Tag Archives: Learning

Collaboration as Living, Breathing Learning

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Using collaboration in the classroom is now more important than ever before.  Over the course of the past three-hundred years in America, education has evolved.  Some would say that it has not evolved quickly enough, however.  Education cannot seem to keep pace with our constantly-shifting society.  Now, because of the massive changes that we have seen over the past twenty years due to technological innovations, education seems to be farther behind than ever.  Yet, many educators are taking great strides to remedy this gap between the modern world and traditional education.  In my opinion, fostering meaningful collaboration in our classrooms should be our first aim.

Outside of school, students are connected to one another almost constantly through Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, Flickr, online video games, and hundreds of other social networking sites and applications.  Anything that these students want to say or show is broadcast almost instantaneously to these communities, members of which have the option of responding.  For today’s students, this has become commonplace, not something to be amazed or totally baffled by, which—because of my placement on the edge of the digital immigrant and digital native generations—I see as a completely legitimate reaction.

But it’s not just students who are becoming dependent on social media.  Many adults are joining the social networking communities as well.  Employers and employees are relying more and more on such technologies for communication and collaboration within and outside of the workplace.  As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, today’s students will certainly need to have experience using digital media, especially social media and collaborative technologies, in order to succeed in their chosen fields.

Because of the changing nature of our society, and the changing way that we interact, technology has become integral to collaboration.  Therefore, we should make use of its capacity to connect people within a single classroom or across the world.  Not only can we use such technologies to stimulate engagement, but also to promote meaningful engagement.  By working collaboratively within the classroom or with others outside of it, students encounter new perspectives and ideas, navigate disagreements, adjust understandings, and learn when to lead and when to follow.  Meaningful interaction can occur face-to-face or digitally; it doesn’t depend on the medium but on the instruction, project, and student goals.  Collaboration allows students to approach the learning process together and teach one another.  Why not use students’ interest in being connected to other people to our (and their) advantage?

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Standardized Testing: Crushing Diversity–All People, Every Time

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On Tuesday, I took part in my very first Twitter Chat.  It was called #edchat and moderated by Tom Whitby.  I have to say that I was very impressed.  I loved the passion and diversity of ideas that so many people brought to the conversation.  A variety of very good questions were tackled, but as all conversations concerning education tend to do, it gradually turned to a discussion of standardized testing.

It gets tiring talking about these tests because of the intense feelings of frustration and helplessness that it generates in most of us.  However, it is obviously one of the most pressing issues facing teachers today, so I guess it’s time I talked about it.

Crushing Diversity on a Daily Basis

What bothers me most about standardized testing is that it completely squashes diversity.  This has consequences across the board.  It ignores diversity of ideas, perspectives, passions, problems, and locations.  It ignores the diversity of people.

First, it completely ignores the diversity of students.  Students have truly terrific and varied ideas.  They also have different passions and learning needs.  No two learners are exactly alike, but the multiple-choice format of standardized curriculum tests in no way represent this reality.  Students are all channeled down the same path, and they either begin to homogenize their thinking or resist and become “at-risk.”

Second, standardized testing and teaching leaves little room for diversity of teachers.  Each teacher has his or her own passions, knowledge, and instructional style.  They have different pedagogical beliefs as well.  Teachers bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the classroom.  Any teaching style can be effective if it is used by the teacher who suits it best.  However, standardized testing does not value diversity in teachers or teaching styles.  It places little confidence in teachers as a whole.

Lastly, this type of testing ignores the diversity of people from different areas.  I understand that there should be national standards which every school should strive to meet.  However, I also believe that learning should be unique to place.  I first encountered David Sobel’s theory of Place-Based Education as an undergraduate.  I fell in love.  I absolutely support the idea that students should learn about their own places, not only those that have become the most popular tourist destinations.  It is important for students to feel knowledgeable about the places in which they live and to critically examine these places.  Each community has so much to offer.

It is ridiculous to think that with such varied people and places as our nation holds, we should all be learning the exact same things in the exact same way.

Student-Centered Choices

As is illustrated in the image above, teaching involves a lot of things, but the most important part of teaching is the students.  Standardized testing (arguably) takes into account the government’s role in education, the economy’s welfare (irony intended), the nation’s standing in the world, and even the teacher’s role.  What it lacks is any consideration of the students’ learning needs.

Whether the current system remains in place for many years to come or not, this is where teachers come in.  Teachers have to find ways to prepare students for the tests because whether we agree with them or not, these tests are valued “measurements.”  However, at the same time, we cannot allow diversity in our classroom to be destroyed, and we must always put students’ needs first.

Making decisions about our teaching methods can be very difficult, but remembering one thing can help make our choices easier: Students need to be the clear focus of our choices.  No matter what choices we make, they are defensible if we are making the best choice available to us for our students.

Technology—The Great Equalizer?

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Usually, simply using the term “technology” makes us think of inequality, deficits.  It leads us to think of the huge gaps between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the possibilities and reality.  However, I would like to suggest that technology can also help promote equality in our classrooms.


As I was reading Dr. Richard Curwin‘s blog post “Reframing: Seeing Students in a New Way,” one phrase was particularly meaningful to me: “Fair is not equal.”

“Fair is Not Equal”

As students of the theory of Differentiated Instruction know, “fair” means “same,” but treating everyone the same does not always result in equality.  Instead, we may need to treat students very differently in order to get them each to reach the desired results.

In order to make this concept clear, I always think of an activity that one of my professors used in his classroom.

  1. Hand each student a slip of paper with a different ailment printed on it.  For example, they may say “papercut,” “headache,” “brain tumor,” etc.
  2. Have students write down the symptoms of their ailment.
  3. Claim that you are going to cure all of the students’ illnesses.
  4. Walk around the room and give each student two M&Ms, claiming that they are Tylenol.

As soon as he began handing out the M&Ms, the students began complaining that Tylenol would not cure them.  Those with the most severe illnesses were most upset.  My professor would then turn the discussion into a lesson on how giving everyone the same instruction or treatment may not result in everyone being equal.  Instead, students should be given as little or as much support as they need in order to reach the class’s learning goals.

Technology to the Rescue!


Technology can assist in our efforts to differentiate our lessons.  We can provide supplemental instructional tools, such as online educational games or explanatory websites.  By incorporating technology and multimodality in assessment, we can encourage students to demonstrate their learning in ways that they are most capable.

This can be especially valuable for those students who do not excel in reading or writing, or according to Howard Gardner, those who are not Linguistic learners.  By utilizing technology, we can reach other types of learners such as those described in Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  Using technology to provide examples, illustrations, or support collaborative activities in our lessons can be very valuable to many different types of students.

Everyone is different, and in order to recognize and value these differences, we may need to treat or teach students differently.  Technology is another resource that we can use to help all students reach our learning goals.  The important thing to remember is that our expectations do not change, only our methods.

Here’s to Joining the 21st Century!

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Isn’t Twitter fantastic?  Now that I am a professional blogger (ha ha), I have decided that I need to look at other blogs dealing with issues in Education and Educational technology.  At first, I had no idea where to start.  Well, I happened to check my Twitter account, and the very first tweet I saw was posted by Edutopia to thank their many bloggers.  Thank you, Edutopia!

Philly Teacher’s blog post “The Four Pillars of Technology Use in the Classroom”  really caught my attention.  These are the four pillars upon which this Technology Teacher’s curriculum rests:

I have been reading and thinking a lot about the learning needs and preferences of the Digital Generation, and I think that these four pillars create a very holistic approach to technology and classroom instruction because they:

  1. Promote skills—communicating and collaborating with others, evaluating information, and creating new texts—that are crucial to success in today’s job market.  Students need to know how to access the information they need, how to effectively evaluate this information, and how to communicate and collaborate on projects and problems.  Most importantly, they need to develop the creativity necessary to the act of creation.  The factory jobs of the 19th century are no longer available; we need students who are confident and competent at using technology to enhance their own success.
  2. Are research-based.   Benjamin Bloom created in the 1950s what is now known as Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Those familiar with the revised version will notice that two of the four pillars find a place on Bloom’s taxonomy.  Those that do not—Communicate and Collaborate—have and are becoming extremely important to life in today’s society.  Therefore, I recommend that these four pillars be dubbed “The 21st Century Taxonomy.”
  3. Give teachers a place to start.  Look at the four pillars again.  Aren’t you already teaching these skills?  Doesn’t your instruction contain instances in which students need to communicate, collaborate, evaluate, or create?  Certainly it does!  The technologies listed next to the pillars provide examples of tools that can augment what you are already doing!  Believe it or not, many of these technologies actually make it easier on the teacher!
  4. Provide focus (for the teacher and the students).   Philly Teacher did not keep these pillars to herself; instead, she shared them with her students, and then helped them explore the meaning of the terms by using Think-Pair-Share exercises (developing students’ communication and collaboration skills while discussing these terms!).
  5. Promote student engagement and investment.  Students at the preteen/teen age LOVE to talk.  Why not make use of this desire by not only allowing but encouraging students to communicate and collaborate in order to evaluate or create?  Students actually like creating new things when they are allowed to work together.

My only suggestion would be to switch the first and last pillars so that they read:

Create

Evaluate

Collaborate

Communicate

This way, they more closely resemble Bloom’s taxonomy.  Students work in logical order from the bottom, upward; from easiest to most difficult.  (This way even visually the skills create a sort of staircase from bottom to top).

These are just a few reasons why I respect these four pillars of focus so much.  I would suggest attempting to adopt them in your own classroom.  Part of the reason that I created this post is to keep a record of them for myself!

Kudos to Philly Teacher and all teachers who are making real efforts to meet the needs of this new, very different generation.  Here’s to joining the 21st century!