This summer I’ve started doing podcast interviews for the New Books Network. I just produced my first interview with Jim Rickabaugh of the Institute for Personalized Learning. I’ve worked with Jim for the last 3 years on our research project, so this was a natural way to start. Now I’m starting to line up more fabulous academics that I want to talk to. I listen to more and more podcasts, and it’s pretty exciting, though not without apprehension, to make this switch.
Educators are increasingly asking students to find authentic audiences for their work. As I sat preparing for Jim’s interview, I was nervous, unsure of some of the details, frustrated that some of the logistics of the audio recording studio didn’t work, and knew that I’d have to listen to my own voice on the recording! But, I knew that I would enjoy talking to Jim, the interview itself would be meaningful to others, that doing it would improve my interviewing skills, and that it is a good way for me to connect with scholars in my field.
In other words, there was interest, meaning, and personal value in my learning. I read about interest-based learning (like Brigid Barron or Nichole Pinkard), Connected Learning (Mimi Ito), and participatory cultures (Henry Jenkins), and now I’m doing it!
America’s Public Schools: From the Common School to “No Child Left Behind,” by William J. Reese, 2011.
I subscribe to Larry Cuban’s blog, which means I get an email every few days with his historian perspective on new initiatives like Personalized Learning or Coding for All. As I work on my research to understand how change does (or does not) happen in education, I felt like some historical context might provide perspective on the conversations I am having today.
William Reese is a professor here at UW-Madison in Education Policy Studies and History, though I’ve not had the opportunity to take a class with him. I had previously read Pillars of the Republic, by Karl Kaestle and Shopping Mall High School, by Powell Farrar and Cohen, but I was particularly interested in this book about the more recent times of NCLB. Nonetheless, I learned much about the progressive era, Dewey, curriculum, urban vs. rural schools, and the wrestling of a common goal for public schools. One of the key trends that was new to me was the consistent assumption that held up urban schools as the ideal and rural schools as backwards. This is written as the dominant narrative of public schools, with some attention paid to integration orders after Brown v. Board and the different experiences of non-white and poor students in schools.
p. 13-14. “School-houses and churches are the true symbols of New England civilization, as temples, pyramids and mausoleums were the symbols of ancient civilizations,’ declared a college professor at mid[19th-]century…. Schools, he said, were not like clocks, once wound ticking of their own accord; someone needed to operate and guide them. Moreover, ‘no reform is carried in the State or the world without a reformer. Improvements originate with original minds, and are usually presented to the people by interested advocates.”
I’ll admit, I did more skimming on this one than usual as it is meant to be a vision to practice manual and I’m not actually working in a school right now. I’ve also been part of a research group studying personalized learning schools for the past year, which means I’ve heard and seen a lot of these stories. I think for teachers and leaders in traditional school settings, however, this could be a powerful book for reimagining what learning can look like. The authors do a nice job of pairing vignettes from multiple perspectives – students, teachers, parents, leaders – with specifics about support systems or assumptions that we make.
One of the most compelling and frustrating aspects of educational change is that “we all know these things. Yet, our behaviors do not support them.” (p.82) When you finally see the disconnect between the way we do school and the way we choose to do the rest of our lives, from shopping to listening to music to hanging out with friends, you can’t stop seeing it. Some people might challenge that school shouldn’t be the same as real life – it’s “work” after all, whatever that means. I was recently reading over an interview with one of the teachers in our study and she said that her former colleagues keep commenting how she looks so much more relaxed and happy this year. It seems we are all perpetuating a system that stresses us out (kids, parents, teachers, and leaders included) just because that’s the way it is and always has been? So much of what we do – one test for all kids, writing papers and getting feedback a week later, sitting in lectures – isn’t actually the best way to do it. If our purpose is to facilitate learning, if this is the function of schools, then the form of our schools needs to follow this (p.78). Capitalizing on the technology and resources that are already at our disposal means that it’s possible.
Halverson, E., & Sheridan, K. (2014). Arts Education and the Learning Sciences. Chapter 31 in Learning Sciences. (p.626-646).
Halverson, E., Lowenhaupt, R., & Kalaitzidis, T. (under review). Towards a Theory of Distributed Instruction in Creative Arts Education. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education.
Arts educators and researchers seem to spend a lot of time justifying themselves and their work, trying to demystify what it is and its value. Halverson and Sheridan (2014) note that the “inability to objectively assess arts production is what has destined the arts to remain peripheral in schools” (p.638). Many teachers and administrators are unlikely to have experienced a strong arts program in their own education nor do they have training in this area. How many art teachers go on to become principals? Even those who believe in it may not know how to go about implementation. Personally, I know that I never identified as someone who “got” art class: I could never discern the rules of the game. For this reason, what I appreciated most about Halverson and Sheridan’s (2014) chapter regarding arts education and the learning sciences was that it made each component clear and understandable. I think there is still a leap to how instruction would be designed and assessed, but that is where Halverson, Lowenhaupt, and Kalaitzidis (under review) pick up.
The idea of distributed instruction definitely resonates with my experiences. As a science teacher, I mentored all my students through the science research process every year. I would act as both instructional designer, setting up deadlines and templates, and content mentor, answering questions, delivering mini-lectures, or recommending further resources on everything from wind turbine shape to bacteria incubation to oscillating chemical reactions. I felt like my varied science background was a resource, and I loved getting to learn with the students about all these different areas. The process was exhilarating and exhausting. Once I became technology coordinator, one of my favorite things to do was go into the science classes and serve only as mentor, engaging with students about their projects without worrying about how they were meeting requirements. I see a lot of potential for the idea of distributed instructional design, particularly in the personalized learning model as as way to understand what happens in practice and what that practice reveals about the designer’s conceptual model of teaching and learning.
Finally, I was thinking back to our early discussion about Discourses (Gee, 2001) with its relationship to identity, and thinking about conversations with leaders of schools that are adopting a personalizing learning model. Like the kids in art class who “get it”, it seems like some teachers seem to just “get it”: they co-teach and flex as needed in order to orchestrate student-centered inquiry all without formal training as to how to do this. These skills are increasingly seen as valuable and scarce, so if we want to shift both teachers and students into this way of thinking about learning, we need a way forward, a way that arts based education already knows. In particular, arts education addresses identity and culture, which is crucial through the lens of Discourses. Furthermore, Gee (2001) writes, “one crucial question we can always ask about identities of any type is this: What institution or institutions, or which group or groups of people, work to construct and sustain a given Discourse?” (p.111) We have different “institutions” within our buildings fighting to construct and sustain Discourses, with literacy and STEM currently in charge and arts at the periphery. I see the articulation of arts based education and distributed instruction as leading the way for how to prepare teachers needed for these alternative, in-school environments, rather than perpetuating the myth of the teacher or learners that just “get it.”