Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Beyond Here Be Dragons!"

"Why would anyone want to blog!" First, this is a question screamed at me today by a colleague. Second, notice I do not punctuate it with a question mark. The scream made it rhetorical.

I had been talking about a student who had recently removed a blog that included posts, though heartfelt and honest in tone and style, were perhaps so personal so as to compromise the author and his subjects in a less than perfect, not so understanding world. Although the young blogger had removed his blog, other bloggers were pulling up its contents in Google Reader and reposting them. Our world may not be understanding, but unlike the virtual world it could be more ephemeral. What we post can virsist on without us.

It is to this nonrecantable, uncontrollable existence of our posts to the blogosphere my colleague objects. She gave me pause. As she objected, I reflected.

Several thoughts came to mind. Of how she was right--it does seem unfair that once we publish, to others we cannot see, cannot know, who can abuse, misuse, and reuse our contributions in ways we cannot immediately imagine. I also thought of how I find the process of blogging--and publishing--to be almost as enriching and rewarding as reading the blogs of countless other educators who are doing the same. I have the sense that publishing my "reveries" is dues for reading the "buzz" of other bees. That together we create the prairie.
Indeed, I know that my metaphor is romantic. After all , the blogosphere is more a woods than a prairie. It offers what the 20th Century French philosopher Gaston Bachelard calls the "immediate immensity." To sit in front of a computer screen, less than a meter between you and the rest of the world, in the comfort of your own home, and not realize that it translates to billions of other screens (now and into the future) is to forget the forest for the tree. The forest may be lovely, but it is dark and deep. And there may even be wolves.
"Beyond here be dragons!" This makes me think of yet another topographical metaphor for cyber-space. The sea. But like the explorers before us we students and teachers set sail to explore while others cozy up to a cup of tea and a good book back at home. Nothing wrong with the latter, and someday I hope to make it home safely, so save a cup for me. In the meantime, I'm off.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Struggles of Trying to Be Tech Competent

Not sure I'd call myself a technology-in-the-classroom vanguard, I am at least a risk-taker, but this week I can see why more teachers aren't. The frustrations of scarcity of equipment, equipment failure, system failures, and professional development learning curve can be daunting.

As a team leader, I've spent this week in mind-boggling discussions that have included litanies of why teachers need technology and why they can't expect to get it, and I've spent class periods working with ninth graders struggling to learn creative processes for researching multi-media, remixing, and documenting information for a series of documentaries on Shakespeare's life, times, and works we are creating with Photo Story video and will broadcast on the Web. (Stay tuned.)

I'm struggling along with my students. We are learning together. From some perspectives that is the best way to learn. But for many teachers, and at times myself, the confusion and frustration makes the ole halcyon days of book-learning look like a welcome retreat. I'm rather comfortable with trying the new technologies and feel that they offer great relevancy and motivation for today's learners--and yet I'm frustrated and confused at times with my wanting tech savvy and lack of tech support.

Atop this, I'm finding great disparities in what some students know and what others do not. Even wider are the gaps in what parents are able to know and do and provide in terms of everything from understanding, encouragement, and support, to hardware, and software.

Yesterday as I walked down the hall I heard a cry of desperation from young teacher. This teacher, one from the digital generation, couldn't get a laptop signal to jibe with an LCD projector that is shared from room-to-room screamed "That's it! I'm done with this hassle. I get it all ready and then it goes down in class." I hope this is just a momentary fit and she'll gather her nerve another day.

I understand. I have to gather mine for tomorrow.

Every generation of good teachers take their stripes. These are ours, while we don't delay media literacy to our students despite a lacking critical mass of support from the learning community at large. Not only must we take the risk of trying emergent instructional technologies, develop reflective pedagogy to guide our continued practices with them, and work in a state of "perpetual beta," but also must we advocate with administrations, parents, students, and communities for the changes in school and system design needed to support, fund, equip. and sustain the sort of progress that will allow our students to gain competencies and remain competitive (as governments and schools around the world move ahead with greater celerity than we).
Image created with NGA Collage Machine

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Notes on Narrative Inquiry Discoveries

Ever since participating in a Narrative Inquiry group at the IDIERI 2003 Conference in Northampton, UK, I've found it's approach accessible and expansive for my 12th Grade literature students. I have to admit I didn't know what Narrative Inquiry was when I signed up for the research module--I just like the sound of it. To me it said "story."

True enough story is part of it, but it's how the story is told or discovered that makes the research approach deliniated by Connelly and Clandinin (1990) so worthwhile for my classes. Students generally know one way to represent information--a straight outline or Cornell notetaking form. The Narrative Inquiry model provides a less linear, more layered approach. Albeit offputting at first, the layered approach is much more fitting with our postmodern times, our multi-multi thinking, and moves away from either-or analysis of things.

As their publisher notes:
"Understanding experience as lived and told stories--also known as narrative
inquiry--has gained popularity and credence in qualitative research. Unlike more
traditional methods, narrative inquiry successfully captures personal and human
dimensions that cannot be quantified into dry facts and numerical data."
It takes students a while to become accustomed to thinking of texts (at least in school--don't they do it all the time elsewhere?) in four directions (forward, backward, inward, outward) while considering three points (time, action, place). Add to this the fragility of memory and they are not sure at first that they can trust that they are doing it right--but it's hard not to do it right as they begin metacognition on a text. Some students rely on facts without feelings at first, and need to be nudged into trusting their visceral notions of texts.

Then widening the definition of "text" to any element one can consider is another stretch at first for students, but soon they are using the text-reader-author conceit as well as any graduate student. And constructing concepts that make sense out of the curricular content unlike--and unlikely--as with traditional models.

Students like the subjective aspects of the "inward" and what they "remember." They love the drawing outside the outlines, once they do it and see my smile not reprimand.

We've recently returned from a tour of the U of Pittsburgh's Nationality Rooms. Here's part of one student's meaning-making.

I like the qualitative thinking and expression it evokes and gives me a better measure of the depth of student thinking than regular reporting of knowledge and comprehension. Narrative inquiry calls a student higher up Bloom's ladder of the cognitive domain and integrates some of the affective domain as well. I find, as a reader of thousands of projects a year, I welcome the variety and depth of thinking. Much more interesting reading.