The Possibilities and Challenges of a Participatory Learning Environment: Students and Teachers Speak

I’d like to share with you a conversation for learning I had this morning with fellow teacher Lisa Kennedy and two of her students.   Lisa and I have been contemplating the aspects of the inquiry driven, participatory learning classroom that students embrace as well as the pushback we’re seeing from students (which includes some Media 21 alum).   The backdrop of prior student learning experiences, extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation, pressures of standardized testing and choices students make about using class time are layers of this learning ecology that we’re trying to negotiate as Lisa and fellow 1:1 netbook pilot program teacher Cleve Ard work through the tensions of shifting from a teacher centered classroom to a student centered focus.   The range of reactions to this model of learning from Lisa’s students mirror what Susan Lester and I have observed for the last two years:  a continuum of responses ranging from pure jubilation and a sense of feeling empowered and liberated to intense resistance.  In terms of student responses that are a pushback to this model of learning,  Lisa sees similar themes or motifs of student response that Susan and I witnessed, particularly during the 2010-11 academic year:

  • some students desire to be “spoon fed” knowledge rather than actively constructing it
  • some students expect  the classroom is the only site of learning and do not desire to engage in learning outside of the school day
  • some students privilege  classic literature over nonfiction texts (online and in print—memoirs, biography, journals, magazines, newspapers) as what counts as “real” reading and are concerned they aren’t reading “what we’re supposed to be reading” in an Honors or AP course.

For the last two years in my work with teachers like Lisa Kennedy and Susan Lester (Media21), I’ve been immersing myself in the discourse of a participatory learning ecology (and by default, the library as a site of participatory culture). In the last year or so, I’ve really started thinking critically about some of the pushback we’ve seen from students who are struggling with this model of learning and the reasons for that pushback—what are the stories behind this and what do they tell us about the bigger picture of the dynamics of education and learning in an educational culture driven by standardized testing and standards? Consequently, I’m wondering how do we effectively think about the challenges inherent in these narratives and the complexity of the layers we’re trying to peel back.  In the next couple of months, I’m hoping to look more closely at this challenges through the theoretical lens of scholars like Bakhtin as well as other critical theorists to hopefully have a better understanding of what I’m observing and to be a better teacher and practitioner; I also hope to draw on this to more thoughtfully contemplate how a model of participatory learning informs my conceptualization of “library.”  All of these wonderings reflect how I’ve become increasingly immersed in my role as learning specialist at my school.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take time to watch this 18 minute video and listen closely to the ideas, concerns, and reflections, especially as they relate to matching learning tasks and assessments, the importance of failure, trust (or lack thereof) in a learning community, social/collaborative building of knowledge and meaning, ownership of learning, and inquiry.  A heartfelt thank you to Ms. Lisa Kennedy and her students for their honesty, constructive feedback, and willingness to share their thinking in such a public way and to help push our thinking.

References:

Fontichiaro, K. (2009). Nudging toward Inquiry: Re-envisioning Existing Research Projects. School Library     Monthly26(1), 17-19.

2 thoughts on “The Possibilities and Challenges of a Participatory Learning Environment: Students and Teachers Speak

  1. Pingback: Another Provocation… « I&L 2239: Theory and Research in New Literacies

  2. as a teacher-librarian-in-training (for lack of a better descriptor) I just wanted to say thank you for this video! it took the I+M-PACT model of learning and approaches to inquiry and project-based learning out of the theoretical/textbook and gave me some real insight into how to apply it in schools, and how teachers and students are responding. so thank you, again! :)

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