Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Unlocking a Learner's Mindset?

"I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn." - Albert Einstein

What do you get when you mix one part Carol Dweck, with one part Will Richardson, with another part George Couros? You get a concept I call the learner's mindset. What is a learner's mindset? Not only is it an inner narrative describing personal growth and fulfillment, I believe possessing a learner's mindset is a crucial element in the true transformation of schools and education.

"I am convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge." Seymour Papert

“Innovation is not reserved for the few; it is something we will all need to embrace if we are to move forward.” - George Couros, The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity

“learning a passion to learn is more important for your practical success than learning any particular facts or skills.” - Michael Feldstein / Will Richardson, From Master Teacher to Master Learner

“Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It's about seeing things in a new way. When people...change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework.” - Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures... I divide the world into the learners and nonlearners.” - Benjamin Barber / Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

When experiences, resources, and social connections are used intentionally to advance learning, a learner's mindset grows. Learning is not a steady, upward trajectory. There are setbacks, challenges, and mistakes that make learning a roller coaster ride. A growth mindset helps us to adjust dips, rises, twists and turns. Growth mindset also serves us reminders that challenge and failure are golden opportunities to forge ahead. Beyond fostering a perspective about personal development, George Couros says that those with an innovator's mindset use development (learning) to create new ideas and systems for learning.

"You can't teach 21st century learners if you haven't learned this century." - Gary Stager

Carl Rogers suggests people are natural born learners, and somewhere between kindergarten and twelfth grade, the natural inclination to learn gets buried beneath layers of compulsory curriculum, and teacher centered pedagogy. A learner's mindset is the embracing of inquiry, curiosity, and creativity. Optimally, folks with a learner's mindset intentionally share their learning transparently knowing this practice will fuel learning experiences for others.

For educators in this innovation era, there needs to be a shift from knowing to learning. A learner's-first mentality creates conditions where learning goals, processes, strategies, and products provide models for student learners, so they can be more self-determined with their learning. Heutagogy, when the learner assumes responsibility for their own learning, should be an attainable, if not essential objective for modern schools. A favorite analogy from Seymour Papert illustrates this concept of learning from "master learners".

"If I wanted to become a better carpenter, I'd go find a good carpenter, and I'll work with this carpenter on doing carpentry or making things. And that's how I'll get to be a better carpenter. So if I want to be a better learner, I'll go find somebody who's a good learner and with this person do some learning. But this is the opposite of what we do in our schools. We don't allow the teacher to do any learning. We don't allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that's incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what's already known." - Seymour Papert

"What would schools be like if the adults in the building purposefully and explicitly lived and shared the process of being a learner?" - Scott McLeod / George Couros; The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity

A learner's mindset supports our personal growth narrative, and is a perspective essential to truly transforming schools and education. 
  • How does one develop a learner's mindset? 
  • What are the practices, experiences, and conditions that support a learner's-first mentality? 

References and Resources

Harmonizing Learning and Education - Michael Feldstein, e-Literate

photo credit: via photopin (license)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Deeper Learning; Most Likely To Succeed

“Our “leaders”—on both the left and the right side of the aisle—continue to claim that our schools are failing and in need of reform while, in reality, our education system is obsolete and needs reimagining.” ― Tony WagnerMost Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era

The expression on the 4th grader's face says it all. It's a look I've seen on my own sons' faces, a looks that says, "I have no purpose here. I'm tired of playing the game of school." This is the essence shared in the opening scene of "Most Likely To Succeed", a persuasive film pushing the concept that modern schools should provide opportunities for students to experience deeper, personally relevant, learning. I was eager to catch a screening of this critically acclaimed film, and it did not disappoint in the slightest.

A refreshing, new vision for education is presented by the students and teachers at High Tech High in San Diego, California. Deeper learning is achieved through student inquiry, project-based learning, and presentation to authentic audience. According to philanthopist, Ted Dintersmith, knowing "stuff" is decreasing in value because information is so readily available. However, deep learning and problem solving will become the currency of this innovation era.

The film explains the U.S. economy is experiencing greater production with fewer laborers. Just as machinery has replaced a good percentage of physical labor, computers are replacing knowledge-based labor. Creativity and innovative problem solving are the skills coveted by successful businesses and institutions. Our current educational format is more than a century old. Horace Mann introduced leading U. S. industrialists to a regimented, compulsory school structure made popular by the Prussian Army. In 1892, a standardized U. S. curriculum was created by the "committee of ten". The economy of the industrial era required a labor force with moderate knowledge, moderate skill, and unwavering compliance with structure.

"What kinds of skills are required in a modern economy? What kinds of people will thrive in a modern world?" - Larry Rosenstock, CEO High Tech High

At High Tech High, there are no bells, no tests, no textbooks, no subject-specific courses, and no report cards. Instructors sign yearly contracts to teach to their passions. HTH students and teachers have complete intellectual freedom. Students practice making decisions, asking deep questions, and effectively communicating and collaborating with their classmates. Despite these innovative shifts, HTH students score 10% higher than the state average on the ACT, and post a 98% college admissions rate. 50% of their students are considered low income.

“Our task is to educate their (our students) whole being so they can face the future. We may not see the future, but they will and our job is to help them make something of it.” - Ken Robinson

Other takeaways from "Most Likely To Succeed"; retention of memorized content is short-lived, standardization of education removes human elements and purpose, modern learners should have opportunities to make something that hasn't previously existed. As educators, we are tasked to prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist. How do we do this with a standardized, teacher-centered, curriculum? What is the most important thing the students learn at High Tech High? They learn about themselves, and they experience joy in learning.

"Most Likely To Succeed" is recommended viewing for all educators, students, and their parents. It will stretch perspective, and ignite conversations about where education is, and where we want education to be with respects to school and learning. Will Richardson adds to this conversation with this challenging narrative from his recent TEDx Talk, "schools are not places for learning.
Is he right? Can this be true?

References & Resources

Innovators' Ideas for School Reform - Chicago Tribune, John Carpenter

Most Likely To Succeed; Schools Should... - Huffington Post, John Thilman

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Classroom Distraction or Learned Behavior?

Jimmy's Charhouse was typically busy this Saturday night. Nearly every table is filled, and there's a short line of patrons at the door waiting to be seated. At this time of evening, many families are enjoying dinner. My wife and I are enjoying our salads. She looks wonderful, and I want to take her picture. In the background, I notice a family of seven celebrating a birthday over dinner. The parents and grandparents are conversing over a beverage. The teenage daughter is texting on her iPhone, while her younger sister plays with the ice cubes in her glass of cola. Their younger brother is playing a handheld video game. 

I watch this scene off and on for the next several minutes. The boy has yet to eat, or even look up from his game. It is his birthday being celebrated. My wife excuses herself to the ladies room, and I take this opportunity to look around our dining room. There are ten tables, each with children, having dinner. Each of these parties has at least one child enjoying screen time with either a smart phone or tablet. Six of the parties have two or more children engrossed in their screens. Ten out of ten!

Against my philosophical position, my school district is looking for practical, effective ways to restrict student iPad use to an academic purpose. The argument presented by teachers, students, and parents, is these restrictions will limit distractions, and enable greater focus on academic endeavors. According to presented research, our younger students are not able to make good choices regarding focused use of mobile electronics.

This is our second year of being fully one-to-one with iPads, so we are learning more about engagement and classroom effectiveness as we go. However, most of our high school students have likely had several years of engaging with their mobile devices, voraciously consuming whatever content appears on their screens.

Millions, no billions, of dollars have been spent developing and perfecting the enticing properties of mobile electronics. How can teachers compete against this level of firepower? Is there any wonder many of our students struggle with face-to-face interaction when families choose digitally enabled isolation? Who gets credit for classroom distraction, the mobile electronics designers, or kids who have successfully mastered the art of focusing on their screens?

Related Reading

Why a Leading Professor Banned Technology... - Washington Post, Valerie Strauss