Reflection, Self-Explanation & Citizenship

MA Doodles

Analogue Notetaking

Reflection vs. Self-Explanation

One of the questions asked by a #TieGrad classmate during my presentation on the Self-Explanation principle was whether there was all-too-much difference between the practice of self-explaining and a more general reflective process. And while I might be more inclined to leave the definitive boundary-setting to those more versed in the theory, something that drew me to investigating the principle in the first place was the apparent overlap with many of my own practices revolving around critical reflection and pedagogy.

There does indeed appear to much overlap between the practice of guided reflection, the creation of objects of learning, and an ongoing critical praxis.

The benefits of guided self-explanation touted by the chapter in Mayer’s Principles of Multimedia Learning involve the following:

  • Repair mental models,
  • Identify previously held misconceptions,
  • and Make inferences between learning materials.

Further, studies have shown that

“When students are explicitly asked to make connections between sources of information while self-explaining, they are better able to integrate the information to form a more complete mental model.”

Self-Explanation & Citizenship

Slide20As I’ve described in other posts this semester, such a framework for learning suits the ongoing themes in my own theory and practice as related to critical pedagogy and citizenship learning, as it serves to provide a personalized outlet for meaning-making in a complex learning environment. Such a process seems poised to deliver the lessons requisite for students to continue lifelong learning beyond the school or institution and become contributing members of a just society.

Such a conception of democratic society is the same one introduced by John Dewey, nearly 100 years ago. Among a great many contributions to progressive education, Dewey prescribed schools (and curriculum) as the means by which the younger generation could become enculturated to the traditions, concepts and proficiencies society deems necessary for its continued survival and progress, as well as laboratories where young people could rehearse the formation of their own communities and societies, based on their own emergent values and principles.

This notion, that each individual has a role to play in society and that schools’ function is to aid in the full participation of each citizen, relies to a certain degree on the ability of students to become lifelong learners capable of enacting an ongoing critical praxis. The education of the self as a unique agent in society is a process that does not end upon graduation, and in fact demands an even greater ability to synthesize complex learning uniquely presenting itself to each member of the broader community upon entering the so-called ‘real world.’

That guided self-explanation might help enrich learning in a complex environment, and is most effective when used to support challenging, engaging, cognitively complex learning, presents such a principle as uniquely positioned to help K12 students develop a necessary skillset in the realm of citizenship education.

The Process behind the Product

The idea of narrating one’s work has more and more become central to my focus in crafting assignments and units that reflect a focus on process over product, even when a project or opportunity presents itself with a resolute product as finale. While each member of the community or classroom may pursue a unique pathway in their own learning, a few common, simple goals can help align collective efforts toward diverse, individual learning outcomes.

An example of this type of learning design is the TALONS Eminent Person Study, a traditional gifted students’ program “Hero Project” wherein each of the TALONS adopts a notable individual who has attained ’eminence’ in their chosen field, and prepares a research study on their life and achievements. There are several general expectations for each during the course of the project:

  • Introductory Blog PostSlide14
  • Library Field Study
  • Expert Interview
  • Document of Learning
  • Learning Center
  • Night of the Notables Reflection
  • Bibloggrapy

And yet within these individual assignments, there is the latitude for each to pursue an aspect of personal learning, whether related to Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals, areas of passion or curiosity beyond the scope of Ministry curricula, or themes emerging within the unique community of learners. So while each of the above assignments is a marked component of the study, the unit’s assessment is weighted toward the insight and autonomy expressed in the blogged reflections and documents of learning created and shared throughout the process.

Eminent Evaluation 2014

Further, these open-ended reflections are supplemented by guided self-explanation prompts in the form of a summative evaluation via Google Form. Here, the TALONS are asked to reflect upon their own process of learning throughout the project – how they measured up to their initial goals, what led them to success, or how they would improve various aspects of their work – as well as summarize and state what they felt constituted the grand takeaways from the monthlong odyssey.

Here, the process of guided self-explanation is enacted to (ideally) synthesize diverse threads of individual learning, which will in time radiate into the collective themes of the community.

In reflecting on what made her speech this year her best work in the project, Alison noted,

First of all, this year I wrote my speech draft much earlier than the due date compared to last year. Due to this fact, I was able to receive a lot of great feedback from my peers during the writing process, which then allowed me to improve my speech even further. Once my draft was written, I was lucky that I had a lot of time to rehearse my speech. One step that led my speech to success during this stage was that I didn’t just rehearse the words, I also rehearsed body language and movement, and the use of the stage. Although I can’t accurately judge what I did on stage due to my nerves, through the feedback I received from peers, guests, and alumni I can think that I was one of my better works.

But beyond these questions of process, which are of great value from the standpoint of identifying and correcting previously held misconceptions or mental models (prized by the self-explanative educator, we are told), it is the parts of the survey which prompt students’ thinking about the synthesis of personal or collective themes which shine light on the particular nuances between the product-oriented outcomes.

What will you (or do you want to) remember about this project?

One thing that I would like to take away from the project, in addition to all that I learned about [my Eminent Person], is how closely the class supported each other in their own studies, specifically in the grade 10 speeches. Although Eminent is a very personal project, I enjoyed the process in which we came together to somehow connect our eminent people into one, collective sequence of performances. It allowed us to be aware not only of our own learning, but of the learning happening around us, and how it related to the common goals of the group. Seeing all of our speeches come to life on stage was also very validating for the work that we put in together.

I think I’ll remember a lot of the little moments. I think I’ll remember the moments of support backstage and in our huddle as well as moments of joy like when I was on stage and after when we were all running down the halls.

I will remember the experiences that I had to express my learning of my eminent person. For me personally, it was the first time I had gone to a university library to find serious sources. It was very interesting to see the endless amount of books. It was also fascinating to see the university lifestyle, and to think that I may be there in a few years. Another part that I will remember about this project is the learning centers. I thought that it was  fairly similar to a science fair, I was, for the most part, wrong. It was similar to a science fair in that there were stations, but different because of how we were encouraged to have an interactive element. Usually, people might have pictures or models, but we got to speak to the people, and have them experience our project more in-depth. I enjoyed these parts of the project.

I will always remember the freedom with this project. The outline for this project can easily be altered, and I feel that this leads to a more passionate project with students who are willing to learn about something they enjoy or care about. I had the choice of being whoever I found eminent and that is something I will always remember about Eminent Person Study.

Is Constructivism Possible?

A question I have been exploring in the past year has been whether or not constructivism is possible within institutional learning. We are torn, in schools, between the dual purpose of Dewey’s initial calls for democratic instruction, and teaching what society deems ‘required’ skills, facts, or habits, and creating a space for unique individual subjectivities to emerge within educative spaces. The contradiction which arises within institutional learning settings surrounds the notion that for truly unique subjectivities to be brought about, the perceived ‘objectivity’ of the instructor/facilitator/learning outcomes often unnecessarily limits these possibilities.

This relates to an oft-quoted edict of Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta on this blog, that

“if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

It is a difficult thought to wrap one’s head around, but one which is central to the aim of multicultural societies, where to foster broad diversity within a pluralist democracy citizens of countries such as Canada are tasked with

“[promoting] the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and assist them in the elimination of any barrier to that participation.”

Indeed, Osberg and Biesta write that

“In contemporary multicultural societies, the difficulty with education as planned enculturation lies in the question of who decides what or whose culture should be promoted through education. The problem of ‘educational enculturation’ is therefore of considerable concern to theorists grappling with the issues raised by multiculturalism.

“If we hold that meaning is emergent, and we insist on a strict interpretation of emergence (i.e. what emerges is more than the sum of its parts and therefore not predictable from the ‘ground’ it emerges from) then the idea that educators can (or should) control the meanings that emerge in the classroom becomes problematic. In other words the notion of emergent meaning is incompatible with the aims of education, traditionally conceived.”

Thus while still nevertheless prompted to respond to the pre-defined outcomes of a project such as the Eminent Person Study, the TALONS are hopefully still yet encouraged to construct their own subjective perceptions of themselves within the learning experience. And so in answer to the following question, we find a multiplicity of responses:

If you had to describe your learning during the Eminent Person Study in one word, what would it be? 

If you had to describe your learning during the Eminent Person Study in one word, what would it be?

#Eminent2014 in Motion

Slide13

The passage of autumn into winter in the TALONS classroom is marked by the arrival of the Eminent Person Study and culminating Night of the Notables. And while there is a great deal of tradition and meaning transmitted down through years to the current group of students undertaking the project, the chain of cultural transmission is captured in the chorus of individual goals, reflections in progress, and documents of learning blogged as the project unfolds.

While everyone fulfills the same few tenants of the study, the learning that takes place – collectively and individually – is largely a personal affair, one that is handed down from year to year in links and digital portfolios. And as the individual lessons of the study accumulate, so does the culture at the heart of the TALONS classroom congregate in RSS and digital artifacts.

Thus we can look back in the Notable class of 2009 astride our own, with Saskia’s learning center, one which still resonates today:

I left out postcards for people to write to Zahra Kazemi’s son: Stephan Kazemi. These I made from her photographs as a reference to the postcards she herself created (mentioned above). I wanted them addressed to her son for several reasons. By having people write about what they thought of Zahra Kazemi, I was honouring his mother and his own struggle to find justice for her. At the same time, it also showed him just how much his help made a difference to my project. Eleven people ended up writing postcards and I hope that when Stephan Kazemi receives them, they will make him very happy.

The sentiments of Raiya, a year later, looking back on her turn under the lights, echoes in this the fall of 2014:

Night of the Notables left me awestruck, amazed, and inspired. I realized that all my pre-N.O.T.N. stress was well worth the great moments that came with it. For me, some of the more memorable moments of the night were the ten minutes we were all getting a pep talk from Mr. J, the five minutes we were all singing the same familiar notes of “Don’t Stop Believing”, and those three seconds of dead silence after your speech, followed by the thunderous cheers from your classmates. The energy from that night will stick with us our entire life.

The TALONS newly departed, too, leave their thoughts to frame this year’s experience:

Slide11I always get the most peculiar tickling sensation in my tummy after late nights with TALONS. I don’t know if it’s those shooting stars or the fact that these late nights are way past my bedtime, but it’s always a rather homey feeling that curls around my chest when we join hands, all tired and warm from the long day.

But each of these predecessors merely sets the stage for the voices that are lent to this chorus across the TALONS blogs this fall. Newly migrated to a new domain – talons43.ca – each of the blogs is collected and syndicates in a steady feed of interviews, and speech drafts, and learning center floorplans. The results represent a new generation’s perspective on a timeless aspect of the program, which by changing stays the same.

And so this year we’ve been able to travel with Julia to SFU, and glimpse the individual learning on a field trip to a local university:

Before events happen, I usually have this weird distorted vision of20141030_101631 (1)what will happen. On this trip, I had some educational expectations and such. Something I really wanted to get as much as I could of was experience. Experiences are as valuable as any research, and going to an environment I hope to return to as a university student, I hoped to absorb as much as possible. Some aspects of the buildings themselves were how they were all made of cement. It made for a quite gloomy yet professional feel, and looked quite impressive from a distance. It would feel great to walk across the serene pond, down the massive steps, and graduate. There was also a pyramid in a clearing that could only be the pyramid of life, and I questioned it no further. Experiences demand to be felt, and I was entranced.

We’re introduced to fellow grade nine Emma M’s look back on her speech, and see the evolution of the draft(s) that brought her there:

Oh eminent speeches.

I have written many speeches, however I always stress about them and slightly go crazy yet end up finishing with flying colours. People say I’m a good public speaker, and I think that I’m good at it, just when I get up to speak I don’t know if it’s nerves or adrenaline running through my veins. As well, once I finish the speech I don’t speak for a while because all I’m thinking is “Wow, I just did that.”

Sensing the permanence of the blogged reflection, by taking stock of her grade nine speech Nazlie offers some advice to her future self:

I presented my speech on monday, which I am really proud of myself for. I’m usually not the best with public speaking, but I feel like I did pretty well and I am less nervous to present in front of groups of people, especially the classroom. I think I have a pretty good technique for staying calm whilst presenting now, which is something extremely useful that I have gotten out of this project so far. However, I have miserably failed to follow through with my goal of time management, I left my speech to be written on the last weekend before I presented. Personally this wasn’t a big problem for the outcome of my speech, but I still believe it would’ve been more efficient for me to have written at least some of it the weekend before. I literally spent 2 weeks brainstorming and then ended up doing something completely different from what I brainstormed. So, Future me, who will probably look back at this post a year from now and feel terribly embarrassed, PLEASE brain storm and do some speech writing on the same day, preferably 3 weeks before NOTN, so then you won’t have to spend all day on Sunday and Saturday before the big day writing your speech based off of brainstorm-notes and then end up realizing, on the 3rd speech you’ve rewritten, that there is a way better POV to use. Please.

While attending to her own project, grade ten Jessica takes the opportunity to shine some light on Nazlie’s speech, as well:

SFU trip with TALONS

I also want to comment on Nazlie’s project. I recently heard her speech on the woman who runs Rookie. It blew me away. During her speech, she didn’t ever really move, using no body language to aid her, however it worked in her favour. I believe this is because her speech was formed as a letter to her eminent person and letters are not often associated with body movement. She caught my eye because she spoke with such passion in a way that was relatable, and because she was talking about body images and the affects society have on us.

But as the project marches on, Alison takes a moment to forecast her goals for Night of the Notables:

Compared to last year, my learning center is not so complex and it occupies more space. Also, visitors will have to directly converse with me for information about my person rather than reading off a board or by looking at pictures. Although the idea may be more simple, I think I will be equally or even more busy than last year, but I look forward to it! I hope that this learning center idea will be successful and entertaining on the night of while showing the true eminence of Niccolo Paganini to the guests!

While Lyle shares his interview progress with the Reddit community:

If you recall from last year, my interview requests crashed, burned, asked me to tell their wives they loved her, and then convulsed wildly until their vital signs were zero. I believe this was because I was overly optimistic about securing an interview with my person himself and so did a pretty half-hearted job of seeking interviews from anyone else. In short, I was fishing with a line instead of a net.

This year however, my interview request was fired out to a potential audience of almost 60, 000 people, all who are knowledgeable or at least interested in graffiti. Where did I find such an audience?

Reddit!

Joanna shares her successful interview attempt, as well as her results:

So this year, I was extremely lucky to get an interview on my first try, with none other than Margaret Sanger’s grandson, Alexander Sanger, who also happens to be the Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council.

Talking with Mr. Sanger has really made me feel like I know Margaret Sanger a bit better- questions such as the one I asked about her personality are really going to help me be in character on Night of the Notables, and being able to see this woman from a family members point of view gave me quite a bit of insight on her private life. I also got the chance to learn about some of her lesser known beliefs, and this knowledge prompted me to look into her accomplishments outside of the legalization of contraceptives.

While her sister shares another draft of her speech speech draft, along with the following caveat

The first thing I did for my speech was pretty much a free-write. The free-write is below. I will be posting my speech draft #2, which will actually have a semblance of organization, in a different blog post. The transitions are in bold because I had already decided where I wanted to start and end, so those are parts that won’t change much. You’ll be able to tell that they don’t fit with the free-write, because they were created separately.

Emma F in turn sketches out the broad strokes of her turn as Frida Kahlo:

Although I have chosen not to illustrate a specific ‘snapshot’ moment or event in my speech, I have instead decided to address the concept Frida’s balance of surrealism and reality within her paintings. Although many have labelled her as a surrealist painter, she has incorporated so intimately the realities of her suffering in her work, which makes it difficult to dismiss her paintings as purely imaginative of dream-like. Of course it is necessary to acknowledge that there is a spectrum of realism within her paintings, from her most literal reprentations of people and still life to her most extravagant otherworldy images, but both polar opposites hold meaning and relevance in her life. Thus the ‘surreal’ paintings that she created still were rooted in the very real aspects of her experience.

And Jenny anticipates the Big Night:

Today the grade ten afternoons did a run through of our speeches. The result made me ecstatic! Our. Speeches. Will. Be. Awesome. Glorious. Magnificent. Superb. Spectacular. Terrific… etc. etc.

By Wednesday night, another cohort of grade tens will have passed across the stage which marks their true arrival as the program’s seniors. One of the TALONS pillars will have passed into recent history to be filed among the notables that have gone before, all to act as prelude for the grade nines who will inherit the honour next year.

Self-Explanation & Reflections on Metaphysics

What questions did you set out to answer during the unit?

Last year I started asking my classes to reflect on and assess their learning for projects and different units by responding to prompts through Google Forms. The ability to collect and synthesize individual and collective reflection on work and experiences just passed turned out to be particularly valuable, especially when looking back on areas of personal inquiry and narratives beyond the course content itself.

As a point of critical reflection between Philosophy 12‘s metaphysics and epistemology units, the responses to a variety of questions about learning offer an example by which to explore the Self Explanation Principle in Multimedia Learning in action. Chi and Wylie present prompted Self-Explanation Principle as

a constructive or generative learning activity that facilitates deep and robust learning by encouraging students to make inferences using the learning materials, identify previously held misconceptions, and repair mental models.

In supporting collaborative inquiry such self-explanation offers the opportunity for learners to define the terms of their learning, and examine the process of discovering what Freire called the “generative theme”:

The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.

The nature of the metaphysics unit in particular lends itself to this discussion, and as respondents synthesize various aspects of their learning by defining their particular inquiries, they are fulfilling the first aspect of self-explicative learning: to make inferences using a variety of learning materials.

Where the form’s questions could do a better job, I feel, is in seeking to identify previously held misconceptions and repair mental models. While the questions do ask students to reflect upon the processes which led them to success in aspects of the unit, this before-and-after conception of understanding on the topic is not addressed.

Below you will find these personal reflections, as well as further feedback on the Metaphysics unit in Philosophy 12.

What were the main questions you set out to answer during the course of the unit?

What is actual being? How does consciousness work in terms of “self”?

Does “normal” exist? How can you measure normal? Who decides what is normal? Why do we prefer to have a standard of normal? Do we choose to be a certain way (free will) or are we normal as a result of hard determinism?

My main question that I set out to answer during this unit was: what is, what are, and what is nothing?

I didn’t have any specific questions I wanted answered, rather I set out in search of greater knowledge hoping that would uncover the right questions.

What are ideas? (As an extension, what Mapping dialogueis a number?) Where do ideas exist? Are ideas dependent on human thought? What is human knowledge? Is it objective or subjective?

I continued to be curious about why people strive to the furthest extent to obtain happiness.

What is the purpose of our existence? What is the true self?

How others perceive things and how it’s different for everyone.

Do animals share the same consciousness as humans? How do you define consciousness? Is consciousness linked to intelligence?

What is happiness? How do we achieve happiness? Is happiness our purpose?

Do animals have intelligence equal to humans? Should intelligent animals be viewed as equivalent beings to humans? Do animals (orcas, dolphins, etc) have a high level of consciousness and self-awareness?

Can we ever factually prove another beings existence? What is consciousness?

During which assignment do you feel you produced your best work?

What are you proud of in the work highlighted above? 

During the discussions I felt I participated well, especially during the thought experiment and the final metaphysics discussion (making connections). I felt I listened well to what others had to say and added my input when I felt the need to do so.

I think that during class I am able to contribute useful information to help further discussions, and help others and myself understand concepts better. If I cannot contribute in that way i sometimes like to play devils advocate and suggest something that I know will spark conversation or argument among classmates. this works especially well during ethical debates.

I feel that I did contribute to the class discussions by stepping up and moderating, as well as drawing lines to connect our topics together. That was the first time I have pseudo-moderated a discussion. There’s a first for everything.

The work that I wrote on the post for me was my better writing. I was able to put my thoughts into understandable words, unlike the class discussion where it was confusing for me to put words together due to so many other questions that have been asked. Metaphysicians

I think that my blog post gave a good amount of background and information, and then logically followed an argument to a reasonable conclusion.

I am proud of my participation in class discussions as I feel like I can often bring out a different view contrary to the beliefs in the class that are helpful in bringing about a better understanding of the material. I do so in a non-confrontational manner to invoke further questions, and to better the understanding of the topic at hand. As well, I feel like I can vocalize thoughts that other people may have trouble conveying.

Just bringing a new angle to class discussions. Trying to make sense of what we were talking about and maybe bring it down to an easier level of understanding. Also to simplify things we were talking about so they weren’t so daunting.

The reason I’m so proud of this blog post is because a spent a large amount of time researching my topic. I watched countless videos that allowed me to expand the knowledge I had. This helped me understand different viewpoints and created a more clear path to help me reach a satisfying answer to my question.

I am really proud of myself for fully summing up what I’ve learned in the past few weeks from this class while simultaneously expressing how I perceive life.

I am proud of this work because it comes from the thoughts within me that do not get to see the light of day very often.

I am proud that I was able to expand my ideas in my second blog post and make as much progress in my thoughts and ideas as I did. Though I did not come to a definite answer, I feel that some of the new questions I created are more beneficial than any answer I could have come to.

During which assignment do you feel you created work you would like to improve?

How would you go about improving your work highlighted in the previous question?

Next time, I would pick a broader topic to research and narrowing in as I go along with the second blogpost. As well, I would better formulate my question so it’s actually answerable.

Putting time and effort in the forms of blog posts, reviewing classmates posts, commenting, and research and posting of my own blog posts.

I think it’s important to share some insights to those who have related topics for a greater class discussion outcome. Therefore I should spend more time on others’ blog posts and comment based on my thoughts.

While most of my comments on Metaphysiciansclassmates’ posts were of good quality, I would have liked to gone more in-depth on some of them.

For others, I failed to respond to replies to my comments, something else that could have furthered my learning. I can improve on this in the future my taking more time when writing and responding to comments, treating them more like mini blog posts in their own right.

I wish that I had explained my ideas more. I felt that I gave a broad overview of my experiences in metaphysics, but did not give enough specific examples.

I could probably contribute to class discussions a bit more. I should also read more of the assigned readings and other unassigned readings so that I have a better grasp on the concepts, that way I can provide more insight throughout the discussion and more in the beginning of the discussions because it usually takes a while into the conversation for me to say anything.

I just wish I had taken more time to dive deeper into my topic.

I think I definitely needed to comment more, not less, and to have more effective comments. E.g. I needed to address the post more directly rather than modifying it in my mind as to create some sort of push back. I also need to read the posts more frequently, rather than relying too much on class discussions.

I will participate more in class discussions, put in my own thoughts to have them questioned or supported and built upon or build on or question someone else’s ideas or things they bring to discussions.

I can improve my participation in class discussions by coming to class with meaningful ideas and questions to share with the class. In addition, I can also try to think more quickly so that I can share a point before the conversation moves past the topic that I want to contribute to.

I had a lot of very good ideas and intentions behind my second blog post, but I was only able to capture snippets of them. If I had taken the time to structure, support, and find the right words to explain my post I believe I could have made it much more effective and meaningful.

Really taking the time to comment and reflect on others ideas and concepts so I can not only help them get a different perspective, but help myself understand more. Take more time out of a day to look at what people are posting.

I would have a more definite topic which I could talk about in more depth. I felt that I had little valuable evidence in my first post that helps me to prove my point. I also ended up disagreeing with this post in my second metaphysics blog post, so constancy would have been better.

I would like to be able to participate more during class discussions and really let my ideas be known to my peers. I will definitely be trying to speak up more during our next unit on Epistemology.

At the time I wasn’t very sure of the topic I wanted to pursue in Metaphysics. As a result, my first blog post did not really have as strong of a purpose as I would have liked. Instead, it touched vaguely on small aspects of free will. I definitely should have spent more time thinking about what I wanted to do.

I think I need to work on being more confident in my responses and comments to others. I often feel that if I leave a comment on someone’s blog post that they might be offended by what I have to say. I can work on this by typing what I have to say and posting it without thinking twice about it because I know that I would appreciate the constructive criticism.

Engagement with the unit

If you could keep one or more aspects of the Metaphysics Unit, what would it / they be?

I loved the group discussions we had on the topic. It was very a very effective way to help us understand the topic. It would also help us view different points of view about the topic and helped me personally expand my knowledge of metaphysics. It was easy, quick and effective. I could connect with each one of my classmates as they would share their thoughts on something, then we as a class would easily be able to interpret the topic and understand it much easier than if we were to look up the topic on our own.

I would keep the group discussions. They were very affective and I had achieved a greater understanding of others’ point of view.

I love thinking about how we could better our own understanding of ourselves. The thinking of existence, like solipsism and thinking about existence and how nothing can exist without something else.

I would keep the large class discussion that allows clarity and a path into the minds of people who created the blog posts.

I like the small group discussions, some large group discussions, and when we did the simulation. The small group discussions are good for people to share their ideas and really get into detail whereas the large group discussions are good for everyone to get their ideas out there.

I really enjoyed the discussions we had in this unit. They were very smooth and the amount of engagement the class exemplified was quite high compared to previous experiences. I feel as though this aspect of the unit worked very well, and is essential in making metaphysics more clear.

I really enjoy class discussions as opposed to independent study, I feel that concepts are much easier to understand when they can be portrayed by different people, or explained by different minds. Kelsey’s activity was fantastic.

The connecting of our topics. Although each class will have different ways of connecting them, I think that the act of doing so was very helpful in getting everyone as engaged as possible.

The freedom in choosing what you want to study is great.

I always like class discussions. Collaborating with others and working things out as a class seem to produce the best results. It helps to get different ideas and others helping you to better understand a topic.

I enjoyed our last classroom activity where we connected everyone’s different topics together. It was nice to be able to hear about peoples topics in person and to be able to have small debates with the class on different topics.

One aspect that I would keep regarding the unit is the way that me mapped our individual ideas together into one big picture. To me, it seemed a good method of connecting all of our individual points of study and giving each of us a greater view of the unit as a whole.

I would change it so we had more structured group discussions, as I remember when we were consolidating our ideas we spent half the class just deciding on /how/ to talk rather than actually talking about things. Although the experience itself was learning in managing people, I feel like the actual learning of philosophy was not effective.

I enjoyed the fact that the ideas we researched were so diverse, because I felt like people were more engaged when they could choose what they wanted to research. Personally, despite the fact that my topic was somewhat different to others’, I still enjoyed looking into it, possibly because it was so obscure. As well, the diagram of how all of metaphysics tied together in so many ways helped, because we got to see connections between things that we wouldn’t have expected, like perception and animal consciousness. I also enjoyed the chance to discuss my topics in larger groups before we discussed with the entire class, because small conversations with groups of three or four tend to run out of steam quickly, while talking with seven or eight people can go on for much longer and provoke more interesting opinions.

I would keep the large group discussions because I think that listening and contributing to what others have to say helped challenge my ideas and make it easier to create a path for my thoughts and new ideas. I like working with others because it helps me stay on track when some of my metaphysical questions become overwhelming.

At the beginning of the course, I was very skeptical about the blog. I had never used one before, and am not very technologically savvy. However, especially for this unit, I have found the blog a great way to share my ideas effectively and in an organized fashion. I would like to keep the class discussions where we connect all of our ideas. I think that its really engaging and helpful.

If you could change one or more aspects of the Metaphysics unit, what would it / they be?

More examples/videos involving metaphysical discussions. More ideas could have been fed for the students to ponder rather than us coming up with the limited ideas we had on our own.

Not to focus as much on the blogging aspect.

One aspect that I would change regarding the unit is having more engagements on the blog posts of others. While I did see many good comments on other people’s posts, due to the fact that some people posted late along with other factors reduced the amount of comments.

No class led discussions as I think they go off on tangents and are unproductive.

I’d love to have heard more of what other philosophers have said about metaphysics in class (then possibly discussed that). Just so we could expand beyond the specifics we’re researching and hear from the pros.

The only thing about the class discussions that I would like to improve on would be that during some of our class topics, we wouldn’t let some people finish what they were talking about and then someone else would talk about something interesting to them, and the past speaker would pay less attention because they wanted to focus on what they were still speaking about. That would lead to other problems such as getting off topic and getting somewhat frustrated with each other.

If I could change some aspects of the unit, I would prefer to have a teacher moderator for the discussions, because its easier to have a discussion when everyone doesn’t go off topic.

I would definitely change the amount of support around commenting on blog posts, as it seems that was more of a scattered activity. (It happened sometimes, but did not happen all the time) often conversation, unless mandatory was limited or ineffective online. Perhaps more structure is required in this area.

The only thing I would change is when we figure out who’s work related to others, that we would all split off into smaller groups so that the relatable topics would get even more clarity and the expansion of ideas would be even greater.

A better final showing of what was learned.

Narrow down a couple of topics and post a group blog based on the outcome that the specific group produce.

Probably the mini-group discussions. Those were not very well organized and some instructions were left pretty vague as well.

The only thing I would change about the this metaphysics unit is that I would have liked to have the teacher guide us through it more. Metaphysics is an extremely confusing topic, and I felt as though we needed that extra push from someone with more expertise to give us that head start.

It was almost so vast and mind blowing that I feel maybe we should’ve taken it in in smaller chunks, rather than just diving in and hoping for the best, it’s a very complex unit.

I would change the collaborative note-generation because sometimes it was difficult to see the connections between my topics and the topics of others. I thought that sometimes we went off topic when we were trying to find connections between each others topics. I thought it was most beneficial to choose one of the topics and discuss deeply about it.

However, this could have just be in my case and may have been very beneficial for others.

I would love if there were more student lead activities. I enjoyed leading the class in a thought experiment, and learned a lot from it. I feel my classmates would enjoy organizing and leading their own activity.

During some student mediated large group discussions, it would get a little messy and was sometimes counter productive. For example, during the first day that we tried to connect our metaphysics subtopics during a large class discussion it got a little counter productive when the mediators were trying to figure out the best way to group our topics. I think once our class finds the best way of mediation that could work, student mediation will be very useful but as of right now, we are still a little bit shaky. Maybe during our next class discussion, we can have people vote for our mediator and have the entire class discuss what we want out of our discussion that day. Sort of like setting a goal so we know where to go back to if we went off on an irrelevant subject.

Method of delivery: maybe more discussions that are based on distinctly different topics to start off with so we have a better idea of the concepts we’re supposed to talk about. If I were to change the metaphysics unit, I may have some specific branches of metaphysics to study and a list of philosophers we could use as resources. Additionally, I think that group presentations of concepts was very effective and I would use more of those!

What I would want to change about this unit was to make it less broad. I felt I could have gained more from this unit if I had more specifics to focus on and less information to wade through. There was too much happening in too little time. I felt that everyone was focused on their specific topics and that only in the last discussion were we really able to see the connections between everything.

Learning and Metaphysics

What have we learned? How do we know we have?

#philosodoodles

Now making my third pass at the philosophy 12 course, I have approached this year’s unit on Metaphysics as an opportunity to crystalize the course methods as an expression of the values underpinning it. I’ve learned in the past two years that to embrace a constructivist view of epistemology presents the idea of course design as a confrontation with the paradox at the heart of institutional learning: that schools ought provide learning experiences which students ‘own’ and direct with increasing autonomy and agency as they move through school.

But I’ve also learned that this is no straightforward thing.

Emergence presents a rigorous test:

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

Osberg and Biesta

On one hand, we must consider the traditional obligations of school: to evaluate and assess its own performance in properly equipping young people with the skills, proficiencies and base knowledges deemed of value to society. But we must also reckon with the contradiction to emergence that is involved in then deciding beforehand what those skills, proficiencies and base knowledges are to be in the first place.

Notably, this contradiction is addressed in part by the critical praxis presented by Paulo Freire, who says that

“…the program content of the problem-posing method – dialogical par excellence – is constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world, where their own generative themes are found. The content thus constantly expands and renews itself. The task of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she or he received it – and “re-present” is not as a lecture, but as a problem.”

The necessity to pursue an emergent view of knowledge becomes especially important in our present times in multicultural Canada (and in the broader sense, in the course’s online sphere). Osberg and Biesta write that

“In contemporary multicultural societies, the difficulty with education as planned enculturation lies in the question of who decides what or whose culture should be promoted through education. The problem of ‘educational enculturation’ is therefore of considerable concern to theorists grappling with the issues raised by multiculturalism.

“If we hold that meaning is emergent, and we insist on a strict interpretation of emergence (i.e. what emerges is more than the sum of its parts and therefore not predictable from the ‘ground’ it emerges from) then the idea that educators can (or should) control the meanings that emerge in the classroom becomes problematic. In other words the notion of emergent meaning is incompatible with the aims of education, traditionally conceived.”

And so we must conceive of education differently, perhaps no place moreso than in a class like Philosophy 12 during a unit on Metaphysics, which in a certain sense must be approached as a cultivation and aggregation of diverse subjectivities. While it is apparent in the breadth of the course material, such a focus lends itself admirably to the pursuit of metaphysics.

So in one arc of the class’ discourse, Angela begs the question of endless subjectivity in her post, Whoa, Slow Down

“One fixed answer that is true to everything and everyone is way too easy, but some people can’t seem to accept that there is no answer. At the same time, we also tend to deny that every answer is different for everyone. Why is it that we just can’t accept that?”

While Liam retraces Descartes footsteps:

“…perhaps all of ‘reality’ is simply our minds composing things for us to see, smell, taste, hear, and touch, even though they don’t exist. Perhaps nothing exists, but how could that be? We are here, I am typing this, aren’t I? If I am not, and I do not exist, and nothing exists, then what is allowing me to experience things?”

This search for meaning is arising across a few other posts this week as well, with ventures into solipsism, animal consciousness, and the almighty void of nothingness itself. These questions, as with those posed by Avery with respect to the existence of numbers “Five fingers are material objects and so are five sheep, but does five itself exist materially in the same manner?” – are those surrounding the various subjectivities at the heart of metaphysics: “What is…” and “What is it like…”  And so we find ourselves this week asking ourselves whether what we have gained in knowledge and experience during our study thus far “exists materially in the same manner.”

And if it does, how might we understand its existence? What is it, in other words? And what is it like?

Last year, our encounter with metaphysics was guided by Osberg and Biesta’s suggestion of the “learning object,” who contend that:

“for the process of knowledge production to occur it is necessary to assume that the meaning of a particular ‘knowledge object’ exists in a stable form such that the ‘knowledge object’ can be used like a ‘building block’ in the production of new abstract knowledge objects. This idea, however, is precisely what an emergentist epistemology denies. Because the meaning of any new knowledge ‘emerges’ would be highly specific to the complex system from which is emerged, it follows that no ‘knowledge object’ can retain its meaning in a different situation.”

The creation of such ‘objects of learning’ provides a worthwhile otherwise in the pursuit of an education which lives up to our multicultural ideals, as their construction demands that learners confront the dual questions which drive societal reinvention and human progress, where we ask ourselves, Who am I? and Who are we? Building on the ideas of Michel Foucault, who defined Enlightenment as “a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them,” school should aspire to such a notion of learning.

(Recorded) Live at #CUEBC!

CUEBC Radio Session

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to hook up with the CUEBC conference organizers in time to access the bypass on the wifi/landline connection that was preventing our session broadcast from going out live on the air. But the hardy souls who joined me to discuss distributed web radio took the challenge in stride and still managed to create what amounted to some golden radio moments in their first foray on air.

After introducing some of the history and heritage of both DS106 Radio and 105 the Hive, our group set about brainstorming some of the themes and ideas circulating at the conference. We talked about how the prospect of digital web radio confronted aspects of the “disruptive” narrative that is often sold (literally in many cases) to educators and schools and how it might provide a meaningful platform to amplify the voices of learning in our lives and classrooms.

And then we set about recording a broadcast.

Blair Miller, who showed up with a digital recorder or his own, hit the hallway during the break between sessions to interview vendor reps, students, and conference participants on what they thought about the prospect of ‘making’ in schools, and the rest of us plotted brief introductions to our show and how the broadcast might unfold. With Blair back a few minutes later and GarageBand set up on my Mac to record, we had a brief discussion that leads to his hallway interviews and captures our thoughts on the session.

Thanks to Noble, Brent, Errin, Carl, Francis, Blair and Chris for making the session what it was, and jumping in with both feet! I hope you enjoy how the show turned out, and we hear from you on the radio soon.

Live from #CUEBC

On Friday I’ll be presenting at the CUEBC Conference in West Vancouver, sharing a little of the gospel of distributed web radio stations DS106Radio and 105 the Hive, meaning I am now putting together slides, collecting images, links and the like. Developing a script, of sorts.

Outlining a “talk,” y’know? And when it comes to sharing a message or a piece of communication, the balancing of brevity, clarity and force demands preparation.

But I find myself torn, putting the presentation together. Because I don’t want the message to be communicated by the things I will say or share, on Friday.

I want the thing communicated by a session on radio to be something that does not lend itself to a formal, explicit, presentation. Rather, I feel compelled to share the magic of distributed web – live! – radio that is something best shared in if it is to be communicated.Lunchtime Jam w/ the Gals

Because beyond the capability to distribute pre-recorded and stored audio materials to a public audience, what has kept these radio communities alive and in touch almost four years later is the illustrious buzz of live. Whether as a listener or broadcaster, the power of the radio stems from partaking in a live happening that connects people across vast distances.

To share the intimacy of sound – the hum and refraction of this room, right here – with listeners throughout the company of radio, to live and breathe in people’s headphones or car speakers, office spaces or classrooms, this is the magic of radio, and an inspiring example of the potential for learning on the web. It is the age-old magic that has captivated us since ham radio, and tin can telephones, and can imbue out digital spaces with that often lamented element they may lack: a human connection.

This is the piece I’d like people to come away with on Friday: a glimpse of that magical connection made possible with a seamless entryway. So I’m trying to conceive of a ‘presentation’ that doesn’t rely too much on a one-directional conversation.

I want us to play around with the wonders of the radio and produce an artifact of our time together on Friday.

I want us to bring our voices together, take them live onto the air, and let the magic of live do the talking.

As it is the the annual conference of Computer Using Educators of BC, #CUEBC seems the perfect place to engage such an opportunity. Along with Will Richardson providing the keynote, there are many colleagues from across British Columbia who will be descending on West Van to discuss themes in technology education that could inspire a wealth of dialogue worth sharing with an audience beyond.

In Transit in Cuba

All we need to do is point our microphones at the conversation.

Fortunately, the structure of the conference even allows for such an ambitious enterprise, inviting presenters to take on two hour sessions, one of which I’ve been given Friday afternoon to introduce the whats and the hows of web radio, and then to dive in with the participants who attend. What we make of the conversations surrounding the day and session itself will emerge through the course of our time together, and be presented live online before the end of the day.

So we’ll need to hit the ground running, making me slightly anxious about the amount of content I should share at the outset of the ‘presentation’ that is quickly becoming a workshop.

Something I’ve done for past presentations – especially online, as I’m cognizant of the fact that folks might be clicking around while I’m talking – is to supplement these talks with footnotes and links that lead to digital artifacts and deeper explanations of the things I’m mentioning. And I’ll do something similar here, collecting the pertinent details in a Google Doc or blog post that can act as an annotation of sorts.

But as much as the session will be a crash course in broadcasting on ds106radio or 105 the Hive, I am also striving to provide an experience in producing a radio happening, and want to jump into the creation piece.

So I want to start the conversation with you, whether you’ll make it to the session, be taking in another in West Van at the same time, or be spending Friday afternoon somewhere else entirely. Without knowing exactly where our radio show will take us, I’ll begin by asking you the same questions I plan to start with in a few days.

We’ll be taking your offerings into consideration during our own brainstorming, and even asking for your audio samples if you’ve got them to give!

Help contribute to something that could be quite special if enough people get behind it. Take a few minutes to complete the following form, so send an audio file along to bryan at bryanjack.ca if you’d like to share a response or shout out to be shared during our broadcast.

Teacherless Discussion

Teacherless Discussion

Mapping the teacherless discussion.

Something the Philosophy 12 group experimented with in last year’s cohort was the idea of holding teacherless discussions. As research and work in my own graduate studies took me further into notions of citizenship education and a confrontation with contemporary political apathy, I began to look at the structure of classroom activities as a means of engaging student and peer ownership over the learning process.

I was inspired initially to take this course of action by the writing of Paulo Freire, who highlighted the need for emancipatory education to reconcile the student-teacher contradiction. “The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics,” he writes, “the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

Perhaps more simply put, as I explained to the philosophy class today, ‘school’ should be less something that happens to students than something they make happen for themselves. And while teachers may approach their classroom activities with the best of intentions in this regard, there is still ultimately a group’s propensity to rely on a designated instructor / leader / teacher to move things along, creating a broadly perceived apathy that allows a minority to dictate – often without opposition – the course of the community.

So I started sometime last year deliberately ‘going dark’ for some of our classroom discussions, and found the results of the experiment to be immediately palpable, if not specifically nameable. Something which also struck me was the shift in participation, posture and presences making their way into discussions in which I re-inserted myself, as students reverted back to offering their responses more directly to me than the group, seemed to seek my approval or appraisal of their thoughts, and otherwise seemed to lose sight of their community of peers.

This morning I sought to begin our teacherless discussion efforts earlier in the semester with a dissection of the New York Times Opinionator Blog essay “Logic and Neutrality.”

The map above shows the course of the conversation as it moved about our classroom. Numbers show the order of speakers, with the two volunteer moderators (Jeff and Cassidy) noted in red. Dashed lines show spontaneous interjections, and numbers otherwise note the order of speakers as neatly as I could manage.

In my own notes I also highlighted several contributions which furthered the discussion, as well as a few points where things seemed to stall, and asked the class to create their own lists of these points in the conversation.

A few of those helpful contributions included:

  • Asking guiding questions to outline course of discussion in progress,
  • Attempting to define different vocabulary and concepts being used,
  • Highlighting quotes from the article at hand,
  • Incorporating examples from popular culture or common experience,
  • A willingness to pose what may sound like a ‘silly’ question, or hypothesis, and
  • Synthesizing board notes or past points and challenging the momentum of the discussion.

A few places where the class’ momentum faltered:

  • Getting bogged down in controversial or opinion-based hypotheticals (in this case the question of the morality of murder that was ended deftly by someone’s suggestion that “we move off murder”),
  • Moments where a more common understanding of discussion aims and/or vocabulary would have created more clarity around topics,
  • Encountering quiet moments of thought following tough questions or attempts to synthesize discussion.

As an initial effort in the teacherless discussion this semester, the Philosophy 12 group demonstrated many characteristics of successful group discourse, and will continue to build on these strengths as the class moves on into more individual and collective inquiry.

Reclaim TALONS

Out Walkin'

While I attempted to introduce the new academic year in a blog post that wound up meandering into too many of my thoughts and feelings on the culmination of BC teachers’ recent strike action, here I intend to share my initial guiding interests and projects setting out into the 2014-15 school year. As I alluded to in my previous post on the dawning of September, I plan to continue my research into citizenship education as concerns digital pedagogy, curricular reform, and broader currents in educational philosophy.

In the last few years, I have become an admirer of Paulo Freire‘s notion of critical pedagogy, and try in my own practice, as well as my classroom constructivism, to create habits surrounding an ongoing praxis of reflection and action for myself and my students. Such a praxis suits the type of citizenship education Gert Biesta and others espouse as central to the emancipatory process introduced by Freire, and also aligns with many of the intentions of pioneers on the open web and in the digital humanities. In my work as an open educator this praxis also revolves between the theoretical concerns of pedagogy and the practical applications of these intentions.

Reclaim TALONS 

One such foray into the practical application of my research interests has me finally setting out on an adventure I have long-anticipated.

Since taking the TALONS communities onto the public web, first with Edublogs.org, then Wikispaces.com and free WordPress.com sites, I have largely pursued a narrative of online learning which focused on the skills and awarenesses required in the digital sphere. Working across these public platforms, my students and I have contemplated digital citizenship and storytelling, as well as had many opportunities to connect our classroom learning with a wider audience than within the school district’s information silos.

Each of these services – Edublogs, Wikispaces, and WordPress, among others – have afforded us the opportunity to dip our toes in the public web without first surmounting the limits of my own technological expertise around how to manage and administer our own classroom spaces and domains.

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 2.42.53 PMBut in the meantime, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and work with a handful of innovators in higher education who have shown me the relevance of gaining such expertise, both for my own development as an open practitioner, and as an opportunity for the students I work with.

In his 2009 essay, “Personal Cyberinfrastructure,” Gardner Campbell presented an idea Jim Groom, Tim Owens and Martha Burtis have since ran with at the University of Mary Washington:

Suppose that when students matriculate, they are assigned their own web servers — not 1GB folders in the institution’s web space but honest-to-goodness virtualized web servers of the kind available for $7.99 a month from a variety of hosting services, with built-in affordances ranging from database maintenance to web analytics. As part of the first-year orientation, each student would pick a domain name. Over the course of the first year, in a set of lab seminars facilitated by instructional technologists, librarians, and faculty advisors from across the curriculum, students would build out their digital presences in an environment made of the medium of the web itself. They would experiment with server management tools via graphical user interfaces such as cPanel or other commodity equivalents. They would install scripts with one-click installers such as SimpleScripts. They would play with wikis and blogs; they would tinker and begin to assemble a platform to support their publishing, their archiving, their importing and exporting, their internal and external information connections. They would become, in myriad small but important ways, system administrators for their own digital lives.3 In short, students would build a personal cyberinfrastructure, one they would continue to modify and extend throughout their college career — and beyond.

In addition to building technical knowledge and skills required to exercise agency and voice in the post-Gutenberg age, students charged with the creation and maintenance of their own personal cyberinfrastructure would be engaged in learning across the disciplines of “multimodal writing to information science, knowledge management, bibliographic instruction, and social networking.” To read Campbell’s 2009 call for this type of university education strikes me at this stage in my research and interest in the digital humanities and citizenship education as the intersection of the two, and something that ought be explored at the highschool level.

By Campbell’s description, this discussion of a technology-infused education, is everything at the core of popular discussions of digital skills, literacy and citizenship. “If what the professor truly wants is for students to discover and craft their own desires and dreams,” he writes,

a personal cyberinfrastructure provides the opportunity. To get there, students must be effective architects, narrators, curators, and inhabitants of their own digital lives.6 Students with this kind of digital fluency will be well-prepared for creative and responsible leadership in the post-Gutenberg age. Without such fluency, students cannot compete economically or intellectually, and the astonishing promise of the digital medium will never be fully realized.

While Campbell admits that such forays onto the open web wait until students enter college, the intervening years in educational technology have only hastened the need for students to protect and manage their own data. In British Columbia, FOIPPA laws surrounding storage of student-data on locally maintained servers creates the need for many district’s and educators to work within closed or clumsy information management system provided by Pearson or Microsoft, where after spending millions for the software, the rights to the intellectual property of student work is retained by the company.

The same laws might be seen as the impetus for public school students in British Columbia to be educated in owning once and for all their digital selves, as it is in the interest of so-called ‘protection’ of this information that the laws exist in the first place.

Since the University of Mary Washington launched its own riffs on Campbell’s cyberinfrastruture in projects such as Domain of One’s Own and Reclaim Hosting, I’ve often mentioned to Jim Groom that I would love to bring what he and Tim Owens and Martha Burtis have created to the TALONS classroom. For only my own hestiation has it taken this long to bring the project about though, as Jim has been enthusiastic about the prospect from the first. Within a day of sending Jim and Tim an email outlining where I wanted to go with the TALONS data, the class site had migrated to its new domain (http://talons43.ca).

The journey had begun.

In the week since, I’ve also moved the open course Philosophy 12 from its old WordPress digs to a subdomain on the same site (http://philosophy.talons43.ca), and will do the same with the school’s open Introduction to Guitar closer to the spring. Tim and I have begun to see if data from the class’ years’ old subject wikispaces will easily migrate to DokuWiki apps residing on the same site (eg. http://socials.talons43.ca), and in the next few weeks the TALONS will be setting up their own blogs as extension of the webspace which they will use to chart their learning over their two years in the program. When they come to graduate from the program, and move into grade eleven and beyond, they will have the opportunity to take their data with them, transfer it to their own domain, and continue in their digital educations.

As the province begins to etch out its vision of personalized learning, I submit what comes of our continued experiments to the discussion of citizenship education in the 21st century.

Back to School(s): Part I

Salad Roll / Tentative Deal Day

Having only spent a few Septembers free of my varied back-to-schools, I have difficulty not viewing fall as the start of a new year. Rested and inspired following summer break, September has become a time of renewal, setting goals, and staking out the terms and terrain by which the academic year will unfold. As I’ve been able to fold my professional pursuits within my personal endeavours and interests these last few years, I’ve increasingly looked to the dawn of autumn as an inspiring time.

Relieved as I may be to have returned to school this last week following the longest strike in British Columbian schools’ history, there is something that makes this September’s embrace somewhat awkward.Labour Days

Forced, even.

Until just last week, teachers in BC’s daily reality concerned a struggle for what many of us see as our part contribution toward realizing democracy’s noble aspirations. Faced with a government that has repeatedly shown disrespect and disregard for the purpose and mandate of public education, the majority of my 40,000 colleagues across the province and I were committed to standing up for not only our own rights to education, but those of our students, present and future.

And while the thought of it made me sick to my stomach, I was committed to standing on the street in front of our school as long as it was going to take to preserve those rights.

For eight weeks this summer, and for two into the new school year, the government’s proposed contracts contained strips (or at least threats, depending on the lawyer at hand) to legal victories which have cost the teachers’ union significantly, both in its finances and its standing with the public. For more than a decade, the combat of the BC Liberals and the BC Teachers’ Federation has revolved around the constitutional violations of a contract ripped up in 2002. While repeatedly admonished in the courts, the government has consistently and blithely thumbed its nose at the law and the province’s public schools, increasing funding to private “independent” schools, duplicating legislated language already deemed to be outside the law by the Supreme Court, and even diverting school funding during the strike for parents to seek out ‘other educational opportunities’ such as online courses or private education.

Not Your Family

As was noted in several conversations I’ve had in recent months, in the current government we faced “a totally different animal than ever before,” and there was no telling to what depths Premier Christy Clarke and Education Minister Peter Fassbender might sink in attempting to extract a victory by attrition to win back cases they’d soundly lost in the province’s highest court (twice). There was little reason to expect that part of the Liberals’ agenda included keeping public schools closed, and teachers’ families going without income, into October.

But I am proud to have been part of such a tribe as teachers who looked at such a set of circumstances and agreed to stand firm in our resolve to resist such a government. I’m glad to have fought alongside my school staff to make the best of a bad situation, to bring each other food, and emblazon T-shirts with our simplest of battle cries, and to share in one another’s company, and solidarity.

I’m proud to know the parents, and students, and members of our community that recognized the stand we were taking, and the toll it was taking on us, and helped us out: who wrote letters, and organized sit-ins, and brought us food and coffee on the picket line.

We believe in Public Education

And I’m proud to say that as a result of our shared efforts there was an end to the strike that protected our court victories, and even won several concessions for our elementary colleagues and TOCs in the province.

But between the official ending of the strike and the starting up of school this pride and sense of victory has soured some, as we have returned to school with these as the most meagre of victories. Victories which are so minute, in the grand terms of the struggle, that I am filled with a sense of anger at the blindness of government that would so unnecessarily lead the province’s public school system through such a protracted crisis.

For what?

To return to classes which are still too big, and getting bigger.

To reenter schools where our librarians are picking up blocks to teach, and our administrators are finding their way back into classrooms so students have courses to take.

Where our foods and shop classes are swelling, and our district continues to find ways out of its millions-of-dollars-a-year budgetary shortfall by amending class size limits or asking teachers to shoulder an ever-laden burden.

So as much as we have returned to work, we have also merely changed the venue of a fight against a government that stretches back more than twelve years. Where past Septembers have taken my aims and interests into blogs, and open courses, and trips into the British Columbian wild, I am compelled to continue the fight of our strike now in our day to day work as teachers. To this end I’ve taken on the role of (one of) our staff union representative(s), and hope that this new perspective on our profession allows me further opportunities to fold my personal and professional ambitions into a modeled teaching persona that is of pedagogical value in my classrooms, as well as the local community our school serves.

Setting out in the construction of my Masters of Education project, I plan to continue this year in exploring notions of citizenship education, both as a component of experiential education as well as in my work and advocacy as an open educator. Elements of this exploration touch upon curriculum, philosophy of education, and the advent of the Digital Age, and it is my hope to refine these strands of thought around ongoing projects in my fall and spring classes which I will describe in greater depth in a second installment of Back to School(s).

Guest Post: Letter from a Colleague

We believe in Public Education

Melanie Stokes is a colleague of mine who forwarded me this letter that she submitted to the Vancouver Sun to share here. 

As teachers are now in their second week of full job action, it may be important to consider the reasons why this situation is happening now.  Over the last thirty years, society has undergone great changes and the role of education has expanded accordingly. The time has come for us to decide if we are able or want to support education with all the expectations of what it must deliver.

Thirty years ago, classes were often larger but were mostly a homogenous group of kids.  Schools had clear expectations about discipline and students were streamed according to academic ability.  Curriculum was focussed on basic literacy and numeracy skills and going into the work place rather than university was the norm after graduation.  Students with special needs were segregated. Schools were not expected to deliver individual education plans; neither were teachers required to meet all the learning needs of all the children in their classes. Teachers taught the whole class as a group and did their best to provide accelerated materials to the bright kids, and get the slower learners caught up.  That was pretty much it.  No one felt it necessary to feed children breakfast because they were too hungry to learn or had to learn how to deal with autistic, Downs Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, Oppositional Disorder students or large groups of children who spoke no English at all.

Over the last thirty years, education has been given the job of trying to fix all the problems of an increasingly complex society.  Teachers took it in their stride, believing that they could, and would be able to make positive changes for the children in their care.  They embraced the idea of integration for special needs students and never considered that at some point, the funding to for teacher support would be reduced to the point where classroom management would become almost impossible.  They have accepted children in their classes who have no idea how to function in a group setting, how to speak or comprehend English, children from poor, dysfunctional families with no social or financial resouces, refugee children from war torn countries with resulting psychological problems, learners with a myriad of challenges that teachers are expected to address.

Teachers did and still do go about their jobs every day believing they can make a positive impact on the social, emotional, and acedemic growth of the children in their care.  Despite the rhetoric of government and union, this fight is about the value of education and what we, as a society deem important.  Do we want a return to the “one size fits all” education practice of the past, or do we wish to continue with the education system we have grown to expect?  If so, then we should be prepared to pay for it.

Schools of today are successful because of the efforts of those who work within them.  If there is no will or not enough money to support educators to do the job we demand of them, then we should go back to the old school system and stop expecting teachers, principals, and support staff to do more and more for our children with unrealistic funding and less and less support.

If a good education for all children is considered important, and it should be, then let’s stop the erosion of services and demand that our government provide the necessary financial support to keep the education we expect for our children.