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Posts Tagged ‘education’

Wondering what’s next

March 8th, 2010

Ally and I have finished up our current round of data collection on the Teachers’ Work project, and are just trying to decide what might be next for us. We thought maybe we’d bring some of our questions and our thinking to this group to see if anyone else wanted to think alongside us.

When this project began, we were interested in how teachers made sense of their work, especially how teachers who were interested in 21C ideas made sense of it. We wanted to know how real teachers were thinking about what 21C education might be, how they were teaching in their schools, how they made sense of having ideas in the first place. We’ve done some of that, decided other bits were too big, and been confused and enlightened along the way. Now we’re trying to figure out what might be next for us.

We’re interested in the way that individual teachers make sense of their context and their aspirations for the future, and we’re interested in how that sensemaking actually shapes the context and what is possible for the future. We’re interested in how leaders shape their school contexts—and are shaped by them. We’re interested in where the power lies in the system—where the shifting thinking could be most useful, most likely to make a big change in the way kids experience teaching and learning.

The question for us now is: what’s the question for us now? We know that we have not found answers to this big question about leverage points, and we know that very many other things are already known about teachers and how they think and work and schools and why they are so hard to change. But given all that we know, what would be useful for us to explore together? What’s the key missing question?

Now, Ally and I enjoy theory enormously. But this is a practical undertaking we’re discussing here. We want a practical way to understand how schools can change, not a theoretical model of how change might possibly happen. Usually if you’re a researcher and you want to understand something practical, you need to go out and look at something. We’re not aware of schools that have really made it in this regard, schools that everyone knows have transformed teaching and learning so that younger people and older people (inside and outside the local school) experience a different kind of education. You readers might know about those schools, and might be able to say, School X has totally transformed. We’d like to hear from you about School X.

What we’re more familiar with, and we’re guessing you’re more familiar with, are schools that are trying to change. We could name dozens of schools with fantastic older and young people, who are trying to reshape the way teaching and learning and schooling happens. We know of communities where this is contentious, communities where this is invisible, communities where this is deeply supported. But all the ones we know would say that they’re on a journey, that 10% or 40% or 60% of the students/teachers/community members are on board. But we don’t know anyone who has arrived, and we don’t know anyone who isn’t fighting madly along the way.

So, if there are no models to say “this is where we’re going,” we can’t research those.  Indeed, what Ally and I think might be true is that we’re on a journey for which there is no “arrival,” no 100% on board.  We’re moving into an unknown future, trying to take a whole bunch of people who care a lot about schools along with us, and we don’t really know where we’re going. This makes for a tricky research question.

We wonder if you might help. We have an unresearchable question like: “How do you support yourself and others to move into an unknown future?” Now we wonder what questions you have about this whole topic that we might be able to engage with in order to figure out how we’re thinking about things and what we might do next. This is a question that needs a lot of heads thinking together for us to ask just the right question. Will you lend us your head, your questions?

Future focussed issues, Shifting research, Shifting schooling, Teachers' work , , , , , , , , ,

Educating for the 21st century – is this just about school?

November 23rd, 2009

Others have written about communities learning together and of the fluid and ever changing nature of communities. The point has been made that we need dialogue between different groups within the community, such as between people within what we currently call formal education and people in the wider community (parents, employers, etc). Others have highlighted the more permeable boundaries between the formal (usually in the context of schooling) and the informal (community-based, out of school experiences, etc) and the enriched opportunity to learn that when this occurs.

As I have mentioned in other blog entries I attended a symposium, Educating World Citizens for the 21st Century and I one thing I am left wondering about is why when we talk about educating for the 21st century the assumption commonly made is that the conversation is about the education of 5-17/18 year olds (being in the US the speakers all referred to K-12)? The title of the symposium didn’t suggest to me that attention would just be on these years. There was maybe a hint in the high level questions posed in the programme: “How can our educational system evolve to meet the challenges of the 21st century; and “How will we educate people to be compassionate, competent, ethical and engaged citizens in an increasingly complex and interconnected world? But, with the exception of references to the importance of learning in the very early years all the conversation focused on the systems of schools and schooling. Interestingly too there was only passing thought given to maybe re-thinking aspects of schooling. The conversation was mostly about how can we use the knowledge that we have from a variety of disciplines to improve the way we educate young people, mostly in terms of the curriculum we offer and the pedagogy we use. There was some acknowledgement that adults would need to learn new things, in this case the teachers who will need to take account of developing knowledge from neuroscience and psychology given that such knowledge could help improve the learning of their students.

Now of course we know how important learning is during the years of schooling but the very early years are also critical (with growing evidence that these years are even more important than we have realised) and the kind of education that supports learning post school; at work, and throughout life seem rather important too! We can, of course, hope that schools can be beacons ­ as many already are ­ of what 21st century learning might involve but to me it feels too narrow a window to be pinning all our hopes and attention in these years of life. Do we need a more spacious definition of “education system” so the default position isn’t just a focus on schools but takes account of the kind of “systems” we need at the various stages of life? Or, given that many are advocating more permeable boundaries between the so called “formal” and “informal” systems maybe we need new terminology so that we keep our conversation on education and learning and not on the “systems” of today?

Community engagement, Shifting schooling , , ,

21st Century teaching and social responsibility

April 30th, 2009

I had intended to look through some of the data from the Teachers Work project by now and see what I could find that either supported the dispositions Jennifer identified in her blog or suggested new ones. However – somehow the time has got away on me and I haven’t done that, not yet anyway!  I have been thinking hard though about another teachers’ work project I am involved in and as part of that thinking I have been re-reading “Learning as Transformation” (Jack Mezirow and Associates). One chapter in that book that particularly grabbed my attention is one by Laurent A Parks Daloz about Transformative learning for the common good. When I was reading that, it struck me that there might be similarities between C21st teachers and the individuals he describes who have committed their lives to the common good.

The reason for wondering about the connection is that when I have asked teachers (in various projects) about what they think the purpose of education is nearly all have said something that includes some ideas about producing citizens who contribute to society in some way. The NZ Curriculum also talks about students becoming “contributers to the well-being of NZ” , which I guess is hardly a surprising goal for a state funded education system. So it seems to me to be only a small step from this to expect teachers to be driven at least to some extent by a sense of social responsibility. However, social responsibility through a 21st Century lens might look quite different from social responsibility through a 20th Century lens for example. For Parks Deloz a commitment to the common good is not a final product but a “stance of openness to necessary and on-going dialogue with those who differ or may not yet be full participants on the commons”. This sounded 21st Centuryish to me!

He also defines social responsibility as the capacity to identify one’s own self with the well-being of others. He says that we all have the potential to reflect on the formation of our own selves and through that develop a larger sense of self that identifies with all people and ultimately with all life , but whether or not we do that depends on the particular conditions of our lives. In their study on people who had committed their lives to the common good Parks Daloz and colleagues found that these people  had at least some of these key characteristics in common – they felt recognised and valued as children, they had at least one parent who was socially engaged, they grew up in diverse communities and they were mentored. What all had in common was what he describes as a “constructive engagement with otherness” ie  a significant relationship with someone who was in some way different. The important thing about the relationship was that both the differences and the similarities were acknowledged and the interplay between them. Anyway this is all a very long way of wondering whether any of those characteristics would resonate with teachers in this study? (I don’t think we have currently got data that would shed any light on that but perhaps some of the participants in the study might reply!) Are there particular life experiences that contribute particularly to producing 21st Century teaching dispositions? If there are can we replicate them (or at least their essence) in some way for others? What is the role of diversity/ otherness (I’m not sure what term to use) and our orientation to it in 21st Century education? The more I think about this, the more confused I get! (Perhaps if we muddy the water enough, Jennifer, we can ask the fish what water looks like!)

Teachers' work , , , , ,

Books that have shifted m(y)our thinking

April 5th, 2009

Years ago at NZCER we used to have lunchtime forums every now and again where we’d each talk about books we’d read, and why we liked them. It was awesome, and a great way to find out about titles you hadn’t heard of (also: knowing that they had been pre-read by a colleague meant there was a filtering-out of dross!)

Like many of my colleagues, I tend to get quite excited when I read something interesting. I go around telling people about it and recommending they read it too “so we can discuss it!”.  I’ve picked up a few really interesting non-fiction books in the last six months that I’ve been “pushing” others to read. One is Here comes everybody: the power of organizing without organizations by Clay Shirky. There’s so many ideas packed into this book that it’s hard to condense into a short summary – but in short, Shirky’s book is one of those great books that provokes us to do a whole lot of re-thinking about the nature of society in the 21st century, specifically, due to the impacts of networked technologies. (I’ve passed the book on to a team member, otherwise I’d grab it and try to put together a few notes for you here).

What I like about authors like Shirky and Malcolm Gladwell (author of some other favourite books of mine: The Tipping Point and Blink, plus Outliers which I haven’t read yet) is the way they carry you along through a page-turning blend of stories and theory. These are the kinds of books that “shift my thinking” and help me to suddenly look at familiar problems and situations in new ways. (For example, we’ve used a few ideas from Shirky’s book in our recent shiftingthinking.org development team meetings, to help us figure out what we want this site to do, and how we can engage other people  in working through and developing ideas in this space about learning and education in the 21st century).

Another book, Everything bad is good for you, by Steven Johnson, gave me a whole bunch of ideas about how our minds engage with popular culture – and these ideas are sitting subversively beneath my comment on Jim’s blog here. (Read his response here)**.

As a educational researcher I spend a lot of time reading “education” books and articles, and while this is obviously really important, I think that the most interesting ideas I’ve picked up from books tend to come from authors writing in other fields, like those I’ve mentioned above – because when I read them, I have to think really hard about “well, what does all this mean for education”? I’ve had some really interesting discussions over the years with various teachers and principals (and other researchers, of course) who also like reading and sharing good books, so I know there are others out there just waiting for the chance to share THEIR recommended reads so we can discuss them.

So – what have you read that’s provoked your thinking? What were its implications for thinking about education in the 21st century? What questions did it raise in your mind? Finally, where can we get a copy so we can also read it and discuss it with you here? Please post your comments!!

**As an aside, Steven Johnson’s book also made me feel totally legitimized for my lifetime’s dedication to watching television.

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Shakespeare for my birthday

February 25th, 2009

I’ve just been given the Complete Works of Shakespeare for my 40th birthday (along with a bottle of whiskey, a magnificent stainless steel coffee plunger, a second-hand TV and DVD player, and I won’t go on…) which has got me thinking (again, in the light of recent media headlines) about the Bard of Avon, this long dead bourgeois Englishman whose oeuvre has become a secular bible in the West (and to a certain extent an instrument of oppression and cultural demolition – though that’s not his fault!). And I’ve begun thinking about my twenty-five year relationship to his plays and poems.

Where did this relationship begin? If you believe the (popularly) critically acclaimed study by Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: the inventor of the human, Shakespeare’s texts had a key role in constructing my personality before I was born. I was born into the world Shakespeare had a large part in creating. Bloom claims that Shakespeare constructed through his characters, most notably Falstaff and Hamlet, the blueprint for the human personality, that Shakespeare expanded and defined the possibilities of personality and character, and drew attention to all the facets and shades of personality we value as a society. In other words, he showed us how to be – whether or not each one us has experienced one of the plays directly. It’s a bold claim and theoretically unfashionable in its claims of universals which include the placement of Shakespeare at the top of a canon – and not only of Western literature but of world literature.

Perhaps a good place to start (though still problematic) is with the question: what’s so good about Shakespeare? Bloom, like others before him, points to the ‘unparalleled range’ of Shakespeare’s characters and the ‘incomparable vitality’ of his writing. People have objections to making comparisons and some people object to Shakespeare (Tolstoy being a famous example), but if you’re prepared to address the question of who has the greatest range of characterisation in literature, there aren’t many convincing arguments against him. Is characterisation important, or the most important aspect of literature? Again, it’s hard to argue (if you’re prepared to) against such an assertion (in the ‘realist’ tradition). It seems to be fairly widely accepted these days in creative writing classes, for example, that character is the engine of literature. Another aspect of Shakespeare that seems unsurpassable is the variety of interpretations that can be brought to his plays. When I first studied English Lit at Victoria University, The Taming of the Shrew was banned for being offensive to women; however, Bloom reads the play as proof of the superiority of women over men in the ‘battle of the sexes’. He insists that Katherina genuinely loves Petruchio; she learns how to control him by simply pretending to agree with him, and her famous submissive speech at the end of the play is obviously ironical and comical. Bloom says (paraphrasing Auden) that our interpretations show how Shakespeare reads us.

Where do I, a contemporary reader, come into this? (other than being born into it…) I first held a play by Shakespeare in my hand at Newlands College, in English class in year 10 or 11. I had seen or heard only fragments of his plays at that time, enough to know that the language was hard to follow. However, in English class, with the text in my hand, I knew I could go slowly and concentrate and engage with this mythical figure.

This introduction to Shakespeare is one of three lonely memories of class work from school which I still carry with me to this day. I remember the room and where I was sitting with unusual clarity (at the back left). Our teacher, a black woman from Guyana, had a cardboard box from which she produced small, light blue books, hard covered, durable and old.  I took the tough little book and opened it with a rare feeling of significance. It was almost momentous: my first one-on-one meeting with the greatest writer ever (which seemed to spill into ‘greatest human’, somehow) – which was how everyone had described him on TV and radio and in books and in conversation for as long as I could remember. People and the media talked about other people as well, of course, but Shakespeare was unique in the unanimous reverence he attracted. He occupied a special place in the culture. So, I opened the blue book Mrs Williams gave me and found… people talking – oddly. They spoke gracefully, powerfully, intelligently, incomprehensibly. No light illuminated my mind. The class didn’t stir from its usual apathy. Memory over.

You may be wondering if I was I happy to get The Complete Works for my birthday, whether I threw it out the window with a cry of rage; whether I immediately put it on a prominent place in the bookshelf, next to the bible, where it will remain unopened but noticed; or if I opened the book at random, found someone talking in Romeo and Juliet  – and my jaw dropped open in surprise.

A person begins engaging with the world Shakespeare helped create long before they get into year 11 or 12 – on a day when a certain tension creeps into their teacher’s voice… Whether or not ‘axing’ Shakespeare is only a media beat-up, I find myself worried about the creation of special schools which are selectively excluded from looking at such a pervasive and unique cultural figure. The students will know they’ve been marginalised. They’ll know they’ve been picked out, identified as being unable or unwilling to engage with the highest (or thereabouts) level of Western art. To paraphrase Bloom, they’ll be told they’re not worthy of being read by Shakespeare.

Is Bloom overstating Shakespeare’s influence here? (Plato comes to mind as another secular figure to whom similar seminal cultural influence is attributed.) I’d love to hear about young peoples’ attitudes to this cultural behemoth we call Shakespeare – before and after they study him.

Shifting literacies , , , , , ,

Shifting schooling

February 10th, 2009

I have been thinking recently about why educational change is so difficult.

Many of the so called C21st education ideas have been around for a long time in different forms and yet little seems to really change, despite the enthusiasm and energy of many educators. Recently I have been involved with a research project that looked at how a group of teachers at a local primary school responded to the opportunity to think about knowledge, learning and education in different ways. At the end of this project the teachers said that they had found thinking about the “big picture” of education satisfying even though they had all experienced times of discomfort and confusion. In relation to their practice, all the teachers said that they wanted to relinquish some of their power and control to the students but that they would find this hard even though they really wanted to do it.

The experience of these teachers reminded me of another teacher I used to meet with regularly. She was attempting to develop a classroom environment that was driven by the interests and needs of her five year old students. She wanted the students to be involved in decisions about their learning and to emphasise thinking. This teacher was convinced that her previous practice had not been effective and the principal had given her full support (and extra resources) to try something different and more responsive to what she believed were these children’s needs. Despite this support and the teacher’s belief that “more of the same” was not going to be helpful for these children, she constantly doubted herself as she deviated from what was considered “good practice” in a junior classroom.

As I thought about these teachers and their struggles to do something different from the norm I thought about my own children and my response to their educational experiences and I realised that when I’m talking to them about what happens at school I tend to fall back to some default position based, I suppose, on my own schooling. Suddenly the results of formal assessments become more important than the process of learning! My ideas about what really matters in education and what needs to change suddenly disappear out the window!

It seems to me that perhaps ideas about what a traditionally “good education” really is, and what matters, are more engrained in me than I like to admit. (I wonder if this is the same for others). I know the current system is not adequately preparing young people for their future but I still don’t have a clear idea of what counts as powerful knowledge now. I want my children to have access to whatever it is they want to do or be, but without a clear idea of what knowledge will open those doorways for my children, I fall back on the knowledge my parents (and grandparents) valued.

We talk a lot about the skills, dispositions and attitudes that students might need for the future but what “stuff” do they need to know? What is powerful knowledge for the 21st century? If we were surer about this, would we be more open to think and behave differently?

Shifting schooling ,