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Rethinking How Students Learn: Richard & Rebecca DuFour

Professional Learning Communities…did your stomach churn when you read that phrase?

Like “21st Century Learning” (see my last post), PLC is one of those buzz words that has been used ad nauseum. And it implies that teachers sharing ideas with one another is a new thing…in fact, it is not a novel modern-day concept at all. Teachers have always depended on each other for support and new ideas. It’s how sharing occurs that is changing.

In Rethinking How Students LearnRichard and Rebecca DuFour explore the role of PLCs in the evolution to a 21st century learning environment. One of the early charges the PLC gurus and the Partnership for 21st Century make is for educators to share knowledge in three ways:

  1. Via face-to-face interaction.
  2. Through “virtual” communications.
  3. By “blended” communications.

In this blog post, I would like to discuss the second method, virtual communications, because I know teachers here on our campus and all over the world already collaborate via face-to-face interaction.

As referenced by the DuFours, Ken Blanchard (2007) writes:

There is no reason that time and distance should keep people from interacting as a team. With proper management and the help of technology, virtual teams can be every bit as productive and rewarding as face-to-face teams.

So, what would a virtual team look like? It could be done locally, but through technology; the Charger Ning is a great example of local virtual sharing. Or your team could be a global group; are you part of the virtual team of educators using the “Twitterverse” to share resources, news, and ideas?

I also love this passage written by the DuFours, which references the ideas of Malcolm Gladwell:

The tipping point is reached when a few key people in the organization who are highly regarded by and connected to others (the Law of the Few) present a compelling argument in a memorable way (the Stickiness Factor) that leads to subtle changes in the conditions of the organizations (the Power of Context).

This has me excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for this team of pioneers and our colleagues. And, I can’t wait to witness the resulting explosion of educational transformation on our campus when crest the “tipping point”.

In fact, I think that’s the tipping point I see now on the virtual horizon…

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Rethinking How Students Learn: Chris Dede

Are you sick of all the talk about 21st century skills? I mean, we are almost 12 years into the new millennium. Some educational pundits go so far as to demand we stop using the term, but Chris Dede attempts to rationalize the “21st Century Skills” movement:

Inventing new problem-solving heuristics when standard protocols have failed is an important skill; when all diagnostics are normal, but the patient is still feeling unwell, for instance, a skilled physician can think outside the box and become an expert decision maker.

Will your students fit IN the box, or think OUTSIDE of it?

Our kids NEED to learn how to think outside the box. This isn’t always an easy skill for them to pick up. You see, they’ve grown accustomed to the 20th century educational method whereby the teacher provides the answers and the student regurgitates them on paper homework, quizzes, or tests to prove they’ve acquired knowledge. They have already mastered this educational “game” and they like winning it. Our students want to be able to finish tasks quickly and easily, with great success. But what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. How will they answer those difficult questions that may not have a clear or easily-accessible answer?

Dede goes on:

…the nature of collaboration is shifting to a more sophisticated skillset. In addition to collaborating face-to-face with colleagues across a conference table, 21st century workers increasingly accomplish tasks through mediated interactions with peers halfway across the world whom they may never meet face-to-face.

Our students NEED to be able to collaborate; this goes beyond mere communication skills. They need to be able to work in groups to achieve project success. They need to know how to use modern-day tools like Skype or Apple FaceTime to connect and work with colleagues on the other side of the world. The only way they are going to begin life after Heritage Hall with that skillset is if we, their teachers, allow them time and setting to develop the essential skill of collaboration.

I love the comparison Dede makes next:

Conventional, 20th century K-12 instruction emphasizes manipulating predigested information to build fluency in routine problem solving, rather than filtering data derived from experiences in complex settings to develop skills in sophisticated problem finding.

Ask yourself, “Do I provide ‘complex settings’ for my students to work in? Do I allow them to find problems instead of memorize information? Do my students create their own data?” Hopefully, the answers to these questions are affirmative. Our students live in an information age – in fact, some have called it the “Age of InfoWhelm.” As Dede suggests:

The ability to separate signal from noise in a potentially overwhelming flood of incoming data is a suite of 21st century skills.

The 21st Century Charger needs to be prepared and able to filter the meaningful information out of the endless deluge of data. He needs to be able to ask questions about the data and explore resolution to such problems in a journey mapped out by himself. It is critical that the teacher becomes the “guide on the side” in this process for meaning can only be 100% relevant when it originates from oneself (the student).

In the book I read, Dede refers to Henry Jenkins’ interesting list of digital literacies. They are: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transformed navigation, networking, and negotiation.

To me, those are clearly skills that would make a person successful in the world of the near-future. The question that lies ahead of us is…

How can we prepare our students for life and the workplace of their future?