Monday, 16 February 2015

What I've been reading

I've been reading some texts that are quite old, in the scheme of published things. One of these is Putnam and Borko's (2000) What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say about research on teacher learning? I was interested in finding out if these 'new views' had changed in the intervening 15 years. They discuss the idea of 'situated cognition' and its relationship to how people learn, and specifically, how teachers "themselves learn new ways of teaching" (p. 4). This, as Putnam and Borko point out, is relevant to inquire into if we are to think about initial teacher education as well as in-service professional development.

Of course they were writing in a context that did not yet have ubiquitous wifi or mobile devices you can put in your pocket and yet use as a computer. Good sense is good sense. How about this comment they cite from Pea (1993, p. 75): "Socially scaffolded and externally mediated, artifact-supported cognition is so predominant in out-of-school settings that its disavowal in the classroom is detrimental to the transfer of learning beyond the classroom". In classrooms with ubiquitous wifi and mobile devices, this 'disavowal' is much harder to sustain. In schools assuming a siege mentality of banning devices, this disavowal is not only strong but also disempowering for its inhabitants. Fewer and fewer of these exist, but in their place, should be practices that help learners become wise users of 'artifact-supported' learning.

Putnam and Borko then argue that:
The classroom is a powerful environment for shaping and constraining how practicing teachers think and act. Many of their patterns of thought and action have become automatic - resistant to reflection or change. 
They then argue that helping teachers break that chain is important if they are to see what they do through new lens. A Teaching as Inquiry process may help that, for it expects teachers to critically view what they do, seek documented evidence about this, and then ponder its significance and impact as a catalyst for future actions. Sometimes too, this means that someone outside the same context can help those teachers poke a stick at their own pedagogy to see it anew.

And when teachers within one school context participate in a learning community of sharing new materials, strategies and digital tools that support the kind of risk-taking necessary to investigate one's own practices, then the members of this community are able to "draw upon and incorporate each other's expertise to create rich conversations and new insights into teaching and learning". (p. 8).

I have the very great privilege to be working with teachers in a school where this is growing. These volunteers have decided they are willing to put their own practices up for scrutiny and to share those with peers. We are currently getting started. Soon, we'll be contributing to an meeting one evening where we'll discuss the reading I've provided as a GoogleDoc where they have comment rights only. They need to add their thoughts about the reading (about learning theories and digital technologies) as well as the strategy associated with the reading. This is a way of exploring what they might want to try with learners as they find their way with embedding digital technologies into everyday pedagogical practice, regardless of subject.  I can't wait to see what they think, and if Putnam and Borko's fifteen-year-old thinking is as useful as I think it still is.

You never know, my group of teachers might be keen on collaborating on a blog post sometime this year.

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