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Posts tagged ‘cognition’

14
Aug

Remembering Seymour Papert in Ontario Education

PapertAs a long time member of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (since 1980), I wish to express my appreciation for the life and work of Seymour Papert. He contributed widely and significantly to Ontario education through those who have learned from him since the late 1970s. Countless Ontario students grew up with Logo and Lego TC Logo robotics—and, more importantly, in learning environments that honoured their freedom to invent, to err, to create and to tinker in wonderment.

This is rather a personal glimpse although I shall provide many wonderful tributes and resources from other members of this wonderful, brilliant community.

Many of you may know Seymour Papert as the co-creator of Logo. If you don’t know about Logo or Seymour’s role in its development, there are some resources below.

Dr. Seymour Papert has often been recognized as the Father of Educational Computing. His impact on the early world of information technologies in schools is legendary for it was borne from his collaboration with Jean Piaget, theories of constructivism, and the ‘tutee’ concept within Tool, Tutor, and Tutee.

But Seymour has been much bigger than Logo.

Papert & Negroponte

Seymour Papert & Nicholas Negroponte, Founder & Chairman of ‘One Laptop Per Child’ – photo by Bud the Teacher (by sa nc)

What You May Not Know

But what you possibly don’t know about Seymour Papert is his significant contribution to the field of cognitive science. With Marvin Minsky, he cofounded the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT.  He collaborated with Marvin Minsky on Perceptrons (1969), which temporarily reduced the focus on neural networks and encouraged increased study of symbolic models.  Indeed, in the early 80’s, the exploration of neural networks rebounded and became a prominent force in Artificial Intelligence (AI) research and development. I don’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of these very technical arguments among the Newell & Simon cognitivists, artificial intelligence supporters, and cyberneticists.  However, these times were central to the creation of the current theories of cognitive science.

The Human Side

I had the good fortune of spending some time with Seymour Papert.  I wish I’d had more time and I wish that I’d had more opportunities for debate with him—not about cognitive science but about cognitive psychology and his dreams for schools and children’s learning.

Conference Adventures

We were at a conference together in Israel in 1987 (Second International Congress on Early Childhood Education: Childhood in the Technological Era. I helped usher him away from the throngs of people after his presentation to his hotel in another city. He was always deluged in those days and he valued his privacy. He asked me if I wouldn’t mind driving his rental car for him. He found it crazy to drive there and, of course, I was happy to oblige. On the way, we stopped in the old city and were happily walking along, browsing at the stalls. Then, I turned around and he was gone! Oh my goodness! It took me some 20-30 minutes to find him.  He was contentedly sipping tea with a shopkeeper and deeply involved in a wonderful conversation about the state of the world.

RCX Programmable BrickMedia Lab Inquiries

Another meeting was at the Media Lab when he invited me to sit in with his graduate students to discuss the social implications of a group (gathering) of untethered, programmable turtles! You see, Fred Martin (one of his graduate students) had created what became the RCX programmable brick controlled by an IR sensor which received instructions from the computer. So the turtle no longer needed to be connected via cables! Freedom! 🙂

Seymour was asking the students to think what might happen if we tried to replicate human interactions based on cultural differences. Turtles could be designed differently in some way and the sensors on each could detect the differences. People across cultures have different comfort levels with proximity to other people. Some don’t mind being close. Others like to have a little more personal space. Could we replicate that with a turtle community? This was a fascinating time for me because, once again, it revealed to me Seymour’s humanitarian sensibilities blended with his expertise in artificial intelligence.

LCSI (Logo Computer Systems Incorporated)

I started using Logo with my Grade 2s in 1980. Seymour, Brian Silverman and others started LCSI (Logo Computer Systems Incorporated) in 1981. It is based in Montreal, Canada. I switched to using LCSI’s logo shortly after that. Then my job changed in North York Schools. I became a centrally-assigned instructional leader and was able to make central purchases and decisions about professional learning at the district level. This gave me the opportunity to become friends with the folks at LCSI—including Susan Einhorn and Michael Quinn (current president). Now, that sounds like a conflict of interest (LOL), but the reality was that we were all part of the Logo community and ended up at the Logo conferences at MIT through the 80s.

Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO)

I regret that we never had Seymour at our ECOO conference. I don’t know why! It was an error. I take some responsibility for that as I was involved with both the ECOO Board and conference committees over the years (since 1980).


Look to the Learner Poster SmallerSIG Logo

But, we did have a Special Interest Group for Logo (SIG-Logo) from approximately 1983 – 1989 or so. I was honoured to be its leader for most of that. In 1986, we had a wonderful conference called Look to the Learner. Many of the famous Logophiles of the day presented. (See So You Want Kids to Code! Why? for the agenda—along with some other Logo bits and pieces.)

Many influenced by Seymour have spoken at ECOO

Gary Stager (keynote many times), Sylvia Martinez (keynoted in 2015), Artemis Papert and Brian Silverman (keynoted and ran Minds On Media centre in 2014), David Thornburg (featured speaker several times), Norma Thornburg, Bonnie Bracey (featured), Mitch Resnick (keynote), Ron Canuel, Judi Harris, Margaret Riel,  Brenda Sherry, and many more have shared his work and his influence on their own practice over the years. Indeed, I also have shared much Logo related work and thinking many times as a speaker—both featured and regular.

I miss Seymour’s presence. He was severely injured in a motorcycle accident several years ago. His strength of passion and genius should not be missed. Read his work.

A Last Word about Logo

If you have not explored using Logo with kids, I can still recommend that you do this.  I am sure it must fit a 21st Century Skill or two.  🙂  There are many versions available.  Seymour Papert was the Chair of the Board of LCSI for many years and they have, in my opinion, made the best versions of this computer language.

Check out MicroWorlds EX and MicroWorlds Jr (the latter is for primary kids). Also consider Turtle Art. It is a lovely version of the turtle graphics aspect of Logo and is elegant in its simplicity.

Please check out some of these wonderful resources and tributes to this revolutionary educator.

RESOURCES

 

Thank you Seymour.

And thank you to all in that community who have impacted children in Ontario and beyond.

 

 

2
Aug

It IS about the Tools!

 

…and obviously the other stuff too!

Click on this picture to make it larger and more readable!

It IS about the Tools!Feel free to share this graphic.

I continue to hear that we need ‘pedagogy before technology‘ and that it ‘isn’t about the tools, it’s about the learning‘! Well, I am somewhat frustrated by these relatively simplistic statements. But, before you shoot me, understand that a strong emphasis on both pedagogy and learning are foremost in my mind. Also, let me clarify that this is somewhat a new educational battlecry—one that didn’t exist when many of us started with kids and these technologies back in the late 70s. We just took it for granted that we were implementing these tools in deep and significant ways! (After all, you either took a constructionist/constructivist approach or you adopted the beliefs of CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction—aka Institutionalization! LOL)

It is only since decision-making was taken out of the hands of classroom educators that computers (and other technologies) have landed unceremoniously in classrooms, along with expectations that they will be used effectively. This has gained momentum since the onslaught of cheaper tools such as tablets, Chromebooks and BYOD and even more decision-makers and policy-makers have arrived on board (finally)—because they have a ‘device’!

So, trust me. I get why we are hearing this battlecry. People didn’t necessarily come to it themselves and now we have a plethora of devices and not enough forethought and preparation.

Having said that, it is dangerous to claim that it is not about the tools. It is also about the tools. Read on, and click on the links, to find out why I think so.

I have decided to make this graphic representing these ideas that I have written about in the previous posts:

If you would like to see an interactive version, please click on the link below.

https://www.thinglink.com/scene/817139071510904833

 

 

 

 

18
Feb

Organic System Environments for Shared Knowledge Construction

Alright…BEFORE you get excited…here’s the DISCLAIMER! 😉

I discovered this article in a journal as I was cleaning up boxes in my basement. It’s from April 1990.

Some of it rings fairly true today—although you will get a giggle from the technologies!

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24
Jan

Deep Learning: Philosophically Speaking ;-)

I don’t often cross-post from other sources—but, I really think this is an interesting perspective on much that we are attempting to re-invent given our focus on critical thinking, inquiry, creativity, visible thinking, even thinking all by itself (once again!).  Perhaps we need to revisit what philosophy can offer for helping our students in these areas.


 

What philosophy can tell Davos about educating for a better future

Angela Hobbs, University of Sheffield

How do you create a generation that can think its way out of problems and face the challenges of a rapidly changing world? The Davos meeting this year is all about how we can cope with the immense challenges posed by the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” – an era of rapid and complex technological change, where our role in the world is resting on shifting sands.

The next generation of workers will have to be properly equipped to meet these enormous challenges. I believe that, if well-taught and using high-quality materials, philosophy classes can grant children, in Britain and across the world, extraordinary benefits as that era unfolds.

I will be taking part in several panel discussions at the World Economic Forum 2016 at Davos and as part of this, I will be trying to convince the policy makers and power brokers at the Swiss ski resort that we must insert practical philosophy into the heart of schooling.

Through my roles in the British Philosophical Association and the Philosophy in Education project (PEP), I support the continuation of a philosophy A Level and the introduction of a philosophy GCSE. I would also like to see the introduction of at least a year – ideally many more – of non-examined philosophy classes for all children aged between seven and 14.

The range of ideas and arguments on offer in philosophy classes can show children that there are different ways of thinking and living than those immediately on offer in their own postcode. Philosophy is one of the main subjects which extends a child’s imaginative range of possible lives, and this is true for children from all socio-economic backgrounds.

We are not just products of our genetic inheritance and environment; reason can provide at least a partial way out – but only if reason is properly trained. The challenge is then to avoid circularity: is such a training only possible if one is lucky enough to go to a good school (or, in other words, is the development of reason in fact wholly dependent on one’s immediate environment after all)?

Opening doors.
Klearchos Kapoutsis, CC BY-SA

This is true only up to a point. There are excellent materials widely available, including online. But children do at the very least need to be aware that such materials exist, that there are doors to open.

Questions of belief

Crucially, philosophy can provide children with a superb training in how to ask questions, analyse concepts, analyse and construct both inductive and deductive arguments and, in general, consider whether there are any good reasons to believe whatever it is they are being told. It helps them to develop good habits of reasoning and thinking for themselves.

This would suggest that philosophy might give children a better chance of resisting any attempts to brainwash them, whether from political or religious extremists, advertisers, or indeed teachers. It is difficult to find hard data on this as yet, but research from Britain’s Department for Education does speak of “reported impacts”.

This idea would seem to have informed a recent British Council paper on education and extremism. The education department’s own research in 2010 also suggested a link between philosophy teaching materials available from the group Philosophy for Children (P4C) and protection against indocrination. There is currently a working party exploring whether P4C is useful for the Prevent strategy, but I am not sure whether that specific question is necessarily the right one to be asking.

Teaching a way to leave the herd.
REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Philosophy classes pitched at the right level have the merit of being inclusive, whereas some have criticised the Prevent programme for being divisive. My point is that it is healthy for children to be encouraged to question and think for themselves – and philosophy is one of the subjects that is particularly good at this, irrespective of any particular agenda.

Rigour and flair

Philosophy hones both speaking and listening skills – and it fosters the ability to engage in robust yet respectful dialogue. It allows children to understand that you can disagree with someone without coming to blows and it encourages them to separate intellectual criticisms from personal attacks. It may therefore have a role to play in encouraging resilience and strength of character.

Both the clear, rigorous thinking and suppleness and flexibility of mind that philosophy requires and fosters will be key skills in a 21st-century workplace defined by constant innovation.

But, important though this is, philosophy does much more than train pupils for work. I believe that the activity of philosophy can in itself form one of the components of a flourishing life for children, both individually and collectively. This flourishing is not just a goal for their future adult selves, but also something that is important for them throughout their education.

Making happy grown-ups.
Henrik Sandklef, CC BY-SA

As schoolchildren mature, philosophy can help them reflect on such issues as flourishing, happiness and pleasure and how they may (or may not) interrelate. Philosophy can thus help children work out their own life goals.

Encouraging doubt

Those at Davos who are concerned about how the future of education should look in this age of uncertainty can find solace in philosophy. It can help children understand that ethical decisions have always had to be made in conditions of uncertainty and that technological advances have not changed that (though they may have deceived us into thinking that life is more predictable than it is).

Philosophy can also help children develop conceptions of flourishing which can exist in uncertain times and it can help provide them with the mental agility and adaptability that uncertain times require. It is not excess of doubt that is currently causing so many problems around the world – quite the reverse.

The Conversation

Angela Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

24
Aug

Students ‘Making Up’ Their Own Minds

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

–Marvin L. Minsky (from The Society of 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

4
Dec

Graphic Organizers, Outliners and Transferable Thinking

Teaching for Durable Mental Models

Many years ago, I devised ways to have my students make their thinking explicit for all to see and to discuss! One technique I created was Watch Me Think! We dreamed up as many ways as we could to make this possible.

We tried public journal writing and collaborative idea mapping (as we called it then). I have written much about the former, and wish to address the latter here.

Idea mapping, in my view, comes in two varieties:

  • traditional outliners that are hierarchical & linear in nature (as you would find in any wordprocessor like MS Word or Pages—but not Google), and
  • graphic organizers which may be used hierarchically or in a web-based manner and are graphical in nature. Many graphic organizers also allow for the creation of mind-maps and concept-maps (which can show a relationship among the nodes of of the map).
    • In fact, may of these graphic organizers will also export to an outliner—often a handy feature!

Both categories of these tools are extremely useful—perhaps in different ways. Many excellent resources are available to support you in using them with your students.

Effects With versus Effects Of

However, I wish for deeper and more transferable understandings that students can learn when they are creating mind-maps, concept-maps or outlines. I want both effects with and effects of. It is wonderful that graphic organizers and outliners can improve the quality of students’ work as they use these tools (effects with), but it is as important for these tools to have a more robust impact on student thinking. If students develop mental models as a result of having used graphic organizers or outliners, they are able to apply these in other situations (effects of)—even when computers are not on hand. The model resides in the head.

…place thinking at the centre of the educational enterprise…

Placing thinking at the centre of the educational enterprise in classrooms is very much at the heart of the knowledge-building and visible thinking movement, and so, it makes a lot of sense to make these graphic organizers and outlines as visible as possible within your classroom. Sometimes this might be in your physical space. Other times, they may be, in fact, collaborative documents that are shared and discussable online.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 1.05.20 PM

The outliner allows students to capture main and supporting ideas at the same time.

Outliners

Does wordprocessing make students better writers?

Research has indicated that students write better whenever they use word processors. Their work is longer, better revised and edited, and so forth. This would constitute effects with.

But can they subsequently write better after having used word processors?

Can they write better without the use of a word processor?

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 1.05.45 PM

Shaded bullets allow students to understand organization at a glance.

The answer to these questions is likely dependent on both the connections teachers explicitly make in class as well as the types of activities in which students are engaged while using word processors.

For example, if they use an outlining tool within a word processor or presentation software, they would then have a functional mental structure to carry with them to other tasks.

…helps students develop portable mental models they can carry to other tasks…

How does using the outliner tool differ from just using indents and hard returns? The ability to expand and collapse the headings and subheadings provides, in my opinion, a significant mental model—a model that is durable and independent of the computer. It is what Gavriel Salomon would call a residual effect. How might this be implemented in a classroom? Look at two examples here.

Courtesy: Inspiration website

Graphic Organizers

Similarly, graphic organizers may provide students with the capacity to think differently even when they are not using a computer. They may have the capability to see webs of ideas, and relationships among ideas, as a graphical representation in their mind. This is a tool with which to think—an alternate way of representing knowledge that they may not have at their disposal if they hadn’t used graphic organizers.

In fact, if they move their knowledge from a graphic organizer to an outline for a different view and then back again, they will start to develop a schema of how information can be structured. This is a valuable mental model—a wonderful effect of having used the tools.

Caution: Be careful these activities don’t become yet another worksheet! 🙂

My own experience shows that if outlining and mapping become routinized—like yet another ‘worksheet’—they become ‘something to get done’ and they, therefore, are not done mindfully or intentionally and the intended benefits are lost. Once again we need to understand that learning is strongly affected by the predominant culture of the classroom. So, be sure to value the efforts through conversation and the public discussions related to the thinking involved.

Thinking needs to be a highly valued activity and that should be explicitly and implicitly understood by all in the classroom. John Seely Brown has eloquently stated that learning is often a product of the ambient culture rather than of explicit teaching.

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NOTE for Ontario Teachers:

OSAPAC has announced the release of a new Mind Mapping tool, called Mindomo. Brenda Sherry gives some of her thoughts in NEW! Mindomo Mind Mapping for Ontario Learners.

 

 

30
Oct

Belief Can Outrank Reality!

Watch on Vimeo for larger image and a greater impact – so to speak! 

“I’m an idiot!”

That was my thought about my crash landing shown in the video clip. I didn’t flare to slow down for the landing. Why not!?

I came to the most fascinating conclusion as I watched this video countless times on a large screen in an attempt to determine where it all went wrong,

My belief outranked reality.

My expectation outweighed all the other information that I was perceiving.

The Story

I was taking paragliding instruction. (Some people think this is why I was an idjit. LOL) I had completed ground school and some canopy handling on the ground. Now it was time for my first training flight.

You get attached to a tow rope connected to a winch placed some hundreds of metres away. This winch has a tension indicator on it so that the tow operator knows how much tension is on the rope. For the first flight, you get towed fairly strongly at first and fly several metres off the ground. At the right moment, the tow operator reduces the tension enough to stop the forward pull but still have the rope advancing ahead of the pilot so it doesn’t get in the way.

In the video, you will see that the take-off went quite well as I, at first, resisted the tension, as I was supposed to, and then took many small steps ‘til take off! Good one Peter! J

A couple of seconds later, the canopy started to turn, so I acted properly and pulled the correct line to straighten it out.

Then, I was expecting to continue my flight. I was moving forward still. I believed I was to continue flying. It was a strong belief. But, alas, it was the wrong belief! The operator had reduced the tension so I could land.

But I didn’t flare. I didn’t pull on the brakes.

My expectation–my belief–was more powerful than the ground approaching quickly!

Information that should have been extremely vivid and impactful eluded me.

The Lesson

How often, do we as educators, not see the obvious because our beliefs are so strongly interfering with reality?

 

10
Oct

Using Visible Thinking Strategies to Develop Expert Learners

Supporting Inquiry with Scaffolded, Collaborative Journal Writing

Communicating peopleVisible thinking is all the rage. I’m glad!

Back in the day–we usually referred to visible thinking as explicit thinking. But, as with many solid, worthwhile constructs, they are not readily adopted and so often reappear decades (or centuries!) later under a new name with new advocates and with a new dream that maybe this time things might stick and better the lives of students.

So it is with visible thinking.  The basic idea is to uncover the implicit and inert thinking and to make that thinking discussable and perhaps available to others. For it is by objectifying knowledge that we can come to understand it.

John Seely Brown once suggested,

“The hope is that we might be able to find ways to help students discover knowledge about knowledge, thereby setting the stage for acquiring truly domain-independent skills, such as how to reflect on the knowledge they already have, and to identify the causes underlying the mistakes they make.” (Brown, 1985, p184)

So, how do we support students in making their thinking visible?

There are many perspectives, frameworks and strategies. A favourite of mine is that of David Perkins, one of the pioneers on making thinking explicit. His recent work with a team at Harvard’s Project Zero has resulted in a book Making Thinking Visible. A worthwhile read! Also, visit the Making Thinking Visible website for wonderful resources.

What are Novice and Expert Learners?

I personally love the literature on expertise and how it may serve us. We can think about novice learners and expert learners and ask “how do we move novices towards greater expertise in learning”? Scardamalia and Bereiter have done a great deal of work in this area and the following has arisen from their research over the years.

This graphic shares some of the differences between novice and expert learners.

(Click it, then click it again to see full size.)
Novice/Expert Infographic

Novice/Expert Infographic

What is Scaffolded, Collaborative Journal Writing?

So, how can we help students become more expert?

I have used journal writing extensively–both offline and online. But not simply private, individual journal writing. I prefer collaborative, scaffolded, journal writing environments.  This provides all the benefits of journal writing, collaboration, and the use of scaffolds or procedural facilitations. (You can set this up in a blog, wiki, or other social space–although it is a bit of a ‘hack’!)

journal medSome Benefits of Journal Writing:

  • Cappo & Osterman suggest that “as students communicate their ideas, they learn to clarify, refine, and consolidate their thinking”.
  • Countryman says, “I believe that to learn mathematics, students must construct it for themselves. They can only do that by exploring, justifying, representing, discussing, using, describing, investigating, predicting–in short by being active in the world. Writing is an ideal activity for such processes”.
  • Journal writing allows for the externalization of knowledge through language. Language plays an important role in making knowledge explicit by objectifying experience. So as students engage in writing about their knowledge they are indeed exploring, stating and questioning what they know. Journal writing allows students to state their understanding of a topic or problem replete with all the associate bugs. These buggy statements are then explicit and can act as a medium for mediating new understanding in collaboration with others.

Some Benefits of Collaboration

Cloud Computing Small textA collaborative form of journal writing leads to unique experiences that have qualitatively different results than individual journal writing. Students not only reflect on their own thoughts and processes, but also exchange information about both the subject content and the processes and strategies used by others.

Stated somewhat differently, Perkins and Salomon maintain that “learning takes place in a social context (e.g., reciprocal teaching), whereby justifications, principles, and explanations are socially fostered, generated, and contrasted”.

In the Zone Scaffolding

Scaffolding in the zone (as in Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development) can encourage students to consider their own higher level strategies and promote the active decontextualization of knowledge. It may allow the user to decenter from personal thoughts and think about other considerations. Confused roadsignIt facilitates an internal dialogue when no other partner exists to bounce ideas off. In the zone scaffolding can take many forms, but I have used prompts, questions or sentence starters and make these available to students in a blog template as they write their entries.

You will see that the scaffolding prompts (below) tie directly to the characteristics of the novice-expert continuum in the infographic–although they are categorized as planning and reflection starters.

Comment Starters

Usually students quite naturally respond with social commentary, but often not with substantive assistance that might help their classmates to reconsider, or to think more deeply, about how they are doing in their project. So I recommend to also include comment or discussion starters.

Connective Words or Elaboration Triggers

In addition to the prompts for the journaling and the conversation, a list of connective words can be available to students to help them to elaborate their thoughts. So if a student initially writes, “I want to learn animation”, selecting a connective word such as because, might result in further consideration of the goal perhaps resulting in sub-goals. “I want to learn animation because then I will be able to demonstrate how red blood cells are produced. In fact, I will be able to use it in lots of projects.”

Classroom Support

A teacher can also enhance the use of these public journal entries by structuring certain activities for their use. For example, to have students focus on using knowledge as a tool, the teacher could request:

“For the next group meeting, I would like you to read the blog (journal) entries of your group members for the current project and print out the ones that show that a piece of old knowledge has been used in a new way.”

Or,

“…print out the ones where the comments provide direct help with the task.”

Challenges

Several challenges exist.

One, this can become simply another classroom exercise–worksheet-like. NOT the intent. Try to engage your students in developing their own sentence starters. Engage in the discussion by adding comments that are substantive.  Model what you want the kids to do. Encourage the philosophy in the classroom that thinking is a highly valued activity.

Two, the tools (wikis, blogs, Diigo) are not designed to ease the use of these starters.  I have had students copy and paste the ones they want to use into their post or into their reply. But, availability is the issue.

Three, ideally you want the kids generalizing this behaviour and appropriating the use of deep discourse. In order for that to be the case, it must serve the kids well. This may require your effort in making the connection.

Request of you…

It would be beneficial if you would share your ideas on how you have used journal writing, scaffolding or collaboration to help your students to become more expert learners!


Scaffolding Prompts

Planning Starters

I want to know…
I want to learn…
I think…
My goals for this project are…
I don’t understand…
I wonder…
I am having difficulty with…
I am breaking my project into…
A similar task I have had before is…
The steps I plan to follow are…
Different ways to solve this task…
 

Reflection Starters

I learned…
Things I want to learn are…
I think…
I have managed to…
I have changed my plan…
I didn’t get as far as I planned because…
I got further than I had planned because…
The steps I did first were…
My next step will be…
 

Comment or Discussion Starters

I agree with you because …
I disagree with you because…
Check…
I think…
I believe…
Have you thought about…
Maybe…
I am confused…
Another explanation…
I don’t understand…
You need to…
Your journal entry would be better if…
 

Elaboration Triggers

study
thanks to
that’s how
that’s why
therefore
think
try
until
wish
wonder
in that case
in view of
look forward to
otherwise
plan
realize
remember
since
so
expect
explain
feel
figured
give up
guess
hope
if…then
intend
another
as a result of
attempt
because
believe
consequently
consider
decide
discovered
discuss

Previous version originally published on The Construction Zone