Learning that is Personal and Beyond Ourselves
Everything is “personalized” and kids today are so connected more than ever. Will kids be ready for their future?Read more
Everything is “personalized” and kids today are so connected more than ever. Will kids be ready for their future?Read more
I used to say to my kids that “I love learning” and they would just laugh at me. But I do. I relish each new concept I learn and take apart and roll it around in my brain. I love what I do which is helping teachers develop learning environments that are engaging and full of joy. Maybe what I want is for everyone, teachers and learners, to have that same “love of learning.”
I read AJ Juliani’s post “Why do so many bad students turn out to be great teachers?” and definitely could relate. I was just a s0-so student in high school. Traditional teacher-centered instruction just turned me off. I didn’t see why I had to learn the times of events in history from the most boring teacher I ever had. We had to sit straight with our hands clasped while he talked in a monotone voice. This was 10th grade. Now really!!
He destroyed my curiosity about history. I barely passed his class and felt stupid. Then in 11th grade my eyes were open to World History. I was drawn to want to learn more about the people and the times they were living in. We relived times and events and performed as characters from the past. I never had this experience before where I participated in the learning. I was even given a choice on how I wanted to express myself. This was where I got the bug for learning. I grew up in Maryland in a very nice area not too far from Washington, DC. A great place to grow up. I don’t think my experience with school was that different than others my age.
I’m going to go back where I lost my way — when I was in first grade. This is where I realized I was a “bad” student. My teacher was strict and even punished us with a ruler. She would put people in groups by height, girls or boys, and even by color of hair. So that’s when I lost my confidence. I was the only redhead in the class and sat by myself. Why would she do that? The year got worse and my confidence dropped farther and farther. I felt that I wasn’t very smart so this is how I participated in school all the way to 11th grade until I had that great History teacher. There were a few good teachers here and there and my parents always believed in me. My mom was an artist who taught me to think outside the box and draw outside the lines. That was never allowed in my 1st grade class. I loved learning before I started school, but school made me feel like I couldn’t learn.
After I graduated High School (barely), I moved to California and went to community college. I felt free. I felt like me. I was told when I was younger that I can’t write. But I can. I love to write. I wrote some poems for my English teacher and he asked me to read them in the quad. Everyone gave me great feedback. Then he helped me enter one of my poems in a contest. I won first prize. Then I took Anatomy and Physiology from an amazing teacher who made me want to learn everything about the body. I couldn’t wait to go to his class. Then I took Humanities and Art History. I loved this. All of it. I wanted more and more.
I realized and believe now that I am smart in my own way. I love to write and read and learn. I wish and hope all children never lose that love of learning, the curiosity they were born with, and the opportunities to be creative. This is why I see the importance of making learning personal for each and every learner.
I love learning. Do you?
As a parent and educator, you always hope that your children and students find their purpose and passion and then live it. My daughter, Sara Zimmerman, is living her passion better than many people I know. She’s an artist, web designer, musician, climber, mom, wife, daughter, sister, and now author.
Everyday is exciting for Sara, her husband, Rob, and her 5 year old daughter, Cali. I am learning from them that you can play while you work and work while you play. They have a band where Sara plays her drums and Cali has her own set to follow along. Rob and Sara are a real team with the web designing, their band, and climbing.
Check out ”Unearthed Comics” and get yourself the book and a decal. You can even take the decal with you when you travel and share where in the world you and the Marilyn decal are visiting on her blog. And for anyone wanting some great marketing advice, download her free eBook on Making Smart Marketing Decisions.
I find myself in an interesting time in my life. I could retire but I don’t want to. This is an exciting time where all the efforts I’ve taken for years to change education are starting to come together. I can taste it, smell it, and feel it. I’m working with schools around the world and the issue seems to be the same.
There are a few pockets of excellence but we tend to still be embedded and entangled in a system of traditional education. The questions I get from teachers all over the world have the same tone:
I can go on but the issue seems to be about trust.
I have been thinking about this for a long time. Kathleen McClaskey and I as co-founders of Personalize Learning, LLC were brought together because we needed to be. Both of us were going in similar directions fighting this issue alone. Our mutual friend, Julie Duffield, brought us together several years ago. We created a chart defining what Personalized Learning is and is not in January 2012 and then from all the feedback, we updated the PDI Chart this March 2013. It has changed our lives.
After we created a process with the Stages, we started getting interest from schools, districts, regions, states, and companies. We opened a pandora box. We created an eCourse about the What, Who, Where, Why, and Wow of Personalized Learning and are on our sixth session since February. It is more than exciting. Yesterday was our first session with 34 educators from around the world most from Australia. We are doing several sessions simultaneously. One with Kettle Moraine School District in Wisconsin. The questions and conversations are the same but they are getting deeper and more reflective.
So that’s why I thought it was time for me to reflect on everything that has happened the last 2 years. All I can say to teachers who venture down this road to turn the learning over to the learner so they own it, thank you! I am in awe at all you are doing. I am amazed when a school system says it’s time to rethink learning and change how we teach and learn. I want to thank Kathleen for sticking with me through this. We are fighting an uphill battle against structures and entities that have been entrenched in a system that is over 150 years old.
We wrote a post Learners NOT Students and the response was overwhelming — most good but a few educators got upset. What we and others are saying shakes up the system. It needs shaking up. My granddaughter is starting kindergarten this year and all I can think is Oh My — she’s so creative and the school will take that away from her. We have to give the learning back to our kids. They need to own it — drive it.
I cannot stop now. We cannot stop now. This is the time for a revolution like Sir Ken Robinson said in the latest Ted Talks Education along with Rita Pierson and others who talk about passion, interests, human interaction. Watch this and then we’ll get this revolution going and finally do it right for our kids.
We talk about having access to content from anywhere using our mobile devices, but we didn’t think about what that meant to us. We thought it meant access to content anytime from anywhere. What it seems is that it also means we are available anytime someone wants us. It doesn’t mean we have to be available.
Let me clarify why I’m writing this. I have to turn my cell and other phones off at night because now I’m on several lists that I cannot get off. I get calls on all my phones from a “Name Unavailable” from different numbers from around the world wanting me to sign up to different promotions all day and all night long I don’t answer “Name Unavailable” yet they don’t leave a message. So I gave up one night at 3am and answered it. It was someone promoting Google Ads. I asked to be taken off the list. 30 minutes later I got another call from a different “Name Unavailable” number for the same type of promotion. There is no way to be taken off this list because these are individual freelancers trying to make money. They could be anywhere in the world.
The same thing happened during the last election. I received calls from people working for different campaigns around the country who were using their cell phones. There was no way for me to block them. They came up “Name Unavailable.”
So back to Google or Yahoo or other “FREE” programs that call you in the middle of the night wanting you to sign up for something. I started reviewing what I signed up for and realized several years ago I signed up for Google Adsense. Then I thought maybe I could try Google Checkout for my store. So that’s how I got on a list. I do not use either one. I get it. I also tried promoting my company on Facebook. That’s another list. I’m using Safeway’s Just for You. Another list. Every time I signed up for something “Free” I was put on another list.
So to get off a list, you have to remember what lists you signed up for and unsubscribe. Mmmmmmmm! I don’t think that is possible today. You don’t know who has your number. I heard we have over 150,000 data points associated with us. That is, I joined Facebook and added friends. If any of those friends sign up for Words with Friends, I’m a data point now. That means that Words with Friends used an algorithm to find me and promote their game to me. The same thing happens when you sign up for a credit card, make a purchase with debit card, or join a “Free” website that is connected to social media.
So back to being available anytime. The idea of 24/7/365 is that you have access to resources and your network anytime when you log on using your computer or your smart mobile device. This gives a whole new meaning to “smart” and how you use it.
Today’s kids have been brought up with the Internet and mobile devices. They only know anytime, anywhere. I see kids texting while they are sitting next to their friends. For all I know, they are texting each other instead of talking. The world is different. The world is smaller. Friends mean so much to them that if they get a text, they answer right away. We had to make a law “No Texting While Driving” because it is rampant and causing accidents.
I think we need to teach another new skill: boundaries. When do you say today in this moment I do not need to answer the call or read the text. It is all about priorities and respect. I had to learn this when I created My eCoach. I wanted to be there all the time as a coach. But a coach also does not need to enable the other person. The idea of coaching is to nudge and support the other person so they can find their own way. I still like the idea of having a place like My eCoach that respects your privacy. We don’t sell any data or advertise or call you in the middle of the night. We do have clients from around the world who are up when I’m asleep but that’s okay. They can access My eCoach anytime, anywhere.
I finally got it that my time is important. I can be available when I have time. Not when I’m driving. Not when I’m sleeping. So if I don’t answer you in the middle of the night, it’s not that I don’t like you or something; it’s because I need to sleep.
I’ve been rethinking learning and see how innovations can happen. I love books and see the potential for eBooks. That is, until I learned about Richard Mason’s book History of a Pleasure Seeker. Mason is a prolific author who writes his original manuscripts by hand in a journal the size of an iPad. When he saw the iPad, he visualized how his book could come to life — not just an eBook or iBook. It took two years, but this is the way I wanted books to be. One reviewer wrote:
“The History of a Pleasure Seeker app is exactly what a book app should be! You can read or listen to the book (or both at the same time) and enjoy the little extras (extremely well produced extras, I might add) without having to put the book down.”
He included ways for his readers to ask him questions, paragraphs can be read to you, you can visualize text, and more. Mason is a writer and changed the way he saw how his words could be represented to his readers.
Anyone can be creative because we all possess mental processes that include decision making, language, and memory. Richard Mason is a creative writer, but anyone can change how they see the written word. I am doing research on cognitive science and neuroplasticity. You can change your brain. All we have to do to boost our creative potential is to break down the established ways we view and interact with the world. Allowing yourself to see things differently encourages creativity and looking for ways to be innovative.
These are my adaptations of tips shared in Scientific American Mind July/August 2012 and added a few of my own. I believe that anyone can change their brain and think in new ways. They can learn in new ways if they open their minds and just imagine things in different ways.
“I think I’m like many teachers: most of us feel like we haven’t yet arrived where we want to be in terms of what we’re doing with students. I have so much further to go and I really want to do more work that infuses rigor and relevance in the curriculum and connects my students to both their communities and the French-speaking community.” Nicole Naditz
My search for student-centered learning environments led me to Nicole Naditz who teaches French at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks near Sacramento, California. Our conversation first started about flipping the classroom. She wrote me:
“I’m still a novice in terms of fully turning over my curriculum to the students, but I’m always striving to work more in that direction. In the meantime, I work hard to ensure that what their learning is put to meaningful use, is rigorous and engages them with the French-speaking community beyond our school.
For the online projects with other countries, I have typically designed them in cooperation with the other teacher, although my students always have significant input. I tell the students to write a book encouraging children to eat healthfully. After that, they are free to create. The best books are sent to France or Belgium to be put in the waiting rooms of children’s areas of hospitals or dentists.
That’s when I knew Nicole was moving into the student-centered world even if she didn’t realize it. Email after email, I received specific projects from Nicole.
Nicole has taught French to grades 3 through 12, including AP French Language since 1993. Nicole is very active in professional organizations. A recipient of numerous awards, including the 2010 Jane Ortner Educating through Music Award, she serves as webmaster and advocacy chair on the FLAGS board. She also serves on the Leadership Team of the Capital Foreign Language Project and she served on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages interview committees for the first National Foreign Language Teacher of the Year in 2005 and for the Florence Steiner Leadership in K-12 Education Award in 2007. Nicole was invited to join the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Subject Matter Advisory Panel for Languages Other than English in 2004. She is the founder of the Read Around the World Program and organizes additional opportunities for students to experience languages and cultures outside of the classroom.
Nicole has presented on a variety of topics at local and state workshops since 1999 and has received several grants for study in France and Canada. She was named an Outstanding Teacher by both the Foreign Language Association of Greater Sacramento and the California Language Teachers’ Association and was a finalist for the California League of High Schools Educator of the Year in Region 3. In addition, Nicole achieved National Board Certification in 2003 and earned her M.Ed in 2006. In 2012, she was named San Juan USD Teacher of the Year, Sacramento County Teacher of the Year and was one of 12 finalists for California State Teacher of the Year. That same year, she also became a Google Certified Teacher.
She has been a member of the FLAGS board since 2001. In her spare time, she enjoys figure skating, calligraphy, singing, crocheting, musical theater and travel.
Can you see why I wanted to share Nicole’s personal journey?
How can classrooms become places of intellectual stimulation where learning is viewed not as test scores but in the development of individuals who can think, plan, create, question, and engage independently as learners?
Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners offers educators research-based solutions for creating just such cultures of thinking. This innovative book unravels the mysteries of thinking and its connection to understanding and engagement. It then takes readers inside diverse learning environments to show how thinking can be made visible at any grade level and across all subject areas through the use of effective questioning, listening, documentation, and facilitative structures called thinking routines. These routines, designed by researchers at Project Zero at Harvard, scaffold and support one’s thinking. By applying these processes, thinking becomes visible as learners’ ideas are expressed, discussed, and reflected upon.
The authors, Ron Ritchard, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison, ask “As we shared our research and classroom tested ideas about how to make thinking visible, be it in a classroom or with a group of adult learners, people kept asking us where they could read more about them. How could they learn more about how others were using them? How could they ensure that they and their students weren’t just using the thinking routines as activities? To answer those questions we put together this book with help from educators around the world.”
Watch a video from co-author Ron Richard about the Importance of Thinking.
Thought Leader Interview: Jim Rickabaugh
Jim Rickabaugh, Director of the Institute @ CESA #1, shared with me their region’s journey for the Personalized Learning Initiative. Southeastern Wisconsin is mobilizing as a region to transform public education through personalized learning for all students.
The Institute @ CESA #1 was established to work with 45 member school districts on a unique regional approach to transform public education in Southeastern Wisconsin into a system that is student-centered and personalized for each learner.
Almost three years ago, a group of superintendents in CESA 1 (Southeaster Wisconsin) discussed the combination of tight money, schools being blamed for things out of their control, and accountability that didn’t seem to make a difference. They all agreed “there’s got to be a better way.”
Jim Rickabaugh explained, “It seems like we were dismantling the systems we were charged to protect and the children we were supposed to develop. We then started on a journey on what could be done with a system.”
Turning from victim to action – we have to save our system.
They did a lot of research and concluded:
“We wrote a white paper that laid out the arguments that gave us hope how a system can be redesigned instead of reform work tweaking the old system. Our initial inclination that the cavalry was not going to save us. The states are so tied to national accountability programs.”
Excerpts adapted from the Institute @ CESA #1 blog:
When significant changes are made to learning and teaching, the roles of students and teachers change. Organizations feel pressure as new ways of learning “bump up” against existing structures such as schedule, calendar, student groupings or grading practices. Stakeholders involved in personalized learning clamor for the flexibility necessary to truly transform public education into a student-centered environment. Conversations about changing existing structures then begin to take place.
These conversations may be difficult because changes to the status quo can be uncomfortable for those involved. However, because the models of innovation were fully explored and tested in the first two phases of change, a solid foundation has been laid. Those involved understand that structural changes are necessary in order to make the vision of getting learning right for all students a reality.
Generally it is after structural issues have been addressed that policies are changed, since the strength and purpose of policy is to stabilize a system and practices. In this last phase we will see an innovative system, fully transformed. To help frame the work, the Institute has developed a change strategy to guide our districts as they participate in the Personalized Learning Initiative, based on our honeycomb model. This strategy is based on change in three areas: learning and teaching, relationships and roles; and structures and policies, to be addressed in three subsequent phases.
The model started with the honeycomb system with a variety of iterations where they invited small teams, designed seminars, and developed informal coaching with rubrics and tools to think about the work. There were 3 waves. Wave 1 started with 10 projects. Each group pulled pieces of the model together to take partial parts of the honeycomb. They are now on Wave 3.
They created a virtual conference center for districts to collaborate around similar work, on demand video or audio conferencing, collaborative work on documents, face-to-face opportunities, and hosted convenings all around Personalized Learning.
Thank you Jim Rickabaugh! We will be following you and looking forward to sharing the stories from your region and the Institute @ CESA #1.
Professor Michael Wesch reboots after hearing advice that his teaching isn’t working. This article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed speaks to me and not only for higher ed.
How many of us reboot what we are doing when we realize we are going down the wrong road? We are all guilty of continuing down the same road because it is easier than changing. Educators in all grades have worked for years developing lessons that we believe teach the concepts they want their students to learn. If one lesson didn’t work, then another did. It takes a lot of work to start over — reboot.
What that means for many teachers is to change the way they teach. This means letting go and using technology. Both of these concepts are scary for many teachers. Some are almost ready for retirement and just don’t want to reboot now. Some are resistant because they don’t want to believe that what they are teaching isn’t working. Let’s rethink why we went into the teaching profession. It’s really not about us. It’s all about the learners. If we continue to teach like we did years ago, we not only leave many of our learners behind, we do them a disservice. They won’t be prepared for their future.
In the article, Professor Wesch realizes that students can use technology to search for wonder.
“At its best, Mr. Wesch believes that interactive technology—and other methods to create more active experiences in the classroom—can be used to forge that kind of relationship between teachers and students where professors nurture rather than talk down to students.
In one of his courses, he teamed up with students to produce an ethnography of YouTube users. The project helped the students feel more like collaborators because the technology allowed them to immediately publish their work online.”
What does that mean? Talk down to students? I don’t think teachers think they are talking down to students if they are lecturing, giving feedback or grading papers. When you teach something you love, you think that your enthusiasm will be enough to excite your students. Times are different. You’ve heard “times are a changing.” Well, the future is here now. If you give control to your students to drive their learning, that doesn’t mean you are not teaching effectively. Lectures and direct instruction is one way to present information, but are you losing your students?
I remember sitting for hours and hours staring at my teachers’ backs. I zoned out. I doodled. I knew there had to be a better way for students like me. I learn best by doing. Now more students are like me and have gone way beyond me. They are tweeting, texting, and googling while in class. Mr. Wesch writes about using these tools to engage students.
What if you set up a backchannel chat or Twitter group to give you instant feedback? Ask a student to help you do this? If you ask students to blog, don’t correct their spelling. This is a great space to journal and publish their thoughts. You can learn from their posts. This is still scary for some teachers. Are these teachers resistant or just obstinate? What if they really believe what they are doing is making a difference?
Ask your students! Give them a survey or ask for feedback on how you teach and how they learn. It’s not just about you or the content anymore. It’s about learners being prepared for a career, the type of job that they love or pays them enough so they can live comfortably, or gives them the opportunity to be an entrepreneur. There are some learners who just want to learn because they are excited about something — passionate and interested to learn. They may want to take amazing photographs or understand astronomy because they always wanted to know about the stars.
What do you wonder about?
Just imagine a day in your class that you encouraged wonder! Take 20% of your time to let go and reboot your teaching so students wonder about something they are passionate about. Encourage students to use technology and teach you. I wonder what will happen to your students. Let me know.