Making the Learning Visible: TALONS on the American Revolution

Initial Questions about the American Revolution
Questions after reading homework from 2011

As part reflection on a statement made during the introductory session of Alec Couros#ETMOOC, and part synthesis of the TALONS introductory blogging and commenting on the American Revolution, I wanted to highlight some of the recent dialogue and discussion going on in the TALONS classroom these last few days.

Someone noted during the first #ETMOOC meeting that part of open learning revolved around making the learning visible, and I think a major contributing factor to the success of the TALONS blogging community is an evolving ability to present and share individual and collective learning. But something I have come to appreciate lately is how this knowledge has grown alongside an ability to meta-cognate, and build upon the lessons of networking norms explored by the last few years’ classes.

Old and Bold
Image edit and Interview synthesis by #Talons Yilin, Hayley, Max and Kyler

Now three full years into the class experiment in conducting and presenting our learning on the public web, the community has cultivated an understory of class discussion as the architecture of the initial thinking and conversation allows it to be visible and accessible as it is being created, but also indefinitely into the future

Since we first began experimenting with the form, the TALONS have each maintained an individual blog with EduBlogs, which the class has subscribed to (comments as well) using Google Reader. Every year, links and archives of posts from each of our units of study accumulate across our subject Wikispaces, Delicious bookmarks, and these blogs to become the fodder and foundation of the next year’s learners, and it is striking to see what is possible as these years have begun to accumulate.

The class began this last week with the assigned readings of a host of 2011 American Revolution posts, and a few questions:

More Questions about the American Revolution

    • What is the author’s main idea, or thesis in the post? 
    • How do they support this claim?
    • Who are the key figures / what are the main events discussed?
    • What conclusions about the American Revolution does the post give you? 
    • What questions about the American Revolution does the post give you? 
This led to many new questions, which then erupted in a weekend’s blog posts and commenting.

 

TALONS grade nine Alyssa highlights the Seven Years War as a key ingredient in the outset of the Revolution:

 

Over the course of thirteen years, the American revolution raged on between the British, and the American colonists.  But what were the reasons that brought on one of–or even the most–important revolution? What could could set flame to such a fire that a nation could split in two?

To discover this, we must trace back to the where the first larger scales of disruptions of peace started, at the end of the Seven Years’ War, in 1763. Just twelve years later, the American revolution officially started in 1775.

Picking up where the thread, Sierra does an eloquent job of creating context beyond the Seven Years War to reveal the colonies as anger and violence bound to boil over:

After the Seven years War, the British Empire was markedly fatigued, as the war had, among other things, caused great financial hardships to Britain. This meant that Britain was relying more and more on America, raising taxes to compensate for the splurge. They began enforcing new laws, such as the Navigation Act, prohibiting colonists from shipping and trading with countries other than Britain. Then they began implementing taxes, such as the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and Townshend Act, taxing everything from printed materials, to lead, pain, and tea.

This angered some of the American colonists, and the propaganda began. Britain began sending over troops, to prevent violent protests, and in 1768, four thousand redcoats landed in Massachusetts to help maintain order. However, despite this, in 1770, on March 5th a rebellious group of American colonists clashed with British troops. Five colonists died in the confrontation, and the event became known as the Boston Massacre.

Following the horror of the Boston Massacre, Owen explains how a revolution about human dignity and democracy is still often seen to revolve around tea:

Nearly all the taxing acts were either reduced or completely dropped, proving that the British still had some leniency to the colonies, which the colonists did not appreciate completely. Wealthier men and others who relied on illegal trade were especially displeased with the taxes on goods as it would eat into their profits. Tea was the only trade item that was left taxed and was sold by the East Indian Trade Company at low prices. Of course, the rich and greedy men who sold smuggled tea could not afford to lose competition. Men like Samuel Adams were essentially so jealous that they organized a raid on the Boston trading ships that saw all tea content dumped into the harbor.

But there are other conversations, and other threads being pulled, with conversations on Monday afternoon exploring ideas of unity, hypocrisy and the nature of historical mythology and symbolism during and since the Revolution.

Marie’s post, Equality? has at present gathered an impressive 21 comments. Among them such insights and questions as the ones Kim addresses here;

Something I have to add is that women in America were fighting for their rights in the American Revolution, and they did win back some rights that should have belonged to them from the very beginning. Do you feel that the American Revolution opened the door for female rights in the future, or do you feel that no change was made (impacting the rights of women)?

Kim’s own entry came in the form of a fictionalized letter from an anonymous woman during the revolution:

As the war began to grow, so did the group of ours efforts, along with women across the country.  We spun thousands upon thousands of yards of yarn, stitched hundreds of clothing items, and took our time knitting far too many stockings for the American men in battle.  We fought to be able to fill the shortage of workers in jobs that were usually occupied by men, but were then left empty during the war, and we won the battle. I took on three jobs during that time: a blacksmith, a ship builder, and a writer.

Many people were not aware that women had made a difference, and had done anything other than sitting at their home raising a family.  Women clothed the armies, signed the petitions, and wrote the books. You would not be able to hear about the war today through the original documents and encyclopedias, if it werent for the dedicated women writers. Through these small actions that we took during this rough time, we opened the door for female rights to come.

Another grade ten, Bronwyn casts her gaze on the men at the center of the struggle to forge a way out of the war with Britain:

After the war, there was much social, political, and economic disorder. It was a country of thirteen governments, each trying to help itself at the cost of the others. Nine states had their own navy and each state had its own army.  Without changing their political and governing system, America was on the road towards anarchy. The saviours of the new independent country were people like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, who worked endlessly to convince a sceptical nation of the concept of unification. Finally, a form of working democracy was created. However, it took them thirteen years of unrest and negotiation to create this government.  Thirteen Years.  Was America’s new governing system a system eight years of fighting and killing and then thirteen years of internal unrest? This is not a question I can really answer, but what I can say is that people’s quest for the perfect government and democracy came with a hefty price and most people believe that it was worth every penny.

And these are only a few. Each of the fifty six TALONS published an initial reflection on the American Revolution this weekend, and three times I have scanned through more than 100 comments in my Google Reader. The class spilled and consumed some 50,000 digital words on different aspects of the American Revolution: themes, opinions, interpretations, relations to current events and personal experience.

Not only is the conversation becoming a sort of living textbook, but it is creating an ecological succession beneath the canopy of the blogging forest that has been established over the last few years. “The learning,” that nebulous, individual struggle for understanding that we negotiate with one another, is visible now and for all of the future TALONS (not to mention anyone else who finds their way into the old-growth forest of now-more than 100 individual TALONS blogs that are still online).

I hope that visitors and residence alike take away that this sort of sharing of ideas and conversation can be a powerful and authentic means of discovery. Like Jabiz says,

…blogging is contagious. As the plants begin to grow, they shield and guide and support the younger saplings. Suddenly we find ourselves in a thriving eco-system of ideas. So I will till the soil, add fertilizer when needed, consider the amount of water every seed will need. I will find sunlight or shade as needed for every fragile sapling. I will wait patiently and stare at what appears to be barren soil. But like every successful gardener I have faith and I have patience. I will wait for every seed to grow.

This year’s individual TALONS blogs can be subscribed to as a bundle by clicking this link. The comment thread is syndicated here

You can keep up with the class’ collective online space, Defying Normality, which was graciously highlighted on the excellent site, Comments4Kids, today, or follow our adventures on Flickr.

Classroom 2.0 Live Presentation

I was thrilled to present my first-ever webinar this weekend to the excellent Classroom 2.0 Live series, where I talked about teaching TALONS, and what I’ve learned about using digital storytelling and web2.0 tools to support our unique learning environment.

In addition to the above video, a LiveBinder collection of the links shared within the session’s chat is preserved here as well.

Novel Study Blog Post Topics

Prayers for the Dead - Dennis VannattaAs the TALONS class sets out on a novel study that will see them reading a range of five different novels in small groups, much of their “work” in flushing out the themes, symbols and technical aspects of the stories will be happening on their blogs, a process I am not alone in harbouring excitement to begin. In a class of voracious readers, with several leaders in not only the study and criticism of literature, but also the appreciation, and honouring of it, I mentioned on Twitter yesterday that I felt a little like Santa Clause yesterday handing out copies of the novels the class had chosen from the predetermined short list. And today, on a sunny afternoon, late into the first week of local Olympic hysteria, as we sat down to begin an hour of Sustained Silent Reading – or Writing, but more on that in a minute – the group quickly fell into rapt meditation over their selected books; a few put finishing touches on blog posts introducing their stories, but for the most part, all was quiet, as the enjoyment of literature is meant to be.

To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still. Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene—doesn’t that lull us into contemplation? Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, “Here I am. What do you think?” Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, “Gosh, life is racing by.” But that’s not it at all, it’s the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by. Yann Martel What is Stephen Harper Reading?

stillnessDuring class for the next few weeks, we will be using our study of literature in the form of novels to cultivate this stillness so difficult to attain in our modern surroundings. As someone who spent my most illuminating college years locked in dorm, apartment or rented rooms with books, blank pages and music, but who has since succumbed to becoming the doting father of both a laptop and iPhone which are all but constant appendages in my working life, I know that at least some of my job as an instructor and mentor of English literature and writing – indeed, the reflection upon the very aspects of life which demand stillness to be appreciated – depends on creating opportunities for my modern students to enjoy silence, stillness, and the sounds and creations of their imaginations.

To this end, the class will set aside ample time – an hour and ten minutes this afternoon – wherein the class will be silent, still. As a means of progressing in their novel studies, students are asked to work quietly, and individually, toward a better understanding of their selected novel, whether in silent reading or writing as reflection or creative product. A novel is a personal experience, and with the following reflective writing prompts, I hope to share in my students’ struggle and enjoyment of reading over the next few weeks.The home office

I am asking that students blog regularly, trying to bear in mind Wesley Fryer’s recent advice (as well as this superb resource composed of Steve Dembo’s 30 Days to Become a Better Blogger posts), and help to foster depth and discussion of their peers’ novels through avid commenting and discussion online, and during classes set aside for oral dissections and Book Talks with their peers (though stillness is one of my aims, I hope to not sacrifice the fervor and glee that accompanies the traditional TALONS literary arguments and informal debates). To this end I have proposed the following possible prompts for blog posts:

  • My Choice is… – Which novel have you chosen? Why? How do you hope for its reading to affect your study of English? See Andrea, Katie, Julie, or Donya’s examples.  
  • Passage Reflection – Take a passage from the text and supply as block quotation at the top of a post. Outline and explain the significance of the quote in terms of its relation to elements of the novel’s character, plot or theme development, as well as your personal connection to the piece. Clare asks a great question in hers (and shares a wonderful passage from another book here), and I particularly appreciate this lengthy passage very clearly articulated by Andrew.
  • Theme Synopsis – In developing your personal response to the novel’s theme, formulating ‘guesses’ at the author’s intended themes, symbols and underlying messages is an effective way to construct your own interpretation. Beginning this process early in your reading can be an effective means of noticing, and interpreting subtle details throughout the novel. Outline and support one (or many) theme statement(s) with your own personal reasoning supported by details and contextual evidence from the story. Nick, Andrew, and Katie have great theme posts already.
  • Character, Setting, Plot, Conflict or Point of View Analysis – Reflect upon one (or more) of these technical aspects of the author’s craft by utilizing the terminology applied to each of these major elements to summarize the unique choices and presentation used by the author. Check out Justin’s look at Atticus Finch, Louise’s description of Ishmael, or Jenna’s description of Little Brother’s Marcus.
  • Reflection on the Author’s Style Prose Language – There are as many ways to write as there are people using a given language, and as we delve into the works of traditional and contemporary masters of the written voice, I will be curious to hear your reactions and responses to the use and manipulation of language employed by your author. Veronica starts things off with a look at some of the NewSpeak in Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.
  • Connection to Other Readers, Bloggers – Within and beyond our class are many various opinions, reviews and interpretations of the books we are reading, reading in general, or the craft of the novel and technical aspects of each story’s composition. Use this post as an opportunity to write a response, critique, or continuation of someone else’s thinking, and be sure to link back to their work!