Thursday, September 30, 2004

Session 2 reading: comments

I wouldn't want September to slip away without making a couple of comments on last week's readings.

Developmental Pathways (p. 32) gives us a very clear and simple overview of 7 different ways to develop, the variations within, how they influence each other, and how they are influenced by social and cultural contexts. Wow! Just think of all the things a teacher must reflect on and think into account in class concerning 20 some students. It's time to ask: How does a teacher find time to teach what she "has to" teach?

No wonder a teacher currently faces a much bigger task! We are everything: psychologists, social workers, judges, doctors, friends, "parents"... and finally, teachers! Doesn't this make teaching much more challenging and fascinating? Though often at the risk of not really knowing how to re/act due to lack of preparation? I feel this quite often. I've had to teach a class of students with a mild degree of learning disabilities together with smart kids but up to their heads in behavioral problems. Most of the school year, my colleagues and I just felt like banging our heads on the wall for not knowing "how to" cope, because we had never been prepared for these sort of contexts!

These developmental stages and pathways, closely related to our multiple intelligences, demand much more of both the teacher and the student, because both parties are faced with a much bigger load. On the one hand, the teacher has to deal with an evergrowing variety of strategies, and then choose the most appropriate one/s for each teaching situation. On the other hand, the student has to quickly grasp the strategy and adapt as best as she can to it, even if it doesn't match her predominant intelligence.

If you don't agree regarding the teacher, go back and read the first paragraph under Developmentally Appropriate Teaching (p. 34). We must be superpeople!!!

Someone in a message mentioned liking Vygotsky's theory (p. 34-35) of social learning and zone of proximal development (ZPD): "the diference between what a child can do on his own and what he can do with some assistance". Or socially-mediated learning! I love it and more so since joining the Webheads in Action, because that's where I have "really" felt the truth of his theory, as well as proof that it is so. What so many of us achieved in a short time. Daf was teaching a course online in 3-4 months. Doris is another great example of ZPD: what she's achieved with a "lending hand"/assistance from BaW in a matter of months!

"Teachers can assist students in advancing within the ZPD by setting tasks that build on and go slightly beyond what they know..." (p. 35, par. 2). I do this all the time and believe that we all should. Many students appreciate it and take advantage of it. They like to be pushed that extra bit (or mile!) and not be treated as "mentally disabled" (an expression I use when trying to convince colleagues to go beyond what is in the books).

I also liked the references to the importance of the environment surrounding students. I firmly believe that most of the behavioral problems we've had at school for quite some time have their roots in the family. Kids are more and more on their own for most of the day with little or no support from the family. When hearing about some of their backgrounds and family history, I often wonder why they aren't even worse! And I don't know what would happen to many of them if it weren't for the often fabulous support they get at school.

The week 2 reading tied in with what I said in my previous post: As knowledge evolves, teaching is becoming an evermore demanding and challenging job.

I'll stop here. BTW, I still haven't watched the video! Shame on me! :-(

Saturday, September 18, 2004

What I said in session 1

Trying to reconstruct what I said yesterday evening. (Message sent to the English Workshop list.)

Hi, everyone!

Towards the end of session 1, I read part of the last paragraph on p. 15 of the readings, because I feel it gives a great overview of how I see teaching today.

"Today teachers utilize a variety of practices that are based on all of these ideas about learning... experience and reflection... reinforcemnet and practice... cognitive intent, effort, and reasoning... developmental stages... social interaction and the structuring of experiences... culture and other influences on experience... content... In large part because of differences in underlying views of the purposes of education, debates continue about "best" teaching practices. Effective teachers understand that different strategies are useful for different kinds of learning. It is most productive to think of these issues in terms of what kind of learning is sought in what contexts and then deliberate about what strategies may be most appropriate for those goals."

I didn't read the last two sentences to avoid boring you, but I think they are an important part of my view of things.

We all know from experience that there are no recipes in teaching. We need to observe the students all the time, see how they react and make timely adjustments to the plan, if necessary. We need to be flexible! We often also need to improvise: put a plan aside and deal instead with a problem that is upsetting that group of human beings we have in front of us, who have feelings that have to be respected and worries that should be dealt with (sooner rather than later). Those human beings - our students - also have different ways of learning and reacting to things, which have to be taken into consideration and catered to as best as possible.

That's why I feel I'm very lucky to be teaching at a time when I can and must "utilize a variety of practices" that are available and which, hopefully, will make my teaching more motivating and effective for my students. These practices also include using this fabulous online world with all the different communication and information tools, many of which we have all been using on a daily basis for some time now.

In my opinion, this abundant mixture of practices and strategies is part of what makes teaching so much more challenging today than it was almost 30 years ago when I started out (a time when structuralism was the "in" or "buzz" word!!!). In turn, those practices lead us to constant choices, which make teaching so much more demanding.

This is certainly a fascinating and motivating time to be a teacher and a student! Especially a student who has teachers such as us, who are enthusiasts of these new means and tools, learn how to use them (at their own will and in their own free time) and put them to the best use they know for their students!

I think this was more or less what I said (a little expanded here and there) yesterday evening (my time). Now it's your turn to carry on, if you so wish. :-)

Have a nice Sunday!


Session 1 comments

Here's my reply to Karen's message on yesterday's opening session of The Learning Classroom course. It reflects part of my thoughts. More later!

Hi, Karen and all other English Workshoppers! ;-)

I enjoyed yesterday's session and all the food for thought that came out of it. Writing suggestions on the whiteboard was a fun and dynamic activity, as were the comments in the chat area mixed with the voice comments (or vice-versa! Reminds of the theory-practice discussion yesterday and the chicken-egg comparison). Too bad the voice comments were lost. I strongly suggest that we try and have these sessions recorded. I hope that Jonathan F., or whoever decides that, allows it.

I also think that there are a few details to sort out about session management, but I'm sure Doris will take care of that. I think we'll miss out on a lot if we don't get the chance to interact with our Venezuelan friends. If LT doesn't work for everyone, let's try YM. However, I believe that being/staying in the same environment simplififes things, especially in terms of recording the session. And the whiteboard at LT is a fabulous tool. My two euro cents!!! ;-)

BTW, I think that I more or less remember what I said towards the end of the session, though it was spontaneous. The only thing I looked for at a certain point in the conversation was the paragraph I wanted to refer to from the readings, because it really caught my attention.

I'll try and write about that later today or early tomorrow, so that we can continue the interaction. Thanks for all the interest you showed in what I said!

At the moment, I'm at odds with a presentation for Sep. 27 and need to finish it a.s.a.p. so that I can get on with other things. Priorities!

Congrats, Doris! Way to go! Will we have feedback of what you all discussed f2f? Hope so.

See you all later!


Friday, September 17, 2004

Pre-session comments

I decided to join Doris' workshop for two main reasons: I've admired her enthusiasm and effort in attracting colleagues in her area into this fascinating world of ICTs ever since she joined the "Becoming a Webhead" workshop; and I felt motivated by the syllabus of The Learning Classroom course. Besides, I was also going to mix business with great pleasure, because several Webheads were going to join the course.

Though I've been teaching for over 28 years, I still have a lot to learn about teaching, and this is as good a time as any. Well, maybe not the best time now that Fernanda Rodrigues told me about another workshop, "Facilitating learning projects in communities of practice", that will run for 6 weeks starting the end of September. The truth is that I'm in a great dilema. I don't know if I can take two workshops simultaneously! I'll give myself the weekend to think things over.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to this experience!

Congrats, Doris, on taking this challenge! Keep on shining! I love that expression of yours! It always reminds me of "keep on smiling!" and it makes me feel good. :-))