In the latest issue of American Libraries, the magazine of the American Library Association, Natalie Greene Taylor, Mega Subramaniam, and Amanda Waugh discuss connected learning as the future of education and school libraries. They point out "Unfortunately, school is often the place that young people are forced to disconnect from ecosystems of learning that they most enjoy, resulting in a rupture between in-school and out-of-school learning." But that doesn't have to be the case. Every teacher has the ability to make school more relevant, more authentic, and more interesting for students. This does not mean that teachers have to be circus performers. They are not responsible for putting on an exciting show each and every day in order to make every class entertaining. It can be as simple as letting the children make some decisions about their education and their learning.
While connected learning can be implemented in so many different ways (that is sort of the point), and with any subject (or by combining subject areas together, more like how we learn in life after school), literacy seems like a perfect place to start with connected learning. When we reduce literacy to the very discrete skills that are measurable and, therefore tested, we lose the way that all of the discrete tasks combine to make literacy something enjoyable and part of our every day life.
Teens who voraciously read every new YA book that comes out have a hard time working their way through books assigned in English class. Or young writers who keep a journal, submit to fan fiction sites, or doodle poetry on their notebooks struggle to write a five paragraph essay with evidence from the text. By incorporating the elements of connected learning, we can bring these different pieces of students' lives and voices to bear on their assignments. One of the joys of some of the reading and writing many teens do outside of school is that there is a community of people who think like them, enjoy what they enjoy, and act as an audience for their thoughts and musings on what they read and write. If you could bring the level of analysis and exploration that occurs on a fan site to a classroom, you would find kids excited about being at school.
I once heard a story about a high school age girl who decided with her friends to create Twitter handles for various Jane Austen characters and went on to tweet always while staying in character. I can just imagine the level of detail you would have to know about a character and her motivations, desires, and life in order to tweet effectively as her. The fact that they decided to do this on their own, driven by their own interests is only the beginning of how this is connected learning at its finest. If every student was given opportunities to learn this way, it would be amazing.