written about creating the conditions for the best day ever.

It’s mind blowing how much I grew as a chef, how much I grew as a person. 12 year old Zac

Educators, in this era of learning, should focus on those conditions that create an environment that each and every one of their students love coming to school and love learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 26, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Courage to Be an Outlier Educator

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courage

Today, during a podcast interview, I was asked what it takes to be an educational thought leader. My response was, “courage.”  In this test driven, accountability-laden era of education, it takes courage to be an educator driven by authentic, constructivist, and student-centered values and practices.

Courage:

Courage is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.  Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss. According to Maya Angelou, “Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courage

Outlier:

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August. http://gladwell.com/outliers/outliers-q-and-a-with-malcolm/

I have been an outlier educator in a number of educational settings including elementary and college levels. I rarely stood in the front of the class as a sage on the stage. The only time I did so was to provide short snippets of information as mini-lectures, ten to twenty minutes in length, or to provide information about how to do the class activity. My classes were loud and seemingly chaotic (it was controlled chaos – I gave students lots of choices with the only rule being that you need to be engaged with a learning activity) with all students engaged and interacting with one other, computers, and with hands-on and experiential activities. I often was asked to quiet my students down and questioned about my classroom practices by other teachers and administrators. The other teachers did not like how I was teaching-what I was doing but my students did like it . . . a lot. Many students shined in this learning environment especially those who did not fit into or thrive in a traditional classroom. I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing even in these climates where I was an outlier, where my techniques were under constant scrutiny and ongoing questioning. So today, during that podcast, I realized I have been courageous in standing my ground about what I believe encompasses good, student-centered teaching and I also realized that I am proud of that courage. And in this new year, I toast all of those courageous, outlier educators.

Photo Image: http://www.superherolife.com/e-courses/cultivating-courage/

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 23, 2015 at 12:55 am

Making a Hacked-Out Ugly Christmas Sweater

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I’ve discussed the need to be a learner and lead learner in this era of education which includes maker education. What I find absolutely exciting about being a maker educator is that they need to be learners; dedicated and invested in attitudes and behaviors related to being lifelong learners as the maker movement is ever evolving with seemingly daily advances. I believe that being a lead learner involves documenting and reflecting on the iteration process that is common for maker education. I provided an example of this in my post, Educator as Lead Learner: Learning littleBits.

As a learner and maker educator who wants to keep developing my making skills, I decided to hack out an ugly Christmas vest. What follows is what I did and my reflections about the process of creating this vest:

Reflection on This Hack:

  • None of the original hacks worked correctly the first time. It was very frustrating but I had a need to make it work. Failure was not an option even if it meant my hacks weren’t as clean as I desired.
  • Even though they weren’t as clean as I originally pictured, there was joy in getting my hacks to work. It was rewarding and fun to see the finished vest.
  • The most joy I felt was when I wore the hacked out ugly Christmas vest to my health club. It was fun to watch others reactions –  their smiles, laughs, and comments were priceless when they realized all that was going on in my vest.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 21, 2015 at 1:35 am

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