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Friday, March 17, 2006

Think Alouds, Justifying Methods, and Learning Jams

Charlie talks to himself. He runs a verbal commentary on what he is doing. If he is painting watercolors, he can be heard saying “Paint, paint, paint, orange, orange, paint, paint.” It’s called directed play, and it’s essential to self-instruction. I conceptualize it as self-directed think-alouds.

Here’s my self-directed think-aloud: I just finished an article in Educational Leadership by Wiggins and McTighe in which they point out “A great weakness of our craft is that we typically do not require faculty members to justify their teaching methods, course designs, and assessments against a set of learning principles.” They’re right; in the current system there is no incentive to interrogate teaching practices.

We won’t realize this professional interrogation unless we embrace open source, asymmetrical educational systems. In such a system, a teacher tries an idea out in her classroom and it yields great results. She posts the strategy on a message board for innovative educational ideas. Within days other teachers across the urban landscape tryout the idea in their classrooms and offer feedback through the message board. The idea becomes an innovation and is spread by the hive. Through this process urban educators are able to test ideas, collect evidence, and innovate.

Wiggins and McTighe go on to suggest that we mandate that teachers “learn about learning.” I disagree, because mandates feed a bureaucracy that loves to look good on paper. After all, what does it mean to learn about learning? Does it mean that teachers should study neuroscience or does it mean that teachers should study evidence based learning strategies? No, I think we need teachers that are passionate about learning. I propose that we identifying job applicants that are passionate about learning and hire them. I want intellectually curious teachers that are driven to improve their practice. Essentially, I want teachers that got grit.

However, most of us work in established schools and don’t have the luxury of creating the faculty from scratch. The question becomes identifying the teachers in our buildings that love learning and feeding that desire.

Here’s an idea: host a learning jam. Essentially, a jam consists of a bunch of people getting together for 24-hours with the singular focus of creating a product. Jams have been used to write books, music, and create video games. Why not host a standards based assessment jam or a curriculum writing jam or an interdisciplinary unit jam? All that’s needed is a location, take-out menus, wireless Internet, printers, and a common focus. Host a jam, see who attends—I bet you get the gut it out, love learning, badass teachers. For more information on Jams check out Passionate Users and the Ad Lib Game Devlopment Society.

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