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Posts tagged ‘expertise’

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 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? 

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

3
Mar

Scaffolding for Deep Understanding

How CAN we help our students be the kind of thinkers we want?

My friend and colleague, @brendasherry, recently wrote a thoughtful post called What is Deep Understanding?  She asked several excellent questions:

  • what kind of thinkers do we want our students to be?
  • what is deep understanding?
  • can schools really provide the learning environment to nurture and develop it?

In thinking about these questions, I would like to ask: “How can we help novice learners become more expert learners?” Read more »

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?

——————————————

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.

——————————————

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’.

9
Jan

ZPD – Who’s in Charge Here?

What’s Dynamic Scaffolding?

Forgive this cross post from The Construction Zone website, but I want to bring it forward partially in response to Chris Lehmann’s post about Engagement vs Empowerment.

The Zone of Proximal Development (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. The student should ideally be engaged at the outside limit of competence.

Advancing one’s knowledge, by definition, requires that one operates in advance of one’s level of competence. One may conceive of the ZPD as being a zone just in advance of the student’s position of competence. It is in this zone where learning and development occur.

But this may be a wide zone – a large ‘depth of field’, if you like. The inner edge of the ZPD (close to total competence) is characterized by tasks that can be carried out with a minimum of support whereas at the outer edge of the ZPD a greater  amount of scaffolding is required. A great deal of complexity is inherent in assuming control of ‘scaffolding’ within that zone. Is this possible, or best handled, by others?

A great deal of complexity is inherent in assuming control of ‘scaffolding’ within the ZPD. Is this possible, or best handled, by others?

Novice & Expert Learners

There are common behaviours that are characteristic of relative levels of expertise. Novice learners display approaches that are consistent across domains. So do expert learners.  This theoretically allows for an easier determination of one’s position on this novice-expert continuum due to similarities of strategic approaches or behaviours. One may therefore be able to identify a ZPD just in advance of this position. For example, a novice may not think to generate a variety of possible solutions before embarking on one approach to a task, whereas a more expert student might, so one could afford opportunities for this generation of alternate strategies to occur.  However, as the student gains expertise and moves up the continuum, the ZPD is always in advance. Therefore, it necessitates that the ‘cognitive partner’ provide ‘dynamic’ support or scaffolding.  Not just the gradual quantitative reduction of support as the learner acquires more competence in a particular skill, but a qualitative shift because now new competencies become attainable with appropriate support.  An ‘optimal mismatch’ needs to be maintained. This is quite a challenge.

…the ‘cognitive partner’ needs to provide ‘dynamic’ support or scaffolding.

Robbie Case developed a theory & technology of instruction that focused on analysis of novice-expert behaviours and procedures and the design of “successive stages for transforming the novices procedures into more expert-like ones” (Bereiter & Scardamalia). My own work on spelling acquisition was consistent with this work. It was determined that relative expertise in spelling could be acquired by identifying and supporting stages & procedures in between novice and expert. However, it is still questionable whether this determination and judgement of one’s position might not best be assigned to the student rather than the teacher or other. In this work on spelling acquisition, there was student involvement in the analysis of the progression of learning.  I remember asking them to think they were holding a video camera just above themselves…that they were watching themselves.  What do they see?

Who’s in Charge?

Is an outside individual able to determine the appropriate support to advance another’s expertise?

Is an outside individual able to determine the appropriate support to advance another’s expertise?  With such complexity involved, even though there are general patterns among novices and experts, many of us believe that one should be proactive in one’s own construction of knowledge within the ZPD. The teacher often assumes responsibility for this learning process and I am suggesting that we turn over this responsibility to the student. This already occurs in many other settings and does not mean abandoning scaffolding.

Bruner (in Toohey) suggests in regard to parent-child interactions “…mothers most often see their role as supporting the child in achieving an intended outcome, entering only to assist or reciprocate or ‘scaffold’ the action.” Donald Graves (in Writing : Teachers & Children at Work, 1983 p.271) says that “scaffolding follows the contours of child growth”. Both Bruner and Graves identify that the child is in control while the adult remains sensitive and responsive.

However, often scaffolding in schools means the ‘imposition’ of a structure on the student. Is a sheet of questions outlining steps on how to proceed on a science experiment effective scaffolding?  “Whose intentions are being honored” asks Searle (in Jordan, 1997)? “The adequacy of the metaphor implied by scaffolding hinges on the question of who is constructing the edifice.” (in Jordan, 1997)

“The adequacy of the metaphor implied by scaffolding hinges on the question of who is constructing the edifice.”

Here is an example of a child in charge of the construction of new knowledge within the ZPD. This is a description of a parent’s support of a child who is learning to count to 100. The child can manage alone through each set of ones, but needs to be prompted at each ‘ten’.

C:“25..26..27..28..29…..

A:“30” (unsolicited)

C:“30..31..32..”

Further on, perhaps at another session the adult may only have to shape her mouth like the initial sound of the tens number for the child to say it. It is in this way that an adult can collaborate in the ZPD. The adult initially needs to provide considerable scaffolding, but scaffolding is only a temporary building structure that is gradually reduced and withdrawn as the student constructs the knowledge and competence necessary to continue unaided. A cognitively sensitive, attuned adult allows the control of the ZPD to remain in the hands of the student.

A cognitively sensitive, attuned adult allows the control of the ZPD to remain in the hands of the student.

For example,

C:“57..58..59..”

A:“60” (unsolicited)

C:“Don’t tell me!!”

A:“Sorry, I didn’t know whether to help.”

C:“67..68..69..Don’t tell me…Don’t tell me…(pause)…Give me a hint..”

A:“Ssss”

C:“Seventy..71..72…”

Here the adult has attuned to the ‘depth of field’ of the ZPD (on this task) and has allowed and encouraged control to remain with the student.

More Complex Problem Spaces

I recognize that the above examples illustrate the concepts with relatively simple learning tasks.  The same holds, I believe, for more complex problem spaces.  Much of my everyday work with students struggles in those spaces.

3
Jan

PBL – Who IS in Charge? What Tools can Help?

What tools support a socio-constructivist approach to Project-based Learning?

Assumptions

Traditional Classroom

Old Traditional Classroom

We believe in kids.  That’s why we are in this ‘business’ of education in the first place.  Yet, much of what we must face relegates us, and the students, to roles and responsibilities that are in discord with this belief.  Further to that, I believe that most of us would agree that people, including kids, naturally want to learn.

Students can ‘take charge of their learning’.  They have the ability to define driving questions within the context of curricular needs, to set their goals, to generate and implement strategies to achieve those goals, and to reflect on the efficacy of their efforts.  They understand intuitively that this can be accomplished best within a social context and with the tools at hand.

This era of information and communications technologies (ICT) is particularly conducive to a shift towards more natural models of learning and away from the factory model of education that grew out of the industrial era.   Powerful tools exist for accessing and manipulating information and also for supporting rich communications among people.

I have spent most of my career supporting project-based learning (PBL) because I believe in kids.  I trust in their power of self-regulation.  I have no doubt in their ability to work together for the betterment of themselves and others.  I also believe in teachers.  People enter this profession for noble reasons. We want to make a difference — to educate all children to the best of their abilities.  We want students to become lifelong learners and teachers understand that to achieve this they must encourage and support the development of self-regulatory skills — the rudimentary origins of which children had when they arrived in school!

Out of Line

Out of Line

Locus of Control

For years I have been frustrated with the school system’s inadvertent theft of a student’s locus of control.  Before a child enters school, they are full of questions and make much sense out of the rich complexity of authentic situations.  Once a child enters kindergarten, the educational system begins to set the learning agenda.   Children are segregated into age groups.  The curriculum is defined — segmented and sequenced.  The activities are organized. The learning is controlled and measured.  As the years go on — and students acquire their new roles — their curiosity, passion and motivation to learn measurably decreases.

Neil Postman astutely suggested that,

“Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.”

Project Based Learning

Kite Building

I believe that teachers prefer project-based learning models but in these times of standards and testing they

often withdraw to more didactic approaches.However, I am not so naïve as to think that the use of a PBL approach is enough to cause a radical change in education.  But I recognize that such approaches to education are consonant with our deeper beliefs.  I am also confident that when schools systems adopt these philosophies and tools — and use them well — the evidence of higher student achievement will be overwhelmingly convincing.

I believe that we cannot raise standards appropriately until we adopt these methodologies.

ICT Affordances

And so, then the question is, what information technologies support these methodologies? We need to provide environments which:

  • encourage and support student-generated questioning
  • allow students to make their thinking explicit – both to themselves and to others
  • scaffold student learning
  • provide for multiple representations of knowledge
  • facilitate conversation among students

Many of these can be handled by different applications available to us.  Tools that ‘catch and allow for the organization of ideas’ are particularly useful for brainstorming and/or making sense of that which we already know.  Inspiration, Smart Ideas, and the outliner of most word processors can fulfill this function.  Word processors are also useful as diaries or journals – but likely serve best for a ‘personal’ form of those.   It has often been said that we are no longer in the ‘information age’ but rather have entered the ‘communication age’ or ‘creative age’.  There is a proliferation of environments in which people may hold discussions.  Many of these are web-based in the form of blogs, wikis, Twitter, Skype or Facebook. However, few of these are specifically focused on education (with the exception of Knowledge Forum.) They are, therefore, not designed to incorporate multiple features as mentioned above – mainly because they are often used in ‘social’ ways, not for ‘cognitive’ gain.   Not a bad thing – necessary, as it’s said, but not sufficient.

Journal Writing

Cognitive Scaffolding – How Do We Support and Encourage Thoughtful Journal Entries and Comment/Discussion

Ah yes, herein lies the greatest problem.

I designed software a few years ago called Journal Zone to try to meet these needs.  It was a good first attempt – but didn’t do well commercially.  BUT, this is not about selling that product. It’s not available any more anyway. It is about the feature set that embraces a socioconstructivist philosophy and is designed specifically for students to become better learners.

Tools to support and encourage novice learners to think deeply about what they should think about or write about aren’t, for the most part, currently available. It is really up to the culture of the classroom to support deep thinking.  It should anyway of course.  <g>

Madeleine's Blog

A Scaffolded Posting

But, to have some of these affordances built into the tools would be useful.

I have made attempts at this – yes, with Journal Zone in the past – but more recently, with blogs, wikis and Diigo. It’s a hack, and not quite as integrated as I would like.  But if anyone wants to build something with me, please let me know.

I’ll describe the concepts more fully here.  Please read The Construction Zone section if you would like a more robust theoretical basis of ‘expert/novice learning behaviour’, Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), ‘dynamic scaffolding’, and mindfulness.

I would like to see an online journaling environment that supports reflective learning within a social context.   It could integrate three common practices of exemplary teaching – journal writing, collaboration, and cognitive scaffolding.  Students would think more deeply, not only about the task at hand, but also about their own thinking and learning processes.

A Collaborative Classroom

It would be a place where students could write and illustrate their thoughts, plans and ideas over a period of time.  Sometimes journals would be ongoing – as a diary might be.  At other times journals might be kept during specific projects  – to track plans, thoughts, notes, questions, strategies, solutions and so on. The journal entries would be reviewed and commented upon by group members or project partners.

Because the environment would encourage and support social sharing and discussion of these thoughts, it would be an ideal place for students to work together to make sense of curricular or conceptual problems.  The distinctive tools (perhaps sentence prompts) would scaffold individual and group learning by helping students in planning, reflecting and commenting effectively on the work of others.

Imagine a student, Sarah, is beginning her investigations into her topic of ‘natural disasters’.  Normally, this occurs as an independent activity.  However, in this case, Sarah is part of a group of students – each of whom has his/her own topic of investigation.  Each student has a responsibility, not just for her own investigation, but also for the projects of the others in the group.  (Indeed, each student may have a sub-part of a topic, but not necessarily.)  In practical terms, this means that each student works on her own project, but also regularly comments on the progress of the others in her group.  As Sarah documents her plans and thoughts, others read them and give substantive feedback in an effort to ‘bump up’ the standard of work.

My research indicated that ‘prompts’ were initially essential to get novice learners to behave more like expert learners – to develop the metacognitive strategies of, for example, generating a number of solution strategies before embarking on one or, breaking a complex project into mind-size parts.  Prompts can also assist in elevating the conversation from a social one to a more substantive one.  For example, instead of a student merely saying, “I like your idea”, the student might say, “Have you considered…that we studied that hurricane all last month.  How has that affected the farming?”  The benefits to the recipient of the advice are obvious.

But the students who give the advice also benefit in several ways:

  • they intimately learn the subject content of the other students
  • they ‘see’ the learning processes of the others (how they ‘think’ – question, plan, solve problems)
  • they learn how to be part of a team – an important lifelong learning skill

Driving Questions are Essential

The first task for each student may be to work towards a ‘driving’ question for the investigation.  This may take several journal pages and much discussion with peers to develop a question that meets the criteria.  A ‘driving’ question (modified from Krajcik) is defined as one that:

  • integral to the curriculum under study
  • worthwhile
  • complex enough to be broken down into smaller questions
  • link concepts/principles across disciplines
  • feasible
  • contextualized
  • anchored in the lives of learners
  • meaningful
  • ill-structured
  • engage students in a state of ‘flow’

In fact, the teacher – perhaps in conjunction with the students – may have developed rubrics for a ‘driving’ question.  This could be posted in a Teacher’s journal and referred to during these discussions.

Once Sarah has defined her question, she would need to develop her plans for investigation.  Again, she does this by ‘thinking aloud’ in her journal and by reading and reacting to the comments of her peers.  Over the course of the project, therefore, Sarah and her peers have regular, reflective conversations about every stage of their work.

It is in this way that students feel empowered over their own learning.   They set the agenda.  They identify and work through the planning, the development of strategies, the accomplishment of their goals.  They will be better prepared to meet the challenges of educational standards and of a life of learning within a social context.

Request of You

If you are interested in the processes I used in scaffolding students to think more deeply and to collaborate more substantively in these environments, I would be thrilled to have the discussion.  It is my plan to write more about:

  • the differences between novice and expert learners
  • dynamic scaffolding
  • effective collaboration

Please, share your thoughts.

Resources

Knowledge Forum – ‘an electronic group workspace designed to support the process of knowledge building.’

The Construction Zone – a theoretical overview of: expertise – the differences between expert and novice learners; the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD); ‘dynamic scaffolding’; and, mindfulness.

Diigo – a social bookmarking tool that allows for annotation of web pages

Project Based Learning:

15
Dec

The Backchannel: What Affects Its Efficacy?

So before David Jakes started his keynote presentation at RCAC the other day, he walked past our table – where a bunch of twitterers were poised to backchannel as he presented.  David made a comment about the efficacy of backchanneling while a speaker is on stage.  We ended up in a quick discussion about this phenomenon and about the criteria surrounding effective backchanneling.

I believe that this is in its infancy (with these new media) and requires some controversial discussions.

Types of Backchanneling during a Presentation (via twitter, chatroom, etc.)

  • to share the content out to a wider audience
  • to create online notes (easily retrieved later via a hashtag)
  • to pose questions that the presenter to which a presenter could respond (best managed by a moderator)
  • to make associations with prior knowledge and note/describe that
  • to share related links to websites or other resources
  • to discuss or engage in conversation with others (in the room or at a distance)

Mental Effort and Cognitive Load

I would suggest that the first three of these are extremely similar to things we have traditionally done in the past…taking notes.

However, the last three – and specifically the last one – require a greater intensity of mental effort.  Mental effort is not unlimited.  It is somewhat finite.  So if we are expending a percentage of our mental effort into conversation, we are taking our concentration and effort away from what the speaker is currently saying.

Expertise

I was teaching my daughter to drive with a standard transmission yesterday.  She is an experienced driver, but because managing the clutch, the gearshift, the gas, and the brake were quite new to her, she was quite overwhelmed.  However, her level of expertise in the other aspects of driving – traffic patterns, rules of the road, etc. – allowed her to more easily cope with the new demands

If you are merely note taking or posing questions, this does not necessarily draw upon a great amount of mental effort.  However, if you are engaged in making associations and documenting them, or involved in a discussion about issues in the backchannel, you are definitely expending a greater amount of your mental energies in those activities.

Factors Impacting Efficacy of Backchanneling

Having said that, there are other factors that are at play here.  It is not a simple equation. Consider the following factors of the presentation and its delivery:

  • level of expertise with the material/content (more expertise with the content may require a lower cognitive load and therefore free up some mental space to engage in other activities)
  • engaging characteristics of the speaker/speed of delivery
  • variety and quantity of modalities provided in the presentation
  • mood
  • learning style

In other words, a fast-paced presentation rich with multimedia on material that is new and complex will likely be demanding.  A droll, slow verbal delivery on well-understood material will require less of you.

Other Observations from an Old Guy

Novice Behaviour

In my years as an ICT-using educator, I’ve watched new technologies/software come along.  And I have studied novice behaviours with these.  You will all recognize the characteristics when people get their hands on a new piece of software. People typically use it in playful ways at first.  They use all the features. They use every font and every colour and every effect.  They use the tool for everything – even when it isn’t appropriate to do so.  I remember kids using Logo.  They always typed forward 1,000,000,000 to see what would happen!  Who remembers that?  After a while, and perhaps with experience, the tools become more effectively used.

I think, in some ways, we are seeing this with backchanneling.  I believe it will settle into an appropriate rhythm.

Effects on the Speaker

I will not dwell on this point, but I do wish to mention it.  Audience feedback – body language, eye contact, looks of engagement – have a cyclical impact on the ability of the speaker to do a great job.  It is important to respect the individual speaker’s comfort level and desire for backchanneling.

Some speakers engage a moderator to manage the backchannel – and define ways in which the audience could use it to, for example, bring questions or issues to the speaker.

Other Notes

David Jakes said to me in our brief conversation in advance of his presentation, “the extraneous discussions are really off putting for everyone”.  I agree.

Thoughts?

Other Resources

9 Tips for Enriching Your Presentations With Social Media