Social Networking Sits Outside the Box


I don’t remember where I read that the power of social networking is in it’s ability to move us beyond the boundries of our physical world…connect us to people miles, even continents away.  It’s a pretty common mantra these days.  I get confused, then, when educators who proclaim to embrace new technologies persist in limiting students to the domains of Moodle (or Blackboard, or some other course management software).  While these apps have their usefulness, it seems contradictory to utilize their embedded social networking as the only “approved” method of social networking within a school setting. It is thus that students are kept tightly tethered to their physical worlds–conversing, discussing, connecting to the same students they’ll pass in the hall later in the day.  I spent much of the day arguing this point with the powers that be at work.  Along comes this post from Will Richardson:  One School’s Journey to Online Social Learning.  Validation…oh, and the added frustration that always emerges in hand.  Checkout the showpiece of Richardson’s post:
Concord School Web-Based Social and Collaborative Learning

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On reading “The Reader”


In the past week I’ve read the book “The Reader,” by Bernhard Schlink, and seen the movie. The tagline of the marketing surrounding the movie release asks: “How far would you go to protect a secret?” Some secrets in the movie are easily revealed to the viewer: Hannah’s illiteracy, Michael’s youthful obsession, Hannah’s role in the atrocities of the Holocaust. Still, there are secrets in this book that are less transparent: most notably, the collective guilt and the internal struggle that the children of the perpetrators (along with the survivors)endured (even embraced) in order to bring the horror to light.

There were 6 other viewers in the theater with us. Each was of an age that they would have some memory of the time and events in the film. I wanted to crawl into their minds. I was at the same time bothered and relieved that there were no young people in the audience who might be insensitive to the thoughtful silence in which these older viewers sat through the entire reel of credits (no bloopers here), and exited the theater, quiet and somber.

I found a file at work, just the other day, that revealed a challenge made to the book by a parent in our school just a few years ago when the Oprah list ushered the titled into our school library. How sad it is to know that the eroticism in the early part of the movie–necessary to the character development–will keep this film version out of our schools, where it would undoubtedly spark thoughtful dialog around not only the issues of action/inaction faced by people in the aftermath of WWII, but also that which faces us today.

Filling out an application for life…


Relevance…constructivism…real life application…we’ve known forever that this is simply good pedagogy.  John Dewey declared it in his pedagogic creed in 1897. 

It is frustrating when high school students whine/plead about the constructive projects they are presented with.  “Can’t we just do a worksheet and get it over with.”  It’s evident that they feel that rote memorization…the robotic nature of hunting for and recording “facts” is easier than the work of THINKING.  It confuses me/confounds me when students who were active and excited learning in the elementary classroom transform into mindless information recorders, intent on just getting through with learning so they can get on with living. 

I’ve never felt this frustration as keenly as yesterday, when student after student complained…whined…pleaded for a worksheet rather than be asked to particiapte in the analytical activity a collegue and I had planned.  I ranted:

“Worksheets!  The want  nothing beyond a job application!  Do they think the job begins and ends with the application? Preparing to write the same here, I read Dewey…and he reminds me…

I believe that knowledge of social conditions, of the present state of civilization, is necessary in order properly to interpret the child’s powers. The child has his own instincts and tendencies, but we do not know what these mean until we can translate them into their social equivalents. …We must also be able to project them into the future to see what their outcome and end will be.

And there revealed is the crux of our problem here.  Students in this school are expected to leave “socialization” outside of the classroom walls.  This is no “mall commons,” we hear.  Don’t talk!  Don’t even walk the halls unattended (trust issues here!). 

HOW can we expect to educate this generation of students if we confuse rigor for rigidity?  If we continue to perceive these students as beneficiaries of the education process rather than participants, is it any wonder that they perceives themselves the same way…as worker bees, working to an end that is not their own.

Dewey wrote: 

I believe that the individual who is to be educated is a social individual and that society is an organic union of individuals. If we eliminate the social factor from the child we are left only with an abstraction; if we eliminate the individual factor from society, we are left only with an inert and lifeless mass.

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Birthing pains…


Having just spent some time configuring the HistoryRemix site that Matt and I are “thinking” on…following a round of posting old Craig photos to facebook…it’s hours too late to “go to bed at a decent hour.”  The birth of a blog is a difficult thing.  Particularly when one’s scholarship is grounded so thouroughly in thoughtful and deliberate a planning/research/writing/re-writing process.  It’s a major paradigm shift, thinking about teaching a generation the processes we ourselves love while still respecting/embracing the newer processes they so easily employ to use their voices on-the-fly…to think out loud (and on a grand public scale).

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Teaching history…


(From:  historyremix.com) Listening to President Obama’s inaugural speech for the second time on a day that IS history, it seems a good time to put into play this online conversation…rethinking how we can use history to teach students rather than simply teach history to students…a history remix. 

The first time I heard these words–Obama’s words–today, a group of teachers and staff (and a smaller group of students) clustered around a TV we’d pulled into the LMC.  It was lunch hour, and I was both attentive to the history being made…and distracted by the disinterest shown by so many students in the LMC at that time.  I wanted to shush them for disturbing the solemnity.  I wanted to rouse them to embrace the thrill of witnessing something that will happen only once…something that only a few years ago would have been unfathomable.  I worry about the disengagement so many of our students exhibit…not so much from the dusty history I hold dear, but from the history that surrounds them today.

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On Rigor…


“Rigor” is one of those words being tossed around in the education field quite a bit these days. Concern over declining academic achievement has educators at all levels in the U.S.–particularly in the secondary and post-secondary arenas– all scrambling for way to boost performance.

But “rigor” is an ambiguous term. For some the word denotes a “challenge” and “performance” while for others it translates simply to a more “strict” and “structured” environment. Institutions, inevitably made up of administrators and teachers from both these connotative mindsets, end up sending very mixed messages to the students.

Students are prompted to apply “critical thinking skills” as they engage in tasks as an indicator of higher level thinking. Critical thinking requires a freedom of expression that is in direct conflict with knowing the “correct answer” indicated by the close-form “scanned” assessments used to evaluate them at state and national levels.

Students are asked to develop and display a sense of “integrity” while being structured into settings that are so minutely monitored as to restrict their ability to do more than choose to obey or disobey. Rules – rather than being simple and unequivocal are laid down alongside a litany of definitions and exceptions that suggest the varied and sometimes arbitrary feelings of those creating those rules.

Students are graded in a weighted system that not only considers the rigor of coursework, but also behavioral issues such as tardiness, attendance, neatness, completeness … rather than reflecting their mastery of content.

“Rigor?” Expectations, really. And the fact is that expectations in the classroom vary wildly according to the educator’s own philosophies of what students should and shouldn’t DO, rather than on what they should and shouldn’t KNOW.

For myself, I have always found it to be true that students will give what you expect from them. If you expect them to break the rules (hence, over-structure their movement within the environment), they will live up to that expectation–looking for ways to break out of the system. If, instead, you expect (even believe) them to be essentially capable and trustworthy, and if you develop a caring relationship with them that allows you to express that expectation, most will not only deliver, but also monitor others among them who may fall down in that delivery.

In the school “commons” (hallways, study halls, lunch room, spectator stands) students need to hear less of what they should and shouldn’t do, and more along the lines of “I know you’ll respect one another.” In the classroom, students need to hear less of “if you don’t know this you will fail” and more “I respect your ideas and want to hear them.” Assessments need to reflect less of what the teacher has presented and more of what the student understands, and even what they have added to what we know.