Starting DLMOOC: Mindsets and Learning Strategies – Some initial thoughts and beliefs

The Deeper Learning MOOC is starting on Jan 20th and even though it is the summer holidays in Australia, the line-up of topics to be covered is too good to miss out on so I’m starting my 2014 PD a little early

In the preview week, there is plenty of reading to do on Mindsets and Learning Habits and Strategies. I’ve had a particular interest in this my whole educational life, especially since having my own children (all grown now but still learning!). We chose to put them into an alternative primary school because we did not want to see the love of learning they had  (and all children have) die before they got to high school. We thought better to nurture it by thinking ‘outside the box’ rather than attempting to revive it during adolescence.

Watch young children’s play before they enter school, Eduardo Briceno’s Four Learning Mindsets (see below) are very evident, so what happens when children go to school? Well, perhaps it’s that mistakes are pointed out but rarely are they pointed out as opportunities to learn (challenges), maybe abilities/ lack of ability are revealed for others to use as forms of ridicule (sport, art, music, etc), what’s it’s never made clear is that abilities are not fixed – most kids’ know’ what they ‘are good at…/they are bad at …” by about 7 or 8 years old.  It ends up being all about perceived performance and not really about learning. Parents demand it; educational institutions make sure it happens. And most kids ‘get it’ and stop trying. Or do they?

I believe there is a growing disconnection between ‘in school’ and ‘out of school’ learning and the culture of learning. Just go to a skate park, or watch a bunch of kids playing Minecraft together; or learning how to parkour or krump. Kids are keen learners and  again, display all four of the Learning Mindsets as they take part in these types of activities:

  • “I can change my intelligence and abilities through effort” (Growth mindset)
  • “I can succeed” (Self- Efficacy)
  • “I belong in this learning” (Sense of belonging)
  • “This work has value and purpose for me” (Relevance)

They’re also applying collaborative techniques and learning-to-learn skills especially via social media (YouTube videos/cheats/tutorials/walkthroughs, community forums). Real deep learning is alive and well — outside of school.

Self-Directed Learning - How to Wire a Car (planning, reading, tutorials, forums, trying, persevering)

Self-Directed Learning – Electrical Wiring of a Car

Carol Dweck’s quote in “The Effort Effect” summed this dilemma up nicely:

The key isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

I suspect education departments, politicians and the media of creating the Fixed Mindset culture that we are struggling with currently. They have created a pervading atmosphere of a talent competition while discounting and neglecting the whole concept of mastery of subjects, skills and abilities.

(As further proof, in Australia, we are currently witnessing the phasing out of many apprenticeship and competency-based education programs.)

Whew! Nothing like a little rant a bit of deep reflection about current attitudes and beliefs to kick off a MOOC.

I look forward to reading, discussing, listening and learning more about this crucial and timely topic.

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Krakovsky, Marina. “The Effort Effect. “Stanford Magazine Mar. – Apr. 2007: n. page. Stanford Alumni. Web. 10 Jan. 2014.

http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=32124

Diving into Digital Fiction: The Year 8’s Try it On

As stated previously, thank goodness for school breaks, what would educational bloggers do without them?

Photo courtesy: t-dot-s-dot Flickr cc

After all my digital fiction groundwork, a couple of meetings with the collaborating teacher (Leanne) and a few emails, we introduced her Year 8 English students to digital fiction midway through Term 4. We decided to approach it from an exploration perspective rather than an in-depth assignment. I was especially glad we had when the intro session discussion revealed that almost none of them were even aware digital fiction existed (we thought this might be the case).  Two of the students read manga online and one student had heard of fan fiction. None of them had used an e-reader although many were aware of Kindles (none had seen one). They all knew you could ‘read books on an iPad’ but none had tried this.  I should also mention the level of interest in reading was average or below average for this group; this was one of the reasons the teacher initially approached me.

After a brief discussion about what they already knew, I showed them several examples on the IWB (interactive white board) and talked briefly about the differences and about the idea of linear and non-linear stories. The teacher allowed them to explore the different types of online fiction and the stories on offer for the rest of the session. During the second session they were to decide on one to read and review. Because the students would have only two weeks to do this, if a longer piece of fiction was chosen the student was only required to review the equivalent of one chapter (to be negotiated with the teacher).

The literature review questions posed to the students covered:

  • their thoughts on what digital fiction is and how it differs from traditional novels
  • title, brief summary and the other titles they looked at before settling on the one they reviewed
  • discussion of the digital/interactive techniques used by the author, why they may have been chosen and the effect on the story (eg. distraction, add-on, enhancement, essential).
  • students overall opinion of their chosen type of digital/interactive/online fiction and some discussion on their preference between it and traditional novels.
Results were interesting. The teacher reported that interest and engagement were high. Students’ responses confirmed  our perception of increased level of engagement; Leane thought the written opinions were more detailed than usual. Most students chose to review Inanimate Alice and Choose Your Own Adventure stories. Was this perhaps because they were the most familiar forms? We should include a question next time about why they chose the stories they did. We should also include some exploration questions about the author to help students better understand their motives for using certain devices and techniques in their works. The biggest surprise? Many of the students expressed a preference for the traditional delivery of a story via a book over the the digital method.
The good news was that word spread amongst the teachers about using the digital fiction. I also collaborated  to introduce this with one of the Year 9 classes. We modified some of the questions and the teacher reported high levels of engagement for this class too. I did not get to debrief with the teacher but she was keen to do this again next year. I look forward to further developing this look at new forms of fiction in 2012.

Pardon My Gap

Wow! Life sometimes pushes our best intentions over the edge and between work, study and family, I admit to having had to give up a lot of life’s pleasures just to regain some footing and that’s included writing here. But I’m really looking forward to being back on my blog and ready to continue writing about this curious voyage I’ve undertaken to become a TL, a darn good TL.

A short summary of the past few months in my TL life —

After a marathon run of fifteen meetings, the decision-making working party finally worked through the process to a chosen solution which involves a re-working of the management system and splitting the management into educational and business sections. Like many other schools they have chosen to look for a business manager to handle some of the myriad of tasks that need doing as well as many other changes. My job as a facilitator to the group finished a fortnight ago and I have put the group in contact with some professional change facilitators to help them formulate a 5 year strategic plan which is what Step 6– Implementation of the Decision Making process will involve for them.

Implementation is of course the most challenging of the steps in the process – the time for talk is finished and the doing must happen. In an initial meeting with the two change facilitators, they emphasised to me that the solution the group chose involved changing the school’s culture not just implementing innovations, changing the way we do things not just what we do. It really harkened back to the main message in Michael Fullan‘s books.

In the more hands-on sphere of this TL we had the building that held the little library at our school demolished to make way for a new set of classrooms and the library moved into a portable. The whole process was very poorly timed – no notification as to when the demolition would happen until two weeks before the demolition. School did not hire movers or allow for any over-time so … let’s just say summer holidays were most welcome!

I managed to throw a few photos up on flickr.

The portable was meant to be a temporary home for the library for the next two to three years. That is until our Prime Minister, Mr Rudd announced the Building the Education Revolution (BER) plan. While our school opted not to apply for major funding for a new library (they went for a multi-purpose building), they did apply and receive the renovation/capital works grant to ‘do up’ one of the existing buildings to house the library permanently. This will mean another move in December, hopefully at a more leisurely pace.

I’ve continued to push for Web 2.0 integration into our school and have had the pleasure of being the first to acquire an IWB thanks to a bargain on E-bay! A small demo model came up for auction and I was able to ‘snipe’ it for just over $300 – bargain! It arrived and was installed by a most obliging husband (Thanks, BH!). All this happened just in time for my first collaborative project with the Year 5/6 teacher. The class has embarked on the IASL’s wonderful GiggleIT project.

So,things are really starting to bubble along. Exciting times ahead!

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Photo from: Marc Shandro’s Flickr photostream

Sharing Knowledge (or why I’m bad at Algebra)

I am still waiting for the day when I will have to pull a (3x-5) out of my pocket and multiply it with a (2x-1). I keep one in my bag in case of emergencies – thankfully I haven’t had to use it yet; its been so long I’m not sure if it’s even any good any more. Do polynomials go off? I honestly wouldn’t know – I never understood what polynomials were although I apparently knew enough to get a pass in high school algebra.

Fullan’s (2004) Leading in a Culture of Change asks the reader to consider the statement “Information is not pertinent until people decide what it means and why it matters.” Also to consider “It is a mistake to focus on information rather than its use.” Oh how I wish someone had explained that to my maths teachers way back then. If only they had thought to spend time sharing the ‘secret’ of the why as well as the how. Without a use, the information on how to do the procedures never turned into learning, I gained no knowledge from the time spent in class.

Education is now making the shift from an emphasis on distributing facts (information) to creating and sharing knowledge. And creating a culture of sharing is one of the jobs of a leader. Fullan suggests that the conditions have to be right in order for this to occur. Quality relationships is the key, of course.

What interested me the most in this chapter  was Fullan’s take on the relationship between good relationships and a culture of knowledge sharing.  He cited Dixon’s observation that

… the exchange of knowledge happens only in organizations that have a noncompetitive or a collaborative culture. It follows that the first thing you have to do is to fix the culture and then get people to share. But I have found that it’s the other way around. If people begin sharing ideas about issues they see as really important, the sharing itself creates a learning culture. I have, of course, inserted an important caveat in that sentence: “about issues they see as really important” (Dixon as cited in Fullan, 2004, p. 124).

It interested me to compare it with an earlier blog quote I had

… many persons express the conviction that effective human relationships improve communication far more than communication improves relationships. (Savage, 1989, p. 109)

Do they contradict each other? If so which is right? What needs to be tackled first; relationship-building or communication/sharing?

Its one of those cyclic issues and perhaps that’s one of the reasons that collaborative cultures don’t develop easily. No one knows if its OK to start or where to start. In fact my own experience (tacit knowledge!) has been exactly that, no one wants to be the first. This is one of the places in which TLs can really take a lead. Someone has to break the ice, step up to the plate, lay their cards on the table and we have the training to do it.

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/salmon/463619313/

Fullan, M. (2004). Building relationships. In Leading in a culture of change: Personal action guide and workbook (pp. 77-114). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Savage, W. (1989). Communication: Process and problems. In C. Riches & C. Morgan (Eds.), Human resource management in education (pp. 103-119). Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Leading from the middle: Influence, Power and Partnership

As our group works its way through the collaborative project and we delve deeper and deeper into the leadership role of the Teacher Librarian, it is becoming clear to me what a dangerously misunderstood concept “leading from the middle’ can be.

The word that gets the most focus in this term is ‘leading’. While many, many articles are written outlining how TLs can lead and mention facilitation, building influence, collaboration and partnerships, I wonder if the message is getting drowned out in the desperation of our profession to be recognized, and legitimized and ultimately retained as important contributors to the school. So is the part of the message that is most agressively promoted and received ‘Lead’? It is very easy to fall into the trap of trying to get out in front and organize people in an attempt to raise the visibility of the TL. This can be stepping into the area of the least effective types of leadership style — Coercive and Pacesetting leadership.

TLs need to be mindful of the fact that they are in a partnership with teachers and that teachers are leaders too. In the end, teachers are the ones in the classrooms and at this stage, are the main delivery agents and biggest influence on students’ learning.

Fullan states that:

Although you cannot direct outcomes, you can set up conditions that help to guide the process. ‘The challenge is to disturb them in a manner that approximates the desired outcomes’ (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000) (Fullan, 2005, p. 57)

I am coming to appreciate and believe in the more positive power of ‘influencing’ – and see it as an art worth cultivating.

In a presentation to the School Library Association of Victoria (SLAV) in 2005, Ross put forward a question that needed to be asked.

What constitutes effective shared teacher & librarian-teacher pedagogy and leading of learning through partnerships?

In his talk he called for a shift in the focus to a more cohesive view of learning and onto the library as a key learning environment. He suggests:

Stop talking about collaboration

Stop talking about information literacy

Stop talking about research projects

Stop talking about roles of teacher librarians

Start talking about guided inquiry through information resources

Start talking knowledge outcomes, not information literacy outcomes

Start talking about intellectual quality of learning

Start taking about libraries as quality teaching environments, not resource environments

Start talking the leading of learning through the library

You are the information-learning specialist, working with partner-leaders to lead learning through complex and diverse resources, enabling your students to develop deep understanding of their curriculum topics.

I think this more mature view reflects an acceptance on the part of TLs that they are an integral part of the learning team and can focus their attention on the task at hand rather than on their role in it. And self acceptance is always going to gain the respect of others.

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Fullan, M. (2004). Understanding change. In Leading in a culture of change: Personal action guide and workbook (pp. 39-77). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Todd, R. (2005, August). School libraries, productive pedagogy and the leading of learning [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved August 21, 2008, from School Library Association of Victoria Web site: http://www.slav.schools.net.au/pastp.html

http://www.flickr.com/photos/suteki/475093875/