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Evaluating Information: The Wrong Way or the Best Way!

A couple of weeks ago, I delivered several presentations to a school district in the mid-west, one of the numerous August back-to-school gigs I’m doing fewer of each year. It was a rewarding day, more so than many. Keeping the attention of hundreds of teachers, just back from vacation, catching up with friends, weighing in the politics of new leadership, and desperately needing to be in their classrooms makes this a pretty tough gig. Not so on this day.

After a presentations about expanding our notions of literacy, a teacher came up asking, “But what’s to be done about students accessing all the information on the Internet that is simply not true.”

I reminded him that I had just made the point that it isn’t just the Internet we need to be worried about. Then I gave him one of my usual responses,

If I was still teaching history, and my students turned in a paper, they would be waiting for the challenge. It happens every time.  It’s part of the ongoing classroom conversation.

Placing a student’s paper on his desk and pointing to one paragraph, I ask, “How do you know that’s true?” If the student can’t answer the question, he’s going to lose points.  Even if the paragraph is true, he’s going to lose points.  My students would be responsible for their information’s appropriateness and the evidence that supports its appropriateness.

I wonder now if this response makes sense only to me, a figment of a private fantasy. So I thought I’d spend some bits trying to unpack this approach into something that better distinguishes a “new way” from an “old way.

The difference is in what we call attention to.  Our tendency, as teachers, is to address the problem by focusing on the mistakes, red-penning what’s not accurate, not reliable, not valid, doesn’t make sense.  It’s logical because whats not true is a fundamental problem to education.  We work to keep wrong information out of our textbooks, whiteboards, libraries and lectures.  We foster a learning environment where we can all take comfort in the assumption that the information is “true.”  

Our position, as teachers, is based on this assumption.

For the problems caused by the Internet, we create checklists to identify the breakage in information.

[ ] Is the author’s name included in the page & can he be contacted?

[ ] Are the author’s qualifications available?

[ ] Is the publisher an educational institution or other reputable organization?

[ ] Is the information fact or opinion?  Is there bias?

[ ] Is the URL domain among the trusted (edu, gov, org)?

If you can check all of the above, then you can use the information.  

We teach research and writing as a practice in avoiding problems,

..but not as a practice in solving them.

If we teach our learners to research and communicate in order to solve a problem, then we entirely change the approach.  We assess their work through conversations about the “best way” rather than the “wrong way,” and learners become active defenders rather than passive accepters of judgement.  The classroom conversation changes.  Students become more active, empowered and invested.  They become stakeholders in their learning, and ultimately, responsible to an authentic context/audience.

They own what they write, present or make, because they did the work and defended it.  They’re accountable.  

They own the learning.

 

A School that Practices Learning-Literacy

I had the pleasure and good fortune of speaking at the Connecting Leaders conference this weekend in Vancouver. Organized by the British Columbia Principals and Vice Principals Association, the conference consisted of two days of keynotes, breakouts and meetings.  I keynoted the second morning (Saturday), delivered a breakout and the closing remarks around 11:30.  Pretty standard fair.

After the conference adjourned, the association held an Educational Leadership Forum to assist in revising their Leadership Standards for Principals and Vice-Principals in British Columbia.  Eight panelist were invited to deliver 7 to 8 minute talks, exploring specified topics that are relevant to school leadership.  I was panelist number seven and was asked to talk about literacy.

The panelists were:

  • Taken before the event
    Dr. Bruce Beairsto — Former Superintendent of Schools with the Richmond School District in British Columbia
  • Dr. Avis Glaze — International educator, speaker and former administrator with the Ontario Ministry of Education
  • Julie MacRae — Director of Education/CEO of Regina Public Schools, Saskatchewan
  • Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichl — an Applied Developmental Psychologist and Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia
  • Dennis Sparks — Emeritus Executive Director of the National Staff Development Council
  • Robert C. Kidd – President of Overwaitea Foods
  • Dr. Charles Underleider — Professor of the Sociology of Education at The University of British Columbia
  • David Warlick – In high cotton ;-)

The event was brilliantly organized with eight round tables in the room, each devoted to two of the addressed topics.  Around each table were invited and distinguished principals, vice-principals, district administrators, university folks, and representatives from the BC Ministry of Education.  Four of the panelists spoke on their topics and then the eight of us dispersed to our assigned tables where we discussed our first assigned topic.  Then the remaining four returned to the stage to address our topics.

My note-taking app of choice is Mindo
I wanted to share some ideas about an expanded vision of literacy that reflects today’s prevailing information environment –– my standard respelling the 3Rs with a healthy sprinkling of ethics.  A recent teenage suicide in BC, resulting from cyber bullying, was a fairly pervasive backdrop throughout the conference.  But I wanted to go beyond my standard 3Es and try to describe what I would expect to see in a school that practices contemporary literacy (learning-literacy).

What really helped was being able to listen to six of my stagemates share their perspectives before I had to speak, each of them provoking a new twist on one or more of the qualities I had listed.  I certainly hope that the frequent tweaking of my notes (see above & right), on my iPad, at my end of the stage, didn’t distract anyone.

So, a school that practices learning-literacy will be a school where

  • The distinctions between teacher and student begin to blur.
  • There is less reliance on textbooks and authority, and more reliance on the work of learning.
  • There is a natural convergence between the rich information skills of literacy and numeracy and the information and data that define the content areas.
  • Teachers teach from new learning, as master learners.
  • Digital Footprints become a central part of the school’s culture, building evolving personal and school identities based on learning and “doing” with the learning.
  • The library magnifies the world outside, but also reflects the culture inside, curating collections of learner produced media products.
  • Where learners learn, teachers model learning, and the school teaches the community.

How does this ring for you?


Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Books Written

Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind
(2005)

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