16 November 2012

Personal Learning Plans (PLP)

One of the tenets of the 21st century learning report (created by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills), is that students should learn how to learn and become life long learners. I think one of the things that we could teach students is to create Personal Learning Plans (PLPs), or even Personal Life Plans. Part of the learning process is evaluating where you are, setting learning goals, and moving to achieve those goals. The PLP is a formal way of doing this. Usually PLPs (or ILPs - individual learning plans) are set up by teachers, sometimes involving the parents and students, for the students as a way of planning to help a student in school. I think that if we taught students to create their own PLPs, it might be a way for them to feel ownership of their school work. It could help provide them with the organizational and tracking skills to assess whether or not they are making progress and how much progress they have made toward a particular goal.

Beyond this, the PLP could be a Personal Life Plan. Students could set themselves some life goals, assess where they are and make long term plans for achieving those life goals. If we are to aim at teaching children how to learn and how to achieve their goals, then why stop this idea at the education level? One thing a PLP can do is set priorities for behavior. This could be a huge step toward awareness for students, not only in their school life, but in their actions in general. Another thing a PLP can do is make the user aware of how they are spending their time. If a student thinks they study hard, but realizes through the lack of progress on the PLP that they are really only spending a few hours a week, they can change that behavior to do better. Likwise with life goals, if they think they are progressing toward some goal, but realize that they are not acquiring the skills needed or moving as quickly as they had hoped, they can tell that their actual behavior does not match with plans or goals they have set. This could be a very useful tool and process for students to learn.

Do you have a PLP? Do you think that they are effective tools for goal achievement?

11 November 2012

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum...

The forum for my current education class, that is. I was highly skeptical of the reading assignment for the week, The Dumbest Generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future (or, don't trust anyone under 30) by Mark Bauerlein. I read review after review of the book (both in Amazon and by journalists), I looked it up on wikipedia, and I went in thinking I knew what I was going to read: some jerk who was on my generation about how dumb we all are.

Fortunately enough for me, I was surprised. While Bauerlein certainly takes what most consider to be a very aggressively negative outlook on the entire generation, he does have his points of moderation. He doesn't try to claim that all use of technology or the internet is what is killing our generation - it's the general uses that we all tend to fall into. Extensive time spent in front of the computer screen is as bad as our parents always told us too much time in front of the tv screen was. This is true. If you're spending all of your time in front of a screen and do not escape to the outside world, then you're probably not reading the classics or volunteering to better your community. Bauerlein does not, however, say the entire generation has gone to pot. In fact, he cites many authors who argue for the opposite. He points out that these shining examples do not exemplify the entire generation, but there are some worrying habits that do.

Honestly, something you wouldn't know much from reviews of this book, most of what Bauerlein has to say is about literacy. He's very concerned that we have an entire generation of kids (now becoming adults) that spent its young life parked in front of a television and are now parked in front of a computer screen instead of parked at the library with books. It doesn't take a very deep look at our generation to find a few of these folks Bauerlein is talking about either. There is consistently a problem among students who don't have the vocabularies to continue learning at the pace at which society expects us to, even if we're only getting a GED. Without the ability to read and comprehend, there is much of life that will be beyond us. In these respects, I think Bauerlein has made some points.

The other thing that rattles everyone is that he criticizes the stupidity (a bit of a harsh word, indeed) of the Millenial generation, but then he goes on to blame the several generations before for the state of things. I must say, I don't think I've ever read a book in which the author tried to insult so many people all at once, unless perhaps you remember Oscar Wilde's attempts, or perhaps even Chaucer. Given the strong reactions, particularly to this later section of the book, I was ready to be offended.

And yet, I found myself more intrigued by Bauerlein's defense of tradition and felt that he was not against moderation. He says he's appalled by the response of  academics in the 1960s who supported the "youth revolution", but it seems it is because these academics joined and justified the extremes being played out. It was strange that "only the adult world needs fixing" (page 181). It is the way in which history or anything perceived as traditional is seen as a threat and at odds with youth and a fixation on the youth identity carried far beyond adolescence that is disturbing to Bauerlein, and I can't say that I blame him. If I were trying to engage a group of students that frequently treated my own view as an active threat or with complete disregard (sometimes simultaneously), I too might be pushed to the lengths that Bauerlein is pushed to in his book.

Perhaps it is with biased perspective that I try to read Bauerlein's concern with as much empathy and charity as I can muster, but the contents of the book certainly didn't consistently offend me as much as the title seemed to communicate it would.

What did you think?

05 November 2012

Using cell phones in class

Cell phones in class: pro or con?

This week my group is writing a project in which we propose to let 8th graders text answers to review questions into the online program called Poll Everywhere. This is the kind of assignment that would allow students to utilize the technology available on almost every cell phone to help them review for an upcoming test. In the trial, the students will text in their answers to multiple choice questions. As they text in their answers, the class responses will appear live on a bar graph for all to see. We hope this will spark conversation and get students sharing knowledge as they prepare for the test.

BUT, of course, there is always the issue of kids texting in class. Will they be paying attention to their classmates? Or will they be trying to get away with texting other things during the class activity?

As usual, with greater use of technology come greater responsibility on the part of the student to focus and behave appropriately.

Will they do it?

What do you think? Would you allow students to text in class as part of an assignment? Or would you rather discourage the use of phones during class time?