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Collaborative Learning is Essential to Common Core State Standards

“Students will engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions on topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.”  From K-5 Common Core State Standards for Literacy

I recently read this while involved in an early morning grade-level meeting.  Afterwards I was observing in several of our classrooms and began to think back to when I was in school.

Schooling has changed greatly…for the better!  Most of my schooling was spent at a desk in a row (toward the back of my class since we often sat in alphabetical order).  The teacher stood or sat in the front of the room at all times and we sat in our desks at all times.

I learned to line myself up carefully with the student in front of me to essentially disappear when teachers asked questions.   Makeup work was easy to get because all you needed was the textbook and stack of worksheets missed.  I have no memory of discussing content or learning with other students.  I have few memories of doing this with teachers.  I have no memory of a teacher writing and sharing his/her learning.

All of the above things about school have (or should have) changed.   Much of the work we do in today’s world requires communication and teaming with others to accomplish a task.  In my work I rarely sit at a desk for extended periods of time.  I rarely work alone but work with others to get things done.  I rarely have a “worksheet” or form to fill out but often use writing to clarify my thinking or communicate with others.  I rarely refer to a “textbook” but often refer to professional journals, websites, blogs and e-books to gather information.  I often use technology to collaborate with educators, community members, and policy makers.

Facilitating collaborative learning is challenging, but our teachers are making great efforts to do this.  It requires deep planning and thought.  It’s much easier to just dispense information but young people (and older people, too) have little patience for constant lecture.

We are about to step into 2013 and a world filled with change and challenge.  If we focus on instruction that helps our children work together, they will have the tools to improve our world. If we retreat from the requirements of Common Core State Standards and their emphasis on teaching collaboratively, we will leave our children a legacy of decline.

“That-a-way, Bo!” Encouragement Makes a Difference

“That-a-way, Bo!”  Those words meant a lot to this freshman, unsure about his chances of success in college.  The memory of his high school counselor’s hesitancy about his college plans were still fresh and caused strong feelings of doubt.

Now, with the words “That-a-way” from the greatest musician he’d ever been around, the possibility of success seemed real – he was going to make it! There were some discouraging times during college, but this professor helped many students perform better than they ever thought possible.

He set high expectations and was relentless in holding to them.  He had the ability to move toward goals in spite of distractions.  He was a learner with his students even as this great man taught them.  He loved his work with such enthusiasm that the lines between work and play were often blurred.

Now, as a school principal and teacher, I am thankful for his influence.  He never set out to provide instruction on how to be a principal, but he taught many lessons and gave me confidence that I benefit from today.

When I am doing my most satisfying work, I sometimes feel like he’s looking over my shoulder saying, “That-a-way, Bo!”  There is no greater satisfaction than knowing you have done your best.  Mr. Wendell Evanson, my band director at Henderson State University, taught me this lesson.  I hope we can help every child learn the joy of work and a job well done.

Wendell Evanson and his former student having a visit.

Wendell Evanson and his former student having a visit.

Implementation Dip

Thought of the implementation dip recently as I tried to begin this blog.  Though the story relates to photography, it applies across all disciplines.  Hope you enjoy.  Jim W

Most folks probably know I enjoy photography.  What they might not be aware of is the frustration of my early attempts with this hobby.

I’ve learned a lot about learning through photography.    When I first started trying to take photos using the manual settings with slide film I over or under exposed many photographs.  After having a roll of film developed, I would look at each slide and compare it with my notes that stated the shutter speed and aperture opening used.  This was a slow and often discouraging process.  On some rolls I might not get a single photo worth keeping. Over a period of months, and with help from books and other photographers, I found myself throwing away fewer slides and for me this was progress.

Any time you try something new, you experience what some call an “implementation dip”.  This is a normal part of learning and often discourages us from trying something new.   Had I not been willing to go through the “implementation dip” I would have missed out on the enjoyment of sharing photographs of our beautiful state with others.

As students and educators, we are all involved in learning new things.  This is exciting but also brings the challenge of going through “implementation dips”.  It is exciting to see students developing new skills.  Many of our teachers have implemented new strategies in their classrooms and have been willing to go through their own “implementation dips” to arrive at new and exciting levels of instruction that increase student learning.

When you’re tempted to give up on learning or trying something new, pause and realize that you may just be in the dip before success.  Hang in there and you’ll enjoy looking back on the progress you’ve made.

Without going through the implementation dip I would never have been able to capture or share this image.

Without going through the implementation dip I would never have been able to capture or share this image.

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