Out of the Pool; Into the Ocean

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image via Post Ranch Inn

About two weeks ago I hopped out of the ETMOOC pool in order to kick start my second semester. That feels like yesterday, but I’m typing my first post in February, and it’s after Valentine’s Day! ETMOOC has been quite the immersive immersion (Sorry, I shouldn’t mix technology and water terminology ;-)). I’m new to Twitter, Google+, Blackboard,YouTube, vlogging… I wasn’t drowning, but I felt I needed to focus on my students’ classes and not my own.

Somewhere in the midst of prepping for second semester, I realized that my subconscious pool metaphor was shortsighted and wrong. Suddenly, I didn’t see myself climbing out of the ETMOOC pool and diving into my Second Semester pool, but rather, I knew I was swimming in the ocean. The two bodies of water weren’t separate at all, but connected in ways that I hadn’t seen. My learning is an essential part of student learning.

Why was I compartmentalizing my learning and my students’ learning? I discovered that in the past I connected my learning to student learning in a very linear way. I learned so that I could better help them learn. Notice how that thinking sets up a Me-Them relationship? I work intentionally to build relationships with students, and yet, my thinking about my own learning has been holding me back from greater depths of relationship and learning in class. My learning needs to take place far more visibly during class with my students, not only before and after. When students and I are learning together, much of the Me-Them dynamic switches to We.

So now what? Well, I decided to share my ETMOOC experience and learning with my students, and, to start learning more visibly with them. I committed to turn one of my classes (a small group of grade 12s) into a learning lab. I started by ensuring every student had a mobile device. Next, I handed them the provincial outcomes for the class, and we began re-writing them in more student-friendly (read people-friendly) language. They sat, stunned, as I explained that they could demonstrate their ability to meet those outcomes in any way they liked, using content they liked and that I’d help them do it.

We’re two weeks in, and the shock is beginning to wear off. We’ve set up blogs to use as learning logs and, possibly, portfolios (You’ll find mine here). The students use a shared Google doc to take notes. One or two students each class handle the notation while the others engage without the extra responsibility. The practice has allowed several students to participate at a much higher level while others are improving their note-taking skills because of the accountability of others relying on them.

The group wanted to start something together before branching out; they’re unsure about how to exercise their freedom (I’ll have to give them improved support). We decided on poetry, so we’re using the poem of the day on Writer’s Almanac to authentically learn together. I sit with them as we discuss the poem projected on the screen. We make meaning, and tease out relevant terms and concepts for the notes. It’s liberating and exhilarating for me to not only avoid leading students through a poem with heavy hand, but also to see real proof that previous lessons about poetry in earlier years have taken root. It’s empowering for the students as they participate in dictating the direction of their own learning and discover that they can read poetry far more independently than they thought. They suddenly see evidence of their own learning in action, which is far superior to a good test grade. It’s been a fine start to our semester.

So did I really get out of the ETMOOC pool? Well, my developing PLN gave me the inspiration and encouragement to recognize and rectify my situation. The tech challenges of ETMOOC gave me several new tools for school and the confidence to use them. I’m hoping to continue to collaborate with ETMOOC participants and that my students may even work with their students. Did I get out of the pool? No, I just saw the ocean for the first time. Ain’t she grand?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Out of the Pool; Into the Ocean

  1. Scott,
    This is such an exciting post! I, too, have really struggled with the demands of starting up 2nd semester, connecting with my classes, and attempting to be uber-organized and on-top-of-it-all; completely neglecting my own learning the whole time.
    In Alberta we have these daunting Grade 12 diplomas where 50% of the student’s final grade is in the hands of a written exam one day and a reading exam the second! I must say these are the most rigorous standardized testing I have ever seen. So, with a Grade 12 class of 30 students, one tends to zone in to teach for the test, sadly!
    So, I completely am in awe and wonder (and jealousy too) with how you’ve transformed your room into an authentic learning and assessment space.
    Bravo to you for thinking outside the box! Bravo to you for really changing the paradigm of learning! What course is it that you are doing this with???
    Thank you for the kick in the butt! Thank you for the inspiration! Ah – and the pool/ocean metaphor = awesome! Grand, indeed!
    Pamela

    • Pamela,

      I’ve heard about those diploma tests. They sound brutal! The only silver lining to Provincial exams is that they can strengthen the “us” (teacher and students) versus the exam dynamic. I love when my “us” and “we” includes students. The course I’m writing about is LA 40: Comprehensive; it’s the general grade 12 language arts class. Manitoba has a provincial exam as well, but it’s only worth 30 percent and actually pays respect to the writing process (one day for reading comprehension plus three hour-long sessions over three days to develop a writing piece). It sounds difficult to avoid focusing on the test in Alberta. Do you know what the diploma exams will look like each year? Is it possible to paint a clear picture of exam at the beginning of the class and then, together, start developing your “training regimen” to beat the test? Learning to the test sounds better than teaching to the test ;-).
      My Comp class last semester had 29 students, so I’m taking advantage of this semester’s small class, this unexpected blessing and opportunity. It’s timely, too, as I doubt I would have seized the day if not for the connections formed so far during etmooc. I’m thrilled and humbled that you’ve found inspiration here, but truth be told, I’m just trying to pay it forward.

      Scott

  2. Denise Krebs

    How very appropriate, Scott! I love that you and your Grade 12’s are taking this wonder ride into learning (maybe on an ocean wave): “When students and I are learning together, much of the Me-Them dynamic switches to We.” This is so exciting! I’ll look forward to reading more about the journey.

    Denise

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