Choice, Collaboration, and the Social Learner

The Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) began in the late 1990s, as a “bold approach to supporting the improvement of student learning and performance by encouraging teachers, parents, and the community to work collaboratively to introduce innovative and creative initiatives based upon local needs and circumstances” (Davis et al., 2012, p. 374). One AISI project that my school district worked was with math assessments, where we partnered alongside David DeCoste and our grade level teams to create meaningful performance tasks. Another AISI focused on academic vocabulary with ELLs, where Hetty Rossingh provided her expertise and grade level teams collaborated together to create moments of explicit teaching of academic language in our classrooms. In both of these experiences, AISI planning was used as a collaborative and effective team effort, thus being apparent that through these cycles “connectivity and collaboration have been sustained and amplified through AISI” (Davis et al., 2012, p. 394).

In the article Understanding School Districts as Learning Systems, the authors present four varying types of network structures for AISI: centralized, distributed, decentralized, and fragmented (Davis et al., 2012). It is apparent through the learning sciences research, that the ideal environment would be a decentralized one, in which customised learning, diverse knowledge sources, and distributed knowledge are present (Sawyer, 2009). Many current theorists further emphasize these ideas through putting the focus on the learner and their learning: Jarvis believes in making learning social, and Kegan and Engeström put special attention on how people learn (2008). All of these continue to emphasize the social aspect of learning, however, our school systems seem to be stuck in the past. “Our institutions…are largely based on the assumption that learning is an individual process, that it has a beginning and an end, that it is best separated from the rest of our activities…” (Illeris, 2008, p. 209). How do we move our methodologies into the current research framework when our institutions support the opposite? How can we help our students in their learning process, when our classroom designs and assessment procedures dictate an individualistic ideology?

I think movements are beginning within Alberta to support the current learning sciences theory. Teachers are not only looking at ways to transform their classrooms and become facilitators of teaching, but are also beginning to change the way in their own professional development. Edcamps are a prime examples of this, as they are a grassroots created PD experience for teachers. Edcamps refer to “a revolutionary idea that allows teachers to come together to collaborate on ways to inspire each other with new, refreshing ideas they can implement in their individual classrooms” (Kalesse, 2014, p. 20). I attended my first edcamp this year and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Not only did it allow for choice in learning, but it provided opportunities for collaboration, moments to share your learning with other professionals, and motivated me to learn more. However, I was left to wonder two thoughts: Why do we lack opportunities for this type of teacher professional development, and why are we limited in creating these types of learning opportunities for our students?

Davis, B., Sumara, D. & D’Amour, L. (2012). Understanding school districts as learning systems: Some lessons from three cases of complex transformation. Journal of Educational Change, 13(3), 373-399. Retrieved from

Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. Retrieved from

Kalesse, R. (2014). Teachers lead the way at edcamps: participant-driven “unconferences” restore the power of professional development. Reading Today, 31(5), 20-21.

Sawyer, R. K. (2009). Optimising learning: Implications of Learning Sciences research. Paris, FR: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Retrieved from


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