Teaching in a Connected Learning Classroom

I recently read Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom, an exploration of connected learning through the eyes of multiple teachers in multiple classrooms. This book can be offered online as a free pdf, or as an ebook for 99 cents HERE. I enjoyed not only reading about the theories and principles of connected learning, but also learning about real classrooms and real examples of connected learning experiences, lessons, activities, and ideas. As a future educator, if find that my theories and ideas about education and its purpose line up pretty well with connected learning. Antero Garcia notes that “Education in both formal and informal learning spaces seems less and less about meeting young people where they are as developing thinkers and more and more about forcibly transmitting into their minds enormous bodies of information that adults have deemed important for college and career readiness”. This is a statement that a fully agree with. As educators, as students, and as a society, i think that we would all benefit from a shift to a style of learning that focuses on skills, strategies, and thematic ideas, rather than one that focuses on facts, categories, and tests.

This blog post will continue in six parts, one for each chapter, where i will relate quotes that i found particularly enlightening. I will not make you all read to the end, although i hope you do, i think that the quotes i chose are extremely interesting, enlightening, and informative, so i will simply round up my thoughts here.

Interest-Driven Learning – student interest is key to student participation. When students can write about and learn about topics that are relevant to their lives or about things that excite them, they will want to write more and write better. It is impossible to discuss one of these principles without mentioning another and student interest is also driven by shared purpose, peer support, and production.

Peer-Supported Learning – when students help each other they also help themselves. Teaching is one of the most effective forms of learning and understanding. When students support each other they are more invested in the outcome and in their classmates success.

Academically Oriented – even when learning is fun and based on student interest, it should still be academically oriented and relate to your curriculum and standards. This requires you to be creative and open-minded when it comes to lesson planning and teaching.

Production Centered – Creating a physical object, piece of writing, or new idea increases student investment and involvement. Hands-on learning is also more effective and applied skills and strategies are cemented when students physically practice them.

Openly-Networked – Providing physical or online places for students to interact with, comment on, question, and support their peers and their own work allows students to help each other. Giving students a place to collaborate will help students learn how to give and receive advice as well as allow you as the teacher to help in other areas than answer-giving.

Shared Purpose – Giving students a shared purpose gives students a reason to learn. By involving them in a group activity, especially one that relates to their community or lives will increase student involvement and interest. Students will be motivated to help each other out, and to reach the final goal.

Chapter 1: Interest-Driven learning: Student Identities and Passions as Gateways to Connected Learning –  by Antero Garcia

“digital citizenship…is the idea that technology can be used as a tool to facilitate young people’s participation in dialogue, writing, and action on social issues about which they care—not simply for the purely recreational uses that adults often assume are the sole interest of youth.” – Case 1, page 13

“[The student] reflected on how exciting it was to have many people reading her writing, giving her tips, and asking her questions. When asked if she thought she could write the same way without doing it online, she responded by saying, ‘Nope. No kids are reading it, so why should I keep writing it? Maybe it’s boring for them. Why should I keep writing it?’” – Case 1, page 14

“Social media expedites this process in a way that taps into student interests while decreasing the anxiety of having to stand in front of a group of people and read the piece aloud.” -Case 1, page 15

“In authentic writing experiences, students are asked to explore, investigate, question, create, and share their findings. Teachers know from hours of reviewing student work that writing becomes interesting to read when it becomes interesting to write.” – Case 3, page 20

“I finally saw that when students have authentic choices in what they want to investigate, produce, and share, they become invested in their work in a way that is invigorating for the entire learning community” – Case 3, page 21

“’I [a student] was never much for English and definitely not much for writing. But with the magazine, I began to write about things that I really care about. Through the magazine I had to write, I had to do a lot of research to make sure what I was writing was accurate. I also gained skills in editing, which would serve me greatly in my future.’” – Case 3, page 22

“Chuck reminds us that we learn discipline-specific skills best when we are engaged in project-based learning and face a problem that requires us to find solutions.” – Conclusion, page 23

Chapter 2: Peer-Supported Learning – by Cindy O’Donnell-Allen

“assembling as a group does not necessarily make a collaborative experience. In classrooms…students are jumbled together in groups whether by the whim of course scheduling or a lesson plan’s design.” – Introduction, page 25

“This experience taught me that looks can be deceiving. Even when assignments are designed to be collaborative and students are grouped according to interest, peer-supported learning is not guaranteed.” – Introduction, page 26

“[a student] was in charge of using the Flip camera to document the day. The class videographer was free to video any part of our classroom and to share the camera with others who wanted to record. The video clips became sources of reflection, analysis, and sharing for us as they organically wove into our activities. The children and I were co-inquirers in the process of documenting our school lives.” – Case 2, page 30

“in order to fully understand the finished products that mark discovery, we must also examine the “modes of thought” that lead to them. I likewise contend that in order to replicate instances of peer-supported learning in classrooms, we must do more than fawn over students’ impressive “front practices”—the iMovies, classroom documentaries, and multiliteracies projects they produce. We must also examine the “back practices” that allow youth to co-construct knowledge in the first place.” – Conclusion, page 36

“Teachers pose the right questions for themselves and teach their students to do the same.” – Conclusion, page 36

“Teachers who value peer-supported learning create inclusive classrooms where even marginalized students can draw on each other’s strengths to manage tasks they could not have accomplished alone.” – Conclusion, page 37

“Teachers support students in using new media to amplify and push out their learning. Regrettably, some teachers still use computers in their classrooms as nothing more than fancy typewriters and see the Internet as just a high-tech card catalogue students access to consume outside knowledge. By contrast, Lacy and Katie [teachers] view their students as producers who use multimodal and digital tools to construct and showcase their knowledge so they can share it with others.” – Conclusion, page 37

“Teachers make it all about the kids, not all about the mandates.” – Conclusion, page 37

Chapter 3: Academically Oriented Teaching – by Antero Garcia

“‘Learners flourish and realize their potential when they can connect their interests and social engagement to academic studies, civic engagement, and career opportunity'” – Introduction, page 39

“Academically prepared youth should be able to shift their skill sets for the new contexts of labor and innovation in the future.” – Introduction, page 39

“Gaming crosses cultural and economic boundaries due to painstaking design and marketing. When I made reference to high-interest, well-crafted narrative, I didn’t want to use text only a certain group could access. Gaming helps to make learning more equitable. Plus, since so many games are played online or have networks, learners are readily plugged in to groups with similar interests. It feeds both the social need and opportunity to participate in something along with other diverse learners.” – Case 1, page 42

“I learned that game-based learning offers my learners a context in which they can find plausible solutions to real-world problems and endless potential platforms to publish this important work.” – Case 1, page 43

“Game design and game-based learning are rigorous yet authentic, and they encourage learners not by eliminating risk but by providing a risk-worthy context for learning.” – Case 1, page 44

“The 2Fer”—a two-page analytical paper that students write every two weeks on any topic they choose. The assignment includes builtin time for thesis workshops, peer editing of drafts, and reflection and inventory once papers are returned with comments. This process was designed to help students identify their own strengths and weaknesses, learn that ‘becoming a better writer’ is a lifelong journey, and ultimately become masters of their own improvement.” – Case 2, page 45

“The core question that 2Fers seek to answer is ‘why is the world the way that it is?’ Students are invited to replace ‘the world’ with a more specific topic of their choice, validating their own ideas and experiences while requiring the thesis to be ‘unique, insightful, and debatable.’ This structure encourages students to step away from arguments that have already been made ad nauseam and to develop their own commentary on the issues that engage our modern world,” – Case 2, page 46

“The cyclical design of the assignment also provides equal footing for students by setting them up on an individualized course of improvement. The system emphasizes feedback via effective mentorship, not number grades, and requires that students take responsibility for their own areas of improvement. Subsequent grades are based primarily on how a student is improving over time instead of the student’s work in comparison to his or her peers. The message comes through loud and clear: you are in charge of your own learning.” – Case 2, page 46

“The fun of computerized comments has definitely increased participation. Teenage students type much more than they would ever write by hand and get deeper into the feedback left for them. Students take pride in their work as editors, and I give ‘shout-outs’ to high-quality edits throughout the year, projecting a student’s Google Doc on the board and reading prudent comments to the class. Students often refer to peer comments when listing their own strengths and weaknesses in the reflection after the final draft. “ – Case 2, page 47

“2FerQuarterly.org. Once per quarter, students are invited to post their best work to the site—something they have revised again after receiving teacher feedback. This piece also is their submission for their quarterly portfolio grade. “ – Case 2, page 47

“As a language arts teacher, my ultimate goal each day is to help students learn to effectively express themselves and to accurately understand the communication of others.” – Case 3, page 49

“Comics do, in fact, employ the same literacy skills that print texts require (structural organization, inferences derived from context clues, connotations/denotations, cultural allusions, stylistic elements of craft, etc.). They just use a different dialect, so to speak. This latter (visual) vernacular, however, has not traditionally been taught in the English classroom with the same due diligence given other forms of literacy, leaving students largely to fend for themselves in a twenty-first century increasingly proliferated by visual media. The net result is that important visual texts (advertisements, photojournalism, film, television, video games, websites, etc.) are often unnoticed by our students—students who become the undergraduates, professionals, and citizens of the future whose success so integrally depends on their ability to be masters of (and not mastered by) this semiotic language.” – Case 3, page 49

“students were charged with taking a poem or prose excerpt read previously in class and adapting it into a comic format” – Case 3, page 49

“I made sure to participate alongside my students, modeling my writing process in front of the class as I created my own comic composition. Vocalizing a rationale for the various authorial decisions I was making helped to provide further scaffolding for students struggling to understand how the visual literacy principles discussed could be applied in practice. I also made sure to provide opportunities for students to share their compositions within peer writing groups, which provided an authentic audience for the students and an intrinsic desire for further revision.” – Case 3, page 50

“Traditionally, the teacher is depicted as the sole authority in the classroom, with students relegated to a ‘find-the-one-right-answer’ capacity. This framework turns that model upside down, positioning the student as the participatory agent and primary source of intellectual capital and allowing the teacher to transition into a mentorship role. The teacher becomes a coach whose primary responsibility is to connect students’ interests to academic domains that will enhance their final product, one that is treated with the same legitimacy as any other professionally produced visual narrative.” – Case 3, page 51

“The reason he didn’t attempt to read wasn’t because he wasn’t interested in the topics or didn’t feel he could contribute to our classroom conversations; it was because he had been absent so often in elementary school that he had never developed the ability to read. Treyvon was terribly embarrassed by this fact and continuously hid it from his peers by pretending to be in control of the situation.” – Case 3, page 51

“As a result, as struggling readers become active readers of graphic novels, their overall literacy skills improve: they learn to visualize texts internally as they read, appreciate literary techniques, acquire vocabulary, reinforce grammar and spelling, and foster an overall love of reading that they then begin to transfer to other 52 | Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom non-visual texts.” – Case 3, page 51-52

“When I formerly taught creative writing, I collaborated with the art teacher in my building so that we could pair our students in a cross-course graphic narrative project. My students would develop a script, and his students would design a “dummy” draft storyboard of it. My students would provide revisionary feedback and so on, back and forth until they created a professional product.” – Case 3, page 52

“Selwyn cautions educators from co-opting the practices and cultural interests of youth in classrooms. He explains that students ‘resent having their cultural forms (mis)appropriated into schools’. There is a careful balance we must contend with when integrating youth interests into spaces they read as “academic.'” – Conclusion, page 54

Chapter 4: Production-Centered Classrooms – by Clifford lee

“Our teacher did not provide linear, step-by-step instructions. Instead, he gave us a design challenge to figure out how to make something we did not know how to make.” – Introduction, page 56

“We were motivated by a real application and purpose for our work.” – Introduction, page 56

“Teachers must create an environment where students see meaning and purpose 57 | Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom behind what they create, particularly among historically marginalized populations.” – Introduction, page 56-57

“Because IF lacks graphics, producing an entertaining game was highly dependent on a student’s descriptive storytelling ability. One student acknowledged that programming an IF game is difficult; however, he added, ‘I actually thought it was more interesting doing it this way. It was like a ‘3-D essay.’’” – Case 1, page 59

“By focusing my involvement on supporting the use of these tools, rather than showing students step-by-step instructions on creating a game and troubleshooting, they were able to participate more fully in the development process. Problem-solving issues also proved to be some of the best opportunities for learning.” – Case 1, page 60

“There were three important takeaways from this experience. The first is to give students space to work through problems with peers or on their own. I noticed early on that stepping in to fix a line of code resulted in students relying on me to supply answers, and I wanted them to access the resources and troubleshoot with their classmates, which I believe is important in maintaining an inquiry-based classroom. During the IF unit, I found it necessary to post the following reminder on our class website: ‘Remember: Check with a classmate and/or check the IF guides before asking me for help. You learn by making mistakes and troubleshooting. Your brains stop working when I give you the answer!'” – Case 1, page 60

“By marrying action-oriented themes like discover, create, resist, and transform with powerful reflective questions, my hope was that students would internalize this model of praxis (Freire 1970) and be able to transfer it into other areas of their life as they saw fit.” – Case 3, page 66

“Throughout this chapter, we have pushed against the notion that a production-centered classroom is one that utilizes the newest gadgetry or digital tools. Instead, we have examined the structures and systems that produce and support an environment where students are challenged with creating things they do not yet know how to make; where they use their creativity to explore and tinker; where they make multiple attempts and fail but utilize resources to problemsolve; and where they spend hours beyond the minimum standard to complete a project.” – Conclusion, page 70

Chapter 5: Openly Networked – by Bud Hunt

“As a blogger describing my teaching practice, I became a student and sometimes teacher of others who were engaged in similar pursuits as I/they worked to document and share my/their practice. In a sense, I was a student like the ones described in the report, finding value in the wealth of open resources I was both consuming and creating via my writing and sharing online.” – Introduction, page 71

“Specifically, I learned that opening up one’s practice for scrutiny and observations created lots of opportunity for collaboration, discovery, and connection with and to others.” – Introduction, page 71

“Openly networked experiences are about how and where and when we can find each other and connect. While certainly the technology of our age makes it easier than ever before to connect, connected learning experiences do not require the Internet or digital media to be pure and true connected learning experiences.” – Introduction, page 72

“If teaching is a process of teachers loving what they do in front of their students as a way of conveying passion and excitement and curiosity, as one of my favorite teachers describes, then the connected learning principle of openly networked is about creating opportunities for students and teachers to discover those people who love what they know to share that love with others.” – Introduction, page 72

“Thoughtful teachers choose intentionally what, when, and how they share what they are curious about and what demands their students’ attention.” – Introduction, page 72

“One cannot become an openly networked learner without creating these places and moments for interaction.” – Introduction, page 73

“During the Day of Tolerance, as the students listened to Marielle share her childhood memories of exclusion and discrimination, they gained a sense that history does not happen just in textbooks; it happens in their own communities. They also learned how quickly history can change when citizens fail to speak up for the rights of others.” – Case 1, page 75

“learning is most resilient when it is linked and reinforced across settings of home, school, peer culture and community”- Case 1, page 78

“Connected learning involves making deliberate choices as educators—choices that force us to think about how students are connected to the world around them in ways that simply did not exist fifteen years ago—while also considering existing community and historical connections that could be made stronger through exploration.” – Case 2, page 79

“museums need to see teachers and students as active participants in the learning experience, pushing beyond mere “spectating” or “learning at a glance” toward a more participatory and process-oriented experience. Part of this process involves museums letting go of their supposed authority over knowledge and meaning-making, and instead empowering educators to co-create learning experiences with museums—as opposed to passively receiving content from museums, whether that be text panels, audio guides, curators, or museum educators.” – Case 3, page 82-83

“I am drawn to each of these stories as they complicate the definition of “openly networked” and remind me networks—be they digital, analog, or otherwise—are powerful because they bring people together. And when we learn together, in community, we learn better, deeper, and in more lasting ways.” – Conclusion, page 85

“[questions] to encourage those who are considering creating openly networked learning experiences and environments: Are groups loosely networked? Are there easy ways for groups/participants to connect and coordinate action or activity? Are there multiple points of entry and outreach? Are tools that signal quality or mastery visible, sharable and easy to access? What are the considerations of infrastructure that need to be in place or managed for sharing to occur? How are classrooms and learning activities designed to create permeable walls? (How can others see into and participate in the learning?) Who in the community beyond the classroom might be a partner in the learning? How and when are they approached for possible networking and/or partnership?” – Conclusion, page 85

Chapter 6: Shared Purpose – by Danielle Filipiak

“Given this, it seems important that we listen with intent to the purposes and interests that matter most to students, making pedagogical decisions that support these. Schooling should be a humanizing process. I contend that those who take this stance achieve much more than preparing students for unknown futures that may or may not include college, a steady job, and the like. Rather, they are equipping youth to be more critical, confident, and resourceful human beings in the present. In this way, they are addressing issues of equity that significantly impact young people in their everyday contexts, nourishing outcomes such as resistance and resilience. They build interconnected relationships, which youth can leverage to create new pathways to opportunity and healing in communities that need it the most.” – Introduction, page 87

“Like many of his peers, Roberto tended not to commit to more traditional academic outcomes that the school district mandated. He refused to finish any administered exam, never turned in homework, and barely passed his classes. However, he was not a disengaged student. Roberto demonstrated a notable amount of resilience when he was presented with tasks he deemed meaningful.” – Introduction, page 88

“Perhaps more than anything else, the experience of exploring and shaping a critical shared purpose with others served as an impetus for participation, providing unprecedented opportunities for Roberto to engage in critical self-reflection and agency.” – Introduction, page 88

“Why care or invest in a system that ultimately values you as a piece of data? And more specifically, a piece of data that is a huge liability in the system of standardized testing. A system that cares nothing for inquiry, lifelong learning habits, or creative thinking.” – Case 1, page 91

“It took an entire year to acclimate our students to a new environment of PBL, an environment where they had choice and voice, an environment where they had to problem-solve and be creative, an environment where they had to work together. It was tough. We were asking them to think, create, and make decisions. Transitioning to this kind of engagement is not easy when you’ve managed to get by filling in worksheets and having a teacher tell you exactly how something should be done. Now, we were asking students to come up with the questions to guide their design plans, and they were frustrated because this was not easy. By the end of year one, they had gotten the hang of it, but by year two, they owned this process.” – Case 1, page 91

“For the next nine months, our class took a systematic look at social issues that were the most important to them. In the end, water conservation and pollution were the issues the class most wanted to focus on for the school year. It was a collective decision—from the bottom up, not top (teacher) down—so investment was high from the beginning. My role in this process was to integrate math, science, social studies, and English language arts with the social issue the class picked and to help carve out a service-oriented project in the end. “ – Case 2, page 93

“My role as a facilitator of learning rather than a dispenser of knowledge structured the nature of the task so that students took ownership from the very beginning. As a facilitator, I pulled together community resources that would help my students form a connection between what we were learning in class and what was happening outside of the classroom.” – Case 2, page 93

“Technology also helped my facilitation of the learning. Whether it was a classroom blog or a webquest, my job was to teach my fourth graders these modalities and then allow them to use the resources as they saw fit.” – Case 2, page 93

“For instance, in addition to classroom discussions in large or small groups, for the first time I utilized a class blog to keep the discussions going. The blog enabled my students to post and debate ideas about various forms of pollution. My English Language Learners used digital images to help them make their points and to make connections with what was being discussed in class. When it was time to narrow down our topic for a service-learning project, the class utilized an online poll to cast their final votes.” – Case 2, page 94

“The service-learning project offered a variety of entry points for all the children in the room to take part. Some students used their voice to communicate, such as during the podcasting phase of the learning. Others preferred to draw or write their ideas, such as during the brochure creation and information dissemination phase. Still others worked and learned best by physically doing the work, such as during the demonstration and presentation of the science behind water pollution and contamination. No matter what the phase, the principle of equity ensured that all children, including Ydely, had a fair chance to learn and demonstrate what they knew based on their individual talents and interests. She was assured a place in the learning arc just like the rest of the members of the class, even though it may have looked and sounded different.” – Case 2, page 94

“In fact, because the service-learning project had many points of entry for the students depending on their interests, the ELLs in the room interacted with English organically. The language learning that ensued had a more natural feel to it than if students were working independently out of a common basal reader.” – Case 2, page 95

“When we look at the major implications of these exploitative corporate narratives on a micro-, localized level, we see a clear connection between the manifestation of self-destructive behaviors within our communities and one of their root causes: the constant exposure to subhuman, criminal, misogynistic, and genocidal points of self-identification via corporate mass media and corporate entertainment. Urban young people are consuming images of themselves on major radio and TV programs, and increasingly on the Internet, that show women and men who look like them celebrating behaviors that correlate to sex/prostitution, drug use, and professional killer self-identities. This phenomenon presents to us a clear problem, as well as an even clearer solution: empower young people to counter these corporate-sponsored messages through creating their own justice-based entertainment media.” –  Case 3, page 97

“Because of hip-hop culture’s heavy influence on the aesthetic of pop music and cultural media, our young people have the opportunity to identify with images of their own culture’s expressions via mainstream media channels. Equally impactful is that hiphop as a recent pop culture phenomenon is affording our young people the opportunity to consistently see images of themselves as artistic, intellectually expressive beings who use art and media to communicate their emotional, physical, and spiritual realities.” – Case 3, page 97

“We work with our young people to actualize their personal and professional performance/media arts aspirations through intergenerational professional development and digital media tools training. We assist young people in clearly defining their positive points of self-identification and personal values, as well as co-develop methods for successfully projecting these identities and values in their lives and media. Through media literacy, we serve to inspire our young people to ask critical questions, as well as work with them to develop cognitive processes that will allow deeper levels of reflection, introspection, and insight into their own behaviors, identities, and community issues. Together, we use the digital media projects our young people initiate as opportunities to help them unpack their socially-derived points of self-identity—corporate-mass media programmed consumer values/conditioned behaviors—and make connections with how these factors influence the way we imagine ourselves.” – Case 3, page 98

“My media literacy work is self-identity work, which means that our young people must first be guided in realizing the existing points of positive value they already have for themselves. The only way we, as teachers, can truly serve our young people in making these key connections is by starting these conversations with them, with full orientation and intention on learning their personal agenda and uplifting their positive points-of-value along the way.” – Case 3, page 100

“The error is measuring young people based on any measure of value other than their own. The young people’s experiences must be the barometer by which we measure their development, not the teacher’s life history or measures of success.” – Case 3, page 100

“Self is the beginning of community” – Case 3, page 100

“The concept of shared purpose in these learning environments is important because it can be a tool that can leverage equitable experiences for vulnerable groups of young people. Identified shared purposes become the mechanisms by which contemporary problems of educational equity are addressed. Consequently, the role of teacher-educators in providing supportive relationships and building learning environments that foster this shared purpose is perhaps more important now than ever before and cannot be overlooked.” – Conclusion, page 101

“Teacher positioning matters. When teachers change the way they position themselves in relation to students and content, they give students permission to exercise creativity, take more risks, and live and grow inside of their own skin a bit more. It fosters, in many ways, a kind of self-love that can only come from a person figuring out and then investing in what is important to them” – Conclusion, page 101

“At first glance, shared purpose seemed implicit in the collaboration of a team project, but I will admit that sometimes shared purpose is superficial. A student is not always going to be personally motivated or passionate about a particular project or challenge; sometimes that shared purpose is more about a grade or not letting your team down. But other times, shared purpose comes to life.” – Conclusion, page 102

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