Thursday, March 29, 2007

Remote Access: Studio Classrooms and Flow

Great post from Remote Access: Studio Classrooms and Flow
"Studio work involves lengthy periods of time where the kids are concentrated on one project or one issue. We may start off together in a group discussing hot issues from the previous day or with me teaching a new skill or concept, but we move as quickly as possible towards the kids being active as creators, designers, and researchers, this being our focus."
Doesn't that sound fantastic? How many students in "normal" classrooms are getting to do these essential things? Clarence floated this idea last year, and it triggered some reflection on my part. At that time, he was partly lamenting the dichotomy between real learning and jumping through curriculum hoops:
"In our splintered systems where kids need to "cover" hundreds of outcomes in a single school year, the studio may provide too much depth and not enough breadth to make legislators happy. Make no mistake about it, kids can focus and be creative for long periods of time if they are working on issues they are concerned with and about."
Now it sounds like he's doing it anyway. I wonder how? Chucked the curriculum? Managed to blend a bunch of subjects together and devoted whole days to projects?

Thanks to George for the pointer...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Tyee Education

Three interesting articles related to online learning and education choice in my home province, all from The Tyee, a pretty solid lefty publication online. I suspect that the same things would apply in most provinces and states where distance learning is rising in popularity (probably all of them). The common thread is an issue of control. Who should control learning?

Why I Left the Classroom is a fairly standard account of teacher burnout. It rings true for me, but I was most interested in this ex-teacher's take on individualization in education:
"Teachers now stand before a group of individuals. Each of their learning styles, their needs, their contexts, abilities and disabilities needs identification, respect, modification and thought. In one split class of 29 students, I was faced with 19 different 'labels,' nine of which required completely individualized education plans. After countless meetings and forms, at June's end that particular year, I waved good-bye to a group who seemed not to be significantly hampered by my inability to meet their needs. I, on the other hand, was mute with both exhaustion and a sense of personal failure."
Now, I think the author was generally viewing this shift toward individualized learning as a bad thing, because it makes the job much harder. But isn't it the best possible thing if we can reframe the entire system to support it? Why should only students with learning disabilities get ILPs or IEPs? Why not reconceptualize the teacher's role as a sort of super-librarian, coach and tutor who is available (online and in person) to help individuals (of any age) with whatever they're working on? You don't need a giant concrete building to achieve learning, and you don't need one teacher teaching one thing to 30 kids who are all the same age.

The Quiet Revolution in BC Schooling was written by a teacher taking an ed-tech program. It's almost like he's just tasted the technology koolaid, and sees the potential, but finds it so at odds with the traditions and long-term interests of his field that he can't really rally behind it. The main criticisms of the province moving toward more distributed learning is that the teachers weren't properly consulted, that the courses vary in quality and that they're harder than kids think? What about the benefits? He eventually gets around to those, but even the idea that kids could take courses on their own schedule (and year-round) gets reframed as a threat to the future viability of public schools (he "could actually hear the sledgehammers thudding on the school's outer walls.") The final section finally dips a toe into the amazing potential in using the web for learning -- it's a shame we don't get to hear more about the positives coming out of these changes:
"That said, well-designed online courses can accomplish wonders for students who have been properly prepared to engage in them. These students develop genuine technology skills which are second to none, because the skills, such as creating documents and presentations, and interacting within a web interface, are not tacked on to their educational experience as enrichment, but make up the educational environment itself, much in the way that French immersion teaches language skills."

Click-and-Drag Education is unfortunately pretty poorly done. Anonymous sources, blatant pro-union bias, techno-fear-mongering...I only include it here as an example of how the mainstreaming of distributed learning will become profoundly political. As students and parents realize that they can create their own learning plans, seeking out only the resources (teachers, materials, information, communities, courses, facilities), enrollments in public schools will drop further and faster, if for no other reason than the keen kids will be graduating sooner as they accumulate credits more quickly. Less enrollment will equal less funding, which will affect teachers' employment -- unfortunately for the teachers, I can't see them winning that inevitable battle.