Monthly Archives: February 2012

Week Seven Reading

This week, we looked at various articles on facilitating book clubs and Socratic seminars.  The articles predominantly featured book clubs as a public library concept and Socratic seminars as a school concept.

The book club articles gave great ideas of what to think about when planning a book club in this day and age: try thematic book discussions, utilize digital environments , link readers to new books afterward.  One thing that stood out from both readings is that book clubs serve two big purposes in public library communities.  They serve as great publicity– attracting people into the library space and encouraging users to utilize library materials.  They also serve as a way to achieve some of the larger missions of public libraries: to engage patrons in lifelong learning and to create a community of more active thinkers.

The articles related to Socratic seminars took the ideas of book clubs one step further and explained the process of facilitating meaningful dialogue and discussion.  The basic idea of a Socratic seminar is to go beyond the whowhatwhenwhere’s and promote why questions– questions without real answers that promote inquiry.  A facilitator chooses the reading and asks an introductory question, and lets the students take charge of their own conversation.

The authors of these articles both brought up different yet significant reasons for utilizing Socratic seminars.  Tredway explained the ways in which Socratic seminars can contribute to character development.  This is an area that I really feel like schools and libraries can play an important role, however, as public institutions, we tend to shy away from moral issues due to their very personal nature.  I don’t think that character development needs to be didactic or preachy, though.  I agree that the Socratic seminar construct allows for students to openly practice putting their personal moral codes to the test in a public forum, and this should be highly encouraged.

I was fascinated by the idea of having students observe discussion techniques by using the inner/outer circle model from Metzger’s article.  I have heard this technique referred to as Fishbowl classrooms.  I think that discussion skills are the most important things to learn in order to participate in group learning, and I wish that these skills were more emphasized at an earlier point in one’s academic career.  I got through high school without making any real contributions to classroom learning, but once I went to college, our small class sizes meant we HAD to talk.  The majority of my cohorts (along with myself) found it difficult to maintain discussion without significant support from our professors, and it took me a while to get to a point where I felt comfortable adding my input to wider discussions.  Like I talked about in my last post, contribution is going to become the new standard for learning.  What can you bring to the material?  I think techniques like this are absolutely crucial to training a generation of contributors.

Week Six Class

Our conversation in class regarding video games and learning was very engaging, and I think that we came to a few conclusions:

1.  Games can be used as a way to spark interest in topics that can seem lifeless.
2.  We can use games as a model for restructuring tasks that require motivation, although there were some concerns regarding creating a generation that can only be motivated by games.
3.  In order for McGonigal’s ideas to make sense, games need to promote transfer.

One thing that our conversation didn’t hit on was the use of badging systems in education, which I believe is a similar concept to gaming.  Create a system in which you can monitor, assess, and provide relevant credentials for learning in an online environment.  I really believe that badge systems can be a game changer in education reform and could spend multiple posts extolling the praises of badges for lifelong learning, but I will spare you my usual rant in favor of blatant self-promotion.

Boom.  I had tried to put together a proposal for multiple aspects of this year’s digital media and learning competition but was honestly kind of afraid that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off.  About a week before the deadline for the design of badges for teacher mastery and feedback, a couple people from SI got together to see if we could finish something in time just to get our ideas out there.  Last night after class, we got the email saying that we are finalists!  I’ll be heading to San Francisco in a few weeks to collaborate with a group of educators trying to develop skills for teaching STEM and presenting our ideas to a panel of judges.  Excitement!

Speaking of self-promotion, this week’s class also discussed trends in the information professional blogosphere.  One thing that was not mentioned in the greater class discussion, but came up as a big theme in all of my blogs was the idea that contribution is the new standard for education.  It’s no longer about what someone can remember; now we want to know what someone can add or create to extend our knowledge-base.  I predict that as this trend continues, we will have to recognize the educational imperative to foster creativity in our schools, but we will see how this plays out.

Week Six Reading

Earlier this semester, I noted (not sure if it was in this blog or my 638 blog) that it seemed like best practices for instruction were utilized more often in elementary school settings.  Sadly, the more educated one becomes, it seems one’s instructors utilize less effective practices.

One of the readings for this week, Educational Leadership: Put Understanding First  by Wiggins and McTighe, brought up similar problems.  High School students are at an interesting point in their education: they are cognitively able to engage in more sophisticated learning processes, however the traditional, ineffective means for instructing and assessing limit the educational outcomes that students are able to achieve.  Because of this, students become bored and apathetic with their schooling and never fully understand the material they encounter.

The authors suggest that we think back to our own perceptions regarding the meaning of compulsory education.  Why do we make kids go through this?  So they can come out knowing a predetermined number of facts?  of course not.  We educate children so that they may become productive members of society who understand the greater issues of the world.  This must be the foundation of our instructional technique: teaching for understanding and transfer.

I am totally on board with the authors’ tips and suggestions for integrating these thought processes into classroom situations, however I worry about the over-contextualization of many of the concepts students need to be able to transfer into other situations.  I think that’s why a lot of educators shy away from specific applications of bigger concepts.  There is the concern that students who learn about a concept within a particular context might not be able to transfer those skills/ideas to another applicable context.  When students are assessed, they need to be flexible about the context in which they can apply their new knowledge, because no one knows what standardized test questions will look like.  Unfortunately, this is important.

How can we actively make transfer an important part of our lessons while still allowing for the inquiry of more specific situations?


Week Five Class

This week, we started off watching a TED talk from the author of Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal.  While the talk touched on more than a few issues we have discussed in class (such as the use of formative assessments, transliteracy, and developing expert level knowledge), the content of the presentation was unfortunately not the purpose of our exercise, nor discussed for the rest of the class.

This was a major letdown for me, as I believe that gaming and the emerging trends involving motivation and learning in online communities are real “game-changers” (ha) in the current educational paradigm shift.  Not only that, but I think that this side of education– the independent, self-directed, interest-focused side of education– is THE realm of librarians, and we must be at the forefront of research and inquiry into these topics.  I know that there is a class about this at the school of education, but us school library types don’t get to take it.  Which is so the opposite of an Epic Win.

The actual point of the exercise (aside from watching an awesome TED talk) was to discuss feedback, survey, and assessment.  After watching, we all filled out a fairly standard survey and classified the kinds of questions that we found on the survey.  The questions were all fairly familiar, but after having received similar feedback regarding training sessions that I have facilitated in the past, I did not find the majority of the feedback from questions like this to be very helpful.

The feedback that helped me the most, as the presenter, came from questions like “What was your favorite/least favorite aspect of this session?” or from requests for suggestions.  I didn’t care about circled numbers or checked boxes; I wanted a real reaction.  In fact, I find myself doing the same thing in real life.  I immediately scan through the commentary.

I think that this is a helpful idea to keep in mind when preparing assessments and grading in the future.  Students and presenters alike want to grow, and it is our job as educators (in some sense) to promote growth through the educational environments we create.

Week Five Reading

This week’s reading focused on formative assessment and the design of learning environments.  One of the things that I gathered during my classroom teaching experience is that the units of instruction that were most successful were those that kept in mind the final product or assessment that we wanted by the end of the unit.  Conversely, those lessons that focused on singular goals just to satisfy the curriculum demands were often inflexible while teaching and easily forgotten by students.

After reading these selections, I think they both prove that having formative assessment at the forefront of your mind while planning and implementing instruction is one of the best formulas for creating an educational environment.  Everything that goes into planning for teaching: taking the students’ prior knowledge into account, cultivating the right kind of classroom environment, etc… are all best served by maintaining meaningful formative feedback as a key component to learning.

Week Four Class

This week in class, we discussed the articles that we found and created a very thorough list of concerns with regards to information literacy.

A major theme that kept popping up was the vague nature of defining information literacy.  I think that this point speaks directly to a point from the article I found. The author posited that privileging language-based materials as the most valid form of information is troubling as language is inherently intertwined in political and social barriers.  Language can never really show things as they truly are.

Information literacy is a concept that we have a difficult time defining because i think that our ideas of what counts as information and what makes a person literate aren’t completely expressible.  There are certain skills tied to information literacy, but more important, I believe, are the qualitative differences in attitude and quality of experiences.  These ineffable qualities are not easily measured, but measurability is important if you want to be able to prove the worth of your instruction.