Relationship, Relationship

Generating, as my high school cooperating teacher called it, “a kid friendly vibe” was my major concern going into student teaching. Having worked with emotionally disturbed students, deaf students, and other special needs groups – often small groups – I worried I might not have the skills to connect with a normal kid. Turns out I was wrong.

Whether I was wrong about my ability to connect or that there might exist a normal kid I am still not sure. Every student I come into contact with has such a rich palate of interests and motivations that I am considering, not for the first time, removing normal from my vocabulary. Not only am I reconsidering normalcy as a non-starter for student evaluation, I am realizing my quirky humor and interest in their lives resonates with the kids.

Relationship, relationship, relationship.

This mantra has been repeated to me over and over. I am not sure what the big deal is? It seems so easy to develop a positive relationship with students. Now there are the few students who I have yet to reach in my current placement. Using the pictorial attendance sheet I marked kids I knew something non-academic about with different colors of pen. The pictures without marker are fairly few but I now know who to talk to over the next week, or run into during track practice, or catch at the library.

Meeting the kids in their comfort zone, their place, makes a difference. This is one of the reasons I use social networks. With my classroom blog, youtube channel, facebook page (not profile), and other social media outlets I think I can show the kids I can live where

they live. Just like connecting with a student over a game of basketball or comparing books read, this is one more way I can build – err – relationship.

Because I’m Brown…

This morning I had my first taste of a student using racism to deflect personal responsibility. The exact phrase said was, “Just because I’m brown…” My first reaction was shock, possibly the intention.¬†Through a conversation I learned that the student was trying to reshuffle responsibility for not following directions. During this conversation I made it very apparent that if they were dealing with racism or perceptions of racism they could speak with me, the counselor, or the regular teacher. Towards the end I explained how in any interactions there may be unintentional racist or oppresive behaviors and that I need to know if I was doing something along those lines. After ascertaining that nothing discriminatory had occured – intentionally or unintentionally – we went back into the classroom but the conversation has stuck with me.

I am frustrated that a student pulled the racial card.

I am feeling hurt.

I am inspired.

When a student does something like this I worry about how they are degrading themselves, their culture, the classroom, and the community. Do they truly believe this? If students discriminate against one another, or degrade themselves or others they might be surprised with how I respond. This will not be a lightly or dismissively handled subject. I will react strongly. And we will have several conversations. Hopefully we can work together as learners and scholars to understand and value tolerance. Secondly I hope they will – regardless of their opinion – understand how deeply I care about them.

This is a little hot for me still so I will probably revisit racism in the classroom again in the future.

Blended Learning – Article

This summer at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) I will present on my experience blending virtual learning with real world classes. As with anything like this I have been scouring resources that might help me in improving my success rate. This weeks ASCD SmartBrief included an article from eSchool News that included an interview with Michael B. Horn, the co-founder of Innosight Institute. The institute recently published a white paper on blended learning which I have been reading.

One of the things they predict is that 50% of all high school courses will be delivered online by 2019. At first I thought the number was a little high but after taking some time to read the article and imagine the continued increase in full-time virtual schools, online classes as a replacement for courses schools can no longer afford to offer due to budget cuts, home schooling, and finally blending learning environments the number seemed fair. Educational technologies will allow this to occur as long as the policies set in place support this mode of learning currently.

The most interesting facet of the white paper in my opinion was the description of current models. According to the models described I am definitely following the Face-to-Face Driver for my current curricular designs. I have taken both “Flex” and “Rotational” style courses, finding them effective is somewhat messy. The ones I struggle with are the “Online Lab” model and the “Self-Blend.” Both require a level of self motivation of the student’s part that I do not always see. Incorporating some kind of check in and humanization to courses following these models is essential to supporting the students I see in high school. While many students have the focus and determination to follow through on their own, others may fall through the cracks if this is the sole model offered by a school in my opinion.

The white paper goes on to describe the policy decisions that need to occur for blended learning models to thrive. I see many of these decisions being held hostage by unions and school boards – unsure as to what move to make. This stagnation is what I see as the true danger to education in general and blended learning specifically. Despite the dangers many school are embracing the policy changes, negotiation with teacher unions to find common ground, and experimenting with blended learning.

In the Portland, Oregon area there are several schools playing with all the models. Fighting through the red tape and technological limitations of their current system in order to become the dynamic schools needed for a 21st century educational institution. Programs like Moshi Moshi, Hola Hola, run by the Portland Public Schools use internet and television broadcast to help children in learning and acquiring new language/culture. Portland State University offers a high school independent study program in self paced courses through the web. Teachers in the Portland public and private schools are also blending their traditional curriculum in simple and complex ways – everything from class blogs to full class management systems where the teachers design online courses – supporting students both in a brick-and-mortar classroom and via the virtual learning environment.

In the end I hope the predictions comes true as I would enjoy working in the educational system described. To that end, wherever I am hired to teach, I will promote and encourage innovation in blending online and classroom learning opportunities. On a side note – anyone with additional articles or thoughts – I would love to hear them.

Learning and Knowledge Analytics ’11

As part of the MOOC – Learning and Knowledge Analytics ’11 (LAK11) I re-watched Barry Schwartz: Using Our Practical Wisdom. While data teams and knowledge analytics and everything else we are doing help inform our decisions about teaching and learning opportunities I have to agree with Mr. Schwartz regarding the importance of developing practical wisdom. Despite our interest in creating rules and structure we also need to be flexible enough to meet the needs of people, not data.

I especially liked his metaphor of rules as notes on a jazz musician’s page. The musician starts there but knows when to bend the rules, improvise, and does these in view of the right goals. Unfortunately the will to do this as a society may be lacking right now due to recent events. The flexibility this provides also leaves people the opportunity to take advantage of in a negative way as well as the positive.

Check the link if you have time.