Saturday, December 31, 2011

How Do You Provide Affordances to The Nomad (Language) Learner?

From A is for Affordance « An A-Z of ELT. the following questions were presented:

How can you replicate [learning affordances] in a typical classroom? How can you turn the classroom into a hike through the snow, or a walk around the island? How can classroom talk achieve the degree of contingency that Crusoe and Friday achieved?

As a language teacher, I think in terms of how might I create cognitive, physical, and emotional affordances for each-as-every student.  The short answer in how to replicate affordances in the language classroom is by engaging students in opening up the content, process, and products in ways that allow them to make informed decisions and take responsibility for their own learning.  This requires constant feedback loops that stem not only from me (their teacher), but also the students themselves, their peers, and other experts that extend beyond the four walls of the classroom.  One example might be teaching an academic writing class.

Using a public wiki allows the writer to openly choose a topic and produce an essay, report, thesis, etc. where feedback loops emerge from anyone at any given time.  That is, public spaces used to complement face-to-face classes (i.e., blended learning) provide a key affordance: feedback loops that exist across time and space.  As a web tool, a wiki provides an affordance for more engaging, effective, and efficient feedback loops.  Since anyone can change the wiki, anyone can provide feedback.  And since each revision of the wiki is saved, the writing process is preserved and made explicit as well.  

In a learning ecology, the learner must adapt to the environment, and that adaptation is associating the potentialities that exist at any given moment.  Helping the nomad learner recognize learning potentialities also means recognizing that outcomes will vary.  In formal education, the challenge is reconciling the various outcomes to specific outcomes that are explicit or implicitly stated in the curriculum.  


At the end of the day, I attempt to promote understandings (Wiggins and Mctighe, 2005) and language so that each becomes both a means and an end.  Instead of following a task or problem-based approach, I guide the learner in helping to recognize personal adaptations made throughout the learning process and to problem-set along the way.  Very little is fixed when it comes to learning about something or learning a particular skill set, as in learning an additional language.


As a teacher, how do you go about designing a learning ecosystem?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Teachers as Advocates for a Learning Ecosystem

...we have to admit that a gap exists between what our students actually understand and are able to do, and what we actually end up reporting (via Come and sit beside me and I'll tell you what I think! | Canadian Education Association (CEA)).

I'm not sure I'd consider it a gap between student understanding and what a student can do because student understanding is in fact, what a student can do.  When I assess a learner (i.e., student understandings), essentially, the entire process depends on what evidence the student is providing.  I see formative assessment where there is less of a boundary between assessment and instruction as the avenue for providing the "learning ecosystem" needed in order for students to perform in a way that provides the evidence required to make reasonable inferences on student achievement.  The following questions were posed:

What are the assessment strategies and tools that allow us to collect the most accurate picture of student understanding? Which methods of assessment actually widen the gap between student and teacher? Which come closest to allowing us to “sit beside” our students? Does any of this really matter when it comes to quality teaching and learning?

Formative assessment - as opposed to summative assessment - allows educators and students to "sit beside each other" as well as students themselves sitting beside each other in a more cooperative learning community.  Specifically, formative assessment that is "baked in" to the following approaches are in order: questioning techniques (aka Socratic Method or instructional conversations), performance tasks, projects, and problem-based learning.  These approaches, methods, whatever, provide higher-order thinking that is more likely linked to leading learners to think outside of the box and to be more creative in how they interact with people and materials (i.e., forming a socio-technical organization based on the principles of semiotics).

Having more formative assessment than summative (and we can have both) is the best way to provide the constant feedback loops necessary for all educational stakeholders to grow and learn from the educative experience that a classroom can provide.  But I feel that teachers are in the best position to be advocates for working with all other educational stakeholders in making it all happen.  This is only possible if teachers are free to take risks, make mistakes, and share their successes and failures through open and constructive discourse.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Preparations for authentic learning #change11

I'm reading Preparations for authentic learning #change11 and wondering how we recognize which of the theories in education are trustworthy and helpful.  And I'm wondering if we need to "recognize the right theory" to begin with.  

I'm wondering if recognizing how we plan, implement, and reflect on a class in terms of established or emerging theories (plural) is enough.  

So the question is, do we try to find the right theory for our educational context, then speculate?  Or do we interpret the actions that occur in the classroom in terms of the various theories that exist...a kind of theory eclectic?