Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The End Result

Revisiting some of the images I had from visiting SLA in Philadelphia, I keep coming back to the idea of a capstone course, one in which the students are required to complete a course of study and then apply it to their own environment in some tangible form. A couple things stand out for me when thinking about this:

Regardless of the issues of setting this up within an established school, it is undeniable that this is authentic learning. If the students, still responsible for all state-mandated curriculum, are asked to use their acquired skills toward some meaningful research and action of their own, the results would be multi-faceted in terms of community benefit. If schools are truly to be centers of community in the future, much as they have been historically, then projects like this must draw in the public and augment how it functions. How better to "democratize" a student than to ask him or her to add value to an existing democracy through a project that forces them to interact with that community?

The changes called for by many of us are evenly seen as very demanding of existing teachers; they are going to have to relearn, and as Alvin Toffler stated "the illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read
and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
Here is our option: create teacher advisors on the secondary level of American schools. Instead of having teachers patrol the halls for a period, or sit at an sign-in table, give them a group of students much like a graduate advisor would have. Here is the way to reach out and change the thinking regarding how we teach. Konrad Goglowski's post today speaks of creating passion-based conversations between students and teachers as the building block for restructuring our schools to get moving towards this whole idea of "2.0." Requiring this would also require teachers to enter meaningful conversations with students about their scope of research and enable teachers to connect the students with the experts that they need to in the local community and the world at large. Connectivity, anyone?

In putting all of this together, I have been reading Clay Burell's recent posts regarding what the role of blogging should be for students. Not being able to do it justice here, I recommend reading the whole string at his blog. When we force blogging upon students as a means of collecting homework, we could be setting ourselves up for some backlash, as that would not be self-directed learning, but just another "requirement." Clay's solution, and one that fits very nicely here, is that class blogs, run by the class instructor, should be subject and homework posting specific. However, each student blog should have a life of its own, a place for reflection. This is where the bulk of student reflection would take place, regardless of discipline:
If a student likes math, let him/her reflectively write, on a much
higher order of thinking than getting the facts right, about math. And
keep writing. For months, a year, years. As that writing progresses,
those mentors--composed of a writing specialist and a subject-matter
specialist (e.g., English and math teacher)--would periodically
conference with the student about his/her exploratory, reflective
journal-journey down the math path.


Ten-to-one, that student will eventually write his/her way down all
sorts of side-paths into math history (cohort pulls a history teacher
in for a conference), biography ("Why did Descartes invent calculus in
the first place?" the blogger will one day wonder), science ("How does
calculus work in the practical world?"--and cohort maybe sets up a
Skype conference with an engineer from the real world to chat about
that), etc. On and on.

Clay's idea that at the end of 4 years, the students would have experience, much as a professional writer would, in creating content that has value to them, and because of its connective nature, to others globally as well. I cannot imagine the value to the student that 4 years of reflective writing within the school atmosphere would have on them as they walk out of our schools.

To end this rant, Warlick posted today about the nature of student work in "school 2.0" v. student work in "school 1.0:"
Many kids are now doing their work in blogs and wikis. They have readers and commenters. They are engaged in conversations about their work. They are invested in their work. The rest of our children work on work sheets that are seen only by their teachers. They have nothing invested in those pieces of paper.

1 comment:

Konrad Glogowski said...

I think the ideas you outline here make it clear that we need to start thinking about offering our students opportunities to create their own Personal Learning Environments, their own online places and networks that can help them pursue their passions.

These students could then continue to serve the school community even after graduation. Their online presence would be a tremendous source of inspiration, guidance, and empowerment to younger students.

Educators would focus on mentoring and learning along with their students.