Real learning is a part of the work, not apart from it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Could a children's story help your organization embrace SL?

Ever read Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni to your preschooler? Click here to watch the roughly 5 min You Tube video, then read on.

Great book, great colors, interesting message. But not just for kids.

In a past life I was a history teacher and read a book about how to teach history in the classroom (sorry the name eludes me). The first chapter used Leo Lionni’s book to illustrate the point that Facts alone are not enough in education and that without concepts to anchor ideas to, long-term knowledge gain is lost.

In the case of one character in the story…it can leave you breathless. You see, in the story there are only two character; Fish and Frog (a tadpole to start). At first a tadpole, Frog plays and swims with his friend Fish…but soon he changes, grows legs etc, and is able to leave the pond they enjoy to see the world. Later he returns and excitedly “educates” Fish about the world he saw … Many facts no concepts, most particularly about adaptation.

The message for teachers is clear. Teaching just the facts and not bridging them to larger concepts is dangerous.

But wait there is more! Let’s rethink the characters and elements for a moment in light of Social Learning.

Frog is the expert right? He is a teacher, trainer, SME, etc. However, he is the only voice about the topic of "the world" beyond the pond that fish hears. Frog is not wrong in what he tells but maybe, had he checked Fish for understanding, things would have turned out different.

Fish (the learner) had a few issues too. He took no ownership as he didn’t ask questions or engage in any metacognition (can fish do that? Never mind it’s a kid’s book!)

Imagine now if Fish (the learner) had a network to reach out to - be it more frogs or fish to bounce his ideas off of, help analyze his theory a bit, provide new insights to help him get the whole picture before making a potentially job threatening …err I mean life threatening mistake?

Sure its easy to blame the frog or even the fish …but maybe the pond is ultimately to blame for not providing fish another channel for learning. Hmm??

Maybe the message is really about the importance of having social networks to gain context and help bridge facts to concepts. Or maybe its just a silly fish tale after all... you be the judge


Janet Clarey said...

Hi Mark. The teaching you first describe is really informed by behaviorism (stimulus / response)(IMHO). However, if Frog subscribes to constructivism, he might assume fish is 'making meaning' based on his limited experiences in the pond. If Frog subscribes to social constructivism, on the other hand/webbed foot, then he believes meaning is made within a group. Theory is boring, I know, but even if frog opened up the pond to multiple incoming and outgoing 'channels,'it doesn't necessarily ensure learning. It will depend on how we believe learning happens. Are you suggesting that the teacher is not needed (that all that is needed is a social network?) I think we need to rethink how learning happens and how we can support that in changing environments. Nice post...great analogy.

Janet Clarey said...

My instructional strategies are driven by (social) constructivism so I totally agree with you on the way people learn. I wonder if educators whose strategies are informed by other theories would feel about social networks and multiple channels. It's a wonderful take on this great children's story.