I actually started this journey in the winter of 2010 when I was working as a high school English teacher, who knew then that something had to change in the teaching-learning process. I stumbled upon Flat Classroom and it seemed like a fantasy to me. You know, one of those things that other people do, and you just read about them? But over the next few months, I warmed up to the idea; that is, I decided that my students and I could and should do the Flat Classroom project. I got excited. I began to plan. And then the rug was pulled out from beneath my feet. Suddenly in July of 2012, I became a K-12 literacy coach. Flat Classroom Projects vaporized. Sigh.
One of the high school’s new teachers was an energetic and passionate teacher, who really stretched herself. She and I bonded, and we worked closely together for almost two years, when I admitted that I was probably not going to be back in a classroom any time soon and that the idea of running global projects needed to be shared.
So, here we are…Caroline and Julie…Flat Classroom Certified Teachers. “We” are applying for the Flat Classroom Project 13-01, but it will be Caroline’s class and her students who will do the project. I will be there too–on the side lines watching, supporting, helping out where I can.
Thanks to Julie and Vicki and to all of my colleagues in FCCT12-01. You are a fabulous bunch of educators and it has been my honour to work and learn from you these past 5 months. I know I will continue to communicate with many of you online, but it is my sincere hope that our paths cross in a more significant way.
I hope to contribute to the FCP organization through judging, advising, outsourcing…in whatever capacity I can.
Why plan and integrate global projects into your curriculum?
The move towards individualized learning is happening (see Horizon Report 2011: K-12 Edition), but along the way educators will and do struggle with getting themselves ready. How do I manage a class of 25 students each on his or her own learning path? We know we can no longer stand and deliver. We know we need to engage students and we know we are responsible for delivering required curriculum.
What to do?
One way to make the transition is to use the collaborative inquiry model. Research has shown that “Intellectually engaged learners stay on task, view errors as learning opportunities and persist in their efforts to overcome challenges. They are passionate about and committed to solving problems, developing understanding and moving their thinking forward” (Jang, Reeve & Deci, 2010; NCREL online qtd in Ontario Ministry of Education Capacity Building Series: Getting Started with Student Inquiry). Inquiry models provide the opportunities for students to learn in ways that they find interesting and enjoyable. This is no small thing. If we can provide authentic, meaningful, open-ended, intellectually engaging activities, students will learn. Even better, our students will leave high school with the most options available to them because they will be, as Will Richardson hopes, ‘”learning ready,” [that is] able to put together their own path to success.”
Global projects can be designed as collaborative inquiries. They can have the depth and breadth that will offer students a variety of ways into the learning. They will follow the path that their own questions create. They will be the lead learner. They will be learning to be masters of their own learning. And our jobs? Beyond the roles of supporter, guide, and supplier of goods (read here anything the students need from pencils to passwords), teachers must ensure that students are engaged in a metacognitive process about their learning. Students need to reflect on their learning and the process of their learning. What helped me succeed? What will I do differently next time? What strategies did I find useful? What did I learn?
And aligning our curriculum to meet the needs of this collaborative global inquiry may mean that we have to view those curricular expectations or standards through a new lens. We need to expect of ourselves first what we expect of our students. We need to be risk-takers, to be “learning ready”, to be metacognitive.
Sometimes the only way to start is to start.
During the fall of 2012, I worked closely with two teachers as they participated in the Global Read Aloud (GRA) for the first time. We were all beginners in reaching out to other classrooms-in our schools and beyond our schools-in using various web 2.0 tools, and in thinking through this kind of teaching and learning. The GRA 2012 ran the month of October, but our celebration happened in December because the teachers integrated other subject areas with the novel and expanded and extended the scope of the work. Students went well beyond a read aloud and summary posts. They connected the story of Ivan (The One and Only Ivan) to biodiversity and endangered species. They considered the larger issues as a class, and then small groups chose narrower topics to research. Each group gathered their findings in a Glogster, and then presented them to their families. This was a face-to-face event because for the most part the community does not yet communicate regularly via the Internet.
What can I now say about the role of celebrating the learning?
The event was spectacular. Students were showing off their work to their parents. They were accessing the tools, doing the explaining, and in total control. The teacher simply stood back and let it happen.
I think we need to always remember where we are in the collaboration process. Regardless of what is possible or of what others are doing, we needed to go through this step before we can really consider the type of collaboration and celebration that happens within a true global project.
Throughout the FCCT, I have focused on the needs of teachers and students who come to a global collaborative project with little to no experience with collaboration, Web 2.0 tools, and other multimedia technologies. The key is to find entry points that are within the comfort levels of newcomers and build from there. When I introduce a new tool like a wiki to a teacher, we begin thinking about what the students will do with it, and then from there, we create success criteria that we think the students will identify once they have explored some examples. The process of establishing success criteria is a familiar process to most of my teachers, so with our draft success criteria in hand, the teacher will be able to lead the students to brainstorm ideas and then group them into the four strands of the Ontario Achievement Chart. The Achievement Chart below comes from the English curriculum document, but the other disciplines are similar and they can be viewed here.
The above categories match nicely with work of the wiki: Content, Research process/synthesizing/ reflection, Language/presentation/audience & purpose, and Incorporation of web 2.0 tools, hyperlinks, hypermedia, diigo etc. Ontario teachers, beyond evaluating students across the four categories, also evaluate student learning skills: Responsibility, Independent work, Organization, Collaboration, Self-regulation, and Initiative. To our success criteria, I would add a fifth category representing the criteria for collaboration. Although other learning skills are at work here, too; it’s collaboration that we need to teach to.
The important part of this process is the student brainstorming for all the criteria they believe they should meet to create a great wiki because it will tell the teacher where the students are at especially in the areas of technology and Web 2.0 tools, and identify the areas that she will support with direct instruction. We cannot assume that because students use Facebook that they have any experience with tools like Animoto, Voki, or VoiceThread to name but a few.
The process of assessing student work is always recursive. We attempt to learn where they are, teach from that point, provide feedback along the way, revise the criteria as we go, and reflect on the final product to help us refine the process for the next project. Teachers attempting a global collaborative project for the first time need to start with what they know and build from there so that they have confidence that a positive outcome will be achieved.
The desire to work in a linear and chronological order is, at times, overwhelming. I can multi-task and I thrive on having many irons in the fire, yet there is order in what I do first, second, and third. But then that must mean that I am working alone because I can control the circumstances. Collaboration, on the other hand, means that my work is contingent on the work of others. We are not dividing to conquer; we are working toward a common end that will have an ebb and flow determined by the pacing, resources, and schedules of others. None-the-less, if the Flat Classroom Challenges are delivered in an ordered fashion from 1 to 15, then that is the way I wanted to complete them.
My big learning about collaboration (this week) is that there needs to be lots of time to get the collaborative process up and running, opportunities for people to carve out the time they need to do the work, and an understanding that linear thinking may not suffice. This learning for me comes on two fronts – the Flat Classroom Certified Teacher (FCCT) challenges and my involvement in a collaborative inquiry with colleagues from within my school board – although they are connected. The collaborative inquiry group at work is bravely going where none of us has been before both in working collaboratively and in using a wiki to support the conversation. We need time to get our heads around this way of learning, thinking, talking, and leading. Through the FCCT challenges, I am learning that the order of completion is less important than the process by which you get things done. I cannot finish Challenge #9 without a partner to connect with, I cannot finish Challenge #12 until my teachers are ready to celebrate, and that’s okay. Julie Lindsay’s (cofounder @ flatclassroom and co-author of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds) constant understanding, reassurance, empathy, and positive attitude connect the two fronts for me. The FCCT challenges will be completed, albeit in a wacky order, and I am emulating Julie’s supportive and patient perspective with my collaborative inquiry team.
It’s been a big week.
Global Read Aloud 2012 has begun. In July, I pitched this idea to a group of teachers and two jumped in—head first. We had lots of learning to do since we had never before collaborated beyond the school. Of course, this meant making contact with other teachers (via Edmodo, which we had never used), deciding on a platform for shared communication (what’s a platform? They asked.), organizing the groups of students across the classes, introducing the students to digital citizenship, and oh yes, preparing the content of the lessons.
The novel, The One and Only Ivan, provides a wide array of topics and themes that students can ultimately choose to explore. Along the way, the class will read/listen to the story, and the student groups will use Kidblog to share their thinking with each other, weekly questions will be posted on Wallwisher to help support the extension of ideas across all the classes. Already, students are lobbying for time to delve more deeply into different aspects of the text. Some are curious to learn more about silverback gorillas, while others want to understand why poachers capture animals for captivity, and others yet, are offended by the treatment of animals in captivity and want to learn more about what is being done to end this practice. And we have just completed week one of four! In this project, students can choose what they want to learn more about and how they want to share that learning with their classmates and group mates. Storybird, Glogster, VoiceThread, and a wiki are all possibilities for students to choose from to create their final project.