That Learning Revolution? We Might Be Waiting For A While.

Well, we've started back at school this week and I have to admit, everything feels like a continuation from last year and across the state, the basic way school gets done will be pretty much the same way it's been done for quite a while now. The changes at our school are subtle and not all that obvious to the casual observer but there are tell tale signs on the new teachers' faces as they suffer information overload about inquiry learning, interactive whiteboards, co-planning and You Can Do It. I must admit that I enjoy the fact that we are a school pushing forward to improve what we offer our students but it can be a bit of a culture shock for the newcomers from less frantic settings.

And if, as some prominent edubloggers propose, we need a learning revolution it will come as a complete surprise for many of those schools and educators. When most Aussie teachers hear the word "revolution" associated with education, they think of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Digital Education Revolution. With the unfortunate acronym of DER and plenty of scepticism about the actual vision and subsequent implementation, the whole idea of "revolution" has lost most of its punch down under. Then when our Federal Education Minister starts looking back over her shoulder for ways to improve the Australian education system by inviting controversial New Yorker Joel Klein to provide advice on how to move our schools forward, then the "revolution" terminology starts to look somewhat farcical.

The internet hasn't transformed Australian education - yet. In general, it hasn't transformed Australian educators either but that's not to say it isn't possible. But change is slowly happening with the few of us pushing the web as a participatory learning platform tending to be steady small scale influencers rather than being Che Guervera-like figures.  After all, no-one wants to get fired. It's much more evolutionary than anything else.

So, I find phrases like "I'm Here For The Learning Evolution" to be mildly irritating. Much of the conversation surrounding this tends to focus on the deficiencies of one country's education system (which ironically us Aussies consider for improvements to our system!) and when I look at how few K-12 educators are even using the web for their own learning, how can they even get their unknowing colleagues on board for a people's revolution they don't even know exists?

In 2009, I'll just keep evolving my practice and do my best to help my disconnected colleagues to plug into the potential. Sorry, Wes. Count me out.

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4 thoughts on “That Learning Revolution? We Might Be Waiting For A While.

  1. alexanderhayes

    Hi Graham,

    I just wanted to ( slightly off topic ) thank you sincerely for our pep-mentor talk the other day online when I was feeling at a low ebb.

    One thing I appreciate most is your frank wit and your charm through what seems to me to be a very challenging job you have. I’ve long ago lost four walls of a classroom but find myself constantly finding ways to create other shapes that don’t bind things quite so tightly together.

    The chaos of democracy.

    Shortly after we spoke a dear friend of mine passed away and I attended his funeral only to return with a whopping chest infection – BP was 93/40 and temp. of 39.8 degrees celcius.

    Frightening really.

    What you said to me made great sense and today I took a ute load of crap to the tip, cleared out the studio, bought myself a golf set and quit drinking ….until these steroids cease to matter.

    Thank you 🙂

  2. Pam Thompson

    As one of those “new” teachers starting at a new school I can identify totally with the feeling of being overwhelmed with all of the changes to take on board. But it isn’t just those of us starting at new schools. There is so much to fit in these days and so many expectations at some that anyone even slightly dubious about taking up the challenge of having a go at using new technologies or web2.0 will think twice.

    I, too, will work on improving my classroom practice and endeavour to enthuse some of my colleagues.

    Good luck for the start of the new school year Graham.

  3. Andrew C

    Perhaps the most powerful yet most overlooked advantage of a computer in developing writing skills is as a glorified typewriter. It waits as a blank page which can be written upon, corrected neatly, proofread, edited, added to and rearranged with a minimum of effort, and without rewriting. It allows an approach to teaching writing that is impossible with a pencil and paper, and may have its greatest impact in the earlier years of school.

    It is important not to be distracted by technology, and get carried away with multimedia, interconnectivity and internet access. The keyboard and screen can be used to empower children to master the written word, and produce written output at a level necessary to cater for their learning needs. It can be used to teach sentence construction, grammar, punctuation and spelling, the mundane but essential building blocks of written literacy, without being dependent on good handwriting skills which may be slower to develop.

    Production of written output is essential to the learning process in school. A child who cannot write cannot learn effectively, so one of the first tasks of school is to teach the child to write. Writing is a complicated process requiring the simultaneous execution of several difficult activities. There is the content, there is the sentence construction, there is remembering to go across the page from left to right, and remembering what shape the letter “e” is. There is the physical movement of pencil on paper. The coordination and complexity involved in handwriting has been compared to that involved in driving a car.
    Up until now, all these skills had to be taught simultaneously, and were deeply dependant on how quickly the handwriting skill developed.

    It is no wonder that some children are slow to develop adequate handwriting skills, which retards the whole of their school career. Teachers are aware of students whose written output does not match their intelligence, comprehension or verbal language skills.
    This can be because their handwriting skill is not adequate for their learning needs.

    A keyboard and screen allows the middle order writing skills to be taught in isolation to handwriting. Handwriting must still be taught, but it is no longer the limiting factor. Handwriting skills may develop with maturity and practice, so that when a student is required to produce handwriting for an exam, not only do they have handwriting skills, they also have something worth writing.

    Middle order writing skills include such things as sentence construction, grammar, punctuation and spelling. Sentence construction can be broken down into discreet steps, and leverages from a child’s verbal language skills. When they start school, children already use extensive language skills. They do not know the technical terms for the parts of a sentence, but they certainly know how to use them. The “Davidson Method” of sentence construction uses the advantages of a keyboard and screen (any computer with a text editor) and scaffolds a child’s existing verbal skills into the written form.

    Davidson Method for Sentence writing

    1. Choose an action word, a verb.
    A verb is an –ing word
    e.g. chasing

    2 Ask who or what thing is doing the action. (noun,object)
    dog chasing

    3. Ask who or what thing is the action being done to. (noun, subject)
    dog chasing cat

    4. Describe the things (adjective, phrase).
    black hairy ferocious dog from next door chasing mangy yellow cat

    5. Ask when or where or how the action is happening (adverb, phrase).
    yesterday afternoon black hairy ferocious dog from next door quickly chasing mangy yellow cat across the park

    6. Check that the tense of the verb matches sentence. Does it sound right?
    Modify verb (auxiliary verb, compound verb)
    yesterday afternoon black hairy ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing mangy yellow cat across the park

    7. Add words to make it sound right.
    yesterday afternoon the black hairy ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing a mangy yellow cat across the park

    8. Add commas and full stops. (Punctuation)
    yesterday afternoon, the black, hairy, ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing a mangy, yellow cat across the park.

    9. Add a capital letter to the first word.
    Yesterday afternoon, the black, hairy, ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing a mangy, yellow cat across the park.

    This method allows a sentence to be built logically rather than sequentially, the screen holds the parts in place rather than trying to juggle all the pieces in memory while attempting to write neatly.
    It is easier to choose a letter from a keyboard than try to remember the shape of a letter.
    Correction is neat and does not require the whole page to be rewritten.
    Spelling can be checked as a separate step.
    The sentence can be copied by hand to paper when complete to practice handwriting, and it is relevant to the child because it is their sentence with their ideas. There is no need to print the sentence.
    There is no dumbing down of the ideas in the sentence to match writing or spelling skill.
    Proofreading and editing are being taught as an integral part of writing.

    It should be emphasised that this does not replace handwriting. Handwriting must still be taught in the normal way. It does make handwriting more effective by allowing some ideas to be taught and practiced in isolation, thereby increasing focus and effectiveness.

    It should also be emphasised that we still need a competent and dedicated teacher to lead the child, to encourage, to nurture. The keyboard and screen is just a different writing tool, with features that a good teacher can use when required.

    Computers can be used to increase learning outcomes in KLAs –here-now-today in ordinary classrooms, and bring relief to children who are struggling or giving up because they cannot write fast enough or neatly enough to produce the written output required to cater for their learning needs. Avoid the temptation to reinvent the school system and philosophy of education in order to justify spending money on ICT. Instead look at the problems that are in our classrooms and see if technology can help a competent and dedicated teacher find a way forward.


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