Reaction 6: Teaching & Learning Environments

From Getty Images

Reading this week:

Bransford et al. (1999). How People Learn, Chapter 6: Learning Environments

Jenkins et al. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century

Hattie, John. (2003). Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence?

Reading Hattie’s article about expert vs. experienced teachers went straight to my heart. It made me want to be back in my 7th graders in science class, getting a chance to do many things the same and many more things differently. Several of his points made me appreciate the individuals and the communities from whom I learned to teach. Though both my parents were teachers, I went to school in the same building my mother taught in, so I usually knew the students in her class and got to see her as a teacher. To me, she epitomizes the expert teacher who respected students “as learners and people, and demonstrate[d] care and commitment for them.” (Hattie) I’ll never forget asking her how she could teach 4th graders who “didn’t really know much.” She replied that you just start by asking them questions, and you’ll find out they know a lot. To this day, she gets invited to college graduations for kids she taught in elementary school! The communities that I learned and taught in both had a positive impact on how I saw myself as a teacher. Hattie and Bransford et al. basically say the same thing about classroom and school communities: “learning seems to be enhanced by social norms that value the search for understanding and allow students (and teachers) the freedom to make mistakes in order to learn” (Bransford et al., p.133); “[Expert teachers] build climates where error is welcomed, where student questioning is high, where engagement is the norm, and where students can gain reputations as effective learners” (Hattie). These were the teachers I taught with. One of my colleagues shared with me that when a student answers a question wrong or asks a question that reveals a misunderstanding, he replies with, “Thank you for your answer/question – I’m so glad you said that because that helps me know what we need to do next.”

I think assessment is something that teachers in traditional classrooms (this was certainly true of me) struggle with, whether it’s doing enough formative relative to summative, using it to inform their own practice, or actually assessing “higher level thinking and deep understanding.” (Bransford et al.) The result, unfortunately, is assessments that seem more like judgements about students themselves rather than an accounting of what they learned (or didn’t). Participatory cultures, where there is “strong support for creating and sharing one’s creation” (Jenkins et al.), are really good at assessment, because members are constantly sifting, sampling, and sharing. I see this as a hope of the maker movement in schools, where the artifact being criticized is literally and physically separate from the creator. This allows both the creator and assessor to examine it, and the creator almost becomes a witness to the assessment rather than the target.

It would be interesting to apply Hattie’s characterization of expert teachers to participatory cultures to see what characteristics of an individual teacher might also be present and available, though in a distributed way, to learners in an affinity space.  It would be ironic if networks of people, with dynamic structures and teachers, designed for innovation and creativity, was the “idiot-proof” solution.

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