Resonance and Dissonance

3/29/2006 11:22:00 am

It's taken me several days to write this. I finally just had to hit the [Publish] button or I never would have finished it. ;-)

"People will change their habits quickly when they have a strong reason to do so, and people have an innate urge to connect with other people ... And when you give people a new way to connect with other people, they will punch through any technical barrier, they will learn new languages — people are wired to want to connect with other people and they find it objectionable not to be able to."
The World is Flat (page 63) by Thomas Friedman

Quotes like this are why I think Friedman's book resonates with edubloggers. It's just this type of connection, amplified across the globe, that blogging facilitates.

The thing is though, not all my students are interested in making these connections. Some of them are so exceptionally shy, lacking in self esteem or simply disinclined to participate beyond the classroom walls. Some fear putting themselves "out there," speaking up, asking a question or adding their voice to the conversation. Others just can't be bothered. "So what if I lose a few marks? As long as I pass."

There's also the fact that while a number of young people today are digital natives, many are not. And they don't want to be. They don't see that there's anything in it for them. Everyone is different. They bring their unique set of aptitudes and abilities with them into my classroom. I try to teach them all.

Blogging has been an incredible opportunity for my own professional and personal growth. It has ignited a spark raging torrent of creativity, effort and learning in many of my students. And for some of them, it's an albatross.

Will asks To Blog or Not to Blog?

I don't read much about the kids that aren't engaged. And I'm wondering to what extent that happens as well. And further, I'm wondering to what extent they compare to the adult educators we're trying to teach about these tools who choose not to engage. The simple view is that this is generational, that kids are more available to the tools because they live in a connected world or because, well, they're kids and more open to new stuff than adults...but is it?

I'm going to save commenting about the adults for a future post, but as Will implies, the simple view is wrong. For example, Ewan shared, in our most recent skypecast (58 min 9 sec. Start listening at 17 min. 10 sec.), an observation about a news reporter younger than he (a self described digital native) whose job it is to know and report about youth culture yet is completely unaware of web 2.0 tools.

In every blog supported class I have taught I have students that don't engage; they refuse to participate. Some of my kids hate blogging. Some love it. Some of them, leaving my class, push the teacher (scroll down to the second comment by Kristin_R) in the next course to provide a blog. Others very much do not want a class blog. (The link is to an mp3 file [14 min. 16 sec.] from my Whiplash! workshop. Start listening at 13 min. 10 sec.)

Barbara Ganley picks up this thread at her blog and asks: Does blogging leave anyone out? Later in the same post she answers:

Teaching is never about a single approach, a single strategy--it is constant improvisation, a constant questioning. The learning environment is naturally fluid, and I must be hyper-aware of what's going on at all levels of the learning, ready to respond with an adjustment here or there.


I want my students to experience a range of learning situations — everyone is expected to complete the same assignments ... Everyone blogs, does digital stories, writes poems and stories, etc. etc. In my five years of classroom blogging, as I've observed here many times, not everyone takes to online work. Some of my students really dislike it. So? Do they all like giving oral presentations? Taking tests? Doing group work? Podcasting? Writing poems? Of course not. Is it important that they do all these things? Yes. Why? Because they have to get a taste of all the options open to them--I talk about equipping them with tools in their toolbox, and then they have to figure out what they'll make with the tools. And the tools are all these strategies and means of expression. As many as we can cover in a semester. It's important that they keep an open mind about what they can learn through trying things that are hard for them--we talk about William Faulkner's "glorious failures" about learning means making mistakes.

Barbara articulates this so beautifully. We all take differentiated instruction as a given. We have to adapt our teaching to meet the varied needs and learning styles of our students. Some of the students in my class are digital natives. In the same way that I differentiate my instruction for auditory learners (we sing, yup, we really do), visual learners (I make extensive meaningful use of colour in my whiteboard use and the daily notes I give) and kinesthetic learners (we dance, honest, we do; sometimes I even make them stand on their desks). In the last 14 months I've also adapted my teaching for the digital learners (we blog, craft digital stories and I'm still working on some wiki ideas).

Is there a dearth of stories about kids failing math, or school in general? No. Kids failing math isn't news. Kids excelling at math, engaging the material and making it their own, kids writing a math text book is news.

Have there been failures in my classes? Yes. It's not a secret and I've freely mentioned it here and elsewhere. But what more can I say? The kid failed. Have I misinformed by sharing only the success stories? I don't think so. This blog is about how I struggle to learn and adapt the technological tools freely available on the web to enhance my students learning. The path I've traveled is laid out in the posts behind this one. I have shared stories about kids who haven't engaged, but in the context of what they are able to achieve when they did make that effort:

  • » Last week a student stopped me in the hall. He had taken Pre-Cal 20S with me last semester. He wanted me to know how well he was doing in his Pre-calculus Mathematics 30S class. He said all his classmates were doing well and attributed it to what they had learned in my class. They're doing well because they're learning hard. As one of them said, they learned how to learn. Of course I feel great about this! But blogging doesn't bring on that kind of success for all my kids. Several "good" bloggers failed that class.
  • » Recently one student dropped my class because of the blog. Although she came back I still don't know how many others dropped for this reason and didn't tell me about it.
  • » In that same post (linked above) I talk about a student who refused to participate in the blog all semester. He finally wrote a single blog post prior to the last class test. What he wrote was so powerful that it is being published in a print magazine.

I don't have any out-and-out, complete, utter disasters to share. I feel that as long as I continue to try to improve the learning for my students their individual failures are just another step on the road to success. These are the "glorious failures" that Barbara spoke of.

I firmly believe that all students are capable of succeeding in advanced math. Their marks measure the amount of time, energy and effort they put into learning; not their intelligence. If you want to know how smart someone is have a conversation with them. (Get them to blog.) If you want to know how hard they're working in school, look at their grades. Learning is largely dependent upon the learner. I have never had an able bodied student fail my class after they have tried their hardest.

Bud writes there should be No Stories Left Behind:

... I value the good ideas and lessons that my colleagues in the edublogosphere are sharing on a daily basis.

The only problem with best practice texts, too often at least, is that they turn classrooms into Mickey Mouse spaces where all goes well and there's never any trouble. Every student in these books finds success in the classroom. At least, that's how the texts present classrooms.

Again, this is not universal; many good texts share failures as well as successes, but not nearly enough.

I do not want this blog to become a text that misinforms as it informs. Nor do I want to read blogs that paint stories of success while ignoring the stories of students lost or unsuccessful along the way.

We aren't going to learn anything by merely telling half of the story. And omission, intentional or otherwise, may blur the narrative.

Now, I'm not saying that this is happening, but ... I want to make a public reminder to myself to tell as much of the story as I can, without shading or blurring information in any way.

You should read the comments to Bud's post. Every one of them addresses another facet of the issues Bud raises.

I disagree with the sentiment that "best practice texts ... turn classrooms into Mickey Mouse spaces where all goes well and there's never any trouble." All the research I've read says that students excel in an environment where the teacher has high expectations and sets high standards. These teachers also model what exceptional work looks like by showing outstanding examples to their students. This is the whole idea behind the Go For Gold assignments I give my classes leading up to their exams. We aim for excellence and if we fall a little short of that mark, well, then we know we have done good work nonetheless. I think the same is true for teachers; at least it is for me. I'm interested in what's working in your classes. What have you done to inspire exceptional work in your kids? How did you orchestrate it? How did you set it up? How did you follow up? I see lots of examples of failure every day. Show me the great work your kids have done and help me figure out how to carry over the experience to my own classes. This doesn't mean I don't want to hear about the failures, I do. But I'm far more interested in how you turned them into success stories.

The kind of powerful learning facilitated by blogging resonates with me and with many of my students. For some of them it creates an uncomfortable dissonance. That's a good thing. I believe we learn most when we figure out how to resolve the dissonance provoked by our learning experiences. And all our experiences are learning experiences. Which I guess is my answer to another question Nancy raised recently. ;-)

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  1. Darren,
    I really loved your post and I referenced it in my own blog for a technology class that I am taking! Thanks for having such a great perspective on technology and education. Also, for giving a hopeful teacher some great insight. My blog is at if you want to look at it. Thanks again!

  2. Mr. K.

    Again, I echo your sentiments. I also don't see a lot of failures in my classes. I too, however, was particularly struck by the Mickey Mouse comment. I've begun to make sure that I share all sides of things, however, the side I see continues to be on the positive side of all of the web 2.0. It relates to the kids. It works. It relays the subject so very effectively no matter what subject it is!