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I’ve just returned from a week at #ICOT2013 – the International Conference on Thinking  in Wellington, NZ. It was an invigorating and provocative conference that has given me a much needed energy and intellectual boost before starting a new job and role at Debney Meadows Primary school this year.
I came away from the conference with my head full of great new ideas and a renewed commitment to old favourites that I had put on the backburner.
One of the speakers that made the biggest impact on me was Ewan McIntosh who reinforced to me the importance of kids truly having ownership of their learning. He raised the idea of “Googleable and Non Googleable” questions, which struck a real chord. If the answer already exists online, why are kids spending time and energy on an investigation? My kids did passion projects of their own choice last year and when I look back, they were all “googleable” topics. The kids chose their own topics and went through the researching process with my support but it was essentially regurgitating information they found, not creating or making any new meaning of their own. Ewan reminded me of the importance of developing Fertile Questions (Harpaz and Lefstein) that undermine existing ideas and thinking and celebrate the steps of the process more. I know I sometimes fall into the trap of only displaying the finished products, not the messy drafts, prototypes, modelling and thinking that goes on. Learning is messy and hands on – i know this intellectually but in reality do I allow it to be or do I present it as this tidy, neat process, sending to kids the message that if their learning is not tidy and neat, they aren’t smart or worse are doing it wrong. Most of the stuff that end up in my student portfolios are the finished copies. I need the learning, models , diagrams, scribble on the wall to label the skills and subjects so kids make the link and know what they are learning. Why do us teachers keep this stuff behind the scenes? It sends the message that inquiry is easy and pretty and neat and we all know learning is not. It’s challenging, confusing and hard work. We need to make kids realise this and start by modelling the confusion, anxiety other emotions associated with learning. We need to show kids that learners, even teachers fail sometimes. I need to do this more. I also need to ensue that the Learning Intentions stay true to the task and are clear for the kids so they aware of the skills being learned.
These ideas also relate to the planning that teachers do for learning and made me question whether I contrive student inquiry and if kids have real ownership and direct it with their questions? Having control issues, I suspect that I direct it way too much still. I’m going to try and step back and plan more as we go to be true to the kids questions and ideas. This will be super hard for me but I think the payoff will be worth the confusion and frustration I will undoubtedly go through. This is what James Nottingham calls getting into the “learning pit.” His colleague Martin Renton ran a great session on essentially philosophical questioning with kids. These are questions/strategies to undermine and challenge mind sets, assumptions and stereotypes and really linked well with Ewan McIntosh and his presentation. It’s important that I get kids questioning and doing the bulk of the thinking in my classes. They should be the ones engaged in the learning and thinking. I shouldn’t be the one working the hardest!
Finally a couple of presenters reminded me to get back to a few favourites that I have essentially shelved during the last few years due to the relentless WMR focus on literacy and numeracy – Habits of Mind and the 6 Hats. DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats are a much more holistic way of thinking than just a PMI, which only focuses on pros, cons and ideas. I liked the idea of saying “take off the black hat and put on the yellow” as it depersonalises the conversation and makes it less of a confrontation and can sway thinking in a different direction. I will get back to using this. 
DeBono’s talk also spoke about breaking the brain’s thinking pattern to be more flexible by introducing a random word or problem. This also ties in with the philosophical questioning strategy showed by Martin Renton. It is basically an undermining question to challenge thinking and assumptions. Something to try. 
I was also reminded to teach and build student capacity in the Habits of the Mind and to use these to build on students strengths and build up weaknesses. These dispositions also help learners to know themselves. The better you know yourself, the more you control your destiny. Why have I stopped using the habits?
Sorry for the lengthy reflection – so many ideas and thoughts to process. 
I am now trying to both talk myself into and out of attending the next #ICOT to be held in Balibo, Spain in late June 2015. Would be fab but obviously expensive. An internal war that will undoubtedly rage in my head until June 2015…

Tonight, I have been doing some reading about using student reading journals to extend  thinking and understanding about text. I have been on this “mission” to learn about teaching reading more effectively for about eighteen months now and tonight, I made some connections between literacy teaching and the use of technology to enhance thinking and learning about literacy. 

The article reinforced that we make our own meaning from text and that talk helps us extend our thinking. Conversation with others helps us formulate our response to text or media and explore our own “meaning.” Here is where Twitter comes into my thinking; Earlier tonight, I found myself tweeting in response to viewing Masterchef on TV. I searched for the opinions and ideas of others to gather different perspectives, express my emotions, sort out my confusion and seek validation that people thought or reacted to events/people in the same way that I did. It helped me clarify my thoughts on the text I was viewing and was highly engaging and fun! This is what an effective reading conversation or journal can and should do!

My article went on to propose the use of reading journals for teachers and classmates to communicate, pose questions and gather information about student understanding, thinking about text, life and the world. I recognised that this can also be done electronically via a blog, electronic journal or even using Twitter. It is the conversation that is the key here. We need to engage our students in directed conversations about text and learning to help them make sense of their world and connect and stretch their thinking.

I have also had another recent experience, which reinforced the value of conversation. At #ACEC10~ Digital Diversity conference, I was simultaneously listening/viewing presentations and conversing and listening to other delegates responses via Twitter on my iPhone. It was like being at the lecture and the tutorial at the same time! I shared and build upon my understanding from peers in the room. It helped me gain clarity, see other perspectives and provoked new ideas. It was illuminating. Overall, it reinforced that conversation is powerful and we need to promote this in our schools, whether in person, online commentary or written responses to reading journals. If technology can aid us to do this, we do our students a disservice if we don’t avail ourself of any means available to engage them in the learning conversation.

Kerron’s Tweets

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