Summary of reading
Today for Course 4, Week 5 we are looking at putting concepts of Deep Learning into our own practice. One of the major elements of this week’s reading that stood out to me in Michael Fullan’s work “A Rich Seam” was:
what we are learning has changed over time, but assessment does not reflect this change.
The ubiquity of the Internet has made memorization of information significantly less important because we can now look up any query from a small computer that fits in our pockets. We’re at a point where we now outsource our memories to Google Drive and the Internet. When did the Battle of Gettysburg take place? I honestly can’t remember, but I’m not worried I can ask literally 6 different smart devices at my home. That includes both my restrooms. Personal computational devices are always connected with increasingly faster and faster connections (watch Thomas L. Friendman talk on rapid accelerations) that make access to what Friedman calls “the supernova”: fast, endless, interconnected data. So if we are at a time in which society doesn’t necessarily have to memorize information, does that mean that memory is not important? It’s probably safe to say that we should still be able to remember things.
The availability of technology means that the way in which we interact, think, and behave as citizens has dramatically changed. Dianne Fitzpatrick says it well (as quoted by Michael Fullan):
The idea of quality is an interesting way of putting it. It’s the how or the way as I mentioned above. According to Michael Fullan, The 6Cs are how people should learn. Yet our assessment systems and policies are still so focused on knowledge and systems that were available before technology went full supernova. Why? Change is hard? Change takes time? Technology is outpacing every other industry?
If Technology is Changing So Quickly, What’s the Role of Teachers?
I think that it’s safe to say that teachers will always have a job. Hattie’s 2018 meta-analysis on the efficacy of practices in education shows that one of the most effective practices is…
…collective teacher efficacy. As one person puts it, this is teachers’ abilities to collaboratively work toward common goals and support one another in their practices. As visible-learning.org puts it, it’s “collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students”. Man, that sounds a lot like “Never Work Harder Than Your Students” (and just about every other piece of literature on equality in education). When we all believe together in our efficacy, we become more efficacious.
I bring this research up in this post because it comes back to something I have written about in just about every other blog post on my site: the human connection, empathy, listening, coaching, and the human touch are things that no device or computer can replace. While our ability to store, sort, and remember information is definitely outgunned compared to computers, the interpersonal relationships, the belief, the love, the support are uniquely human.
So how do we use technology? Hattie shows that one of the most harmful elements in education is student boredom! Hattie’s Visible Learning is consistent with Fullan’s: technology’s strength is in engaging students and making learning less boring; however, technology does not necessarily enhance the learning over, say, paper and pen. So the key take-away is the idea of engagement.
Supporting students in becoming “independent, autonomous learners able to effectively design, pursue and achieve their own learning goals and personal aspirations as well as master curricular learning goals?”
Design Thinking. It’s not the answer, but it is an approach to inquiry that is effective. I have found that it gives a lot of latitude for students to choose their own adventure and pull problems from the world that they have either noticed or that they learned about by empathizing with someone in their worlds. However, giving students complete autonomy can create stress with the lack of structure, whereas too much structure can feel boring and rigid. Younger children need more structure than can be used as scaffolding into self-management. This is similar to the Yerkes-Dodson Law on stress. Autonomy needs balance (see the below chart from Fullan).
Here’s an example of how I have been using Design Thinking to help the students to set their own learning goals while still meeting the needs of the IB. In my 9th-grade Design class, I have a group of students who are interested in Photography. They were able to sign up and choose a technical toolset that they were interested in. That’s a great beginning to having some autonomy to their educations.
Second, in keeping aligned with the MYP, I allowed them to choose their own clients; it could be anyone they know or have seen. After empathizing with the people they know, the kids were to notice a problem that group has. It was from there that the students were asked to plan a photograph that could communicate to a wider audience what that person is experiencing. Next, the students are asked to focus on technical skills that are of interest to them (they can choose from a menu of Photography skills).
Finally, the students will choose their own medium or platform to exhibit their work and spread their messages. They will then have their own measurement method to determine how successful their efforts were.
I truly believe in a genius hour approach to education which is why I’m so proud of the above unit I’m doing with my 9th graders. It’s amazing how impatient they can be, how much they want to just create and skip all the preparations, plans, and research. The point I’m trying to make in all of this is that I gave very broad latitude to my students to have voice and choice in this unit, but I give general parameters like class time, expectations, menus of choices, and MYP criteria. Basically, there is a broad structure they have the freedom to work within.
Something I’ve been noticing as an area for growth is actually a trait of this generation. This generation really wants to make a difference, but they’re just not sure how Simon Sinek tells us.
They want to change the world and when they fail, they give up. It’s like they jump into a problem head first without planning, preparation, or really understanding the problem. I think part of it is being young, but the other part is that they have 24/7 access to the supernova.
How do you support your students/colleagues in becoming deep learners?
Coach, coach, coach. With the instant gratification norms that we have today, one of the best things we can do is slow down and listen. I have been preaching this concept a lot in this COETAIL course and, to be honest, it’s an overused word in Education today. So let me quote Standford’s d.school by saying “Listen. Really listen.”
I can’t reiterate this enough, listening is one of the most powerful ways we can let others learn. That is, when others are speaking and communicating their thoughts, they are thinking. Sometimes it’s rehearsed, and by attuning ourselves to others’ body language, we can notice when they’re really doing deep thinking (hint, it’s in the eyes!) I’ve been trying to create a coaching culture at my school modeling intentional listening and encouraging similar practices with my colleagues. Listening to my colleagues and getting at the heart of what their goals really are has been immensely helpful in not only finding the best way I can support them as a Tech Coach but also in making them feel like they are heard. With Design students, I use coaching as a way of questioning their thinking and encouraging them to think about the problems they’re trying to tackle.
Furthermore, I think that as a Tech Coach, I have been encouraging my colleagues to use technology in effective and transformative ways that engage students and help them to become global problem solvers. This takes time though and is based on relationships, trust, and a general sense of openness. When a colleague trusts you, then as Hattie showed us above, we can bond and have collective teacher efficacy as a norm.
Finally, I combine these two above items in a reflection. After I have worked with someone, we will have a coaching conversation and reflect on their own implementation of tech tools and whether or not the implementation was successful and if their goals we were achieved. The conversation helps to clarify what had happened, but by giving people space to open up and verbalize what they had observed, they are able to deeply think about their experiences. Furthermore, when they don’t immediately go to that deeper place, I can ask them questions about their perspectives and invite them to look at things in a new way.
To bring it all together in the end: technology is changing quickly, educational assessment should reflect the mindsets and qualities that our students should master.
Teachers needn’t worry when teachers are coaches/empathizers/activators who help students develop as individuals.
By listening and inviting deep thinking through thoughtful questions, we can encourage one another, especially young people, to slow down and consider their learning.