Sunday, March 6, 2011

What was I thinking?

AKA: Making my thinking for my TEDxGrandValley Talk visible

Saturday’s TEDxNYED motivated me. Actually, it was Dr. Gary Stager’s Twitter-stream following his talk that inspired me to action. His tweets expressed my feelings exactly upon completing a TEDx Talk. There was so much more I wanted to say and a better way to say it but the format (which I love as an observer) is in many ways unforgiving to a presenter.

After my talk, good friend and colleague, John Golden, mentioned that I had seemed uncharacteristically nervous (we’ve done several presentation together). He was right; I was nervous and beginning to feel like I had blown an opportunity to make clear ideas I thought worth sharing. During the dinner celebrating the event, I connected with another friend and colleague, Sean Lancaster, who had also given a talk. He, too, expressed frustration regarding his performance and we commiserated together.


Not long after these conversations, I came up with what I thought was a great idea – TEDTalks Take Two: Ideas Worth Sharing but Better this Time. Using a digital camera we could record our improved talks and put them on the web ourselves.
Like many of my “great ideas” this went nowhere and once I watched the TEDxGrandValley videos I thought our talks went better than it felt at the time. I did not need a complete “do-over.”

Still, there were things I thought I could/should make clearer. And then it came to me – I needed a commentary. Yes, I am one of those people who actually enjoy listening to directors or actors provide insight into their thinking about their work. Therefore, I decided to write a commentary to accompany my talk that would make some of my thinking more visible.

First, here is my original talk from TEDxGrandValley:



Now, here is my commentary:

Before the talk:
I was fairly confident going into the talk. It was not my first presentation, and I was familiar with the content and the TED format. I like Sir Ken Robinson’s style and thought that I would emulate it by telling a series of one-minute stories.
I even went to the hall the day before to check out the space. The person in charge of technology said that there was a bit of a glitch with using the embedded video but they fixed it by running parallel PowerPoints on two different computers. I was asked if I wanted to run through the talk but I declined because I wanted to keep it fresh. This was a mistake.

During the talk:
The story about the phone call is true and it did have an interesting effect on my confidence. Maybe it contributed to my nervousness. In any case, from the beginning I was searching for words. I even forgot TED’s catchphrase, “Ideas Worth Sharing.” What was meant to take 30 seconds took over a minute – not a good start.

Yet I remained committed to providing the audience with time to activate their schema using the venn Diagrams. In a weird twist, the glitch with the embedded videos provided me with some extra time as I accidentally skipped over my slide introducing the Council on 21st Century Learning [C21L]. Two of their videos provide the backbone for my talk, however, and I want to give them their due. I hope this makes up for the unintended slight. I was grateful for the extra time, though.

C21L has another video comparing students versus learners that I decided against using because of time constraints, but it related to my first sustainability question, “Will this be on the test?” If you watch the video I did not include, you will see that I was trying to channel the student’s perspective regarding consuming content. With all the focus on high-stake testing, this idea of covering content is particularly pernicious.

In retrospect, I wish I had included a picture of Admiral Ackbar (from Star Wars) to go along with my belief that “When will we ever use this? is a trap. Probably just as well as it might have been too obscure and distracting. What is interesting is the number of times I have seen variations of this question/trap asked during recent observations of student teachers. The result is usually the same: teachers scrambling for an answer that students tear apart or don’t accept.

The beauty of a commentary is I can provide a glimpse into my actions as well as my thinking. The “there’s an App for that” line was an opportunity for me to grab my iPhone which had my notes on it. I saw that I was running out of time and wanted it available just in case.

The “Why don’t you just show me?” question really gets at my frustration with the current system that fosters a consumer mentality. Students consuming what teachers are selling. This question is the crux of my argument that the current system is unsustainable. Students need to learn how to survive beyond teachers or textbooks always feeding them the information.

Again, the second video snuck up on me. I guess there is something to be said for rehearsal.


Kathy searching for answers (or Nessie)
John suggested that I use pictures from my trip to Scotland to support the second part of the talk. I am glad he did because they provided a series of strong metaphors for the ideas inherent in teachers fostering learners instead of students.


Roslyn Chapel under canopy
Using Roslyn Chapel for the support example was a bit of a reach. In Scotland we saw a lot of buildings surrounded by scaffolding. They do not simply tear down historic buildings; they repair and rebuild. Sometimes the support became a part of the rebuilt structure. Other times it is removed once the structure is sound. This was the point I was trying to make. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures of these scaffolds. Consequently, I went with a slightly different approach with the canopy. I think it makes the point, just not as well.

In introducing the workshop model, I had a quote from Jon Stewart that I wanted to use but forgot. “Creativity comes from limits not freedom… When you have a structure then you can improvise off of it…” Instead, I spent some time connecting to earlier talks – a mainstay of the TED format. But I still wish I had used that Stewart quote because it makes the point that creativity is not devoid of structure.

Kathy was not exactly happy that I included this picture of her in front of the “pile of rocks.” I convinced her that she always looks good and that it would be up only briefly. Besides, it was the perfect example of the role choice place in empowering learners and adventurers.

The ideas associated with the awareness, acceptance, and adjustment slide comes from my yoga story. You can read it here. No point to me repeating it in this post.

Apprentice Pillar
With the Apprentice Pillar, I intended to expand upon the story of the mentor’s murder of the apprentice as a cautionary tale of the problem with conformity in schools. I do not want my learners limited by me. A teacher’s role is to develop sustainable learners not unsustainable students.

At this point I was a bit panicked by how little time was left. I felt like I zoomed through the Gradual Release of Responsibility model. The Model, Mentor, and Monitor alliteration comes from Jeffrey Wilhelm. I wanted to give him credit. I also wanted to talk about how Debbie Miller uses the model to ensure that her classroom transforms from the teacher modeling in September and October to the learners doing in March, April, and May. By the way, the line about wanting my learners to make better pillars came from John.

The last slide worked out about how I wanted. I just wish I had ended with sustainable learners instead of sustainable students. Though I like the alliteration, it does not fit with the rest of the talk.

After the talk:
I hope that you can accept this bit of navel-gazing. We ask our learners in the mathematics education course at GVSU to do a lot of reflection. Often, it looks similar to a commentary as we ask them to annotate their work in order to make their thinking visible. A book I read recently by Dr. James Zull, affirms our commitment to reflection as being essential for learners to grow and become self-sustaining.

Putting together this talk in the first place helped me to consolidate my thoughts about where we are (consuming information) and where I think we need to be (creating understanding). Writing this commentary has further solidified my own understandings and strengthened my resolve to doing things differently. Thanks for humoring me as I try to make this thinking visible (if only to myself).

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