education

Compliance and the Adjacent Possible #IMBC

In the intro to the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros writes:

“The structure and type of learning that happens in many schools does not fulfill the needs of the twenty-first-century marketplace. When students graduate, many of them are good at one thing: school. They have mastered rubrics, they know how to ace tests, and they have figured out how to wor with specific parameters. But the world is not a series of rubrics! To succeed, they will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations. And although we say we want kids to think for themselves, what we teach them is compliance.”

I think this statement clearly shows the great divide that has opened up between the learning experiences that happen in school (formal educational setting) and the learning experiences that we can engage in if we are self-directed and motivated. Information and knowledge are available on our networks, and the internet has blown up the “learning box.” There is no box, after all. Go find a video tutorial on YouTube, enroll in a MOOC for free, post a question on your Twitter feed and get answers from people who are experts in many fields of knowledge, go to a Maker Space and take a carpentry workshop, you name it. Learn how to navigate the networks of knowledge and people, and in the process you lapidate your lifelong learning skills.

Informal learning prompts the kind of behaviors and actions that help shape lifelong learner mindsets. It pushes you to acquire skills that you will need to solve problems, to pose new questions, to investigate and be able to collaborate to finding or building solutions to complex problems. Schooling or traditional, formal learning experiences prompts compliance. It needs to standardize, control and measure. I don’t mean to say that formal learning experiences are fundamentally bad in all its aspects. There is a lot of value in direct instruction or in a good lecture from a competent teacher or expert. But that’s not all there is to it, to learning. There are a million other ways we can “measure” learning that do not involve a room full of people sitting in rows and silently taking a test which will amount to a numerical score.

How might we approximate the traditional, formal learning experiences to the informal learning experiences? How might we strike a balance there? What does that blend look like in the classrom? What does it do to the traditional school roles that presuppose authority, power and hierarchy?

George cites Steven Johnson on the concept of the “adjacent possible.” I find it very powerful because it means that the collective journey to exploring possible answers to the questions above within one’s community is where the transformation lies – it IS the transformation. Steven Johnson states (as cited by George Couros):

“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a rom with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.”

There is no recipe for innovation in education. What there should be is a predisposition to listening rather than telling, to working together rather than alone. To being vulnerable and saying “hey, I don’t know where this road will take us but I’m open to finding that out together, as a community, and with a focus on our learners.”

For our book club folks, George Couros poses this question for the introduction read:

Why do you believe that schools need to change, and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us?

Change

I have been thinking a lot about change lately. I look at how my life has changed over the last twelve months and I’m in awe. Those closest to me know about my latest struggle, one which I have been overcoming thanks to luck, a great deal of self care and, well, change. But this change that I am talking about here is of a more primal nature. It has been happening in many inner dimensions and it has now come to a stage where it’s impacting my outer life – how I show up in the world. I want to reflect on that here because it means a lot to me. It means I am still here and I am pursuing the idea of a metaphor for learning, which I suspect is strangely connected to another metaphor – rhizomatic learning. And that’s where it all began. It’s where change began.

Learning is changing. Depending on the nature of the learning, the deeper the change. We have all heard of (or lived through) life-changing experiences, experiences in which you learn something so impactful that it alters who you are, how you show up for others. It’s a natural, evolutionary process; we are always learning, and we are always changing. To learn is to change. My Rhizo14 experience changed me, it greatly contributed to who I am today, how I view education and learning. Why? And how was it that it managed to do that? First, I had choice. In fact, I had all the choice I wanted, to participate whichever way I wanted. To engage with people the way I wanted, to share and show my reflections the way I wanted. To approach the prompts from the perspectives that made sense to me, and to me only. But also the very choice to keep engaging was a powerful drive. I kept choosing to keep engaged. So choice is the initiator and the driver of change.

My engagement came from collaborating and communicating with others. It was born of the connections, and it gave birth to connections with other people. We celebrated each other in our connections. We were curious about each other’s change process, the words, the artifacts, the play. Now it needs to be said that I was a newbie to the whole digitally connected educator ethos. My Rhizo14 fellows were already swimming in that pool with lots of confidence, but that was not a hindrance, that didn’t prevent me from feeling connected to them. I felt appreciated. The virtual company of my ideas was being appreciated. Celebration. It changes you.

So I suspect there are certain behaviors, certain actions that promote change when an educator purposefully engages. Change is driven by constant choice. Change happens in collaboration with each other (create together). Change happens in communication with each other. Connection equals collaboration + communication. And change happens in celebration of each other. I will be pursuing this idea, the articulation of these 6 C’s of BECOMING a 21st Century Educator.

#PD by Design

I have written about how I flipped my staff meeting here and would now like to devote another post to the initial stage of that session, which I called the poster & post-its stage. I had come across IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators the previous year. I’d known very little about Design Thinking, yet just enough to get me curious. So when I found this resource which proposed a design thinking approach to address every-day situations faced by educators, I was eager to learn more about it and maybe find possible applications to my particular context.

The poster & post-its activity was meant to be the entry point to a larger reflection process in which I wanted teachers to engage collaboratively to generate possible solutions for a challenge – to find ways of successfully adaptating a newly adopted coursebook to our context. Therefore, I wanted teachers to approach that challenge by first discovering and interpreting the key elements of our teaching-learning reality by collectively braisntorming answers to the three questions below, whose answers I will now attempt to summarize and interpret in this post.

Who are our students?

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Our Advanced students are mostly teenagers. They are mostly overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork they already have aside from the work we ask of them as part of our EFL program. It is the belief of many teachers that these teenagers are under a lot of pressure from their parents and society in general to prepare themselves to compete for a spot in the best federal universities of our country. They are, therefore, busy and tired kids. They are, nonetheless, seen as bright and fast learners, who belong to privileged social classes. They have easy access to technology, and most of them have a smart phone and a tablet. These teenagers tend to have a very good level of fluency in English but could still profit a lot from more work on grammatical accuracy and on broadening their lexical repertoire. Most teachers see students as capable and demanding individuals who are also dynamic and restless. They are individuals with diverse needs who are not easily pleased.

What are their needs?

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Most teachers believe our Advanced students need practice, lots of practice. Teachers believe students need to be challenged and inspired so that they can become engaged. They also need teachers’ guidance and attention. Many teachers mentioned that our teenagers need to feel respected and heard, and that their motivation hinges on those two aspects. Many teachers also mentioned that our teenagers need to have fun, to find learning a pleasant activity. This approach would lighten the pressure they bring from school, which overloads them with work in a heavy test-taking, score-oriented culture. Some teachers also mentioned that students still need some limits and positive role models. They need to be taught discipline. There was also mention that teachers need to have students do less ‘talking’ and more ‘making’, in the sense of fostering opportunities for students to use the language meaningfully, to do something with the language they have learned all these years. Most teachers also feel that our teenagers need to achieve better command of the language and a higher level of proficiency.

How might we meet their needs?

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A majority of teachers mentioned the need to connect with students to find out what really matters to them, bringing the classroom environment closer to their reality. Teachers feel they need to plan lessons that appeal to what our teenagers like. Teachers also believe that they need to engage in meaningful, authentic interactions with their teenage students. Teachers feel they need to challenge students by promoting interaction in the classroom with a myriad of activities on interesting topics. Many teachers mentioned the need to explore the affordances of technology to engage students, saying they need to find ways of getting students to use their smart phones to do meaningful work in the classroom. It is clear that teachers believe that they need to carefully plan lessons and that they need to share those plans and ideas amongst themselves.

I must say that as course supervisor I am quite proud to work with a group of teachers who have such beliefs and whom I know to be capable of understanding what t takes to connect with our teenage students in order to make the most of their learning experiences, together. It is my impression that our group of teachers shares quite a lucid, down-to-earth take on our students’ needs, and that’s what makes us a reference among other binational centers and language institutes around the country. One of the purposes of this post was to provide feedback to our teachers on the richness of content generated by them during this in-service session. It’s always important to know where we stand and what our shared beliefs are in order to strengthen our bonds as well as our committment to realizing our own and our students’ full potentials, and in so doing, consolidating our reputation. Let us now take these reflections and insights and do great things in the classroom, together.