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Some of my followers on twitter might have noticed that I’ve been a little noisier recently. Not only am I tweeting more often, I am tweeting about a wider variety of topics. It is only recently that I have begun to tweet about the multiverse, or concussions or the Qing Dynasty. Those who have followed me for a while might have been expecting this-it’s March/April and that means its student blogging time. Below is a list of student bloggers and their topics. We are all hoping that people from beyond our classroom will engage us in public discourse. Just by selecting 1 or 2 students, you can enrich the experience for all of them. There are 3 ways you can help:
1) Follow a student below on twitter and engage them there. Answer their questions, point them to resources, challenge their thinking, suggest others to follow that share their interest. Show them the power of twitter beyond retweeting a request “to show the power of twitter” or “how far a tweet can go”
2) Read their blogs and leave a comment. Answer their questions, challenge their thinking or assumptions, encourage or suggest further reading sources.
3) The easiest way to help is to retweet their tweets that I share. You can at least do that…generate a little noise to help a student reach a larger or more receptive audience than I can.
Join in a discussion- teach and learn- the noise will only last a little while…ride it out.
Blog topics and URLS:
- Effects of Birth Order
- Fast food
- Should animals be kept in Zoos?
- Gay marriage
- Impact of Technology
- The Multiverse Theory
- The Limits of Technology
- Conjoined Twins
Blog: WordPress: jprobability.wordpress.com
- Qing Dynasty
- Texting while Driving
- Counterfeit Medicine
- Systems of Government
Hopefully one or teo topics interest you.
Often in history class, students are asked to rank causes or results of an event in order of importance; this kind of laddering causes the students to engage the material and aids understanding, retention, and helps develop their critical reasoning skills. Inevitability, when asked which is the most important reason or cause, the majority of answers posit why a particular reason is important, but rarely do they address why it is the most important? Why is it more important that the other reasons. This is a comparative question and much more complex; thus ignored! We have a very similar tendency with pedagogical strategies.
Every workshop i have ever gone to or book on teaching I have ever read has done 1 of 2 things. The work shop, like the grade 8 history student, explains all the advantages of their teaching strategy or outlook without ever arguing why it is better or advantageous over the approach that is currently being used. Because no comparison is ever presented, teachers are rarely convinced by the presentation; however, they are typically instructed to adopt the new approach anyways. Teacher’s don’t have to be convinced if they can be compelled…”progress” continues.
If this doesn’t happen, then the rare comparison is made; however, this is little better. A strawman of the current approach is typically used and, as expected, easy to dismiss as ineffective, by the presenter. Teachers, even if unconvinced, are given the vocabulary to pay lip service to a new approach, even if they remain unconvinced.
Since pedagogies are never compared, they are never permanently dismissed; they are free to be repackaged and presented at a later date in the name of student improvement (or profit…or promotion). Experienced teachers often complain about the cycles of change within the profession. They argue that they have seen approaches before, come and go, only to return again. The names change, the pedagogical approaches recycle. Because we never argue comparatively, concepts in education are free to come back; all offer some advantages; all have some degree of success and research behind them.
This cycle produces some obvious negative consequences. One of course is teacher’s buildup resentment to change in technique, but more importantly, our growth as a profession is hampered, and our ability to instruct students is stagnant.
About 7 years ago, our discussions in Ontario were around differentiation and teaching to student’s unique needs, styles, levels, etc. Taking students as they are and working from there-we called it student centered. It had a lot of advantages. Then, within Student Centered Learning, a concept called Inquiry Based Learning began to be developed. At first, it was a strategy to help deliver Student Centered Instruction-it was part of an overall strategy. It had many advantages. Over the last 5 years, our language has changed; Inquiry Based Instruction has taken over the discussion-it’s being presented as having many advantage; however, sadly, we haven’t convincingly argued why it is better than the more robust and divergent approach of Student Centered Learning.
I have argued in an earlier post (https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/is-inquiry-based-learning-student-focused/) that inquiry can’t work for students like my son. I have hinted that this will impair our ability to follow an integration mandate for special education students. Even though my son may represent an extreme case, he represents the possibility that an Inquiry Instruction method might not work for all students. We must ask, “who else wont it work for?” “how many?” Not only will he, and very likely others, fail to achieve the curriculum in this model of instruction, it will make integration for him and his classmates unsuccessful. It will keep him from his neurologically typical peers.
It is time for us to stop the cycle of education reform. We must compare the relative advantages and disadvantages between pedagogical approaches. We must answer which is a better system; is it better to have inquiry as a possible option or part of a Student Centered Approach, or is Inquiry so powerful, it should be adopted beyond all other approaches? One day, we might go through the 182 teaching strategies found in the ministry document housed here: (http://faculty.nipissingu.ca/darleneb/Relevant_links_docs/telrsta2002.pdf) and order them by overall effectiveness. Then we can end the “cycle of change” and start a “cycle of improving” in its place.
There’s a great episode of the Simpsons…sorry, let me start again: ONE of the great episodes of the Simpsons has Lisa talking to Homer:
Lisa: Dad, do you know that the Chinese have the same word for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity?”
Homer: Yes! Cris-o-tunity!
Well, students are finding themselves in the middle of a crisis/opportunity this school year in Ontario. With the cancellation or the eminent cancellation of extra-curricular activities, students are faced with a decision: whether to lament their fate and wallow in their misery, or whether they should develop their own extra-curricular without teacher involvement.
The students at my school have decided to go it alone. They have begun to organise their own activities and organizations. It’s a little messier, there’s been some mistakes, and there’s been some disagreements; however, they have still succeeded brilliantly. They have made organic, democratic, and engaging opportunities for themselves and each other.
Within days of the full realisation that clubs and teams are at least on hold, a couple of students organised a soccer league to operate at recess when there is already supervision. They have organised the equipment, teams, a tournament structure, they have refs, and it seems to be going quite well. It takes a little more time for them to organise at the start of each game as they are less use to submitting authority to each other, but once the game starts, it has been flawless.
Another group tried to re-create the cross country team. Unfortunately, school insurance issues and a desire to hold before and after school practises seems to have stalled this initiative. When you’re learning, you won’t always be successful…unless learning is the goal of course.
The final student organization so far is the student council. The grade eights came together and decided on the form of the council and hosted their own elections. Currently, they are organizing the Halloween dance. Their arguments were messy but so very real and democratic…its been very interesting to watch…I wonder if, should the labour dispute be resolved and extra-curricular are restored by teachers, whether this group will want a teacher at that point.
They have become leaders…not just filling in the spaces that teachers created for them, but they have made the spaces themselves this time. They have taken it all on, not just the little bits we typically leave them.
I wish I could say I was proud of them; however, I have had nothing to do with it and this seems patronizing to me….I can say that I am very impressed.
The definition of critical thinking is currently changing. Under the likes of Garfield Gini-Newman and the Critical Thinking Consortium, critical thinking is being redefined as a kind of criteria based thinking. I’m not overly concerned by such a revision; it happens in education all the time, and I find the skill they are advocating good as a teaching strategy and useful as a learning strategy. I think that to include their version of critical thinking in our practice is a useful and powerful tool; however, I consider it to be criteria based thinking or analytical thinking—of which critical thinking is a subset.
When it comes to critical thinking, I prefer the older definition(s): reductio ad absurdum; Occam’s razor; pointing out or challenging the weak points; looking for fallacy or other logical error; challenging the validity of the argument, or the soundness of the conclusion. I like the seemingly adversarial process that is the backbone of our legal system, academic process, the scientific method, and auto mechanics. Critical thinking is hard to do and isn’t popular (just ask Socrates) but is essential—I want my mechanic to look for weakness, to doubt, to check, test, and expose every assumption—I want my students to do that too.
In class, my students were recently presented with an engaging and persuasive presentation. We then deconstructed it looking for weaknesses and trying to generalize what we did into strategies. We also played Noreena Hertz presentation on “How to use Experts” from ted.com to help give us ideas of how to be critical or questioning. Below is the list of strategies that we came up and discussed in class. Its not a complete list; it doesn’t discuss fallacies or other strategies, but it does present some readily available ways to challenge presented information. We haven’t finished of course, and there are many possible strategies and tools that are missing (like logical fallacies) but it was a very good start.
Also missing below, was our attempt to take Noreena Hertz’s advice and pre-arm ourselves with predetermined questions that can challenge an expert even in fields where we might know little (like our doctor, teacher, or mechanic); hopefully, one of my students will add such a list in the comments.
How to be Critical:
Described in class were several related strategies to help guide your critical analysis when confronted by new information/presentations/articles/experts/life. As Noreena Hertz indicates, the best way is not to surrender your capacity to think; don’t surrender your obligation to figure out and understand; don’t surrender uncertainty for the allure of false certainty. As Voltaire might say, “be the Good Brahman not the Old Woman.” Basically, it requires work on your part.
- Apply what you know: While it is desirable to be open to new information, that does not mean we should ignore what we already know/think. We should use it to weigh new information and ideas. How do they stack up to what we already know? Which is more reliable? Should I reject what I already believed, should I reject what I am being presented, or should I combine the 2 perspectives into a more robust understanding?
- Analyze dichotomies: When presented with a black and white picture or a dichotomous analysis (you’re either with us or against us), challenge it! It is usually used as a simplification and you might understand it differently. Is there another way to characterize the disagreement or schema?
- Fact check: When you are given factual information, it can be falsified or verified. Check the Net; check another expert or article or presentation; ask other people like parents or teachers; dig deep! You might find that people misrepresent facts; you might find that “facts” are often conclusions—there might be other ways to conclude that disagree with the source you are analyzing.
- Use analytic tools: When confronted with information in fields you don’t know much about, apply universal tools. Data management skills help. Remember the bell curve—valid data (good source, valid test, well plotted) always produces a bell curve. Look for the standard deviation—how correlated is the data? Are they talking about a correlation or causality? Do they confuse the 2? Do they use an anecdote or analogy instead of data?
- Explore other possibilities: What did they do? What else could they have done? Why didn’t they?
- When given an invitation to think, do it! When a presentation offers you a rhetorical question, take them up on it. Take the opportunity to think! What are they saying-how else might you answer that question besides the way they want you to?
- Be willing to take them on: Take the time to pause and consider. Without this, you won’t be able to apply the strategies. Make them explain; make them take the time to answer your questions: push them to be clearer. Be willing to come back with more questions later.
- Be ready! Have a ready bank of questions that you can ask in a variety of situations to use when they are needed:
There’s a lot of talk out there on the Twitterverse, and other digital places, to the effect that teachers have to use technology. This statement is either painfully obvious or a complete hyperbole. If the term “technology” is being used appropriately, then the statement is painfully obvious; chairs, lighting, the alphabet, clothes, and deodorant at all technologies that a teacher really needs to use in the course of a school day.
I think, however, people are generally referring to digital technology and some web 2.0 / SM tools. This of course is a complete hyperbole. This position is supported by such statements as: teachers can no longer afford to ignore tech (sic); or it’s insane to
ignore tech (sic); or teacher’s who are uncomfortable with tech (sic) are doing such a disservice to their students that they should retire or be forced out of the profession (this one’s paraphrased). These statements are fairly common on such micro-blogging sites like Twitter. To these statements and others like them, I’d like to say in very general terms, “calm down, relax, and be reasonable.”
Calm down: I really like digital technology and SM but it’s still not everyone’s focus. 20% of Canadians don’t even have internet connection, Twitter is used by just 3% of the world’s population and a mere 50,000 individuals account for 50 % of the traffic (that’s ¼ of 1 percent of Twitter users). How many of your personal followers are no longer active? How many Twitter users have rejected Twitter? It’s great, but digital technology is still a minority experience. Let’s not invalidate so many people’s lives by pretending we have all marched to an omega point of technology and social experience.
Relax: it still remains to be seen if this is a digital revolution we are experiencing. We might be in a revolution, but we might not. If most if your public discourse is in digital mediums it is hard to maintain perspective. Will it be adopted by the majority? Right now, voices ringing with the need for digital technology are still a minority; is
this a revolution or is it the Bay of Pigs. How big is this movement? Is it growing faster then the resistance to it? Is it unreasonable to suggest even the possibility that society might actually reject SM? No one thought that Rome would fall either. It remains to be
seen whether SM will be evaluated as a liberator or conqueror. At what point will digital tech fall; when will the next revolution start and what will replace the current technological environment?
Be reasonable: there is plenty of good, useful, necessary learning to do outside of SM. We used to suggest that there was room for diverse techniques – in teaching and learning. Some educators might actually choose to reject SM for valid reasons; is there no room for professional judgement here?
There is lots of great stuff you can do with digital technology in the classroom; however, you need to stop justifying yourself at the expense of others. Your hyperbole doesn’t help
your position. Whenever one side doesn’t allow for legitimate opposition to even exist there is a problem.
I use digital technologies in my class quite extensively, though not as extensively as some. I think that teachers should explore the possibilities and decide how best to use them (even if that is be not using them). I don’t care what people’s decisions are – use it or don’t, its up to you, after you have informed yourself. I don’t want to ne at a point where we tell each other what must be done; how to do it; and pretend there is no other way to be a good teacher.
Another argument swirling around these days is that it is a disservice to children to educate them in “batches.” Meaning, people argue that we shouldn’t group them in grades by age, but we should focus on their abilities. There are some strong arguments in favour of this and I invite people to detail them below; perhaps you will persuade me. Currently, however, I think the idea is flawed and harmful to children.
I think it is beneficial and appropriate to group children by age in school. Schools serve as their primary vehicle to socialize and be socialized. They should primarily be part of a peer group at more or less the same stage of development (not necessarily ability). They learn about friendships and other relationships at school as much as they do about the curriculum. I think the development of these skills will be hampered if we are constantly re-ordering them as their skill sets grow at different rates. I also thing it creates other problems like: should an advanced 5 year old be partners with a 13 year old who is struggling especially in such things as health class or gym?
This brings me to my second point: consider those children who are struggling. People tend to focus on children who are being held back and who’s skills are more advanced in the argument for ordering be ability; however, we should be equally cognizant of the struggling student. By organizing them by level s/he is de facto failing. S/he sees his/her age cohort, his/her peers, continue to advance and drift away while s/he struggles with younger and younger students. This reality must be considered because implicit into the argument of arranging by ability is that students will grow at different rates (some slower), if not, then organization by age would be adequate. We stopped failing students because we started to value the whole child; we started to realize the damage we were doing to an individual by holding them back. The proposal of organizing by abilities seems to be a step backwards in this regards
Finally, and the part of it that bothers me the most: By focusing on ability rather then by social peer group, age, or the whole child, we are visiting on our children a harmful practice that we usually reserve for adults. Students become their ability. This is analogous to adults being evaluated/ranked by their job. We measure the worth of a child by their ability, not human dignity, or peer group, or stage of life. The pressure to excel, to out preform, to rank each other by their relative success in school is visiting the worse elements of the ‘rat race’ on the most fragile members of our society. This really upsets me: I would much rather people see my son as a 6 year old and not as a good reader who needs to be moved up and challenged and who needs to struggle (“don’t worry, you’ll make lots of 11 and 12 year old friends in your new class”). I especially want people to see my autistic 3 year old as a child who should socialize with other children and not as a struggling reader who needs to be left behind the more advanced and promising students…doesn’t every parent?