What I learned from a wonderful keynote speech by John Seeley Brown
In the process of watching this keynote speech, the concept of peer-based learning or learning cohorts really spoke to me. The speaker said that the key factor that determines college success has nothing to do with high school grades, ACT or SAT scores, high school ranking or any of the typical measures we think of. The most influential variable in success in college is whether or not the student participates in study groups.
He went on to talk about a group of 5 kids from Maui. One of the 14-year-old boys decided that he was going to be a world champion in surfing. No one from Maui had every climbed the ranks of the surfing world. This young boy decided he would do it. He gathered his buddies around and that created what Brown calls "Joint Collective Agency" or a "Questioning Disposition." This mean that they would watch each other surf, they would watch a ton of videos of those who were at their peak performance, they would go out and try new moves, give each other feedback, study related sports such as skiing, dirt biking, sailing and many other ways to move the body through the air and water. They studied the shapes of boards, they looked for new moves in skateboarding, ski boarding, you name it. And they supported each other in a cohort of learning.
So, that one determined boy grew up and realized his dream of becoming the first world champion coming out of Maui. But guess what? Those other boys also grew up to become world class champions as well.
This hit me particularly hard as I have a son of 16 years old who is hoping to one day soon play professional tennis. Tennis can be one of the most isolating sports out there. It's just you against your opponent across the net. But what if he could find himself a learning cohort, a group of high level players that he could study with?
This speaks so closely to my heart. It is like my children's nursery school teacher always says, "Together, We're Better."
I work hard to create a community of learning in the classroom, where we ALL make each other better simply by pursuing a craft and body of knowledge and skills together. In my practices with putting together learning groups for projects, often I build a team that I think will be balanced with different leadership styles, personalities and abilities. However, I wonder if instead, I ought to be building groups based more around interest than around the concept of balance. The only way you can truly get a cohort of like minds, is to let those like minds gravitate towards each other and toward the subject matter they are most interested in. I am going to continue to experiment with how to create groups that serve everyone in my classroom, that allow for that "Questioning Disposition" due to shared interest.
Lisa Gottfried is a CTE teacher with 20 years experience as CEO of her own Video and Motion Graphics Production house. She currently teaches Intro to Digital Media, Video Production and Game/3D Design. She loves her job and her students!