That Was Then. This Is Now!

Henceforth I will divide my life into the pre-PLN Era and Life Hereafter.  Building my first personal learning network, or PLN, has been that transformational – a threshold experience.

In the pre-PLN Era, I had been refreshing myself on a pretty thin gruel of information made from randomly and casually foraged ingredients.

I know that Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli (2011), in their book Personal Learning Networks:  Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education, were advocating something much bigger than the Transformation of Ruth L. Bender.  But their grand plan is grounded in deeply personal change and they kindly unpack their concept to that granular level.  At first, the breadth, depth and seemingly feverish commitment of avid PLN practitioners sucked the wind out of my sails. I began to think of the pre-PLN me was a bit of a disaster. Disorganized. Haphazard.

But, spurred on by Richardson and Mancabelli’s enthusiasm and advice, I started to inventory what I already do.  And….huzzah!….I found that I had elements of a bona fide PLN already in play.   The inventory process encouraged me to credit what I already do by honoring the sources, both online and offline, that I currently dip into regularly.  But it also prompted three realizations:

  • I underutilize my current tools and resources and complacently rely on them rather than scour the landscape for fresh ideas and smarter practices.
  • I don’t share!  How can this be true!?  In my “offline” life, I hope I display upstanding behavior in this department but my online persona is shockingly stingy and secretive.  I have an inclination toward privacy and a reluctance to clutter the airways with my small contributions.
  • My online seclusion means that the gems I do take in….and the learning, new thinking and products that they prompt….have small audience.  Most of my network-fueled products are submitted for MLIS course assignments or job-related needs.  These are all good outcomes but I routinely forfeit a chance to contribute to the broader conversation.

As a result of these epiphanies, my newly resuscitated PLN got a transfusion of clarity, organization and intention.

PLN Scope and Aims
The scope of my PLN is the intersection of lifelong learning, technology, information seeking behaviors and the library profession.  My short-term aim is to markedly enhance my contribution to the learning environment at the school where I currently work in a high school library.  My focus is on helping teenagers and adults develop the aptitude for lifelong learning and a comfort with the meaningful integration of new technologies.  An emerging area of interest is in online searching.  In particular, I’m interested in 1) those skills and habits of mind that transform how we get the information and 2) impact of new trends in online curation on the use of online search engines and subscription databases.  Whether these goals lead me to another traditional school setting or distance learning environment will be one of the questions that my PLN may help me answer.  Aside from these defined areas of interest, my PLN also includes elements that give me regular injections of wonder and inspiration from beyond my narrow scope so that I stay alive to other perspectives, problems, and fields of endeavor.

My PLN in Detail
Spurred on by my PLN epiphanies, I centered my PLN around three fundamental activities:

  • Glean
  • Reflect
  • Contribute

These three intentions are based in a large part on Char Booth’s valuable advice about reflective teaching and transformative learning (Booth, 2011).  Mind mapping in MindNode Pro proved to be a very useful way to visualize my PLN.  Let me take you on a brief tour.

GLEANING:  On the right, I’ve itemized my approaches to gleaning.   At the top are the usual, rock-solid pathways I use to get information.  I value, as always, my community contacts as well as the the wealth of resources and educational opportunities I have access to through SJSU MLIS program and the high school where I work.  But I what I really set about to improve and routinize is the way I make use of Google Reader, Diigo and Twitter.

  • I made small, but significant changes, like adding bookmarklets to make curation virtually instantaneous.
  • I am more clever about my use of Twitter hashtags and the search functions on both Twitter and Diigo.
  • Most importantly I carefully vetted and augmented my sources on Twitter and Google Reader and stepped up my habit of checking in at both sites.

These improvements to my practice have markedly improved the quality of my find yield and my ability to share.

REFLECT:  The next action in my PLN is to reflect.  Right now blogging is my perfect platform for deep reflection.   For me, a commitment to regular blogging is like cross-training for my multiple literacy muscles and sets me, in particular, to a high caliber of writing and thinking.

CONTRIBUTE:  It is my newly minted intention to be a contributor to the wider conversation. Over the past couple of months, I have become a true convert to Twitter and will continue to focus on participating in the Twitter chatter.  Follow me @ruthlesslyterse! In addition, I am experimenting with Paper.li, a daily online newspaper format for showcasing sources that I’m interested in.  My edition is called Warp+Woof.  I can select and custom filter what streams in to Warp+Woof but I can also instantaneously push items that I glean from other sources on to it as well.

Both Twitter and Paper.li are rapid-fire ways to share what I find.   It has been very empowering to realize that sharing in this way isn’t clutter.  It’s curation!   My contribution is the very personalized lens through which I see and collect information.  My goal will be to enhance that contribution through meaningful synthesis and discoveries of my own.

Resource List
An active PLN is a perpetual work-in-progress, with the resources in the network subject to constant enhancement and editing.   For a moment-in-time snapshot of the resources that I currently consult via Twitter, Google Reader and my Warp+Woof Paper.li edition, please refer to My PLN Resource List.

Habit Forming a PLN
The sustainability and success of the PLN I’ve just described will depend utterly and completely on an intentional practice.  It will require a habit of:

  • organized monitoring of the sources that I value,
  • careful curation of the finds that resonate with me, and
  • routine reporting out on unique connections and discoveries that I make.
It will require something like this:

Therefore, I have committed to a daily habit of combing my customized conduits of information and tweeting what I find.  I will continue to blog on a bi-weekly basis and converse frequently with members of my network both on and off-line.

My PLN in Action
Ask me now how to build a PLN and I will report, from newfound experience, that you have only to consult and nurture your nascent PLN and just keep building.  Its evolution is a magical combination of hard work, attention and serendipity.  Here are a few examples of my PLN paying dividends.

Informing practice: Toward the start of this project, I had a long chat with a faculty member at my high school, Sarah Sutter, an avid networker who teaches summer courses on PLNs.   She swore by the zen-like nature of her PLN practice.  She suggested calm, mindful routine.  I try not to fret about what slips by me and instead look at each dip into my PLN as a refreshing sip from a deep spring.

Producing results:  November 11, 2012 will live on as the day that I caught my first big fish by routine trawling of my PLN.  A recent goal is to strengthen the capabilities of my PLN to yield results relating to online searching and information gathering.   When these two tweets came in, they were the first confirmation that my PLN could deliver, and hopefully build, on this area of inquiry.

Validation of results:  A Twitter search of ProQuest uncovered ProQuest’s DiscoverMoreCorps which offers access to a new ProQuest database each month and offers helpful search strategies.  The merit of this find was reconfirmed by another source in my network, Professor Virginia Tucker, when I solicited advice from her on online searching resources.   My PLN served up both the original find and a second party validation of it.

PLN Maintenance Plan
My ongoing challenge will be to stay on top of my PLN by both efficiently adding to it and winnowing it as needed.  Truly useful resources tend to rise to the surface but so do truly distracting ones.  For instance, @mashable supplies a barrage of information. The sheer volume can mask what is useful to me from Mashable.  I need to figure out how to attack that source with more precision.

Paper.li is an experiment in curation and sharing.  Paper.li is a wonderfully efficient way for me to access and feature items that interest me.  But it isn’t perfect.  It is representative of the ongoing task before me to refine current PLN tools or seek new ones.  My network, including colleague Glenda Baker who introduced me to Paper.li, can help me do that.

Another challenge will be to pay attention to what I’m ignoring!  After reading Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It, I am more aware than ever that my selection of resources will have its bias (Davidson, 2011).  My network will bring me new information that I would not have found on my own, but it will be bring me only that slice that meets my preset parameters.  The secret will be to look beyond.

PLN Life Hereafter
Now in place, my more intentional PLN practice seems very natural and healthy..…almost a living organism that needs care, feeding, exercise and attention to thrive.  Its online aspects dovetail very neatly with my offline, day-to-day community.  And vice versa.  One of the most intellectually invigorating parts of my day is my lunchtime conversations with my colleague Glenda Baker.  We ponder and brainstorm around the topic du jour.  We value our private conversations but we love what we call our “guest speakers”…. colleagues who join us for the lunchtime free-range conversation.  These conversations spill easily onto Twitter where we continue a back and forth of new finds and ideas.  This is where I see the consummate potential of the hybrid, living-breathing, cyber network.

The PLN Life Hereafter is simple. Glean. Curate. Share. Reflect. Contribute.

This is Now.

References

Bender, R. L. (2012, November 23). Google Soup [photograph].

Booth, C. (2011). Reflective teaching, effective learning: Instructional literacy for library educators. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Davidson, C. N. (2011). Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York, NY: Viking.

Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of connections to transform education. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

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Gaming Gorilla

Gaming has not been my thing.

At work, I have been an impartial observer of its thrall over high school students and, at home, a less than impartial observer of my own son Will’s hours of gaming.  If Jane McGonigal (2011) could have reported her findings about the merits of gaming ten years earlier, Will certainly would have had more scholarly salvos to launch in our many skirmishes about video games.

If gaming had value, I did not see it.

When I reflect on Will’s game time now — with the insights from the research and experiences described by McGonigal (2011), Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011)  and James Paul Gee (2008) — I can see that, rather than a mind-numbing waste of time (I’m pretty sure my husband and I probably used those exact words a time or two), it was a form of learning that was, for Will, a welcome departure from the conventional schooling he was subjected to day in and day out through middle school and high school.

Last week, I was heartened by classmate Pam Martin’s admission that she was a non-gamer and emboldened by her challenge to give MMOG a go.  Where she led, I followed and played a bit of Glitch over several days.

In this first foray into gaming, I was struck by two big departures from traditional learning environments:  the leisure of self-discovery and the freedom to fail.  Within the clever construct of the Glitch, I was left to discover how it all worked – to try, to fail, to try again as many times as was necessary to ultimately succeed and move on.  There were gentle proddings, hints and suggestions, rewards and enticements.  These constitute what Thomas and Brown meant by the “bounded and structured environment” in which learning can be cultivated (2011, p. 19).

The “properties of a well-designed game” – those conditions that Gee argues “experiences need to meet in order to be truly useful for learning” – are often woefully absent in classrooms today (2008, p. 21).  Instead of the enabling boundaries that Brown and Thomas advocate around a generous zone of self-discovery and experimentation, schools have institutionalized quite massive hindrances to the far more productive, student-centered effort to “recruit good learning” (2008, p. 21).  These hindrances include old-school teaching and assessment practices, content-laden curriculum, rigid schedules and fierce college acceptance expectations, to name but a few.  Instruction is often siloed, teacher-centered, discrete, de-contextualized, and spoon-fed.  When that is so, there is no time and space for “recruiting distributed intelligence, collaboration, and cross-functional teams for problem-solving” (Gee, 2008, p. 37).  And students are too numbed and nearly zombified — as if someone has eaten their brains – for “marrying emotion to cognition” in ways that might muster a sense of empathy and ownership for their learning or resilience in the face of failure (Gee, 2008, p. 37).

This stark difference — between the engagement of a gamer out of school and the utter disengagement of that same gamer in school – is what has my attention now.  When it comes to the value of gaming, as Cathy Davidson (2011) might say, I finally see the gorilla!

References

Davidson, C. N. (2011). Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York, NY: Viking.

Gee, J. P. (2008). Learning and Games. In K. Salen (Ed.), The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning: The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning (pp. 21-40). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262693646.021

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination in a world of constant change. Authors.

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Personal Learning Networks_Context Book Report

A personal learning network, or PLN, is a deceptively simple idea.

Simply defined, it is “a set of connections to people and resources both offline and online who enrich our learning” (Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011,p. 2).

We all have the bits and pieces of a personal learning network already in our lives — a variety of sources we seek out to inform our lives.  But, whether we are avid users of online information sources and social networking tools or novices in those arenas, we may not be very intentional about how we construct learning offline and online.  In fact, many may feel so left behind with the shift to all things online that they aren’t comfortable pursuing learning online at all.  In their book, Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education (2011), Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli ask us to be proactive, bold and intentional about creating and contributing to a personal learning network.   In fact, their book is, on one level, a step-by-step manual for each reader to develop a personal learning network of her own.

But make no mistake, Richardson and Mancabelli have written a radical manifesto.  It is both a passionate, convincing call to action – what they would call “the compelling case” — and a detailed, scalable plan of action.  They seek to convince and guide individual teachers, corps of faculty and administrators, and schools to utterly transform and energize how they learn individually and collectively and how, ultimately, they facilitate the learning experiences of their students.  They hope networked classroom initiatives will inject passion for both teaching and learning back into the school day.

The book is arranged in logical building blocks, starting with the persuasive argument that our globally connected world has radically altered the learning landscape while our education system remains largely mired in tradition.  The solution to this increasingly unworkable divergence, according to Richardson and Mancabelli, is for individuals to take charge of their own learning.  We are encouraged to fearlessly, playfully and intentionally immersing ourselves in the wide world of information out there by creating personal learning networks.   Richardson and Mancabelli clearly outline the steps necessary for educators to develop PLNs and to then be ambassadors and practitioners of that approach in networked classrooms and schools.  Their case for PLNs is strengthened, and the action steps clarified, by a generous scattering of tales from the trenches.   The authors offer aspirational success stories from teachers and administrators while wisely including plenty of honest testimonies of the anxieties of first forays into PLNs in classrooms and schools.  They are clear that everyone starts somewhere but that the most important step is simply to begin.

Ideally, personal learning networks are places of give and take.  The novice may be more comfortable absorbing information and, at first, only cautiously dabbling in giving back to the network.  Richardson and Mancabelli describe a ladder of activity, or engagement, in online networks that may serve very well to describe the evolution of personal learning network participation from relative “spectators” to curators to active “creators” of content (2011, p. 54-55).  According to Richardson and Mancabelli, the real transformative power of personal learning networks is when participants begin to contribute to the whole.

Richardson and Mancabelli’s message is about transforming our classrooms and schools, starting with teachers first.  Teachers who have activated PLN for their own learning are in a much better position to help their students channel their relative comfort with online settings toward pursuing the things that they are most passionate about — to personalize and globalize their learning.    By opening learning up to all the sources that the  massive online network has to offer, teachers can re-position themselves from “sage-on-the-stage” to “guide-on-the-side” and co-learners with their students.

Richardson and Mancabelli’s basic charge — to grab hold of your own learning with passion and purpose  – is just as applicable for librarians.  To be of true service to teachers, students and patrons of all sorts, librarians need to be constantly experimenting with and exploring emerging pathways to information.  We need to model pro-active, passionate learning by cultivating and contributing to personal learning networks of our own.  Char Booth, in her book Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning (2011), encourages librarians to be gleaners of new ideas and reflective in their practice.  That’s great advice for librarians.  Yes!  But great advice for everyone else as well!  Beyond educators and librarians,  I think it is fair to say that the personal learning network model is a life-long learner’s gift.   A personal learning network is a smart strategy for organized, wide-ranging gleaning and formalized, transparent reflecting.   These are habits of mind that any life-long learner worth her salt would be wise to cultivate.  Personal learning networks help us make whole cloth out of the various strands of influence that we take advantage of and, hopefully, contribute to everyday.

As I read Richardson and Mancabelli, I was struck by the reasonableness of what they advocate.  It all seemed so sort of natural — an extension of, and a vast improvement over, what we already do.  Manual Lima, in this delightfully engaging RSA Animate presentation, confirms that hunch by placing networks of all sorts – and I would include PLNs among them — firmly into the cosmic order of things.

Richardson and Mancabelli passionately argue that personal learning networks are both a natural outgrowth of the vast information network now at our fingertips and utterly necessary.

If we are all just nodes on this vast, cosmic information network, then librarians need to Node Up!

References

Booth, C. (2011). Reflective teaching, effective learning: Instructional literacy for library

educators. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of

connections to transform education. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

RSA Animate (Producer). (2012, May 21). RSA Animate – The Power of Networks. Video retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJmGrNdJ5Gw

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Prescription for the Perturbed: PLNs

The school where I work has embarked on a strategic planning initiative, using an innovative design thinking model to map out a new future.   By marshaling the varied perspectives of different constituencies in the school — administrators, board members, parents, faculty, staff and students – we are imagining what our students will need to be happy, helpful, successful citizens of the 21st century and how to re-construct a learning community to nurture that.

Sounds rosy, doesn’t it?

Actually, a couple of less then rosy terms, like disruptive and perturbed, have been the buzz lately. The combination of an unfamiliar approach to problem solving applied to a problem that begs for solutions far outside our realm of experience is disruptive in the extreme.  After the first team meeting a week ago, folks were not so much energized as perturbed.  I think it would be safe to say that each participant is still, to some extent, uncomfortable.  We are a mess of Magellans in uncharted waters.

Because much of what I am observing and pondering this week at school ricochets nicely of off the this course content on Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), my lens has been the organization, rather than the student, as the ultimate beneficiary of online learning networks.  I wholeheartedly concur with Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli (2011) that educators need online learning networks — for themselves as individuals and professionals and for their organization as a whole.

There is so much potential goodness here.  Let me just highlight a few blessings of PLNs and the Networked School on an organizational level.

1.  Organically-Grown Professional Development

The usual professional development model involves a combination of:

  • discrete professional events on topics usually selected by administrators, and
  • individual professional development forays, where teachers pursue something of interest to themselves but rarely share out in meaningful ways to other faculty.

I reckon, with that model, a school cannot stay ahead, nor on top, of professional development in the way a sophisticated online learning network can.  It cannot customize professional development to stoke the professional passions of every teacher in the school.  Active online learning networks can.   When teachers take charge  — discover, share, and learn from each other and the vast world at their fingertips – they can deliver a varied, rich, relevant, constantly current form of professional development.

2.  Practice Makes Perfect

As Richardson and Mancabelli passionately argue, we need to practice doing the very things we ask, or will ask,  of students.  Just this week our strategic planning team struggled with issues so complex they defy the boundaries of traditional meetings.   A collaborative online learning space has been established, where all members of the large team can post the findings from their independent research and ignite online conversations along multi-strands that will get woven into a bigger, brighter whole.  What’s been interesting is that team members who are already comfortable in an online setting – with both the research tasks and the collective online conversing –  have fearlessly jumped in.  But others are not nearly as comfortable. The great thing is those folks are going to gain some valuable ground in these literacies because this learning network will give them the hands-on practice that they need.  Online learning networks do that.  They exercise the muscles needed for new literacies…..the sort our students already possess.

3.  Energize and Expand the Conversation

Learning networks energize in-house communication, opening the conversation beyond isolationist departmental/divisional boundaries and real time meeting hours.  And, with everyone fanning out — gathering, absorbing, putting forth what they find — the conversation is expanded to include experts and fresh perspectives from outside our school’s context.   In their 2010 report A 21st Century Imperative: A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future, the National Association of Independent Schools highlights one such learning network:

Schools of the Future: A Learning Community Focused on Transforming Schools in Hawaii

The discoveries, conversations, new learning, and collaborative partnerships percolating and multiplying in networks such as this are absolutely necessary for change.  One of the things I really like about Richardson and Mancabelli is the fact that they do not leave the change they are proposing at some lofty, theoretical, amorphous level.  They get down to brass tacks.  Because of my focus on organizational change this week, I read Chapter 4 on Becoming a Networked School with interest (p. 83-114).  Richardson and Mancabelli chock that chapter with valuable step-by-step, practical advice about how a school can go about making a radical change to become a networked school.  A map is awfully handy when the terrain is unfamiliar.  Richardson and Mancabelli leave a lot of play for schools to arrive at their own destination but provide guideposts that are often hard to find along the way these days.  I also believe their advice is scalable, a road map to follow for other changes, large and small, that a school might undertake.

In their beautiful article, Bringing Life to Organizational Change, authors Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers re-situate organizational change amidst natural change systems (1998).  They testify to witnessing “organizations that have changed not only in terms of a new destination…..but that simultaneously have increased their capacity to deal with change generally” (Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers, 1998).  One “principle from life” that they assert applies to organizational change is that “to create better health in a living system, connect it to more of itself….A failing system needs to start talking to itself, especially to those it didn’t know were even part of itself” (Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers, 1998). Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers were not talking about Personal Learning Networks when they wrote this way back in 1998.  But they certainly do a good job of describing why PLNs can be so instrumental in facilitating change and cultivating a community that is so unperturbed by change it actively goes in pursuit of it.

References

A 21st Century Imperative: A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future. Washington, D.C.: National Association of Independent Schools Commission on Accreditation, 2010. <http://www.nais.org/Articles/documents/NAISCOASchools.pdf&gt;

DarwinPeacock. (2009, February 27). SNA segment [screenshot].  Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SNA_segment.png

Richardson, Will, and Rob Mancabelli. Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, 2011. Print.

Schools of the Future: A Learning Community Focused on Transforming Schools in Hawaii. Mark Hines. <http://futureschools.ning.com/&gt;.

Wheatley, Margaret J., and Myron Kellner-Rogers. (1998) “Bringing Life to Organizational Change.” n.p. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://margaretwheatley.com/articles/life.html&gt; [Originally published in the Journal for Strategic Performance Measurement (April/May, 1998)]

 

 

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Cultivating Learning

water lilies - Version 2

Photo courtesy of Susan Huber

By now I must seem a sucker for the agrarian metaphor.  It’s not that I can’t connect with other metaphors.  It is just that authors keep throwing the rural at me.  Char Booth (2011) with the gleaning.   Gosling and Mintzberg (2003) with the edge. And now Douglas Thomas and John Seeley Brown (2011) with cultivating.   They have me at hello when they plant ideas so firmly in my home turf.

Thomas and Brown (2011) liken the new culture of learning to cultivation.

A farmer…takes the nearly unlimited resources of sunlight, wind, water, earth, and biology and consolidates them into the bounded and structured environment of a garden or farm.  We see the new culture of learning as a similar kind of process—but cultivating minds instead of plants (p. 20).

In the new culture of learning, according to Thomas and Brown, educators delineate a “bounded and structured environment” in which students harness the seemingly unlimited resources of a “massive information network” to explore, share, synthesize, create, reflect, re-think, collaborate and refine (2011, p. 19).

I am so relieved to have this lovely metaphor to cling too.  We all begin to worry and wonder:  Where is the place for teachers and librarians when people of all ages have access to the moon and the stars………even if it is only the Wikipedia entry for moon and stars that that they reach for from the top of the Google results list?   Ah, here it is, Thomas and Brown assure us.   Educators can continue to play a vital role in guiding and framing student inquiry and discovery in this great wide morphing world of information and access.

Lovely metaphors are often only that but Thomas and Brown’s vivid examples gave this one real substance.  In particular, I found Doug Thomas’ experience with his Massively Multiplayer Online Games class quite moving.  Thomas set the boundaries and the structure of his course but, in short order, students ran away with his class, spurred on by their own boundless enthusiasm and zest for learning.  Thomas became somewhat sidelined….merely an astonished observer, fretting that his core concepts had been forgotten in all the gaming mania.  But the breadth and depth of each student’s understandings were fully revealed in their culminating final essays.  Thomas had planted an idea, fertilized and fed it with carefully selected concepts and readings, and nurtured it within a framework in which students could blossom.  Sure, they busted down his framework a bit but that is only because teachers often have surprisingly small imaginations when it comes to the potential of their students.

It is a good tale.  Real.  Instructive.  Hopeful.

Today I was at a strategic planning meeting, part of a team envisioning a new culture of learning for our school.  There was a lot of worried talk about our shifting landscape, assaulted by various threats — economic, demographic, global.  Our school, like every other, is fully situated in a “world of constant change” and we’re feeling it.  But, in the face of all that, one team member spoke up about the importance of bringing a strong sense of optimism to our deliberations.   I was thankful that Thomas and Brown had given me ample reason to be hopeful that we can create a “bounded and structured environment” in which our students can blossom, maybe far beyond what we can even imagine.

References

Booth, C. (2011). Reflective teaching, effective learning: Instructional literacy for library educators. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Craig, Christopher. (2009, June 15). Project 50 #33 – Watering Can [photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/kriztofor/3724503239/

Gosling, J., & Mintzberg, H. (2003). The five minds of a manager. Harvard Business Review, 81(11), 54-63.

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination in a world of constant change. Authors.

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Best of the Bunch

I loved the term Char Booth re-introduced to me: Gleaning (2011, p. 26).  It sounds just right, especially to this farm girl, when Booth spins it to mean the gathering of new ideas and perspectives “through chance and diligence” and “an attitude of constant curiosity” (Booth, p. 26). It is a habit of mind — that constant, careful gathering — that seems especially suited to the state of nimble, avid awareness and experimentation that Booth advocates in her chapter on Teaching Technologies (p. 63-81).

To be successful at incorporating and inspiring the use of new ideas and technologies, I need to be a master gleaner. But, to be honest, I feel like a pretty unskilled laborer. Booth’s four pages of technologies that every gleaner should glean are more than a bit daunting (p. 66-69).  Sometimes it is just the sheer volume and rush of the new and the “things we are afraid to try”,  as Booth puts it, that can be overwhelming (p. 65).

I think the secret may lay in one more habit of mind…. a sort of Zen-like letting go of a lot of what is out there. Instead, by practicing Booth’s diligent and constant gathering, we should make the most of what captures our attention and avidly follow the winding, serendipitous path our discoveries take. It is not about the Every Thing, but instead about the choice Some Things that matter.

For the past month, I’ve been going blueberry picking every weekend. The blueberry farmer gave me the drill on my first visit:  How to pick the perfect blueberry.

Bb Frond close up_2012-09-08 22.19.22

My brown bear technique of pawing big batches of blueberries off the branch was frowned upon. I was to pluck the choice ones, he instructed.  Not too firm but not too soft.  Not too big but not too small.  I was supposed to be Goldilocks, but choosier! Go home with a pint, not a bushel.

He held out his palm to show sub-standard blueberries next to a single, hand-selected blueberry of pure perfection. To my eye, there was no telling the difference. It was not until I ate his perfect blueberry that I began to believe that choosy just might lead to choice.

So I took his advice and paid attention. I was still a bit of a mauling bear but I was careful. Selective. More discriminating.

This is the approach I need to cultivate in my professional life as well. Gleaning is good. Indiscriminate gleaning? Better than none. But discerning gleaning – now that’s the skill I want to develop. In LIBR 281, we’ll be spending some time developing our own Personal Learning Network. I’m thinking it will be Gleaning 101 for me, a chance to credit the ways I currently take in information and also cultivate multiple, varied new resources.

Bb with sugar_2012-08-26 04.35.21

Are these the most perfect blueberries on the face of the earth?

I don’t know.

What I do know is this: They are the ones that I picked this week and they taste pretty damn good.

Next week, I’ll pick some more.

Reference
Booth, C. (2011). Reflective teaching, effective learning: Instructional literacy for library educators. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

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Fearless Teaching and Learning__Part II

ORIENTATION DAY 2012
A student-led discovery of our high school’s Acceptable Use of Technology Agreement

After liberating Orientation Day, Glenda and Ritu re-imagined it as a discovery-based learning environment that would foster engagement, through peer interaction and group work, around the complex issues of our Acceptable Use of Technology Agreement (AUA).   The activity they jump-started involved the formation of self-selected groups.  Each group was given a different problem scenario involving one of the elements of the AUA.   All of the scenarios were authentic ethical conundrums from the previous year school year.  In forty minutes, each group had to:

 

  1. determine how their problem ran up against AUA,
  2. generate practical solutions to bring to bear on their problem scenario, and
  3. decide on the best way to present their findings to the rest of the group.

photo 3_2

After 40 minutes of intense collaborative work, six groups — representing each of the AUA elements — were asked to come forward and present to the entire group.

The outcomes were wonderfully varied:

  • power point presentations with quickly grabbed iPhone images
  • original art posters
  • quickly scripted and rehearsed raps and skits.

The messages, conceived and delivered by students, were clear, powerful, quirky and fun.  Everyone paid attention.  AUA got its due.

So, why FEARLESS?

I used the word fearless to describe this learning event because both the teacher facilitators and the students exemplified courage.

As the facilitators, Glenda and Ritu fearlessly gave up total control over content and outcome.  They let go:

  • of the common numbing notion that they had a certain set amount of sacred material to pass on in a finite period of time….
  • and that evidence of its uptake had to have a prescribed look.

Instead, they asked students to access what they already knew about ethical behavior, their “prior knowledge”, and to apply it to potential situations they might encounter in high school (Booth, 2011, p. 44, 57-58). They put their faith in the idea that an outcome crafted by the students themselves would have more meaning and transformative power than a load of teacher-delivered instruction.  They believed that, if the AUA is truly important in our school, orientation day is not the sole point of delivery for the lessons of AUA.  It will be woven and reinforced throughout the school year in other settings, by other teachers and by the students themselves.

Students fearlessly tackled a rather open-ended problem with no set roadmap. The first ten minutes, after the groups were set to their task, there was a palpable discomfort in the room.  Students were disoriented and unsure, unaccustomed to being left so free to construct their own learning.  But, almost to a group, they quickly rose to the challenge.  They knuckled down, brainstormed, asked clarifying questions, kicked around different ideas, rehearsed and swiftly applied various literacies to polish a product.  They put themselves out in front of their peers as creators, presenters and problem solvers.

It was just so cool.  You should have been there!

Why did it feel so right?  Char Booth (2011) explains the theory and best practices that run deep within Glenda and Ritu’s refashioning of how our students experienced Orientation Day and what, in the end, they took away as useful, transformative knowledge.    Glenda and Ritu conceived a successful blend of direct and discovery strategies and tinkered with Booth’s four factors of learning – motivation, memory, prior knowledge, and environment  — to create a learning experience that maximized engagement and, with that, hopefully transfer and recall (Booth, 2011, p. 43-45, 52-54).

With Glenda and Ritu’s reflective practice, our orientation day has transformed from a blur of disconnected tasks to a cohesive whole that has students ready to learn in every sense of the word.

Reference:
Booth, C. (2011). Reflective teaching, effective learning: Instructional literacy for library educators. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

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