I get to teach a master’s course on social networking and schools. Wanna come learn with me?

I missed teaching more than most anything else during this last year of grad school.

From the first weeks of the first semester, my body was confused by the sleeping in, and my brain was confused by the writing of a single essay instead of the grading of 120.

This is why, when I was offered the chance to teach a course next year as part of Antioch New England’s new Next Generation Learning Master’s Program, I was keen to seize the opportunity.

I’ll be creating and teaching the program’s course in social networking for teachers and in the classroom. I’m more than a little excited to be a part of this project. After suffering through some unbearable online courses, I look forward to the chance to design something that can be useful and user friendly.

I’m also pleased to be a part of Antioch New England. Their progressive, experimental approach to learning and teaching is simpatico with my own.

The course is one in a 5-part master’s sequence, but it (and any of the others in the sequence) can be taken as a stand-alone.

For my money, each of the other courses, led by Cathy Brophy, Gary Stager, Dan Callahan, and Cathy Higgins are worth every moment. I’m more than a little humbled to be included in the team, and I’m planning to sit in on each of the courses to whatever extent I can.

I’ve started tinkering with ideas in my head, and I’m certain that tinkering will spill out here once some of the formalities are taken care of. One piece I’m certain of is wanting to run a large portion (if not the entirety) of the course through Peer to Peer University’s School of Education. That way, anyone wishing to get credit for the course can sign up through Antioch and anyone interested in augmenting the fund of knowledge for the group can walk through the P2PU door.

For now, if you’re at all interested in learning along with us and/or earning a master’s degree, head over to sign up. I’m excited to be learning alongside everyone who takes the course and/or enrolls in the program.

Things I Know 26 of 365: I need to know my teachers

No more teachers’ dirty looks.

– Alice Cooper, “School’s Out”

“Do you like your facilitator?” one of my kids asked the other day about the facilitator of my grad class.

I paused.

“I don’t know her.”

I truly don’t.

This course has featured no welcome e-mail, no bio on BlackBoard. Nothing.

In the course chat, I learned a little about her church, but not much about her.

Were it not for the tacit trust I put in the university’s hiring processes, I might worry she’s a pimply-faced high school sophomore who fits his grading in between Dungeons and Dragons sessions.

I don’t know her enough to like her.

I’ll never know her the way I would were we to share physical space. I’ll never know the color of her hair. I realize the strangeness of that statement, but it’s nothing to the strangeness of the not knowing.

Her face looks like as she gives a class time to ponder a question will forever be a mystery to me.

Does she pronounce my name with a drawl? Would she appreciate my humor? I’ll never know if she’s someone who stands the entire class or leans against a wall or desk.

I’ll never know.

These things I’d like to know.

If I’m to like her, these things help me decide.

If I’m to respect her, I need to know her.

She is responsible for facilitating my learning around curricula and learning, yet I can tell you not one thing about her pedagogy.

I imagine these weeks we’re together in this course to be similar to the early days of an arranged marriage. Contrastingly, though, we both have designs on an annulment.

It’s easier to dislike her if she exists as this disembodied set of deadlines and dropboxes.

My own little Milgram experiment.

A key piece of learning from my grad program has been my understanding of my drive to connect my learning to relationships.

My mathematical matriculation through AP Calculus was due solely to the care and academic craftsmanship of Mr. Curry.

I’ve yet to feel that care or craftsmanship in my courses.

This is not whining.

This is me attempting to understand why my otherwise voracious appetite for learning, understanding and creating meaning absolutely vanishes in these courses.

In no small part, I need to know my instructor as much as I need to know my content.

Things I Know 22 of 365: I need my learning to live

Is anybody alive out there?

– Bruce Springsteen

I had an assignment due for my grad class today – the proposal for an inquiry project.

Life has gotten in the way over the last few weeks, and I haven’t had a chance to give grad school my attention. Today, it got all of my attention. ALL.

I wrote 17 pages.

17 pages.

The directions for the assignment lived in one file, the assignment description lived in another file, the rubric lurked in a separate space altogether.

It’s submitted now.

17 pages,

Gone to the ether of online learning, never to be read by anyone.

Except, I’ve made another space for online learning.

So, I’m posting it here, too.

Read it, don’t read it. I’m posting it here because I know it has at least a chance of living here.

The file’s at the bottom. The annotated list of references I’ve pasted here. If nothing else, it can help jumpstart some thinking about reading instruction.


Brozo, W., & Flynt, E. (2008). Motivating Students to Read in the Content Classroom: Six Evidence-Based Principles. The Reading Teacher62(2), 172-4. doi: 10.1598/RT.62.2.9

The authors again make the case for increasing choice as a means to motivating student reading. Though the article is designed to engender motivation for reading in disciplines outside the English Language Arts (ELA) classroom, it’s information stands true. Some pieces act as gentle reminders for common best practices within the ELA classroom, others such as finding ways to connect traditional texts to students’ existing multiliteracies shed new light on possible approaches. The authors argue the need not only for allowing choice, but for providing a rich variety of texts from which to choose. If this project is designed for increasing student readership, then the authors’ point of a diverse, accessible library may prove key. Also suggested is the creation of student-to-student partnerships within the reading process as a key to student motivation. The social experience, the authors argue, can push students to expand their reading horizons. These tactics for motivating readers outside the ELA classroom will likely prove equally helpful and effective within the ELA classroom.

Duncan, S. (2010). Instilling a Lifelong Love of Reading. Kappa Delta Pi Record46(2), 90-3. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Duncan culls several decades’ worth of research to provide her readership with the basic best practices in helping students become lifelong readers. Of particular note are Duncan’s suggestion of providing students choice of reading materials as a way to help them invest in their own reading. She also calls on the practice of Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) within the classroom as a way of putting a premium on the act of reading. Duncan also unexpected calls on teachers to read aloud to their students beyond the primary grades as studies show this can build motivation to read within students. This source is helpful in listing research-supported approaches to motivating reluctant readers. It also serves as a nexus for follow-up reading on those approaches needing greater clarification.

Flowerday, T., Schraw, G., & Stevens, J. (2004). The Role of Choice and Interest in Reader Engagement. The Journal of Experimental Education72(2), 93-114. doi: 10.3200/JEXE.72.2.93-114

The work of Flowerday, Schraw and Stevens delves more deeply into the realm of choice than simply suggesting choice can have a positive effect on student engagement and reading. Specifically, the authors findings suggest situation choice built on the qualities of novelty, curiosity and salient informational content. The implications of this research suggest that building a classroom practice around student choice should also include some sort of attempt to excite students about the reading possibilities they encounter. In short, an element of play should be curated. For the purposes of this inquiry project this approach could well improve the excitement of reluctant readers around texts that contain familiar words, but speak to ideas and stories those readers have not yet encountered. Taken with other research, this also implies the need to make certain classroom and school libraries are well stocked with book choices that appeal to a wide swath of interests and appear novel.

Gable, C. (2007). The Freedom to Select. American Libraries38(3), 38. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Gable’s passionate argument for the neutrality of librarians when considering the book selections of their patrons raises important questions for a teacher considering a choice-driven approach to student classroom reading. While many researchers note the importance of students selecting texts that are not too far above or below their assessed reading levels, few speak to the implications of teacher opinion when assisting students with text selection. Mindful of Gable’s argument, I must be careful not to belittle or bruise students’ book choices based on content or authorship. Furthermore, Gable raises an important point when suggesting those who send library patrons the direction of bookstores to find “lesser” titles are ignoring the possible economic limitations would-be readers could face. If moving toward a choice-based system, I must be sure my classroom and the school’s library shelves are stocked with texts representing as diverse a reading profile as possible or risk alienating reluctant readers with the implication the books they’re looking for are not worth reading.

Lapp, D., & Fisher, D. (2009). It’s All About the Book: Motivating Teens to Read. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy52(7), 556-61. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.52.7.1

Lapp and Fisher discuss a classroom setting incredibly similar to the object of the inquiry project. Their use of framing thematic questions provided their students with anchor points to which they could return to examine how what they were reading related to what they were attempting to learn. The authors also present the idea of having students choose from a list of books for independent reading and combining that with texts read in small groups. This idea of choice within a framework points to the idea of creating greater student investment in their reading. Also of note is the idea of teacher read-alouds and think-alouds to model positive reading practices to underdeveloped readers. These tactics could certainly prove useful within my own classroom to help whet the reading appetites of those students most uncertain of how to approach new texts. Most importantly, the authors surmise their students became more willing to read due to peer support, and they believe that support led their students to seek even broader reading options.

Lu Ya-Ling., & Gordon, C. (2008). The Effects of Free Choice on Student Learning: A Study of Summer Reading. School Libraries Worldwide14(1), 38-55. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Though centering on a summer reading program, this study notes the difficulties of engaging low-achieving student in reading. A key element of note was the summer reading program’s voluntary status. Perhaps, these same tactics of choice and project-based learning surrounding student reading would prove more effect during the school year given the structure of a classroom environment. Also of note were the reservations of participating teachers around the idea of both student choice and students reading for pleasure. It points to the need within this project to be aware of how colleagues may react negatively to more creative and progressive strategies for improving the readership of reluctant readers. Though this study was not keenly focused on the subject of this project, some of the findings reflect possible elements to be considered as the inquiry progresses.

Mertzman, T. (2007). Interruptions and Miscues: How Teachers Interrupt During Reading. Journal of Reading Education32(3), 20-7. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Mertzman’s study focused on primary grade reading and writing instruction. Specifically, the study reviewed the types of interruptions made by teachers when students exhibited miscues in their reading and writing. While this is not entirely aligned with the purposes of this inquiry project, one element of Mertzman’s findings is worth noting. In comparing teachers’ professed reasons and beliefs for the outcomes of their lesson plans to the pedagogy underlying their interruptions, Mertzman found the two to be at odds. Frequently, teachers who professed a strong belief in pointing out students’ positive work would interrupt to point out negative aspects of miscues or poorly used reading strategies. In my own practice, I must be certain that my approach aimed at increasing reader engagement do not work at cross purposes with my goals of building stronger proficiency regarding my students’ reading. One possible carryover from Mertzman’s work is the idea of interrupting good reading to recognize and name it. This could prove a strong factor in improving the motivation to read.

Ratcliffe, A. (2009). Reading For Pleasure? What A Concept!. The Education Digest74(6), 23-4. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Ratcliffe’s Reading Round Table approach encourages student choice in the same manner other authors do. One difference within Ratcliffe’s approach is the one-on-one connections between students and reading. While others encourage the literature circle approach with 4 or 5 students interacting, Ratcliffe provides students with the opportunity to have more intimate discussions of their reading. She also opens up the reading prospects by allowing her students to select any book within the library. While others suggest students selecting from a list, Ratcliffe’s approach gives students greater and arguably more authentic choice in their reading. Her estimation of 85% reader engagement falls short of the goals of this project, but still speaks to the program’s effectiveness in moving students to read. One minor point that proved interesting was Ratcliffe’s acknowledgement of the dryness of some opening chapters and her setting the goal of at least 25 pages for her students before they decide whether they will continue with a book.

Tomlinson, C.A. (2005). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Tomlinson’s work on the impact and need of differentiation in the classroom relates strongly to the idea of changing strategies to excite and engage all students in reading. Her insights around planning for differentiation will likely prove key if practices are to be changed and greater student choice is to be encouraged. For student choice of texts, Tomlinson’s guide to differentiated assessment will prove particularly helpful in collecting data on student learning from reading varied texts. As a teacher used to facilitating class discussion around a shared text, I will use the author’s notes on the role of the teacher in a differentiated classroom as a guide for changing my conceptions of who I am and what I am to do as a teacher. Additionally, Tomlinson’s descriptions of the operations of a differentiated classroom will prove helpful in visualizing the flow and function of a reader-empowered space.

Trudel, H. (2007). Making Data-Driven Decisions: Silent Reading. The Reading Teacher61(4), 308-15. doi: 10.1598/RT.61.4.3

Trudel continues the theme of the importance of student choice in developing a lifelong attachment to reading. She takes the research a step further, though and looks at the implications of where students read. Specifically, Trudel points to the effects of silent sustained reading on varying aspects of students’ reading profiles. She also points to the need to add structure to the freedom inherent in silent sustained reading. Trudel’s suggestions are of particular value in consideration of the objectives of this project. Her note that students should participate in reflection on their selections is a natural fit with the core values of my school and provides and element of accountability that will help to determine effectiveness of the time spent reading. Trudel’s suggestion of a structured independent reading model seems more in keeping with the needs of my students and accounts for a greater range of collaboration around the texts being encountered.

Worthy, J., Patterson, E., & Salas, R. (2002). “More than just reading”: the human factor in reaching resistant readers. Reading Research and Instruction41(2), 177-201. Retrieved from Education Full Text database

Patterson and Salas present an interesting, though not surprising, argument for the importance of personal interaction in the development of reluctant readers. In their research, the authors found the tailoring of reading instruction to the unique needs and interests of each student helped to pull that student into greater connection to reading. When taken with an understanding of the importance of student choice and the research behind silent sustained reading or independent reading, the authors’ work points to the importance of helping students select texts in which they can see themselves and find specific relevance to their own lives. Additionally, any writing or discussion of the texts outside of that reading should include a driven attempt or opportunity for students to make specific detailed connections to their own interests and lives. This research proves extremely relevant to the topic of inquiry being considered.

Wutz, J., & Wedwick, L. (2005). BOOKMATCH: Scaffolding book selection for independent reading. The Reading Teacher59(1), 16-32. doi: 10.1598/RT.59.1.3

Focusing their study on primary classrooms, the authors still encounter and elaborate on ideas of relevance to those teaching reading at the secondary level. While other researchers are looking to the role and importance of student choice in reading engagement, Wutz and Wedwick discuss a systematic framework to matching their students with appropriate and engaging texts. The BOOKMATCH system uses a series of threshold questions to help students select texts that will be positive fits for their abilities and interests. What’s more, the author’s illuminate the idea of posting guidelines for selecting texts in the classroom. This not only frees up teacher time, but it allows students to gain access to assistance without requiring them to open themselves up to feelings of inadequacy when asking for assistance. Furthermore, this approach could be helpful within a secondary classroom by helping students to build their vocabulary around aspects of text they encounter or seek out when selecting new reading materials.


Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Reflection

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program a few weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

I’m a reflective guy.


I journal. I blog. I seek peer advice. I seek learner advice. I even took a job teaching at a school where reflection is one of the core values.

If I were any more reflective, people would wear me whilst biking at night.

When I looked at my last few assignments for this first grad school class, and saw they were all about reflections, I was, in a word, giddy.

Then, I read the assignment descriptions.

For the assignment titled “Course Reflection,” here’s what was asked for:

The purpose of the Course Reflection is to give you the opportunity to reflect on what you have learned in a specific instructional block and how this knowledge relates to the core propositions. The reflection is written in narrative form with all the conventions of English language. It is a personal document you are willing to share with others.

The reflection summary has distinct sections in which you provide different information. The first section is a reflection on how you applied the most important topic/issues presented in the instructional block.

The second part is a reflection on your personal growth. The emphasis should be on application of knowledge you have experienced as a result of what you have learned in a particular block. This is the most personal part of the reflection. You might discuss application of knowledge to your classroom or a change in your philosophy.

The “core propositions” referred to in the first graf are the props set forth by the National Board. They drive our program. I kept waiting in the course for the chance to discuss and debate the propositions. If it’s what we’re working toward as the goal, we should, perhaps, think about them rather than accept them as though handed to us from the mount on stone tablets.

(No offense meant to the National Board. BTW, nice mount.)

As a reflective assignment, not bad. Really.

I mean, it was due a week before the end of the course, but I’m sure they didn’t really want us to reflect on the whole course.

The rubric was a little odd:

The course reflection exhibits clear, concise, thoughtful, and substantive evidence of the learner’s professional growth, with superior and insightful articulation of expectations or evidence of improved teaching and learning in the classroom.

Sounds good at the face value. My learning, though, wasn’t due to the content of the course or the teaching. The bulk of my learning took place in my thinking about the structure, delivery and pedagogy of the course itself. I’m a better teacher because I looked at the course as a case study.

Because of the tone set within the course, though, I couldn’t say as much. I said what they wanted to hear.
I’ve received no authentic sign that Educational Specialist was worried about my learning or teaching. Assigning work that asks questions about my learning and teaching, yes. Actually curious as to how to improve my practice, no.

You’d think one reflective assignment would be enough. Silly.

The last assignment of the course was a reflection on the learning surrounding the inquiry-based project we’ve been working on throughout the module.

A little sidenote on the project for those of you playing at home. The project is designed for the course when it’s taught during a school year and the learners in the course are, you know, teaching. For the summer session, we pretended. Not quite the same.

In the “Helpful Hints” doc we were given, ES stated:

Using the Reflective Self-Assessment section for each lesson plan, analyze more completely what might be successful and what might not, if and how you might accomplish your goals and objectives, and if you think your implementation plan will help you resolve your problem statement.

Some mental gymnastics there, no?

The guiding questions were a little silly as well:

  1. How were my goals and objectives met?
  2. What were my “aha!” moments and/or successes?
  3. What did not go well and/or was not as successful as I had hoped?
  4. What needs improvement?
  5. What would I do differently next time?
  6. What will I do again?
  7. What were the key concepts I learned?
  8. What did others see that I did not or could not and how will I use that
  9. intelligence to continue to refine and improve my teaching?
  10. What did I learn about my own teaching?

Number 5 was certainly the easiest: Next time, I would probably put all of this into practice rather than teaching it hypothetically.

Again, that’s not what I wrote. I wrote what they wanted to see.

One more thing about what they wanted to see.

In the second half of this second course reflection, we were asked for more references:

  • Include a complete reference list of all the resources you used for the entire inquiry project.
  • Follow the guidelines found in the most current edition of the American Psychological Association (APA) format and style manual.  Please put the original 15 sources at the beginning of this section then add the additional sources after the 15 original sources.
  • MINIMUM 22 sources.  15 sources from Assignment # 1 and 7 new sources. The 7 new sources should be 5 from our class material and 2 OTHER.

I don’t know why.

The part that positively made my head explode happened in the final bullet point. Seven more sources? I mean, I like prime numbers as much as anyone, but, why? For the final assignment of the course – a reflective piece – we’re to manifest 7 new references for work that was already done? What’s the reasoning for the 5-2 split? And adhere to APA style, but post the most recent sources at the bottom?

I’m not given to conjecture often, but my guess would be that this new ordering process is so ES can count sources. I mean, I’ll do it, but, why?

Reflective work from learners can provide some intensely rich feedback for the teaching of a course and any corrections that might need be made. We’ve actually read quite a bit about this as part of our studies in the course.

This isn’t effective reflection. Absent a safe and open learning environment, reflection has become another version of, “What does the teacher want to hear?”

Hi, you’re doing it wrong.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Grading

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program a few weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

I’m a pretty decent student.


I like to think. I like to participate. I love to learn.

Oh, and I get good grades.

One quarter in high school I got straight A’s. Otherwise, it was A’s and B’s. Still, not too shabby.

It’s been a while since I’ve been graded.

Turns out I’m perfect.

I really shouldn’t be.

Assignment #1, Parts 1-2-3 was my first attempt at the use of APA style. I’m pretty sure I got it wrong. At least I think I got it wrong a couple of places. I’m not entirely sure.

Here’s what Education Specialist had to say:

ES hit on each of the areas of the rubric. And…well, that’s it.

My favorite comment? “APA was used.”

You bet your sweet bippy it was. Used correctly? Who’s to say?

Well, at least I know how to improve it.

You see that place where ES questions my thinking and points me to places where I can improve in the future?

Yeah, me neither.

Probably just ran out of time.

Let’s take a look at another one. My Philosophy of Teaching. I worked quite thoughtfully on this one. It’s my statement of what I believe as a teacher. I edited it publicly as a google doc and revised more than most anything I’ve written lately.

ES says:

Ok. Note my ability to connect my philosophy of teaching to my learning is worth as much in the assignment as my ability to properly utilize writing conventions. Sure, those are the same things.

Again, no direct questioning or push back. That’s fine, because the assignment was shared with my peers in the course for discussion. Wait. No.

I’m torn on how I feel about the fact that two assignments sit turned in but ungraded.

I teach. I teach in a classroom with 32 learners in each section.

I get that grading in a timely manner can be a bear to say the least.

If the feedback were richer, though, I’d be more forgiving.

If the feedback pushed my learning, I’d be more forgiving.

Neither of those things is happening.

When I saw the score on Assignment #1, I shared it with the rest of the team in South Africa. “That’s great. Congratulations,” was the general sentiment.

While I’m not saying I’d like to have failed, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the 53/53.

I worked a long time on that assignment. I didn’t learn much of anything, save for APA style (I think).

In Making Learning Whole, David Perkins provides three types of feedback:

  • corrective: announces what’s wrong “Yes, but…”/”Good, but…”

  • conciliatory: vague, uninformative positive feedback

  • communicative: structured to ensure good communication 1) clarification, 2) appreciation, 3) concerns and suggestions

As a teacher, I’m going to be striving to live more in the world of communicative feedback this year.

I wish ES was doing the same.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Chat/Discussion

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program a few weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

As I’ve mentioned, my course requires participation in three online chats throughout its 8-week run. I missed the first chat as I was in a tiny town in a small town outside East London in Eastern Cape, South Africa, and the Internet was spotty.

Wednesday, I returned to the States.

Wednesday, our second chat was scheduled.

After two days of travel involving 3 continents, I had my sister pull over on the drive from O’Hare back down to Springfield, IL and I signed on sitting in supremely busy McDonald’s of Pontiac, IL. (If you don’t think there’s a global information divide, compare that last sentence to this situation and get back to me.)

No matter the free Internet juice my MacBook was sucking down, it just couldn’t talk to the chat room.
As had happened during my first go, I’d log in to the WebCT chat room, one person would send a line of dialogue and the infinite pinwheel of death would appear.

This happened across Firefox, Flock and Chrome.

After 30 minutes of trying, I e-mailed “Education Specialist” to say I wouldn’t be making it to the night’s chat.

Here’s what happens if you miss a chat:

After missing the last chat, I opted for the second choice. I’d intended to go with the first option, but the transcript never got posted. I inquired about it on the discussion board. But, as I’ve now learned, “Education Specialist” doesn’t so much use the discussion board.

I in my e-mail explaining my absence from Chat 2, I said I’d keep an eye out for the transcript. Subtle, I know.

Chat 2’s questions for discussion were:

Some potentially beefy material.

Before I read the transcript, I checked back to see what the requirements for participation were…non-existent.

On the other hand, I found this:

While no set requirements for participation exist, we are to write a synopsis of what we’ve learned in the chat and copy and paste it to our “Chat Log” along with our compiled responses to the weekly discussion forum.
I’m a bit worried that option 4 here runs in contrast with option 2 for those who missed the chat. Seems even if I opt for option 2, I’ll still need to include option 4 which is the same as option 1 above.

Here’s where I’d normally make the argument for putting all information in the same place, but I don’t have it in me right now.

Baffled, I’ve turned to the transcript.

Here’s how the discussion began:

The response to that one was kind of ugly.

The answers, by the way, Active Learning and Classroom Management. The first one makes me chuckle every time.

Then “Education Specialist” said:

But not everyone had finished typing the first strands, so it was a mix of strands  in what was an actual request to repeat specific information back to the instructor.

In the middle of it all, someone asked a question about an upcoming assignment and received the reply:


It was difficult to read the rest of the transcript. “Education Specialist” would yell each successive pre-announced question and my peers would type their responses back to “Education Specialist.”

Here’s the only feedback I could find:

Warms the cockles, no?

Forty-seven minutes in, and it was over.


In this course, we’ve read (or were assigned to read) multiple chapters about making learning active, moving from a teacher-centered approach, making learning authentic and multiple modalities.

Then, in one of the 3 times we’re all in the same “room,” it’s straight-forward teacher-centered call and response. Desperate for any actual evidence of, you know, chat, I took a tally.

In the discussion that took place before “Education Specialist” left the room, peers responded directly to one another a total of 5 times. Those responses were generally along the lines of “I have used that tool and find it very helpful as well in the math classroom.”

Hardly the free, open and democratic exchange of ideas I work to facilitate in my classroom.

Chat can and should be a much more powerful tool for facilitating learning from varied geographic areas.

Election Night 2008, I sat in Chris’ living room with my laptop, logged in to a moodle chat room open to all SLA learners for discussion of the history that was being made. People were throwing out commentary, questions, answers, tips for the channel with the best coverage. When it got down to the wire, a rich conversation started about how some news outlets were calling the election whilst others were not.

No pre-fab discussion questions were needed. Something interesting to talk about and learn from was happening and so we got together to explore it.

This week, seasoned educators from around the country were asked “What techniques do you utilize to manage classroom behavior?” and 3 people responded with 10 lines of text.

Every second of the 47 minutes that chat was being facilitated could and should have been dedicated to just that question. Teachers from multiple disciplines talking about what they do to set and maintain the climate of their classrooms, and we spent maybe 5 minutes.

This isn’t active learning. This isn’t inquiry. This isn’t constructivist. This isn’t, well, it just isn’t.

Better than this.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Discussion Forum

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program three weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

There were stone tools, there was the wheel, there was online learning, there was the discussion board.

Instructors looked at this and said it was good.

Learners looked at this and said was annoyingly restrictive at times.

The discussion board for my current master’s class looks like this:

The standing assignment for the discussions says:

The “Education Specialist” has contributed to this discussion board this many times:


Here’s why “Education Specialist” needs not worry about joining in:

Learner’s options for posting new threads to the discussion board look like this:

That’s right, we can’t.

Some thoughts:

  • I don’t always have 250 words in response to the posted discussion questions that are often meant only to check if we’ve completed the reading.
  • Requiring me to reply to 2 people means I tend to reply to the two folks who posted their responses earliest and never read the responses of those who follow.
  • Knowing people are responding to what I wrote because they were required to spend 100 words on my thinking cheapens it.
  • Inferring that my discussion log is going to be used to check for completion and not quality of discussion cheapens it.
  • Not being able to post what I like when I find it cuts out the possibility of organic discussion and learning.

I don’t find future contributions from “Education Specialist” likely either. There’s no pushing of thinking, there’s no questioning of our premises, no “Oh, I found this link to this article related to the reading for this week.”

The others in the class have picked up on the hoop-jumping nature of the discussion board assignment as well. Posts are empty, enough words to get by and then done. Not about the ideas, but about the word count.
Not that the questions lend themselves to real depth.

The one assignment from the course where I’d like to have seen and responded to my peers’ work and have them do the same for mine was the drafting of our philosophies of teaching. These documents outlining who we are as teachers and where we come from could have led to some interesting discussion and thinking.

The philosophies went straight to the assignment dropbox. Why collaborate on those?

I’ve used the moodle discussion forum in teaching many times. I’ll throw a forum up for sharing resources or giving feedback on drafts of essays or discussing readings. I’ve done the whole “respond to two other people” thing. I don’t know that I’ll be doing that again. I’ve come to realize it’s the online equivalent of forced mingling. The worry could be that people won’t respond to one another if not required to. If you have to require someone to use the tool and they wouldn’t normally do so, you might be using the wrong tool. Maybe content matters?

I’ll certainly be keeping this experience in mind the next time I use the discussion forum in class. Discussion isn’t enough. It seems we need actually be saying something.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Course Design

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program three weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

This is the front page of my current course:

This is the discussion forum:
You’ll note there are multiple threads. That’s because not everyone in the course responds to the weekly discussion questions through reply.
Here’s a classmate’s response post:
Here’s my attempt to preemptively stop all of my classmates from posting their discussions and responses as file attachments:

The “Education Specialist” has a thread about each upcoming assignment, except one that was due last Sunday. On the syllabus, it’s due next Sunday:

On the due date sheet, it was due last Sunday:
In the course dropbox, it was due last Sunday:
In the discussion forum, where we’ve been alerted to how to complete all assignments, not a peep:
My e-mail:

The “Education Specialist’s” response:
The page that has heretofore gone unmentioned in the discussion forum:

Each course at SLA uses moodle as a content delivery system. From time to time, I’ve attempted to use Google Calendar or other means of delivering due dates and course assignments. It hasn’t worked. My learners have looked in one place. If I put it in one place, they know where to look. It makes the actual work easier if they don’t have to search for assignment due dates and descriptions.
The same could be said for this course.
In short, they’re doing it wrong.

I’m going back to school

The Gist:

  • I got a scholarship to get my master’s degree.
  • It has me thinking about the kind of entitled, empowered learner I’ve become.
  • I wonder if the kind of learner I’ve become will mesh with this online program.

The Whole Deal:

I had something extra to be thankful for this year – I hope.

Tuesday, I received an e-mail from the Liberty Mutual Teachers Program. Through their Learn Return program, I’ve received a scholarship to pursue my master’s degree.

I’m psyched.

I’ve made a few starts at going to grad school. The furthest I’ve come was a program through Walden University just before I moved up to Philly. Turned out moving expenses and tuition expenses aren’t always compatible.

I resigned myself to the idea that I would be getting my master’s as soon as someone offered to pay for it. Who knew that would actually happen.

The folks at Learn Return have told me I’d be getting info. in the next couple of weeks about how to redeem my “scholarship through Pearson Education and its master’s degree partner.”

In a few weeks, the experiment begins.

Last week, while presenting with SLA colleagues and students at Digital is… the National Writing Project’s first annual conference, a participant from a college that will not be named commented, “I worry that we’re not ready for your students.”

I told her they should be worried.

I am a little bit too. SLA students are empowered and entitled. It’s a direct result of Chris empowering and entitling his teachers.

Thusly, I’m an entitled and empowered teacher / learner. I wonder if Pearson Education and its master’s degree partner are ready for me.

It will be a grand experiment.