Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Stuck in the Middle

with the middle man out of the equation, the learning is dramatically enhanced.

Tom Haskins at growing changing learning creating writes about Cutting out the Middle Man in response to creating what he and others at his blog call "Free Range Chickens." While I believe empowering learners with the skills to create their own research and inquiry, I have to wonder if primary and elementary teachers could do this affectively.

I got all jazzed up when I read his post describing the very nature of eliminating the "middle man" in the learning process because that is precisely what has been happening with me over the last few months. Since I have been a participant in the world of Web 2.0 and the blogosphere, I cannot express to people enough how much I have learned and at what a joyous rate I have learned it. When I want to know something, figure something out, or find an expert, I can, and do. I do not need to go through anyone (except for my wife, depending on the state of my household responsibilities) in order to seek permission to know it. Harold Jarche wrote about it in reference to Seth Godin's description of "Sheepwalkers"--those students who are herded through school using fear as a motivator and compliant behavior as a guideline. The break is significant and liberating:

One of the reasons I’m all fired up about the potential of informal
learning on the Web is that it can let us be wolves in our learning. We
have the means to connect with other members of the pack all over the
world. We don’t have to revert to sheepdom so that we can be scheduled
for the next course or workshop or whatever the all-knowing
organisation has decided is best for us. “I don’t need your course,
I’ll learn it on my own and I’ll find others who are willing to help

The very idea of going back to graduate school for my degree in educational technology makes no sense any longer. I can find what I need immediately, and find it within a practical context that I can use on the spot to solve a work-related problem.

However, having worked with middle school- and high school-aged children for the last five years, unleashing them to their own "wolvedom" is more than any school system could handle. The inquiry-based learning is essential, but it has to be given within a framework that the students can butt up against and push. Creativity, as I discussed in an earlier post, works most productively within frameworks, so that the limits can be tested and redrawn. Learning theory and lesson design should act along the same principle. I like how Wes Fryer at Moving at the Speed of Creativity writes today about high-stakes testing, rigor and accountability being less important as these three things when it comes to student learning:

  1. Remix: Students need to regularly remix their learning to own the ideas.
  2. Deregulation:
    Learners need to be freed to take the TIME required for in-depth rather
    than shallow studies in problem-based, project-based constructionist
    and constructivist learning activities.
  3. Differentiation:
    Learning opportunities, challenges, and assessments must be
    differentiated to meet the needs as well as interests of a diverse
    array of learners.
Those three points meet a need for learners and schools succinctly, and while, yes, they do represent a somewhat radical shift away from our current school model, I can see them fitting nicely within a philosophical change, say one that would include becoming a 1:1 school.

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Barbara said...

Patrick I love the way you think!I should be doing something else (planning my talk for CUE) but now I am thinking about sheep and wolves!
Thanks too for pointing meto some new voices!

Patrick Higgins said...

I appreciate that Barbara. I was just remarking to a colleague about how amazing it is to be involved with so many expert voices, just simply by communicating with them through their blogs. A day doesn't seem to end until I have blown through my feeds and earmarked them for further studying.

The most outstanding feature of this whole experience has been the practical application of all of the information. My spring workshops are filling up, and putting together the course material is a blast.

Tom Haskins said...

I'm delighted you got "all jazzed up" by my blog posting. I got fired up by a comment left on a previous posting which gave me the title: "Cutting out the middle man". You're giving me a picture of a "passion for free ranging learning" catching on like wildfire -- from my reader to me to you. Having read your February archive this morning, I'd say its very likely your workshop attendees will catch on to the feeling you (and I) are getting from so much free learning by blogging. Chalkdust 101 is brimming with great ideas, perspectives and directions to explore. Getting other teachers to become comfortable with transparency make take some time. If we have "slow learning" in mind, others can start out as wet blankets and warm to these enlivening possibilities in time -- without feeling put down, labeled or pathologized by our eagerness to be all jazzed up together. Thanks for the appreciation. Good luck with your workshops!

David Truss said...

Great post Patrick,
Kelly and I are only just getting things going and we appreciate another voice. I will let him know that you are interested in reading Whole New Mind with our book club and perhaps we can set up a time to 'meet' on-line and discuss the on-line process we want to use. A wiki does seem like a good approach to get us going.
We can exchange e-mails if you drop me a note here: