Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Intensive Learning Teams

In Unmistakable Impact by Jim Knight, the power of teams and collaborative learning are shared.  More specifically, an approach to curriculum review and development is presented through the creation of intensive learning teams.  To support the development of ILTs, Knight suggests that a facilitator first lay the groundwork by engaging participants in one-to-one interviews in order to set the stage for praxis, giving each individual an authentic voice in shaping the process.  The facilitator then reports out to the ILT, sharing vignettes that summarize themes shared by all so that common ground is recognized, which is essential for a learner-friendly culture.  Building upon the shared vision, the ILT then creates team values (working norms, philosophy, mission statement, etc.).  This preliminary team building is essential before wrestling with the next steps of identifying the big ideas, essential questions, and content.  As Heidi Hayes Jacobs writes in Curriculum 21, the importance of mapping review teams is "to question, to raise specific challenges, and to generate provocations, with the goal of upgrading and targeting content replacements based on strong principles and tenets. (pg. 32)  Further, she suggests three questions that would serve as a framework to challenge our current curriculum instead of reinforcing what is already familiar to us (pg. 34):

1.  Within the discipline being reviewed, what content choices are dated and nonessential?
2.  What choices for topics, issues, problems, themes, and case studies are timely and necessary for our learners within disciplines?
3.  Are the interdisciplinary content choices rich, natural, and rigorous?

These questions challenge our peers to reconsider what they may have always done with fidelity, passion and purpose.  Naturally, vulnerability will be present.  Developing ILTs that give voice to individual teachers, are able to focus on the group's commonalities, and share common values (especially trust) are the foundational elements upon which to build collaboration that will enable us to challenge the thinking behind our practice.

Ready not Age

"Like all human beings, children learn and develop at different rates and in different ways;  they learn different content at different rates and in different ways.  Despite that, traditional education moves students through grade levels in age-similar groups.  This approach may be less tumultuous socially than students working together across age levels, but it impacts students negatively in many other ways and is inconsistent with natural developmental differences that make people unique." --Delivering on the Promise (pg. 16)

With a national movement towards standards and performance assessments, the industrial structure of herding students together by age as opposed to readiness is out-dated.  Differentiation is an attempt to meet kids where they are within the same age group, but why do students of the same age need to be together?  What is the fear of grouping by readiness?  Will a self-fulfilling prophecy ensue?  The one room school house has only been recently replaced with our current model.  Previously, multi-aged teaching and learning occurred, using the older students as models and supports for the younger students.  And adolescents were integrated into the adult world through apprentice programs.  This is how communities historically have socialized their young.  If we are going to best support students in their ability to meet standards, we need to re-focus our curriculum decisions based on readiness and not age.  

To the Cloud

All students today are immersed in the technological age. There is no opt out. They learn by doing, as opposed to the industrial model, which asked students to memorize and command knowledge so that they would be able to do. Technology has brought us full circle--Creating meaning out of material and learning by doing is the way in which we are intrinsically motivated. In this sense, the cloud has returned us to our natural state of inquiry and development. Heidi Hayes Jacobs' discusses in her book Curriculum 21, the metaphor of knowledge, which used to be a tree, anchored deep into the earth with long roots, representing strength and stability, has now been replaced with a cloud, nebulous and ever changing. As a result, "old systems of creating order out of chaos no longer apply." The sage on the stage, bestowing the truth to his/her students is consistent with the tree metaphor. The cloud metaphor recognizes that there is no one truth. Instead, "the power of the digital disorder that arises out of all the knowledge being everywhere at once makes the human capacity for pattern recognition, for critical thinking, for nuanced perceptions, and for dealing with ambiguity far more important than the search for certain outcomes." This lends itself to support a student-centered classroom. Curriculum decisions focus on skills that facilitate higher order thinking. "It is the nature and relevance of reading, writing and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is the way in which we make meaning out of information to create new knowledge that is changing."