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Every day, every year, we waste the potential of millions of students

CulturizeJimmy Casas said:

a system which assured [students] of success only to find out [that] meant success for those who were willing to play the game of school and who were compliant. . . . students attended school in body but were absent in mind and in spirit. In other words, they had checked out and were just hanging around the prison yard of lost potential waiting to escape. (Culturize, p. 24)

Every day, all across the nation, we ignore, waste, and destroy enormous amounts of human potential because we take the vast diversity of humanity that is our students and shoehorn it into a ‘one size fits all’ model. Their failures are ours. The fault lies with us, not with them.

What are we doing to activate our students’ latent potential beyond the narrowly-proscribed ways that schools currently choose to recognize? What is our moral urgency for doing so? What are some concrete actions that we can take immediately and in the future to liberate our students from the oppressive structures of teaching and schooling that currently restrain their hopes and possibilities?

See also

If all we offer is uninspiring learning, we’re in trouble

TroubleOur students come to school for a variety of reasons:

  • to see their friends;
  • to participate in electives, extracurricular activities, and athletics;
  • to interact with and get support from caring teachers;
  • to get a credential for college, career, or the military;
  • because their parents need child care;
  • because state law requires them to attend;
  • etc.

What about learning? Yes, that’s a reason too… for some. But engagement data show that many/most of our students are not coming to school because their learning is engaging. The reasons listed above tend to be much more compelling for most students than the fairly-uninspiring learning tasks that we put before them. But many students are often willing to put up with the uninspiring learning and play ‘the game of school’ in exchange for the other aspects of school. In other words: “Most of my classes may be boring but I get to hang out with my friends, be in a club, participate in music and art, play a sport, see a couple of teachers that I like…”

One of the biggest challenges of ‘remote learning’ over the past few months has been that most of the motivators been pared away. For many students, all that has been left is the uninspiring learning. Little to no interaction with classmates. Little to no interaction with caring educators. No electives, extracurriculars, or athletics. And so on. Accordingly, we shouldn’t be surprised when our students – who generally have more control and autonomy at home over their learning decisions than they do at school – simply opt out. They decide that the exchange rate has shifted and they’re no longer interested, regardless of our pleas (or punishments) to the contrary.

As we try to figure out what schooling will look like in the months to come, we need to pay attention to the motivators and demotivators that help foster student engagement. If all we’re offering students is the uninspiring learning, we’re in a heap of trouble.

Image credit: In case you were looking for it, Schwar

Are there any ‘deeper learning’ virtual schools?

Virtual schools… I like the concept of shifting ‘time, place, path, and pace’ very much. But I think all of the virtual schools that I’ve encountered still focus primarily on low-level learning, digitized and chunked into a digital adaptive learning system. I don’t think I’ve ever seen ‘deeper learning’ or inquiry- and project-based learning as a core tenet of a virtual school.

That said, maybe virtual schools that focus on deeper learning, student agency, and authentic work are out there! Anyone know of wholly virtual schools that emphasize rich, robust project- and inquiry-based learning; authentic student contribution to the world around them; critical thinking and problem solving; meaningful uses of technology to communicate and collaborate; and so on? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

Even though we've changed the time, place, path, and pace, it can still be low-level learning

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See also my other slides, my Pinterest collection, and the Great Quotes About Learning and Change Flickr pool.

Coronavirus Chronicles 025 – International School of Amsterdam

I am talking with schools to see how they’re responding in the wake of this global pandemic. I invite you to join me for the Coronavirus Chronicles, a series of 10-minute check-ins with educators all over.

Episode 025 is below. Thank you, Shannon Hancock, Rania, and Trinabh, for sharing how the International School of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is adapting to our new challenges and opportunities. This was my first episode with students and of course you were FANTASTIC. I appreciated hearing how ISA has been implementing a full International Baccalaureate program via distance learning, and your Stories That Move project that we discussed is an awesome example of student agency that makes a difference in the world. For those who are interested in learning more about the project, here are some resources from ISA students Rania, Trinabh, Leilani, and Zozi:

See the complete list of episodes, which also are available as a podcast channel on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you and your school(s) would like to be featured in the Coronavirus Chronicles series, please get in touch. 

Other conversation series that may be of interest are below. Check them out!

Conversation series with educators during the pandemic

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 06: Making sense of our last 4 guest episodes

Episode 06 of Silver Lining for Learning was our first opportunity as hosts to come back together and make sense of what we had heard from our first round of guests. We talked about Episodes 02 through 05 and had an enthusiastic discussion about a variety of topics. Happy viewing!

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 04: Using COL and cool open education resources

Episode 04 of Silver Lining for Learning focused on the potential of open educational resources to foster learning opportunities for students. Our special guests on April 11 were Sanjaya Mishra, Tony Mays, and Frances Ferreira from the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), who shared fascinating stories and photos across a variety of international contexts. Happy viewing!

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 03: Delivering education when schools are closed. Lessons from China

Episode 03 of Silver Lining for Learning occurred on April 4. Our special guests shared their perspectives on remote learning in China. Mina Dustan of the Quarry Bay School in Hong Kong and Spencer Fowler of the Dalton Academy in Beijing shared how their international schools are thinking about learning and teaching during the pandemic. Shuangye Chen of East China Normal University shared photos of how public schools and families are responding across urban, suburban, and rural contexts. Happy viewing!

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 02: Where (when) there is no school

Episode 02 of Silver Lining for Learning occurred on March 28. Our special guest was Sugata Mitra, winner of the 2013 TED Prize. Professor Mitra talked with us about the possibilities of self-organized learning. Happy viewing!

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 01: Introduction and overview

Episode 01 of Silver Lining for Learning occurred back on March 21. During our launch episode, our five primary hosts and special guest talked about our hopes and desires for this initiative. Conversation was robust… Happy viewing!

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 05: Rethinking school with Will Richardson

I was fortunate to be the primary host for Episode 05 of Silver Lining for Learning on April 18. Our guest was Will Richardson and we had a fantastic discussion about both the realities and possibilities of school transformation.

Will has been talking about how to rethink learning, teaching, and schooling for decades. He is the author of multiple books and has launched major collaboration initiatives such as the change.school, Modern Learners, and Powerful Learning Practice networks. If you weren’t able to join us, the archived video is well worth it!

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Here are some ways that you can connect with Will’s work:

Here are Will’s books. Happy reading!