Working ourselves out of a job

Out of all the discussions around the purpose of school and the goal of education, no one argues that the idea of developing "life long learners" is critical. Some use the phrase in mission statements, others emphasize it less but I don't know anyone who doesn't value that concept. 

Yet we do very little to achieve that goal. 

One of my favorite moments over the past several years was having a teacher write me about some of the changes she was making in her classroom. She described a shift of handing the reigns of learning over to students and moving from doing everything to as she put it:

Talk about engaged learning. I could be sitting at the back quilting!! They are helping each other, going above and beyond any expectations I have.

Of course she didn't sit at that back of the room quilting, but it does illustrate that her role as teacher at the front, in control of the learning had shifted. There are many new roles she will now have to embrace. I think there are some similarities for all types of classrooms but in particular I've been wondering how the gradual release of responsibility should look in our K-12 schools. In many cases, students have more freedom and control of learning in our Kindergarten classes than in our Grade 12 classrooms. That's both odd and disturbing. 

As parents, I would hope that our goal is to help increase independence and self sufficiency as our children get older. When they're 3 we hold their hand as we cross the street, talk to them about traffic, how to look both ways, etc. At 5-6 we might stand at a safe distance and watch them practice and cross the street on less busy sections. Hopefully by the time they are 8-10 they can do this on their own. We repeat this gradual release of responsibility in many facets of parenting. Certainly this varies depending on your parenting style, beliefs and disposition, but in general, all parents are trying to get their kids to be relatively independent adults by the time they reach 18ish. 

Yet our schools can't seem to get this for the most part. Instead of giving students more control and independence in many ways we decrease it. Sure in our high schools we offer electives but beyond that, there's very little intention about helping students become these life long learners we talk about. Part of this issue is the antiquated structure of high schools. At least in K-8 environments, teachers have the ability to reduce the impact of time which allows for the potential of project based learning, which at its core and at its best is student driven. I'm still amazed at the "rigor" around assignment choice at the high school level. Too often there is little room for choice or option. We even take away their cell phones in order to maintain control. I'm astonished at the unwillingness to even engage students in a process of decision making. Couldn't we at the very least have a conversation with students? Students leave high school without being true independent learners. As Stephen Downes says:

We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves. It is time, in other words, that we change out attitude toward learning and the educational system in general.

We're not having enough conversations around this idea. Partly because I don't think enough educators even believe this. Our institutions, our jobs have been designed to maintain that status quo. The status quo for schools is, "come here, listen to us, mind your own business, do what we tell you and we'll give you a diploma". That's the current deal. It's largely our structure that maintains this but what we often see as our best results are continuing to feed this system.

I see many of these same students enter university. These are the best students, the ones who were most compliant (that's another issue but related) and high achievers. Many of these students are still highly dependent on a teacher to learn. Too many still don't own their learning. Besides a lack of choice, we've made them dependent on grades as well. if we truly believe in life long learning we have to be much more diligent in emphasizing learning for learning's sake, not for a grade. My experience tells me there is very little that happens in school that makes this message clear. Just like parenting, we all go through the anxiety of allowing our children to choose, allowing them to fail and allowing them to feel success and discovery on their own. 

As a parent of four, I know I'll always be a parent. In that respect, I'm not really working myself out of a job.  But my role has to change somewhat. My influence changes as does the relationship. Instead of helping them cross the street, I'm advising them on buying a car. 

So what should and could and are we doing to develop life long, independent learners? What does gradual release of responsibility look like in our K-12 schools? Maybe we are doing something about it, I'm just not seeing it.

Photo: by shareski


A Portal Page

While this remains my primary place of learning and contact, the fact that we continue to play and learn in other spaces makes the idea of a home or portal more important.

Last year I purchased but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. For a while I used it as a place to try and sell our house. This weekend I went ahead and built a portal page much like you see at I see Ian Hecht created one as well.

I’m not totally sure how this will play out, whether this will actually impact my identity or simply be something I use to point folks to when they want more than my blog. The simple idea of owning my personal domain name seems like something more people should be doing.

Anyone else explored this concept and figured it out?

My hometown

mapInspired by Doug Peterson, who was inpsired by ZeFrank that then inspired Stephen Downes and others I’ve created a little video of my life growing up in Morden, Manitoba. ¬†Thanks to the every growing database of Google Streetview, it’s now reaching even small towns like the one I grew up in.

This one’s mostly for me. Yet, it’s been interesting to learn about other’s experiences growing up. Lots of similarities largely due to a very different attitude toward safety and community. (By the way, I recall a blog post/website a few months back where someone detailed the changes in how far kids are allowed to roam from home, if anyone knows it please leave a link)

Besides the content, the use of Google Maps/Streetview as storytelling tools is largely underused as Alan Levine has said a number of times. Watching Jim Groom’s video, was like literally like going for a walk with him.

I created this with about 3 Jing movies stitched together and then uploaded to blip and youtube. One take. No rehearsal or editing, other than adding a title and one image I had handy. It lacks polish but most of our stories aren’t rehearsed, they’re spontaneous accounts of memory. I’m not advocating for us not to edit and craft our stories but we need to have room for many kinds of stories, some polished and edited to death and some a little rough around the edges. Bottom line is we need more stories about significant experiences. Google maps and street view is powerful tool for that. I for one would be happy to take a walk with people sharing significant stories about places that have meaning.

Here’s mine.

What’sWhere’s your story?

Are We Text Snobs?

This post will be double posted to the tech learning blog shortly.

Schools are text snobs. Most people reading this are text snobs. Our institutions are built around the written word. That in itself is not bad and we owe much of our culture, knowledge and understanding to the written word. It’s not our fault, we’ve been living in a world that up until a few years ago, only offered us to easily produce content via the written word. But like the revolution of the printing press, we are in the midst of a revolution of a digital nature that’s allowing us to easily create and consume context in many different forms, specifically audio, video and imagery.

So what are our schools doing to address this? I’d say for the most part very little. I must say I’m please to note that many curricula, are beginning to address this gap. In fact my own Saskatchewan Curriculum identifies these six strands as the cornerstone of the English Language Arts Curriculum: Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening and Viewing and Representing. All are considered equal but take a wild guess as to which ones receive the bulk of the attention? No doubt that many standardized tests and assessments focus solely on reading and writing and thus perpetuate the lack of attention on the other four. But even those who are building vast digital footprints and experience the power of publishing and connecting are doing so mostly via text. Believe me, I don’t want to discount its importance and value. Writing and the written word will always hold a prominent place in our understanding and experience of life but I’m concerned over the limited use of video, audio and even imagery among teachers and leaders in our schools and in particular those who have created and are developing an online presence.

(This post continues with the following video)

(And now some audio)

In general, schools have placed writing ahead of other forms of expression. Writing is what is measured and what is valued. As we consider the changing of the guard of modern communication.  The recent marketing ploy by the Australian government to find someone to be the caretaker of an island illustrates the shifting of communication skills. Instead of simply asking applicants to write an essay, they were to submit a video to sell themselves. Consider this quote by Stephen Downes.

OK, these are videos for that contest to live on an Australian island (the contest was probably the public relations coup of the year). They are, of course, creative and imaginative and effective. Now for the kicker: ten years ago, not one student in a hundred, nay, one in a thousand, could have produced videos like this. It’s a whole new skill, a vital and important skill, and one utterly necessary not simply from the perspective of creating but also of comprehending video communication today. Some people out there

Marco Torres get a great deal of credit and is seen as an extraordinary educator. Not that he isn’t but part of the reason Torres gets the attention is the fact that very few teachers/schools allow students to create and express themselves with video. I’d love for this to change. We need more Marco Torres’. The challenge is that most teachers who have developed their online presence is largely because of their ability to write. This continues the bias towards text over other mediums. We need kids that can write, tell a story, engage in a coherent, interesting conversation and tell stories with still and moving images. Shouldn’t we be modeling this? Who’s going to teach them?

THIS is a 21st Century Skill

I’ve struggled with the term 21st Century skill since many of these skills have been around for a long time. It’s not a discussion I’m passionate about but sometimes I’m struck but the clarity of a skill that is clearly new to this century.

Video is indeed a 21st century skill. Take the recent contest for the Best Job in the World. Applicants were charged with creating a one minute video as their application. The ones highlighted on Presentation Zen are impressive. But Stephen Downes nails it,

They are, of course, creative and imaginative and effective. Now for the kicker: ten years ago, not one student in a hundred, nay, one in a thousand, could have produced videos like this. It’s a whole new skill, a vital and important skill, and one utterly necessary not simply from the perspective of creating but also of comprehending video communication today. Some people out there argue that such skills (a) are old hat, and (b) not worth teaching. The world is passing such critics by, and they should not be heeded.

Our schools need to re-evaluate how much time we spend on print alone and start broadening our focus. Joe Brennan, among others, does a great job connecting the dots between writing and video. Unfortunately, most of our educators have difficulty understanding the value and nuances of creating and viewing effective video. Even more unfortunate are those who think of video as faddish or no different than teaching writing. While there are similarities, there are enough differences that it requires teacher training to make it as required as learning how to teach writing.¬† I’ve been using video in the classroom and making movies for the past 10 years and I know I’m far from being an expert. 95% of our teachers I’m guessing know less than I do.

How long will it be until employers will ask applicants to submit a video? Not just for unique and quirky jobs like an Australian tourism promoter but for teachers, lawyers, managers. Any job that features communication as a primary skill, will ask future employees to present themselves in this way.

Here’s my favourite from the contest. A Canadian of course.

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