Wednesday, March 26, 2014

IRC Conference: Why curiosity, thinking, and collaboration matter in the 21st century by Stephanie Harvey

I have seen so many big names in education speak over the last few years that it makes me wonder why our education system seems to be imploding.  Cris Tovani, Rick Wormeli, Steven Layne, Jeff Anderson, Janet Allen, and Kelly Gallagher all have delivered messages to me at different times in the last thirteen months, and in each of these messages I leave wondering what I can do to spread the word. Stephanie Harvey's message at this year's IRC Conference was no different.

We had just eaten a delicious lunch when Harvey took the podium for an hour.  After being in sessions all morning and eating a nice lunch, I was ready to stretch my legs and then take a nap, but Harvey must have known I was sitting in the audience because she began to deliver the most riveting session I had seen all day on a topic near and dear to my heart - intrinsic motivation.

Harvey's entire presentation revolved around the belief that we need to feed students' natural curiosity to build intrinsic motivation.  She used some quotations by Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, to illustrate why the education system must change.  "Teaching will be learning how to ask the right questions.  I was taught to memorize facts.  Why remember them?  Now you just need to learn how to search for information and sort through the burgeoning data available on computers."  What a brilliant thought in this day of information overload!  21st Century Learning Standards are asking learners to do just these things: ask the right questions and know how to find reliable answers to draw conclusions.

Don't tell me that you haven't been with a group of people, and somebody asks a question that nobody can answer.  Three people immediately pull out their phones to do a quick Google search. For names of celebrities and the nearest Mexican restaurant, this is a piece of cake, but what happens when the tough questions get asked?  How do we know that the information we are gleaning from is valid?  Who was supposed to teach us this?

Curiosity, according to Harvey and Schmidt, is essential for learning.  I think about my own kindergartner and how his curiosity runs WILD.  The questions start as early as 6 a.m. sometimes, and there are times when I have to force myself to sound interested and not flop down in a chair, exasperated by the questions.  Why don't our thirteen-year-olds do this?  Why are we not bolting the door to the library daily because the kids are beating it down, trying to find answers to their limitless line of questions that should be running through their brains?  According to Harvey, our kiddos start to lose their curiosity between fifth and seventh grade because answers are the focus in school, not questions.  This must change.

Einstein knew this well before Stephanie Harvey told us.  "It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry."  And then marches in Common Core . . . but entirely too late.  Although there are two sides to each new initiative in education, there are also those educators who choose to stand in the middle, hoping to find positives in the old and the new.

That's me.  The one standing in the middle of this Common Core debate continuum, waving wildy.  So much of the controversy in Common Core revolves around the assessment pieces, not the core standards themselves.  In fact, if you take a good look at the actual anchor standards for our English Language Arts (I can only speak for the ELA standards), most of them seem like an amped-up version of good teaching and former standards.  I mean, look at what they're asking students to do: determine the purpose of the author, argue with evidence, figure out the meaning of words independently, read "grade level" (whatever that means) material, gather information and determine reliability, and draw conclusions.  Are we saying that we shouldn't be teaching our kiddos how to do these things?  Are we saying we don't already do them?

But we have kind of sucked the fun out of it all with a lot of our surface level question and answer, knowledge-level questioning, and Harvey says that we need to analyze what is not fun about it if it isn't fun.  I was just reading Cris Tovani's book Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? yesterday, and she spoke of this science teacher who was taken back by how quickly Tovani was able to engage her science students in a unit on viruses with a simple student-directed questioning strategy.  This happened just minutes after one student proclaimed how boring viruses were and "Why do we have to learn about them anyway?"  Tovani told the science teacher she thought it was boring too.  Feeling a little defensive, the teacher went on and on about how interesting it all was, and expressed that Tovani only felt that way because she had never read any of the really great research on viruses, etc.  It was at this point when Tovani questioned why the teacher wasn't using the fascinating research articles to help engage her students in the unit on viruses.  I mean, if they're really that interesting . . .

Well . . . . ?  Crickets.  Good point.

Stephanie Harvey continued her talk with a list of ways we can teach our students to bring back some of that old curiosity they had when they were little.  Some of her suggestions were:

  • Ask questions in front of your students.  All the time.
  • Model your own curiosity and what you do with it.
  • Show that you care about finding answers. (I used to Google search stuff on the projector all the time when I was teaching in a classroom full-time.)
  • Demonstrate where you find those answers (be certain to talk yourself through why you choose certain websites and the appropriate times to use different types of sites).
  • Show your thoughts after you learn something new.
  • Model your interaction with others to gather information.
  • Model reading and writing while we gather new information.
  • Model skepticism.
One of the big pushes in the upper grades in reading is the fifth component of reading, comprehension.  Harvey talked about why this is so important.  It's more than just reading and understanding.  "We teach comprehension strategies so kids can acquire and use knowledge."  I loved this quotation because it took comprehension much further than a set of comprehension questions at the end of a story or section in the science text book. Pulling details out of a passage is not comprehension.  It's recall.  Being able to think about and process information to produce something else is comprehension, and that's what Harvey was telling her audience.

At the end of her session, Stephanie Harvey threw out four principles of Reading Achievement and Learning.  I thought that these four principles were a good balance.  They are below:
  1. Volume (the more kids read the better they read).  I have been singing this song for years, and we actually saw the fruits of this several years back when we instilled a mandatory silent reading period during our homeroom for a year.
  2. Response (the more kids interact the more they learn and understand). This is research-based and has a plethora of pieces of evidence to back it up, including multiple intelligence research, learning styles research, and brain research.
  3. Explicit Instruction (kids need both teacher modeling and time to practice).  Duh.
  4. Purpose (readers must see reading as a meaningful experience).  I was so happy to see this one I almost cried.  It parallels the research my colleague and I have done this year on engaging unmotivated readers, so it was nice to see this piece once again and know that we are on the right track.
Well, if you have read this far, I applaud your efforts.  Stephanie Harvey really hit home with her talk after our luncheon that day, and I am certainly grateful to have had the opportunity to hear her.  If I could have bottled up her entire talk and brought it home with me I would have because it was just that good.  Unfortunately all I have is the notes I took to create this blog for you, but I think I was able to capture the parts that I felt were most meaningful.  Now its your turn to take the information and create some meaning for your own teaching.  

1 comment:

  1. Heather... great summary of the presentation. Felt like I was there...This is very helpful!