Monday, August 6, 2012

The Collaboratory Vision

I stole the term "Collaboratory" from David Thornburg. I think he would be happy that I am trying to so transform my classroom. In the same webinar where this term was used, Alan November added some thoughts as to what the realization of a collaboratory might be like. I took the nuggets of his remarks and added my own spin. Here is the grand vision:

The overarching goal of the 2012-2013 year is to transform the ELA classroom into a “Collaboratory”. A collaboratory is a learning environment that transcends classroom walls and campus schedules. It is a secure space where students are welcomed to explore their passions and gain meaning from applying knowledge and skills toward finding solutions to real world problems. The collaboratory is secure as failure is not feared but embraced as a necessary step on the path to individual and team success. In the collaboratory, the nurtured and valued attributes to be exhibited by all learners are courage, persistence, resilience, and empathy. To the greatest possible degree, the collaboratory eliminates the distinction between teacher and student and moves toward mentor-mentee and co-facilitator relationships. 

                In the collaboratory students are encouraged to engage in relevant work with friends. Students are allowed to demonstrate mastery of curricular objectives through the creation of products of their own design or those created through teamwork and collaboration with others. The collaboratory will operate to insure to the greatest extent possible that students get constructive and on-going feedback through a combination of positive peer review and critique, thorough self evaluation and reflection, and adult mentor/facilitator guidance and support. The adult mentor/facilitator will manage the operation of the collaboratory filled with enthusiasm for learning and committed to both the gathering of student input and acting upon that input.

                At the heart of the classroom to collaboratory transformation is the insistence that no negative stigma attaches to any learner in regard to current level of knowledge, ability, and/or skill. Learning and growth in the collaboratory begin where the students find themselves.  Similarly, no judgments in regard to past performance from previous years, months, or days will be entertained or tolerated.  Each new day is a fresh opportunity for every learner’s innate abilities to be discovered, developed, applied, expanded, shared, and celebrated.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Podstock 2012 - Essential Messages 1

Essential Messages (Stolen and adapted with or without permission from Cyndi Danner-Kuhn, Dyane Smokorowski, Ginger Lewman, Brad Flickenger, Mike King, Sharon Ricks, Cindy Sheets, Paul Shircliff, Chrissie Allen, Kevin Honeycutt, Connor Janzen, and Ben Honeycutt) After attending 3 days of ESSDACK’s Podstock 2012, I have a mush mind of ideas, notions, visions, and plans swirling though my feeble, old man’s mind. Here is my attempt to share what I think I have learned.

  The Flipped Classroom – Think of it as Rewinding Learning!

 It removes the instant sting and often times permanent pain of the exasperated, frustrated teacher exhale. Instead of that obvious (and sometimes perfectly understandable) look of utter disappointment that the students didn’t get it, the products of the Flipped Classroom provide an alternative response:

 “Yeah, I know it can be difficult and confusing, it was for me as well. I recorded it (idea, concept, instructions, lesson, etc) and stored it on (any number of places). Go take another look at it and we can get together and go over it again. OK, buddy/darling/whatever, I’ll see you in a few minutes”

 There is very powerful, relationship establishing and furthering in this latter approach. Without that piece, all other “new” approaches are meaningless. (Essential Message of the Model Schools Conference as well) I know I have been guilty of practicing the former approach far too many times. I want to be able to practice the latter ALL the time. Flipping can make this possible.

  Instructional Differentiation is Arrogant!

 It is arrogant in the extreme to believe that 1 person can conceptualize, much less produce lessons and activities to accommodate the range of individual learning styles in the typical 125 students per day classroom. *Differentiation for the purposes of accommodating – reaching – the individual student can only come from the student having the opportunity to select an approach from a broad and continually growing range of approaches to learning – this array must necessarily include ways to find and acquire the knowledge and skills, apply them rigorously to relevant pursuits, and demonstrate a high level of mastery in a variety of methods. In this vein of thought, the role of the teacher shifts from provider of knowledge and rigid method for acquisition and assessment to facilitator of learning and mastery opportunities. This is Not a new concept by any means!

 (If we continue to tolerate a failure to accept, much less implement the facilitator approach to pedagogy, we – public education – will be left behind and replaced by other structures that do! This is plainly evident in the home school , wholly online education, and charter school movements – if not the tragic nationwide dropout rate)

 Becoming a “Facilitator” in our present environment of a minute by minute explosion of innovative approaches (initiatives, programs and apps) necessarily requires that “facilitator” include creator and curator.

Creator - We must provide rich opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of curriculum through creation – unleashing the innate creativity all humans possess. It’s there; we just have to find it! (Teachers that do not believe this MUST move on!) We find it by investigating and uncovering the student’s passion. Within the exploration of one’s passion (PBL) will naturally and quite unavoidably flow increased rigor and relevance, not to mention content mastery and success on Next Practice Assessments. How to uncover and then focus that passion toward curriculum mastery become THE paramount questions that drive pedagogy. (Do what we do best: Ask questions! But our questioning efforts will only provide useful data if they are received privately and/or anonymously. Cell phones and BYOD to the rescue: Socrative, CoverItLive, Today’s Meet, and numerous others!) Apps for creative expression are literally limitless and as seen above* and below**, the exact selection and/or adoption is somewhat unimportant, if not completely meaningless.

Curator – The vast avenues for knowledge acquisition is very nearly matched by the expanse and explosion of approaches to creative demonstration of content mastery (Apps). We must provide opportunities for students to become curators – managers and meaningful organizers of this technological explosion. Curation tools abound – Symbaloo, Pinterest,, Flipboard, Zite, and many, Many others + the exponential growth of these tools.

 **The 2 most important things that a teacher can do to make learning engaging and individualized and therefore, effective are:

 1. Update and Elevate the concept of “Learner” to level and modify (eliminate to the greatest extent possible) the distinction between teacher and student. This does not mean that student determined chaos is the norm, but it DOES focus on the issue of control of the learning environment. It calls for the learning to be managed with input (welcomed, considered, discussed and acted on) from students, based on their self-determined and individualized (differentiated) methods of curricular objective acquisition and demonstration of mastery. This necessarily requires that students play a role in assessment. It also means taking a hard look at the (becoming increasingly clear) conflict between “grades” and content mastery. Individualized demonstration of mastery cannot be measured globally (across a class roster). One possible method of “institutionalizing” this within a course would be to enter objectives in the grade book rather than assignments tied to objectives.

 2. Become a Model for what you hope your students will become – individual managers of their learning: independent and effective hunters and gatherers of knowledge needed to solve problems based on passion, competent curators of knowledge and approaches to be applied to unpredictable situations, and engaged creators of methods and means that demonstrate content mastery across the curriculum. Do not tell students to do X,Y, and Z, show examples of your U, V, and W. Ask them to explore and find and share their A, B, C, D, E, F and G! Join in the process of evaluating the entire alphabet. Use B, V, F, and Y in your own practice, but allow students to adopt and continue to analyze, criticize, and evaluate any combination of letters they choose. The significant aspect is not the tool (s) ultimately selected, but the ability to select appropriate tools from an ever-growing number of choices to solve real problems.(Better yet – create their own approach and tools!) One real problem students have to solve is passing their classes. Another is meeting expectations on standardized tests. Yet another is preparing for further academic tasks and real world earning!