(Disclaimer: this will be a little hard to follow for those unfamiliar with Knowledge Forum (KF) and Knowledge Building. Sorry.)
I'm not sure if I've mentioned it, but one of the things I proposed in the school's educational technology plan, was to have the rector, academic director, department heads and a few teachers in a course I would teach on Saturdays. I've had four four-hour sessions with a group of 24 "students" and it's been amazing. I haven't written too much about the course and now is a good time to stop and reflect... and let you know what I've done and how I feel it has worked. (BTW, you can find the course syllabus in our Google Sites).
The first week (before the first class) we all read Marlene Scardamalia's "Collective Cognitive Responsibility for the Adavancement of Knowledge" and talked about it. Mostly the class talked and I made some remarks every once in a while. I took Notes of what they said on the board and encouraged them to use the "Knowledge Creation" scaffold from Knowledge Forum in their talk. I used them on the board. Mostly "My Theory" and "I need to understand (INTU)". They are all teachers and apparently most of them had done the reading and everyone at least scanned it. The discussion was wonderful and they were all very excited with Marlene's ideas.
For the last hour of the class we went to the computer lab (some of them don't have laptops) and logged into Knowledge Forum. They had read all about it in Marlene's article, but had never actually seen it. Mimmicking Kate B.'s class at HGSE, I created a view called "Mucking about" and instructed them to log in and just play with writing Notes in that View while I ran around troubleshooting Java, etc. on some of their laptops. The View was absolute chaos after an hour, but they had good time had been able to post Notes, what I needed all of them to do. Their homework was to post their ideas from the class discussion in one View, and their ideas about the next reading on another. They were very related, since the second reading was Kate B. and Allan Collins' "Learning communities in classrooms". This made the task a little confusing and the discurse a little hard to follow. Next time I'll follow van Aalst et al's advice and organize the syllabus around ideas or topics rather than readings. Everyone had to post at least one Note in each View. I'm still not sure about that. I feel I might have focused them on the task of writing rather than the ideas, but was still very useful for them to start getting comfortable with writing their ideas and with using the platform. I think I might do that differently next time, but I'm still not sure. I need to "force" them to use the platform at first.
During the week the two views filled up and most of them had written more than one Note. They were crowded and it was nearly impossible to write any more of follow the thread of the discussion. I thought it was a natural point to discuss "Rise-aboves" and principle of rising-above we had read about. I started the next class in the lab and asked them to work in groups trying to group Notes into different Views and write Rise-above notes. I showed them how to do both using some notes from the "Mucking about" View. Some of them did a wonderful job, some of them didn't get the idea too well and just "packed" some notes inside a Rise-above or moved them to new View and then wrote a new note trying to synthesize them. We talked about rising above later in the class and we also discussed Kate B.'s piece and had a wonderful talk again. I didn't mimmick the scaffolds so much, and some of them were already playing with them in their discourse.
Their homework this time, was to try and Rise-above the ideas we had and to read a paper about "Lesson Study", the Japanese form of professional development. I new this reading was going to be a tough point in the course. It was quite long and introduced the idea of Lesson Study, where teachers meet in groups to plan together, teach-observe-debrief-improve-teach again-observe-again-and-write-about a lesson. We will start doing Lesson Study this year and use Knowledge Forum in it, so I expected some resistance (the literature says there normally is. See Chokshi and Fernandez). The article is not the best to explain lesson study and the way it works, but it is a wonderful example, a case study. I decided to give a 1-hour lecture on Lesson Study before starting the discussion. I had seen in KF, during the week, that many of them thought they didn't have time to do that (Challenge 1 in Chokshi...), others thought it was a foreign idea that wouldn't work in our culture (Challenge 3 in Chokshi) and others believed it sounded like something they did: Microteaching and Department Heads observing teachers' classes and debriefing with them. I addressed each of these in my lecture and then opened the floor to the usual discussion. It was very good and I didn't see the resistance I had expected. It wasn't that evident. They still thought it was a Challenge to find time, but the enthusiasm shown by some teachers, some Department Heads and the Directives was very helpful. We kept talking about Lesson Study that week in the KF database and started a new view to talk about assessment. We read the longest paper so far, a wonderful piece by Van Aalst and Chan about the use of e-portfolios for assessment of individual and collective knowledge advancement in Knowledge Building classrooms (that used KF).
During the week, everyone was very excited and felt these ideas matched perfectly our qualitative approach to assessment. Some people brought up their own experiences (as it had always happened before). Friday night, there were a few people online at the same time and I saw, literally, how our database grew in the Assessment View. I mostly prepared my next class based on what they had all said and something they had brought up in a great example of metacognition: the way we were building Rise-above Notes, and in general rising above our ideas, isn't working as we would like it to. Some people feel their points of View are not captured in the Rise-above Notes and we have not come to enough agreement and answers as to say we can really Rise-above.
While I planned the class I realized I could not assign the reading I had planned for the next week (tomorrow). It totally changed the topic and we still needed to work on what we are doing. I decided to use the preparation of a View for visitors (Kate, Marlene, Carl and maybe some of Marlene's post-docs will come by our database) as an excuse for them to go back into what we had said and learned and bring up questions we still needed to get and answer to (INTU) and things had said that seemed really interesting or important. I haven't read much of the database this week, but sure hope it worked.
Many of them (data from the Analytic Toolkit in KF) had read very little of their colleagues Notes and written very little too. I don't worry about those who are not writing much, but I do about the not reading. Reading and not writing keeps you in the periphery (Bielaczcy and Collins), but it doesn't leave you out of the community discourse and advancement. Those who don't even read are probably not learning too much either, critical of what we are learning or uninterseted. I sent some feedback to each of them about their participation in the KF database via e-mail. I have seen some change this week in some of them, and some stress in others, who feel they can't write more than they do now, but my feedback made them feel they should. I'll discuss this with them tomorrow with both the teacher and student hats on.
The course had been wonderful, I have learned a lot about the school and about about knowledge building too. I still have a lot of question and things to work on. Rising-above our ideas and kick-starting Lesson Study (led by the Department Heads in the course) are my most urgent concerns.
I am having great fun and I love this job!
Phew... long post... anyone got this far?
- Bielaczyc, K., & Collins, A. (1999). Learning communities in classrooms: a reconceptualization of educational practice. In C. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional Design theories and models (Vol. II, pp. 269-292). Mahwan: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Chokshi, S., & Fernandez, C. (2004). Challenges to Importing Japanese Lesson Study: Concerns, Misconceptions, and Nuances. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(7), 520-525.
- Scardamalia, M. (2002). Collective cognitive responsibility for the advancement of knowledge. In B. Smith (Ed.), Liberal education in the knowledge society (pp. 67-98). Chicago: Open Court.
- Fernandez, C. (2005). Lesson Study: A Means for Elementary Teachers to Develop the Knowledge of Mathematics Needed for Reform-Minded Teaching? Mathematical Thinking & Learning, 7(4), 265-289.
- van Aalst, J., & Chan, C. K. K. (2007). Student-Directed Assessment of Knowledge Building Using Electronic Portfolios. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 16(2), 175-220.