Deep Reading

This a cross-posting from another blog of mine. It seemed to have some crossover to the learning and technology focus of Serendipity35.

As a kid, you learned to swim in the shallows and eventually took a dive into the deep end of the pool, lake or ocean. School and life taught you that some things are “deep” and that some people can be shallow.

This post isn’t about that. Or maybe it is.

Nicholas Carr wrote a piece in the Atlantic Monthly called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” that caused a lot of discussion, especially with educators and technology types.

Now he has a book out called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains that looks at some neurological science in an attempt to see the impact of computers and the Net.

I love to read about the brain and this book has stories about experiments that I find interesting (though not always convincing). Can we really see a difference between those neural pathways that form when we are reading books versus those created when we read online?  Is Net reading with its surfing and skimming that lead you from a story to an image to a video to something else and distracting you with popups, messages, alerts, and feeds.

I have heard all my life that interruptions and distractions kills my comprehension and retention. My parents told me. My teachers told me. My wife still tells me to put down the iPad while I’m watching TV and flipping through a magazine.

“Deep reading” is the good thing for your brain. Right?

“Habits of mind” is another term that came into my teaching life. If you look at that list, you can see that technology and especially the Net is probably changing some of these habits – or creating new ones.

Some of the habits of mind are: persisting, managing impulsivity, and striving for accuracy and precision. Not at the top of the Internet learning program.

Then again, habits like being open to continuous learning, thinking flexibly, thinking interdependently (learning with others) and applying past knowledge to new situations might be encouraged by Net use.

I wonder what the difference is when you read Carr’s books on a Kindle versus on paper?

Education really loves the ability to concentrate. I think Carr is more concerned with our everyday habits than with the classroom.  And we all have seen those statistics about the amount of time we spend in classrooms versus the time we spend online, watching TV, sleeping and at other activities. Classrooms always lose.

Yet, Carr likes technology. He liked those first Apple home computers and social networking, blogging, YouTube and toys that allow you to people to stream music, movies throughout your house and DVRs that let you program your own TV network.

But he does want to warn us of what is being lost.

His argument includes the brain research and Plato and Marshall McLuhan as evidence. The controversial part ids the idea that the Internet literally and physically rewires our brain. That brain becomes more computer-like and is better at consuming data. We’re better at swimming in the shallow water.

A surprisingly large section of the book is devoted to the history of the written word and all that it has done to “mold the human mind.”

The past week I have been doing more “deep reading.” That is “sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object.”  I have been reading (like much of the world) the Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. (Just finishing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoothis weekend, and yes, I do like it.) You might argue that those books are not “deep” but that’s not the point. The deep comes from the way you read.

And I do tend to read print books differently. I have been sitting outside in my Adirondack chair with a cup of tea and focusing on the book. I even moved the chair off the deck yesterday because I was picking up the sounds of the TV from inside the house.

Carr’s argument is that the Internet works against that kind of focus.

“Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” Sure, deep reading is possible, but that’s not the kind of reading “the technology encourages and ewards.”

Is the book pulling me away from my laptop, phone, and  iPad?  Not really. I need them for work and to survive the day it seems. But I am being more mindful of  occasions for deeper reading.

I am also thinking about how a deeper “reading” of other things – relationships, for example – might be something I need to consider too.

It’s wisdom over knowledge. It’s using the technology, but more intelligently.

Originally posted on Weekends in Paradelle

Ning Mini for Educators

A lot of educators - myself included - were disappointed when Ning announced the end of free accounts that allowed you to create your own social network site. It was one of the easier ways to get your educational institution, group or class online in a social setting.

So, educators should be pleased to know about Ning Mini for Educators. Ning is teaming up with the education and technology company Pearson as an exclusive Ning Sponsor Partner. Pearson will make Ning Mini free for eligible North American K-12 and Higher-Ed Ning Networks.

You can add up to 150 members, and enhance your classroom with blogs, forums and photos. Many Ning networks are for educators connecting with other educators. They can facilitate learning in a classroom, but also best practices, educator-to-educator collaboration, or even parental support.

Participating Ning Networks are invited to apply for sponsorship. Participating Ning Networks will include “Brought to you by Pearson” on the top navigation bar of the Ning Network and a Pearson member profile to allow verification of private Ning Networks.

To sign Up for a Pearson sponsored Ning Mini, you'll need to answer some basic questions:

What is the name of the educational focus or institution associated with this Ning Network?
What is your main role in the education community or institution noted earlier?
Where in North America is this community or institution located?
Which of the following most accurately describes the main role of most members in your Ning Network?
Which of the following most accurately describes the main student group that is the focus of your Ning Network?
What is the primary goal(s) of your network?

I don't know how deep the Pearson connection will go, but, as a business, they will certainly hope to see users connect into their eBooks and online resources.

Seven Steps To Flatten Your Classroom


I didn't make it to ISTE 2010, but I have been following some of the tweets and posts on it. One group that I have been following for awhile is the Flat Classroom Project.

They are doing a session at ISTE called "Seven Steps to Flatten Your Classroom" about the steps to connect your classroom locally and globally to create meaningful and authentic learning communities using Web 2.0 tools and emerging technologies. They have a Ning Discussion online too.

The Flat Classroom Projects have picked up a number of education awards and connected thousands of students, educators and education leaders around the world. They are structured on a pedagogy that embraces emerging technologies to harness the energy of creative learning.

The presentation shares this seven step pedagogy:

STEP 1 - Connection: Connect yourself, connect your administration, connect your students locally and then globally (taxonomy of global connection)

STEP 2 - Communication: Synchronous and asynchronous approaches - The flat classroom using educational networking as a unifying asynchronous communication tool. In conjunction with collaboration tools such as a wiki and along with teacher cooperation and organization skills classrooms can communicate effectively and develop ongoing relationships. The classrooms may then cooperate with objectives, projects, and assignments created on these common platforms. However, the effective flat classroom structure has both synchronous and asynchronous communication methods.

STEP 3 - Citizenship: Digital citizenship - how to be a Digiteacher - Digital Citizenship education starts at a young age as we cover all of the aspects of digital citizenship with elementary education including topics of access, safety, digital citizenship, etc. in walled gardens or by adopting a webkinz and moving towards open participation in educational spaces during the high school years.

STEP 4 - Contribution and Collaboration: How to measure and verify the quality of online participation using Web 2.0 tools. Collaboration obstacles and how to overcome these. How to involve the global community.

STEP 5 - Choices: Differentiating instruction with Technology

STEP 6 - Creation: Blooms Taxonomy & 21st Century Learning Objectives

STEP 7 - Celebration: Virtual global student presentations and summits

All of this started with reading Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat.

The folks behind the project:

Julie Lindsay, current E-Learning Coordinator at Beijing (BISS) International School, China. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, over the past 10 years she has been teaching and leading the use of technology in schools in Zambia, Kuwait, Bangladesh, Qatar and now China.

Vicki Davis is a teacher and the IT director at Westwood Schools in Camilla, Georgia. Vicki co-created three award winning international wiki-centric projects, the Flat Classroom project, the Horizon project, and Digiteen. These projects have linked more than 500 students from both public and private schools in such countries as Austria, Australia, Bangladesh, China, Japan, Spain, Qatar and the US. These collaborative projects harnessing the most powerful Web 2.0 tools available including wikis, blogs, digital storytelling, podcasts, social bookmarking, and more.

Next Gen Learning Challenges

diplomaOnly half of high school graduates leave school prepared to succeed in college. For those who do enroll in postsecondary education, a little over half of them will actually earn a degree.

At many community colleges like mine, we expect a large percentage of students to enter as "developmental" or ESL. It may be several years before they take their first college course.

But, positions requiring postsecondary education or training will make up 64 percent of all job openings by 2018. Today it is virtually impossible to reach the middle class, and stay there, with only a high school diploma.

By age 30, fewer than half of all Americans have earned a college degree.

President Obama and plenty of other leaders say that our society and our economy depend on improving college readiness and completion.

EDUCAUSE, not surprisingly, sees technology as the key for making this happening. Technology can make learning more flexible, engaging, and affordable.

EDUCAUSE will lead a new effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called the Next Gen Learning Challenges.

It is an effort to identify and scale technology-enabled approaches that dramatically improve college readiness and completion, particularly for low-income young adults.

EDUCAUSE will focus on the college end of this equation, but the high school end might be a more important place for intervention.

The program will provide grants, build evidence, and develop an active community committed to addressing these persistent educational challenges.

They are asking educators to share their knowledge and to comment on key questions before the program is finalized.

The first four challenges NGLC will solicit grant proposals for are:

- Deploying open core courseware
- Deepening learner engagement through interactive, online technologies
- Scaling blended learning
- Mobilizing learning analytics

Of those four, blended learning is the one that is worth exploring and encouraging in high schools. Not many people would put forward the notion that online or face-to-face learning models alone will improve student success.

But many students from low-income families who need to work while they are students can often benefit from blended learning programs. However, making these programs widely available on a cost-effective basis with a high level of consistency remains an obstacle. Additionally, aligning the finances to facilitate the implementation of effective blended learning may require new thinking about course scheduling, faculty compensation, institutional budgeting and revenue-sharing.


Visit the Next Gen Learning Challenges website to learn about college readiness and completion in the United States
Contribute research, resources, and perspectives on the four challenges
Engage in discussion forums targeting key questions

Is Professional Development Paying Off?


Every K-12 teacher in New Jersey needs to create a professional development plan each year. Teachers pick the types of professional development opportunities they want to take part in. They are required to add at least 100 PD hours every 5 years.

When I was teaching in K-12, it was called the PIP - professional improvement plan. What's in a name? I'm a believer that when teachers improve their skills, it transfers to the classroom. Some of the best activities I participated in were at least partially "personal" improvement.

One of the best programs I became involved with over those years was the poetry program for teachers offered by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

The Dodge Poetry Program was begun in 1986 with a series of poetry in-service days for New Jersey teachers. Those evolved into the idea for a Poetry Festival. The Poetry Program’s Founding Director was James Haba (who was my professor at Rutgers as an undergrad) created the first 1986 Poetry Festival. Since then, there have been twelve biennial Dodge Poetry Festivals, which now routinely attract audiences of 17,000 to 20,000. The Festival is the largest poetry event in North America. (see The Foundation expanded the poetry offerings to include poet visits to New Jersey high schools and professional development for teachers.

One of the opportunities for teachers offered was called "Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain." Small groups of teachers across the state met for a number of weeks to read, write and discuss poetry. The first year that I participated, I asked Jim Haba why there wasn't more discussion about "lessons" to take back to the classroom. Jim was pretty adamant that he didn't want that in the sessions. He believed that if the participants were really involved in poetry as readers and writers, it would enter the classroom naturally. I believe he was correct.

But when we read reports on professional development for teachers at all levels, the assessment of it always points to one goal: improving student achievement.

A post on the blog A Plethora of Technology asked the same question that I ask in this post: Are we wasting our time (and money) with professional development?

A report on how teacher professional development affects student achievement released in 2007 by the Regional Educational Laboratory (U.S. Dept. of Education) contained the disturbing statistic that by their standards only 9 of 1300 professional development programs studied had any value.

The study did show that quality professional development raised student achievement by an average of 21 percentile points.

The conclusion from the report is that professional development is worthwhile, but quality professional development is lacking.

What isn't made clear is what works. What are the components that make for effective PD?

Having spent the past ten years offering professional development for teachers (mostly for higher education), I'll admit that measuring the effectiveness of the transfer of PD to the classroom is difficult. I believe the PD works, but it's hard to provide good evidence beyond anecdotal evidence. I don't believe that any surveys or matrices will give accurate evidence for or against professional development.