Category Archives: Teaching

2018: One Word.

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Last Thursday (December 28, 2017), I was invited to join #ONedMentors to chat about #OneWordOnt. I had given my word lots of thought…

But at the time of the invitation, I had not definitively chosen my word. I was leaning towards “empower” because the students’ feedback shone a light on their fears and showed me where I need to focus my efforts. I need to work at building their confidence and empowering them.

So far so good, right?

tattooerr-cart before the horse

What I hadn’t yet done though was complete the process of vetting the word. I think I know what the word means, but I am keen to discover how others ‘see’ the word. Like Jen Aston, I want to consider to what contexts my word connects. Like Derek Rhodenizer and his guests (on his weekly voicED podcast, “A Word in Progress with Derek”), I want to ‘poke and prod’ the word to see what it will give up. Like Stephen Hurley, etymologist extraordinaire, I want to dig a little deeper into the word because my knowledge of the word may only reflect current usage and not its historical meanings or connotations.

While “empower” means

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it also means to “boost confidence” which is the way I was thinking about the word until I did Google Image search on the words “empower education quotes”. To my surprise, the page returned did not support many ideas about enabling. Rather, it reflected back to me a word that emphasizes power and societal/class struggle. There are contexts where this understanding of “empower” is necessary and right, but this is not what I am after.

I kept digging.

I find John Wenger’s article on empowerment revealing. His audience is the workplace leader or manager, but I don’t think that matters because as a therapist he comes at the challenge of motivating and engaging others with much the same perspective as do educators. Here he unpacks his thinking about the word and why you can’t empower anyone.

 I bring my understanding of the word “empower” from my days as a therapist when I was working with clients whose lives were characterised by a deeply felt lack of power, or potency, in their lives. They were not the star of their own life stories, in other words. They were subject to decisions made by child protection authorities or social service authorities or parental authority or some other kind of powerful person or statutory body which held sway over important aspects of their day-to-day lives. While it is true that so many people in their lives were the agents of disempowerment, it seemed to me that to presume that I could empower them was just the opposite side of the same coin … Empower, to me, presumes that the one who empowers has the power to begin with and grants it to the other; it reinforces a paradigm of power and control to which the other person is subject. If I am the granter of power, there is still a power imbalance. This relationship presumes that I hold some kind of hierarchical authority over you and that, only by my good grace, are you exercising any authority. While I am in the position of granting power, I remain in the position of taking it back.

“Empower” is not the right word for me. I want to provide the means by which my students can develop the courage to take on their fears. I want to equip my students with the tools that can support their courageous decisions and actions. I want to encourage them to set goals, prioritize their studies and focus on personal progress. I do not want to leave any doubt as to where the power lies. 

Wenger argues for the use of “enable” over “empower”, teasing out the subtle differences between the words to make his case. And although this word can have some negative connotations, I am compelled by Wenger’s thinking. To “enable” is to emphasize “capability development and a worldview that, when fully able, people can put their abilities to good use.” And to enable,

encompasses what someone does to ensure that others have the requisite capabilities and skills to carry out a job well, to take up their own power (potency) and when necessary, showing them the door to gaining new capabilities and skills. It seems to be more akin to equipping and supplying than conferring power. Once equipped, the enabler can then get out of the way and let the person access their own power to get on with it.

Enable—>faciliate, make possible, provide the means. This is a good place to start.

Last year, I believed that providing opportunities for students to make choices in their learning would help them become persistent and productive learners. I was wrong. As one student clearly stated in her feedback to me,

Choices revolve around one of the worst phrases anyone could ever be told, ‘It’s up to you.’

This year I hope to enable my students to develop the courage to take on the academic challenges that they need to face to reach their goals and to make decisions about their learning.

Stay tuned for what courage in English class might look like, and thanks for stopping by!

#OneWordOnt 2015— Innovate

#OneWordOnt 2016— Discipline

#OneWordOnt 2017— Choices

 

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2017 #OneWordOnt Reflection

It’s hard to believe another year is at its end and that it’s time to reflect on my #OneWordOnt for 2017.

Remember how I told you about wanting my students to see the walls in their lives? The ones that interfere with their learning? The ones that hold them back from engaging in and with the broader community? The walls we grapple with everyday?

I also told you about choices–how we make choices

“to participate, to be optomistic … to inquire, be curious and to challenge the status quo … To find hope instead of fear in the face of uncertainty” (Seth Godin).

We began the semester with a frank conversation about creativity, openness, and fear.

We created “Stories of Me” and posted them in a public gallery. 

We built blogs where we posted our thinking about the course content.

We read self-selected novels.

We conferenced about our reading.

We collaboratively annotated texts using Hypothes.is. 

We curated our best work into an Evidence of Learning Document. 

We made choices in our learning everyday.

You know, decisions about criteria, about our learning goals, and where we needed to go next.

But the choices remained narrow, superficial, conventional.

So, we found the walls. We can see them now.

20171228_14484220171228_14491420171228_14495920171228_145035We just didn’t tear them down.

My next step is to find ways to empower enable students to make the choices to have the courage to tear down their walls.

Three guesses what my word for 2018 is. The first two don’t count.

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Synthesize, Evaluate, and Draw Conclusions

This the sixth post in a series that explores IQ: A Practical Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning by Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer. Here are the links to post one (IBL and Learning), post two (In the Mess of Learning, what will stick?), post three (Questioning and Expertise in Inquiry-Based Learning),  post four (Supporting Conversations), and post five (Gather and Analyze).

How can I help my students make sense of their evidence and data?

This is THE question.

To synthesize is to weave themes and ideas together to create a cohesive picture of line of thought (108).

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The key to synthesizing, to be able to weave themes and ideas together, is the depth and breadth of knowledge we have. It’s unlikely that I will be able to see patterns or make connections if my knowledge on the topic is superficial.

Notice the number of sources the student in the cited examples has gathered.

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(I love this chart and will definitely incorporate it in the inquiry process this year.)

In order to do the level of thinking that synthesis requires, students must 1) draw on their background knowledge and 2) conduct sufficient new research. And they need to engage in this process in an efficient manner. This means that students need to have fairly good fluency with most of the research steps. But if students struggle to read, to make meaning with the sources that they have found, then they will get bogged down at the very outset of the process. If it takes a student days to wade through an article then not only is there not enough time but even if and when more time is allocated, students can become discouraged and frustrated at their lack of progress. When teachers are designing the learning (deciding on the topic of the research etc. ) then there may be some opportunity to locate resources that better suit the students’ needs. However, since we believe that the inquiry process works best when students make their own choices, we ask students to find their own sources.

I need to identify those students who struggle to work through the early part of an inquiry (whole class articles for back ground knowledge building) and work with them regularly to strengthen their reading skills. Reading for meaning sheets and summarizing in their inquiry journals offer frequent opportunities for students to push their thinking.

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Gather and Analyze

This the fifth post in a series that explores IQ: A Practical Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning by Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer. Here are the links to post one (IBL and Learning), post two (In the Mess of Learning, what will stick?), post three (Questioning and Expertise in Inquiry-Based Learning), and post four (Supporting Conversations).

What I appreciate about IQ: A Practical Guide to Inquiry-Based Learning’s Chapter 5 “Gather and Analyze” is the strong focus on teaching students how to find and evaluate sources. Too many teachers ask students to “research” without teaching them how to find appropriate sources online. Not only is so much time wasted as students aimlessly wander the web, but the struggle they encounter to locate sources leaves them feeling frustrated and incompetent. This is not the productive struggle that cognitive psychologists claim we need to engage in during the learning process.

To help students get the most bang for their buck, I will use the lesson activity from the ENG4C elearning course, which can be accessed in the Ontario Education Resource Bank (OERB).  The first 13 pages of this lesson is a modified version of that elearning lesson. Here students are introduced to or reacquainted with Google’s advanced search features. For many students, this is their first encounter with tools like the key word search, and it blows their minds!

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What I find lacking in this chapter (and thus, in the book) is the inclusion of the note making process. While note making may not be a significant part of young learners’ research process, certainly it must be for older students as the ideas, questions, and sources being explored become more complex.

Students first learn to unpack the sources they discover by asking questions of the text, locating the pertinent information in the text that provides evidence that supports their claim (inquiry question), and ultimately deciding if that source is sufficient, current, accurate, relevant, and suitable (SCARS).

Students make notes by collecting the relevant evidence (facts, statistics, expert opinion, analogies) and noting their thinking about the evidence. Initially, this step is tough for students. I am asking them to not only find evidence that supports their claim, but to also think about how it does. By including their ideas in their notes, they are constructing new knowledge. They are building connections and relationships between the ideas of the various sources and their own thinking. Typically, there is a wide disparity between a student’s first research note and her last note, and not just because better sources are discovered. Since the thinking in each note builds on itself, the first note will generally include little evidence of student thinking (mostly superficial connections) while the latter notes will reflect more sophisticated and significant thinking. Note making also supports many effective learning strategies like summarizing (Marzano) and paraphrasing.

Here are the steps in my research process (pre-writing):

Here is one student’s process:

Here is one student’s note:

Here are the criteria for the note:

Research Note Evaluation Checklist                 

  • Bibliographic Citation information
  • Thesis/Lead of the article—identified
  • Headings
  • Key Words/Phrases
  • Your ideas—identified in some way (ALL CAPS, italics, colour, etc.)
  • Quotations—identified by “  “
  • Paraphrase—identified by (paraphrase)
  • Audience
  • Purpose
  • Summary  

Here is one student’s mid-term reflection:

When it comes down to researching and creating research notes, annotating, increasing vocabulary to understand harder texts, and learning about media portrayal, I have to say this is the biggest learning process I’ll ever go through. I have to say it is fun and hard, and in going through it I have learned about so many things: purpose questions, styles of text, elements of text/posts, learning new words and phrases. Furthermore, the process gives me more knowledge to use for when I head off for college.

You can see the intersection between my process and that of Watt and Colyer’s. Where they use Reproducible 15 “Assessing my point of view”, my students will use the KWL(revised) ,organizer. Where they use SOURCE (Source, Objective, Usefulness, Reliability, Context, and Evidence) as their method of evaluating websites, my students will use SCARS (Sufficient, Current, Accurate, Relevant, Suitable).

I’d love to hear your thoughts about note making. Do you teach note making explicitly for the research process? If so, how?

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Supporting Conversations

This the fourth post in a series that explores IQ: A Practical Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning by Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer. Here are the links to post one (IBL and Learning), post two (In the Mess of Learning, what will stick?), and post three (Questioning and Expertise in Inquiry-Based Learning).

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Chapter 4 of IQ: A Practical Guide to Inquiry Based Learning focuses on improving students’ communication skills. I love this chapter because it dovetails so well with the ideas (Harnessing the Power of Talk) presented at the Adolescent Literacy Symposium (#LiteracyON) last month. Like all good professional learning, the Symposium provided layers of learning: participants as learners, participants as teachers, participants as facilitators. One of the threads connecting all the layers was the use of protocols.

Learning conversations do not just happen on their own when groups of people get together to “discuss,” but instead are a result of intentional, systematic planning of the learning opportunity. … Protocols are structured sets of guidelines to promote effective and efficient communication and problem solving (The Learning Conversations Protocol).

Watt and Colyer mention protocols (page 68) as a means of supporting student conversations. Below I have listed some resources where you can access various protocols that may be appropriate to support your students’ conversations.

For example, one protocol that I might use in introducing inquiry vocabulary is List, Sort/Group, Label. Before I give students the list of words and definitions (Reproducible 9), I would give just the words (LIST) to small groups of 3 or 4 students with the instructions that they SORT or GROUP the words into the four categories. Sometimes I’ll give students the categories, sometimes students need to generate their own categories. Finally, students need to explain to the class how they sorted the words. Often I will end this activity with a Gallery Walk so that students can see the variations in the sorting and we can together sort through misconceptions and misunderstandings.

But there are TONS of protocols available AND of course, you can always create your own.

For instance, I am thinking that before I assign a journal prompt to students (LOVE the inquiry journal idea–BUT should it be paper or digital or choice? Thoughts?), I might have students talk through a prompt together. To do this, I currently use the Reading for Meaning Statement sheet, in which students are given a statement and they have to decide whether the text agrees or disagrees with it, and, in the space provided, share quoted, textual evidence to support their agreement or disagreement. Thinking through what the text is saying and providing support for their thinking together gives students confidence in tackling individual thinking tasks like the inquiry journal prompt writing demands.

But there are caveats. It’s important to consider Katz and Dack’s cautionary note because simply using a protocol is not sufficient.

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 7.54.44 AMThe Learning Protocol

Resources

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Photo by TerryJohnston

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Questioning and Expertise in Inquiry-Based Learning

This the third post in a series that explores IQ: A Practical Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning by Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer. Here are the links to post one (IBL and Learning) and post two (In the Mess of Learning, what will stick?).

 

Nurturing curiosity in all our learners can be a challenge, especially when we detect a high level of reluctance or “disengagement.” Students, as well as teachers, may need to “unlearn” previous habits such as memorizing content as the goal of learning or viewing the teacher as the keeper of “the truth” (page 38).

Except there are times when it is appropriate to memorize content and when the teacher is the expert in the room.

When I theorize about something I don’t know a lot about, I start by making connections to what I do know. I use my existing knowledge to help my build new knowledge. My curiosity might be naturally aroused but if I can’t ‘see’ a connection or pattern or an experience to this new thing, I likely won’t stick with it. I think that my curiosity deepens when I begin to care about the new thing (object, idea, skill, etc.). Of course, (and I do mean this) there are times when I need to learn to do things or to memorize information that I don’t (yet) care about. I can’t understand that I need to care about these things. If I can learn to self-regulate when I am young, I will have better relationships and more opportunities presented to me in the future. But when I am young, I likely won’t understand that. If I can learn math facts so that they are available to me easily, then I will be able to tackle more complex problems with more speed and efficiency. But while I am memorizing them I may not yet get that point.

When we don’t know what we don’t know, where do we start?

The teacher should certainly adopt a co-learning stance with students, but we should never forget that we ARE the experts in the room. If a student decides to explore the government’s relectucance to establish an inquiry for the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, I clearly am not the expert for this content. But I must be the expert in “the discipline and know how to pose intellectually engaging [questions] that will keep the learning moving forward” (page 45).

In terms of learning how to create questions, Watt and Colyer, illustrate how teachers need to teach students how to ask “both discipline-based inquiry questions that develop disciplinary thinking and analytical questions that develoop reasoning and self-reflective thinking” (page 38). I love this because it dove-tails nicely with disciplinary literacies generally (read like a historian, scientist, or mathematician).

This chapter shines a light on the necessity for teachers to be experts in both the inquiry process (formulating questions, gathering and analyzing sources, synthesizing, evaluating, and drawing and sharing conclusions) as well as in their subject areas (essential skills, core concepts and supportive content). I appreciate the list of ‘check-in’ questions (page 55-56) because speaking with students, in both formal and informal conferences, is the work (the teaching-learning process).

I like this series of guiding questions, too.

Figure 18: Analytical questions based on the eight elements of thought

Source: Paul, Richard, and Elder, Linda. The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential Questions. Foundation for Critical Thinking (2010)

They connect to the learning to be a learner question frames that I use with students.

By Maureen Devlin

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In the mess of learning, what will stick?

This the second post in a series that explores IQ: A Practical Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning by Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer.

Here is a blog post where I focus on the assessment process I use in one of my courses. It reveals how to use a rubric to capture the messiness of the project. There is often lots of choice in IBL which can leave you feeling like things are out of control. Not all students have done the same tasks, and even when they have done the same tasks, they may not cull the same activities to represent their learning as other students. Learning how to design an assessment workflow is key to the success of IBL, in my opinion.

One of the areas I’d like to improve in is making feedback “stick” better.

Wiliam asserts that if we can “Make feedback into “detective work”—make the students do intellectual work in responding to the feedback” then feedback will stick.

One way of making sure that students actively use feedback is to make responding to the feedback a task in itself. In other words, make feedback into detective work. In a previous article in Educational Leadership (Wiliam, 2012), I mentioned Charlotte Kerrigan, a language arts teacher who sometimes responds to her students’ essays by writing her comments on strips of paper. She then gives each group of four students their four essays, along with the four strips of paper. The group’s task is to figure out which comments apply to which essays.

Or consider a math teacher who provides feedback on 20 solved equations. Rather than telling the student which equations are incorrect, the teacher can instead say, “Five of these are incorrect. Find them and fix them.”

The same basic principle can be applied to any school subject. For example, in social studies, if a student has included the Emancipation Proclamation as one of the causes of the U.S. Civil War, instead of telling the student that the Proclamation was issued in the second year of the war, the teacher could point out that one of the causes he has mentioned can’t be a cause because it occurred after the start of the war, and ask the student to sort this out.

Such practices ensure that students, the recipients of feedback, do as much work as the teacher who provides the feedback. Making feedback into detective work encourages students to look at the feedback more closely and to think about their original work more analytically. (Wiliam, Educational Leadership, 2016)

I can work on designing detective work opportunities during the conversations and observations of the inquiry process. For example, during the research note-making process, I could say to a student, “This note is almost completed properly. There are three criteria missing. Find out what they are and add them to the note.”

I think that I can generate some canned responses based on my prior experience. I bet you can too. Here is a collaborative document where we can list possible detective work practices.

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