Do learners need teachers? A reflection

Last year one of our teachers, at that time an assistant principal, surveyed some of our senior students about how they learn, who they learn from, and the role of their teachers in their learning.

His survey, in a nutshell, demonstrated that ‘they don’t need us’. They have their tutors and they come to class but do not participate in class discussion because they don’t want to admit they are tutored and in some cases far ahead.  Not all students, but a large number of them.

So I wonder why, after being accepted into the much-coveted selective Melbourne High School,  they continue to be tutored. Isn’t this a lack of confidence in their teachers? Where does most of their learning take place?

Our students are competitive; in many cases they choose their tutor – the one who apparently ‘will get them a 50′. There is no self-directed learning in this relationship – they believe tutors will somehow get them the final ranking they aspire to. There is an implied process that, if followed and supported by the experienced tutor, will result in a top mark. These students are tutor-focused; I see how often they talk to their tutor on their phones in the library during their study periods. I guess they would be chatting to them even more frequently after school hours.

While they are focusing on their tutored work – occasionally even asking their teachers to help them with work their tutors have set -something else happens – it is the absence of these students from class. Students are sometimes physically and/or mentally absent from class because they don’t value a particular subject as much as other subjects, or they are in the library studying for their most important subjects. From year 9 onwards, students sometimes have already decided which subjects they will select in VCE  and which are not part of that plan.

Teachers are frustrated by absences, students’ failure to do assignments and homework, or lack of engagement when this happens. And with good reason; they have prepared interesting, engaging lessons and have much to give to their students. Focusing on more than marks, teachers try to engage their students in the learning itself, and that kind of learning takes shape in passionate collaborative conversations, healthy debate, critical thinking and reflection, deep reading and a writing process which evolves after feedback and review.

We talk about lifelong learning. In my conversation with teachers at school, I guess that our teachers realise that our students need to drive their own learning so that they prepared for higher education and life. I’m not sure, though, if our school system is designed to prepare them for this. I’m also not sure that our boys’ parents understand how much more important this is than helping them achieve the highest ATAR. I probably fell into that category myself when my two sons were at school. I understood the value of lifelong learning but was more concerned that their final VCE ranking enabled them to get into their preferred courses.  I may have thought that learning habits would fall into place once they got into their preferred tertiary courses. Maybe the two don’t play well together  – working for the high ATAR and delving into deeper learning and developing literacies. After all, in our school at least, the quest for the gold ATAR begins when the students arrive in year 9.

Lifelong learning. Funny how these catch-phrases somehow become meaningless. We know what the term means but I wonder if we are tied up with abstract notions more than getting our hands dirty.

I was reading Audrey Watters’ article, ‘Roaming Autodidacts and Entrepreneurial (L)Earners: The stories we tell about lifelong learning.’

In general, Americans do believe that lifelong learning is important, so it’s not that surprising that hyperbolic narratives about the future of learning are appealing to us.

‘Hyperbolic narratives’  – yes, I’ve fallen for these. They are so uplifting – temporarily – but they don’t always fit into the everyday reality in schools/higher education. As we constantly rewrite curriculum, exchanging definitions over the years to come back full circle, do we really have the time to build a deep understanding of the terms in our curriculum mapping and policies? Is all the rewriting and re-defining as useful as it could be or should we just get on with the business of teaching? And if so, could teachers spend more time engaging  students in the learning that inspired them in the first place, the learning that was responsible for them becoming teachers – than preparing them for exams and marking all their work?

 

Visual Communication Design online resources – happy to share

(This has been reposted from Melbourne High School Library blog.)

Since I spend so many, many hours creating art and visual communication design resources online, it gives me great pleasure to share and know that people are using them.

I’ve recently added new resources in our Visual Arts and Visual Communication Design digital library – our Libguides.

On the Visual Communication Design page, look for the tabs at the top: Australian designers and design companies, Berlin designers/illustrators, European designers/illustrators, UK designers/illustrators, US designers/illustrators, and design agencies and organisations. All of these resources are new – I think you’ll love them because they are full of young, creative people and examples of the work, with links to how you can follow them on social media, eg Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter and other places. The beauty of the follow is that all the wonderful, new work comes to you in your feed and you’ll have daily inspiration to draw from. The diversity amongst the artists is amazing – in fact, you’ll be overwhelmed it (in a good way).

I’ll leave you with a few examples:

From the Berlin designers/illustrators page: Maria Bustamante (aka notflipper)

From the European designers/illustrators page: French artist Koralie. You can follow her onTumblrFacebook and on this website.

On the UK designers/illustrators pageJack Sachs is a London based 3D animator and illustrator.Read his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Nicolas Menard is a French Canadian graphic artist working and living in London. He makes drawings, prints, animations, books and interactive. Follow him on Vimeo,on tumblr, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

On the US designers/illustrators page, so far we have Ari Weinkle and you can follow Ari on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter.

Under Australian designers and design companiesKindred Studio is the multi-disciplinary studio of Sydney based Illustrator, Designer and Art Director Andrew Fairclough. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter and Skillshare.

Benja Harney is a paper engineer. Follow him on Instagram. Benja is based in Sydney, Australia.

Also new in the Visual Arts libguides are most of the resources under the tab ‘For teachers’. There’s a lot of text here and so it doesn’t look very exciting but, believe me, if you take the time to explore the links you will not be disappointed. For example, in the box ‘general resources for teachers‘, I would recommend having a good look at Deon Van Dorp’s website. I met Deon in the High School Art Teachers Facebook group – a private group so if you want to join, just ask and wait to be approved. Deon is one of many art teachers sharing their expertise and student work examples here. Have a good dig around on Deon’s website, under all the tabs. For example, under the ‘More’ tab at the top, you will find Deon sharing the processes he goes through with students and examples of student work. Deon includes detailed descriptions of tools, techniques and shows the progress of student work from start to finish.

Also under the ‘More’ tab are examples of student visual diaries. There is lots of student work organised by year level throughout the website.

Flickr is another amazing resource for examples of art work including student work. I have a selection of these in the Visual Arts libguide (for teachers) under ‘student art work on Flickr’, for example, Monks Dyke Tennyson College, Lincolnshire. Don’t forget to select ‘albums’ when on Flickr to see different projects. There are many examples of student sketchbooks/folios, such as this one. I can’t share any images here because the permissions are restricted but you can still look.

On the same libguides page under the tab ‘for teachers’ there is a big selection of art teacher websites with examples of work. Developing Nicely by Chris Francis, UK Art teacher and Senior Leader at St Peter’s Catholic School, Bournemouth, England. The blog contains thought-provoking articles that are illustrated with creative, contemporary student artwork.

Ms King’s AP Studio Art Class This blog contains activities cover perspective, line drawing, the depiction of glass and metal objects, working in monochrome, figure drawing and still life arrangements.

InThinking Visual Arts is a website for International Baccalaureate Art teachers written by Heather McReynolds, who has over 20 years of teaching and examining experience. Heather was previously Head of Art at the International School of Florence and now offers training and workshops for IB Art teachers, writes textbooks and shares knowledge via the InThinking Visual Arts website. Although this site is subscription based, there is enough free content to keep you busy for hours. For example, you can read an interesting article on attitudes to beauty.

Fortismere Art Department has lots of useful things under the tab ‘student area’ including ‘practical support’ (for photography, painting, film and more)  and ‘web tools’, such asphoto- and video-sharing, and also under the ‘student area’ tab, under ‘research support’ there is ‘research and analysis‘, ‘creative thinking’ and resources for photography genres eg portraiture.

Also helpful on this page is the box with tips from a high achieving art student.

I’ve also made a start on resources for students under the tab of the same name.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming navigating your way through our online resources so I hope it was useful for me to highlight a few of our newly created areas. Enjoy!

Back to #CLMOOC

It’s pretty obvious I haven’t been writing in this blog for so, so long and I guess it doesn’t matter because you go where you need to go, and I’ve been dipping into different communities and conversations online, mainly in groups on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I’ve learned not to feel guilty when I can’t settle on one thing – hence the lack of focus for writing in this blog.

So #CLMOOC is happening, and I’m happy to get involved – because I feel the need to ‘do stuff’ that’s devised for me in the company of others, because the people I love doing stuff with are there (some of them), and because it’s time to get to know new people, and the best way to do that is to make stuff with them. For me, it’s much more satisfying than just people on Twitter with no unifying agenda (apart from learning, of course). Conversations happen, ideas and creative things are exchanged, and my network is widened again, including people I wouldn’t otherwise meet, people from all walks of life. Nice.

I’m about to look seriously at Make Cycle #2 because up until now I’ve been the rebellious child, refusing to sit still, not willing to follow the rules (not that there are any actually, just guidelines), coming in to join conversations here and there, admiring the creativity and ideas of others. Still sharing, but randomly, things I find inspirational  – like the Gertrude Street Light Projection Festival which is magical.

Susan Watson put me onto the monsters in the PicsArt app (which I had been using in a limited way). I hid some amongst the birds in my rug. How many can you see?

I found an old high school sketch (and I mean OLD) and added a few.

All the while, saving things shared by people in Diigo and Pinterest.

What I love about CLMOOC is the philosophy and attitude of the group. For example, in the make cycle for week 2 you will read :

If you have just arrived … welcome. You are not late. You are right on time.

And also:

Finding ways to reciprocate generosity in our community is a key way for all of us to grow together even as we learn together.

This is a community I feel comfortable in, at home in, safe to play in.

And now, to get stuck into Make Cycle #2:

For Make Cycle 2, consider this idea of reaching out into conversation, of moving behind the “+1” or “like” or heart button into something deeper and richer, to be the very heartbeat of CLMOOC.

And this fantastic example of how powerful this idea can be:

In a recent blog post, Aaron Davis (whose blog ReadWriteRespond is a must-read) dives into the concept of his own writing life. Entitled “A Village Takes Many Things,” Aaron celebrated his own 300th blog post by reaching out to all of the people who have left comments at his blog site. He invited them through personal communication to write on the theme of the Village in a single blog post. And they did. Aaron’s project shows the ways in which connections ebb and flow, and he honored his readers as a reciprocal act of trust and connection.

I’m grateful that my options for this make cycle can be either to dip in,  swim in or dive in. I’ve been dipping here and there, and know better than to permit the guilt monster to make me feel bad about not diving in if I don’t have the time or ideas.  Reciprocating and connecting is something I think we learn to do over time, and keep learning. Reminding myself about the connected learning principles. I dwell on:

What would it mean to think of education as a responsibility of a distributed network of people and institutions, including schools, libraries, museums and online communities?

I fantasize about the school campus extending into other learning places – the museums, the art galleries, libraries, sustainable gardens, and the virtual spaces. (Hmm… but so much disruption to school routine). Virtual spaces are possible but how to go about this? In small ways, I think. Offering, modelling, enticing, leaping in when they’re ready to jump in.

 

The thinking behind the evolution of blogging – 4 case studies (ALIA seminar)

Last Saturday, with barely a whisper for a voice (laryngitis), I presented ‘Blogging: My story’ at an ALIA conference, along with Catherine Ryan (Westbourne Grammar), Karen Malbon (Penleigh and Essendon Grammar) and keynote speaker, Kelly Gardiner, Online Learning Manager, State Library Victoria. It was a privilege to join these people, and to hear what they had to say. Kelly, thank you for settling my nerves with your lovely, relaxed, conversational manner. It was a privilege and pleasure also to meet and chat to everyone who came – on a Saturday! And I have to  mention how beautifully organised the day was – with lovely pastries from a special place in (I think) Seddon. Thanks to ALIA people (Anne Girolami and Karen Marston – as well as Catherine Ryan; I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone, and if so, sorry) and in particular to Anne who saved my voice by regrouping people so that I gave two instead of three workshops. I hope that Kelly’s talk will be available somewhere soon because I’d like to revisit it.

Here’s the visual presentation for my workshop. It doesn’t cover everything I spoke about but it gives you an idea. I wanted to focus on my own story in terms of 4 different school blogs I talked about, so it was more about reflection/evaluation and evolution of my use of blogging in four different contexts.

 

Re-designing thinking (on libraries) – Hamish Curry (notosh) #slav

Yesterday Marie and I attended a SLAV workshop facilitated by Hamish Curry (notosh) : Re-designing thinking on libraries.

I don’t have time for a well written post at the moment so I’m going to share my unedited notes and photos, including screenshots which will give you an insight into the process we went through during the workshop. A big thank you to Hamish Curry who ran a dynamic, engaging workshop with lots of depth and substance. I hope to share this with my library colleagues as well as other teachers in the school (and obviously here).  You can also look at Notosh’s ‘The Design Thinking School‘ online. I think it would be fantastic to have Hamish work with us at MHS, either as a whole school or in faculties.

I did feel a bit like I was going to explode while attempting to listen, participate, take notes, while sharing on Twitter and Instagram.

Great video demonstrating the importance of time given for creativity and problem solving.

A few screen shots. Please go full screen with the presentation.

More about Hexagonal Thinking on the notosh website.

If you want a more comprehensive, orderly set of notes, please look at Marie Buckland’s.

We are teacher librarians. We teach library lessons. #perception #librarymyths

“Oh, teacher librarian? So, what do you do? (Awkward silence) I guess you teach library lessons.”

Big sigh.

Even when you think that you and your colleagues have demonstrated to your school community what you actually do and are capable of doing, there will be the unexpected and totally surprising (not in a good way) comment which reminds me that we are partially stuck in people’s outdated perception of who we are and what we do. Is it because we all remain isolated in our silo-esque faculties in our schools, or that we are so busy trying to keep up with everything that we don’t have the time or headspace to even imagine what other educators are doing? And partially because, even as I sit at my computer researching and curating resources for teachers/students, a teacher will come in and ask me to photocopy something, and in his head, I am the person who assists him with menial chores – and cheerfully, because I love my job.

As a sort of creative therapy for my frustration, I made this very tongue-in-cheek slideshow. Hope you enjoy it.  Just a bit of fun; hope nobody is offended by it.


We are teacher librarians – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Drawn into remix #lesmauxdesmots

So the weeks and months go by and no sign of me here. Is it because I have nothing to say? Is it because I’m consumed by school? Obsessed by gorgeous art and photography? Delving into this and that online and offline? Yes and yes.

Some things still call out and I’m not going to pass up on the opportunity to play with Creatives whose work I follow daily and who feed my need for such things, nurture so many.

And so I spotted Simon’s poem on Twitter.  Simon is prolific in thought and deed. I would like to meet him one day.

 

Not well written but I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter. It’s written. Somehow I’ve stepped into Simon’s hashtag #lesmauxdesmots. I’m not sure what that is about because I haven’t been paying attention although I’ve noticed it.

And now Kevin comes in. Another Creative Prolific. Kevin and Simon never stop. Please don’t stop ever.

I hope that others will join in to remix. It’s one of the most satisfying kinds of online connection – next best thing to being with people face to face only it’s a play date so no small talk is necessary.

PS  Of course that wasn’t the end of it. Terry went on a creative rampage, leaving a trail of shimmering images and sounds of nature with a voiceover for technical tips. You really must see it all in his post. Really.

Simon asked how you attribute nature and Laura answered: by noticing and shared a Soundcloud recording of the sounds in her English country garden.

I guess we’ll just keep going for a while.

Leading from the margins. Teacher librarian work.

 

My role as teacher librarian is like plasticine. I rarely try to explain what it is because it’s different for every TL and different for me from day to day, and so it’s complicated and  nobody wants a long-winded answer.

Broadly speaking my role is to support and enhance teaching and learning in the school, or more correctly, to support students and teachers and enhance what they do, because it’s not a program, it’s a human to human interaction.

When I collaborate with teachers, it is different for each collaboration. That’s obviously the same for every TL. I might have an idea, a vision, but I need to start from where they are, from what they are doing and from what they want to do. Conversation is absolutely the most crucial first thing with a lot of listening from me. And then questions to clarify my understanding.

I realise that I should remain as open as possible to the the way this collaboration might go because that’s the only way a true collaboration can work, and the only way we leave room for the best possible work to happen.

Recently I asked permission from an English teacher to sit in on one class – it was a year 10 English class – on a regular basis. I wasn’t sure how to explain it to her, but I knew that I wanted to be there to observe her and her students, to see the teaching and learning processes, to understand her teaching style and see the content and skills being taught.

Often teacher librarians do one-off lessons, sometimes without knowing the names of most of the students, not knowing anything about them. Typically we perform  a specific job eg we help students with their research process in one of their assignments. I call this a performance. We often feel put under pressure to perform well because this might be the only time we see these students all term or even all year, or else we don’t want to disappoint teachers in case they don’t ask us back. The pitfall is if we try to cram skills and content in a way that is often doomed to fail. Maybe fail is a harsh word, but it’s our only chance to make a difference, to prove ourselves, to convince students and teachers that what we do is valuable.

I believe that real teaching and learning is possible only when there is a developing human relationship between students and teachers. How is this possible in a short one-lesson performance? I don’t think it is. And so teacher librarians are often trying to brainstorm ideas which will enable a more organic relationship with teachers and students in the classroom.

Back to the English teacher – I did feel a little odd just sitting there in the first couple of classes, doing nothing but taking notes.  I wasn’t sure at this stage what I would do with these notes if anything at all but I just kept taking them in the hope that something would be revealed to me. Although I knew the students were studying poetry, I knew that the exact shape of the learning in that room was as yet unwritten.

A class is a process, an independent organism with its own goals and dynamics. It is always something more than even the most imaginative lesson plan can predict.

Thomas P. Kasulis (Source)

Eventually I decided to quietly create a blog and just add them there. There were three posts for three lessons and I added a couple of images and a video. The students are reading poetry and going through the process of annotating the poems and constructing their understanding together, guided by the teacher.

I wasn’t sure what the teacher would think of the blog – which I started without asking permission, but only as an experiment – like throwing some lines onto a page, just testing possibilities. I emailed the link to her and her response was positive. She remarked on the value of the audiovisual aspect. Blogging does work even just for the documentation of what happens in class. It’s neat, sequential, easy to add images/videos, and is an excellent archive.

This is a good start, I think. Good to show rather than tell and wait for the confirmation. There’s so much more to blogging but better to wait and let it unfold. Best to take the cue from the teacher. Patience and communication will hopefully lead the way to a fruitful collaboration.

When I read ‘leading from the margins’, without knowing the context, I thought to myself ‘that’s what I’m doing – I think’. Hope I’m not being presumptuous. I’m trying to shift things in small ways and I’m doing this not from any position of importance or power but just from a quiet, unremarkable place.

Someone might ask: Is what you’re doing, strictly speaking, the role of a teacher librarian? I hear that voice in my head sometimes. Should I really spend time ‘sitting’ and waiting for something I know not in advance to start stirring that will inform my collaboration in this class?

Collaboration is a good thing, yes?  A lone teacher can do a great job but out of class teachers communicate with their colleagues. There is nothing odd about two people in the classroom although I can see how habitual ownership of the class by one teacher can result in rigidity. I bring to the collaboration a passion for connecting students with each other and beyond the classroom. A blog can make that happen. Firstly it allows a student to connect with himself, to write out his thoughts and construct his understanding. The blog follows the development of this process and archives it, allowing retrospective reading. A blog is a published writing platform and invites readers. Suddenly the student is not just writing for the teacher in order to receive corrections and marks, but has a reading audience. At the very least the readership of his classmates. And beyond that the possibilities of interaction beyond the classroom.

I’ve been blogging for over 8 years and connecting to people across the world – people who share my interests and love of learning together – so I understand what’s possible. Talking about it usually doesn’t win teachers over but showing what’s possible and going slowly will have a better chance. I hope.

I’m leading from the margins and that’s okay.

Of course Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel’s slideshare includes heaps more than I’ve touched on here, so take a look at it.

What am I hoping to achieve by encouraging my students to use social media?

What am I hoping to achieve with social media and my interest group, Writing Interest Group (WIG), formerly known as Competition Writing?

Why am I insisting so much on the students’ participation in the comments section of the Facebook Group or the blog, Unicorn Express?

The screen capture below gives a clue. I had shared on Facebook Jason’s blog post (sonnet).

I want the blog to be a publishing platform for student writing. I want students to write for a real audience – both their peers as well as anyone outside the school and even in other countries.

I want students to know their work is being read and appreciated, and that other students will take the time to tell them so, or to leave constructive comments.

My aim is connected learning, interaction and reflection after writing.

I love the fact that former MHS students are still part of the Facebook group and read current students’ work, and even more when they come in to say something about it. That connection beyond the classroom, beyond the year level, the school – that’s what I want for our students.

How do you think Jason Li feels when he reads what Hanford, a former MHS/WIG student, says in the comment section of the Facebook group:

I stay to get the opportunity to read things like that poem!

Virtually Connecting – expanding and enhancing the conference experience for those not attending

This year I’ve been involved in something called Virtually Connecting which was initiated by Maha Bali and Rebecca Hogue.

The purpose of Virtually Connecting is to enliven virtual participation in academic conferences, widening access to a fuller conference experience for those who cannot be physically present at conferences.

Using emerging technologies, we connect onsite conference presenters with virtual participants in small groups. This allows virtual conference attendees to meet and talk with conference presenters, something not usually possible. Each session is recorded and, whenever possible, live streamed, to allow additional virtual attendees to participate in the discussion by listening and asking questions via Twitter.

Whenever possible, there are two seats in each session reserved for people we don’t know, or people who have never participated in one of our open conference discussions. This is intended to encourage participation from new people who are not necessarily connected to us.

It is our hope that through this experiment, people will not only make new connections, but they will also make weak connections stronger.

So far I’ve participated in 2 Virtually Connected hangouts – the timezone is a restriction for me here in Australia. It really is an enriching way to experience conferences you can’t attend – and let’s face it, living in Australia, how many of us can attend international conferences? Even if I attended the conference physically, I wouldn’t necessarily be in conversation with keynote speakers or people I didn’t know so the Virtually Connected experience gives you the opportunity to be part of a conversation with these people as well as connecting to other people at the conference and those connecting through the hangout. You get a chance to ask questions and take part in the conversation, but even if you don’t have a lot to add you are still in the room during the real-time conversation.

I like the fact that the backchannel exists as an added layer during the live hangout. It gives you a chance to be active during the listening by bringing up questions or additional idea or information and interacting with the other members of the hangout.

It’s also a perfect way to ask a question without interrupting the speaker – and a good way to ask before you forget! The people speaking will have an eye on the backchannel and answer the question when they’re ready.  Of course, there’s another backchannel which is on Twitter and that’s open to those people following the hangout but not directly involved. To do all those things at once – listen to the hangout, participate by speaking, participate in the hangout backchannel and participate in the Twitter backchannel – that’s a serious brain-stretching exercise! But fun, for sure.

After the hangout I find the people I’ve just met on Twitter or Google+ or wherever they are, follow them and add their blogs to my Inoreader. It’s a brilliant way of doing PD because you continue to interact with these people and keep up with their writing and conversations.

Sometimes you haven’t been able to actively follow the conference sessions before the hangout – because you’re at school! – and so you don’t actually have a lot to say but it still feels like you’re in the room and the opportunity to speak up is there.

My participation in these hangouts has been fairly low-key. Firstly because it’s new to me and I’m a bit overwhelmed with the collective knowledge of the people in the room, but also because I’m learning on the spot from the conference speakers and don’t want to ask questions for the sake of asking them. The backchannel is great for this kind of situation although you can’t see it on the video. I’m usually much more active in the backchannel. I think with practice I could increase my participation in the face-to-face conversation especially if I’ve had time to keep up with the conference. Work gets in the way!!

I was invited to participate in a third webinar and was all set up at work (before school started) but technology failed me! Very disappointing and confusing because it had worked at school before that. Oh well.  Maintain a philosophical attitude to these things…

You can see a bit of that backchannel interaction here where Virtually Connecting facilitators promote their involvement in Educause 2015 conference.
You can see all Virtually Connected hangouts archived in their video channel.

Button up, we’re out in the open

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