I am an educator who actively looks for things that can be used in the classroom. It might be a learning theory, a teaching strategy, or a show and tell exemplar. I am an educator who is always leveraging my learning in order to engage and improve student learning. Now I am not going to lie to you and say that the things I have found and utilized in the classroom have worked each and every time. With that said, I am going to tell you point blank that I am okay with that—I can embrace failure and move on. Over time, I have learned to embrace the ups and downs, as well as the successes and failures, as they occur because I believe it makes me a better educator. At this point in my career, I am more worried about growing stale or being out of touch with reality, so actively looking for things to use in the classroom has become very important to me. I want to be on top of my game – my students’ ability (if not desire) to learn depends on it! Experimentation, implementation, and post mortems (or reassessment, if you prefer) are a way of life for me. This “learning” module has reinforced this methodology.
Let’s start by examining a learning theory (or two). Two things have stuck with me over the last two weeks: 1) Communities of Practice [COPs], and 2) Connectivism. Obviously the course readings pointed me in this direction. Until this semester, I had no idea what COPs was yet these communities have figured prominently in my life—especially professionally. Over a two year period I worked closely with three other English teachers. We did not teach in the same school (we were in the same school division though) nor did we know each other, but our common interest in English Language Arts brought us together. We referred to ourselves as a cohort back then. We met online (thanks to our division email and an ELA forum in First Class); we exchanged ideas, assignments, and practices or strategies. We became better teachers because of this connection. We were a community of practice. Even in present day I see COPs in action as I work my way through the MET program. However, what I am really considering right now is how to incorporate a student based COPs in my classroom or in my school. If this approach works for teachers couldn’t it work for students? I think some students naturally create such a community. I see this with my “noon hour” gamers. Yet I wonder how this might work in an ELA classroom or with our peer tutoring program (that currently involves three different schools). Frankly I haven’t gotten beyond the “I wonder” stage but I am working through the process and hope to bring this “thing” to my own classroom soon! Stay tuned.
Although COPs has invaded my brain so has connectivism—actually I think this theory is taking over! I became hooked on this theory early this semester when I was working on a Diigo bookmarking assignment (in Ed Tech 543). The more I read the more I wanted to know. Ironically, this course pulled me in deeper with our annotated bibliography assignment. I took this opportunity to explore and examine the theory in more detail. And now I can honestly say, I am might be a connectivist. Like Siemens, I think technology is shaping how we live, learn, and communicate (… and teach). I cannot imagine my teaching or learning life without technology. Furthermore, I can’t imagine a world that is not connected or networked. My former cohort, now COPs, also seems to support the fact that this theory is a real learning theory. Without technology that community wouldn’t have existed. We needed the Internet. We needed the First Class platform in order to connect, collaborate and learn. Imagine if we would have had Twitter or Diigo or Scoop.It or Google docs (Drive) then? More importantly, I am beginning to see how this thing might work (or is already working) in the classroom. Last year another teacher and I had our students use their smartphones or tablets (and some apps of course) to create visual and textual poems. These poems were posted on our class blog. Students shared their views on the poems and provided feedback to each other. Could that thing be an early cousin to connectivism? Possibly? However, now that I know what the theory entails and I consciously apply it to a learning situation would I not become a true connectivist? And would my students not benefit from such a conscious act? I think so. Again, I suggest you stay tuned.
Last, but not least, I feel I must also include a teaching strategy and a show and tell exemplar. Last week our instructor used the jigsaw method so that my peers and I could collaboratively “process” and share chapter summaries based on our course text. Basically this method divvies up the workload and, to a certain extent, the learning because each person (or group) is responsible for a topic and must become an expert (or experts) on the provided topic. Once they are “experts”, the students share their expertise (or their finished product) so others can benefit from it. This strategy is not new to me. I have used it with my students in the past (eg. a webquest on Shakespeare’s life and times). I must admit I don’t overuse this strategy. I might use it once a term (with each class). It’s not that students don’t like it – it’s just that I have learned that things like this are more effective if they are used sparingly! Its merits are not lost on me, and it is a tool I have added to my teacher toolbox (I think my cohort, I mean my COPs, used something like this but we called it a “place mat” activity). Another tool I like to incorporate is a show and tell exemplar. Ironically as a teacher librarian I have had to teach students how to create an annotated bibliography, but I have never truly developed a “real” life example before! Now that I have completed one for this course I know first-hand what my students have to go through in order to construct one. Empathy is important to teaching, and I think having this thing under my hat will improve the teaching and the learning process for me and my students. As I said before … stay tuned.
The last two weeks have reinforced my need to actively look for things that can be used in the classroom. Whether it is a learning theory, a teaching strategy, or a show and tell exemplar I know I can leverage my learning in order to improve student learning. I recommend you stay tuned!