Revisiting Treasure Mountain 2014

I need to start off this blog post by once again speaking to the imbalance I experience in blogging itself.  Try as I might, I sometimes take years to process an experience or a reading and I find it really challenging to write regularly.  Today is no exception and I’d like to revisit an experience I had in May 2014 called Treasure Mountain Canada.  Treasure Mountain is a research retreat of school libraries and I’ve attended 2 of them…one in Connecticut in November 2013, and one in Victoria, BC where I presented my M.Ed. capping paper on Transliteracy.

Today we are trying to recreate the experience for the participants at the annual Ontario Library Association conference in Toronto.  To give you some background, there is no better place to start than with Anita Brooks-Kirkland’s blog of the Treasure Mountain experience last May.  The audience at Treasure Mountain is small but extremely diverse … there are major stakeholders in school libraries present.

In the week leading up to today, the revisiting of Treasure Mountain, I have really enjoyed going over my own thought process from January 2014 to May 2014, and I’m glad I was so visible in my thinking about it.  One of my favourite elements to revisit was a Google Hangout experiment where, as part of the capping paper requirements, I needed to present my ideas to a public audience.  I knew Treasure Mountain was coming up in May but wanted to make the experience as authentic as possible.  So….in true transliteracy fashion, I arranged via social media to make a Google Hangout to present my 20 slides and ask my authentic audience of educators some seriously deep questions about implementing transliteracy.  I considered editing this down to something manageable, but at the risk of appearing self-indulgent, here is the whole messy experience.  For at least 3 of the participants, it was their first Google hangout.

Joining me in this video are Kimberley Flood, Kevin Greenshields, Robin Feick, Kathy Inglis, Tim King, Peter McAsh, Daniel Beylerian and Heather Leatham.

As most of you are well aware from your own experiences, I learn a lot each time I present new material, and this time was no different.  Looking back at that experience, I realize now that sometimes I need a big push to try these things.  Reflecting on that idea alone, isn’t that what I ask the staff and students at my school to do every day?  One of my drama students a few years ago said, as she was fearfully preparing to take the stage, “I just need to put my big girl pants on and do it.”  Everytime I feel fearful of risk-taking, or worn out by being a change agent, I say to myself, “Just put your big girl pants on and do it.”  There are times during this presentation where I’m just giddy with happiness of the sharing and comraderie I experienced as I struggled through it.  Treasure Mountain itself, is just like that….a bunch of experienced and knowledgeable people coming together to share and loving the sharing.  I always feel energized and motivated by experiences like this.  This is the reason I’m addicted to supporting my own professional development.

Making thinking visible

I started the year knowing that I wanted to spend more time helping students to be more visible about their thinking process.  Why?

  • I think we spend too much time evaluating products and not enough time evaluating processes
  • Learning to express yourself is such an important skill
  • Dissecting your own process will make patterns/habits visible and we can honour those that work and work on those that don’t
  • Creating an archive of processes means we’ll have a whole bank of ideas to jump off for future projects
  • This kind of documentation is a huge component in making inquiry questions richer/deeper

So then I thought can we combine this reflective practice with the authenticity of an online audience?  Could we insert some Vygotzky here and make reflective practice social?  I had the opportunity to take these questions to the next level when I was asked to join a group of other secondary teachers and we were given time release to collaborate and later share our findings.

With my grade 12 media arts students, I asked if each of them would make an individual blog and suggested WordPress or Blogger as the tool. I asked them to blog twice a week.  I gave them 9 required topics for the semester, a whack of suggested topics, and ample time in class to do it.  I had varying degrees of responses.

I was surprised that the students didn’t leap all over this.  Here are my students, in grade 12 media arts, the culminating year, the last semester of grade 12 and they were shy!!  I thought this would be their legacy, their swan song as they’re leaving high school forever (ever ever – insert echo).

I was also surprised how disadvantaged students who are already challenged by literacy had a hard time with this.  You have to understand that my classroom is filled with technology and cool art stuff so there are countless mediums to express with….but the basic interface, and maybe fear of expression were stumbling blocks that for 3 of 24 of the students, they could never quite get over.  I also found it a huge advantage to have public spaces and private spaces.  We had public blogs but a private wikispace where students could discuss academically, and where I posted all my content.  Our final research project was to explore a media artist and create a wikipage for our artist in a visual way based on common guiding questions.  We also used Twitter to encourage communication.  Their final exam is coming up and it will be entirely reflective as well.  I’m prepared to do it all inside GoogleDocs and to accept their responses electronically, but I’ll also have a ream of foolscap and printout copies in case the wireless is dodgy.

Questions I still have:

  • Why does appearing vulnerable prevent us from sharing our creative process and learning?
  • What can we do to foster trust in our face-to-face environments and online environments?
  • How can we get past the idea that only ‘experts’ have a valuable voice?