Social Professional Learning? The Story of #ITEC14

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Iowa and present at the Iowa Technology & Education Connection fall conference. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and connect with so many inspiring educators over the course of just a few days. Upon arriving in Iowa, I discovered that a weekly twitter chat that I participate in (#iaedchat) would be broadcasting live from Des Moines. Twitter has completely changed how I view and approach professional development, and also the idea of ‘knowing someone.’ Although I had never met or spoken to anyone on the #iaedchat team, they are a group of people that I consider to be friends and colleagues. After learning and sharing with one another virtually over the past year, it was so exciting to be in this space where these teachers and administrators gather weekly to discuss and pose questions to all the rest of us across the country. Although they will all say that the smartest person in the room is the room, the energy in that space that evening was contagious; confirming the passion that these people have for what they do every day, working with kids.

Over the next two days, the conference unfolded. The two keynote speakers were Adam Bellow, Founder and President of eduTecher and eduClipper and ISTE emerging leader, and Peter Reynolds, NY Times best-selling author and illustrator. Adam and Peter each presented inspiring messages about technology, education, and creativity. I particularly like how Adam emphasized ‘living a life in beta’ and that we live and teach in an amazing time where technology can help us create amazing things. Yet, education seems to be at a crossroads with a dichotomy emerging between the maker movement and standardized testing/CCSS conversations.

I then had the opportunity to attend break out sessions on a variety of topics. These included ‘Speedgeeking’ with tech tools, Connecting the Dots, Lessons from Entrepreneurs, Let Kids Be Amazing, and Mirrors & Windows for e-portfolios. I also led a presentation on Re-imagining Libraries. I loved the energy that all of the presenters and panelists brought to their sessions, and was so excited to meet many of the educators and administrators I’ve learned so much from over the past year, like Shannon Miller and Adam Bellow pictured. I think of them not only as mentors but friends, who I am very grateful to have been able to meet in person.

A common theme that emerged across many of them was the idea of how connecting with others ignites passions. This reminded me of the 4 lenses we’ve been discussing for student learning, and how they are applicable to professional learning too. In each setting, presentations were language-based, and meaning centered, and human, though the social learning piece is most interesting to me. While there was not much, if any, social learning/talking during presentations/sessions, some of the best learning took place either in the hallways between sessions or on Twitter via the conference hashtag (#itec14). This idea of social professional learning seems quite powerful, at least in the context of ITEC, yet typically lacks more formal acceptance. I wonder: What it might take for this type of learning to become more established? How might we spread the idea of sharing shamelessly with others, particularly in the field of education?

Transacting with Text: The Bridge Between Reading & Writing?

I loved all of the different strategies that were presented during this week’s class. I could definitely see applications of all of them to different content areas as well as within library instruction. I have used variations of the ‘Somebody Wanted But So’ strategy in the past and am interested in trying another version of it and/or similar graphic organizers with my students. I really loved the Fact or Fiction idea and could see this strategy being applied to different genres, library/research skills. It also seems like a great way to potentially connect older and younger students by having one group create topics/questions/statements etc for the other or later going back and ‘fact-checking’ the work of another group.

In thinking about our readings, the overarching idea of transacting with text is one that I find to be particularly interesting. It seems as though it could be a bridge between the processes of reading and writing. In thinking about how I interact with a text as a learner, I can see many parallels between marking up a text and composing one. I love the emphasis on writing as a process that should be meaningful and necessary for students. The idea of learning to compose for different purposes and to select the processes most appropriate for these purposes (p 47) is one that I think lends itself well to what we could be doing in library.

This idea of composing texts with specific audiences and/or purposes in mind is one that, at the elementary level, is not explicitly addressed on a consistent basis. Last year, my 5th grade students worked through the research process with a topic and question of their choosing. They then had the choice of creating either a presentation or website with their information. Though we spent a lot of time learning the technical skills behind these tools, the project did allow for conversations about audience. The student who had looked at different designs of sneakers decided to present his information in the form of an advertisement, explaining the design choices behind a popular shoe. Another student decided to create a website all about ballet for kids and began to think about her audience as she was selecting video clips to add to her site. In shifting from transacting to composing texts, I wonder what role technology plays? Are technology skills similar to grammar? At what point do they shift from being a necessary foundation to an integrate skill within a larger process?

Weird Stuff in the Lost & Found: Composing & Transacting With Text

What stood out to me most from this week’s readings and class #2 is this idea of interacting with a text to co-construct its meaning. I like how our text identified a shift in how we bring readers and texts together. “Students learn to read and read to learn at the same time. From the beginning then, reading is about making sense of the world” (p. 17). The idea of viewing reading as a dynamic spiral instead of sequential process is such an interesting shift in perspective. Working with all students (K-5) at the elementary level, I tend to prefer upper elementary grades. Yet, when thinking about how this idea of transacting with text, the lesson that first came to mind involves some of my younger students.

The piece of our reading about co-constructing the creative arts, particularly poetry, reminded me of one of the projects we worked on last year as part of Poetry month in April. A librarian friend, Shannon Miller, from Iowa and I were brainstorming ways to involve our younger students in the poetry fun. We decided to connect a group of my first grade students with Shannon’s kindergarteners through Google Hangouts. Shannon and I read a few poems for two voices from Messing Around on the Monkey Bars by Betsy Franco. The students loved listening to ‘Weird Stuff in the Lost & Found.’ Shannon & I thought that this would be a great poem for us to re-create with our students’ voices. We took turns typing their ideas into a Google Doc that both schools could see/edit at the same time. Each student had the opportunity to add a line to our poem. We all then read our finished poem together. Click HERE to read a copy! For more information, Shannon wrote a blog post about our connection. You’ll find it here: http://vanmeterlibraryvoice.blogspot.com/2014/04/creating-collaborative-poem-800-miles.html

In applying the lenses of learning to this experience, it seems to reflect all four. It was meaning-centered, pulling from their background knowledge of the lost and found as well as social in that there was authentic conversation happening not only among my first graders but also between them and our friends in Iowa. The language-based lens involves our purposeful use of language in building our poem, as well as the human lens that allowed students to hear different opinions and ideas. I also think this blends well with the idea that “as students become more familiar with a poem and hear the teacher using alternative interpretations, students will be better prepared to suggest alternative readings” (p 32). This was the case as our students worked with the pattern of the original poem when creating their version, and formed a piece of their transaction with the text.

More recently, I’ve used the ‘Most Important’ summarizing framework, from last week’s class, in a lesson with first grade students. We’re just wrapping up an author study of Peter Reynolds. After reading one of his books each week, we re-read one together, this time with the purpose of pulling out the main idea/most important part, and modeling the framework. Students then worked in groups of 4-5 to create their own poem based on one of the other books we’ve read. They worked really well together deciding on which words/ideas to include using some of the collaboration techniques we’ve also been trying. I’d love to extend what they’ve created on chart paper into some sort of digital project, but am still looking for the right tool/format.