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In terminal one at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, right across from Chili’s, is a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory shop, where they have a standing offer that you can buy three caramel apples and get a fourth one free. The apples are fresh and dipped daily and are a tempting treat, but for many solo travelers it’s not possible to grab four caramel apples and run easily.
One traveler ahead of me in line bought one caramel apple and ran off to his gate to catch his flight.
Another bought the four caramel apples and offered three to the next three of us in line she didn’t even know, just so she could get hers free.
We gladly took her up on her offer, and as she went on her way with our “thank yous” hanging in the air the traveler who had been standing right behind me commented what silliness it was for her to pay triple the price for the one apple she received.
I walked off processing his cynical comment. Mathematically he was right, of course. As transactions go, she had paid for three but she was only enjoying one.
In her mind, though, she had gotten a free caramel apple and showed a kindness to three fellow travelers in the process.
I guess if you really wanted to be mathematically faithful to the buy-three-get-one-free offer, you could have sold the three extra apples to recoup your purchase price. But who has time in a busy airport to try selling freshly made snacks in the middle of the terminal? No, you are most likely going to buy one or buy four for the price of three and not worry about the cost whether you plan on keeping them all for yourself or giving some away.
But the distinction is an important one. If you were a player in this scene, would you be stuck on the transaction, or would you be comfortable thinking beyond the transaction and sharing an unexpected kindness with three strangers? Your answer has implications beyond your pocketbook.
People stuck in transactional thinking understand how to get their money’s worth, but miss any value beyond the exchange of money-for-apples. It’s the proverbial “knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.” Transactionalists don’t see the value of giving beyond what feeds their personal interests.
If you want to transform your life, you need to look beyond the monetary give-and-take of the transactions you conduct every day, and see the possibilities for generating new values: paying it forward, initiating relationships that create new connections to unforeseen possibilities, and generating new opportunities to achieve your goals...whether personal or professional.
I walked away firm in the conviction that I am not a transactionalist...cynically looking at life as a series of transactions is not for me. I want and expect more when my work is done...and I understand I have to give more than the cost of even-steven transactions in order to get more.
How’s it working for me? I have had doors open where I never saw a door before, and I can see possibilities for the future that I wouldn’t have imagined even a few short months ago. Life is amazingly full of surprising possibilities…if you are open to thinking and acting beyond what is immediately visible and measurable. Push yourself to think beyond the values on which you were raised. Look for ways to create new value. And be ready and receptive when opportunities to embrace new values present themselves. Our world is full of limitless possibilities...well...as limitless as your mind allows for them to be...
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/
The world we know is built on transactions. Everything is a matter of give-and-take. We exchange what we have for things we want and need of similar value. Economically speaking, it works. We have learned to assign value to everything, and then conduct transactions based on those values. Living by making transactions works as long as you exist in a closed system. You maintain the value of everything. The goal is to keep what you have intact. As long as you are getting what you need for the value you have agreed upon, you’re happy with things and the model works.
But what happens if you aren’t getting what you need? Or if you can see what you need but you can’t afford the value assigned to it? It prohibits you from getting the job done. You either go without, try to renegotiate the assigned values of things, or go outside the system to get what you need.
This is where we are now in education. The values have already started changing but we are still operating on a transactional model. Deep discussions are taking place about the values we have assigned to educating our children. Those of us who like the status quo want to enforce the existing values. Those of us who see values already changing in society want to renegotiate. And those of us who are unwilling to wait have gone outside the system to educate our children. It seems like gridlock. But it will eventually loosen up and things will play themselves out.
Sure we can measure everything and tabulate our gains and losses by a bottom line; people have made their fortunes doing this. But in a transactional world, everything has a finite value. We are locked into whatever resources are at our disposal. In the Information Age, there are resources and opportunities that can create new and limitless value. To capitalize on this we need to break out of our transactional thinking and be willing to give up give-and-take for new ways of thinking and learning and working and living. It’s the difference between settle-settle and win-win. You have to be willing to break the bonds of the existence you know to be able to transform things.
In short, the transactional model has to give way to new action. Trasformaction: thinking and strategies that allow us to create new values. Where do we start?
This is the crux of where we are today. Once we see and let go of transactional expectations, we can help transform the world…for ourselves and our children.
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
I spend most of my time teaching online to students in a brick-and-mortar school, so I also spend a great deal of time clarifying what it is and isn’t (or at least, what it can be and shouldn’t be). Since we have all come to grips with the foremost misconception, that online learning is a thing of tomorrow, and recognize that it is upon us immediately and for all students, I thought I would share my other observations on the biggest misconceptions in online and blended learning.
Misconception #2: It’s (Emotionally) “Distant” Learning
Online or blended learning does not have to be physically distant, and it most certainly is not, by nature, emotionally distant. I often hear questions like, “How do you get to know and talk with your students?” The truth is we do a great deal of “talking” in today’s world without ever seeing each other so that the lack of the latter does not preclude the opportunity for the first. In fact, I was admittedly fearful of not being able to connect with my students online, but I have found the opposite to be true. I actually feel more connection with several of my students in the online environment than I have in a traditional classroom. I think this has to do with the frequency of individual communication I have with them in chat, Skype, or email. There are simply more ways to talk once we have removed time and space boundaries. Additionally, I have found that many students who would refrain from raising a hand to ask for help will very easily send me a private chat message.
Misconception #3: It’s Busy Work, Canned Curriculum
I’ve taken some online classes which were completely comprised of transactional busy work. I was delivered the assignments, and I subsequently completed and delivered them back to the instructor. Ideally, this is not the case, and the more online and blended environments come to resemble virtual versions of live classrooms, what we should see (and have already seen) is the opening of real-time interactive learning spaces and the presence of true discussion and collaboration. The work is still somewhat transactional, except that it can be accompanied by screencasts and videos ala the “flipped model”, and even live discussions.
Misconception #4: It’s Delayed
Real-time class collaboration is sometimes prevented by geography, but the notion that we cannot learn in the same space at the same time, and through interaction, is a thing of the past. Just in the last year, I attended a handful of virtual conferences. While there were a few lacking in interaction, the best ones involved a presenter leading a discussion, soliciting and answering questions, while simultaneously a chat took place between attendees commenting and expanding the discussion. I can recall the last traditional class I sat in and listened to a speaker talk without interacting with him or the audience. It was boring. I found that in the last RSCON3 sessions, I was constantly trying to pay attention so as not to miss anything. It was overstimulating because so much was happening at once, but it was great! In my classes this year, video chat, IM, and group chat within Docs and Facebook have proven valuable tools for generating discussion, and just last week we set up our first Google+ hangout in my senior English class. I used to consider five days to be a reasonable response time when I took an online course, but my students expect one within five seconds!
Misconception #5: It’s Easy for Kids
Some students may know how to use some technologies with more proficiency than some adults, but assuming that students will know how to interact within an online environment when they have to do so in college or beyond is fallacious and irresponsible. Students know how to tweet and tumble...but barely. They have no idea how to create, share, and organize a document, nor do they really ever read anything, especially directions. And as we all know, they have little idea of the nuances of social interaction online, including how to engage in academic discussion and collaborate in a virtual environment.
In a recent post by Adam Twyman, “Facebook: Are we creating a Lord of the Flies?”, Twyman compares the world of Social Media to a kids-only island where we have allowed children to set the standards while we refused to set foot on the island ourselves. Last year, we made a decision to open up Facebook and other media usage to students so that we can inhabit the space with them, and now we are working to restructure an existing, somewhat chaotic mode of being. Students may know how to gossip, post pictures, even complete impressive tasks like teaching themselves how to photoshop or contribute to a writing community, but saying that these are indicators of online communication and collaboration skills mastery is akin to saying a student knows how to scuba dive just because he has been swimming in the ocean. Similarly, we cannot hope to teach digital citizenship skills without forming a digital community of which we are all a part. I would echo Twyman’s sentiments and ask, if we do not create environments with structure for students to learn the mores and responsibilities of interacting and learning online, how will this happen and when?
Cross-Posted at http://1teachontheedge.blogspot.com/2012/01/online-blended-learning-5.html & http://www.teachhub.com/online-learning-myths
Case #1 -What experience has to teach us
Like many of you I am a teacher who wants to know what good research has to say. I regard statistically significant results the same way I regard the word “Sunkist” on my oranges or the word “prime” on my meat. But be that as it may, I also want to hear the ring of truth in the theories supported by research and the practices those studies lead to. It is those two criteria, sound research and inner knowing, that has steered my teaching and made explicit strategy instruction, which I found to be essential for developing self-directed learners, the anchor of my work. Experiences like the one I relate in Learning for Keeps: Teaching the Strategies Essential for Independent Learners taught me the value of explicit instruction.
Taking my first word-processing course was my Waterloo. It was of no small consequence that I lacked confidence in my ability to tame the computer beast, I was devoid of essential prior knowledge and was unable to comprehend a large percentage of computer terminology – a scenario not at all dissimilar to what inexperienced learners may encounter in our classrooms.
Then there was the manner in which I was being taught. Keys were hit, a mouse was clicked, words were spoken and in the end I was no more able to perform the operations I was trying to learn than before I began. What was wrong with that picture? What did I need from my teacher? What would have served me better? My instructor was modeling the process for me, which was a good thing but the pace was too fast. I could not differentiate the parts of the new procedure; no sooner had one step been taken than the next one was under way.
No attempt was made to check in with me to see how I was processing the demonstration while it was in progress. It was assumed my brief exposure to the way things were done would suffice. I was not given an opportunity to practice what was taught; the instructor stayed in the driver's seat. When the demonstration was over, I had no more clarity or ability than when it began.
As for research, we have decades of research affirming that teaching strategies improves achievement and self-direction, I would like to think that the information in A. Wade Boykin’s and Pedro Noguera’s recently published ASCD book Creating the Opportunity to Learn: Moving From Research to Practice to Close the Achievement Gap will invigorate conversation regarding direct or explicit instruction and self-regulated learning. My next post will talk about the case that research makes for using direct strategy instruction in any classroom where the teacher is dedicated to the proposition that all children can and should be able to initiate and use the strategies necessary for a high level of reading, writing, and problem solving.
For readers who know of direct or explicit instruction and think it sounds like a good idea but need to know more about its value, conceptual basis and practical application, these blogs are for you. However, the label “direct” as it pertains to teaching means different things to different people. There are degrees of explicitness just as there are degrees of strength. A teacher could, for example:
(Name the strategy) Teacher to students: “Answer these inference questions.”
(Talk about the strategy) Teacher to students: “When you can’t find an answer in the text, you may have to infer the answer from what you have read.”
(Model the strategy) Teacher to students reading and thinking aloud: “I infer the boy is angry at his friend because I read that he refused to speak to him. Our experience teaches us that not speaking to someone you know is evidence of anger. ”
The degree of explicitness that is transformative begins with naming, talking about and modeling strategies but does not end there. The explicit teaching we are talking about is articulated, long-term, planned instruction that ultimately empowers students to respond to obstacles with confidence and self-direction. It is teaching that provides enough practice for important cognitive behaviors to be internalized. It is conceiving of teaching strategies as a long-term developmental process. Here is an abridged, edited and excerpted portion of my book that provides an overview of this kind of explicit instruction.
To teach strategic behaviors explicitly, the teacher begins by building students’ awareness of a needed strategy. Working with conscious intent, which she shares with her students, the teacher introduces and models the strategy as follows:
If, however, instruction ends with the teacher-directed strategy lesson it would, most likely, not produce the behaviors that are necessary for developing expertise. Proficient readers and writers do not use strategies one at a time, nor do they use them simply when under strong instructional control.
Teaching continues with a transactional approach once the strategy is named, introduced, and modeled. The teacher moves on to the problem-solving, interactive phase of mediation in which she coaches her students as they put the strategy to work. The selection and use of strategies becomes part of the dialogue surrounding any engaging activity. The curriculum takes on a duel agenda of teaching for process and product. In effect the teacher invites the strategies to the table and makes them part of the content of learning.
The kind of approach outlined here is not widely practiced. Eminent educational researchers like Michael Pressley, Barak Rosenshine and indeed Boykin and Noguera have noted this and urge that this be rectified. Therefore I hope you will stay tuned and read my second post on “The Compelling Case for Explicit Instruction”.
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
"The world is very different now...let the word go forth from this time and place...that the torch has been passed to a new generation...born in this century..."
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961. Accessed online July 24, 2011 at 4:15 PM at http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres56.html
This past week ASCD leaders from around the world gathered together here in Virginia for our Leader to Leader (L2L) conference, where we challenged one another to revolutionize the way we learn.
Why now? Society is shifting all around us. The meaning of what it means to be literate, let alone prepared and productive, is being redefined. If we don’t keep our footing and continue to advocate for educators at all levels, who will?
ASCD is unique in that it is not beholden to any one job-alike educator group or academic discipline. Its only agenda is a moral imperative to champion what is best for children. This is evident in its major initiatives: the Whole Child, Healthy School Communities, Educator Advocates, Emerging Leaders and the Outstanding Young Educator Award. I am proud to contribute to an organization that sets standards of excellence admired by educators everywhere.
How do we revolutionize the way we learn? We start with ourselves; revolutionizing the way we work. For the last two years ASCD has thoughtfully, deliberately studied and discussed what this means. From the first day I walked in the door, I have been challenged with new ways of thinking about education and association work. ASCD is a consummate learning organization!
The challenge is moving from our current successful ways of working to a new model that will allow us to better serve our constituents on this new education landscape. Picture an ornate sand castle fully fortified with sturdy walls and a moat surrounding it, proudly standing against the shoreline. As the tides of change wash around it, the value of its placement on the beach changes. We have two choices: convince ourselves we have value as an island, or move to new and higher ground.
At L2L, leaders from our worldwide affiliates, professional interest communities, connected communities, student chapters and ASCD initiatives gathered to begin this important work. There was music and dramatic role playing, brainstorming and questioning, chalk talks and gallery walks, envisioning and planning, and a call to action charging each of us to respond to this societal sea change…because until we transform ourselves, we cannot hope to successfully transform education.
There are significant challenges ahead:
This is the most challenging, satisfying work I have done in a long, long time. I returned home yesterday from L2L exhausted mentally, emotionally and physically. There were moments during the conference that were so moving, so powerful, it transcended the meeting of minds and connecting with colleagues. Together we built new understandings of what it means to move from being transactional to transformational. L2L 2011 shows us possibilities for ASCD professional development in the future.
The revolution has already begun. It is hard work…rigorous work…and there is no going back. As we move forward, we will imagine and implement new and different ways to support educators everywhere in meeting the needs of every child…the Whole Child. I welcome you to contribute your energy, ideas and interests as we revolutionize the way we learn. Please join us!
My daughter got her first pair of eye glasses when she was in the first grade. (Taking after my father’s side of the family, she was already quite myopic.) It was a day we both remember. Moments after we walked out of the optometrist's office, on a balmy spring afternoon, my 6 year-old daughter stopped short. She was staring at a nearby maple tree and when she spoke her face and her voice were meshed in wonder. “Mommy!”, she exclaimed, “I see the leaves! They look like they’re dancing!” The green blur she was accustomed to seeing was gone and in its place were clearly defined leaves swaying in the breeze.
When teachers unpack cognitive processes for their students like summarizing, inferring, comparing, synthesizing, categorizing, elaborating, or monitoring for understanding, the result is as clarifying as putting on a pair of corrective lenses and the effect is just as awesome. Lack of clarity about these essential behaviors can and does dismantle the way kids read, write, and seek answers yet we seldom take our instruction to the source of the confusion.
I prefer to do my strategy unpacking in the company of colleagues. We verbalize what we are thinking as we read to reveal how we arrive at an inference; we think aloud as we draft our writing and make decisions about which ideas belong together and why; we tackle a puzzle with full disclosure so our partners can record what we do when we’re working with persistence, or accuracy, or flexibility. Our work yields a list of the steps in a process, which we turn into a demonstration for our students. For example, reading and thinking aloud reveals that when we make inferences we:
Shining a light on the workings of a process which is usually hidden from view is the first step in helping kids know what to do when they don’t know. After starting with an engaging concept-building strategy demonstration, an instructional continuum that consists of scaffolded practice in selecting and using helpful strategies, coaching from peers and teachers, and purposefully transferring those strategies where ever they prove useful, finishes the job.
The elephant-sized question in the room is: Where and when does this teaching take place? The macro answer is, regardless of the framework for your instruction, as long as (1) your teaching and assessment practices are learner- centered (2) teacher/student communication is transactional and (3) your focus is on the deep processing of information and long-term learning, the explicit teaching of strategies can be embedded in your curriculum.
Just like the functioning of the latest and greatest computer is contingent on the performance of the microchips within it, our best intentions and efforts to provide differentiated instruction in a curriculum aligned with standards that avail students with 21st century tools still requires that we pay attention to those smallest units of understanding. Unless the teaching and understanding of essential strategies and indispensable habits of mind are included in our curriculum, we will not turn the tide on a sea of graduates that are neither high-functioning nor independent learners.
Your thoughts, experiences, questions?
“Preparing Our Kids for 1982: Time Traveling Through Testing”, Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ February 18, 2011 blog, certainly activated my schema around the challenges of upgrading the way we assess and teach our students.
The words "multiple choice" and 'fill-in''might as well be printed in blue ink. I link these kinds of assessments to transmission education (aka “a mind is an empty vessel to be filled”). This is teaching that is focused on the retention and regurgitation of information. As Heidi points out, that century-old behaviorist orientation (my words, not hers) is very much alive today. This does not bode well for our future.
A transmission education mind-set is a barometer of sorts. It is a pretty good indicator that the teacher’s focus is on checking for retention (more accurately, short-term memory) as opposed to gathering data about her students’ learning via their demonstrations of understanding or thought-demanding performances. (It's using a ditto on the correct use of quotation marks instead of a narrative written with dialogue.) So how does teaching for transmission impact our students' preparation for a highly competitive and complex world? Is it sufficient to lift traditional skills teaching into 2011 or do we want to give traditional skills teaching a face-lift? Let’s take a closer look.
How are we teaching the behaviors that are essential for a high level of reading, writing, and problem solving? If we are relying on teacher- directed lessons and decontextualized practice exercises and drills, we are not engaging our students in the use of mental self-management - the ability to recognize when and how to apply procedural knowledge to new and authentically challenging tasks. Predictable practice exercises produce inert or static knowledge. We should not be baffled when our students are unable to synthesize an author’s message after finding and circling the main idea for dozens of passages.
So what would a skills face-lift look like when we are teaching students a comprehension skill like understanding similes?
Teacher 1 gives students examples of similes or points them out in their text and then provides follow-up practice in matching similes to their meanings.
Teacher 2 models how he identifies similes as he is reading by first noting comparisons signified by the words “like” or “as” and then noting incongruity (e.g., juxtaposing friends with peas in a pod). The teacher models how he gets the meaning of the simile by using the characteristics of the things being compared and the context of the passage. The students reflect on the teacher’s demonstration and articulate the strategies. Then, using text that contains similes, students work with the teacher’s support to apply the strategies they were shown. Subsequently, the teacher mediates learning by providing feedback and coaching as students work cooperatively and then independently to practice and apply the new strategies.
Our teaching of essential skills will need a face-lift if our instruction is not explicit, our students are not engaged in mental self-management, and our assessments are not based on authentic application.*
In order for our 21st century students to be thoughtful, proficient, confident, independent learners and problem solvers who can navigate and communicate in the global community, let’s be sure that:
Students understand the value of building a repertoire of strategies that very successful people use and they are given the opportunity to initiate those strategies when they need to help themselves understand what they read, clarify what they write, and resolve authentic problems.
Parents know that strategic knowledge is the key to ownership and independence. Taking the time to teach strategies will pay off in higher achievement scores for their children.
Teachers make room at the table for teaching the learner and the processes of learning along with the content of the curriculum. They get the opportunity to work collaboratively to develop the skills and knowledge they need to respond flexibly and opportunistically to their students’ mental processing needs whether they are on or off the computer.
What are your thoughts, questions, and experiences?
*We have known how to teach strategies explicitly for self-regulated learning for over 30 years. A.S. Palincsar & A.L. Brown, B. Beyer, A. Costa, and M. Pressley are among the outstanding educators who have written about and researched the direct teaching of cognitive behaviors. See “The Case for Explicit, Teacher-led, Cognitive Strategy Instruction” by B. Rosenshine (1997) and “The Road Not Yet Taken: A transactional strategies approach to comprehension instruction” by R. Brown (2008).
To read about recent research results and learn more about explicit mediation of essential strategies see Learning for Keeps: Teaching the Strategies Essential for Creating Independent Learners
Give and take. Relationships are a series of ongoing transactions. Here is what I bring; here is what I need in exchange. It’s a finite exchange. When all you see is what someone brings to the table and all you know is what you immediately need, relationships are sustained in the here and now. Organizations are transactional too. They negotiate the conditions and requirements for success and rewards. The more exchanges that take place, the stronger relationships become, and the more give and take there is for getting things done. Markers and milestones are set, strategies are designed, and progress is measured in completed transactions. Education has emulated this transactional model, measuring costs and benefits looking for effectiveness and efficiencies.
But what happens when identified needs and goals cannot be met; when transactional practices no longer fuel success? We are watching today as organizations are experiencing a decline in growth and effectiveness. There is less from which to give and take, less with which to negotiate, and less at the end of the day to share as profit and reward. Society is transforming right before our eyes in the ways we think, learn, communicate, collaborate, create and problem solve. In order to reflect these changes in society, organizations must ask new questions, see new possibilities and provide leadership that inspires and transforms traditional ways of getting things done.
Transformational leadership engages everyone in the discussion of how work is done and how it is measured. It inspires everyone to rethink, renew and recommit to the organization’s vision. Transformational leadership is proactive. It sees beyond immediate issues to espouse a long-term vision for new growth, effectiveness and success. The question asked is not “What’s the next challenge on the ground?” but “What’s the next opportunity on the horizon?” Transformational leadership connects with stakeholders across all levels and inspires them to rise above self-interest, tapping into ideals everyone can embrace. It provides opportunities for professional growth and advancement so that everyone is engaged in working for the greater collective good.
Public education is ripe for transformational leadership. In the current national dialog, public figures acknowledge the existing model is not working and ask, “How do we solve the challenges we see on the ground?” As leaders in education, we need to push the dialog to a more proactive question: “What are education’s opportunities to help all children thrive, grow and be successful moving forward?”