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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tom Hoffman about Essential Schools 10 common Principles

Since Tom Hoffman has never liked me too much, I dropped by his session to learn more. I want to understand his viewpoint and see if there is something I'm missing in my own learning.

This session has a wiki and focused on discussing the The Coalition of Essential Schools 10 Common Principles and School 2.0.

I watched the ustream (which took a while to get up) and watched Ryan Bretag's live blog (until it started playing music!)

The presentation (which was really more of discussion) and the chat is archived on the wiki. ( I suggest that you fast forward to 5-10 minutes into the preso.)

Have a Backchannel!

Before I give you a few of my thoughts, I want to point out the importance of having a backchannel. This was a facilitated discussion, however, there were one or two people who dominated the conversation. With a backchannel, this is less likely to happen. (And I know it was blocked and asked to be unblocked, however, this is an important point to make.)

There were some amazing people in that room who didn't get a chance to speak (or weren't willing to push themselves into the limelight.) I wish that they were heard. One person spoke for at least 10 minutes! There were 50-60 people in the room. Will Richardson only spoke for 2! We must include people in the classroom and at conferences and backchannels let you do that!

My opinion on the Preso and 10 common principles
As for my own opinion, I've shared it considerably through the chat. But here are a few highlights:

"1. Learning to use one’s mind well
The school should focus on helping young people learn to use their minds well. Schools should not be "comprehensive" if such a claim is made at the expense of the school's central intellectual purpose."
This is the first principle. The thing that scares me here is "who defines the good use of the mind?" One might say video games aren't a good use of the mind, another might say they are. It depends. Fuzzy terminologies like this scare me a bit. (Kristin Hokanson asked this for me, however, this was not what they wished to discuss so it wasn't addressed.)

The other principles sound pretty good to me until we get to this one. And lo and behold, Gary Stager and I agreed.

5. Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach
The governing practical metaphor of the school should be student-as-worker, rather than the more familiar metaphor of teacher-as-deliverer-of-instructional-services. Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be coaching, to provoke students to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.

There are several things I don't like about this. I agree with Gary Stager that the term "worker" isn't the right one for here. It does invoke thoughts of repressive sweatshops.

Meet the ProLearner
I like and use the term "prolearner" in my classroom, adapted from the term "prosumer." It is a mashup of the words "producer" and "learner" in which the learners are producing as they are learning. Whether it be podcasts, blog posts, wiki projects, or the like, they are producing and as they produce, they are communicating.

Additionally, I like the connotation of the word "pro" because to me it means "professional" and I teach students that professionals have peer review and communicate and discuss "professionally" with a demeanor of open minded, amenable communications. I also teach them that they are a prolearner for life -- they are a professional who learns whether they are a student, college student, or in a career. Prolearner is what they are. Produce and behave as professionals is what they do.

Prolearner = Producer + Professional + Learner

Just my own thoughts. Worker is just not the word there.

I also like the other items until we get to point 10, which I like mostly.

Democracy and equity
The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.

I like the idea of democratic practices. I believe in giving my students a choice about WHICH method they would like to do an assignment. However, to give them a choice of WHETHER to do the assignment would be educational suicide.

In the real world, we have a boss and the boss tells us what to do. The boss often gives unrealistic deadlines and it often "stresses us out." Learning to function effectively in such a world is important. There are times when I unveil projects (even Flat Classroom) when the students say "I don't know if I want to do this."

Initially, that is their response. "It is too big, too hard, and too difficult and I'm afraid I cannot do it!" We have to push them on towards what they can be and this requires not being democratic.

When I first got to Westwood and had very high standards, some parents didn't like it and just plain old fought me. "Let them play. Why should they have to work so hard. You're asking to much." The process of moving the students forward (and a different teaching style) was difficult. Any change is tough and we naturally don't like it.

So, democracy is good where practical.

But functional authority and accountability must go hand in hand or it is a recipe for disaster. (From my favorite professor of management at Georgia Tech, Dr. Phil Adler.) This is why we have so many problems today, teachers are given accountability and NO authority!

I use the word functional authority because there is a difference between KNOWLEDGE authority (being the purveyor of all knowledge) and FUNCTIONAL authority. I believe that we should allow students to become an expert on their topics and become knowledge authorities also. In that way, the teacher's role has changed. However, we need the FUNCTION of authority in the classroom. (This is a clarification spurred from the comments on this post.)

Beware of such statements. Democracy is good but we also must have people in authority (who use it well, mind you.)

And remember, there is a BIG difference between having authority and being authoritarian. My classroom often looks on the verge of chaos, we rarely lecture and are always doing projects. However, if I say something, the students listen and do as I ask. In a well run classroom, the teacher often does not have to invoke this "I'm in charge" sort of thing, however, there does have to be someone responsible for what is happening in the room... and that is me.

This was my first time seeing the 10 common principles. Some seem good, however, I could see that a quite literal interpretation could be unworkable in the classroom. It takes balance.
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