24 Learning: Ulearn Day 2

24 Learning

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ulearn Day 2

Two stand out speakers for me today. Adam Lefstein spoke about the problem of dialogue. He talked about the fact that almost all classroom conversation is Initiation Response Evaluation and how questions can really limit the dialogue that takes place. I was intrigued by his comments about the increase in dialogue when teachers stop asking questions and start making statements and allowing time for students to respond. He asserted that there is a power relationship established just in the question asking process. Mmmmm? Food for thought. He didn't discuss student questioning and how this might alter the power relationship in the classroom. And as I reflect on this more I wonder whether the IRE dialogue process is as bad as he made out. Much of our general conversation could also be categorized in this way. If it is one sided and the initiation is always from the same person then I can see a problem but conversation is often a series of initiations by one person followed by a response and then the initiator evaluating the response. If this process is one sided then it certainly would be limiting. It would become an interrogation. But surely conversation involves both parties involved as initiators and responders? The point I took from Adam was that in classrooms this is not often the case. Most of the time teachers initiate and evaluate and students do not get given opportunities to engage more fully in the dialogue process. Partly this is because of the pressure of content delivery and curriculum coverage. It will be interesting to see whether the curriculum revamp in NZ will change teachers practice with its focus on essential skills and less of a focus on achievement objectives.

New Zealand has experienced a wave of "sharing learning intentions" in the last few years. I wonder whether this contributes to the IRE mindset because teachers are thinking about their purpose for the lesson. They aren't really listening to children because they are thinking about the delivery of the lesson objective. Involving children in identifying the lesson objectives and designing rubrics for identifying success criteria can help this process.

He also made the point that we view the world through a frame or perspective that is defined by our experiences, age, gender, race, nationality etc. The way we break out of this perspective is through dialogue. Other people helping us to see the world through their perspective. Adam gave a hint into his world view with the statement... "The ultimate truth will always elude us." Ahhh Philosophers always looking for another answer to 1+1=2.

Adam also pointed out the tensions that exist in a dialogue. The tension between listening and speaking, between agreement and difference, between faith and suspicion.

The second stand out for the day was Tony Ryan. His presentation titled "How to change the world", was compelling stuff reminding me about why I came into teaching in the first place. He reminded teachers that we need to be caring and compassionate people with a positive outlook. People with a solutions mindset rather than a problem mindset. He said that one thing our current generation of teenagers need is hope. He made an interesting point about the after effect of September 11 and the reduction in suicide rate in Australia. He was making the point that sometimes when times are hard people respond by getting stuck in and making a change. They rise to the challenge as it were. He talked about the difference that one person can make and gave some examples including Ryan's Well, a boy who as a 6 year old decided to do something about water shortages for villages in Africa. His challenge to teachers was to engage students in authentic learning opportunites that build hope and allow children to believe that they really can change the world. Wow! Who wouldn't get engaged in learning if that was the viewpoint being expressed in the classroom every day.


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