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Marrying Constructivism & Instructional Design

Overview:

Carr-Chellman (2010) describes both constructivism and behaviourism as “beliefs about how people learn” rather than as learning theories (p.2).  Due to the conflicting nature of these beliefs or learning theories, Carr-Chellman offers in this chapter, a means by which to integrate constructivist principles into the ID4T model.  Carr-Chellman offers solutions to the potential conflicts between the goal and results orientated behaviorist approach of ID4T and the learner-centred views of constructivism.

Critique:

The shift in education due to digitally connected classrooms has led to a call for the integration of constructivist principles into instructional design models.  This shift towards creating participatory, digital learning is the difficult but essential work of teachers. The Alberta Education (2013) Learning and Technology Policy Framework (LTPF) requires of all teachers to “use technology and research to design personalized, authentic and student-centred learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs and interests of all students” (Alberta. Ministry of Education, p. 30).  This connected approach and philosophy to learning and teaching requires personalization, a shift with far reaching implications for instructional design. In a constructivist approach, the teacher moves from the content knowledge expert who supplies information to students to the “role of a learning expert” (Starkey, 2010, p.241).  In order to make these shifts to constructivism within the ID4T model, a teacher is required to be responsive using Branch’s (2009) ADDIE approach to constantly analyze the learner and the context  in order to be able to create the plan for learning materials, activities, technology and authentic assessment required to meet the learning goal.  As Branch describes, this approach to instructional design is both behaviorists and constructivist in nature where “intentional learning should be student centered, innovative, authentic, and inspirational” (Branch, 2009, p.2).   Jacobsen (2015) makes the distinction that although the theoretical framework of constructivism is learner-centered, the role of the teacher as designer in essential.  “The most powerful thing teachers do to engage students is to design engaging, meaningful, and authentic work and technology-enhanced learning experiences. In other words, teaching matters.”

The role of instructional design is necessary in order to create, implement and assess learning outcomes. But, this is not done through better instruction alone, instead through combining instructional design methods with constructivist principles, “teachers who design for peer collaboration and individual reflection on learning cultivate stronger learning outcomes” (Jacobsen, 2015).  Alignment to curriculum objects is key when using the constructivist notion of authentic assessment in order to ensure that learner outcomes and objectives are being demonstrated. In a learner-centered constructivist approach, learning goals would be set “in collaboration with your learners” but the teacher is ultimately responsible for ensuring that designing learning that aligns with (CBC) curricular objectives (Carr-Chellman, 2010, p. 4).  In a constructivist approach to ID4T, students would start their learning at individual entry point based on their prior learning assessment. Before any instructional model or learning experience could be designed, the teacher would first analyze where each student is entering the learning, assessing their context, experience and understanding (p. 5).

An area of potential conflict between ID4T and constructivism as identified by Carr-Chellman is in the selection of learning resources (texts, media).  In most instructional design models, the teacher is as the designer of learning chooses the appropriate learning resources and experiences to reach the behavioral objectives and performance outcomes prior to beginning the instructional unit.  In a constructivist classroom, texts “can be more broadly defined” and used to support authentic tasks and problem-solving (p.5). In this way, an exhaustive list of resources and experiences would be very difficult to define prior to engaging in the authentic task and would need to be designed in collaboration with the learners. One bridge for implementation that Carr-Chellman offers between behaviorism and constructivism is through the use of scaffolding. Carr-Chellman believes that “scaffolding can allow a bit more of a traditional tinge to the classroom experience” (p.4).  Jacobsen takes the notion of scaffolding one step further where nothing in the instructional design is left to chance. “Strong discipline-based inquiry work exhibits a number of very discernible characteristics, including academic rigour, authenticity, assessment that is deliberately woven into the work, digital technology that is used in purposeful and authentic ways, connections with experts beyond the school, constructivist approaches to learning, and relevance beyond the classroom.”  Due to the iterative nature of a constructivist classroom explicit examples for implementation are difficult to produce.  Carr-Chellman stresses that constructivist learning design is very interpretive in nature as it depends on the learner and the context and therefore is difficult to use a specific example as a guide to implementation (p.6).

Final Question:

What considerations are required of teachers in order to adopt a constructivist approach to the ID4T model in order to ensure that learning is as both Branch (2009) and Jacobsen (2015) describes: deliberate, rigorous, purposeful, authentic, innovative, relevant and inspirational?

Reference:

Alberta. Ministry of Education. (2013). Learning and technology policy framework 2013. Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/7792655/learning-and-technology-policy-framework-web.pdf

Branch, R. M. (2009). Instructional Design: The ADDIE approach Springer Science and Business Media. (Vol. 722).

Carr-Chellman, A. (2010). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice. Florence, KY: Routledge.

Jacobsen, M. (2015). Teaching in a Participatory Digital World. Education Canada. 55(3).  Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/teaching-participatory-digital-world.

Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244. doi:10.1080/13540600903478433

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Tenure – A tenuous topic

Last night I had the honour of accompanying my husband to the Long Service Recognition Dinner put on by the Board of Governors at his private school.  This night was of special interest to me because not only would my husband be recognized for his 11 years of service, but this would mark my “tenure.”  That is if I had stayed.

The year I was hired, 2002, there were ten new hires.  Our private school had a mandatory, intensive new staff training program.  The new hires spent a week together learning about the organization, its history and pedagogical philosophy.  The training was fantastic.  The hires were young, smart, keen, talented, and brought with them a diverse range of teaching experience. We had everything going for us and last night, we were recognized for 10 years of service.

The problem:  Of the 10 original hires, only one remained.  Not me.   And I couldn’t help but wonder, what were we recognizing?  What is significant about staying in one place?  Why is loyaly recognized over and above excellence? And what about the others, like myself who have moved on?  Should we not be recognized for our accomplishments as well?  Those of us who left undoubtedly took a risk to walk out the door.  Hopefully, we all did so to pursue a passion, to move our teaching forward, to learn and grow personally and professionally.  Some of us are raising children at home, others are teaching in different schools, some in new and exciting roles and yes, others have left the teaching profession altogether.  It has always bothered me that we as teachers label our colleagues who move out of teaching into other careers, as burnt out.  Would we say the same of someone who moved from selling real estate to mortgage broker and then later investment banking? Is this person burnt out or simply moving forward as a professional in ways that challenge them and bring fulfillment?

The other day I was reading Chris Smeaton’s post, “Do we want great school?”  which made me think (as his posts always do). What does it take for a school to be great?

Greatness also requires us to take a significant leap from our current paradigm. We need to understand that although our current schools are “good” we will never elevate to greatness following the same path. Collins suggests that as little as a 20% change (need to ensure the “right” 20%) will assists us in getting out of our comfort zone and move us toward greatness. Simply put, we can no longer exist as we are and reach that pinnacle.

My previous school certainly had every opportunity to be great.  And there were certainly moments of greatness over the past 10 years.   Undoubtedly,  the teachers who were recognized last night are excellent educators who have done great things for students.  The combined experience and organizational knowledge that a long-service teacher provides a school can be invaluable.  These teachers have been required to read books like, “Good to Great” and “Danger in the Comfort Zone.”   They clearly understood that they were not allowed to “get too comfortable” in their teaching.  Yet, all of the administrators at the school had been in their roles over 20 years.  What dangers have they experienced in the comfort of their leadership positions?  What innovative ideas were brought to the school through new leaders and diverse perspectives?  The safety and danger for any school  administration staying the same for over 20 years is that the leaders are rarely asked to risk and are seldom challenged in their thinking about education, students and the future.

For me, I hope to never be recognized for long service alone.  My hope is for a career defined by positive risk taking, strong work ethic, life-long learning and a commitment to do what is best for students.  First, last, and always.  If that means I never stay in the same place for 10 years,  so be it.  Tonight I will throw my own, Shorter Service but Hopefully No Less Significant party.  Join me?

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Hydrangeas and other Sensitive Species

Why I love hydrangeas: They don’t flourish everywhere. They are sensitive. They are delicate.  They change colour dependent on the acidity of their environment. They are beautiful.  Many people wish to grow them. Very few people can keep them alive.

What do hydrangeas have to do with teaching? With learning?

We all are attracted to those things; plants, animals, and in particular people that are special and vulnerable yet attractive and beautiful. We all want to be able to grow a hydrangea, conquer that unconquerable goal, and help the most challenging student to learn.

What makes another person attractive to us?

More importantly, what is the purpose of being attracted to others?   Many of us have “magnet moments” were we are drawn to another person whether it be same-sex or opposite.  Often people we have never met before.  Why? Many philosophers believe that there are no coincidences, simply opportunities to connect and learn from others that are often missed.

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner. The concept of synchronicity was first described in this terminology by Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychologist, in the 1920s. – It was a principle that Jung felt gave conclusive evidence for his concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious, in that it was descriptive of a governing dynamic that underlies the whole of human experience and history — social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Concurrent events that first appear to be coincidental but later turn out to be causally related are termed incoincident.- Wikipedia

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
Albert Einstein, The World as I See It

“I don’t think that anything happens by coincidence… No one is here by accident… Everyone who crosses our path has a message for us. Otherwise they would have taken another path, or left earlier or later. The fact that these people are here means that they are here for some reason”…”
James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy: A Pocket Guide to the Nine Insights

“We know that attention acts as a lightning rod. Merely by concentrating on something one causes endless analogies to collect around it, even penetrate the boundaries of the subject itself: an experience that we call coincidence, serendipity – the terminology is extensive. My experience has been that in these circular travels what is really significant surrounds a central absence, an absence that, paradoxically, is the text being written or to be written.”
Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

“We often dream about people from whom we receive a letter by the next post. I have ascertained on several occasions that at the moment when the dream occurred the letter was already lying in the post-office of the addressee.”
C.G. Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle

Therefore if Jung is correct and nothing is a coincidence, how can we relate synchronicity to our experiences teaching and learning?

As educators, we must remember that the students that come to our classrooms each year are not a coincidence either. We have drawn them to us for a magnitude of reasons. If we were not destined to learn from each other, these students would have wound up in someone else’s homeroom. Therefore, we must take these most sensitive of “hydrangeas” under our wing, those students who are special and vulnerable. Those students that we find the most frustrating, the most challenging. We must learn from them too.  In fact, it is from these hydrangea-like students that we have the most to learn.  It was synchronicity that brought them to us and us to them. If we applied this theory to every person that crossed our path, if we remembered that they were there for a purpose to teach us something about ourselves, how would that change the way we interact?

My sister has a saying that even in our most frustrating moments, “god is in fact there too.”  god (by whatever or whichever name you call it) is everywhere drawing us like magnets to those people we have the most to learn from.

My attempts at growing hydrangeas and teaching complex students have taught me a great deal about frustration and patience, about risk and reward.  People have told me year after year that hydrangeas can’t grow in Calgary, that they will not survive our harsh environment.  Just like we are often told that certain students can’t and won’t learn.  In the face of these assertions, we have to be relentless.  I currently have two hydrangeas growing in my garden. They aren’t thriving yet, but they have survived…and I am vaguely confident that the longer I watch and listen and learn, the more likely they will be to grow and flourish.  Sound like any of the students in your class?

Until then, I will cherish their sensitivity and admire how they change and grow to reflect the conditions that surround them. Hydrangeas are symbols of love, gratitude and enlightenment. I guess it’s not a coincidence that, for me, they too are magnets.

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Platypuses – Aligning Innovation with Pedagogy

In our last Innovation, Research and Learning Resource Development Meeting (yes, we have a group by that lofty name) we discussed platypuses.  The platypus was our principal’s  analogy between new pedagogical ideas in education and the British naturalist of the 1800s.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, we (I) were jammed up by trying to figure out how project based learning relates to UDL.

This is a good thing, and started me thinking about how we try to process new ideas or try to integrate old ideas into what we do at ADLC.

We are like the British naturalist in the 1830’s. The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge would send people to the far reaches of the globe and they would bring back specimens of flora and fauna, many of which were “unknown” to science.

A platypus was dropped on desk in London in 1835.

Everyone gathered around said, “What the hell is that?”

We are exploring new world and bringing new ideas back to our desks every day.

I think we may need to be more thoughtful about how we do this.When we come across a new idea, here are the types of questions we need to ask ourselves and put some effort into answering as we introduce the idea for discussion:

  • What is our personal understanding of the idea?
  • Why is idea important?
  • How does the idea relate to the larger frameworks that we frequently reference?
  • How would the idea help us improve/change in a positive way
  • What further research does the idea require?

We need to start making our implicit thinking explicit so we can uncover our core beliefs about teaching and learning.

If we can better understand that, we will be able to better judge each new idea and innovation against what we believe and act on the ones that will have the most value to our students. – Jason Wiks (Associate Principal of Research, Innovation and Learning Resource Development ADLC)

Today,  I am reading and thinking and writing.  I have come to realize it takes more than simply reading and tweeting  to really understand how a pedagogy fits within an institution’s goals and vision for the future.  Nor do we serve our students but simply moving from one pedagogy to the next with no reflection on how they fit with current practice.  Having worked for a good school that jumped from one edu-bandwagon to another, I see the need to investigate pedagogy and ask ourselves how they fit (or don’t fit) with our organizational beliefs and goals.  Just because something is a “good” idea doesn’t mean it is right for us, right now.

Our first goal at ADLC is “success for every student.”  Every innovation and pedagogical shift must be run through this filter.  How will it improve outcomes for our students?  Are the resourcesrequired worthwhile in terms of return on investment?  And being that the investment is our students’ future…I think it is a question requiring daily reflection, how about you?

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