Learning Forward 2013 Annual Conference
"Deepening Understanding in Schools"


Ellin Keene and Bruce Wellman - Presents
January 22, 2013

It wasn’t the excitement of Sports Authority Field. It was the excitement of synapses firing, connections being created, and educators embracing each other in discourse, thinking, and learning, and, deepening discourse, thinking, and learning. If "brainpower is the new currency of today" as proposed by the media, then participants garnered an abundance of wealth.

At the Learning Forward Colorado Annual Conference, Ellin Keene and Bruce Wellman presented research, structures, and strategies concerning deepening discourse among adults and between adults and students. The evaluation data elevates this professional learning experience into the successful, perhaps wildly successful, category. Does that mean, however, that the conference provided transformational professional learning? How do we know that the learning will find application in the workplace?

One answer could be gleaned from participant evaluations:

  • Love the modeling of read, write, pair share, table share, etc. This allows more processing time.
  • Teaching the importance of silence and respectful discourse.
  • School group attendees will meet & develop a plan for implementation incorporating this information. Looking at my own practice & how to incorporate.
  • Being comfortable with the quiet as people think.

Several measures indicate the long-term applicability of the conference learning, especially the conversation which occurred in medias res through the use of Edmodo as a back channel. Personally, as a retired, long-time educator, advancing technology is frightening to me; it makes me feel incompetent. Much as a struggling second grader, however, I was made to feel comfortable via the scaffolding created by the Professional Learning Coordinators from Douglas County. The best tech professional development folks function as the best professional developers: understanding adult learning and learners, incorporating the Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning, and adjusting to the learning needs of their audience.

The exchanges among conference participants via Edmodo underscore, highlight, and celebrate the power of immediate feedback, sharing of thinking, synthesizing ideas, and incorporating others’ ideas in the moment. Further, a myriad of resources which could enhance and deepen the topics of discourse were immediately shared. What a wealth of information!

Ellin and Bruce suggested the following premises for the day:

  1. Knowledge is socially constructed and personally integrated.
  2. Learners (of all ages) need tools, practice with those tools, and timely feedback.
  3. Adult learning directly influences student learning.
  4. Subtle changes in our oral language patterns can make a big difference in other’s understanding.

After establishing that participants would be expected to abide by the “Seven Norms of Collaboration” (Adaptive Schools), Bruce’s initial questions centered on

  • "What are some of the productive ways that people talk in your setting?"
  • "What are some of the unproductive ways that people talk in your setting?"
  • "What are the stories you are telling about why people talk in the ways that they do?"
  • "What might be some of your own contributions to both the productive and unproductive talk in your setting?"

The strategy used to process the exchange was "Reflect, Regroup, Return."

Think about it! What would your honest responses reveal to you? Our participants found that the more truthful the responses, the more personal they were, and often the more instructive.

Here is some of the Edmodo discourse:

Productive Talk

  • Open-ended topics/issues that foster "brain-shifts."
  • Level of trust and a personal relationship.
  • Willing to be influenced and actually argue – there are stronger conversations in safe environments.
  • Group size matters – better conversation in smaller groups.

Non-Productive Talk

  • Coming with fixed, rather than growth mindset; don’t want to hear others
  • People talk unproductively when they don’t want to hear others
  • Do people realize when they are being unproductive? How does this impact others in the conversation?

To learn more from the Edmodo discourse, go to www.edmodo.com and establish a free account. Use this code to access the conference conversation: D6DB0l (final character is a lower case L).

Throughout the day, Judi Herms of Thinking Maps was mapping and posting representations of the conversation. Participants were grateful for her skill in using the mapping technique to organize, clarify, and synthesize the groups’ contributions. Judi’s maps can be accessed in Edmodo.

The next "chunk" of learning for the day was presented by Ellin as she asked participants to consider "the power of silence in the classroom and in the meeting room." Participants engaged in reading and strategies designed to move their thinking. The following comments were shared in Edmodo.

  • "Silence lets teachers create openings in their classrooms" (Katherine Schultz, 2012).
  • Managing silence is also about managing talk.
  • Integration of silence and talk as a method for processing information – how do we pay attention to the silence happening in our classrooms and in adult learning environments? How do we use silence to help learners deepen their own thinking?
  • How do you build "intentional silence" into your day – be it two minutes or a half-hour?
Again, to read more of the "live interchange" during the presentation, check out Edmodo with the access code: D6DB0l (final character is a lower case L).

For closure, Bruce asked original table teams to do the following: "Create a one word summary of today. What is your word? Why did you choose it? Who will share it?" Beyond the responses in the room, these words were recorded in Edmodo:

  • Do something with what you learned. Our kids and colleagues don’t benefit from what we know, only from what we do with what we know. With great respect for the work you do.
  • Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us yesterday. The information was timely as we consider the way we work with teachers in order to model and support the way we work with students as we jump into the Common Core era!

What a day of discourse, thinking, learning, and connecting. I don’t think I’m stretching the truth to say that Ellin and Bruce and everyone in the room benefited from this time together. The design of the day plus the sharing through Edmodo was a gift. As the deepsea divers on our table centerpieces found gems in their endeavors, we all have new knowledge and skills to treasure and use to educate ourselves, each other, and every student we serve.

Watch for further opportunities to network with conference participants and other thought partners to share how folks are using their new learning.

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