23 November 2012

Hands on. Bring it on.

I spoke at my first conference last weekend. I can't believe I, who breaks out in cold sweats even at the thought of speaking to staff informally at school, agreed to do it.
But I did.
And I did it.
And it wasn't so bad either.

The conference was the Hands on Literacy Conference 2012 organised by the International Schools Libraries Network. My friend and I presented what we have experienced in our never-ending quest to
Title of the session I co-presented.
get learners reading. We addressed the three main areas that learners raised as pertinent to their reading - or lack thereof - choice, sharing and time, and shared initiatives that we have put in place that have been successful, such as literature circles, book trailers and Google Sites designed to create a whole reading immersion/experience.

My biggest worry - as ever - is that I am not really doing anything new. Partly of course this is true but I also think I forget that I do try out a lot of new stuff all the time and that not everyone has the tools, time or know how to do all that I have done. It was great to be able to talk to other teachers and share ideas and the session was really successful I think - based on feedback - and not half as nerve-wrecking as I had anticipated. Perhaps the fact that they were strangers without prevconceived ideas of me and who I am and what others think of me helped, as my reputation has preceded me a little lately and whilst good things are said, of which I am very appreciative, it has not always been a positive or beneficial situation.  The conference was enjoyable, interesting and demanding. I learned a lot from others and about myself. I made some great new contacts, shared some ideas that have worked for me in the hope they will for someone else, and gained loads of new knowledge and insight into where I need to go next.

The keynote speeches were incredible. Dr. Joyce Valenza's opening speech was a frenzy of ideas, some old but lots new, that made me excited about learning and the possibility that technology brings. It also reiterated the need to be responsible and informed digital citizens and to instill this in our learners and teach them to be multi-media literate. Judy O'Connell's closing speech was an eye-opener into where we go next. Again, this got me excited about the possibilities of where learning is going, but also quite frustrated that her referencing our need to address and use Web 3.0 tools is difficult when many havent mastered Web 2.0 tools yet. An issue that is in mind a lot at the moment. Her quote as follows, is the one that stands out most soundly from the whole conference:-
Judy O'Connell, Preparing our Students for Web 3.0 Technology
It resonates with a conversation I had with a PL mentor recently about the importance of life experience in enquiry-based learning, in being able to bring life-knowledge into the classroom to create a rounded full learning experience. I often bring in knowledge from my studies of law and psychology, from past teaching, travel, conferences, reading and research. I bring knowldege of other jobs I have had - ranging from hairdressing to accounting technician to HEFCE funding officer. I bring this collection of experience and knowledge to the table which helps me design and implement effective learning environments. Can all teachers bring this? Do they need to? Until yesterday, I had not considered the implication of this in a negative way, until my pastiche of an advertising campaign from the late 1990s was apparently too far in the past or too culturally bound up for people to remember. And it caused a little stir. An homage does not work when others don't recognise it.

I questioned my stance. Am I too 'tech', too 'media', too 'Western-cultural'? Does having a techie graphic design husband give me more specialised knowledge? Has my exposure to and teaching of the reading of different text types mean that I have a knowledge I assume is more widely known? More about this on Who wants to Learn Different?

The balance beween bringing experience and using our 'old' to create our 'new' is one that must be trodden carefully; a teacher needs to use what they know yet challenge themselves to learn more. Always learn more. We can all then have something to bring to the table.

Judy O'Connell, Preparing our Students for Web 3.0 Technology
I think one of the most insulting and upsetting statements I ever heard from a 'colleague' - and I use that term loosely for loathe at the implied association - was, "I don't want to learn anything new." It made - and still makes - me sick to my stomach.
We must step outside our comfort zones, we must build on what we have and do what we ask of our learners everyday. We must learn. We owe it to our learners.

We don't all have to be totally tech-savvy and all-singing, all-dancing but we do need to know what is out there. We need to know what they are doing, how they are doing it and what they might need in the future. Part of this means moving away from content-based curriculum, about the need to avoid teaching anything that can be answered by a Google search. It is about up-skilling and equipping our learners to deal with everything that is thrown at them. This means upskilling ourselves and being ready for everything that is thrown at us. I admit that I am a little nerdy when it comes to professional learning and find it nigh-on impossible to turn down a PL opportunity (hence I am drowning under a mountain of due assignments for three courses I am currently doing whilst in the process of applying for a Masters...) but I firmly and truly believe that we need to model life-long learning. The world is changing at an increasing rate (just watch Judy's slides to see just how quickly); more students will graduate in the next 30 years than have ever graduated to date. We have a responsibility to learn, so we can teach them the skills that will enable them to learn - for the rest of their lives.