The worth of self-reflection

Learning is a complex and often tedious task for students as they typically wonder why they are learning what they do. As kids get older worthwhile experiences become more important to them as they assign personal meaning to certain learning experiences.

Me as a young learner
I think back to the time I spent in elementary, middle school, and high school. My mom spent a lot of time with me at home hounding me to do my homework, study for tests, and finish projects. I hated it. I still hate it. I hated the work that was assigned to me because I found no meaning in at all. Sitting in middle school math class was laborious as wondered when I would ever use concepts of fractions. Or, writing poetry when I had no intention of ever writing it. High school geometry was simply awful. Having to memorize theorems to prove something that was already proven made absolutely no sense.

I was much like the students I teach today. If what I was learning was meaningful to me and I found it worthwhile, it was easy to learn. If not, it was a grudge match with myself to learn.

In my years as a young learner, which I place halfway through college, I never took the time to think about my own learning.

The new learner
A key component of learning today involves the ability to think about thinking and reflecting on what learning means as an individual. While this idea has been around for a long time, students today are not familiar with it nor know how to go about doing this.

The new learner is bombarded with information on a regular basis. The Web hosts millions of ideas, thoughts, blogs, facts, opinions, theories and more. With so much to consider there is little time to sit back and think about what is being learned and why. A critical component of a 21st century learner is to think critically about problems to form solutions, but critical thinking goes well beyond this. Critical thinking about learning and not learning and how learning takes place and does not is of vital importance. The importance lies in being able to create solutions to problems that have not existed before, or develop innovations. Critical thinking allows us to parse, synthesize, and create based on what we know. The self-reflective learner, the new learner, is a deep critical thinker about their process of learning.

Learning discontent
The new learner is no longer content with teachers downloading information to them as they sit passively taking notes and then leaving the class with nothing but white noise in their head. Passive learning is nothing more than doodling, wasting away time as the teacher from Snoopy speaks, “blah, blah, blah.” A 21st century learner wants an active, engaging experience.

Active learning is self-reflective learning for there is no disconnect between experience and information because the student is keenly aware of pulling together information to form new ideas, to understand them, or creating ideas that weren’t thought of previously. Inquiry dominates active learning, and without inquiry, the new learner is discontented as there is nothing new learned.

Self-reflective learners are active learners with inquiry at the center of their learning universe salivating upon deeper new knowledge that can be had. Anything other than this leads to a learning discontent.

As I watched the eighth grade students struggle to stay focused to create a self-reflection of the Skype experience with Will Richardson, I realized the unanimous passive learning experience they have had since their elementary years. They had not an idea where to begin or how to log their self-directed thoughts. This passive learning experience dominates education today though there is a tremendous out cry for students to be engaged in active learning. Self-reflection is active self learning.

I meandered about my computer lab facilitating student thinking asking questions, or making comments, to guide them into thinking

African visitors at meeting

African visitors at meeting

about their thinking as a learning experience. We are not teaching students how to be self directed, self reflective learners for a variety of reasons. Those reasons include state wide tests, too much curriculum, too little time, too few resources, and too little talk to students about self-reflection or allow them to do it.

Learning how to learn
What students really need to know how to do is to learn how to learn. Back to my early learning years – I had no idea, even in college, how to learn. I have since learned how to do this and do it well in a variety of contexts with success.

Learning how to learn is THE skill a student needs to construct what they need to further their own knowledge in the 21st century.

Teacher Talking Teaching

As a result of many conversations with my colleague, Val Stowell-Hart, we decided to launch a forum for teachers to discuss relevant topics that are affecting us as a building and profession. Throughout the two years I have been at BBHMS, I have had many conversations about what is going on and how to change. Doing what is best for kids means educator discussions have to happen and when they happen some action has to come of it. It is our hope that this forum will allow the staff, whoever participates, to come to some real conclusions about issues we are facing and ways overcome these barriers.

Beyond this is a need to just get together to talk. This year, at least here, many teachers are running around frantically pulling together ideas for lessons, technology, and assessments while trying innovative ventures to enhance the learning experience for students. Ok, I have something to do with the innovative technology side of things as this is my role. Teachers here adopted new textbooks (Science and Social Studies) which included an online component and with this online component came a set of netbooks for every teacher who wanted them. So now, not only is there a new textbook series but another component online that still needs to be explored and integrated, and this integration will be a year long just to try and figure out how and where to use it. So, there is a good deal of stress right now.

TTT will give us a chance to talk through issues and find solutions.

If you have something like this at your school, send me an email so we can talk about how it is being implemented where you are. At your school, what is your forum for talking about issues and such?



As research and projects are moving forward in my 8th grade tech classes, I am finding students have a hard time asking for help from a content expert. I think, in part, it is being shy, but I also think this has to do with not thinking in this kind of way before and doing asking. I’ll be honest, I have a hard time with this too because I am not used to reaching out to ask another person for help with the Web as the resource. Somehow it is taboo. As I am helping my students get comfortable reaching out to others who can help them, I am getting used to the idea too.

The Web is filled with all kinds of folks who are good and bad – no secret there. I cannot be afraid of all of the bad otherwise I negate the good that can come from using people resources there. This is what I am trying to teach my students. The good that can be found outweighs the bad.

Something else I noticed today was how ill practiced students are at real world – professional if you will – working. One of the girls was going to write an email to Dr. Joel Haber who started the respectu website for anti-bullying. She had a really difficult time remembering and using normal letter format. As we went step by step through the process of writing this email, it dawned on me that students know full well how to write a letter in class having practiced it but have difficulty applying it in a real world context.

This is the crux of what I am trying to teach – real world learning and working.

Techie validation

I met with a group of teachers this morning who signed up to be on the building technology committee. Past meetings in this circle focused on the conversations of the district technology team which, from what I experienced, delved into kinds of tech, policy and such. This isn’t to say the conversation wasn’t good, but it left me wanting more.

I know lead the building tech committee and as the leader I have to have a very clear vision of where the school will head with technology. The building principal has given me leeway to make decisions and do as I need to. A good leader has to have a vision first and I envision a school where staff and students have a netbook that allows them full time access to resources, but I also see the pedagogy changing dramatically as learning moves away from rote teaching practices to flexible practices that allow and expect kids to make meaning of what they are reading within the digital learning landscape. This kind of shift is radical because it asks teachers to completely change how they teach and how they approach learning. Learning should be understood as kids learning and their own learning. This said, technology will play a prominent roll because it is the knife that will carve out this new way of teaching and learning leaving behind outdated practices that rely solely on the teacher being the focal point of education to the teacher as being facilitator.

I had a striking conversation with a colleague about this very topic. Today’s kids are technologically far beyond most teachers. They are social networkers who converse online or through a camera making connections whenever they can and this is NORMAL to them. It is no big deal to use the iPod and Facetime or Skype. It is no big deal to start to make apps and distribute them. Soon, it will be no big deal to exist in a completely different space interacting, learning, responding, working, and socializing with ease. Can educators help kids do this? Will we stand in the way of their learning? How will we respond to this kind of learning? Hmmm, not sure.

What I do know is that what I am teaching kids today will help them tomorrow. Not only am I helping them learning cool, new Web 2.0 technologies, but I am helping them think through how to approach using all of it. There is a constant conversation about the learning process, setting your own expectations, and carrying a relevant conversation orally and digitally. Without the constant chatter, the kids lose focus and it devolves into a mess of “why am I even doing this,” thinking leading to a debased sense of learning and ownership.

So, I am much more than the tech guy. I combine high quality teaching methods with technology to expand what kids are learning and thinking about. It is this method of teaching that helps students to see a computer is much more than gadgets and fun. It really is about learning, problem solving, decision making, and learning how to learn. That last phrase, learning how to learn, is the hardest of all for students. They are so cultured to get everything from the teacher that they do not know how to get it (learning) for themselves.

I have evolved my teaching practices and pedagogy to meet the demands of a digital world where information is easy to access. The shift took some time for me, but I got there.

Tech snafu

Having a computer has its advantages. I can have kids access information at a moment’s notice to find something worth looking up, or at least something I think is worth looking up, have software pre-installed, and complete needed activities. Would you ever imagine it would be disadvantage?

I had an interesting experience today that, while frustrating, taught me a great deal about helping kids learn with a computer in front of them. First, students don’t see the computer as a gateway to finding unlimited resources and information. I’ll ask a question and a response might be, “Where am I going to find the answer to that?” I might be coy and say inside your head, but it is a striking picture of forgotten ubiquitous technology. I am not saying that a student wouldn’t turn to it to find information at some point. I am saying that it was startling to note how many students need a reminder it is there. Often I over estimate student’s abilities to use a computer and to use it well. I was reminded of this when I was helping 6th graders gain access to the web or help them locate software. Shouldn’t they already know this stuff? Finally, I learned that if I am prepared, which I was prepared for the final class today (I was ready for the previous 3 but tech snafu’s always catch me off guard), that high quality learning takes place, yet to reach that high quality I really had to push the very boxed in thinking students have today in the classroom. As advantageous as computers are, and they really are, there are the disadvantages.

Learning Space

I find it peculiar that students get confused by working in learning spaces online. This is their first time doing so in a wiki and the interface throws them a bit, but that isn’t what I am I getting at. They simply find it odd to work together in a social context when the word school is involved. I think of many ways students might interact with each other digitally, likely in similar ways, and yet it is just odd for them to do so here. Just a reflection for the day.

The week went well and progress was made on the fronts of setting up web browsers, getting usable apps that can be used for productivity and fun, and the kids had a chance to start working together in their own learning spaces. It was a good week and I am looking forward to next.

By wiki, I’ve got it {06.09.12

The look on the faces of the students today was amazing! Every student had a chance to join the wikispace I created for them. At first they didn’t get it. They couldn’t understand why a wiki was important to them and why they should care. As I showed my students the home page and the information there, I could visibly see them get excited. That felt really good to see feedback from kids about the learning space I created for them.

I found myself more settled today than the two previous days. I was more settled because I am working on nailing down those little skills that need to be taught before any meta-learning can take place. I tend to jump into the big stuff and forget the small stuff. So, I am resolving some inefficiencies as a teacher learning to slow down and take things step by step.

This idea of step by step brings me to a new idea and maybe one I should leave for a different post, but what the heck. All of the technology I have learned has become automatic. I don’t even think about how to do things, I just do them. I get a lot of work done this way but it is REALLY bad for my students. I tend to jump 5 steps ahead of what I want them to do because I am already 10 steps ahead in my thinking. Frustration sets in when a student hasn’t done the first 5 steps I was thinking about so I have to back track in what I think and say. This is something else I have to work on. I would rather have something to work on than nothing at all.

Committed Reflection {05.09.12

Today was an interesting day as far as teaching goes. I found myself changing my lesson about a 1/2 hour before I was going to teach it and wondered why I was doing so. This really bothered me. I came to the conclusion that I have focused so much on teaching the big ideas of technology (information literacy, digital literacy, media literacy, and digital citizenship) that I forgot to include the skills that underpin learning technology. If I am being honest, this being the point of the blog, I didn’t forget about the skills, I just pushed them aside knowing I had to teach them. So, I neglected to make them apart of planning and now find myself backtracking to get the skills in before the teaching big ideas. I guess one could argue I could embed the skills into learning these big ideas but I would feel pressured to speed up teaching the skills so I can get to the stuff I really want to teach. I can only imagine what a college professor might say to me about changing the game plan just before teaching. Should I care what a professor might think?

Did you ever have a day when you were bored teaching? Yeah, that was me today, bored. The same lesson seemed to take forever having taught for it multiple periods (think middle school). I wasn’t bored with the technology, but I was bored with having to teach it so many times. Maybe this was the good kind of bored – I helped my kids create an infrastructure of apps in Google Chrome today so students can learn and apply them later. Makes sense to me.

The stuff learned today:

  • logging into Chrome why this is beneficial
  • changing settings
  • adding apps and extensions

I was satisfied with today and look forward to tomorrow.

Committed Reflection {04.09.12

I need some way of keeping myself accountable for my teaching. A natural part of what I do is to go back and take a good long think about how well I did my job – helping kids learn. Most days I am happy and some days I am not. The good days are the days when I spend no time at all thinking about my teaching leading to a pitfall down the road. The pitfall is not about ego or arrogance but the pitfall is thinking I am doing fine when I very well may not be. This status quo kind of thinking is dangerous because I am not thinking critically about what I did to help kids learn. So, thinking I hit a home run day after day leads to disingenuous thinking, learning and teaching.

The flip side of this are the not so happy days when I know my teaching was atrocious. I think back to how I explained ideas, my tone of voice, and my interactions with kids. I cringe on these days as most of us may do. The only option is get back to it and improve the next day.

Today was fairly good. I had great discussions with my 8th graders as we contemplated where the Internet might be going in the future. Ideas ranged from the Internet going completely away to an Internet that was one large neural network. I could see the thoughts behind their eyes as they freely explored and shared their ideas with their peers. As ideas were shared the other students jumped in with amazing ideas. My 6th grade classes went well today too. They are beginning to see how the Internet can improve their lives and what changes may be coming in the future.

This blog will happen daily as a way for me to hold myself accountable by sharing my reflections on my own teaching. My hope is that if you read this you may find good ideas and ideas to stay away from.