Without going into trivial details, the fallout of No Child Left Behind hit me right between the eyes today.   I know change comes slowly, and I try to be one who encourages and nurtures positive change, but I came home feeling a bit frustrated and slightly defeated today.

However, my spirits and determination have been revived after coming across this brilliant post in my Google Reader tonight from the incredibly insightful and innovative Dr. Michael Wesch.   In this post, Dr. Wesch describes how he has created a portal via Netvibes to incorporate course content and student driven research projects for his Digital Ethnography course.

One feature of this course I really love is that each student-researcher keeps his or her own blog to reflect his/her work as a researcher.  While I have not seen all the details of this blog, I can see how this blog could house many research elements (most seem to be starting with a proposal for a research project), including a research journal that students could use for frequent reflection or metacognition, something I believe is essential for engaged learning.  What if classroom teachers asked students to keep a blog in which students documented a journey of learning?  What if teachers kept a portal so that students could easily connect with their classmates and collaborate as student researchers?  I think that would speak louder than any standardized test!

The “information” or “class commons” also features a feed for bookmarks to the class Diigo account, a RSS feed for comments from blogs, the class YouTube Channel, and other related course media/resources.  Students can also easily see the class agenda/calendar with an embedded Google Calendar.

How could this translate to a high school classroom?  I can totally see how teachers could take a learning centered approach framed in connectivism to help students:

1.  Create their own personal learning networks that have relevance and meaning for their research projects.

2.  Collaborate and connect with fellow students through their journey as student researchers in a course.

3.  Give students responsibility for their learning.

No Child Left Behind may seem to promote achievement, but instead, it has created school environments that reduce learning to standards that will be on a standardized test, not learning that will carry over into all areas of life and beyond someone’s four years of high school.   Teachers feel compelled to hurry through units of study, and students have little ownership of what or how they learn.  The tunnel vision created by NCLB blinds us from seeing the possibilities for learning in our increasingly networked world increasingly influenced by social media.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, students are trained to look for THE answer, not a range of answers or to see that knowledge is really organic rather than the fixed target touted by NCLB.

In my seventeen years of teaching, I have found that students will pretty much do exactly what is expected of them.    Although they may kick and scream at first when the bar of expectations is raised, most students come to enjoy being challenged and develop confidence and pride at being able to do more than they ever dreamed possible.  If we as educators are forced to create a classroom environment that puts the teacher at the center of teaching and learning and the student as a passive recipient, then students will be just that—passive and definitely not engaged.

Imagine a classroom environment where you as the teacher facilitate learning and students take more responsibility (real, not token, responsibility) for research and project based learning in which students take the wheel—and inquiry is the vehicle they drive.  I am not talking about a one time major research project for the class; instead, research and inquiry are the modes of learning for the class.   Research and inquiry are a way of classroom life, not just a once a year or semester assignment.

I would like to work with a teacher at my school to create this kind of learning environment.   As part of my Media 21 Capstone Project for 2009-10 , I will be seeking a teacher who is willing to take risks and approach classroom instruction from an inquiry stance in which students learn through research projects and project based learning.   With the support of my administration, I envision the library as an essential partner and co-teacher in this process.  Not only do I want to help facilitate the research and learning activities in collaboration with a teacher, but I want to actively help create and facilitate the information and collaboration commons via Netvibes and/or our district’s eLocker platform.  This platform could house student blogs as well as the “commons” area much in the same mode as Netvibes and help us create a social learning network in which students can connect and collaborate to engage in meaningful and inquiry based research that incorporates the Georgia Performance Standards for that course.

Although much focus is still needed for this vision that places information literacy as an integral element of learning, I am energized and excited at the thought of the teacher-librarian and library as true partner with a teacher and classroom grounded in inquiry.

My next step is to find a teacher who is willing to take risks and step outside his/her comfort zone to partner with me in this grand adventure.   Once I find that teacher, we will sit down and start fleshing out how we can structure that course around inquiry-based learning and research as a primary mode for mastering course standards.  We will also need to determine the information literacy skills, including New Media literacies, that we want to incorporate into class as we tap into the power of social networking and Web 2.0 tools to help our students’ learning take flight.  Learning and research will be play, and the library will be the sandbox in which we play!

Many thanks to Dr. Wesch for sharing his insights and providing inspiration.  I believe his work is evidence that we as edcuators CAN be agents of change, and I hope to bring his model of learning to a classroom right inside my school and library!  Thank you for helping me keep my eyes on the bubbles.