Monthly Archives: January 2016

Persist to Learn

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Sometimes learning requires both persistence and ingenuity. There are days when students run into the same obstacles over and over again. But a good teacher will not remove the obstacle. A good teacher will wait while the student figures out a different approach to the challenge. Of course, it would be far easier to just give the right answer or even give explicit direction, but in the long term, how does that benefit the student when the next obstacle comes along? It takes an incredible amount of self-control to watch students work things out for themselves, but the joy when they DO overcome is immeasurable.

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Identity formation and Walking

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I wrote this on Medium and thought I’d share here as well.

We live in a connected world. That said, we seem to be more isolated than ever before. There are coffee shops that promote face to face conversation by eliminating wifi and informal games that require groups in restaurants to put down their mobile devices (because the handheld technologies are far more than phones these days) or foot the bill for the entire party. Ray Bradbury saw it coming and wrote about it (remember Mildred’s “seashells” from Fahrenheit 451?)

The challenge for those of us who choose to embrace the digital spaces is to create authentic connections with people across time, distance, and cultural differences. For me, it’s one of the most exciting things about #walkmyworld. Because it is designed to be a fun collaboration of identities around learning events, the stress level for perfection is reduced. Even though the learning events include content instruction that is easily augmented in particular classrooms, the tone is light and engaging, so the threat level is low. People from around the world come to play, and it becomes a true multi-cultural experience among like minded people of all ages. There are elementary and secondary students, graduate students, pre-service teachers, and professors all involved, but no one is an expert. Instead, all participants are learning and sharing together in a virtual community of equals.

Since this is my third year as part of Walk My World, I think I have a sense of what to expect: expect the unexpected. Unexpected learning, unexpected friendships, and unexpected glimpses into a digital identity still in formation and ever evolving. This is how a connected world can work: people being authentic, sharing an experience, and learning how to walk together.

Walk My World

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It’s here! It’s time!

Walk My World begins its third iteration this week. I have helped craft the learning events and I think this will be the best year ever.

Join the fun here! The first week is all about getting set, so jump right in!

 

Wasteland

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This image has been sitting in this draft for months, so long that I don’t remember the original purpose. I think it had to do with a #clmooc challenge over the summer, but I can’t be sure. Still, it is a powerful image that I can’t bring myself to delete, so it must be something to explore.

Fig.1 Drawing by Belgian artist Yslaire

I titled this post Wasteland when I put the image in place; perhaps it is the title of the piece, perhaps just my impression, but when I look at it my mind goes to the cruellest month  underscored by the organ and guitars of Baba O’Riley. The image, I am certain, refers to neither of these, but in my mind they are inexorably connected.

Wasteland is a place beyond hope. A place where there is no escape from monotony and tedium. In this image, the television screen acts as hypnotist, so mesmerizing the viewer that he forgets he is a winged creature, made to soar.

 

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,

http://www.bartleby.com/201/1.html

We too often allow life to put blinders on us. Even if we resist the allure of the screen (be it television, computer, or smart phone), we manage to stay in the parched shadow of the red rock, afraid to venture out into the unfamiliar until we, too, forget we have wings to fly on the fresh winds  of the exodus from the wasteland to the promised land.

The best question ever.

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“But is that how it really happens?” (Flower & Hayes, 1981). That may be the best question I’ve ever read when it comes to writing theory. As a teacher I have taught all kinds of writers, and each one seems to have a personalized path for working out a writing process. I give them tools and ideas and theories, but the bottom line is I don’t stand over them and dictate their processes.

This is not to say that I don’t believe there are more efficient ways to construct a document or compose a text. There are standards that must be met, and audiences need to understand the final product. For years I taught the traditional linear model because it was one I knew and it was one that worked for me. I still work from outlines most of the time, even if the outlines are in my head. I teach and speak from outlines, not scripts. I invented clever acromyns and graded outlines more stringently than papers. (Actually, I was on the right track with that; the process matters most in high school composition classes.) Over time, though, I realized that some students wrote the outline to turn in, but never actually used it. Often they scratched out ideas, composed an outline because I told them to, and continued on their merry way. Flower and Hayes (1981) articulate my personal reality when they write, “An important goal for research, then will be to discover how this process of representing the problem works and how it affects the writer’s performance” (p. 369).

I love this concept of planning instead of formula. Not an outline (unless it works for particular students), not a five-paragraph essay (a term I have rebelled against since I started teaching), but some kind of internal representation of what the writer knows and what s/he plans to do with that knowledge. Of course, orgainization matters, but it can look different for each individual. Outlines work for me, mind maps work for my husband, and I’ve had some success with students using photographs to organize their thoughts.

Flower and Hayes (1981) use the term translate to describe the process of converting ideas to language. The idea of translating ideas to text makes more sense than telling students to organize their thoughts and write, which is the more traditional model I have used in the past. There’s something more organic about translation. It seems to incorpoate more of the process between the mind and the written page, including discussion and experimentation. It encourages revision as part of the process rather than as a way to fix mistakes.  I think this idea is why I have shifted all my writing and all my students’ writing to Google Docs.  Being completely online, work can be easily shared with others who can interact with the author, asking questions, noting errors, and helping clarify the ideas as they move from vague thoughts to something more fully developed. Planning and brainstorming can happen at the same time through the affordances of the comments and chat box when multiple people have access to the document.  My students have been more deliberate and thorough in their peer editing in the comments than when I used hard copies and rubrics, partly because they feel comfortable conversing in an online space. That conversation becomes part of the writer’s translation process. Similarly, I can look over the shoulder, so to speak, of the writer and help when needed in real time, beyond the classroom clock.

Even more, Google docs allow easy illustration through the drawing features of the software and the ability to easily add images, video, and audio links.. Some students need illustrative tools to put the ideas down without the requirement for finding the right words. Flower and Hayes (1981) discuss the generation of information through multiple symbol systems including movement and images (p. 373). Those non-word iterations, no matter what they are, become a step in the translation process. There is something about the online shared nature of Google that gives students a form of permission to try. As other companies improve their document sharing and editing capabilities, there will be other options, but Google docs, at least for now, is the best tool I have used in the classroom to encourage experimentation as they compose. There is a lot of freedom in translation, freedom to work in a linear manner or recursive, freedom to express ideas in symbols other than words, and freedom to easily engage with other people throughout the writing process.

 

References

Flower, L., Hayes. John R. (1981, December). A cognitive process theory of writing. College Composition and Communication. 32[4].