Rising to meet the Eminent Speech

Eminent Speech Evaluation

Almost without fail, the Eminent Person Speech reigns supreme as the element of the annual project that produces – in the estimation of teachers, peers, and self-assessment – the highest quality work. While there are inevitably remarkable pieces of work contributed to various aspects of the study, whether in Night of the Notables learning centers, interview coups, or blogged representations of learning, and in grade nine or ten, the Eminent Speech rises above.

This year, when polled on the During which assignment do you feel you created your best work?aspect of the study during which they produced their best work, a full 60% of respondents (at the time of this writing, constituting about 85% of the two classes) highlighted their efforts to craft their speech.

Added to this insight, a follow up question asks the TALONS to “describe the process that led to the success highlighted in the previous question,” allowing the process leading to this highly successful aspect of the study to come more clearly into light.

A surprise finding? The best work is the result of tireless effort.

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Prepare, prepare, prepare

A grade ten describes their preparations:

I made sure to write my speech early on so that I had plenty of time to practice it. I practiced it until I knew it inside and out, so that I could recite it no matter what was going on. And having done that, when it was finally my turn to present, I wasn’t nervous at all.

Another thing that really helped was that a lot of the other tens took time to read my speech and help me edit it in the early stages. They guided me to what lines were a little awkward and how to fix my body motions.

Another ten offers the following:

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.

A grade nine dissects their drafting process further:

When I was writing, I didn’t limit my thoughts, writing down everything I wanted to include in the speech. By doing this, my speech originally was actually fifteen minutes long. I then took the time, with the help of my mom, to cut down the speech, take out details that weren’t needed, and rephrase events. I think that by writing down every single thought and event that occurred within the period of time the speech was focusing on, I was able to make the speech more thorough and interesting.

As does this one:

I believe it was the drafting process that led me to success on my eminent speech. I did a drafting process where I started writing, then got a better idea of what I wanted to say, and then I would start over. I did this until I didn’t quite start over, but edited previous parts until I was satisfied by the whole thing.

While this grade nine shares the evolution at the heart of his character’s metamorphosis:

During the process of writing the speech, I made a list of points that I wanted to include. After the first draft, I was struck with the idea of the extended metaphor of the caterpillar. I then wrote the second draft, taking the components of the first and smoothing it out. Finally, I edited and revised my speech to create more fluidity.

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Overcoming Fear

For many TALONS, the prospect of delivering an eminent address, whether in the classroom as the grade nines are asked, or on stage with the grade tens on Night of the Notables, is a daunting challenge. As Jerry Seinfeld humourously notes, for many of us public speaking is more popularly feared than death, meaning that “to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than giving the eulogy.”

A grade nine offers this reflection on overcoming a longstanding fear:

I believe my speech was my best work because it was the one I exceeded my own expectations the most in. I used to be quite an abhorrent public speaker, always getting overly nervous, shaking, mumbling, and having a monotone; but in this speech I was able to overcome my nervousness and actually deliver it satisfactorily.

The key to overcoming this anxiety? Revision, feedback, and support:

“I think my speech content was pretty good, considering that it went through six drafts and many, many people gave me feedback.”

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In another question, the same TALONS learner reflects on the contributions of a patient parent:

“My dad, along with giving me feedback on many of speech drafts, put up with me reciting my speech over and over in the days leading up to November 24th. Without his patience with me, giving me feedback and listening intently during the many, many times I recited my speech to him, I wouldn’t have had nearly as good a speech as I did. He gave me important pointers, such as where I started rushing, and he gave me confidence. With that confidence, I was able to deliver my speech well.”

A grade ten reflects on the input of a sibling:

“My brother contributed with helping me write my speech. Before I had written a draft that I was happy with I had written about five different speeches. But I hated them all because I didn’t think I was getting my main message across to the audience, namely that we shouldn’t stop because something is hard to do, that we should keep going until it becomes easy to do.

“One day I went to talk with my brother about my speech and how I wanted the audience to feel, and he suggested that I go for something powerful and try to address what [my eminent person] goes through as daily obstacles. This advice really helped me take a second look at how I was writing my speech and which side of [them] I wanted to show. Without my brother I wouldn’t have been able to re-think my speech and really focus on what was imported.”

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Another deals with overcoming a primal fear:

“Probably everyone out there knows that I do not like speeches, so even the fact that I did mine made me extremely happy.

“The writing process was extremely difficult. After changing perspectives three times and either going way over or way under the time limit, I was close to admitting defeat. Finally, I was happy with a fifth draft of my third perspective change. I was very happy with my written speech, but then came the delivery.

“Presenting my speech was probably the most nerve wracking five minutes of my life, but with the help of my friends, I managed to get through it. Before my speech started, I gave myself some goals and guidelines to follow. I reminded myself that, having not done many speeches in my life, this was not going to turn out perfect, so instead of worrying about that, I would focus on eye contact and pacing.

“My biggest goal was to come off as confident and though I’m sure more people knew how nervous I was, I believe that I was able to reach this goal (well, at least to some extent). While I’m still not ready to perform speeches without any hesitation, I’m glad I got this opportunity to face my fears.”

In responding to another question, a grade ten offers a similar account of working through the fear of performing at Night of the Notables:

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

“I want to, and will remember the fact that I was able to manage my anxiety regarding the presentation of my speech on the Night of the Notables. I have never liked drama and performing arts, which is somewhat contradictory when you take my commitment and love of [competitive] piping into account. I can will myself to march calmly towards thousands of spectators, flashing cameras and judges at the world championships. Yet, when I have to deliver a two-minute speech to a hundred supportive and encouraging people I’m a wreck. When I perform with my band, I have a safety net; I have never needed it but I know it’s there. When I speak or play by myself, even if it’s exponentially easier than what I do with my band I doubt myself.

“I don’t give speeches in front of large audiences often, but I compete in solo piping competitions often and I have come to recognize the progression and stages of my anxiety. I have been working on becoming more comfortable in these situations for over a year and I think the Eminent Address was an important milestone for me. I was extremely nervous a few days before the night, but I was able to tell myself, ‘You always feel this way before something like this,’ and ‘Imagine how you will feel on December 4th’ and I was able to control my anxiety and give a speech I was happy with.”

Together, we are strong

Perhaps the theme running beneath all of this wild success though is the support and community that is taking shape in the TALONS room by late November, where each member of the class is learning that they are here to test themselves, and hold one another up above their prior expectations. Parents who get to see what the program is ‘all about’ for the first time at Night of the Notables often remark at how exceptional the grade ten addresses are – “I feel totally inadequate now,” the parent of an alumni told me this year – and wonder how it is their children and their peers have been so transformed.

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What they don’t know, or what cannot be seen, is what is often taking place behind the curtain, in those moments before the show, when greatness waits out on the stage under the lights to be seized.

Reflecting on this moment, a grade ten shares a glimpse of what community looks like:

“There was one moment when we were behind the stage, floating around and whispering encouragement to our peers. The atmosphere had become quiet and focused, as it was a couple of minutes until showtime. I was learning against a wall, breathing deeply.

“Our first speaker looked a bit nervous and was sitting against the wall next to the curtains. Someone, I can’t remember who, whispered something about the Superman pose, and how it was supposed to increase confidence and make you less stressed. So the majority of our class assumed this pose, and stood there in silence for about a minute. I remember looking at us and thinking that we were superheroes. Not just our first speaker, who looked relieved to have something to take his mind off the upcoming stress, but everyone standing there.

“We shared that moment behind the stage, trusting one another to make the night wonderful, and feeling that trust back in the tight, long-held hugs and the same emotions on everyone’s face. It was a really special experience.”

Digital Environments, Emergent Knowledge & Citizenship Learning

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Mock trial of King Charles I

EDCI 335 Challenge 10: What are the strengths/affordances of the technology or learning environment you have chosen for your learning design that will promote or facilitate learning?

In preparing the TALONS socials units this semester, I have sought to align aspects of technology, assessment and unit planning within larger values of emergent epistemology and citizenship learning. By bringing these different elements of my teaching into congruence, it is my hope that the class’ individual and collective learning is enriched by uniting these various aspects of their experience into a coherent and transformative narrative that will build throughout the semester and beyond.

To reflect these principles, technology has contributed a means of collecting and sharing class knowledge: aggregating and vetting various resources for study in our prescribed unit, presenting and synthesizing different aspects of the learning at hand, and providing a venue for assessment and reflecting on the course of study thus far. As we proceed (after spring break) the process will then recur to provide the goals, direction and implementation of future units of study as prior knowledge is re-organized, reconstituted and re-contextualized within new course content and experience.

As I’ve written about the class’ collaborative unit planning, I want to use this challenge post to collect and point toward a few specific examples of technology at work in TALONS Socials this semester.

At the outset, the class began by taking the prescribed learning outcomes specific to the English Civil War Unit in Social Studies 9, and employed an embedded Google Form in the class’ Wikispaces site for participant/learners to submit potential study materials. The selected materials were then rated according to our interpretation of the CRAAP Test, and the form was edited to highlight different resources that were either “Good to Go” (green), “Acceptable” (yellow), or “Extra” (red).

This exercise was an important place to begin for me as it placed the onus of research and curation on the class – rather than a teacher or the textbook. The debate about which sources were best suited to our purposes put the relevance and context of the unit in the class’ hands to be then planned and executed within our timeframe (before spring break). It was also my hope that such a discussion would lead organically into an inquiry of what meaning we are (each) to make of the English Civil War and its historical importance, and provide a context within which our individual understanding would emerge as the process unfolded.

Building on the questions and themes arising from the assembled resources and materials, the class then set about employing media and technology in synthesizing and sharing their learning on a variety of topics associated with the unit. There were adaptations of popular songs written to narrate the lives of Oliver Cromwell and his son, Prezi’s made to illustrate the historical timelines of James and Charles I’s reigns, and documentary films made about the trial of the King, to name a few. And in addition to being shared in class – in mini lessons, presentations, mock-trials and other demonstrations meant to share discovered knowledge with the immediate community – digital artifacts of the projects were/are being collected on the class site (alongside past years’ collected work and resources on the same unit).

The class Wikispaces site has long-been a valuable addition to the class’ study of socials, collecting a variety of different resources and media both created by past TALONS as well as useful materials existing on the wider web. It is an online accompaniment and ongoing assemblage of knowledge pathways which navigate the Socials 9/10 curriculum in British Columbia; but beyond serving to complement the TALONS’ own studies, the wiki’s existence as a repository of class work goes on to have a life as an open educational resource that serves a global community of learners. For example, the site’s statistics show that only 1/5 (22%) of the wiki’s traffic is even Canadian, and that the United States is responsible for more than half of more of the site’s 100 unique visitors per day

Whatever value it has beyond our own purposes, however, the course wiki represents an ever-unfinished and imperfect project, constantly in need of a structure which organizes knowledge in an accessible manner reflecting such an exponentially complex process of discovery.  And while the class has yet to meaningfully undertake a significant renovation or reorganization of the site, I am inspired at the prospect such a project might represent as an opportunity for the class’ unique perspectives to shape and engage in the creation of course knowledge itself.

Where each of these first two opportunities have presented means by which technology has influenced and (hopefully) supported the TALONS collective learning, the unit’s individual assessment has incorporated technology as a means of creating and sharing personal reflections and synthesis of learning across the class cohorts. The morning group opted to submit more anonymous reflections (corresponding to their student number for my reference) by way of a Google Form that, upon completion, shares the assembled responses with respondents, while the afternoon class decided to answer similar questions in the form of a post on their individual blogs.

The individual assessment asks TALONS to reflect on their process, habits and contributions to their individual study of the unit, their group’s project, as well as the larger classroom learning. Each is asked to highlight examples of their own or others lessons, or discussions which informed their thinking on the topics covered, as well as to expand on themes and questions raised during the course of the unit. Additionally, there are questions about the organization and implementation of the unit itself, and opportunities to influence future studies that will begin to shape our very next topic, completing the cycle of critical praxis for a first time.

Next week we will be taking up Socials 9’s next revolution in Europe and making use of each of these threads of learning, as we continue to:

  • shape the lessons of the class’ emerging understanding of the course content in individual voices and meanings, and
  • reevaluate and reconstitute the means by which that understanding is created to best serve our unique community of learners.

Continually seeking ways by which the class might be more consistently and actively engaged with these processes is central to both my epistemological and social-political beliefs about teaching social studies. And in these and other experiments yet to be undertaken this semester, technology plays a vital role in creating the opportunity to realize these lessons’ practical application.

Ethics Unit Feedback and Reflection

Rate the unit's effectiveness

This semester I’ve been using Google Forms to collect reflections, self-assessments and unit feedback from both the Philosophy 12 bunch, as well as the TALONS. As with many aggregating aspects of the web, what I appreciate about this method of collection and feedback is the ability to analyze trends and other information (beyond the individual response to the unit or learning opportunity).

Building on the questionnaire for the Metaphysics Unit – the results of which were shared here – the Philosophy 12 class reflected on their course of study in Ethics by completing this Google Form posted on the class site.

Here are some of the analyzed takeaways from the class’ responses:

Which philosopher influenced your study of Ethics?

It is interesting not only to hear in a formative manner which readings and ideas “stuck,” but also in collecting the salient understandings that these concepts came to represent over the course of the unit. Here is a word cloud of the collected responses to the follow up question, What about this philosopher’s ideas influenced your study of Ethics? 

What about this Philosopher's Ideas influenced your study?

Some responses that stuck out:

Utilitarianism is probably the most memorable form of ideology that I will remember because it’s the idea of “the greater good.” It helped me realize that it’s not always moral to sacrifice the minority to satisfy the majority. John Stewart Mill’s ideals of Utilitarianism have some valid reasoning, but Immanuel Kant says pretty much the opposite. Kant believed that every life was an end unto itself, so there should be no purpose to where life should be used as a mere means. 

Immanuel Kant’s theory of universal law: A decision is only ethical if a universal law of its principle could be put in place. For example, it is not ethical for a man to end his life because he is unhappy, because we could come to a collective agreement that it would not be ethical or practical if every sad person killed themselves. 

The absolute nature of ethics of the Enlightenment, and the post-Enlightenment thinkers caught my attention, supporting my dislike of indifference. The requirement for thinkers, and abstract theorists to uphold a hokey vision of humanity and their actions is far more necessary and influential than previously thought. These visions are often difficult to accept and refute: In absolute reason, they’re impossible to refute without making some leap of faith. Ethics is a subject of absolute reason, without room for faith. Essentially the research we have done has widened and strengthened my perspective on the whole ordeal. When you perform an action, it must be equal efforts of ends, means and intent. There is little room for faith, or irrational selfish requirements. Ethics is a subject of absolute, ultimate logic in action. 

I liked Rawls’ Theory of Justice, as it gave a different perspective of what equality looks like. It let me look at things from a different way of a lot of different topics. For example, how non-human persons might be able to be accounted for as they should have perhaps equal opportunity to go about their animal business without oppression from humans. 

Jurgen Habermas doesn’t have as much to do with Ethics as he does with Social and Political Philosophy, but he nevertheless influenced my study of Multiculturalism which ties into Ethics. He strongly believes in multiculturalism and that if we integrate ourselves more with people from other countries, we will become more worldly and accepting of other cultures and less xenophobic. 

What Q's did the Ethics Unit Raise for you?

Above are the collected responses to the prompt, “What were the main questions the unit’s study raised for you?” Followed by a few highlighted responses:

If there really is an ultimate good in people? 

When is it OK to be selfish?

How should we treat others and how might society fit into what we know of biology? (Ie, what makes a person a person? What is the meaning of life, and when is OK to end it? How should/would we treat others from behind a veil of ignorance?)

Where did our sense or morality come from?

How ethical and effective is our system of voting and democracy?

I have a lot of questions regarding the fair treatment of animals and non-human persons.

Should euthanasia be legalized? Should it be included as a basic human right? Why are people opposed to it?

What is the government’s role in our life? Where do our individual liberties intersect with our obligations to society?

What is good and bad? Where do we draw the line? Should we take the Utilitarian point of view and say that anything which benefits society is just?

Should we be more considerate to animals, and life in general? How would this effect humans, or the ecosystem?

Does democracy really work? Is it possible?

Is equality necessarily a good thing?

Main questions: 1. Is voting ethical? 2. If not, can we make the act of voting ethical while increasing its efficiency and total effectiveness, and how? 3. Is there a way to improve the effectiveness of voting on its own? 4. How can we involve everyone in a democratic system, yet disallow those who do not contribute valid ideas to the system? 5. And, would the ideal from question 4 in any way be made ethical?

Describe your process in attempting to answer one or more of the above questions. 

Is it possible to live complying to two different, contrasting normative ethics? I tried answering this question when studying the ethics of animal experimentation. For example, Utilitarianism could justify both cosmetic and scientific animal testing. However, Kantian ethics could also justify both types, depending on what maxim we acted upon. This led me to question whether there was a certain ethical philosophy which is “more right” than the other, and if so, how would we know? How do we determine if utilitarianism is better than Kantian ethics, or visa versa? Should we treat each ethical problem on a case-by-case basis and use Rawls’ philosophy to solve one problem, Mill’s to solve another, and Kant’s to solve a third? Or is there one ethical philosophy we could adhere to? And if so, what would that look like?

I found out that something inside of me gets fired up when we hear ways that our individual liberties are being infringed upon, and though I still haven’t been able to fully articulate what this is specifically, it was a great inner discovery for me to come to.

I realized that most people weren’t black and white with their decisions about ethical topics. In fact, most people were grey and I realized that most people picked the decision they hated the least, or the one that had the most compromise. For example, we may have only seen two options at first, but then after discussion a third option came that was more appealing to the majority because it included aspects of both.

Reflections on the Confederation Discussions

Confederation Discussions

Colonial Government & the Need for Reform Discussion

As part of the ongoing assessment of personal and collective learning that went into the class’ study of Canadian Confederation, TALONS learners were asked to reflect on their quad’s presentation & facilitation of a discussion topic pulled from the unit, taking into account the Nine Dispositions of Democratic Discussions. As with many of these sorts of assessments / reflections in our classroom, the reflection was built around the familiar Stars (things that went well) and Wishes (things that we would like to improve).

My own reflections on the discussions are posted here, and I think several of the themes in my own observations are reflected by the TALONS who chose to submit their self-assessments as blog posts. Here are a few of the stars and wishes collected on the class blogs this week:

Some stars

From Kim:

I think that something our group did very well at was providing a level of comfort within the talons classroom. Almost everyone participated; even those who normally just listened. I think this was because people were no longer afraid of sharing their opinions in the classroom, as they had a solid fact to base them off of (what was written on the red piece of paper). Also, I think that people were able to fill the shoes of the type of Canadian that they had to portray in the card that they were given. Therefore, people were not only able to participate, but they were able to effectively adopt a new viewpoint on the grievances too.

From Owen:

During our group discussion synthesis, the disposition that I felt was best emphasized was that of mindfulness. I felt the groups communicated well within its members to discuss relevant topics. They helped each other put forth ideas discussed by the group when necessary (the hospitality present was also well-emphasized). When debating inter-group topics, people stayed on the topic that was being discussed and presented arguments to benefit the outcome of the conversation. People were mindful of the importance of each idea, and would debate that instead of ignoring ideas and putting forth their own points. As I was overhearing group discussions, I also felt that members within each group were willing to give everyone’s ideas thought and time.

From Sam F:

The disposition that I thought I was particularly successful at was participation. I felt that the task we got the class to do encouraged everyone to participate. My quad and I separately circulated around the class when the groups were instructed to discuss what group they would vote for, to answer any questions if necessary and to direct the conversation to somewhere the participants would benefit. When I went around to all the quads, I tried to push to help develop ideas in the quad discussions. To do this, I asked questions to generate more thought-process, and tried to direct the conversation to people who generally participated a little less. If needed, I would rephrase ideas and statements, and clarify the differences between the many parties.

From Jeanie:

…as an individual, I feel that I did an acceptable job in the disposition of humility. When playing as “Canada” against “Britain”, there were often moments in which our quad could not argue back against Britain. Even though I did not openly concede that they had brilliant points, I realized our position in the debate and accepted their excellent arguments with peace.

From Tiffany:

In general, I think the one disposition that I had throughout all our discussions was hope. Now, this may be one of the less popular ones people talk about, and it is also the one that many forget about sometimes. Like I’ve mentioned before, this unit was a difficult one for me. I struggled with participating in class, and grasping many concepts of the Confederation, but I never let that get me down. I knew that, somewhere at some time, whether it was the next day or a week later, I would improve on these aspects. I welcomed improvement and failure, and made more room for myself to grow. I built faith in myself, and hoped that my strengths and perseverance would pull through in the end. In my opinion, they did.

From Galen:

One of my strengths that I have shown in this presentation was deliberation. Even when we taught and moderated the discussion in the classroom, I always took my thoughts that I had gathered during our teachings and shared it with others before and after, even writing it down to reflect on. During the debate in our presentation, I didn’t moderate as much as I may have been supposed to, but I was always mindful of questions and problems that others had brought up, and I communicated answers to others helping moderating our debate.

From Max:

Appreciation: The main reason why I feel like I excelled in the disposition of appreciation is because with our activity of forcing the class at large to take on the role of Britain and defend our quad’s accusations of them mistreating the Canadas. With this unique role bestowed upon the class, it forces them to think in a completely different perspective, and puts them into the rarely worn shoes of the antagonist. (Though really, the “antagonist” is subjective; in this case because we’re learning Social Studies in Canada, we see us being mistreated by the British.) With this unique role, the class was able to not only in the position of Britain, but also appreciate their point of view and come up with convincing and unbeatable arguments against Canadas’ grievances.

Some wishes

From Natalie:

Some things I feel I need to work on are Deliberation and Appreciation. The specific aspects of Deliberation that I feel as though I need to work on are seeing other`s viewpoints and not just my own. I find myself often driven to reach a consensual opinion about any given topic, especially one that is detestably controversial as topics often are in the TALONS`social study classes. This point is a nice seg-way into my next point which is that I feel my appreciation for class opinions could be improved. I love hearing about the opinions and different view`s of my peers, however I do still find it somewhat frustrating when someone (or a particular group of people) cannot see that my way is the right way.

From Jeff:

Something I think that I could work on is definitely nurturing more mindful thought through our discussion. Although we went through a lot of concepts, I didn’t really stop the conversation to ask “why?” One example is talking about immigration. Although we understood that Irish and Scottish migrants came to British North America because they disliked the class system, I could have connected that to the class system in Canada at the time and how it was very similar.

From Victoria:

What I think I could improve on was Hospitality. It really is difficult to be hospitable when having a debate with someone…. The whole point of a debate is to argue against the other person. However I feel as though I could have been more hospitable and in turn, this could have helped fostered more discussion. This might have also helped some of the quieter people to join into the conversation because they wouldn’t be intimidated by the fast pace that the debate took.

From Max:

Hospitality: Although initially I tried my best to remind the class to let people who haven’t talked as much do some talking, once the debate got underway and got heated, it was back to the loud people making all the points back and forth. I didn’t create a very hospitable environment for the more timid people to jump in as points were being fired back and forth both rapidly and furiously, which would probably cause people to shy away from talking for fear of being shut down.

From Sam:

I feel I lack in deliberation, always really stubborn with my views and thoughts on things. It’s hard to change my mindset when it’s already fixed on one thing, and it’s a bit of a one-way track in that sense. I’m proud of it sometimes, if only because I know my principals and moral code are set in stone, however; it makes learning things I know even the smallest bit about a teensy bit harder.

From Tiffany:

A disposition that I could have improved on, as an audience member and as a discussion leader is deliberation. I didn’t stop to think more about ideas that could have been branched off and elaborated on. I would just think of an idea, and feel like I was done. It’s almost as if I would do only half the work in my head and believe that I would finish the idea later. However, I think this also improved as I gained more experience with discussions. I would walk into class, being so sure of something, and then one of my quad members would say a completely different point that would make me reconsider my take on the subject. I found that I could learn a lot from my classmates, and I think the people around me have played a part in my improvement as well.

From Jess:

I think that hope is a subject that I need to work on. This is a reflection, so I’ll reflect on both our class and the rest of the week. Hope represents, to me, the hope to progress in work and become better. I probably need to work on that in the sense that I need to encourage others to do it more. While I may not be the best candidate to explain how or why people don’t try to exceed, I felt that during the week, in general, people didn’t stray outside their comfort zones. Those who didn’t were okay with giving the same amount of participation over the course of the week. I wish I could say I knew how to encourage people more, but I don’t. So, while I can try and do this more, I’m not quite sure how successful I’ll be. Of course, there is always the awkward truth of the matter that there’s only so much one person can do. 

The Confederation Discussions

Confederation discussions

This past week, the TALONS classes have hosted and facilitated half-hour long activities and discussions that have been focused on an exploration of historical contexts and details of Canadian Confederation, as well as an attempt to cultivate the recently discussed Dispositions of Democratic Discussion

After an initial introduction to the Victorian era in the Canadian colonies, the unit’s focus on dialogue and discussion came about through lengthy collective reflections about each TALONS class’ strengths and areas requiring growth in oral participation and facilitation.

Major themes arising from these goal-setting sessions addressed:

  • Generating momentum at the beginning of a unit / week / class meeting: using hook-questions, soliciting initial opinions, and establishing a pace that invites broad participation and thinking.
  • Show people that their responses are relevant and valued within the discussion:
    • Make connections, follow up, refer to visual notes; demonstrate an appreciation of ideas.
  • Isolating the key issue, taking what has been said, and synthesizing the main question, issue, or key idea.
  • Guiding the discussion or lecture with questions and participant-responses, and discovering what types of questions or comments offer the most substance?
    • Conversation-starters,
    • Connections to past (or future) discussion points,
    • Inducing conversation, laughter, ease and comfort.
    • Allowing for quad/small group chats.
    • Posing questions generated within the moment.
    • Providing or soliciting visual notes.
  • Framing the topic or issue within the group’s existing understanding.
  • Involving the reluctant speaker by experimenting with the questions being asked, the format of the discussion, or style of engagement and individual participation.

On Monday there will be a traditional exam on the topics covered, and reflection assignments intended to synthesize personal and group learning about the skills and dispositions required for fruitful constructivist learning; it seemed appropriate to attempt to summarize my own observations of the unit.

Stars: Hospitality, Participation & Humility 

Each of the different discussions, debates and activities that the quads arranged found unique avenues toward involving a broader range of their classmates in a negotiation of understanding of the topics.

The different role-plays, mock-Parliaments, and small-group discussions created diverse entry-points and opportunities for quieter individuals to engage with their own thinking, that of their peers, and the new comprehension of the topics that came out of the process. The group’s and individuals presenting material or discussion points on the various topics were consistently humble in their own interpretation of the facts, and were quick to invite multiple perspectives into the conversation.

Wishes: Deliberation, Mindfulness & Hope

Going forward, for my part I would like to focus on building on cultivating greater mindfulness and deliberation by exploring the different ways that individuals can document and share their individual understanding (beyond classroom dialogue) in the hope that our time spent in discussion can go beyond the initial concepts to ask more philosophical, or related questions on the topics covered.

I think this synthesis of ideas beyond basic understanding will ask for a more consistently mindful approach to the class’ collective goals. This will require not only that discussion-participants raise the intensity and attentiveness of their own engagement with their ideas and one another, but that our moderators and classroom leaders are able to recognize and articulate the group’s learning intentions with clarity, and provide the modeling and facilitation to bring these goals about.

Philosophy Pop Quiz

This post is also on the #Philosophy12 blog

I’m grateful to Dr. Gardner Campbell of Virginia Tech for letting me bring his daily pop-quiz into #Philosophy12 this semester, as it creates a context for learning that highlights behaviours that are congruent with the philosophical mode and constructivist’s approach as well.

The five questions of the quiz aren’t assessments of any specific understanding, but rather inquiries into habits that will lead to a conducive learning environment in the physical classroom. Our open online participants, I would guess, are the types of learners that are engaging in these behaviours (they otherwise wouldn’t likely be participating with us).

Dr. Campbell’s daily check in goes as follows (score yourself with the numbers supplied):

  1. Did you read material for today’s class meeting carefully? (No – 0, Once – 1, Yes, more than once – 2)
  2. Did you come to class today with questions or with items you’re eager to discuss? (No – 0, Yes, one – 1, Yes, more than one – 2)
  3. Since we last met, did you talk at length to a classmate, or classmates about either the last class meeting or today’s meeting? (No – 0, Yes, one person – 1, Yes, more than one person – 2)
  4. Since our last meeting, did you read any unassigned material related to this course of study? (No – 0, Yes, one item – 1, Yes, more than one item – 2)
  5. Since our last meeting, how much time have you spent reflecting on this course of study and recent class meetings? (None to 29 minutes – 0, 30 minutes to one hour – 1, Over an hour – 2)

Gardner talks about how the quiz is a predictor of how ‘productive’ his classes will be, and in a quick show of hands to reflect today’s scoring, I can see how the class’ honest reflection and response to these questions is potentially a very accurate picture of the engagement at the outset of the day. But more than that, I appreciate what Gardner might call the ‘meta-message’ contained in the brief assessment, and what GNA Garcia described as, “thinking about how [learners] are thinking about what they think about and when,” and thus creating “habits of mind.”

“Overhauling how we teach science…”

blood sample overview

A colleague of mine sent me an email that I thought I would attempt to crowd-source some responses to in advance of our conversation sometime in the next week.

I would enjoy talking to you about how you think science classes could be taught differently, especially biology. I ask my students to refrain from asking questions that Google could answer, yet, I’m teaching content that they could Google for themselves. I’m not sure if I can re-vamp my system to keep them busy for a semester though. I think that Chem and Physics are pretty much dialed in because you need to go through the process of problem-solving with the students but in Biology, it’s so much memorization. What do you think?    


And, really: what do you think? How would you revamp / rebuild / and revolutionize a biology classroom? How have you moved away from the Google-able, and delved into higher levels of thinking beyond memorization?

We would greatly appreciate any love and input you might offer in the comments.

 

 

Talons’ Showcase of Learning: American Revolution

declaration-of-independence

It seemed a natural extension of the type of learning we put to use in class every day: research and communication, collaboration and presentation.

 

In encountering the context of the American Revolution, and interpreting not only the Founding Fathers’ possible intentions in creating the Declaration of Independance as a political document, but also a living document, and record of human progress, the class wrote a series of their own Declarations of Independent Learning.

A common theme that arose in these statements of purpose was the opportunity for TALONS learners to document, record, and showcase their learning for posterity, their peers, and the extended audiences of their blogs. In assessing the amount of the course content absorbed, and creating an opportunity for an individual synthesis project on a finite timeline, we set out to redefine the history test: an open-computer, Google-able, tes- errr… Showcase of Learning.

At nine in the morning last Thursday, with a blanket of wet snow covering the Lower Mainland – leaving one student to ‘telecommute,’ and complete the test from home – I shared a Google document with the criteria supplied below. They were able to communicate via the chat feature on the document, and in other ways that could be shared publically (Etherpad, or otherwise – no Facebook chat); talking to group mates, and other people in the class was permitted, so long as it didn’t interfere with anyone else’s ability to work productively (another common theme in many Declarations of Learning).

On laptops, with textbooks, and pre-prepared notes, the class had seventy-five minutes to make use of any resource they could muster in responding to one of the quotes, cartoons, or critiques below.

Talons Learners have the right to showcase their learning

TALONS Constitution, written into law November 2010

Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western World, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest through which the events of current history are presented to us.

Noam Chomsky – The Responsibility of Intellectuals (1966)

Respond to one of the statements below to demonstrate an understanding of the colonial context of the period (conditions leading up to the revolution), an introduction to the source of the quotation, and connection to our present understanding of history, and current events.

Your response may be in the form of a blog post, Prezi, Slideshow, or other animation that must be linked or posted on your blog, and must include the following:

  • Title: a statement of purpose, or thesis
  • Links to at least two of your classmates’ blog posts about the American Revolution, or the nature of Learning Rights
  • Links to three outside sources
  • Two quotations (from either of the above)
  • An image (to ensure Nick will read the results)

Select one of the following artifacts, reflections, representations or quotations on the American Revolution for discussion and presentation.

Examples of Talons’ responses can be viewed on the exemplar page of the class’ Socials Wiki.

The rubric below was also attached for reference.

  • Boston Massacre

(originally by Paul Revere)

  • “History affords us many instances of the ruin of states, by the prosecution of measures ill suited to the temper and genius of their people. The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly.”

Benjamin Franklin

  • “We have here a forecast of the long history of American politics, the mobilization of lower-class energy by upper-class politicians, for their own purposes. This was not purely deception; it involved, in part, a genuine recognition of lower-class grievances, which helps to account for its effectiveness as a tactic over the centuries.”

Howard Zinn

  • Benjamin Franklin at the Court of St. James

Benjamin Franklin at St. James Court

  • “They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Ben Franklin

  • “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.”

John Adams

  • “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”

James Madison

  • The able doctor, or America swallowing the bitter draught

The able doctor, America, swallowing the bitter draught

  • “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

James Madison

  • “No more, America, in mournful strain, Of wrongs and grievance unredressed complain; No longer shall thou dread the iron chain Which wanton Tyranny, with lawless hand, Had made, and with it meant t’ enslave the land.”

Phyllis Wheatley

  • “It does not require a majority to prevail but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set bush fires in people’s minds.”

Samuel Adams

Exceeds Expectations

Meets Expectations

Barely Meets Expectations

Colonial Context

Response provides engaging and well-supported context to relate significance of historical figures and events. Response provides adequate context to relate significance of historical figures and events, but may lack specific detail and authoritative support. Response attempts to provide context and relate the significance of historical figures and events, but may contain flaws in logic, or  lack supporting detail.

Source of the Quotation

Response introduces author or source and is able to compellingly relation their bias and perspective to revolutionary and modern events. Response introduces author or source and is is able to relate their bias and perspective to revolutionary and modern events. Response may attempt to introduce author or source, but does not clearly relate bias or perspective to revolutionary or modern events.

Connection to Modern Politics or Current Events

Response draws multi-faceted connections to modern history and/or politics, and demonstrates a unique correlation between past and present. Response draws connections to modern history and/or politics, but may not demonstrate a unique correlation between past and present. Response attempts to draw connections to modern history andor politics, but may not demonstrate a unique correlation between past and present.