Thursday, July 19, 2012

The 16 Habits of Mind and Online Curriculum

It is impossible to teach our students everything they need to learn before they leave our classroom walls and online spaces. Our goal is to create responsible digital citizens who see learning as an ongoing and continuous life process, and who find joy in that process. So much of what we hope to teach young people has nothing to do with curriculum, but rather with habits, skills, values, and commitment. It is our responsibility, as educators, not to teach everything, but to inspire, and to lay the foundations from which to explore.

Guiding our online students through the "16 Habits of Mind" by incorporating them into the online experience is essential. We are not with our students each day, nor should we be, frankly. Learning is ongoing, and much of what we do as online instructors is clear the path, introduce new ideas, and allow our students to discover on their own. All at the same time, being present and available when they need us. Incorporating these "Habits" into the online curriculum works well because the goal is not to simply complete assignments for class, but rather to learn how to be successful outside of the classroom too.

Online learning requires independence and persistence. The habits are not taught in isolation, as in, today we are going to learn about listening to others and remaining flexible, but rather are weaved throughout the overall experience. I expose my students to the 16 Habits of Mind so that they see where I am coming from. Guiding students through these are important to my overall philosophy. As many teachers say, we teach young people, not subjects. I have seen the power of discussion boards and blogging for students become a source of both frustration and incredible growth. Not everyone agrees with what you write, and there is definitely vulnerability in releasing your words and publishing them, whether to an in class post or to the public, but these creative risks are important to our development and to our confidence in contributing to a connected society.

Online learning is sometimes very chaotic, and I have watched students and parents struggle with that, especially when they are transitioning from a face to face classroom where they are used to familiar routine and expectations. It is the responsibility of an online instructor to try to remove as many barriers as possible, so that the focus is on learning, rather than on trying to figure out how to learn. Although, sometimes even in that process, because this is new, students are able to overcome a great deal by simply taking the leap and navigating through this innovative space.

I try to keep in mind that because I am not teaching the same thing each day to the same group of students sitting in front of me, and that because they are each learning at their own pace, I must lead by example... remaining flexible, finding humor in what I do, and staying curious. We have the world literally at our fingertips, and so do our students. Encouraging them to adopt these habits benefits all of us as we treat the world as our classrooms and flourish in a global economy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

America's National Identity

This year, as my colleague Dave Dillon and I integrated the Riverside Virtual School (RVS) middle school English courses with the History courses, creating online, student-centered projects for each unit, I learned a lot.

It is amazing how much I did not know about history. I must admit, sadly, that History was never a subject I liked very much. I am not sure why, but I think the fact that I took it in summer school to "get it out of the way" may have something to do with it. Getting up early to sit in groups, and work through the textbook for 24 days in the summer before volleyball practice just didn't inspire me. Learning history inspires me now. Why? Well, for one, I am interested now. I am a mom. I am a tax paying citizen. I vote. I care about the blood that runs through my veins, and about the people I share this world with. I want to know how we became a country, why we have the rules we have, and who the innovators and reformers were who paved the way for so many of us here today.

 I want to be able to answer the ultimate question: What does it mean to be a good person, living a good life, in a good society? (Thank you, Dave!)

One of my favorite units this year was about America's developing national identity. Our own identity is shaped by so many things, and will not be the same tomorrow as it is today, let alone months and years from now. After we declared our independence and wrote the Constitution, we needed to figure out what it meant to be America. Our students learned about the historical context of this time period... the "Launching the Ship of the State," and then for English read literature, listened to songs, learned about art and architecture, and were able to choose what aspect of the unit interested them the most in order to complete the project.

In all of my years of teaching English, I had no idea that Andrew Jackson chose the song "Hunters of Kentucky" as the anthem for his run for presidency... the language, the connotation, the messages here in this song are fascinating... why in the world would a man want a song about "hardy alligator boys who can protect their ladies" to represent him? This is interesting stuff! I had no idea how innovative Thomas Jefferson was, and that when he picked up a book about architecture when he was young, he was hooked. Our students are so much like Jefferson, in that, they will read and study and explore for hours things they are interested in, sometimes at the expense of getting work done for their classes, because of passion and interest. Thomas Jefferson took existing ideas, designs, and structures, combined them with new, innovative ones, and created something completely new. This is what we want for our students.

Some focused on Poe for their project, recognizing that life was not all happy and joyful... there is room for pessimism in this new identity, just as there is room for it now in ours. Times are tough, and not everyone wants to go out into nature and dream the way the romantic poets like Cullen Bryant, Emerson, and Thoreau did.

Regardless of where you are in your developing identity, like America, this process is ongoing and ever-evolving. This unit was a joy to create and implement. It contributed to my own identity, and I am changed, again, moving forward...thank you America!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Strength in Vulnerability

This school year I have been vulnerable more times than I can count. Not only did I create a blog, but I published and shared my writing... until now, the only people who read what I wrote were my college professors! Poems poured out of me, begging to be written. I listened. Not only did I listen, but I stayed up to the wee hours of morning, and worked sometimes through the night to get my ideas down on the page... most of the time with my patient husband attempting to sleep next to me while my fingers clicked, and clicked, and clicked away on the keys. Then, I self published my book of poetry, Two Sides of Rain. Why? Because I wanted to know what that felt like, I wanted to share a piece of myself with others, and because I wanted to be, well, vulnerable. There is strength is vulnerability.
This year, I changed the way I taught as well. Not because I had to, but because it was time. I was willing to be vulnerable. I have been teaching the same grades for 12 years. I am fairly confident with the stories, pace, and structure that I have used. Why in the world then would I choose to step outside of my comfort zone every single day to learn new curriculum, new theories, and new ways to approach learning? Why? Because I felt called to do it, because it was right for my school, and because I needed to connect and create in a way I never had before. This summer, a colleague and I will be presenting at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. Am I nervous? You bet! But I am confident... confident in myself, and my team around me.

How can I ever expect my children or my students to take risks, to not be afraid to fail, and to learn from these experiences if I am unwilling to participate in them myself? I wish you all strength in vulnerability...

And, just in case you have not yet watched Brene Brown's TED video about the power of vulnerability-here it is.