Friday, August 27, 2010

Is less really more? I think it can be.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the notion "less is more."  Especially when it comes to my reading, and more importantly, my learning.  It seems like I hear the mantra quite often and read about it quite frequently.  Less is more.

I'm a big reader.  I spend a great deal of my time regularly consuming texts such as blog posts, news and journal articles--I'm a huge internet reader--my college course books, novels, and professional literature relevant to educators.  Yet, the thought keeps coming back to me: less is more, less is more.  It's as if something is telling me to slow down--slow down and really spend time stewing for a bit on whatever I'm reading.

With today's ubiquitous availability of information and reading material and the rate at which it is created, shared, and turned-over, it's so easy to get caught up in it.  (My PLN--which I love and am so thankful for because of the learning opportunities I'm afforded--is a great example of this.)  It becomes akin to a race where I try to read as much as I can as fast as I can because I feel like that's what I have to do in order to keep up. And then it's easy to lose sight of what's really important: engaging with the text, broadening my understanding, and deepening my learning.  I have to force myself to stop and ask: when I read (or even skim) a lot at a fast pace, how much am I actually letting set in, how much am I truly learning and retaining?  In today's web 2.0 world especially, it's so important for me to remember that less really can be more.  I need to slow down and spend more time with each text that I read.

Slow down.  But what does that mean?  Taking the time necessary to develop a deeper understanding of the material.  OK.  And what does that mean?  It means focusing even more closely.  Taking more notes about the BIG idea(s) and MAIN argument(s) and the most SUBSTANTIVE supporting examples... which also means underlining and highlighting less than I currently do, too.  It means asking more questions.  Exploring the text from different angles. Identifying what I like or don't like about it, what I agree with or disagree with.  Giving myself more time to see and articulate connections between the text and what I already know.  It means sitting with the text to really let it percolate.  Being more deliberate about synthesizing my learning.  It means balancing going broad with going deep.

Obviously, this is a new strategy for me.  It's a big change; it'll require a significantly new mindset.  But it'll help me learn even more than I already am with my current reading style.  It'll be worth the change.  Is less really more?  I think it can be.  And with time and practice, it definitely will be.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Making the most of my semester breaks... a plug for PLNs by a pre-service teacher

I've been spending a lot of my time this summer consumed by my PLN I've started developing, trying to read all of the relevant blog posts and links I come across either in my RSS reader or in my Twitter stream. And let me tell you, there is a TON of stuff to read. I could spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for months on end reading content and I still wouldn't feel like I've made much of a dent. Of course, that wouldn't be healthy as it would lead me to live a completely unbalanced, one-dimensional life, and that just wouldn't be good. My Twitter stream updates a mile a minute and my RSS reader adds new articles and posts faster than I can click on a link! Ok, so maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much...

There are a few reasons why I choose to read this stuff and why I want to read all that I can. First and foremost, I am a learner. I love learning, and when I find something I'm passionate about, I want to explore and find out all that I can about it. I read in Ellin Oliver Keene's book
To Understand: New Horizons in Reading Comprehension (Heinemann, 2008) about the concept of a "fervent learner" and how when we get so consumed by something that we want to know more about and explore and ask questions about, we become fervent, to the point that we lose ourselves... in time, in space, in thought. I am a fervent learner when it comes to the education space and preparing myself to be a teacher. When I finally become one, I want to be the very best teacher that I can be.

So I figure, what better time than in between my semesters as a pre-service teacher to front-load as much of this reading and exploring and learning and growing? Not only am I able to keep my brain fresh and developing throughout the summer and winter months, but also I'll be able to use what I'm learning to contribute more in my course discussions and to enhance my overall learning experiences. I'll be able to bring in other messages, bits of advice, and perspectives which my PLN affords me and I'll be able to synthesize it with what I learn in my courses. I'll also be able, and glad, to help my classmates set up their own PLNs so that they can start front-loading this learning, too. Exposing oneself--and really delving into--the flurry of teaching and education resources and the many years of wisdom and experience that Twitter and blogs enable, can only help us pre-service teachers to be that much more prepared, to be that much better in our teaching careers. (And I know above it may sound like I am only going to make use of my PLN during my semester breaks, but that just isn't true. I'll definitely be utilizing it during my semesters; I'll just need to make sure to have balance, given that I'll have lots of required reading and writing for my courses as well.)

I have already reached out to a few of my classmates, letting them know that I want to help them make use of some awesome learning tools, tools that will only enhance their college education experience. I'm going to meet with a few of them before the semester starts on August 23rd. I'll help them set up their PLN and make the most of some social media tools I have found to be extremely beneficial since I started building my PLN this summer. These include the following: (if you have others you would like me to share, please leave a comment!)

  • Google Reader. I subscribe to lots of blogs, and not just ones in the education realm, but ones that allow me to get outside the "echo-chamber" and to explore concepts and ideas that I can transfer to and apply to education. 
  • Twitter. I follow several educational leaders and experienced teachers, all who are active tweeters and provide valuable links, quotes, advice, and other resources. 
  • Diigo. I absolutely love this social bookmarking tool. I really dig the highlighting and sticky-note functionality. And of course, being able to share my bookmarks with people is great, too! 
  • Mindmeister. This web-based mind-mapping tool is so easy to use; it's a great way to visually lay out and organize ideas and other facets of my life. I lean way more to the side of visual learning, so mind maps are great friends of mine. 
  • TED. This. Website. Is. Amazing. All of the content is free and is totally fascinating. And even better, many of the talks include ideas, concepts, and perspectives that can, with a little thought and creativity, be applied to education. TED is just such a golden nugget. How can anyone not be absolutely crazy about it?

My point with this post is to share with others who haven't yet started a PLN, either because they aren't aware of the concept and its opportunities or because they are skeptical. Whether they are veteran teachers, new teachers, or pre-service teachers, I want to share with them how, in only a few months so far, my PLN has helped me immensely. It has given me exposure to ideas, concepts, lesson plans, instruction tips, experiences, examples, success stories, failure stories, advice, perspectives, new books that I should put on my to-read list, etc. that I most likely would not have come across in my college curriculum, simply because in my college curriculum, I don't have access to the specific educators and administrators and tech leaders that I do in my Twitter feed or we don't talk about or get assigned the blogs that I have loaded in my RSS reader. It (my PLN) lets me join the conversation--the many conversations that are being had on Twitter, in blog comments, about teaching with technology, education reform, classroom management, PLNs, etc.

With the internet and social media, our opportunities to learn and grow professionally are literally unbounded. Why not take advantage? After all, it can only help us and make us become better educators. This post is for everyone out there in either of the two categories I mentioned above. I am free and willing to help you get started in this new world, in this new avenue of learning that I have already reaped great benefits from and will continue to do so for years and years to come. Who's ready?