User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘student voice

A Socratic Seminar for Elementary Learners

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Socratic seminars have been around, obviously, since the days of Socratics. I believe they are an underutilized but powerful instructional strategy.

In the Socratic method of education, teachers engage students by asking questions that require generative answers. Ideally, the answers to questions are not a stopping point for thought but are instead a beginning to further analysis and research. The goal of the Socratic method is to help students process information and engage in deeper understanding of topics. Most importantly, Socratic teaching engages students in dialogue and discussion that is collaborative and open-minded.

Ideally, teachers develop open-ended questions about texts and encourage students to use textual evidence to support their opinions and answers. In the Socratic seminar, the teacher uses questions to guide discussion around specific learning goals.  Socratic questioning is a systematic process for examining the ideas, questions, and answers that form the basis of human belief. It involves recognizing that all new understanding is linked to prior understanding, that thought itself is a continuous thread woven throughout lives rather than isolated sets of questions and answers.  http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/4994

The Benefits of Socratic Seminars are:

  • Offer opportunities for student voice
  • Embrace the power of open-ended questions
  • Often mimic how intellectual discourse occurs in real like
  • Support providing evidence-based arguments
  • Build active listening skills
  • Reinforce close reading
  • Approach real world solutions as having multiple perspectives
  • Hone critical thinking skills
  • Build oral communication skills
  • Emphasize the importance of critical reflection
  • Help to develop conflict resolution skills

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To learn more about Socratic Seminars, visit:

Sneetches: A Socratic Seminar

I introduced the Socratic Seminar to my two groups gifted elementary learners, ages 7 to 12, through the following slidedeck and by using Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches

Here is some highlights from this Socratic Seminar:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 6, 2017 at 2:57 am

Teaching Grammar-In-Context

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Archaic Ways of Teaching Grammar

We construct grammatically correct sentences or correct our mistakes by intuitively applying the rules that govern English syntax. If, instead, we had to apply those rules consciously, they would only get in our way, making it impossible for us to speak or write at all. To construct a simple two-word sentence, such as “He dreams,” requires the application of at least seven grammar rules. Imagine trying to apply them consciously following the rules of English grammar.

Over the years, the teaching of grammar has continued to be prominent in English and foreign language instruction, leaving less class time or student energy for students to speak, read, or write in those languages.  As early as 1906, studies were undertaken that attempted to show the relationship between knowledge of school-taught grammar and language skills. Since then, hundreds of such studies have produced some clear and unequivocal conclusions: The teaching of formal grammar does not help a student’s ability to speak, to write, to think, or to learn languages.

It is important for educators to know that, among recent research studies, not one justifies teaching grammar to help students write better.  Although we accept the fact that social, economic, and political forces influence education in many areas, we ought not to allow such forces to outweigh knowledge and reason in determining the school curriculum. (Is Teaching Grammar Necessary?)

A recent – November, 2017 – research article entitled, Experimental trials and ‘what works?’ in education: The case of grammar for writing, concluded:

With regard to our substantive case of grammar, the current evidence from randomised controlled trials does not support the widespread use of grammar teaching for improving writing among native English-speaking children. Based on the experimental trial and meta-analysis evidence about writing teaching more generally, our hypotheses are that supporting primary/elementary pupils’ grammar is most likely to require teachers intervening during the writing process, and interacting to discuss the use of grammar in relation to the overall purpose of the writing task and the purpose of the writing. Small-group and whole-class teaching that includes a focus on the actual use of grammar in real examples of writing (including professionally produced pieces, realistic examples produced by teachers including ‘think aloud’ live drafting of text and drafts of pupils’ writing) may be more effective.

Learning Needs a Context

I often discuss and blog about teaching content within a context, that learning needs a context. . .

How often have students been asked to memorize mass amounts of facts – historical dates, vocabulary words, science facts; get tested on them, just to forget almost all those memorized facts a week or two later? Given that is this learning experience is more common than not, why do educators insist on continuing this archaic and ineffective instructional practice?

The visual image I use to describe this is that there are all of these unconnected facts floating around in the learner’s brain. Since they have nothing to connect to, they end up flying away. This is especially true for abstract concepts including memorizing grammar rules.

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The key to increased understanding is providing a context for the facts and the rules. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts and rules. This is especially true for abstract concepts such as grammar rules. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.context

Providing a Context for Grammar Instruction

I teach gifted elementary level classes with a good portion of the students being English Language Learners. This translates into ELA grammar making even less sense for them than for English only learners. I do a lot of maker education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and STEAM (adding arts to it) activities with them, and ask them to document their learning through taking photos and blogging about those activities using their Chromebooks. Because of the article about grammar and talking with the school’s literacy coach, I decided to bring grammar-in-context into my classrooms. How I’ve done this is through projecting individual blog posts onto the Smartboard. The writer of the blog opens his or her blog post in an editing mode. Another learner reads the blog post out loud. The rest of the learners make suggestions for improvement as it is read out loud. I help guide them asking questions like:

  • Does that sound right?
  • Is that the correct verb for that noun?
  • What tense should that verb be?
  • What type of punctuation in the different pauses?
  • Is that spelling correct?
  • Is that possessive? If so, what is the punctuation?

. . . and again, these questions and the suggested edits are done in the context of the individual learners’ blog posts that have already been composed.

Here is an example of one such blog prior to editing:

Some of my observations from this process that I noted includes:

  • Learners eagerly volunteer to have their blog posts reviewed. First, they really enjoy having their posts read out loud. Second, I believe this is also due to the focus being on improving their means to communicate better not for a grade.
  • The learners know that their blogs are viewed by their own classmates and their sister school (I teach gifted education at two schools and have opened my Kidblog to both schools to view one another’s posts). They have authentic audiences and what to present their best selves.
  • As it becomes a group exercise, the other class members seem to enjoy the challenge and become engaged in offering corrections and improvements.
  • To keep up the motivation and make it manageable, I only do 2 or 3 during any giving sitting.

An Engagement Story

Update: This is the second year that I am continuing this practice with my gifted elementary learners. I have a student who dislikes the hands-on activities I do in my class. Since I do so many of them, I often struggle to find ways to engage him. One of his strengths is writing and grammar. I’ve made him the “official” grammar coach helping the other learners edit their blog posts. When he is doing so, he definitely finds his stride; a purpose in my class.

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He work with an English language learner to help her edit her blog post. Both learners were highly engaged in this process,

Here is the before:

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Not perfect, but better, and I believe they both learned from the process.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 14, 2016 at 9:26 pm

Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities

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This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  This actually is a definition of differentiation.

Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Differentiated_learning)

One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning.

Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning.  Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized:

Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?

Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?

The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do.  The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.

Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.

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Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Tangrams: A Cross Curricular, Experiential Unit

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Now that I am back in the classroom two days a week teaching gifted elementary students, I can do and report on the cross curricular units I plan and implement. There are several guiding factors that I use to design my units:

  • They need to be hands-on and experiential.
  • Learner choice and voice is valued.
  • They need to address cross curricular standards. It is like life. Life doesn’t segment content areas into separate entities.
  • They do not depend on the use of worksheets. Worksheets tend to address a single standard or skill. Plus, learning how to do worksheets is NOT a life skill.
  • Communication, collaboration, and problem solving are built into the learning process.
  • Reading and writing are integrated into the learning activities in the form of fun, interesting books and stories, and writing stories, narratives, journalistic reports.
  • Educational technology is incorporated but with a focus on using it to interact with real world physical objects and people.
  • A reflective component is included.
  • The educator becomes a facilitator whereby activities are introduced and then the learners become the active agents of their own learning.
  • The goal is to create the conditions for learners to say they the best day ever.

Tangrams: Cross Curricular Unit

The tangram (Chinese: 七巧板; pinyin: qīqiǎobǎn; literally: “seven boards of skill”) is a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape (given only an outline or silhouette) using all seven pieces, which may not overlap. It is reputed to have been invented in China during the Song Dynasty,[1] and then carried over to Europe by trading ships in the early 19th century. . It is one of the most popular dissection puzzles in the world. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangram)

Goals:

The students will be able to:

  • Read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (CCSS.ELA)
  • Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Understand that shapes in different categories (e.g., rhombuses, rectangles, and others) may share attributes (e.g., having four sides), and that the shared attributes can define a larger category (e.g., quadrilaterals). Recognize rhombuses, rectangles, and squares as examples of quadrilaterals, and draw examples of quadrilaterals that do not belong to any of these subcategories. (CCSS.MATH)
  • Develop and portray characters including specifics about circumstances, plot, and thematic intent, demonstrating logical story sequence and informed character choices. (ELA and Visual Arts)
  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams. (21st Century Skills)
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)

Materials:

Learning Activities

Read Grandfather Tangrams + Learners Create Tangrams for Each Story Character

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Each learner is given a set of tangram puzzle pieces and a set of cards that shows how to make each tangram animal in the story. Grandfather Tang is read to the learners either directly from the book or through https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x74l1ZM-zP0 so it can be projected. The story is stopped each time there is a reference to one of the Tangram animals. Learners construct that animal using their own set of Tangrams.

Check-In with Tangrams

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One of my morning activities with learners is to have them check in as to how they are doing that day. The check in for this unit is to create a Tangram that represents how they are feeling. Selections are made from a sheet given to learners:

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Giant Puzzling Tangrams

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Making the props for this activity is worth the trouble as it is a very high engagement, high learning, high reward activity. To set it up, an area is chosen that is about 50 yards long (outside or in a gym) and the giant Tangram shapes are placed in a pile at the start of this area. Learners are given a card that has the design of a Tangram at the beginning of this area. They need to produce that Tangram and then all get on top of that shape. Their goal then becomes to cross the designated area using the Tangram pieces as stepping stones. If they fall off, they must go back to the beginning and start again. When they reach the end of the designated area, they are given another Tangram shape they need to construct prior to stepping off. This translates into the need for them to maneuver the Tangram pieces into the design while standing on pieces.

Tangoes Tangram Card Game – Paired Challenge

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Next, the learners play the Tangoes card game in pairs. The object of Tangoes is to form the image on the card using all seven puzzle in a challenge with another learner in a race to solve the puzzle. It helps build visual spatial skills as the cards don’t have demarcations for the individual Tangrams. I promote some cooperative work as I ask the partner who figured out the answer to help his or her partner to do so, too.

Make 3D Tangrams

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Learners are given the printed out templates for a set of 3D Tangrams and construct them.

Create a Story from 3D Tangrams – Take Photos and Write a Blog Post

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Learners think of a story using their 3D Tangrams and take photos for the scene(s) of their stories. They then upload these images to their blogs and write about their story.

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(Postscript: Wow – I didn’t review their blog posts until after school. We are definitely going to discuss this student’s blog post during on next class session. Great teachable moment to discuss this real life situation of one of their classmates.)

Feelings During FLOW-Related Learning

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Watch children, youth, and even adults when they are immersed in learning something of interest of them, and you will see often complete engagement and personal joy. When education is done “right”, learners often feel and experience the following in their both formal and informal educational environments:

  • Joy
  • Engaged
  • Excited
  • Wonderment
  • Intrinsically Motivated
  • Creative
  • Accomplishment and Pride (in themselves and in their work)
  • Connected (to the content, to other learners, to experts)
  • Purposeful
  • Important
  • Valued

Learners Should Experience

All of these feelings described above are often experienced as part of a FLOW state. The characteristics of “Flow” according to its originator and researcher, Czikszentmihalyi, are:

  1. Completely involved, focused, concentrating – with this either due to innate curiosity or as the result of training
  2. Sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality
  3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going
  4. Knowing the activity is doable – that the skills are adequate, and neither anxious or bored
  5. Sense of serenity
  6. Timeliness – thoroughly focused on present, don’t notice time passing
  7. Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces “flow” becomes its own reward (http://austega.com/gifted/16-gifted/articles/24-flow-and-mihaly-csikszentmihalyi.html)

Joy and engagement are intentionally at the top of the list as I believe these two feelings  are needed in order for all others to occur, for flow to occur. First and foremost, for me, is my desire to help learners experience joy in the learning process:

Building on a child’s ability to feel joy, rather than pushing it aside, wouldn’t be that hard. It would just require a shift in the education world’s mindset. Instead of trying to get children to buckle down, why not focus on getting them to take pleasure in meaningful, productive activity, like making things, working with others, exploring ideas, and solving problems? These focuses are not so different from the things to which they already gravitate and in which they delight.(Joy: A Subject Schools Lack)

As for student engagement . . .

Student engagement, described as the tendency to be behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively involved in academic activities, is a key construct in motivation research (Thijs & Verkuyten, 2009). Consequently, compared to less engaged peers, engaged students demonstrate more effort, experience more positive emotions and pay more attention in the classroom (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004). Further, engagement has also been associated with positive student outcomes, including higher grades and decreased dropouts (Connell, Spencer, & Aber, 1994). (Encouraging Positive Student Engagement and Motivation: Tips for Teachers)

I wholeheartedly believe that one of the roles and responsibilities of the modern educator is to set up the conditions for learners to experience flow. To achieve a state of flow in the educational environment isn’t nor does it need to be that complicated. It can be as simple as replicating real life learning in more formal schools. I have discussed this in my post Natural Versus Unnatural Learning. In real life, learners learn through . . .

  • Setting up environmental conditions for themselves – often in comfortable furniture sitting and laying in positions that work for them; eating and drinking when desired; going to the bathroom when needed and by not asking for permission.
  • Moving around and engaging in distractions which can help in processing information.
  • Asking others for information, ideas, and help on an as needed basis.
  • Getting online to explore personalized inquiry about the content they are learning about.
  • Interacting intimately with content related, real life objects.
  • Learning in a context where that learning real world applications. Deep and meaningful learning occurs within a context.
  • Watching and learning from those more experienced than them. Now with technology, this observation can come in the form of videos, social media, and live communication networks such as Skype and Google Hangouts. Natural Versus Unnatural Learning

Given a growth and flexible mindset, educators can easily implement these ideas within their own classrooms.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 23, 2016 at 11:43 pm

Approaching Marginalized Populations from an Asset Rather Than a Deficit Model of Education

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Too often marginalized populations (e.g., some populations of people of color, students from lower economic communities) are approached with a deficit model. Attempts are made to instill in these groups of students the skills to make them successful at the Eurocentric education that dominates most schools in the United States.

The deficit model of education sees kids as

  • lacking in some way
  • defective
  • deficient
  • needing to be fixed
  • not as good as . . .
  • needing to develop skills valued by mainstream society

And in schools all over America, students are forced to “learn” in a way that befits deficit model thinking. We make sure that students are doubled and tripled up in the subjects they are worst at. Schools are reducing the amount of time students have music and phys-ed and even science so that kids have more time to raise their test scores. It is as if the sole purpose of schooling for many kids is just to make sure that they are slightly less bad at the things they are worst at. We have created a schooling environment where the sole purpose seems to be to ameliorate the worst of abilities our students have, rather than nurture the best of who they are. (http://practicaltheory.org/blog/2013/03/28/stop-deficit-model-thinking/)

Sadly, many educators and administrators aren’t even aware of the deficit model of education prevalent in many schools systems. It follows, then, that they are definitely not aware of the differences between deficit and asset models.

The differences between deficit and strength-based thinking help to explain why efforts to improve the public schools have often been counterproductive and certainly less than sustainable.  Most elected leaders and educational bureaucrats tend to view the public schools in deficit terms and seldom focus on individual and school-wide strengths. (http://www.teacherdrivenchange.org/deficit-strength-difference)

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http://www.teacherdrivenchange.org/deficit-strength-difference

The asset model of education approaches kids from marginalized populations as:

  • having unique strengths, passions, and interests
  • being competent and capable in settings that are important to the learners
  • having their own personal powers
  • having much to offer to other learners and their school communities
  • sources for educating others about their communities and cultures
  • thriving in a climate of differentiated instruction and Universal Design for Learning
  • even though they are not marching to the beat of traditional school design, it doesn’t mean they are out of step

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Every child has a gift; the challenge is helping them discover that gift. This strategy focuses on the students’ abilities rather than inabilities. As students understand what they have to offer, they can focus on their abilities to accomplish tasks in any subject area. (http://www.schoolimprovement.com/initializing-asset-based-education/)

There is a growing body of research that urges schools to acknowledge the social and cultural capital present in communities of color and poor communities (Moll & Greenberg, 1990; Gonzalez, 2005; Yosso, 2005). Tara Yosso (2005), for example, critiques static notions of cultural capital that fail to recognize what she refers to as “community cultural wealth”—characteristics, such as resiliency, that students of color and poor students often bring to school that should be recognized and built upon. Similar research by Wenfan Yan (1999) suggests that academically successful African American students bring unique forms of social capital with them into the classroom that are distinct from white, middle-class cultural models and that African American parents tended to contact their children’s schools regarding their teens’ future career aspirations and experiences in schools more than White parents. As this body of research continues to develop, schools and school agents may abandon deficit perspectives, affirm the cultural richness present in these communities, and implement more culturally responsive approaches aimed at improving the educational experiences and outcomes for students of color and students from lower socioeconomic strata. (http://www.education.com/reference/article/cultural-deficit-model/)

Of special interest is the current trend towards maker education in both formal and informal educational environments and insuring equity for all populations:

A huge part of trying to bring equity to every moment of tinkering is to see students as full of strengths from their home community, their families, and their experiences. Kids are brilliant and it’s our responsibility to notice their brilliance and deepen it. This perspective has allowed kids who don’t fit into traditional ideas about what it means to be smart, or academic, thrive in the tinkering space. (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/05/03/tinkering-spaces-how-equity-means-more-than-access/)

If we sincerely believe in creating school systems based on equity, then we need to design systems that honor and respect all students.

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Questions Learners Should Be Addressing Every Day at School

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I believe it is every educator’s responsibility to help insure that learners are addressing the following questions during each school day:

  • What questions am I asking today?
  • What answers am I seeking today?
  • What am I exploring today?
  • What am I making today?
  • What am I finding exciting today?
  • How am I playing and having fun today?
  • How am I using failure to inform my learning today?
  • What am I doing today to cooperate with others?
  • How am I documenting my learning today?
  • How am I sharing with others what I am learning today?
  • What am I doing today that has the potential to benefit the world?

questions

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 15, 2016 at 1:20 am

Student Voice Comes With Teachers as Listeners

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This piece was actually sparked by 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.

There is a current movement, in some circles, to promote and honor student voice.  But, and this is a huge but, if educators are serious about honoring student voice, they need to first learn how to listen, really listen to their students.

Students who are given a voice in setting goals gain ownership in what they’re learning. Teachers who listen to what students tell them they need to learn gain more than just a better understanding of the children they teach — they gain clarity on their roadmap to better teaching. And when conversations about teaching and learning are allowed to happen, teachers and students develop mutual trust and high expectations. (Want to Improve Teaching? Listen to Students)

Sadly, upon doing a Google search about why’s and how’s on educators listening to students, I found very little on the topic. It really gives the message – reinforces that teachers listening to students is not seen as part of best classroom practices. So my goal of this post is to offer some suggestions on how to listen to learners.

Listening Skills for Educators

  • Attend to the speaking learner with an open mind; without any agenda except to just listen.
  • Use body language and nonverbal cues that demonstrate a focus on the speaking learner.
  • Practice empathy skills with both verbal and nonverbal responses.
  • Engage in informal conversations encouraging learners to talk about non-school related topics.
  • Summarize what you heard the learner saying.
  • Reflect back to the learner what you believe to be the thoughts and feelings behind the stated message.
  • Ask open-ended questions if and when you don’t understand what the learner is saying and/or if you need further information.
  • Inquire about how learners connect to their learning; about their metacognitive strategies.

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Benefits of Listening to Learners

The benefits of encouraging and listening to student voices, and then acting upon what they say include:

  • Positive classroom culture which can lead to a positive school culture,
  • Improved teaching and learning,
  • Better teacher-student relationships,
  • Learners see themselves as active partners in their own education; they become more invested in their learning,
  • Learners feeling that they are in a safe environment where they are willing and able to express concerns, ask questions, ask for help, take risks.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 20, 2015 at 12:30 am

Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice

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Some of the recurring themes of my conference presentations and blog posts include:

The underlying theme of all of my ideas, of all of my blog posts is about setting up the conditions where learners’ choice and voice flourish.  I have come to believe that the only real education is one that fully embraces learner choice and voice. All instructional practices in this era of learning should revolve around learner choice and voice:

Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lorde poignantly describes this “transformation of silence into language and action [as] an act of self-revelation.” Opportunities for flexibility and choice assist learners in finding passion, voice, and revelation through their work. (http://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-choice-leads-to-voice-joshua-block)

Internet accessibility, technologies that permit the user-generated media, and social media allow for unlimited potential for learner choice and voice.

Learner Choice can be facilitated through:

Learner Voice can be facilitated 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.

As John Dewey notes (as is often the case, he says it best):

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

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Show Learners the Possibilities . . . And Then Get Out of the Way

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We are living in an age of advanced user-driven technologies, information abundance, and networked, participatory learning. It should logically follow, then, that education should take advantage of these amazing developments. As many of us in education know, it has not. This theme has permeated many of my blog posts:

Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0

The evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 can be used a metaphor of how education should also be moving, developing, and evolving from Education 1.0 towards that of an Education 3.0. The Internet has become an integral thread of the tapestries of most societies throughout the globe. The web influences people’s way of thinking, doing and being; and people influence the development and content of the web. The Internet of today has become a huge picture window and portal into human perceptions, thinking, and behavior. Logically, then, we would expect that schools would follow suit in matching what is happening via the Internet to assist children and youth to function, learn, work, and play in a healthy, interactive, and pro-social manner in their societies-at-large. This, sadly, is more often than not the case. Many educators are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0

Learner Agency, Technology, and Emotional Intelligence

The notion of agency as contributing to cognitive processes involved in learning comes primarily from the Piagetian notion of constructivism where knowledge is seen as “constructed” through a process of taking actions in one’s environment and making adjustments to existing knowledge structures based on the outcome of those actions. The implication is that the most transformative learning experiences will be those that are directed by the learner’s own endeavors and curiosities. (Lindgren & McDaniel, 2012)

All of this is fresh in my mind as I just completed four weeks of summer camp teaching maker education and photo-video apps to 5 to 10 year olds. This teaching experience reinforced for me that educators can be tour guides of learning possibilities; showing learners the possibilities, then getting out of the way.

Facilitating the Process

The following section describes some of the conditions in the learning environment that support the educator as being the tour guide of learning possibilities and then handing over the responsibility for learning to the learners. Educators still take on a very active role in the learning environment, but learning is driven by the actions of the learners not those of the educator.

Expectations for Self-Directed Learning

In a learning environment that stresses self-directed learning, the educator conveys the attitude that learners are capable of being masters of their own learning.

In its broadest meaning, ’self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18)

In line with showing learners the possibilities and getting out of the way, the educator needs to take a back seat role in the learning process. Learners may not, often will not, do things the way the educator might, but the educator respects and supports this process in a self-determined learning environment.

Educator as an Observer

If educators want to know how learners learn, then they need to observe them learning under their on terms, with tools and techniques they use naturally.  Too often adults assume they know how children and young people learn, and too often they do not especially in this new age of learning. The educator in the role of tour guide of learning possibilities first, observes to discover each learner’s unique way of interacting with the world, and second, based on these observations, suggests or offers resources and strategies to further each learner’s self-directed learning process.

Educator as a Resource

The educator as a resource means that the educator becomes a coach or a mentor. Educators are the adult experts in the room. Learners will often go to the educator for assistance especially when stuck on a problem or to get feedback.

The best coaches encourage young people to work hard, keep going when it would be easier to stop, risk making potentially painful errors, try again when they stumble, and learn to love [their learning] (One to Grow On / Every Teacher a Coach).

The educator as a resource implies that the s/he has multiple skill sets: expertise in the process of learning and expertise in how to navigate online environments along with the ability to mentor learners using these skill sets.

Educator as a Demonstrator of Technologies

A subtitle of this section is It Really Is About the Technology . . .  Sort of.  In order for learner agency and self-directed learning to occur, educators need to keep abreast of current and emerging technologies. There is an assumption that young people are digitally savvy and know how to use emerging technology.

The widely-held assumption that all young people are digitally literate and able to navigate the internet meaningfully is inaccurate. This is something we urgently need to address if we are to support young people to cope with – and contribute to – a complex, global and digital society (New report challenges the assumption that all young people are digitally savvy).

“If educators are serious about preparing learners for their real lives – current and future, then it becomes an ethical imperative to bring relevant, current, and emerging technologies into the learning environment (It really is about the technology and . . .).  This translates into showing learners the possibilities of technology and internet use for learning so the learners can then bring this knowledge into their own learning journeys.

Learning is Viewed as Natural, Fun, Playful, and Joyful

It has been said that learning is painful. I take issue with that phrase. When learning occurs in settings and with processes selected by the learner, it is natural, fun, playful, and joyful. Sure, there are struggles as new learning develops, but it becomes a natural, accepted part of the process.

The highest-level executive thinking, making connections, and “aha” moments of insight and creative innovation are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of what Alfie Kohn calls exuberant discovery, where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.  Joy and enthusiasm are absolutely essential for learning to happen — literally, scientifically, as a matter of fact and research (The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning).

Climate of Free Range and Constructivist Learning

The learning environment in a setting embracing self-directed learning takes on the characteristics of free range learning resulting in learners constructing their own meanings from their learning endeavors.

Free Range Learning is learning by living. It is learning by following our passions, exploring our world, living inquisitive lives and thinking freely. It is a lifestyle based on trust of a child’s natural desire to learn about the world around them. Every person’s learning journey will develop based upon their interests, experiences and choices (What is Free Range Learning?).

Free range learning is often associated with unschooling or homeschooling but it is intimately related to self-directed learning; and its tenets can be brought into in a more formal learning environment. The result is an honoring of contructivist learning “which holds that learners ultimately construct their own knowledge that then resides within them, so that each person’s knowledge is as unique as they are” (Learning Theories and Transfer of Learning).

Open to Emergent Learning and Learning Possibilities

Emergent learning is unpredictable but retrospectively coherent, we cannot determine in advance what will happen, but we can make sense of it after the event. It’s not disordered; the order is just not predictable (Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0).

Ambiguity is accepted. The educator lets go of what types of learning and products should result. By letting go of expectations “what should be”, there is an opening up to all kinds of emergent learning possibilities.

With an openness to emergent learning and learning possibilities, there is an acceptance that learning is messy:

Learning is often a messy business.   “Messy” learning is part trial and error, part waiting and waiting for something to happen, part excitement in discovery, part trying things in a very controlled, very step by step fashion, part trying anything you can think of no matter how preposterous it might seem, part excruciating frustration and part the most fun you’ll ever have. Time can seem to stand still – or seem to go by in a flash. It is not unusual at all for messy learning to be …um …messy! But the best part of messy learning is that besides staining your clothes, or the carpet, or the classroom sink in ways that are very difficult to get out … it is also difficult to get out of your memory! (http://learningismessy.com/)

. . . and a trusting of the process and embracing the journey:

I have learned that if you give freedom and trust to students, they will find their own way to the learning that matters the most. Playing it safe is not going to yield the opportunities that will make a difference. Off-script is when you don’t quite know where you are going, but you have the courage to commit to the journey knowing that it is the process itself that will hold the worth (Speculative Design for Emergent Learning: Taking Risks).

Use of Open Technology and Resources

In this age of information and technology abundance, free online technologies and resources are just ripe for the picking. An advantage of open educational resources is “expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OERs at any time, and they can access the material repeatedly(Pros and Cons of Using OERs for Instruction). These resources leverage the playing field. They are available to all learners regardless of geographic location and SES level (although access to the Internet is required). This translates in the availability of high quality tools and resources outside of the more formal educational setting. Learners can access them in informal learning environments such as at home or local coffee shops and/or via their mobile devices in order to continue and extend their self-directed learning.

How the Learners’ Benefit

I often say that all learning activities should have multiple and layered benefits – addressing cross-curricular, cross-interdisciplinary areas as well as developing life skills. Here are some of the benefits along with example learner self-statements associated with those benefits that I have observed as a tour guide of learning possibilities:

  • Technology Skills: I can use technology to help me learn.
  • Creativity and Inventiveness: I can create new & worthwhile ideas & things.
  • Risk-Taking: I am willing to try new things when I am learning.
  • Academic Mindset: I am a good and powerful learner.
  • Communication: I can communicate clearly both verbally & in writing.
  • Curiosity and a Sense of Wonder: I wonder about the world around me.
  • Connected Learning: I can network with others to help with my learning.
  • Self-Directed Learning: I know how to learn new things on my own.
  • Self-Motivation: I can motivate myself to learn new things.

Educators as Tour Guides of Learning Possibilities

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