I’ve only seen Alan November speak once before, but in that hour’s time, he transformed what I did in my class last year, so I was looking forward to what he had to say at BLC10.  

Alan started off with discussing that education is the only segment that has not improved productivity per worker.  I wasn’t really sure where he was going with that statement.  He went on to describe that Information and Global Communication consists of two questions:

  1. What information do you want?
  2. What relationships do you want?


He then went on to say that most teachers do not collaborate at all day in and day out.  This seemed familiar to me.  But then, what he added was really interesting.  “With other teachers all over the world.”  Doctors at Mass General not only collaborate with other MGH doctors, but with doctors all over the country and the world.  In order to show improvement in scores, teachers need to break down the boundaries and build a network of teachers in the field to share and compare student work.  I thought of how a colleague and I share each other’s class’s long compositions pieces and how a fresh eye really helps.  But, he went further than sharing work with others in your building.  A project where students in Harlem shared their work with teachers in uptown New York City was one example of work.  November feels that having an authentic audience to correct student work creates an environment where the children work harder, where they more easily accept criticism, and where the work is being judged and not the person.  This gives the child a relationship with the world instead of only with their classroom teacher.  November feels that this is liberating to students and that it separates the personal aspect of looking and evaluating student work.  Students would be then be learning collaboration as a skill.

Another important aspect to consider in the classroom is the family involvement in student learning.  Many times when a teacher calls a student’s home, it is because the student is having some difficulty.  Replace these types of calls with positive calls.  I remember calling a student and parent at home last year on a Sunday to say that the student (who thought she didn’t do a good job in math), got a 100% on a test.  That call was really positively received.  Parents should receive DVDs of student presentations or be able to Skype in to attend a presentation.  Family involvement is the number one predictor of success in the classroom.

The last change that November felt should be implemented in the classroom is looking at homework in a different way.  He said with homework, if mistakes are made at home, the brain rewards the mistake unless you give it immediate feedback.  Homework should adhere to the policy “Do No Harm.”  Typical homework should become class work, and typical class work becomes homework.  Lectures or content areas can be available through podcasts or other social networks.  This theory tied in with what Dr. Michael Wesch would say one day later.  Students should be reading, thinking, and reflecting before the actual class.  Their homework would be to come up with questions to ask in class.   These would be posted on some sort of “container.”  The teacher would then look at the questions to direct what direction the class would be heading.  There would also be a component on the teacher would put up a problem every day and get instant feedback on individual student learning.  Feedback would then become more immediate.  I could envision using ActivVotes to get a quick read on the class. 

The number one strategy, according to November, is that children learn from one another.  You need to max out on this important skill.  He mentioned building an infrastructure like facebook and then students would then need to explain their logic to their post.  Classes then would become much more social. 

I thought Alan November raised a lot of good points.  Part of what happens in the lack of collaboration between teachers is simply a lack of time to do this.  It would be really exciting to collaborate with other teachers outside our school walls, but I am not really sure how to approach this.  The whole flipping around homework also is very interesting.  One of the criticisms of our math program is that there isn’t a lot of quantity.  As our Math Specialist explained at a math night, this is due to exactly what November explained about the brain rewarding mistakes.  I would like to tie in what November and Wesch had to say on this topic of flipping assignments.  Dr. Wesch said that instead of his requiring the students to buy a textbook, he has them research all the potential information out there on a particular topic.  I could try that approach easily this year with my students, except that it would probably have to be somewhat scaffolded so that they aren’t spending a lot of time looking at not appropriate sites.  More things to ponder……