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Posts from the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

30
Aug

Neil Postman Had It Right—Back in the 80’s

Childhood in the Technological Era

Another blast from the past. This time from 1987.

Many of the world’s best known educators were together at the Second International Congress on Early Childhood Education held in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1987. The major theme of the congress was caution versus enthusiasm in using computer technology with children.

Speakers included:

  • Neil Postman
  • Gavriel Salomon
  • Seymour Papert
  • Hubert Dreyfuss
  • Bruno Bettleheim
  • et moi! ;-)

How fortunate I was to be presenting with such distinguished and influential thinkers and educators. In addition, Apple Canada asked me to write about the experience in their Minds in Motion journal.

FullSizeRenderApologies to those with screen readers. I do not have this converted to text—only images. However, I’ll highlight some of the points here for ease of reference. I ask you, ‘What resonates with you? What’s changed? What hasn’t changed?’

I will outline the points made by Neil Postman. Read the whole article below and the thoughts of the other speakers.

NEIL POSTMAN

Faustian Bargain

  • “All technological change is a Faustian bargain. For every advantage technology brings, there is always a disadvantage…and one may outweigh the other…New media create new centres of power and influence…the computer will provide our students new ways of thinking. Who will benefit—the children The schools? The state?”

The Technology of Marks is a Mathematical Concept of Reality

  • Embedded in every technology is a powerful idea. Some of these ideas are hidden from view. As an example, he cited the seemingly harmless practice of assigning grades to children’s work. Assigning marks is a tool or technology to judge a person’s behaviour. It is a mathematical concept of reality.

Philosophical Wars

  • “The philosophy embedded in a new technology always makes war with the philosophy embedded in an old technology.” Since the invention of the printing press, the written word (and its accompanying concepts of logic, sequence, history, and objectivity) has been the basis of our educational system. The new technologies of television and computers rely on immediacy, visual transfer of information, and subjective interpretation. Media wars are in effect in our world now. This is, of course, evident in our world now. Students who are on the wrong side of this war are the ones who are failing.

A New Medium Does not Add Something—It Changes Everything

  • “Technological change is not additive but is ecological.” Many people presume that when a new technology is introduced, it merely adds to the store of existing technologies. Postman suggests that this is not always the case. “A new medium does not add something—it changes everything.” He described Europe before the advent of the printing press and pointed out that Europe afterwards was not just Europe plus the printing press. It was, in fact, a new Europe. (Read Blue Dye plus Water? Or Blue Water? for another McLuhanist example of this concept. Also remember Seymour Papert’s words“If the role of the computer is so slight that the rest can be kept constant, it will also be too slight for much to come of it.”

Mythic Media

  • “Media tend to become mythic.” It is a common tendency to think of our own creations as God-given, part of the natural order. Because of this, our society doesn’t question the larger social, psychological ramifications even though we should. (Read It’s Not About the Tools? Really? for another view.)

Electronic Workbooks. Really?

  • “A technology is to a medium like the brain is to the mind. A technology is a tool to be used in various ways. One could, but would not, use a 747 to take commuters from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. One could, but would not, use a television to present printed words on the screen. One could, but should not, use computers as an electronic workbook.”

Soooooo I ask you again, ‘What resonates with you? What’s changed? What hasn’t changed?’

(Click on the pictures below to see larger.)

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24
Aug

Students ‘Making Up’ Their Own Minds

“The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves.”

–Marvin L. Minsky (from Society of the Mind, 1986)

Human Brain Drawing itself

I want students to be busy building their own minds.

As an educator, this is my main goal. I want students to be in charge of their own learning—to be effectively constructing their brains. We must focus our work so that they have both the opportunity, and the skills, to do so. This is the professional mission in my life.

Ethereal? No.

Although it may sound rather ethereal if we talk about students building their own minds, it is not. The reality is exactly that! Whether we take an historical view based on Jean Piaget’s work or adopt a current neuroscience perspective, the reality is the same—brain structures are being altered as we learn and we can control that both quantitatively and qualitatively—to a greater or lesser degree.

Don’t worry! I’m not going to get super technical about all that. I’ll leave that to those more expert than I.

Jean Piaget and ConstructivismPiaget

Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist who studied learning in children. He articulated various stages of development and developed a theory of constructivism. He spoke of schemas or mental structures. If we encounter something new, we either assimilate it into a previous pattern of ideas and knowledge—our schemas—or we must accommodate it by changing what we believe, therefore adding a new schema. Or maybe we just discard the new information as irrelevant.

…we either assimilate or accommodate new information…or toss it out…

Consider, for example, a schema that a young child might hold for a fish. Fish live in water and have tails and fins with which to swim. She then sees many different kinds of fish—large, small, single coloured, multi-coloured and assimilates them all into her schemas for fish thus increasing the richness and texture of the fish schema. The first time that this child encounters a whale, she might call it a fish. Once her caregivers explain that it is a different animal called a whale and that it breathes air by coming to the surface of the water and that it is a mammal, the child will accommodate it by creating a new schema for whale. All of this is driven by the human need for sense making—for reaching a state of equilibrium or balance with no dissonance.

…the human need is for sense making—for reaching a state of equilibrium

Neuroscience

Let’s consider new learning from a perspective of neuroscience—that of brain plasticity. Neurons sprout dendrites and send and receive thousands of signals with other parts of the brain thus creating neural pathways. Any new experiences and new learnings reorder neural pathways in the brain. In the same way that a piece of film must change in reaction to an image coming through the lens, our neural structures change whenever we bring in new information or experiences. Any neural pathways that are not frequently used simply disappear and new ones are continually being created as we develop new skills and knowledge.

…our neural structures change whenever we bring in new information or experiences…

Dr. Norman Doidge defines neuroplasticity as: the property of the brain that allows it to change its structure and its function in response to thinking and acting in response to mental experience—in other words, in sensing and perceiving and what we do.

We are literally building our brains

Regardless of whether we think about this in Piagetian or in neuroscientific terms, when we are learning, we are literally building our brains.

We, as human beings of free will, have the option to build, and to mold, the structures of our brain.

I have spent a career questioning, exploring, discovering, and predicting how technologies can assist students in ‘taking charge of their own learning’. What ideas do you have?

 

6
Jul

It’s NOT about the Tools? Really?

It is very much about the tools:

and their impact—both intended and unintended.

Once again, as a result of the ISTE conference, the issue represented by statements such as, “It’s not about the tools, it’s about the pedagogy” has come to the fore. (See Stop It Already by @dougpete and Not Everyone is You by @gcouros.)

I have spoken about this before in “It’s Not About the Tool”—A Naïve Myth.” In that post I share some thoughts related to computers as cognitive partners, ‘effects of’ vs ‘effects with,’ drip effects of technology, blue dye plus water or blue water and other McLuhanist-type thoughts.

As I mentioned there, I understand the intent of these kinds of statements. I believe they arise from the focusing on the skills required to use the tool rather than on the learning at hand. So, yes, that would be an issue. I totally understand that problem. That’s why, in 2002, I presented a session at a CUE conference titled Mindstrokes—Not Keystrokes.

However, it is very much about the tools.

As described in that post, tools shape behaviours. Tools shape cognition. Tools shape societal structures in both intended, and unintended, ways.

caveman-159359_640Let’s face it, eras of humankind have historically been defined by tool creation and use (the Three Age System)! We have the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age. Then came the Industrial Age, and, now, the Digital Era. In fairness, these descriptors vary regionally and are constantly under revision as many cultures use reference to other types of technologies.

So to simplistically say that it isn’t about the tools, is in my opinion, digital age doodoo.

“If the role of the computer is so slight that the rest can be kept constant, it will also be too slight for much to come of it.”

Seymour Papert in Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking, 1987

17
Jun

Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ — Part 3

Implications for Professional Learning

So what might be the implications for professional learning? There are four points that stand out for me.

1. Learning Stance

A major difference between Cynthia and Margot (hypothetical teachers referred to in my first blog of these series) is their learning stance. Margot is a progressive problem solver – a seeker of new learning, a questioner. We need to always encourage and cultivate these attitudes and behaviours.

2. Both Pedagogy & Practice

All professional learning opportunities should deeply embed both learning theory and practical applications. Providing techniques and recipes devoid of context – or with a cursory overview of pedagogy is ill-advised. We need to focus on pedagogy and develop deep understandings and beliefs in our teachers. The exemplars and strategies should illustrate and demonstrate excellent practice and should be the basis for teachers to generate their own strategies.

3. Differentiation

Both of these models really focus on individual growth. So, as with our students, we must differentiate! This can be a challenge if we are offering ‘sit‘n’git’ or ‘drive-by’ workshops.

And, who decides how to differentiate? Who decides what professional learning that I, at this particular time, for this particular purpose, should get? Likely me. So learner agency and metacognitive skills are important.

4. Both Collaborative and Individual Opportunities

I have been an enthusiast of substantive collaboration for many years – so it is with that caveat that I say the following. Provide both individual and collaborative professional learning opportunities. Don’t negate the individual in reaction to the collaboration as holy grail phenomenon we are currently experiencing.

David Thornburg, in his book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck, suggests that ‘learning institutions should offer a balance of Campfire spaces (home of the lecture), Watering Holes (home to conversations among peers), Caves (places for quiet reflection), and Life (places where students can apply what they’ve learned).’

There are many excellent initiatives and I will briefly introduce two Canadian examples: Teacher Learning & Leadership Program (TLLP) and Minds On Media (MoM).

Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP)

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TLLP is an annual project-based professional learning opportunity for experienced Ontario classroom teachers.

“The three goals of the program are to create and support opportunities for teacher professional learning, foster teacher leadership and facilitate the sharing of exemplary practices with others for the broader benefit of Ontario’s students.”

In a nutshell, teachers receive funding to pursue an action research style project in an area that is meaningful to them. All participants in the program are provided with professional learning sessions that will help them develop the skills necessary to manage their project and effectively share their learning with colleagues. They go through the year-long process out loud in that they share their process, learning, results, and promising practices with fellow TLLP educators and others (intra/inter-board and provincially) via conferences and through the online platforms provided.

The TLLP model develops ‘Margots’ by supporting teachers in generating and researching problems at the edge of their expertise – at the cusp of their competence.

The project overview, project archives, support materials, research results and stories, and videos can be found on the TLLP website.

Although TLLP is only open to Ontario teachers, it is a well-documented model that invites replication in other jurisdictions.

Minds On Media

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Minds On Media (MoM) is a model of professional learning that also respects the learner’s desire to knowBrenda Sherry and I developed this model based on theories of expertise and knowledge-building blended with anappreciative inquiry and evocative coaching mindset.

It has been implemented mainly in professional learning related to constructionist approaches to information technology use in classrooms.

Imagine a room full of educators who are experts in information and communications technologies (ICT) and learning theory. Each of these facilitators manages a centre on a particular topic – one that is pedagogy focused. They spend some time before the event thinking about practical ways to support self-directed learners at a hands-on session.  As mentioned earlier, differentiated learning is equally important for adults as for our students. This requires the creation of a wide variety of materials, strategies and access points and so, facilitators create a wiki replete with tutorials and classroom exemplars.  This is useful for the Minds On Media day but also serves the teachers well when they return to their schools.

Teachers come to a conference to learn and we respect their choices in how they wish to do that. We want them to take a minds on approach. They choose what to learn based on their own needs, learning styles, interests, levels of expertise and are able to move freely throughout the day from centre to centre if, and when, it suits them.

They might be absolute beginners or comfortable with technology. They choose their entry point. Teachers build their own plan for the day or may seek guidance from one of our facilitators or pedagogistas. Pedagogistas also serve to keep the thinking and learning at a higher level—to keep tying the skill learning to the pedagogy and to help bridge to classroom practice.

The facilitators at the centres have the skills to support all learning styles with awesome classroom projects as exemplars! (Click on one of the Events in the sidebar on the site to get a flavour of a MoM event.)

What are our core beliefs?

We believe that:

  • the locus of control for learning should be in the hands of the learner
  • the facilitator must be aware of, and respond to, the learner’s desires, needs and expertise
  • the learner should leave empowered to learn further—beyond the MoM event
  • there are always experts among us

Note: MoM is not a commercial program at all. We simply developed it in response to how we believe people learn and our experiences with most professional learning models didn’t match up. It is our intention to more fully document the process so that it can be easily replicated. In the meantime, feel free to contact us if you’d like to run such an event.

A Shout Out to Powerful Learning Practice

I would like to give a big shout out to Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall of the Powerful Learning Practice (PLP). They both had a significant influence on our thinking in the area of evocative coaching and appreciative inquiry. PLP is an excellent professional learning experience based in these principles.

So…

So this is one of the challenges of professional learning activities. Do they develop expert teachers or skilled nonexperts?

TLLP and MoM are working hard to develop expert teachers rather than experienced nonexperts by supporting and empowering them to take charge of their own learning.  There is a genuine effort to help teachers to learn significant educational theory and practice that is relevant to each person. Both programs are grounded in knowledge-building theory and are using appreciative inquiry and evocative coaching methodologies to build capacity.

What professional learning programs are you seeing that help teachers to develop a way of being rather than merely transferring a set of skills that doesn’t really develop expertise?

Related Reading

Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ – Part 1
Developing Expert Teachers vs. Experienced Nonexperts 

Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ – Part 2
So How Do We Develop Expert Teachers?


This blog post was first published as part of CEA’s focus on the state of Teacher PD in Canada, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s Teachers as Learners theme issue and The Facts on Education fact sheet, What is Effective Teacher Professional Development? 

17
Jun

Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ — Part 2

So How Do We Develop Expert Teachers?

The distinction between expert teachers and experienced nonexperts as described in Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ – Part 1 forces us to think differently about our PD models.

So what has changed for me? At the same time as I was thinking deeply about expertise, I learned about these three models: Stages of Change, Appreciative Inquiry and Evocative Coaching. This confluence has given me a fresh perspective for approaching professional learning with the goal of nurturing expert teachers.

Stages of Change

Change is a process – not an event. We’ve certainly heard that before. But, so often we wish for people to make significant changes in their practice – in their way of being – after relatively few interventions. Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change model would suggest it can take a while. This change model is a multi-disciplinary approach that describes the five stages (pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance) involved in making a significant change in behaviour, and the specific interventions or supports needed at each stage. Although this model was designed for the addictions world, it also provides a guide for being in tune with teachers at whichever stage they may be in the change cycle.

File 6146This model uses an appreciative inquiry and evocative coaching approach, which respects and honours the individual.

When you look into the model you will notice the kind of language and interactions used to scaffold change at various stages.

Here is an abbreviated overview of the Stages of Change model.

Appreciative Inquiry & Evocative Coaching

With an understanding of the Stages of Change model, we could benefit greatly from adopting an appreciative inquiry and evocative coaching stance to work with individuals at their particular place in the change cycle. These are strength-based approaches that capitalize on the individual’s unique talents, skills and desires. Brenda Sherry has been learning and applying the skills of appreciative leadership in her role as vice-principal in Upper Grand District School Board.

The principles of evocative coaching include:

  • Giving teachers our full, undivided attention
  • Accepting and meeting teachers where they are
  • Asking and trusting teachers to take charge of their own learning and growth
  • Harnessing the strengths that teachers have
  • Inviting teachers to discover possibilities and finding answers for themselves
  • Supporting teachers in brainstorming and trying new ways of doing things
  • Maintaining and upbeat, energetic, and positive attitude at all times
  • Enabling teachers to build supportive teams
  • Inspiring and challenging teachers to go beyond what they would do alone
  • Assisting teachers to draw up blueprints for professional learning

Many strategies for working with teachers – based on these principles – are articulated in Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time by Bob & Megan Tschannen-Moran and in other literature.

These are challenging models to implement – to assimilate into our way of being. I have found that they require not just skill with the techniques; but, in fact, may necessitate a change in fundamental beliefs about human nature and learning.

In Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ – Part 3, two examples of replicable professional learning models will be shared: the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program and Minds On Media.


This blog post was first published as part of CEA’s focus on the state of Teacher PD in Canada, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s Teachers as Learners theme issue and The Facts on Education fact sheet, What is Effective Teacher Professional Development? 

17
Jun

Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ — Part 1

Developing Expert Teachers vs. Experienced Nonexperts

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Excellent teaching requires that teachers possess a particular way of being—not merely own a repertoire of recipes and protocols like the three-part lesson or inquiry lesson plans!

Now, be gentle with me!

I don’t dismiss the efficacy of the three-part lesson or inquiry lessons. These are absolutely excellent methodologies. It is often the case, however, that the theory is lost as we look to quickly take the implementable essence and apply it to our classroom practice. These techniques, I believe, should be either the outcome, or vehicle towards development, of deep pedagogical knowledge – of a way of being.

Teachers who are well-versed in educational theory and in the classroom application of these philosophical stances are able to see the curriculum as a landscape they can traverse and discover with their students in an exploratory – perhaps non-linear – fashion. If the teachers have the pedagogical prowess and superb knowledge of the curriculum, then they will be vigilant and opportunistic. They will seize upon the opportunities to weave curricular intent and outcomes into moments of student passion and interest.

On the other hand, teachers who have learned techniques without developing the requisite theoretical perspective may flounder whenever new situations arise. They are not able to generalize from one situation to the other. We see this inability to transfer in students all the time.

Teachers comfortable in this way of being possess expertise.

Expert Teachers versus Experienced Nonexperts

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What is teaching expertise? Let’s examine that by comparing expert teachers with experienced non-experts! Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia, in Surpassing Ourselves: An Inquiry Into the Nature and Implications of Expertise, explain the difference. This brief description may not do the concept justice, but here goes.

“Experts, we propose, tackle problems that increase their expertise, whereas nonexperts tend to tackle problems for which they do not have to extend themselves.” (p.78)

They describe two hypothetical teachers, Cynthia and Margot, who have been teaching for the same length of time. Both have become adept at checking off the list of problems and challenges that any new teacher would face in managing a classroom. Any administrator could look into their classrooms and see relatively peaceful, pleasantly busy kids.

Both teachers – very skillful at what they are trying to do – appear to be experts. However, there are underlying differences. As Cynthia learns to eliminate problems from her list, she checks them off and moves down the list with the goal of eliminating all of the problems. Margot, on the other hand, upon eliminating a problem, adds another new one to the top. These problems at the top are ones she could not have thought of at the beginning of her career. ‘They have to do with distinctions she was not then aware of, such as the distinction between children’s telling what they know and explaining what they know.’ Margot engages in ‘reinvestment and progressive problem solving.’

Cynthia’s goal was to free her mind of dealing with problems through skilled, well-learned routines. Margot’s goal was to use her now available mental resources to ‘reinvest in the advancement of her teaching, in the pursuit of new goals or of goals she did not previously have the resources to pursue.’

Reinvestment and progressive problem solving are the heart of the process of expertise.

We need to develop expert teachers – not train them in being skilled nonexperts. We don’t do that by ignoring the big picture…the history…the philosophical stances.

How do we do that? In Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ – Part 2, I will share three models that have recently impacted my work with both students and teachers: Stages of Change, Appreciative Inquiry, and Evocative Coaching.


This blog post was first published as part of CEA’s focus on the state of Teacher PD in Canada, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s Teachers as Learners theme issue and The Facts on Education fact sheet, What is Effective Teacher Professional Development? 

15
Apr

Tools for Reflective Thinking: Children, Computers and Metacognition

Just a quick little share from the past! Here is the abstract for a session at this conference in 1987.

We are still speaking of similar things…





22
Jan

Knowledge Building: What is it Really?

Isn’t it really just learning by another name?

CC BY Mark Brennan (Flickr) NC SA

We hear a lot about knowledge building in education circles these days!

What is it anyway? Why don’t we just call it learning? Where did this term knowledge building come from?

When I first started speaking of knowledge building (KB), people looked at me as if I had two heads! People thought the term to be officious and puffed-up. But, now—now it’s ever-so-cool. Everyone is using it—but, perhaps without any deep understanding of its roots, its meaning—beyond that of learning. In fairness, this is actually a fairly common phenomenon as new concepts and words come into our everyday lexicon. It is known as lexical or semantic drift. Meanings change from the original intent.

So it is with knowledge building.

The purpose of this article is to briefly familiarize readers with the origins and intended meaning. Links to other sites and articles will help to broaden and deepen your understanding of the complexity of knowledge building, of creating knowledge building communities and of KB technological environments. It certainly won’t all be explained here! ;-)

Learning vs Knowledge Building

This graphic (courtesy of IKIT) delineates the conceptual differences between learning and knowledge building.

What does a Knowledge Building classroom look like?

A Little History

The origins of knowledge building in education arise out of the work of Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter at OISE/UT. Their work in knowledge transforming and intentional learning—as it relates to the development of expertise—has been the foundation of their coining the term knowledge building. This work goes back to the mid 1970s and their development of CSILE—Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments in the mid 80s.

People often equate knowledge building theory with that of constructivist learning, but Scardamalia and Bereiter make these distinctions:

Intentionality. Most of learning is unconscious, and a constructivist view of learning does not alter this fact. However, people engaged in Knowledge Building know they are doing it and advances are purposeful.

Community & knowledge. Learning is a personal matter, but Knowledge Building is done for the benefit of the community.

In other words, students engaged in knowledge building are intentional about their learning—they treat knowledge as an entity that is discussable. It is something about which they reflect and build upon. Also, students can be said not just to be in charge of their own learning, but also have responsibility for the learning of the group.
History of Knowledge Building

1977-1983: Knowledge-Telling versus Knowledge-Transforming

As described in detail in A Brief History of Knowledge Building (pdf), between 1977-1983 the research focus was on examining the differences between knowledge-telling and knowledge-transforming. So when you are using wikis with students for collaboration and knowledge-building, ask yourself, “When students post information on their various wiki pages, are they simply telling knowledge or are they transforming that knowledge by thinking about it, questioning it, reworking it, combining it with other pieces of information to make new understandings and revelations?”

I describe here a situation where true collaboration occurred between two students (visible to all students) in which the questioning by one student (Heather) led the other (Larissa) to rethink and to rework her driving question for her project on potato production in Prince Edward Island. She needed to do more than knowledge telling. She was required to build new schema by a deeper transformation of the information at hand.

1983-1989: Intentional Learning

Between 1983-1989 the research focus switched to intentional learning and cognition. “Intentional cognition is something more than ‘self-regulated learning’, more like the active pursuit of a mental life.” Intentional learning had several characteristics which pointed towards knowledge building. These included:

  1. Higher levels of agency. Students take responsibility not only for meeting learning objectives set by the teacher but for managing the long term acquisition of knowledge and competencies.
  1. Existing classroom communication patterns and practices as obstacles to intentional cognition. Even though teachers may try to encourage inquiry and independent learning and thinking, common characteristics of the classroom environment militate against it and instead increase dependence on the teacher (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996).


It was during this time that CSILE was developed. Originally, it was a text-based system and I, personally, was challenged by a text only environment—as I was a recent HyperCard enthusiast and enjoyed, and saw cognitive benefits for, graphical interfaces and hypermedia. As part of the CSILE team, I made a case for multiple representations of knowledge—beyond text only.

This was a time rich in studying expertise, the differences between expert and novice behaviour and, indeed, how one encourages and supports the development of expert learners—both face to face and in online spaces. Protocols and procedural facilitations were developed to scaffold the execution of higher level strategies by students.

It was recognized, as we hear so much now, that teachers may indeed be a bottleneck in the advancement of knowledge creation by students. However, it’s not merely about student agency—that is necessary, but not sufficient. Students must learn the skills, develop the attitudes and build/participate in the community.

1988-present: Knowledge Building

As the research into intentional learning developed, the researchers noticed something else happening in the CSILE classrooms that involved all the students. They noticed that the kids became really involved in contributing to the knowledge problems that arose. In fact, to be part of the classroom community, you really needed to contribute. So it seemed that a great motivator and sustainer of intentional learning behaviour was ‘the simple and virtually universal desire to belong’.

“This conceptual step yielded a definite separation between intentional learning and Knowledge Building. Intentional learning is the deliberate enhancement of skills and mental content. Knowledge Building is the creation and improvement of knowledge of value to one’s community. You can have intentional learning without Knowledge Building and, in principle at least, Knowledge Building without intentional learning; but the two together make a powerful combination.”

Twelve knowledge building principles have been articulated. I will mention them here, but I suggest you read the complete descriptions or watch these videos because the headings won’t tell you too much! I include them in this graphic to illustrate the depth and complexity of the term knowledge building.

12 Knowledge Building Principles

Knowledge Forum

Knowledge Forum evolved out of CSILE and is available to support you in developing knowledge building classrooms.

Here is a brief video from a classroom using Knowledge Forum. (Note: This is fairly old—the technologies have improved! But, great overview!)

So in summary…

One cannot equate learning with knowledge building.

The terms are not interchangeable and I believe we need to be careful when we appropriate language and use it casually. I have the same concern with other current, common constructs such as inquiry, collaboration, and project-based learning.

I am absolutely certain that I do the same thing with many expressions and terms where that domain is not my area of expertise!

Please be patient with me when I do so, but please also gently point me to resources that will deepen my understandings.

Call to Action

Given the topic of this post, I will now ask you to do a little reflection on the ideas presented here, on your previous and current thoughts about learning versus knowledge building, on your own practice, and on the dominant classroom and school culture in relation to these ideas.

  • What have you learned?
  • What might change for your practice?
  • What steps might you take to move forward?
  • What confusions/questions do you have?

I encourage you to do this publicly—here or in another online space where we might further our collective understandings.


Resources for Follow-Up

A Brief History of Knowledge Building: A Brief History of Knowledge Building is a great place to start reading about knowledge building.

Knowledge Building: Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2003). Knowledge Building. In Encyclopedia of Education. (2nd ed., pp. 1370-1373). New York: Macmillan Reference, USA.

Professional Development: Knowledge Building: The Professional Development: Knowledge Building site is a superb site developed by the OISE originators. Find out what a knowledge building classroom looks like, how to get started, assessment strategies, etc.

IKIT (Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology): “The Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology conducts research, develops technology and helps build communities aimed at advancing beyond “best practice” in education, knowledge work, and knowledge creation.”

Knowledge Forum: Knowledge Forum is available for purchase and implementation in your school or classroom.

Natural Curiosity: Natural Curiosity is a resource that has been developed for teachers. There are wonderful classroom videos online describing ideas about developing a knowledge building culture and knowledge building discourse among students. You can also download a Natural Curiosity handbook.

Learn Teach Lead: LearnTeachLead, of the Ontario Ministry’s Student Achievement Division, has produced and posted some excellent videos including interviews with Marlene Scardamalia.

Visible Thinking: I would also recommend the book, Visible Thinking, by Harvard’s Project Zero group. The Visible Thinking website also has some worthwhile resources.

ThinkingLand: In the mid 80s, as a graduate student in the CSILE group, I developed a networked version of HyperCard called ThinkingLand. It was based on the metaphor of a journal and so could be considered as an online, collaborative, and scaffolded journal writing environment. It was implemented in a sixth grade classroom for research purposes.

Journal Zone: In 2000, LCSI (of Logo fame!) contracted me to lead the design of Journal Zone—which was based on ThinkingLand. It was an awesome online environment, but was not commercially successfully as it launched just at the same time as blogging arrived on the scene. People went blogging—without all the scaffolding and procedural facilitations we had built into Journal Zone. (It is no longer available.) See Using Visible Thinking Strategies to Develop Expert Learners for a description of the practical elements of Journal Zone which you can build into your classroom practice.

Journal Zone

First posted at Big Ideas in Education and at Inquire Within

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