Sunday, January 10, 2010

Book clubs are nice, but...

Book clubs are nice - but you have to find a club, buy a book (it's not even necessarily your first pick), go to meetings (even when you are dead tired after a long day) and take your turn buying snacks.

Now imagine reading a book online (your choice and possibly free) with a group of people all passionately interested in the same topic, making margin comments and adding stickies to the same book, chatting in real time with people from your group whenever you are reading (in the middle of the night when you can't sleep but have a burning question about why the heroine opened the door). Interested? Go to the Book Glutton.

But book clubs are social, you say. It's the friendly faces, the glass of wine, the cheese tray, the laugher. Yes. And the online world is social, too. Just different - and it meets different needs. Think, for example, about the how we could use this tool in classrooms where we've made a commitment to teaching to diversity. You are setting up for Literature Circles in your grade 9 classroom and you have a gifted reader. She wants to read a classic, but there isn't anyone else to partner her with for discussions. You contact other teachers in your district or province or the world - and you find two other students with similar interests. You and their teachers give them the choices: King Lear or Tale of Two Cities or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or Room with a View or Crime and Punishment (I'm just choosing off the top of my head; the classics are freely available). Your students read, mark text, ask questions, research together using Diigo and Google Docs, and co-create a presentation using Presentit. For your gifted reader, it is a rich and rewarding experience: she meets other students with similar interests and feels challenged, stimulated and excited about learning.

We have extraordinary tools for diversity at our fingertips. We just need to learn how we can use them and how we can work together to leverage their power.

Image: Prattman's photostream on Flickr

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Do you know the game?

We often make the analogy, when we argue for math drills, let's say, that to get good at anything, you need practice. Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers gives us all kinds of examples of why extraordinary people do extraordinary things - they practice for 10,000 hours. As teachers, we argue that sports uses drills all the time. It's part of the hard work that makes us good at what we do. Therefore, drills in schools are a good thing. But where we go wrong in schools with practice is context. In volleyball, for example, we might practice setting for hours - but it's always in service of the game. The game is the thing. We practice over and over to win the game. But do kids know what the game is when they practice their times tables? The ones that do - win. How can we make sure each child knows about the game? And how can we ensure that we, as teachers, know the game? Sometimes we forget that it's not the test. It's not the assignment. It's not the project. And it's not the report card.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How are you doing?

I've been thinking that the question - how are you doing? - is framed from one of two opposing attitudes (and the third "Joey" way which is something else entirely and not really relevant here, except that it's interesting to consider how many people think of Joey when the question is posed). The first attitude is one of curiosity and concern - What do you need? Are you comfortable? How can I help? The second attitude is one of "accountability" and accusation - Are you meeting the quota, outcomes, checklist? Are you performing adequately? Are you "improving"?

Lately we've been caught up in thinking that the "accountability" attitude is the best one for schools. But I'm not convinced. I'm pretty sure that there is nothing more important to the future than education today. And I'm pretty sure that we all have a role to play in making sure that we have the best education system possible. But I doubt that we'll get there through checklists and performance indicators. Rather than ask - how are you doing and prove it - it might be time to ask - how are you doing, so our entire community help.