Climbing the steep hill of unlearning, #iste12 take away from #isteunlearn.

So far I have 6 different post-ISTE blogs started and still can’t seem to get anywhere! ISTE12 was my first; I was both under and overwhelmed. I took notes, I took notes of notes, favorited tweets, tweeted my hands off, networked round the clock, but I have not been able to make meaning of it (the underwhelmed part) …yet.

Slowly, slowly, like eating a good Roger’s chocolate with the head of a pin (something my grandmother, Gang, did as a child in a time of scarcity and this still speaks to me in  a time of abundance) as I can only digest so much, I need to do it in my own way and I want to savour the process.

Will Richardson’s (@willrich45) presentation: “The Steep Unlearning Curve”, highlighted his top 3 things to unlearn in this age of abundance: Delivery, Assessment and Competition. The session at the time, was deceptively and tantalizingly simple; a couple of ideas, that…morphed into BIG ones that hit me hard, bowled me over and left me feeling bereft.

On one hand I recognized that I had done some unlearning over the last year (in the areas of assessment Dear Points We Need to Break Up & in delivery Excuse me, I think I am having a Revolution ) but on the other, I was overwhelmed and intimidated as I confronted competition. I can intellectually identify this force as one I need unlearn but I am very uncertain on how I will translate this unlearn into tangible actions.
I asked my tweep Fernanda (who I met for the first time face to face at ISTE!):

Yes. Stop doing things that involve competition. Easy.

Except. Do you know how many traditions and procedures in school are built to completely service and foster competition?

Awards day, Principal’s list, scholarships are just a few that come to mind in a blink.

Moreover, I know for myself how deeply rooted the underpinnings of competition are in my teacher psyche. Until a year ago I would have balked at this unlearn idea, rejected it 100%; heart transplant gone bad. I believed that to “do well” students ultimately had to do it “alone” and that to encourage them to collaborate, cooperate and intertwine their learning journeys were sprinkles on a cupcake; looked nice but not required. From my other unlearnings, I know that the first critical step in this process is to drill down deep and identify the underlying beliefs that my practice is built on.

I still don’t have a lot to show…yet. Just some self-knowledge, and a blurred vision for a self-regulating, self-sustaining community of learners who are connected, interactive and inter-dependent. My only concrete plan of action at this time, is to introduce open-internet assessments into class (where students can access and use their phones, computers etc during assessments).

I take comfort from accepting that I cannot get up this steep hill alone and it is not a race to the top. My journey up this hill has been and continues to be intensely personal. I need to do my unlearning in a way that is 100% authentic and true for me (and this is in turn what I want for students and my own children) but..I need a ton of help, ideas, input, conversation, inspiration, tweets, tweeple, and time getting there.

I need new skills, I need solid clues, I need loud encouragement, and I need ALL of you to make myself vulnerable to and say I can’t do it alone.

The hill is steep… and it hurts, but I know the view up there is mind-blowing-ly exhilarating.

Come on, let’s go…together.

4 thoughts on “Climbing the steep hill of unlearning, #iste12 take away from #isteunlearn.

  1. Great post Carolyn! I can definitely relate. Many of my students find competition highly motivating. I have attempted to discourage it a little bit when they try and compare each other’s grades. My students are highly marks oriented so I have a “no-share” policy in class where when you receive a summative assessment back, you must keep your mark to yourself. Obviously I can’t control what they do outside of my classroom, but at least then I know in my presence students cannot make each other feel inadequate by comparing and competing for the highest grade. I think incorporating more collaborative and cooperative activities would also help to reduce this culture of competition. But what about all those fun activities/games where students compete with each other? For example, I do some genetics problems ‘time challenges” where students are put in heterogeneous groups to do Punnett squares etc…and the fastest, most accurate team “wins.” Or Jeopardy games at the end of the unit with prizes? I’m interested to know if – from what you’ve garnered at ISTE – these type of games are also detrimental?

    • Hi Juliana, I am still trying to sort out the “competition” thing completely. I think there are different types of competition and not all are negative forces. I think the one that Will was referring to was the competition that comes from the control of resources held over from a time of scarcity. For example in class when there is only one right answer, students must compete to be the ones who get the right answer to acquire the finite resource of points. From this type of competition comes such symptoms as cheating, lying, stealing, doing homework for payment etc. as students compete to acquire the points they need to then compete in the world.
      I am still thinking that games, teams and fun competition (such as you describe) will stay in my practice, but I need to re-examine marking and assessment some more. It is a steep climb!

  2. Hi Carolyn! Getting to meet some of my PLN f2f was the best part of ISTE! Will Richardson was another. I was in Will’s sessions (both were awesome) and left overwhelmed with the conversations.
    I believe unlearning all three things Will mentioned is very difficult. My idea of assessment has changed a lot in the past 2 years. I use them to evaluate mastery, to evaluate my classes, to identify misconceptions, to make changes if necessary. Reassessments have become part of my class (at least in 9th grade, can’t say the same for IB… it’s still a struggle for me to deal with the huge amount of content IB requires, the students’ complains about me not lecturing enough and the school’s expectation that all students get good grades in their IB exams). Although my view of assessment has changed, it will take some time to get my students to change their view of what an assessment is. Most still take a test to get a grade and increase their GPA. Most still see (although my problems have changed) the assessment as the place for regurgitating stuff and freak out when faced with open ended questions and goal-less problems. Don’t think it’s their fault. They’ve been in this system forever (so do we!) and change takes time.
    Unlearning delivery is complicated for most people. Not only it demands more work (lecturing the same content every year is easy), it also requires risk. You need to try methods you might have never used. I reduced the amount of time I lecture dramatically (only do this for maybe 10-15 minutes when I feel the whole class needs guidance or to introduce some kind of project, give instructions, etc). My ppts still exist but they are in my website for students to check if they want to. Most of my students still want me to lecture (this is a battle every unit I start) although I spent the last 2 years having conversations about the efficacy of this method. To me, this is definitely linked to the way they see school: a place where you learn non relevant content that you will just regurgitate and get points for it later and graduate. Again, they’ve been in a system that has been asking them to do this for who knows how many years… it’s difficult to change their mindset in a few months. I know I need to continue to restructure my class and watch my discourse to make sure I’m sending the right message and being consistent.
    Unlearning competition is complicated. I personally don’t find much value in activities in which students compete against each other (individually or in groups) and while I know we can make changes to our classes (even if they are difficult), outside of it is still a problem. Schools do have practices that encourage competition and in many cases we can’t really change them. I’ve been working at the same school for 5 years now and although we do hold an awards ceremony in May, I have refused to give a subject specific one since my first year. My students always come to me saying “why didn’t you give a bio award? everyone else did!” and my answer is always the same “it’s not fair to choose one student and I’m not here to choose the best (whatever that means), I’m here to help you learn and appreciate science”. Still, I see how hard it is for them to understand my choice when everyone else does it.
    I still have to improve in MANY WAYS. I’m really glad I follow so many wonderful people on twitter that challenge my beliefs, encourage changes and show me the way to become a better teacher.

    • Hi Fernanda, I know! Seeing you and others in person has made the connection even more valuable and real. I am still in awe of all the connections that have grown up over the last year. I am still amazed by the power of Twitter; it has change my life both professionally and personally. 🙂

      I was so excited to see Will in person, he is someone who has been pushing my thinking all year, and although I don’t exactly know how to implement some of his ideas. What he he saying in regards to “Bold” schools and classrooms really resonates with me. I saw this yesterday on Twitter (only 5 mins), which is his ignite session, also inspiring.
      I really puzzled over Will’s 3 things to unlearn. I get the idea of delivery and assessment and feel I have made some growth in these areas. But I am struggling, really struggling to full imagine how to unlearn the competition” aspect as I think it is so deep rooted and pervasive in both our schools and society.
      My only beacon of light on this matter is that over the last year, I have experienced a huge amount of growth in my teaching practice due to collaboration and cooperation. Although there are challenges to cooperation and sharing ideas, the rewards have far out weighed them. I think we teachers have to continue to figuratively knock the walls of our classes down and experience meaningful collaboration that we will be able to weave it into the culture of our classes.

      I too, have a long way to go, but look how far we have come, we have to remember to celebrate all that we have accomplished!!

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