Learning is Conversation v1.1

I title this ‘Learning is Conversation v1.1’ because I think it goes very nicely with what John wrote titled Learning is Conversation. He posted his first, so I’m calling mine v1.1

In the Professional Development course I’m teaching using Moodle there have been some great conversations around information and moving teachers into the mind set of Connectivism learning, Connectivism teaching, and Contemporary Literacy. My favorite part about teaching professional development courses, or just teaching in general, is that moment when the stars align and the light bulb in your brain glows bright. I live for that moment and love when I see it happening.

Below is part of a conversation in the course I’m running. I think it demonstrates what John writes about and what we all have been saying about conversations as learning.

My question:

…I ask you what is the skill we need to be teaching students? I agree that the close reading is what makes the pursuit worthwhile, but with all the information in the world…how do we get students to know what is worthwhile of a close read. Sure it’s easy in your classroom, you the teacher say: “Read this”, but how do we teach students to become life-long readers? How do we teach them to “get the gist” so that they understand that Shakespeare is worth a close read?

An ESOL/English teacher:

Logically the ‘catch the highlights in replay’ point makes sense, but aesthetically/reflectively I’m not sold. That sort of analogy seems to approve of ‘condensed Beethoveen’ approaches to music appreciation–skip the valleys and only play the crescendi and climaxes–don’t experience the whole, just the ‘exciting parts.’ Same with literature or history. It boils down to the decontextualization that happens when only the highlights are valued, and not the buildup that leads to them.

Similar with the book-search-by-‘the latest read everyone is talking about’-method. Everyone is probably talking about the most advertised recent hype, so I’m not sure I want that to be my guide to quality (I doubt such a search would lead many to anything published more than a year ago, much less centuries ago).

And my point was that ‘getting the gist’ is the easy part–it seems to be mistaken for knowledge and understanding these days–when I’m saying that slowing down and becoming intimate with a word- and idea-smith through close reading is what’s at risk.

How do we teach them to not ‘get the gist’ but slowly savor the flavor of literacy? I’m using two methods–one traditional, one 21st Century– right now teaching _Of Mice and Men_.

Traditional first: In the classroom, we have paper copies that students bring in annotated to show their noticings as they try to read closely. We spend much time slowing down at subtle details on every page, and asking questions about seemingly unimportant touches that frequently lead to that thrilling moment after a brow-wrinkled pause when students go, “Ahhhhh…..!” And then they buzz about the ‘connectivity’ of image or motif in that passage to images or passages on other pages, and the web of meaning that such careful writing creates. That is as low-tech and higher-order as it gets (well, of course it can get better)–and that’s also more similar to Plato’s Athens and Einstein’s Vienna than it is to hyperspace.

21st Century: I’m working on using the Moodle to post carefully selected passages from the novel–the same ones we’ve paused to savor in class, and more that we didn’t have time to, since it’s such a rich, densely textured work–on the Moodle. And I’m going to (if I can figure out how best to do it) have the students each read these dozens of passages and start hyperlinking details from one passage that connect to details from others, so that other students can click on the links and be taken to the related passages, and see how the first student is making meaning through such connections. I hope that this sort of semantic webbing through hyperlinking does the opposite of encouraging the “I got the gist because I know the work on the story/plot level” and instead helps students find the joy of synthesizing meanings in a whole work through relating distant parts to other distant parts.

As I’m writing this, I’m seeing better possibilities for designing it–having students write reflective journals about the connections they’re making, and hyperlink the points in their reflections to the specific passages they’ve discovered. Ach, muddy. But I think there’s a lot of potential for students to ‘annotate online’ in this way that rivals pen-and-paper annotation for making meaning.

Thanks for the questions, Jeff. This kind of conversation is obviously something that is less possible in physical space and time, and it does fuel thought.

An ESOL Teacher:

You write: “And I’m going to (if I can figure out how best to do it) have the students each read these dozens of passages and start hyperlinking details from one passage that connect to details from others, so that other students can click on the links and be taken to the related passages, and see how the first student is making meaning through such connections.”
When we went through The Grapes of Wrath with the 10th Graders, it distressed me that due to the length of the novel and the limits of class time available for focused appreciation on details, the students (specially those struggling with the language) were unable to savor the beauty of many of the passages nor explore the subtle links between them. What a great way to address that problem…and I am quite certain, once they are ‘caught’ by the sharing online aspect, it will not be easy to un-hook them from ‘reflecting’ on his careful writing. Grapes remains one of my favorites and it saddens me that not too many of the students have had a chance to savor it, as it should be savored…in little bits that are all drawn together perfectly through the language and style.

High School IB English Teacher

Thanks for pointing me towards this discussion,
I think this is excellent … teachers taking risks, thinking, learning, searching for new ways to create meaning and understanding. The hypertext idea is a good one – let me know what it looks like. It seems that student commentary must accompany these connections. It would make for a interesting way of tracing patterns (images, motifs, themes, symbol) in a text like Of Mice and Men (or alternatively, if you had access to a larger body of e-literature, students could hyperlink to other works by the same author – images of isolation in Grapes… Of Mice … Chrysanthemums, etc.)
A forum where students are required to hyperlink their responses to passages from the text would be interesting. Again, in the spirit of connectivism, why not hyperlink to the outside world, the world of their experience and ideas outside the text? In fact, I think this would be more … authentic?
Is posting a response with textual hyperlinks as support for that response simply the old king in new clothes? In other words, the task sounds a lot like what Digital Immigrants refer to as a “literary analysis essay” complete with cited textual support! What is the difference? How is this technology enhancing the reading experience?
However, the idea of keeping a e-journal for responding to literature and hyperlinking their responses to outside ideas … this is the type of connectivism reading specialist have been talking about for decades.
What do you think?

I get chills every time I read this.
Three more teachers moving their way into the read/write web. :)

1 Comment

  1. I’ll embrace the same point you made toward my skepticism that the $100 laptop could reduce the class divide:

    3 more may seem like a small start, but if they all “learn it forward”, the way you’ve motivated Amanda and I to do as co-teachers of the read/write web, the result can be infinite and truly leave no child behind without the dog-and-pony catchy rhetoric.

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