Sunday, December 1, 2013

Shouldering Responsibility for Learning in the Dialogic Classroom

This past year I've learned how to ask questions again. Before being in a doctoral program, it was probably third grade the last time a teacher asked me to pose a research question and really cared about my search and the learning that resulted. The learning. Being in charge of your own learning is a powerful thing and not a responsibility to be taken lightly. Teaching our students how to shoulder this responsibility is not an easy task, either, so what have I learned from my own experiences that might help me in the classroom.

I don't follow easy paths to knowledge. I hit road blocks, take detours, pause and regroup, even travel very indirect routes to reach my destination. For example, I wanted to try data analysis software. There is nothing I like better than to tinker with technology and waste hours to discover more efficient means to work. Yet I couldn't grasp how to navigate any of the different software tools. Frustrated, I stopped trying. I wasn't sure it was worth my time to attempt again, but after several weeks and a brief stint watching tutorials, I finally did. This time, it clicked. Somehow the passage of time helped me traverse the barriers to my learning. I couldn't immediately grasp the concept of organizing interviews in a qualitative data software analysis program; it was difficult enough figuring out that I had usable data. But my professor gave me the time and space to figure it out myself while being supportive of my efforts.

It seems appropriate to continue the road metaphor by describing how wide that research road was (and in many ways still is). In fact, my initial research questions are more comparable to a super highway--the breadth of a topic nearly impossible to cross. And I feel like I'm moving so fast across subject areas that I miss the interesting turn offs on the side. Instead of telling me what was wrong with my research questions, my professors, mentors, and peers posed questions to me. They dug for clarity and conciseness. By letting me talk through the process, they helped me without telling me what to do or how it should be done. 

My friends and I didn't just ask the simple questions. Our professor pushed our thinking, and so we read and responded to text, but we also analyzed and critiqued the values they held for us as teachers, coaches, administrators, and researchers. Our theoretical discussions prompted us to question the political landscape of education. Our data analyses made us question ourselves and our abilities as researchers. Through our dialogic classroom we have begun to find the becoming of something. 

Will our students have these same opportunities for time and space in their learning? Will they have peers and teachers who push for greater understanding? Will we honor classrooms filled with questions and discussion? Can our young students meet such high expectations?

My experiences have shown me that I can shoulder the responsibility of learning--as long as I have the help and support of peers and teachers, and the courage to help them, as well. If I can feel empowered by such a journey, how much more might a child who hasn't yet stopped asking questions? A child who has a teacher interested in traveling that road, too?

Here is the link to my test run at creating an audiovisual production on Meta

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