Why This Blog? Why Now? Why This title?

I am no longer blogging under duress. This part remains true: I had a blog once and I lost the password...and then, I gave up. I really am not a giver-upper, but there is a point of diminishing returns to anything that takes energy, passion, and vision and yet, doesn't work out. So, off I go again, wish me luck! AND knock on wood I have had luck. And it is sort of fun.

P.S. Why this title? I read this phrase today 6/16, don't remember where. I liked it. I'm using it. I might change it. It may or may not have relationship to the content.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Journey with Twitter in 5 poems--with a tip of the hat to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and Shea Bennett who wrote “The 5 Stages of Getting Twitter”

This is a poem I wrote for a professional development session in which we explored twitter...


Don’t wanna
Don’t hafta
Couldn’t run away fasta
Twitter has nothing for me
Don’t wanna
Don’t hafta
Couldn’t run away fasta
I don’t care if twitter is free


Twitter, twitter, twitter
Why should I care what people are having for breakfast
Why should I care what’s new on TV
Why should I care that you’ve arrived at the bank
And why do you send such nonsense to me?
Twitter...twitter....twitter....and, anyway...it’s a dumb name


OK, my friends are on twitter
My boss is on twitter
I’ll sign up ‘cuz twitter is free
My friends are on twitter
My boss is on twitter
I’ll try it so they can tweet me


I’m sad, feel bad
Twitter isn’t for me
There is nothing to do, nothing to see
Why are these people following me?
PS What is a hashtag anyway?


Not there yet
Not ready to say
I get it!
I will have to say, chats are a way
To participate
I will have to say, chats are a way
To build a PLN
I will have to say; maybe I’m one tweet away
From building a world I fit in

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Recent Conversation

I just wanted to put this out before the conversation gets cold. In a recent chat with a colleague about going with what the learner wants to study, vs backwards unit/lesson design (we were having a UbD...Understanding by Design...discussion), the idea of being locked into something by virtue of too much planning came up, at least that was my interpretation of the conversation. The conversation  made me think of Perkins' book "Making Learning Whole" and his idea of "playing the whole game". I think the relationship between the two (UbD and "Making Learning Whole") is that by planning assessments after thinking about what you want students to know and understand IS playing the whole game as the assessments, as UbD suggests, are performance assessments. Designing the learning after designing the assessment and, presumably, building a theory of difficulty, IS playing the whole game via junior versions.

I think what my colleague was talking about was going straight to the whole game and playing/living it. Wouldn't it be great if we could learn in such an organic way that you could literally put a big rock in the middle of the room and ask kids to move the rock from one side of the room to the other there by addressing all kinds of authentic, real time, performance learning...truly playing the game of problem solving. Or to be able to simply say, "what do you want to study, I'll guide, you learn and eventually you will know or be able to find out all that is important.

I believe that all who believe in the "whole game concept" would go there if a time frame and expectations of the rest of the world didn't exist, how fun would that be! but time frame and expectations do exist. I think playing the whole game through an UbD design is coming very close to the ideal.

Anticipating the Hard Parts

This post is about part II of chapter 3, Working on the Hard Parts, in David Perkins' book " Making Learning Whole". I think a teacher at my school said it best, "Always do what you expect learners to be able to do, then you'll know what makes the learning hard...you'll know where the alligators are." Perkins describes these "hard parts" when he talks about understanding competing knowledge or complexity factors (pg 101). He calls them "potholes in the learning road" rather than alligators and names what teachers are really doing when they anticipate the hard parts..."creating a simple theory of difficulty". Back to my colleague, "Do what you expect learners to do and then you'll know what makes the learning hard. Use what you've discovered to plan your focus lessons." Some versions of constructivist learning theory might say, use your theory of difficulty to create a wide range of examples that challenge learners thinking in order for learners to build new understandings...construct new understandings on the backs of competing understandings being the connection here.

More grist for the mill about "playing the whole game". If the whole game is outside the grasp of learners at the moment,  resist the urge to drill and practice until they are ready to play the whole game...simply play a junior version of the whole game. My personal learning story about this has to do with bridge. I come from a dedicated bridge playing family. Family game night was bridge night. Christmas with my aunt and uncle was a bridge marathon. My introduction to bridge was not playing the experienced bridge player version of the game, nor was my introduction to the game counting endless cards, building and analyzing hands, or practicing clue laden conversations. My introduction to bridge was a game that was actually called "Bridge Jr."! This game was a highly scaffolded version of adult bridge, AND it was playing the game.

An important lesson when designing instruction...take you theory of difficulty, design some junior games and keep playing!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Still Reading That Same Book...

Well, I'm still reading Making Learning Whole by David Perkins. I find it well written, easy to read, and rich in content worth thinking and writing about. Hence I'm taking my time and reflecting on each chapter or so. This last part I read...the chapter called "Working on the hard parts", speaks to the idea that without deliberate practice, deconstructing and reconstructing the hard parts in a task we are just practicing our mistakes. Of course one has to find the hard parts, embrace and anticipate the hard parts, and develop a theory of difficulty in order to deliberately practice, reconstruct, and reintegrate.

A thing I find interesting and affirming is that some of  the concepts I truly believe in keep coming up. One of those concepts is feedback...not just any feedback, but the type of feedback that guides the learner. Raising questions and seeking an assessment of understanding.

Perkins mentions embedded communicative feedback (pg 85). That is feedback that communicates specific information to the learner in ways that are authentic and in real time. This reminds me of what we are doing in my school both with students in reading, and writing workshops and with our teachers in coaching cycles. Teachers spend significant time during the independent learning block of a workshop conferring with students about their reading or writing. Embedded communicative feedback! Our embedded communicative feedback is based on Lucy Caulkins "conference architecture" in writing and Patrick Allen's "RIP" model for conferring in reading. Both structures work and kids and teachers benefit.

Teachers also spend significant time in coaching cycles, a process informed by the work of Linda Dorn and Carla Saffos. Like conferring during the independent learning time in a workshop, coaching cycles are coaches and teachers conferring during an instructional block. In both instances we shoot for authentic embedded feedback in real time.

The other concept I find interesting and affirming is the value of revising and redeeming one's work. The phrase "revise and redeem" comes from a talk given by Linda Darling Hammond during an Expeditionary Learning national conference a few years ago. Darling-Hammond was talking about the value of a second look and the changes that result. Perkins builds on the act of revising and redeeming by describing steps of revision as "deconstructing and reconstructing". Perkins puts a further spin on the idea by adding the concept of isolating the hard parts and he speaks of "the rhythm of isolation and reintegration" that is fundamental to learning from the hard parts. (pgs 88-89) To me this is a bit like practicing a word or sound in isolation and then taking that deliberate practice back to the text (reintegration.) I'm going to steal that phrase also. We'll combine revise and redeem with the rhythm of isolation and reintegration and the importance of deliberate practice.

More later...the ideas of anticipating the hard parts and going into a teaching learning cycle with a specific theory of difficulty.