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Learning at its Best

#engchat, #iste, and the power of pause

Last week, I found myself wandering the streets around the Philly Convention Center in search of a gathering of educators who happen to have a connection as teachers of English/language arts in their day jobs.  I usually find some, or all of them, hanging out on Monday nights at 7 p.m. on Twitter virtually engaged in #engchat, but on this night they’d decided to meet up during #ISTE and gather campfire style around tables at a small pub.

I watched the #engchat community in silent conversation that night. It was a night of learning enchantment. I couldn’t help but feel that I was in the midst of Jedi knights of the teaching world as their words flowed in 140 characters. Ben Grey wandered, capturing the story in video. No one seemed to notice.

That night something unexpected also happened. Bud Hunt facilitated a collaborative writing response about the power of pause. The #engchatters engaged together in a deeper kind of collaborative writing that took them to a learning space in which Twitter’s linear quick time slowed to what felt almost like circular time.  The Google doc lengthened moment by moment as each of the writers added their own perspectives on the power of pause in learning. Their fingers flew, halted, and began again as they roamed questions and thoughts, known and unknown. They were writers engaged.

” Each time we work to connect disconnected content we are making sense of the topic for our selves and others.” (Google Doc)

This is what I learned from the master writers that night. Inquiry deepens our capability to observe, process, construct, analyze and reflect upon anything we set out to learn. Life provides us with interests, experiences, and settings through which learning occurs around the clock. Even when we’re not engaged in what we’re supposed to do, we’re learning something.  In the formal setting we call school, we seldom take time to pause ourselves or to create such time in the lives of learners. Based on what we understand about the power of reflection as a learning tool, we should make “pause time” integral to learning, rather than something that happens by chance.

” Where were the wrong turns & what good came of them?  What can we learn from those turns, from the unintended lessons (good & “bad”)?  What learning took place “in the cracks”?  So important to pause in the moment…several moments…” (Google Doc)

After all, when we naturally take pause to reflect, we find there’s more learning going on around and within us than perhaps we would notice otherwise. Pause slows us down, allowing us to seek what we’ve stored as learning observations within the spaces of our minds. It allows us to pick through the flotsam and jetsam we’ve captured and to choose what we want or need to internalize from among those floating memories. We create stories during pauses and our stories then give context to our learning.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s math or Mozart; pause provides processing time, allows us to refresh pathways connecting multiple memory systems, and surfaces observations that otherwise might be lost in our cognitive cracks.

“In my own life my pauses have me writing in my journal–sometimes going back through notes or ideas and indexing them in the back helps me focus and a set a purposeful goal for my own learning/thinking” (Lee Ann Spillane @spillarke Google Doc)

At the Colorado #TIE conference a couple of weeks ago, I watched a young child climb 40 feet up a climbing wall late one afternoon, demonstrating the power of reflective pause with every stretch, reach, and pull. She would halt, still herself, look, shift her body, advance and then repeat the process again and again. Her body kinesthetically knew the importance of using the reflective, physical pause.

I suspect taking pause is a trait of humanity that once was quite useful to those learning to track game through woods or figure out weather patterns over time. However, it’s not a trait we often exercise in the learning world we call school.

While perhaps we have to create times and places, how do we help learners discover their times and spaces not confined by artificial school pieces? (@ryanbretag Google Doc)

That night at the pub, the #engchatters considered the importance of pause in their own learning work and the dearth of time in school for either teachers or learners to practice pause.  We considered how daily administrivia clutters the lives of educators, precluding the reflective processing that’s integral to a circadian rhythm of learning. We wondered how to create a learning ethos in the classroom that makes reflective pause a natural rather than contrived element of the learning cycle.

The #engchatters questioned, responded to questions, and shared ideas at their virtual watering hole as well as around their tables at the pub. They know their time together each week lifts their collective intellect and capability to make sense of their work teaching contemporary learners.

At the end of that evening’s #engchat, I couldn’t help but think that taking the time to wander away from the big venue, formal #ISTE world and into the informal #engchat world was well worth the pause.

About pamelamoran

Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning: We create paths to contemporary learning by supporting participants from member divisions to engage in critical inquiry to develop curriculum, assessment, and Instruction consistent with a focus on supporting learners to acquire competencies of critical thinking, communication, citizenship, collaboration, and creativity.


10 thoughts on “#engchat, #iste, and the power of pause

  1. great post Pam. thank you.
    i love the video Ben made. and i love where Bud took engchat. pause is huge.

    i think you hit a vital pause space on the head. Tony Hsieh talks about the culture built at Zappos in Delivering Happiness. a blurring of formal and informal spaces seems to invite pause. taking what you’re working on into a more casual, and perhaps more comfortable space, taking your intimate relationships into your work space, ups the allure of a pause. this conversation/reflection, written or verbal, at any level. the more intimate we are with others, with life, with today, seems the more we can’t not pause.

    reminds me of the slow food movement Hawkens talks about in Blessed Unrest.
    breathing life in.

    Posted by monika hardy | July 4, 2011, 3:37 pm
    • Monika,

      Thank you for your thoughtful words and perspective on the critical take aways from the #iste #engchat. I have such regard for the seriousness with which the #engchatters approach their role as teachers of young people and adults. They learn from each other and push each other to learn. The efficacious nature of writers seems to emerge in all they do. I became a supporter of the #NWP in the 80s when I saw how the work of teachers who participated in the project began to change to embrace the capability of young people to write to learn. Today, we spent little time in discourse about the importance of writing and reading to learn as a key strategy that makes sense in all spaces inhabited by learners. Thank you for sharing your comments – it means a lot to me.


      Posted by pamelamoran | July 4, 2011, 9:01 pm
  2. Thank you for sharing your reflection on the #engchat experience here. Like you, I also left with thinking about the need for deliberate pauses for reflection in our learning process. Thank you for joining us for this little #engchat experiment.

    Posted by mrami2 | July 4, 2011, 4:34 pm
    • Meenu,

      I appreciate that there is so much community within the #engchat community and a willingness to invite others into the conversation. As you know, I am not an English educator by training but believe that reflective writing is key to deep learning.

      Posted by pamelamoran | July 4, 2011, 8:55 pm
  3. This is a great capture of the moment, Pam. Your post and Ben’s video go well together.

    I struggle to pause and sometimes think my role is to be the non-pauser.

    Regardless, I value pauses and other meaningful changes in schools’ daily schedules that benefit student learning, engagement, and personally meaningful accomplishment. How do you think a school system should go about protecting pauses? What should happen when the bell rings, but a student is ready to stay in class and put into words or action something he or she has decided upon reflection?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | July 5, 2011, 6:51 pm
    • Don’t we all have to begin creating pauses in our own life and figuring out the value of pause? It does remind me of the slow food movement a bit- right now, regular school often runs like a fast food restaurant…. we serve up too few gourmet meals. Too much curricula is the 1st issue that faces America- and we feel we have to teach way too much as compared to more time for learning a few things well.

      Posted by pamelamoran | July 5, 2011, 8:14 pm
  4. It was a wonderful experience, as you so eloquently express in this post, Pam. I’m glad to have been able to be there with you and Chad and Bud and Meenoo (an #engchat founder) and everyone else who was able to attend. I loved being in that room with others, writing, and I also treasured the opportunity to reflect.

    I wanted to put in a quick plug for the National Writing Project, which helped organize the event – an organization that, like you, believes “reflective writing is key to deep learning.”


    Posted by Paul Oh | July 5, 2011, 7:39 pm
    • Paul,

      Thank you- means the world to me to hear that from you- the National Writing Project has given more young writers a sense of hope for their words than anything ever done in our schools…. I never even knew quite how I found my way to the session that night…. but it was magical to watch all of you at work. Sometimes I think that the NWP needs to provide a space for leaders to come together and write… just write.


      Posted by pamelamoran | July 5, 2011, 8:17 pm
  5. I wish I could have been there that night. I heard great things about it.

    Posted by johntspencer | July 7, 2011, 12:38 am
  6. John,

    It was a magical evening- I am more and more drawn to these informal gatherings at conferences than the conference itself. Hope we can do this again sometime with the engchatters and you’ll be there.


    Posted by pamelamoran | July 7, 2011, 7:15 am

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