I write this blog on a semi-regular basis. I follow a few other teachers, from across the province and Canada, that also write blogs. Not many. In fact, out of all my friends, I might be the only blogger. (Unless, they are blogging anonymously, which is distinctly possible.)
The point is, blogging may not be as “authentic” as I think.
I tweet on a semi-regular basis. I follow teachers from around the world that also tweet about education. Not many, really. In fact, out of all my teacher colleagues, about half actively use Twitter. (Unless, they are tweeting anonymously, which is distinctly possible.)
The point is, tweeting may not be as “authentic” as I think.
I read books and talk about them. I share the books I read and my thoughts on them with a group of people that fluctuates. In fact, many of my friends read sparingly, mostly the news or internet gossip sites. (Unless, they are reading novels and not talking about them, which is distinctly possible.)
The point is, reading and talking about what I read may not be as “authentic” as I think.
And so I’m left questioning, what am I in the pursuit of?
Theoretically, I want students to use their words as means of connecting with people. I want them to learn how to use language to move people, to persuade them, to inform them. I want them to understand that we must approach different audiences in different ways.
But who are these audiences I speak of?
My wife is an engineer. She writes on a regular basis, probably more than I do as an English teacher. Her audience is other engineers and she typically writes technical memos.
My brother is a radio promotions manager. He writes on a regular basis, probably as much as I do. His audience is other co-workers in e-mails, with point form descriptions of ideas and logistics.
I suppose I’m wondering, who are the audiences we are preparing our students for?
Most of us are not bloggers, or tweeters, or book club enthusiasts, yet I’m calling this the act of writing for authentic audiences. I’m wondering if I’ve missed the mark.
So, I ask you, where is your authentic audience?
It’s a mystery what engages students. Whoever says otherwise is lying.
Sure, there are some tried and true strategies that result in engagement; those things that have students knee deep in rich learning. But can we really answer what it is about those experiences that hooks them?
In class today, I saw a group of students totally focused on the role of the government in relation to private enterprise while participating in Civic Mirror. I would classify these students as being immersed in the learning, however, as I take a step back I can’t seem to pinpoint what it was that was the factor for engagement.
Was it the gamification? Was it the competition? Was is it the structure of the activity?
I’ve seen students totally immersed in learning before when none of those things were present and instead, it was because it was fun, or included technology, or aesthetically pleasing.
So then, what is it that results in true engagement?
My first thoughts are connected to Dan Pink’s theories of intrinsic motivation being autonomy, mastery and purpose. (If you haven’t read Drive yet, pick it up. I think it is essential teacher reading.) But I also think, engagement is about authenticity.
That’s why it is so damn hard to pinpoint what causes engagement. It is equally hard to pinpoint authenticity.
I think of authenticity as a means of making learning real life.
It is connected to authentic audiences (not just the teacher or other classes but the marketplace). It is connected to authentic problems/projects (not just school work, imagine if projects). It is connected to authentic learning (I suppose this is about purpose primarily).
What does all this mean?
I don’t think I’ve got answer. I think that engagement is still a mystery, but it is in the process of moving “school work” to “life work.”
Last Thursday, I had the privilege of presenting my thoughts and ideas at the ECOO Conference 2012. My presentation was geared around my assessment and evaluation methods and madness.
I was proud to speak in front of such an intelligent, engaged audience who asked so many great questions and provided some varied perspectives. I have embedded below the slides from my presentation.
The conference moved this year from one where the tool was the principal focus to the pedagogical shift taking shape in education. Obviously, I like this move. I think too often we spend time worrying about the what and how of teaching, and too little time is spent wrestling with the why. This conference enabled that wrestling.
However, it also enabled something else for me, it forced me to focus my thinking around assessment, which ironically I spoke about. I realized, with more clarity than I had before, that assessment is right now the linchpin to the shift in education.
John Seely Brown, Michael Fullan, and even Nora Young, all addressed the shift in instruction, but none of them offered the insight into the shift in assessment and I fear that is underlooked.
Frankly, assessment and evaluation may be the structure of the system that slows down change the most.
I see it as there are two main cogs in education, instruction and assessment, and while instruction is slowly coming to life, assessment is still in a state of disrepair. It’s rusted over and will take some serious elbow grease to get it moving again.
And we can’t disregard it.
We’ve made cosmetic changes to evaluation, however, at the end of the day will universities and colleges accept our students if they haven’t jumped through the hoops of GPAs and averages. What then becomes of the innovation, creative problem solving, and imagination?
The ECOO experience has focused in my interest in assessment and evaluation, it has left me with more questions than answers and has enabled me to connect with other educators asking those same questions. I can’t wait to see where this takes me.
It was like the perfect storm. Three different initiatives all crashed down on me today. In the pre-holiday blitz, I had put them until the week back. “We’ll do it on Wednesday the first week back.” It must have come out of my mouth easily, because they all collided.
So, I was on edge.
I knew it would be one of those days. But then something happened. That same something that happens anytime challenges are weighed, actions are begun. The something that makes me keep going.
Students bought in. Fully. Without reservation.
Yes, I was running around trying to maintain order all day. But the energy was palpable. It reminded me why I do it.
My social justice club was eager to begin their water challenge, my 2P English class were buzzing while preparing for a social awareness campaign, and we orchestrated representatives from 11 schools to gather and prepare for this year’s edition of Strip the Streets.
It makes this job easy when you can feel the energy. You aren’t swimming up stream. It reminds you why.
And isn’t that the essential piece, why are we organizing, preparing, running, supporting, etc.?
I wasn’t the only one.
One of my students said to me, “Wow, you can feel the energy building. I’ve never felt this from school before.”
That sure feels good.
Now this post isn’t just to toot my horn, although I’m doing that too. This post isn’t to say I’ve figured it out.
I wanted to write this post because I was worried for this day, felt overwhelmed going into the day and was regretting my commitments in the morning. This post is a reminder to me that chaos, the colliding of activities and actions, is okay. It will work out if we are rooted to the why.
When the energy is palpable, something is being built. Hopefully, it is momentum.
In Ontario, only 48% of eligible voters voted in the most recent provincial election. Pathetic.
That said, StudentVote (an organization that enables mock-student election to run concurrently with real elections) ran elections in more than 50% of all schools. Their participation is climbing.
And that’s why we came together. Well, kind of.
Last Saturday, I participated in the StudentVote Post-Election Consultation where a group of 60 or so teachers from across the country and across the educational landscape got together and talked about the future of civic engagement.
How do we move students from apathetic to engaged? The question sounds familiar because, of course, we struggle with this in every facet of education. But this was different.
Organized and run by the StudentVote staff, the consultation was structured, yet free-flowing. Basically a moderated discussion about what has worked, specifically our successes with StudentVote, and how we can engage students in further civic duty.
It was refreshing to hear so many ideas connecting our joy of democracy and ways to make learning about it, and engaging in it, more authentic.
And that’s where my head was, “Give me something real.” Not “school-ized”.
There were a few solid ideas:
- A day where students can “grill” MPs or MPPs. Get them in the classroom and don’t describe what you do, defend your [party's] positions. Students would have to be informed on the issues and be able to intelligently ask questions. Will do this for sure next semester with my FFP.
- Democracy boot camp – This was run by the StudentVote people, but I didn’t participate. From the brief snippets of info that I got I see it as a one day all inclusive bombardment of our political system including panel discussions with representatives from the parties. I like this idea. I think students can get involved and maybe run one for a feeder school, or maybe multiple feeder schools, if not our school. Heck, we could invite parents and the community. Lots of potential with this one, though right now, many random thoughts.
On top of all the discussion we had a fantastic guest speaker of Alison Loat (@alisonloat) from Samara. This organization looks at civic engagement and is a “research, think-tank” (take a gander at some of the reports they’ve published). She spoke that the civically disengaged aren’t necessarily apathetic, but often they have negative experience with bureaucracy.
How can we move politics closer to democracy?
A few questions I had going in and coming out of the day:
1. How do we keep students (heck, everyone) engaged in matters of the state between elections?
2. What “simulations” / “games” / “events” are there for students to participate in meaningful authentic ways with parliament?
3. How can we make citizenship, both digital and otherwise, part of all curriculums, not just that in Grade 10 civics?
4. Does StudentVote really work? Does it really make them voters in the future?
The truth is, I’m not a civics teacher. I teach it as an element of the Futures Forum Project, but it’s not my baby. Being civically engaged and an advocate for our civic rights and responsibilities is my thing.
How do we create meaningful, authentic learning opportunities for our students and allow them to experience success/ownership of the direction of our country/province/city? How do we include them in our community?
My other line of thinking is for a possible follow-up post, but here a few quick random thoughts:
- (1)The professional development was geared towards helping this non-profit organization. How does this effect teacher engagement on a Saturday? When professional development (or any learning) has a clear and direct goal are people more inclined to over-engage? Is that possible?
- (2)The consultation was also “paid”. We each got money for showing up. How does that affect the commitment to professional development? How would have the turnout/engagement been different?
- It was difficult to determine the hierarchy of the group. Sure, there was the organization who was “leading” the discussions, but it was a flat organization. How did this affect people’s willingness to share?
- StudentVote was open to back channelling, yet it didn’t really happen. How could this have enabled more sharing? What is our hesitation? Are these the people to start that push with?
- If a teacher is engaged in one element of school life (civics, elections, politics, sports, drama, etc.) are they less effective in other venues? Should we promote teacher specialization or breadth learning?
This blog is all over the place, I know. There are so many good, creative thoughts that came out of the day for me and I feel like this is the way I need to express them. Hope it is readable.
I’ve never been able to pinpoint exactly the day when we lose students. You know that moment when students decide school is not for them. Despite my inability to identify the moment exactly, we know it happens. It happens as a result of a series of mis-used, ill-prepared, and dreadful learning interactions.
I believe that every time we put busy work in front of our students, worksheets and fill-in-the-blanks, we lose an opportunity to reach them in meaningful ways. We mis-use their attention. Continuously, more students check out of school as a reflection that we’ve wasted their attention, their eagerness and their curiosity and they don’t trust that we’ll serve them.
Seth Godin, when looking at business and marketing, states:
Every interaction comes with a cost. Not in cash money, but in something worth even more: the attention of the person you’re interacting with. Waste it–with spam, with a worthless offer, with a lack of preparation, and yes, with nervous dissembling, then you are unlikely to get another chance.
The same goes for teaching.
We work in an attention economy. Granted, we work in multiple economies (intelligence, service, etc.) but ultimately; as the ability to connect with the learned, the spread and wealth of knowledge, and our willingness to be taught by strangers grows; our ability to harness and work with the attention we are given and make it exceedingly meaningful and authentic becomes more and more critical to the system’s success.
How do we go forward and use the attention we get?
This is in response to Seth Godin’s blog: Getting serious about the attention economy.
I stepped outside of my comfort zone today. I wrote a piece of fiction and shared with a friend. We had made a challenge together to enter the CBC Writes Short Story competiton. I haven’t written fiction in a while, for that matter, my life has been absorbed in mostly non-fiction. But I did it.
I sat down and I wrote.
But that’s not the hardest part. The hardest part was her waiting, online, to read it. Having to send it through the wires was the hardest part. Why is that?
I write on this blog and my three others often. I expose my thinking, my writing skills to many readers, anonymous and known readers, without trepidation. Nothing near like I had when sending my fiction.
But, I think back to my first blog entry. The first time I pressed publish and thought, What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Is it good enough?
And I think of all the learning along the way. Not just the educational conversations I’ve had about the content of the writing, but the writing itself.
I stepped outside of my comfort zone when I first pressed published. And there’s the rub. You have to press publish. I had to press send on the e-mail with my short story attached. That’s the lesson to my students.
Outside the comfort zone is a scary place to be, but that’s where learning lies. Sometimes, you’ve got to close your eyes and press the button. Ship it.
I think that’s why we’ve got to make sure we are creating authentic audiences for our students. So, they learn to press publish. They learn to make mistakes in the open. They learn they’ve got to step outside of the comfort zone to achieve greatness. If we sanitize their learning spaces to much, all we’ll be left with is replicated pablum.
So, what are you waiting for? Press publish.
The thing about conferences is that it is rarely the presentations that promote the most learning.
Yeah, they are good in stimulating something in the brain, but it generally happens in the times between sessions around the lunch table, coffee breaks and, in the case of ECOO, around the iPad where learning becomes something more than a PowerPoint presentation.
I was lucky enough to have attended the ECOO 11 Conference in Toronto last week. On top of that, I was privileged to deliver two presentations so I could hopefully stimulate some conversations for people.
But the real luck is in the time. I had so much great collaborative time with my co-presenters and others, that I was able to really push my learning.
So, then what did I learn:
- I learned that there is a need and desire for taking technology conferences and including less about the tools and more about the underlying philosophy that moves education. I heard multiple times over the days, how we talk so much about the how, we don’t spend enough time on the WHY. This has me thinking that an un-conference held in Kitchener/Waterloo might be what we need, a sort of companion to ECOO.
- I learned that the narrative form of video games is far more complex than I originally would have thought. I need to spend time “gaming for a purpose”, which I have not done.
- I learned that nodding during a presentation is incredible helpful. It made me so much more at ease when I saw someone nodding to the gibberish that was running from my mouth.
- I learned that technological hardware is fairly stagnant and that the real power is how the software/social media can address so many of the educational revolution ideas. The changes in software matter more and more.
- I learned that facilitating a discussion as your presentation, looks messy and may make you question your being there, but it is essential to moving the ball.
- I learned that authenticity might be my new favourite word when describing where education should be going.
Here are a few of my tweets from the conference:
Delivered: Friday, October 21st @ 9:30am with Anne Doelman, Christy Wood, Dave Lambert and Emily Schmuck
Delivered: Friday, October 21st @ 1:45pm with Daniel Ballantyne
It was innocent enough, a student I was talking to asked, “Why would you do that?”
We were talking about setting goals, short-term goals and long-term goals. We were talking about setting our bar high. About pushing our expectations of ourselves. We were also talking about being honest about our intentions.
And that’s when it struck me, why am I doing this? Why am I training for an Ironman? The real reason, the reason deep down inside.
I had to say, “I don’t know.”
Maybe it’s because I’ve made the commitment. Blown the money and now feel obligated.
Maybe it’s ego, I want to do something that others can’t or haven’t.
Maybe I want to prove something to myself or to others, about my abilities. To show them.
Maybe I want a challenge that will push me to my physical and mental limits.
Maybe I want to make my Mom and Dad proud.
Or maybe, I want to live a life that takes advantage of opportunities. I’m physically well, fit and in a position to attempt it. I’m in a place, where on a daily basis, I tell kids to try something that seems too difficult to achieve. I tell kids to dream big, to set the bar high and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I want to look them in the eye and tell them, they can do anything.
I don’t really know why I’m doing it. I don’t know why it became a goal I had. But I guess, that’s the beauty of goals sometimes; you set them and if you are willing to sacrifice and put the time in, they become part of you, part of who you want to be.
“Live Passionately Today” is tattooed on my left wrist. Maybe this whole thing is my attempt to personify that.
And I guess, most likely, it is all these reasons.
This was cross-posted at my other blog, In Constant Pursuit, about my pursuit of Ironman.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my identity. After my Detroit Red Wings lost in the playoffs, so many people came to me to offer solace, or to give me the gears, all in that my identity is tied to them. I’m a fan, but why do some people see only that aspect of me?
Who am I? What teacher am I in the eyes of students and colleagues?
I had a student, who is currently finishing up his ‘victory lap’ extra year say to me, “You know, Mr. Kemp, I wish I got to know you earlier, I think I really would have liked you as a teacher.”
It got me to thinking, why he would say something like that? What type of teacher does he think I am? What gave it away?
You see as teachers we are told to hide parts of ourselves from view.
I’m not good at that.
I’m okay if students call me by my first name, it’s all good. However, a colleague who heard a student refer to me as Scott, took me aside afterwards and said it was a very bad idea as it promotes a level of disrespect. But, I’ve never found that. So, should I stop?
Some students find me funny, although my wife finds that unbelievable. Some students say I’m laid back, some think too much so. I’ve been told that I’m a hippie, because of my constant statements of “Peace and Love.” Some say I’m intimidating, because I am loud and confident. Some colleagues say I’m a shit disturber, some say I’m a trouble maker. Some students know me as a coach, some as a club sponsor, social advocate, ginger. But what does it all add up to?
At the end of the day, my identity is tied to the perspective of others. I can not decide who I will be. I only decide what I do. I can’t hide me, I can’t pretend, I’m in the process of living an authentic life.
How does this affect my teaching? How does our reliance on reputation and identity inform our approach in the classroom and in the hallways? Do we, more than other professions, revel in our idenitity because we work in such a social environment?
All questions that I continue to explore.
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