Nov 1, 2010
Comments Off on The Choice is Yours.

The Choice is Yours.

Giving students a voice is tough. Sometimes, they say what you don’t want to hear.

“Mr. Kemp, you’ve missed the boat the last couple of days. I mean, you continually preach authenticity and that learning is the most important thing. But, now you have us doing the same old shit as normal English classes. I thought this class was different. Sorry. I still like this class.”

It floored me. It hurt a little. In fact, it kind of took the wind out of me. I had three reactions:

1.) Are you kidding? I have been dragging this class the last few days to get things handed in. For whatever reason, you all have chosen to be apathetic and put in a half-assed effort. And then you have the gall, to call me out. Look in the freakin’ mirror!

2.) The reality of the job is that I’m up against certain constraints, as are you. I’m trying to be as authentic and engaging as possible by giving you choice in what we do. That said, I’m only one person working against ingrained habits, hostile colleagues and 90 students whose demands are different every day. I’m doing the best I can. Give me a break.

3.) I’m sorry. You’re right. I’ve been busy in my “outside school” life and that has left me not putting in the requisite effort needed to fulfill my obligation to you. Thank you for saying something. It is through good, open, honest feedback we all get better. Including me. I’ll work harder, because this should be important to you and it is important to me. What do you think we should do to re-invigorate our learning for this inquiry question? How can we get back on track?

Feedback comes in all forms. Some good pat on the back feedback, some punch in the stomach feedback. It is all about how we respond and accept the feedback. Regardless of who it comes from.

I’m happy with my choice. I think it models a learner’s reaction.

What would you do? The choice is always yours.

Nov 1, 2010
Comments Off on Clearer head.

Clearer head.

This weekend I disconnected. I unplugged the laptop, the iPod, and didn’t check my e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. I needed a break.

Now, I didn’t need a break from the professional dialogue or the inherent nature of our educational revolution, I needed a break from the never-ending zeitgeist.

Technology is constantly forcing our attention. It demands something of us. It requires our compliance. The internet and all its wonders often absconds our ability to go without. The education revolution needs to take note.

The world is pushing education to embrace technology. I am too. However, I think it is as critical for education to show students how to disconnect. I think that is one of the skills of the 21st century that is often forgotten.

Be present.

The human brain needs more rest than the internet provides. We need to encourage our students to have a relationship with nature, a relationship with disconnection, a relationship with neighbours. Take out the earphones and to listen to the sounds of the world. I think this is essential.

As I bang my drum repeatedly about authentic learning, we have to ensure our students live an authentic life. Sometimes in the digital wasteland, we can get stuck in the mud. Having the resolve, ability and wherewithal to recognize a need to disconnect is critical. So where is the breaking point?

It is individualized. It is asynchronous. It is distributed.

I think students need to be taken outside. I think there are moments when we should have no cell phones in the classroom. No iPods. No internet. I think there are times when we should have silence. Reflection. Disconnection.

That said, I’m back online now. Clearer head.

Oct 28, 2010
Comments Off on TED Talks.

TED Talks.

Headline. News. There is a difference.

I love TED talks. I subscribe to the TED talks podcast where I am given a new one each weekday. I specifically love Ken Robinson’s TED talks. I thoroughly enjoyed Dan Pink’s TED talk. I think Dan Ariely’s TED talk provides us with a great glimpse into our decisions. There are many other TED talks that absolutely are relevant, connected and challenging for education.

The problem is too many people (educators) are stopping there. Having someone talk for 18 minutes about their research, findings and ideas in not enough to fully understand them.


Pick up a copy of The Element by Sir Ken Robinson.

Pick up a copy of Drive by Dan Pink.

Pick up a copy of Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

Don’t just read the headline. Read the whole book.

Sorry, little rant.

Oct 28, 2010
Comments Off on Wrestling with Assessment.

Wrestling with Assessment.

Personalized learning. Distributed learning. Interest based learning. Asynchronous learning. Lifelong learning.

I’m involved in a great discussion about assessment, and present some of my thoughts:

1.) We have to re-think our ideas of a “product” being a demonstration and look at learning as a process. With this shift, assessment is never complete, nor is it done in isolation. Demonstrations of learning can happen anytime, anywhere, just like learning. But, that challenges the idea of mastery.

2.) I still think the biggest question we aren’t asking, is why do we assess? If facilitation is our “shifted” relationship, shouldn’t we not have a standard of achievement. Everyone achieves something different in relation to where they started and where they are going.

3.) I am trying to run a classroom without quantitative feedback, purely qualitative (i.e. no marks); instant feedback and collaborative feedback. The problem: Students are currently then required to work in two systems, neither which they are completely comfortable. Is this a case of all-in or both ineffective?

4.) Achieving a standard, even driving, is a crapshoot. There are many bad drivers who can’t drive safely. But if we looked at it like driving, students achieve the standard and then stop learning, stop trying to get better. They think, “Now that I’ve got my license, I’m done.” This is how they think of school now, how do we help students realize that learning is a never-ending process, even if we do achieve the standard?

5.) Are we questioning / challenging the very nature of achievement, in a learning context? Graduating high school will look incredibly different. How do decide when students are effective learners enough to succeed in the world outside school?

I am left wrestling with assessment.

Oct 27, 2010
Comments Off on How and Why Do We Evaluate?

How and Why Do We Evaluate?

If we are looking at a learning environment that is distributed, asynchronous, collaborative and ultimately, personalized, how and why are we evaluating students?

It is constantly suggested that teachers are moving into the role of “facilitators” of learning, and “co-learners”, how then do we hold a position that ‘can’ evaluate? Now, I understand the political and social pressure to maintain status quo when it comes to giving a grade, but isn’t the nature of this educational shift removed the standardization, including what it means to be a proficient Grade 11 English student, for example?

To take that further, how do we know when students are “ready” to further their learning? “Ready” to progress into University? If learning looks different for each student, is there any common ground?

All in all, we need to re-think evaluation.

Oct 27, 2010
Comments Off on Losing Grip or Lost Grip?

Losing Grip or Lost Grip?

In Seth Godin’s free ebook What Matters Now, Dale Dougherty writes, “John Dewey’s idea of “learning by doing,” which emphasized the primacy of experience over the accumulation of knowledge. “I believe that education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living,” he wrote. As students realize that the tools for living are the same for learning, they will naturally expand the range of things they can do.”

Not only will they expand the range of things they can do, they’ll also expand upon where they get their learning. To be honest, they already have. If we think that all this is happening in the future, we’re wrong. Schools, and more importantly teachers, need to realize that it is done.

We need to stop talking like there will come a day when this change happens and recognize that it already has.

And no, the educational revolution is not about technologies, but philosophies. It is about learner autonomy, mastery and purpose. It is about flexibility, authenticity and distribution.

What this looks like at work is difficult and messy. It is time for teachers to be the leaders in getting our hands dirty. It is not about tomorrow. It is about today.

People keep telling me that it takes baby steps. “You’ve got to hold on to some of the ways things have been done to make it manageable.” I say, if we hold on any tighter to ways that learning is not working, we just may lose grip.

Oct 26, 2010
Comments Off on The Bell Rings.

The Bell Rings.

Timing is everything. As I have mentioned before, my Grade 11 classes are putting together an e-book. In hopes of publishing it tomorrow, we have been working steadily. And then today it happens.

The class is focused. Engaged on the task. Those that have already finished are working on the cover, acknowledgments, etc. I don’t want to assume all students were being quiet, just working, learning. Then the bell rings.

Our 75 minute window was closed. Students were told to move along, whatever was keeping them interested no longer mattered. Their focus, unimportant. Not one student was packed up ready to go. And yet, they were told, get out.

Not five minutes into the next class, I see four of my students (who have moved onto different classes), milling about, dragging their feet to go to their next class. Unengaged in their education.

I understand the purpose, or at least the concept, of a set period where students move through a variety of subjects ensuring they get a breadth of subject coverage in a day. But the rigidness of which it is upheld, baffles me.

As Dan Pink states in Drive, the students were in “flow”. They were in that state where time and surrounding ceases to be a factor. The task, and in turn the learning, was all that mattered.

We need to find a way where we can engage students into that flow and then maintain it. We have to allow students a flexibility in their schedule. Yes, that may sound crazy, but if learning is at the centre, administration and teachers must work around it and find a way to make it work.

I have no illusions that this is easy. I also have no illusions that this is my class every day. In fact, there are many days where kids are pried away from wood-shop or auto when they’d prefer to keep working. I say, I think it is time where we consider that as important.

Let’s make sure we aren’t setting our students up for learning only until the bell rings.

Oct 25, 2010
Comments Off on Insubordination or inspiration?

Insubordination or inspiration?

I had a wonderful teaching moment today. Excellent because it was not at all what I wanted. Fulfilling because my students did the complete opposite of what I wanted. They refused to stand up. It was beautiful. Let me explain.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, my principle focus in my classes so far is based around building community. Building a social framework where every voice matters, where I am just another member of that community. We are a community of learners where our collective brainpower is better than any one individual.

This morning, first thing Monday morning, my class was low energy. Real low energy, it was palpable. As I am apt to do, I say in my excited, enthusiastic voice, “Alright, everyone stand up.” I do this anytime we are feeling low, bored, distracted. We usually complete an activity, game, or interlude. I take that game and improvise, wield and dance my way to connecting it with what we are doing in class. So, today, I asked, “Alright, everyone up.”

Usually, my invitation to stand is met by a few groans and rolled eyes, maybe even reluctance on the part of a few students, but eventually, everyone is standing.

Not today.

They looked around, noticed that others weren’t standing, and stayed sitting. After a few more insistences that people stand, the energy was building. Laughter. A sense of common rebellion had started.

I tried to chip away their solidarity by focusing on one student, whispering (loud enough for everyone to hear) that they should be a leader, not be a follower. I tried one after the other. None would budge. It was brilliant. They acted together. They acted in solidarity.

As enthusiastic as ever, I turned this collective behaviour into the lesson, which we built upon and ended up having a rich discussion about our rights, both collective and individual, and how a student might use their right to achieve their own success. How we are stronger together then we are apart.

This registered with me as a major victory. I see this as inspiration for the rest of the semester. They found out that today they have a voice in their education. I want them to see that. What some teachers would call insubordination, I see as value. I see as substance. I see as learning.

Especially on a day where we are all casting our vote. Engaged students are students ready to learn.

Oct 24, 2010
Comments Off on Working our way to irrelevancy?

Working our way to irrelevancy?

Preface: This is a blog entry I wrote on my first blog, two years ago. Amazing how we are still engaged in this debate. In another blog entry on my now defunct blog, I say: “Learning is not dead. It is organic, constantly changing and evolving. Too bad some teaching is dead.”

Here is the blog (November 6th, 2008):

In the ever-changing landscape of communication and connection, schools are ultimately behind the eight ball. While other industries have recognized the change that needs to take place, the education sector still resists the change. Rather than taking the change in technology as an opportunity to teach students the purpose, place and productivity of social media, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the school board has banned it outright.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In these early stages (is it really that early?), policing becomes the hardest, most time consuming job. Students texting friends for answers on the test, plagiarism, wasting time etc. are the big fears and convincing teachers who have no interest of these new technologies to embrace them seems to be an uphill battle. I fear we are censoring ourselves into irrelevancy.

I read recently about the trends and themes that have arisen that other industries have tried to embrace:

  • open
  • more accessible
  • more convenient
  • more immediate / real-time
  • networked
  • connected
  • shared
  • collaborative
  • interactive
  • individualized
  • empowering
  • flexible
  • adaptive
  • less dependent on “experts”
  • rapidly-changing
  • more comprehensive
  • searchable
  • often crowdsourced
  • creative
  • multimodal / multimedia
  • more efficient
  • often less expensive
  • global
  • less dependent on geography
  • technology-suffused
  • less dependent on physical media

and so on…

Now this list is not complete. The list may feel implicitly positive, however, I think it captures the sense that the way in which content is created and accessed has changed. As a classroom teacher, I can feel the limitations of my trade in relation to these trends, however, a few of these words jump out at me. Words like “crowdsourced”, “adaptive”, “multimodal”, “less dependent on ‘experts’” all give me cause to reflect on my classroom. These terms all refer to an innate change in how we do business.

In a curriculum that fully embraces these new trends, content must make way for ideas like context, skill development, connection. What we teach each day must be infused with relevancy and creativity. We must do away with seat work, worksheets and textbooks. They no longer fit into our students’ learning landscape. These students must be continuously making connections amongst their classmates and building a community. I believe that classes must be open-ended, allowing students to direct the flow. Students must be part of the development of class structure. With this I don’t me that they should come up with the class rules and make an anchor chart. They should be part of the process that defines what we learn and how we approach each class. As they have become the content creators of the new media landscape, what makes us think they don’t have the skills and abilities to be the creators of their new learning landscape?

What will this look like? How will it operate? What then is the role of the teacher? These are all questions that we will have to address in conjunction. But, we must start asking and answering now, before we become irrelevant.

Oct 24, 2010
Comments Off on Leaving the 21st Century.

Leaving the 21st Century.

Can we as an educational revolution please quit doing this? We keep wading ourselves into this rhetoric about the 21st century, like we’re visionaries. I’m just as guilty. But this phrase fractures the debate into questions of technologies and tools, rather than about better teaching, engaged learners and authentic learning. Isn’t the latter what we really care about?

I believe our focus as a revolution needs to be streamlined. We need to stop trying to sell it as a glimpse into the future. It is here. Now.

The 21st century that we talk and write about is elusive and abstract. Let’s change the vocabulary to that of the immediate, the actual. The “classroom of the 21st century” doesn’t exist, my classroom does. Talking about the skills needed of students today is much more pointed than the “skills of the 21st century”. As we force the individual and systemic change, we force the image of “bringing one to our side.” We don’t want that. I believe better teaching equals better learning. Better learning equals better learners. We should quit talking like these concerns are of the future and instead be recognizing their presence.

This rhetoric change will help us avoid the muck and mire of talking Facebook, access to technology and cell phones in the classroom and instead about relationships, community building and self-directed learners. We start talking about authenticity, assessment and evaluation with learning at its core, and tools that our students can use to fully integrate into the global village.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that by using the vocabulary of “the 21st Century” we lose our way a little. I think it is time to stop talking about the 21st century like it is on its way and start talking about better education that needs to be here. Now.

While we are at it, can we stop saying Web 2.0. It’s the web. That’s it. It is meant to be constantly changing, that is its nature. Web 2.0 is so 1.0.


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