I would like to start a discussion here centered around two quotes from Dr. Tim Tyson of Mabry Middle School. These quotes came from the closing keynote he presented at NECC 2007.

The effective educator in this age of hyper connectivity is the educator that collapses the distance between children and meaningful contribution.

Meaningfulness is the product of connectedness and sharing.

These quotes seem so simple. One might say "duh" after hearing them; however, why do educators as a breed (myself included) find it so difficult to provide opportunities for students to be able to make meaningful contributions?
What can we do on a practical level to provide students with opportunities to make meaningful contributions?
After all, that is what we all want in life. We all are striving to make meaning of our lives and find ways to make meaningful contributions.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tags: Dr. Tim Tyson, Necc2007, meaningfulness, pedagogy

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I was one of the unfortunate few not attending the conference and feel I missed a lot. However, I do wish to still comment on your ideas.

Why is it so difficult for us to make learning meaningful? We are given loads of curriculum requirements to cover and little time to cover it all. And if we don't find the curriculum content particularly meaningful, how do we make it so for our students?

I know for me, meaningful lessons come when time is not crunched or they come one subject at a time. In other words, I put energy into one topic, have students create, discuss, and make contributions, while other subjects get quick lessons to make more time for the "meaningful" one. I get crazed when these great ideas overlap and we have important work to accomplish in many subjects at once.

Technology certainly helps. Having a wider audience to converse with, maybe via blogging, can make simple ideas in class take on more meaning and envigorate the children who want to impress their audience. The struggle is to learn to use technology fast enough to have it make a difference.

Can you guess I am an elementary teacher who teaches every subject?
It's a nice quote - but really, it's not anything that's dependent on technology or connectivity. Montessori, Dewey, Reggio Emilia folks, and lots of others say the same thing.

The problem with this idea in school is the assessment part. If you are assessing products that children make, you are not looking at what made the work meaningful to that child. Your question is really important --if you want to provide students with opportunities to make meaningful contributions you have to honor the process, not the product. Authentic assessment works to this end. Shallow curriculum and standardized testing (as Lisa says) pulls away from this.

I also don't see why the definition of meaningfulness rests on "connectedness and sharing". Is a painter dependent on connectedness? Is a student's work better if we make them work with others? What about the kid with a singular idea who just needs time and support (not more cooks) to see it through. Would it be more meaningful if they did it themselves?

Maybe sharing (as in having an audience who cares) is important, but I have the feeling that the use of the term "connectedness" is conflating technology with the psychological aspect of being connected to other people in a caring way.

I feel sort of cynical by saying this, because it's obvious a nice quote with a heartfelt message. Kids of course should be doing things that are meaningful and somebody should care about them.
What do we mean by "meaningful contributions"?
To the world?
To their community?
To themselves?

I think part of the difficulty for us, as teachers, is trying to visual the possibilities for our students and then understand the educational underpinning of this new world. We can't do something just 'cause it is cool (lots of cool stuff out there). We need to be conscious of the fact that learning and growth is part of our mandate as responsible educators.

I would like to think that students can become contributors not only on the small scale of the classroom community but the larger community of the world and if Web 2.0 doesn't make that more possible than ever, than I don't know what will. Still, I think we are in the phase of trying to sort it all out and make this world meaningful to us and our students.

Great question, though.

Peace
Kevin
This discussion rocks! What great reflections. We should archive this under something like "philosophical underpinnings in the new age of teaching." May I quote all of you in some blogging I'm doing about educational reform?

Julia, thanks for setting up the forum!

Lisa, I couldn't get to the conference either, and wonder what I missed! Your quote, "I know for me, meaningful lessons come when time is not crunched or they come one subject at a time. In other words, I put energy into one topic, have students create, discuss, and make contributions..." is so perfect.


Sylvia, you named some great philosophers who make superb models for us in this day and age. And they're "oldsters"! Could you explain assessment some more? I, too, have strong feelings about assessment, and am struggling with the whole concept right now. I'd love to hear more about this: "f you are assessing products that children make, you are not looking at what made the work meaningful to that child. Your question is really important --if you want to provide students with opportunities to make meaningful contributions you have to honor the process, not the product. Authentic assessment works to this end." Tell us more about these ideas, ok?


Kevin: "learning and growth is part of our mandate," as you said, and discovering what this means with regard to the new technological tools is part of our current mission, it seems.
Wow, Connie, HUGE question. I feel completely inadequate to answer it. But when has that ever stopped me ;-)

Assessment is the way that someone judged what someone else does. Tests are only one way, and a fairly narrow way. A test slams a door closed on the subject matter, when what we want to do is open doors of opportunity. Authentic assessment is a two way street, where the assessment is happening in real time, in a way that informs the student so they can correct their mistakes or misconceptions, and continue their work. In a sense, it's just talking, asking questions, and guiding. The goal of authentic assessment is that everyone succeeds - and the assessment is part of that success. Think of that - all children succeed! Instead of a bell curve where half are expected to "fall below norm".

Sometimes people call it formative assessment, but that word seems to have been stolen by test prep companies who apply it (wrongly) to standardized tests done multiple times.

Computers could be a huge part of this, not because they make assessment more efficient, but because they expand the options of what a child can do to create knowledge. I really disagree with the current focus on "information" because this also diminishes the role of "doing". The information you can now more easily find is nothing until you let the student DO something meaningful with it.

One of the "oldsters" who I left out was Seymour Papert, who has a TON more to say on this subject. When you read his work from the 80's, it might well have been written yesterday...

"The role that the computer can play most strongly has little to do with information. It is to give children a greater sense of empowerment, of being able to do more than they could do before. But too often, I see the computer being used to lead the child step by step through the learning process. Ivan Illich said the most important thing you learn at school is that learning only happens by being taught. This is the opposite of empowerment. What you ought to be learning at school is that you don't need to be taught in order to learn. This is not to say that the teacher is not an important part of the learning process. That teacher is, of course, the most important person there. But recognizing the importance of the teacher is very different from reducing learning to the passive side of being taught. This is the fundamental cleavage between theories of education: empowerment of the individual versus instruction and being taught."
A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking About the School of the Fu... - 1987
Sylvia, your views about assessment are like a cool breeze across the desert. No kidding--fresh air, the right direction, hope, all that. Breathe! Thanks for taking the time to share these thoughts.

You wrote,
"Assessment is the way that someone judged what someone else does. Tests are only one way, and a fairly narrow way. A test slams a door closed on the subject matter, when what we want to do is open doors of opportunity. Authentic assessment is a two way street, where the assessment is happening in real time, in a way that informs the student so they can correct their mistakes or misconceptions, and continue their work. In a sense, it's just talking, asking questions, and guiding. The goal of authentic assessment is that everyone succeeds - and the assessment is part of that success."

That should form some central philosophical underpinning for CR2.0, and new age teaching and learning. One more thing: I think this is just as true of teacher evaluation, do you?
Sylvia and Connie,
We actually had an interesting situation arise in class this year. We completed a rousing unit on the Constitution...great dialogues, interesting points being made, etc. We decide to test the students to see what they learned, feeling confident that, with the discussions going on in class, there was no way the children could fail. Imagine our surprise when all but two students failed the test on the Constitution. Failed...not did poorly...but actually failed! Never in all my years of teaching had this happened. What went wrong? They seemed to know the material.

So we gave them three weeks...weeks we didn't have to give. We designed a rubric that would cover everything we wanted them to demonstrate knowledge in. We worked on it together then told them they had three weeks to show their stuff.

What we got was amazing. Students did PowerPoints and SmartBoard presentations, plays, poems, research reports, animated stories, etc. showing all the information we included in the rubric (which was also on the test). They did all the work in school so we know no parents were helping. And they had to present their work and answer questions about the material during the presentation.

And, voila, they were successful...very successful. They knew the material...just as we believed. They just couldn't demonstrate their knowledge in the "typical school" manner. What they presented demonstrated knowledge far beyond our expectations for fifth grade understanding of the Constitution. And they LOVED doing the work.

Next year, authentic assessments will be the norm in the classroom instead of just once in awhile. And their participation during class lessons, be it through blogging, discussions, revisions in a wiki, whatever, will be part of the final grade. Tests just don't cut it for most students.
Lisa,
Wow...very illuminating, very inspirational. You have found a form of assessment that really works. Let's keep in touch over the school year to brainstorm ideas for authentic assessment on various studies we have going on. Thanks for sharing this story!
The hard part is the planning. Many of my authentic assessments have come sort of on the spur of the moment. Children suggest projects to work on or an idea arises in the course of the unit. Usually when I plan them, they're not quite as exciting to the kids. I guess that makes sense...if it's their idea, they want to do it.
Yes, and also, stuff comes up that as teachers we know would be better---go "off course" to follow the kids' interests! It's hard to think though ahead of time what should be assessed.
This ties in so well with the branching off of this discussion onto the forum:

Making of Meaning; considering assessment
http://classroom20.ning.com/forum/topic/show?id=649749%3ATopic%3A32056

And the question goes on: isn't authentic assessment really just living life with a healthy attitude about learning? I mean, if something is not working out, work on getting better. If something is going really well, celebrate! In any case, what it needed is "authentic feedback," a context for the expression.

Isn't it fun to have these talks? I find the collegiality at CR2.0 so meaningful! Thanks for all the thoughts, thanks a million times!
Hi,

I just did a project in my grad school class about engageing students in their own learning process through student self assessment. This appraoch is often included as part of formative assessment, but basically entails including the student in the evaluaton process through collaborative rubric designing, goal setting, ongoing feedback, and encouraging self reflection.

Many of the examples I read had students keep a journal and/or portfolio where they kept all of their work and feedback. In addition, students were asked to write personal reflections about their own weaknesses, strenghts, and ways to improve. Teachers found that developing these metacognitive skills encouraged students to take ownership of their work and learning.

I think this could tie in with technology by having students write reflective blogs - sort of an on-line journal. All of thier submissions would be centralized in one place, and they can look back and reflect on the progress they have made.
HI Corky,
As you know, I think student self-evaluations are very important; they're powerful tools for learning. I like the ideas you present: writing personal reflections, keeping journals and portfolios, and setting personal goals.

This phrase you wrote rings very true to me:
Teachers found that developing these metacognitive skills encouraged students to take ownership of their work and learning.
I guess when students get a chance to be in the driver's seat, perspective shifts, and we arrive at more meaningfulness and authenticity!

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