Category Archives: learning

Questions and Reflections about Learning in the Digital Environment

Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt are facilitating a Digital Citizenship Massive Open Online Course(#DCMOOC). The community within this course is discussing the digital environment and the implications for educators and students. The week two presentation looked at learner participation in the digital environment and the implications for critical thinking and ethical behavior. We explored the questions around age restrictions and filtering for learner environments. The following questions followed the presentation for continued discussion.

How do we ensure that learners are critical, ethical, and knowledgeable creators, consumers, and participants of digitally mediated environments? How can we develop students’ abilities to become self-regulatory in the appropriate use of digital media, rather than relying on external filters and restrictions?

Learners need guided opportunities for purposeful use of digital environments. We teach critical and ethical activity through our modeling during instruction and by setting tasks which require thoughtful creation of artifacts and products. When we plan for these tasks, we need to establish the guidelines which support students’ understanding of copyright and privacy. Along the way, we can give feedback on their sources and their citation of their sources. Learners’ develop their abilities to self-regulate when they are given real opportunities to choose. In the digital context that means choosing their sources of information and critiquing them. In the early years, we can do these tasks together as a class and model the citizenship they will need to develop. As they grow, we can give opportunities to develop their skills by providing examples and non-examples of sources and materials as well as guidance for what to do when they ‘arrive’ at online places they know are not appropriate. I think the following analogy is appropriate: we teach children to swim by taking them to the pool. If we stayed in the bathtub, they would not learn what they needed in order to swim. Just as children need to be in the pool to learn to swim, we need to go into digital spaces to learn to participate in the digital environment.

How do we model modern approaches to copyright and creativity, where the rights of both creators and consumers are balanced and respected?

I believe learners and teachers need to know the limits and freedoms we have as citizens. Under Canadian copyright legislation, it is recognized that citizens can make mash-ups of material without breaking copyright. Mash-ups are digital artifacts made by mixing a number of sources (photo-shopping a photograph, mixing two music tracks, adding music to a series of video clips). These mash-ups must not interfere with the ability for the owner or creator of the original to make a profit from their creation or product. As a consumer, I also have a right to use portions of material for research, for private study, for review or criticism, and news reporting. I also have a right to use materials for education, for parody, and for satire. My uses must be fair to the owner or creator of the work. To use work fairly, I need to give credit for the work, not sell the work, and not interfere with the selling of the work.

Learners need to be aware of their rights and the rights of others when it comes to making and sharing work digitally. We need to teach them simple ways to give credit. With younger children we can call it a ‘thank you’ for the work of others which is supporting their work. We can model these things in our own presentations and artifacts which we produce for school. We can develop age appropriate ways to say ‘thank you’.
How do we help students develop positive digital identities? What activities/assignments/projects can we integrate into our teaching to help our learners build their digital footprints?

How do we help our students to become kind and caring citizens who act with integrity in all spaces, including digital ones?

As a parent, I help my children develop their digital identities by having them use their own name when they work online. We started with their email addresses and have slowly added tools and artifacts to their online spaces. They check with me before adding friends and talk about how what they ‘like’ sends a message about who they are and what is important to them. We have talked about how what appears private can be copied and shared in public. We have started to develop portfolios of videos and projects which will form the oldest section of their digital footprints.

At school, I work with young children. Not all their parents are ready to have their children identified online by name. I think we can help to mitigate this concern by using first name, last initial, and avatars for identifiers with younger children. I hope to counsel the students’ parents to consider how creating a ‘fake’ identity could harm their child’s ability to navigate the online world honestly and carefully. Our children need opportunities to develop their online presence with the support and advice of trusted adults. Teaching them to be themselves online is an important first step in developing a positive digital citizen.

What is the role of schools in terms of developing student activism? How might we encourage and support students to use online spaces and social media to contribute positively to our world?

I believe in being an active, engaged citizen of the world. I struggle with the term ‘student activism’. Why? I should love it. I believe in learners being active, engaged citizens of the world and I believe in being in online spaces using social media. Activism needs to be the outgrowth of student engagement. I think we need to be cautious about doing social action because it’s well-marketed. This is peer pressure activism, which I sometimes get a whiff of with the “Be the Change” T-shirts or mandatory Pink T-shirt day. I think we need to get our learners into the real world and making a contribution in the ways which “fire them up” and make the world a better place.

So how do we encourage it? We do things that matter. We teach about the real world, real people, in real places, with real struggles. We cry, we laugh, and we think carefully about what we are doing and when we have kids ask the question, “but what can we do?” We do something, anything, which we can think of together to help make a difference.

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Making Thinking Visible – continued

Routines versus Strategies

Routines are a structure teachers use over and over again to build student independence and to create their classroom culture.  When we have routines to support thinking within the classroom we are supporting students thinking as a regular part of their experience and developing their ability to think independently.

Strategies are ways of processing or working.  When we teach a strategy for learning, we tend to teach it and then move on.  Perhaps we bring out the strategy again once in a while but strategies don’t create culture.

I like the idea of having routines for thinking.  I know routines help classrooms run smoothly and make the work of running a classroom simpler and smoother.

The authors of Making Thinking Visible fill the rest of their book with thinking routines divided into three sets:  set one – routines for introducing and exploring ideas, set two – routines for synthesizing and organizing ideas and set three – routines for digging deeper into ideas.  Although I could summarize them all here, I think perhaps the book does it best.  In addition, I think I need to try them to really add anything to what is there.

 

I hope to try some of each of these routines throughout this year.  I’m wondering if I might blog about them here or if they should be blogged as teaching practices on my school division’s instructional practices blog.  I’ll see.

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Making Thinking Visible – Part Three

What can a teacher do to help create a classroom where thinking becomes visible?

Question. Listen. Document.

Question:

Good questions help students to construct their understanding.

Questions need to be thought through to help students think about the content not simply to outline the facts.  I think asking good questions is one of the toughest parts of good teaching.  This is at least the second time I’ve read about the importance of questions in creating teaching excellence.  It seems strange that something so simple can be so difficult.  It’s easy to ask who, what, when, where questions but to ask questions which ask them to make interpretations, make connections, focus on the big ideas requires thoughtful planning and deep understanding of the content and intent of your lesson.

Listen:

Once a teacher asks the good questions, what do they do with the responses?  Really listening to the responses students give and figuring out what they mean and what they might have missed in their understanding is another task which takes care and deliberate thoughtful preparation.  I’m not sure I’ve figured this one out.  Often I listen for the answer I think I want as opposed to listening for the thinking the students are doing and learning about them from those responses.  I think the third part of this trio probably would help me with that.

Document:

Recording what students say during a class helps track what has been said, demonstrates the value of the students’ ideas,  gives an object for further discussion and reflection.

 

Three simple actions to take in order to make thinking the work of the classroom and learners within the classroom.

I know I’m going to use this.

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Making Thinking Visible – Part Two

Looking at student responses to thinking.

In Making Thinking Visible, the authors outline four different types of responses students give when asked to thinking or write about their thinking:  emotional, associative, meta and strategic.  Emotional responses indicate how the students feel about their thinking – unsure, hurried, stressed.  Associative responses indicate accompanying features when students are thinking – while traveling, in math class, when reading.  Meta responses have to do with student awareness of the purpose of thinking and complexity of the process – there is always more to know, knowledge is partial, you need to know something in order to create something.  Strategic responses indicate how the student goes about thinking – practice, look for information, organize my ideas.  These strategic responses can be broken down into four further categories – memory and knowledge development, generalized strategies, specific processes, self-regulation and monitoring processes.

While all thinking about thinking is useful for learners and their teachers and coaches, learning which strategies to use to monitor and regulate our learning, to commit things to memory and to complete specific tasks are of particular help for learners when creating independence and understanding.

 

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Making Thinking Visible – Ritchhart, Church, Morrison – Part One

How can we help students to become engaged and independent learners?  Ritchhart, Church and Morrison contend we can help them by Making Thinking Visible.

Students develop understanding, engagement and independence when they are taught well but what does teaching well look like.  We, the teachers, can first think about the work which students are doing in our classrooms.  What kinds of actions do the students in our classes spend most of their time doing?  Now think about the actions which are authentic to the discipline of study which the students are engaged in, that is, what writers, artists, or scientists, for instance, actually do when they are engaged in their work.  Comparing the actions your students are doing to the actions authentic practitioners do will help you determine whether students are learning about the subject or doing the subject.  This is a key aspect in creating good learning environments with engaged and independent learners.

Some ways of thinking are helpful across subjects and disciplines.  Ritchhart et al, give a list of eight ways of thinking which are important to develop for independent learners:

1) Observe and describe

2) Explain and interpret

3) Reason using evidence

4) Make connections

5) Consider a variety of viewpoints or perspectives

6) Find the main idea and form conclusions

7) Ask questions and wonder

8) Get below the surface

This list reminds me of the main strategies for reading comprehension which have been a focus of mountains of PD in the past few years.

(Find the main idea, synthesize, infer, connect, conclude, question).  Good thinking and good thinking about reading are not different.  Cool.

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Camera Adventure

I purchased a new camera this year.  I have been playing around with it and mostly using it as a point and shoot but it is a DSLR and I want to know more and use it more effectively.  Although I am very impressed at what it can do without my knowing very much at all.

So I took a book out at the library, appropriately enough for a teacher librarian.  It is called, “Digital SLR from Click to Print” by Will Cheung.  I am using it as a text book and setting myself some reading and practising goals.

Today I was playing with what is meant by and what can be done with aperture and focal length.  I went to a park to take pictures.  I found that in most modes on my camera, I can’t even see what the focal length is on the display.  I can see it in the little numbers through the view finder.  I can play with the focal length when I am in manual focus.  Focal length is other wise decided by the auto focus feature, so it seems.   Depth of field is most apparent when the subject is a bit further away from the background.  If you are taking a picture of a leaf on the ground.  The leaf is too close to the ground for any difference between the focus on the leaf and focus on the ground.  In addition, when the subject is too far away, there doesn’t seem to be huge differences in what the focal length can do to adjust the clarity of the background compared to the subject.

When I played with the ISO, I found that the lower number led to less time of exposure.  This may be self-evident to experts but it was news to me.  I took a picture of a leaf with ISO 800 and it was washed out but at ISO 100 it was perfect.  The sunlight was fairly strong at times today, I’m sure this would make a difference too.  I have much to learn but this was lesson number one.

Leaf taken with ISO 100, f 5.6 1/125

Leaf taken with ISO 100, f 5.6 1/125

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Daniel Pink on Motivation

Clarence Fisher posted this and I think it’s well worth watching.  Enjoy.

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