I just ate a 20 year old fruitcake. I kid, I actually read an exerpt from, Qualitative Research in Information Management by Jack D. Glazier (University of Missouri-Columbia) and Ronald R. Powell (University of Missouri-Columbia). More specifically, Chapter 6 titled, "From the Mind's Eye of the User: The Sense-making Qualitative-Quantitative Methodology" by Brenda Dervin. It might as well have been a 20 year old fruitcake, it was so dense. It tasted a little nutty, had great flavor, but digesting it is something else. I had to take little bites at a time. And I'm sure, if I were to serve it to a friend or relative, they'd wonder why I was analyzing its contents.
What Dervin is telling us, is that there are constants in nature that we can assume are as "fact", and that human nature is specific in those facts. HOWEVER, our experiences are constant, relative, and individualized. My friend and I may be attending the same concert as we stand and sing together while watching the show, but we are experiencing it differently. My musical background, for example, might allow me to hear that the lead singer is singing slightly flat, while my friend, without that same knowledge, is enjoying the show totally oblivious that my fine-tuned ears are burning in disgust.
Which brings me to my next bite off the ol' fruitcake.
For Dervin, this is referencing again, that the human experience is relative. It's constantly happening, and it's also constantly changing. Change is a constant. As philosopher Immanuel Kant said about metaphysics, as quoted by Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The reason that knowledge has these constraints, Kant argues, is that the mind plays an active role in constituting the features of experience and limiting the mind’s access only to the empirical realm of space and time." School curriculum is constantly changing. Technology is constatnly changing. People's interests are constantly changing. All this is human behavior mixed with individual human emotions and individual experiences. We calibrate writing scores across a grade level, school, or district before we begin grading, so we can put our experiences and emotions aside. We do this to accomplish, as best as we can, an objective approach to subjective ideas.
If I were to teach this fruitcake of an exerpt to high school students, I would certainly break it down into small chunks. I would be highlighting it with the kids, allowing them to make a mind map of each section, cut pieces of it apart and then allow them to illustrate their sentences. I would even allow them to use youtube to show us clips of sci-fi movies!
"How many more minutes until recess?"
When I first started teaching (15 years ago), I must've gotten that question fifty times in the first day alone when I taught first grade all day. It's a simple, yet complex question. Almost a trick question, really. If I say the time, they won't understand the meaning of that. If I say "soon", they'll still not understand and think it is happening right now. And if I say, "School started ten minutes ago, it's not for a long time," well....they'll cry.
How do I instill a sense of time to someone who says, "Tomorrow, I went to the park. It was so fun!"? Back then, first graders needed to know how to tell time by the hour and half hour. I would teach, they took a test, end of story. But did they actually learn it? Do they understand how an hour is different from a minute, is different from a second, is different from a day? Surprisingly, some did. Of course, I differentiated the instruction to match all needs, but was it enough?
Personalized learning is different from differentiation. Personalized learning shows its appearance in many different ways. It might be each student using a computer program to teach math ideas, but at each students' own pace, while the algorythm is constantly restructuring the student's needs based on correct answers given. Dreambox Learning, is an example of this type of software. And Personlized learning might even look like each student is doing something completely different while the teacher walks around to support each student on their learning journey. It should also allow students to own their learning at their own pace with their own interests, strenghts, and talents taken into consideration.
And all this takes time.
Currently, as we are all on staycations, I am using Zoom and Seesaw to run my lessons for my first grade readers. I have found that Seesaw is an excellent way to differentiate student learning for these students. I am able to upload specific skills for each student based on their reading level. I am able to listen to their reading while giving specific feedback. But giving them the autonomy via Zoom isn't time well spent at the moment. I have 20 minutes with them. That's it. Only a few magical moments to teach phonics and comprehension before sending them off on the rest of their day, and hoping the lesson sticks as they work on their Seesaw lessons.
I will be teaching fifth grade next year. I am hoping to create lessons that will support student autonomy, critical thinking, and leadership. Through Google Classroom, research websites, and visual and performing arts, students will be able to create their own pathways to learn and present.
And again, it all takes time.
Sometimes, as a teacher, you come across something that just inspires you. No wait...it NAGS at you. It's something that you know you need to do/not do, but you cannot shake the way it takes up space in your mind. It's like that book you need to return to the library, and are only halfway done reading, but you owe like, a million dollars, and you really don't like it anyway, but read it to fall asleep, and use it as a coaster for your tea. You know, THAT book.
Sarah Magallano teaches 5th grade. She also coaches teachers on integrating art & engineering into their lesson plans.