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Posts tagged ‘Marlene Scardamalia’

15
Jun

I’m Confused! Thought I was a Social Constructionist!

Learning has many faces. Many models. Our educational models can serve us – but we need to keep our minds open.  The science of learning, in fact any science, is not ‘truth’.  It is about models – models that are tested over time and circumstance – each approximating the truth.

I was asked recently by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach in one of the Powerful Learning Practice’s eLearning courses – How do you define learning?

Well, I spend a lot of time thinking about how people learn. Good thing –  considering I’m a teacher! ;-)

(I am sure you do too!)

I would have easily answered that at different times in my career. In recent times, I could have quickly answered from a social constructionist perspective.

It’s not so clear to me these days – as I read more and as I think more.

 

How do you define learning’ is a question that reminds me of Seymour Sarason’s book “And What do You Mean by Learning”.  It took a whole book!  :-)

Sometimes for this kind of question, I really fall back to Piaget’s description of assimilation and accommodation.

I fall less to Skinner’s operant conditioning theories — although, I must admit, as I read more through a certain lens these days, I am intrigued by the impact such a perspective may have for us. Some of these readings are listed here:

Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan

You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

Who’s in Charge? Free Will & the Science of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann

Throughout these 40 or so years, I have traveled the path of behaviorism, constructivism, cognitivism, social constructivism, contructionism, social constructionism, intentional learning theory, connectivism — now I am a ‘pot pourri of ponderings’. ;-)

Models and theories, to me, are not the truth – as I have indicated in Limited, and Fooled by, Our Senses and in The Trickery of Temporary Truths.  However, they serve us well in helping us think about possibilities.

Intentional Learning theory, proposed by Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter, has resonated with me for a long time. It, for me, accommodates this pot pourri. Carl, you may not know, was a leading behaviorist back in the day. He, along with Engelmann, developed Distar in the sixties. He followed this with SRA and, more recently, Open Court. Marlene and he then developed CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments) which is now Knowledge Forum. They are premier pioneers and prophets in ‘knowledge building’. See their Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology.

What I am appreciating is the rich, textured fabric of ‘what learning is’ – that it is illuminated by many of these theories – and more.

It seems to me that Judith V. Boettcher’s 10 Core Learning Principles speak to my ‘pot pourri’ in saying, “Research findings into how our brains work* are stimulating a re-examination of traditional principles of designing teaching and learning experiences. Insights from this research are not only helping to deepen our understanding of traditional core learning principles, but they are also providing practical guidance on how to design learning experiences for our new high technology environments.”

(Bolding is mine.)

I am constantly redefining learning and all the practices related to it.

How do you define learning?


* Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2000; Damasio 1999; Pinker 1997

16
Mar

The Power of ‘Knowledge Sharing': Tools to Do So

I have, once again, been thinking hard about knowledge building and knowledge construction. (I am teaching a class about it on #plpnetwork so I had to get up to speed!)

A couple of the pioneers of ‘knowledge building’, Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter  suggest that what kids frequently do in school is ‘knowledge telling’ – not ‘knowledge building’.  In other words, kids research something and then paraphrase it back to us in some form of report – written, Powerpoint, etc. They basically repeat that which they have read without doing a great deal of synthesis or application of that information.

I would agree that this is often the case.

My colleague, @brendasherry, and I were chatting and she told me the story of a teacher who mentioned that she wanted her students to do more ‘knowledge sharing’.  At first blush, both Brenda and I equated that with ‘knowledge telling’.

But, as I was driving today (where lots of great thinking goes on!), I recalled a story of a young developmentally challenged student and his teacher.

I realized the power of ‘knowledge sharing’ and the need for the right tools to do so!

People can’t share their knowledge if they don’t have the right tools…

I was in the classroom with the young teacher and a young man about 12 years old. I had just shown him the basics of single keystroke Logo.

If you press F it moves the turtle forward some distance.  Press R and it turns right 30 degrees.

The student had played around a bit with the commands and he easily made a square when he was asked.

I asked him to make a triangle.

The teacher rapidly pulled me aside and gasped to me, “Don’t ask him to do that. He doesn’t understand and he’ll be frustrated.

As we turned back to the student and the screen, the teacher was shocked. The young man had done it. With ease.

He had shared his knowledge. The tools had afforded him the ability to demonstrate understandings he had locked up inside.  Logo had acted like a ’cognitive partner’ enabling him to share with us his knowledge.

It comes down to differentiation…

We learned a lesson that day. The teacher had a perception of the student’s abilities that was off base because the young man typically hadn’t the tools to express himself.  The tool of ‘language’ escaped him because of his challenges.

It speaks to the need for encouraging and supporting differentiated displays of learning.

I’ll work to always remember that – with all people – the young and the elderly – the firm and the infirm. That is my challenge.

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My ‘think aloud’ about writing this post:

It started out as a piece comparing ‘knowledge telling’ and ‘knowledge sharing’ and ended up being really about the importance of one aspect of differentiated instruction – that of ‘encouraging and supporting differentiated displays of learning’.  

Writing is a learning experience. Thanks for traveling with me on my learning adventures.

17
Jan

Intentional Serendipity – Unpacked!

PART 1 – Intentional serendipity ≠ engineered serendipity :-)

I am giggling at the interest in the term Intentional Serendipity. I even tried to get it included in my job title – Manager of Intentional Serendipity.  I have used it for several conferences as the tagline on my nametag! That sure started many a conversation.

However, as with any term tossed out there without due diligence of explanation and context as in a previous post, the meaning will be constructed by the perspectives of the reader! “The reader writes the story,” as they say.

Dean Shareski, in “Pursuing Intentional Serendipity,” gives some insightful examples that are relatively consistent with my perspectives on this seemingly conflicted construct. Alan Levine, in “There is No Such Thing As Serendipity,” takes a close look at ‘serendipity’ and provides some excellent thoughts and references about its nature.

Alan suggests that “It can’t be serendipity and intentional, because serendipity is accidental…  serendipity is not intentional, nor is it a thing we can pursue– it is a force generated as a secondary (or many-ary) results of our actions of sharing, helping, contributing. It is when we create a potential opportunity for the unexpected to happen…”

…Intentional serendipity relies on the vigilance of the learner…

Strangely enough, I never considered ‘intentional serendipity’ to be the same as ‘engineered serendipity.’  So I am glad this discussion has erupted because it affords some unpacking of the term!  For me, it is not about the ‘intention’ to create serendipity.  I am not speaking of constructing ‘chance’ events or encounters.  I have been thinking more of a learner’s stance – one with an ‘intention’ to learn.  If you hold an attuned intention to learn, then you will have sentinels at the watch for all that goes by. You will be ‘at the ready’ to opportunistically grasp anything that is useful to your learning. So you are not constructing events. Rather you are vigilant so that you do not miss events relevant to your intention. Intentional serendipity relies on the vigilance of the learner within the learning space.  The intentional learner may set the conditions of that learning space to optimize opportunities – opportunities conducive to the task at hand. It may be by turning on all the knowledge flows – twitter, text, skype, etc. Or it may be by selecting a place of silence for reflection and inner workings of the mind and heart.

Of course, this requires some skill and attention. :-)

PART 11 – The relationship of ‘intentional serendipity’ to ‘intentional learning’ theory

Learning to be intentional…

The notion of ‘intentional serendipity’ arose out of my studies with Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter who developed ‘intentional learning’ theory.  They briefly describe Intentional Learning as the voluntary direction of mental effort, or, the wilful allocation of spare mental capacity. That is, cognitive capacity that is not already engaged by the ongoing task may be turned back into the task. This is characterized by activities, behaviours and displays of skills many of which may be described as metacognitive. Metacognition is usually considered to consist of both knowledge about cognition and regulation of cognition.  Intentional Learners are assertive in their approach to learning. They set goals – both task and cognitive goals.  They choose to, and are able to, apply any unused mental effort to increase their proficiency on the task or to generalize that which is being learned to other tasks or other domains. They consider, not only the task at hand, but also the larger spectrum in which such learning is embedded. The student considers the knowledge explicitly and separate from the present task. There is consideration for when and where that knowledge can be used in the future. They negotiate meaning with their peers. They ask questions. They seek answers and construct solutions.

…become expert at being expert

Intentional learners are learning to become expert at becoming expert. That is to say, not only are they learning declarative, subject matter and procedural functionality, they are acquiring valuable metacognitive knowledge as well.

Intentional learning differs from metacognition

Intentional Learning theory differs from metacognitive theory in that there is an explicit recognition of other aspects of self.  Intentional Learners are developing, not only well-developed metacognitive skills, but also attitudes (an affective stance), motivations, and social behaviours that are focused on, and conducive to, advancing one’s own knowledge and the knowledge of others. Bereiter & Scardamalia suggest that to generate a useful educational theory one cannot concentrate solely on the knowledge aspect  of intentional cognition, but must also come to understand and include other aspects as well. These include motivation, affect, allocation-of-resources, and ecology.

Intentional learners and the ZPD

Intentional Learning is a frame of mind that is characterized by a student’s ability to be in control of their own Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This is central to being in charge of one’s own learning. The ZPD may be defined as the zone in which we can accomplish a task with the assistance, or accompaniment, of a more knowledgeable other – a task that we could not handle alone. (ZPD – Who’s In Charge Here?)

“…learning is a process of enculturation…”

IL is a frame of mind that thrives in a classroom culture focused on students’ taking charge of their own learning. Many agree that the cultural surround affects learning.  Newman et al say, “In the Vygotskian approach to instruction, changes in the whole interactional system, not just in the student, are thus considered in the analysis of cognitive change.” John Seely Brown et al suggest that “learning is … a process of enculturation.” What people learn is often “a product of the ambient culture rather than of explicit teaching.” This implies that the belief structures, the personal interactivity, the nature of the activities and the atmosphere of a learning community are critical determinants of what is learned. This is not to say that explicit teaching is not an appropriate technique. Rather, it is but one of the components of a culture conducive to the development and support of IL.

…student in control…

If we want students to be in charge of their own learning, then it necessitates that we create environments where this is most likely to occur.  Any tools and techniques, therefore, that are to be used within an environment designed to promote and support ‘mindfulness’ or IL should be considered within this context of shifting the control of the learning over to the student.

Summary

…it is not the serendipity that is intentional, it is the learner’s frame of mind.

So I am not speaking of constructing serendipity. I mean that we need to empower learners to be intentional and to create a cultural surround that is conducive to supporting those intentions. It is not the serendipity that is intentional. It is the learner’s frame of mind.

21
Jan

Can Students Multitask?

Can Students Multitask?  This is the Wrong Question.

I hear it all the time from students.  “I am doing my work!  I’m multitasking.” And, in fact, they often are flipping back and forth between the ‘task at hand’, Facebook, internet radio, YouTube, etc.

“I am doing my work!  I’m multitasking.”

I won’t debate the issue of multitasking itself in this post.  That one is open for discussion later. Briefly, many people are now saying that, in fact, people don’t multitask.  They suggest that your mind is switching back and forth (sometimes rapidly) between thought streams or tasks.  Parallel processing models of computation, on the other hand, would suggest that you can indeed multitask.  However, that is not the big question for me.  I would suggest it is more a matter of ‘available mental effort’.

…it is more a matter of ‘available mental effort’

Mental effort is not unlimited.  It is somewhat finite. However, when you are working on a task it is often the case that it does not occupy your total ‘mental effort’. You may have some spare mental capacity.

Mindful Engagement & Expertise

There are three options for allocating your spare mental capacity.

One, you may exert NO effort, or intentional control, over the extra mental capacity and just allow ideas and thoughts to enter your mind at random… responding to external or internal stimuli such as a phone ringing or voices overheard.

Second, you may choose to direct that spare mental capacity to something specific, yet unrelated to the present task. For example, you may think about an upcoming holiday, or your child’s next sporting event.

Third, you may choose to direct the extra mental effort back into the task itself… evaluating effectiveness, determining better strategies, reflecting on generalizations to other similar, or different, domains.  ‘How am I doing?’ ‘What could I do differently next time?’ ‘How can I kick it up a notch?’ Thus you are reinvesting all your efforts into maximizing performance and generalizable skills.

I am always encouraging my students to become ‘expert learners’.

This latter example characterizes ‘expertise’ and ‘expert learners’.  I am always encouraging my students to become ‘expert learners’. If they are not reinvesting their extra mental energy back into the task in this intentional, metacognitive fashion, then, in my opinion, they are not ‘doing their work’ effectively.

I have found this explanation useful to students when they claim that they are ‘doing their work’.

Thoughts?

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Disclaimers – but a few:

I will grant that there may be environmental conditions that may enhance ‘flow’ or ‘state of mind’. For example, Baroque music – at 40–60 beats per minute – encourages beta brainwave activity that is associated with relaxation.  Not that most of our students are listening to baroque!  However, the point is made that some music, as an example, may be conducive to guiding the brain to a better place for learning.

It is also understood that there are other parameters to this discussion. For example, if I am intentionally directing spare mental effort elsewhere – to another ‘purposeful’ task, one could say that I am becoming an ‘expert generalist’.  After all, ‘specialization is for insects’ – said Robert Heinlein.

And indeed, there are personality factors, mood factors, variety and quantity of modalities engaged, and, of course, the inherent level of demand of the ‘task at hand’.  It may be fairly ‘mindless’ or absolutely uninteresting and inconsequential to my life.

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Resources

MetacognitionJulie Halter Graduate Student, SDSU Department of Educational Technology

Novice and Expert Learners – From: M. Suzanne Donovan, John D. Bransford, and James W. Pellegrino (eds.), How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice, xiii.

Expert Learners – a post from Will Richardson

Thank you to Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter for their inspiration to me regarding ‘expertise’.

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