Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Summer Reading & Intellectual Character

At a recent session for our Teaching Advocacy Network (TAN), tertiary colleagues were invited to select and review a text about teaching that resonated with them. Over wine and cheese, a few of us got together late last year to talk teaching and recommend good reads on teaching issues.  A reference list of recommendations follows this piece.

As we talked, common themes related to what we think about when we approach our teaching: How we reflect, big questions and provocations around philosophy and very human concerns about purpose, values, beliefs, goals, soul and identity. The digital made an appearance with digital literacy and protocols for online learning. Dispositions like curiosity and wonder were centre stage, along with creativity and critical thinking.

I chose to follow up a few of the texts recommended by my learned colleagues, and thought I might blog briefly in relation to each, starting with Ritchhart (2002). 

Ron Ritchhart tackles the notion of ‘Intellectual character: What it is, why it matters, and how to get it’. A colleague of Howard Gardner’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education & Project Zero, Ritchhart wrote this text more than a decade ago (2002), yet the insights are pertinent still as educators and students continue to wrestle with the tensions between deep and surface learning, personalized learning and test scores, cultivating curiosity for lifelong learning and acquiring skills and knowledge.

Ritchhart writes about productive patterns of thinking, dispositions and habits of mind, including curiosity, skepticism and open-mindedness. Importantly, he queries the messages that teachers send about the types of thinking that are valued and expected. For Ritchhart, education is not about compliance and outcomes. Rather, the aim is to generate a culture of thinking. In this vein, I was particularly drawn to chapter 5 of the text, looking at ‘Thinking Routines: Creating the spaces and structures for thinking’.

As someone who values structure and routine, but often as a foundation from which to branch out flexibly, I was intrigued to learn more about Ritchhart’s ideas on thinking routines, and to consider whether and how these might inform my own thinking and influence on students’ thinking. I have a hunch that routines are a bit like habits, and that these formations, along with the other structures and spaces we build, can be enabling or disabling. After all, we can usually recognise a bad habit when we see one, or work to replace our bad habits with good ones. It is possible to become locked into unproductive ways of thinking and behaving, just as it is possible to learn (unlearn and relearn) new and more positive approaches to learning and life. With these thoughts in mind, I settled in for a closer read of chapter 5.

Ritchhart  quickly modified my assumption that habits and routines are similar, by asserting that habits emerge over time through preference and familiarity, whereas routines are more explicit, deliberate and goal-driven. The way routines are conceptualized in this text is quite specific and associated with particular forms, functions, and criteria. In a nutshell, routines are instrumental and simplified to just a few steps for ease of recall, teaching/learning, application and repetition. Despite the simplicity however, the power of thinking routines is not to be underestimated.

A key idea here is that thinking routines are used to promote discussion and exploration of ideas, to probe for evidence, to expose reasoning, and to enable evaluation. The thinking routines discussed in the chapter include the use of journals as a means of documenting thinking so as to free up mental space, to promote connections and elaboration of ideas.

Two parts of this chapter resonated with me:

1.  How being told the answers, or lectured on content, detracts from thinking and
     “affords students little opportunity to develop their skills in thinking. Furthermore, when this routine dominates the life of a classroom, students’ inclination to think is not only neglected but also suppressed. When all one needs to do is to wait for the teacher to deliver the goods, thinking seems to have little payoff” (p.107).

2.  This is about how students come to know, and is followed by a good example of the use of writing as a routine for coming to know: where learners write before and after reading literature. Pre-writing enables formulation of questions and wonderings. Follow-up writing reflects on developing understanding. In each case, writing involves organization of thoughts and preparation for discussion. In contrast to ‘teaching as telling’, the thinking routine and use of class discussion conveys the idea that “in this class questions aren’t so much answered as they are investigated” (p.108).

Overall, Ritchhart’s chapter on thinking routines makes a case for the enculturation of a disposition to think, and suggests ways in which teachers can promote a thinking space through questioning, discussion, exploration of ideas, evidence, reasoning, and cognitively active learning, in contrast to waiting for the teacher to deliver.

The takeaway message here is to ask ourselves: 'how are we promoting thinking?'

I recommend Ritchhart’s book to teachers in all sectors.  I’m grateful to my colleague, Bill Ussher, for bringing it to the TAN summer reading group. I hope Bill and others will respond with their thoughts and with further text recommendations.

TAN Summer Reading List follows. Have you read any of these? Which should I tackle next?

Artzt, A. F., & Armour-Thomas, E. (1999). A cognitive model for examining teachers' instructional practice in mathematics: A guide for facilitating teacher reflection. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 40(3), 211-235. [recommended by Brenda Bicknell]

Artzt, A. F., Armour-Thomas, E., & Curcio, F. R. (2007). Becoming a reflective mathematics teacher: A guide for observations and self-assessment. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. [recommended by Brenda Bicknell]

Claxton, G., & Carr, M. (2004). A framework for teaching learning: the dynamics of dispositions. Early Years, 24(1), pp. 87-97. [recommended by Jeanette Clarkin-Phillips]

Dahlberg, G & Moss, P. (2005) Ethics and politics in Early childhood education. Abingdon, UK: Routledge Farmer. [recommended by Simon Archard]

Doyle, C., & Hoben, J. (2011). No room for wonder. In J.L. Kincheloe and R. Hewitt (eds.), Regenerating  the philosophy  of education: what happened to soul? (pp. 115-127). New York: Peter Lang. [recommended by Pip Hunter]

Gilster, P. (1998). Digital Literacy. New York, NY: Wiley. [recommended by Tracey Morgan]

Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating lessons: Learning from academic dishonesty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [recommended by Mel Chivers]

McDonald, J.P., Mohr, N., Dicter, A., & McDonald, E.C. (2013). The power of protocols: An eductor’s guide to better practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. [recommended by Dianne Forbes]

McDonald, J.P., Zydney, J.M., Dichter, A., & McDonald, E.C. (2012). Going online with protocols: New tools for teaching and learning. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.[recommended by Dianne Forbes]

Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind - moving from the information age to the conceptual age. Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin. [recommended  by Maria Persson]

Ritchhart, R. (2002). Intellectual character: What it is, Why it matters and How to get it. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass. [recommended by Bill Ussher]

Friday, 16 January 2015

I've been thinking about...

It's a new year, and the sun is shining. For many people, this is unremarkable.

For those of us living in this long, thin, cloudy and shaky set of islands at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean (Aotearoa/New Zealand), the weather is a frequent topic of conversation. I remark on this because even discussing the weather (or not) is a cultural practice. During last year, we had two guests staying with us (at separate times, from Thailand and China). Both of them commented on how changeable the weather was from day to day, and even during a day (sometimes four seasons in one day). To them, this was a strange experience. In Thailand, the weather is hot: hot and sunny, or hot and rainy. There is little to talk about - there's a rainy/monsoon season and then there's the rest of the time. In Beijing where our guest was from, the weather is similar - hot, or hot and wet.

Our experiences thus cloud how we understand our known world - sorry about the weather pun. I introduce this week's post with this because it directly links to a conversation before class with a few Masters of Teaching and Learning students as we discussed learning mathematics. One said that she loved the way you could find patterns in maths - that once she knew this was possible, it opened up an exciting world for her. Another observed that the way the subject was now taught in primary schools was light-years away from her own experiences. Together we talked about how these examples identified different ways of coming to the learning. I commented that it was a pity my experience of learning mathematics at secondary school was so alienating. I couldn't remember my primary school mathematics learning - I guess it was too long ago last century!

At secondary school, mathematics was an almost complete mystery to me. As a words person, I kept getting hung up on them. I could never understand why I would ever need to know how long it took men to dig a hole, and I certainly never understood how you could turn people into numbers and find an answer to such a question. And I always wanted to know what the words meant in trigonometry and geometry: how did they get there? Why these words and not others? These questions were meaningful to me. However, I never asked them - instinctively, I knew they would never be answered because this class was about numbers, not words, and, because I was in one of the 'clever' classes, I was already supposed to know. Words were never addressed in mathematics, except to name things.

These are all an introduction to my wondering: In a digitally 'on' world, in what ways do secondary school mathematics teachers regularly explore the words of mathematics to help introduce concepts as a means of better connecting with learners whose orientation and world experience is not numbers-based, but words or even images-based? Which mathematics teachers think about the words of mathematics and focus on helping kids understand them? How do these teachers go about this?

Take this pattern from Maori as an example, taken from THIS site:

Other examples could easily be accessible from Islam and the Pacific Island countries. For example, I used Google to find 'mathematical patterns+Islam'  images, and easily found THIS site. Changing it to Pacific Islands and click on an image took me HERE to an exploration of Lapita patterns. Getting into mathematics from real world applications would more likely have hooked me into how the numbers worked as patterns. This may be a fascinating entree to the mathematical world and a great problem-solving task. What do mathematics teacher do to use digital tools (beyond computational tools) in the service of mathematics?

This brings me back to the beginning of this post. In what ways could all teachers, regardless of subject, context or education sector, better use digital means to use culture, prior knowledge and experience to bring learners closer to the kinds of conceptual understanding that matters to those passionate about their subject?

I'm looking forward to your thoughts.

Monday, 12 January 2015

2014: Retrospective

This blog started six months ago, arising from a staffroom conversation where we decided we would establish a blog. Why? To write about matters in education that matter to us. To write critically, creatively, systematically and intuitively, and in my case – just to write. Blogging is my attempt to increase fluency and the ease with which I put words on a page in the hope that this will translate into confident and increasingly prolific writing for publication.

From these beginnings, we have attempted to write weekly posts, alternating responsibility between us. This approach is intended to help us to sustain our blogging commitment, while making it more manageable rather than a burden among the list of other chores compelling projects. A blogging partnership also enables us to review each other’s posts and to tackle different angles on educational issues.

For the most part, our first six months has been successful – at least if success is to be judged by the achievement of limited and modest goals like:
  •  posting regularly and sustaining momentum
  • writing to reflect on matters of education importance
  •  experiencing a degree of satisfaction and enjoyment

In terms of audience, we sense that there are a few people reading our blog. Possibly tweeting the links to new posts helps with this. A number of supportive and encouraging colleagues have commented on posts, sometimes here online but also sometimes at the lunch table. We attracted a mention during connected educators month (Oct, 2014), and a couple of international citations from interested colleagues. A few of our students have read our blog, which is wonderful and we might dare to hope that some will do so willingly rather than out of a feeling of duty. In any case, we appreciate the interest shown.

As 2015 dawns it is time for us to look at where we have come from, to take stock of our emerging identity as bloggers and to look ahead to our future focus.

Revisiting the blog posts from our first six months, I can identify a few salient themes that have preoccupied our attention and kept us writing.

Among these,

1.     Practical approaches to online teaching: assessment, formative feedback, eportfolios, social media in tertiary education (Becoming a Connected Educator; Connected Educators, Connected Students). I have discussed a few of my approaches to teaching online, and in particular, some of the experimentation I carried out last year. I am interested in ideas for moving my teaching forward and for enhancing student learning, particularly in online classes.
2.     Response to media coverage (Schools policing uniforms and hair lengthsBeyond the Bandwagon)  and to various reports (e.g., Digital technologies in NZ Schools) and guidelines related to digital technologies and education: critique, questioning assumptions, seeking evidence, digging beneath the surface, debunking myths such as the emphasis on devices, drill and low-level skills, and the digital native/immigrant dichotomy. These are the kinds of posts that are Noeline’s speciality as she reads and reviews with a critical eye for rhetoric and unsupported hype.
4.     In relation to learning, what matters? Thinking, inquiry learning, digital literacy, and higher-order thinking involving a range of technologies and sharing with authentic audiences; depth, discernment, ethics and creativity
5.     Human rights and social justice - power struggles, control, regulation, resistance, inclusion.  
In whose interest?  
6.     Open access – TEC-Variety, Networking, Digital Smarts
8.     Implications for teachers - active professional learning, teaching as inquiry

While our thinking may have moved on, we continue to welcome responses to any of our posts. Let us know that you are reading, how you might apply some of our ideas, or how your own thinking differs.

As we enter 2015, we will continue to respond to media and government reports, and to relate practice and research. We’ll also keep you up-to-date with the progress of our Digital Smarts work. I am keen to share some summer reading, my ongoing adventures with teaching and social media, and my own learning along the way. 2015 is shaping up as another good year of conferences and professional learning events, starting with WCELFest in February, where I intend to talk about peer review of online teaching, and will certainly craft a blog post in association with this.

Happy new year to all, and please let us know that you are reading!