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Day 2: The Learning Continues at ASCD 2012

March 26, 2012

Well, I thought I would start my morning out thinking about whether I could do a strand throughout the day on project-based learning (PBL).  Through my work at the Center for Teaching, we are bringing the Buck Institute to Drew Charter School from May 30-June 1 to participate in their 3-day training session on PBL.  Drew, a K-8 charter school, is going to make a commitment to implementation of project-based learning.  As their new high school, Drew Senior Academy, will be founded under a PBL model, we want to be sure students have a good grounding in the process during their middle school years.

My first session began with Andrew Miller (Edutopia blog and Miller on Twitter), an educational consultant based out of Seattle, WA.  Andrew works with the Buck Institute and Edutopia, writing, blogging, and leading workshops on PBL.  His session, Project-Based Learning Online: Aligning the Essential Outcomes, was well delivered and very informative.  Andrew took us through the PBL framework (The Cycle of Inquiry in PBL).  He focused a fair amount of attention on how he implements PBL online.  In the context of his presentation, he pointed out that a great deal of online learning is really just another way of delivering content in a tedious way, but just with technology.  His feeling is that if online learning is going to transform how we teach, he needs to be more rigorous in offering the learner a new way to interact with ideas.  He clearly believes that PBL can deliver an online learning experience that is more interesting and able to engage the learner.  Andrew connected well with his audience and left us with many PBL resources and ideas for consideration.

I then made my way through the long and never-ending corridor to the general session with Dr. Atul Gawande who would speak to us about how to move our work from being good to great.  Dr. Atul is a surgeon, writer, educator, and coach to many.  He has recently written a NY Times Bestseller, The Checklist Manifesto, an exploration for how to innovate practices in medicine and hospital to improve surgical procedures and patient safety.  Dr. Gawande did an amazing job of hooking his audience into a series of stories that portrayed his vision for how professionals, like doctors and educators, could move their practice from being good to being great.  He sees many similarities between doctors and educators, our challenges and opportunities to impact the lives of people through our practice.  Through a story about a cystic fibrosis patient and his doctor, he talked about how the personal connection between doctor and patient was the way this doctor helped his patient take control of his disease.  Looking at great athletes, artists and musicians, he noticed that many of them have coaches throughout their careers, even the very best.  When you’re immersed in your work, it is hard to see yourself and evaluate your performance.  A coach can help them see their mistakes and give them suggestions for how to improve next time.  Sean Foley is helping Tiger Woods, one of the best golfers of all time, redefine his golf game.  Dr. Gawande has taken on a coach to help him see how to improve his surgical techniques and practice.  His point is that all doctors and educators could benefit from having a coach, investing in someone who could help move our work from good to great.  Finally, he promoted three values that he believes people who want to improve their performance must have: humility, discipline, and the ability to work collaboratively with others.  He inspired us all and received a standing ovation.  See my Storify summary of Twitter feeds during the talk.

In my third session, I wanted to hear from Carol Ann Tomlinson on the differences between learning styles and learning profile.  With all the chatter about how educators are misusing the concept of learning styles in their work with students, I wanted to understand this more.  There seems to be no better person to tell is how it is than Carol Ann Tomlinson.  Dr. Tomlinson is an excellent presenter.  She approaches a talk in a highly organized, interesting, and thought-provoking manner.  This was no exception.  We learned that there is a difference between learning styles and learning profile.  Learning style is just 1/4 of the learning profile umbrella.  The other three components within the learning profile umbrella are gender, culture, and intelligence preference.  She demonstrated how the research was very clear that a child’s learning profile is something real and worthy of understanding.  There is little debate about the impact of gender, culture, and intelligence preference on a child’s way of knowing.  The research is a little more fuzzy on the impact of learning style.  Much of the criticism comes from psychologists, neuroscientists, and sociologists who believe that educators have misused many of the tools that are linked to the learning style movement.  Dr. Tomlinson presented a very clear and balanced view of the criticism, its flaws and merits.  She left us with a good understanding that we (educators) need to do a better job of using the learning styles tools more carefully when trying to understand our learners.  In conclusion, she showed a slide of the SHOULD DOs and SHOULDN’T DOs and explained it from a personal perspective. It worked as a technique.  See my Storify summary of her talk.

Finally, I went to a session with Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey called, The Purposeful Classroom.  They have co-authored a book with the same title that was published by ASCD.  It was a very engaging presentation on why we have to build lessons that are purposeful, that engage the learner, and that help the learner understand the goals we hope to accomplish.  They showed some interesting videos of students who were asked by their principal what they were learning today.  There were a group of students who could not articulate what they were learning or why they were learning it.  While another group of students were capable of sharing their ideas.  The authors believe that when students are engaged in purposeful activities that have meaning, and activities and assignments are clearly linked to the purpose, then educators can reliably check for understanding and determine whether their learning goals were understood.  Otherwise, we cannot be sure that students are learning or that they care about their learning.  I found their ideas to be worthy of implementation.  Probably a good book for educators to read and reflect on.

It was a very productive day at ASCD 2012.

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