Monday, March 30, 2020

April was getting the mail

Photo by Doran Erickson on Unsplash
This is my beginning of the end post in the meddler-in-the-middle series: my reflections on my inquiry actions!

1. What did I do?
The purpose of my inquiry was to test out the meddler concept after absorbing the Erica McWilliams article (read back a few posts for the discoveries I've made thanks to that article).

My version of the MacBeth lesson was to pose a couple of mystery scenarios to a class of Year 9 students (I put them into groups of 3) while I toured the room, stirred the pot, and responded to their questions. This was coupled with a question sheet about how they approached their learning pit experience, and how that experience extended to their other work in a variety of subjects. All that in 40 minutes!

The first scenario: A detective who is just days away from cracking an international smuggling ring, goes missing while inspecting his last known location. You find a note -  
710 57735 34 5508 51 7718. 
Currently there are three suspects - Bill, Todd and John. Can you break the detective's code  and find the criminal's name? 

The second scenario: Shauna was killed one Sunday morning. The police have to arrest someone from this info - 
  • Alyssa was doing laundry
  • April was getting the mail
  • Reggie was cooking
  • Mark was planting in the garden.
Who killed Shauna?

Once the first group deciphered the code in the first scenario (hint: read the code upside down), others got annoyed they hadn't figured it out and kept at it. I aimed not to interfer and left them to make the discovery in their own time, while responding to any questions they had. Some great discussions ensued once the answer was revealed - one boy refused to see the 8 as a B for instance.

2. Was it successful?
Yes, it was. 

After the second scenario (discovered much quicker - hint: no mail on a Sunday), I handed out a question sheet from a Spectrum Education Study Skills booklet about how it feels to be in the learning pit and what strategies are needed to get out of it.

My students turned some remarkably mature responses about how they felt and what they do to adjust. Once we return from the nation's Lock-down I'll add some quotes from them.

My success criteria: I wanted to gauge how I acted as a deliberate meddler (as I've blogged about before - I feel this name legitimises the subversive English teacher that I've always aimed to be), what the student feedback/response would be via the question sheet I distributed.

Next post: the end of the end post looks at #3 (of 3) - What do I think?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

I never know what time of year it is living on top of the fire, but the robin outside has to hunt and hide in the cold frosty shire (Roy Harper)

Right now, it's all about work stations at home, right?

Above pics show mine.

Many thoughtful decisions influenced my choice of Abbey Road 4, a.k.a. The Vault, as the location for my work from home regime.

First of all, I needed a view for a positive impact on my mental health (in this case it meant watching the rabbits queuing up outside my window during a staff zoom), and natural light is important and AR4 has a skylight as well as the window.

I decided I'd rather not be inside the house (that's Jacky's sphere of influence) - AR4 is in some outside buildings, and, as you can tell from the décor, it's all mine (mine I tell you!!).

Proximity to the kitchen was a consideration. AR4 is perfect - close but not too close.

Access to music: I struggle to work without music. As you can see my records and CDs are within easy reach. Crucial.

All up, I'm happy with my location. How about you and yours? Anything need changing?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

I never know what kind of day it is on my battlefield of ideals (Roy Harper)

Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash
Part 4 - reflections on the following meddling questions put to us recently by Dr Selina Samuels:

  • What is McWilliam’s argument about the central importance of fostering creativity and how does it relate to the practice of teaching (and the experience of learning)? That the creativity coming from meddling acts 'as an engine of future productivity and social dynamism'. That is, it will produce learners who have the tools to help the global environment - solve problems that relate to things like sustainability, the economy, poverty, new coronaviruses and so on.  So, like, it's, erm, like, really important. Did I say important? Nay, it is CRITICAL that we teachers move into the middle and meddle (or keep going - if you've been that way inclined for years and now know that there is a term for it!)
  • What do you think are the “new ways that young people learn”? Google and Wolfram Alpha have meant teachers are no longer that sage any more (maybe 50 years ago they had the keys to unlock knowledge but those days are well gone). So - those on-line tools are givens now. Digital methods are our students' bread and butter. Aside from that I think students are still explorers of all sorts of things - learning how word combinations work, how they think, how they can impress members of the opposite sex. All those imprtant things that teenagers do!
  • Do you agree with McWilliam that it is more useful for teachers to “model how to be usefully ignorant, and to assist students who fear not having all the answers all the time” rather than to be the Knower? Absolutely. Yes. Always have believed that!
  • When/if do you adopt the roles of “Sage-on-the-stage” and “Guide-on-the-side”? I have found myself as a Sage style figure when teaching students about grammar. That has rules and conventions that I haven't found an alternative way of imparting. YOU try and teach what a simple sentence is/ what a finite verb is and see how you get on. Guide is more passive and so I've never been that comfortable with that role, although the SElf-Organise Learning Environment (SOLE) experience (see below) puts teachers in that position quite successfully.
  • What do you think of McWilliam’s description of the “meddler-in-the-middle”? Do you think “meddling” is likely to promote self-direction? I think it's a useful description as it directs attention away from the sage and guide models. But, I think there is still room for all three approaches, given different circumstances.
  • Do you ever adopt the persona of the meddler, and if so, where and when? Yes, I believe I've done this a lot in my teaching of English, and especially media studies. Right from my first teaching post I have aimed to be inventive and looked for ways in/ connections/ provocations/ things that lead to challenging thinking and supporting experimentation. I enjoy learning myself and I love being a subversive teacher (the old word for meddler). The use of Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLE) for exploring big questions is NOT a meddling tool, but can be used in conjunction, so that students learn that learning can be co-constructed with a teacher, AND they can be independent of the teacher.

Next up in this rivetting series: reflections on my deliberate Meddler lesson with Year 9 and what I learned.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Through the mirror of my mind, time after time, I see reflections of you and me (The Supremes)

Photo by Saltiola Photography on Unsplash
Part 3 (of reflections on the Erica McWilliams' article on meddling-in-the-middle)

Following the terrific example from The Scottish Play in Part 2, McWilliams makes the following five points about what meddling involves:

  1. Less time on transmission and more time on working through problems in a way that puts everyone in the thick of the action
  2. Less time spent on risk minimalisation and more time on experimentation, risk-taking and co-learning
  3. Less emphasis on teaching as forensic classroom auditing and more time spent on designing, editing, and assembling knowledge
  4. Less time spent on testing memorisation and more time spent on designing alternative forms of authentic assessment
  5. Less time spent on psychological counselling and more time spent on collaborative criticality and authentic evaluation

Phew - that's a shed load of more time people!!

In conclusion, teachers wanting to be meddlers need to:

  • Allow their students to stay in the grey of unresolvedness
  • Be active and inventive in the classroom
  • Challenge and support
  • Not make things too easy
  • Use process of discovery, critique, argument and counter argument effectively
  • Not rush to rescue their students from complexity
Next post - reflections on all this

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Lay on, Macduff, and damned be him who first cries ‘Hold! enough!’ (William Shakespeare)

Part 2

Okay, recent posts have been considering teacher as meddler-in-the-middle, using Erica McWilliams' article as a guide.

Using a series of lessons on The Scottish Play (or M*cb**h if you're not superstitious) as an example, where students had to solve a crime (the means, the motive, and the murder of a king) prior to reading the bard's play, with the teacher acting as an interviewee by taking on all the roles within the play for the students, McWilliams shows how the meddler works.

The teacher in this example provides support and direction through 'structure-rich activity in which they themselves are highly involved'.

I really like this, and I'm glad being a meddler is not just about asking better questions (as I'd previously thought).

Erica, again:

Meddlers know that their students are smart, and they keep asking them to be even smarter.

In the example above, using The Scottish Play, the teacher, an active participant, never the sage or the guide, kept asking them to be smarter:
I divided them into about six or seven rival detective agencies, each having to come up with their version of what happened. I gave them a list of names of who they could interview, and I went into whichever role asked. If they wanted to speak to Lady Macbeth, I took that on; if they wanted to speak to the porter I did that, too. 
Now the crime of killing Duncan, and the cover-up, are quite complex, as you would probably know. It involves a number of incidents and more than one individual, not just Macbeth. So coming up with Means, Motive and Opportunity is quite complicated. They listened, got together to theorise, and then asked some more. I let them try out their ideas when they thought they had it. I would not make it easy for them. Of course they wanted to know what actually happened pretty well straight away, but I was not letting them off the hook of the work of theorising. And I wanted them to do it together—to value each other’s smarts, not just mine. I acknowledged it when they were moving in the right direction but would not give more—they struggled for every inch of the truth and it had to be right. They continued to ask to interview characters and I continued to play the parts (my emphasis).
My task is to design an action like this that involves my students in their study skills session next Monday. A challenge. Tricky, but not impossible.

Part 3 coming soon: more about what meddlers do differently.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

You look down, hearing the sound of the faces in the crowd (Pink Floyd)

Heavy hitters chewing over what epistemology means.

Okay - back to understanding what a meddler-in-the-middle does.

I'm about to make a series of seemingly random points and observations (it's how my brain works) but there are links and common themes, trust me.

First things first: it appears that the original article used to introduce the meddler idea is worth returning to - Erica McWilliam's Teaching for creativity: from sage to guide to meddler.

The first time I read it was in quick preparation for our digital conference and I found the article dense and difficult to grasp.

So, back to the future we go...

Good thing too, as it turns out, as I'd missed the link to creativity first time I read it; she argues the value of meddling-in-the-middle 'in order to build students' creative capacity'.

To me, talking of creativity is akin to talking about quality. Blimin' difficult and fraught with misunderstandings and differences of opinion.

Being creative, according to Erica, is having 'a propensity for epistemological agility rather than...for artistry'.

By the looks of it, Epistemology is a concept that every philosopher worthy of a Monty Python sketch, has had a go at defining over the years.

At its widest application, it means 'understanding' and more narrowly - 'having the ability to distinguish between justified belief and opinion'.  

Epistemology addresses some really heady questions, such  as: 
  • What makes justified beliefs justified?
  • What does it mean to say that we know something?"
  • Fundamentally - "How do we know that we know?
Erica defines creativity/ epistemological agility as 'the capacity to work productively across knowledge domains'.

Erica then applies this definition to employment in the global environment. That is - creatives contribute by theorizing, they see the big picture, experiment  and collaborate with others. Thereby innovating. Thereby saving the planet.

Erica claims that it is much more important for teachers to model how to be 'usefully ignorant' and to assist students, rather being all-knowing (even if we could be, we can't anymore - the technology genie is well and truly out of the bottle).

The meddler-in-the-middle, then, is a builder of creative capacity.

I get that.

I also like the way this model positions teachers and students as mutually involved in 'assembling and/or dis-assembling knowledge' together.

It's a learning partnership, which as Erica points out, has powerful implications for assessment and beyond!

Next post: Part 2 - the second half of this article which discusses teaching Shakespeare as an example of how to be a meddler.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Hello hooray - let the show begin I've been ready (Alice Cooper)

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash
OneSchool Global NZ is a pretty complicated organisation. 

There are 17 campuses from Keri Keri (the northern-most) down to Invercargill (the southern-most) and for convenience's sake these campuses can be split into three broad regions: north, central, and south (all the South Island).

On the next three successive Wednesdays, students and their relevant Virtual Classroom teachers will journey to a representative campus to meet each other (northern students to Auckland, central to Palmerston North and south to Christchurch).

My two campuses, Hawke's Bay and Gisborne, go to Palmy on the 11th of March.

Although it hasn't been overtly stated, I believe the aims of this event were summed up by Jennifer Gonzalez, writing about how to motivate students in her blog, Cult of Pedagogy.

Put simply - students are more motivated academically when they have a positive relationship with their teacher.

Part of that positive relationship is the students feeling that they are valued by their teachers. They certainly should feel that on those days as their VC teachers are travelling to them from those 17 campuses.

All up then, this is a worthwhile and important couple of days, and I am exceedlingly glad that someone made their suggestion (I'm reading a lot of Dickens at the moment and I fear he is rubbing off on me in a multitude of ways).

Anyway: hurrah for this OneSchool Global initiative!