Tag Archives: collaboration

Hold on to a Learning Focus

“You have got to have a lot of dance steps, so depending on who your dance partner is, and what the music is, you can actually shift the repertoire. A lot of us fall into default mode so when the music changes to rumba or cha-cha, we keep doing the samba…. A skilled professional … will actually shift repertoire, and has a range of pedagogy.” (Allan Luke, Leaders in Educational Thought, 2012)

This year #Cyberpd is exploring DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. Roberts and Beattie Roberts focus our attention on the idea that students will have different learning needs at different times and that we need to be ready to meet them where they are with the tools they need so that they can be independent learners. While I agree that tools that make the learning sticky are important, I want to first pull the focus away from the teaching need (the tools) and put it on how we determine what the student learning need is because it’s only with a very clear sense of the ‘why’ that the tools become meaningful. Without focusing on the problem first (the learning need), tools and strategies may become “activity traps” (Katz, 24). 

Sometimes teachers struggle to identify student learning needs. They reference things like students’ level of organization (coming to class prepared to learn) or self-regulation (putting phone way) or responsibility (completing independent work/homework) as obstacles to learning. And sometimes they identify “the curriculum, or the politics of education, or the lesson plan” (DIY, 2) as the things that block student learning. But none of these things are student learning needs.

What does a student learning need look like?

It is learning that the student(s) needs based on the evidence we have. This might be our own assessments, and it might be evidence from standardized tests, and it might be a combination. What is clear, however, is that even after we have taught the skill in the best way we know how to, some students still don’t get it.

What Roberts and Beattie Roberts note is that a student learning need is a teacher learning need; that “we don’t [always] have at our fingertips the content we most need to teach our kids” (23).  What do you do if the way you have been teaching students a skill is not reaching all of your students? If we have evaluated the importance of the skill; that is, we have determine that the skill is valuable, then there must be a sense of urgency for students to learn it (33)!

If you don’t belong to a collaborative inquiry or a professional learning community  then the authors suggest that teachers can access professional texts and a professional learning network (PLN) to help them find new content and/or strategies that may address their students learning needs. But by far and away, their first suggestion “Never teach alone” is the best alternative. We are better together! And not just because we need to model modern learning for our students, but also because the themes of teacher leadership, collaboration, and inquiry feature prominently in the research findings of leading education experts (e.g., Little, 1982; Darling-Hammond, 1998; Ball and Cohen, 1999; Lieberman and Miller, 2004; Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012; Hattie, 2012; Timperley et al., 2007; and Katz et al., 2013) (Donhoo and Velasco, 13-15). This research drives the collaborative inquiry I facilitate each year. The “link between teacher practice and student learning is a strong and robust one (Katz et al., 36), and it compells me and my team to work together to do the learning we need to.

So, when I read the Bonus Chapter, “Do it Yourself: Mining Your Own Work for Strategies”, I immediately made the connection to the work we do in our collaborative inquiry. Based on the determined learning need, we do

  • ask “How do we teach our students to…?;
  • seek the advice of experts;
  • challenge each other’s perspectives to “try to see a lot of different kinds of WHATS”;
  • do the work ourselves to see what will happen;
  • study what we did;
  • challenge each other’s assumptions about the learning.

We do all of this because we are trying to get to the WHY–the WHY behind the observable because that is what makes the difference. (Katz et al., 2013)

What is the it – if improved – that is going to make a difference for learning? This is what defines powerful professional inquiry, “a challenge of practice” or “a persistent and familiar instructional improvement dilemma” for which both educators and learners “at this point in their learning, have no easy solution” (City, Elmore, Flarman, & Teitel, 2009). Addressing challenges of practice is complex work as educators examine, analyze and make sense of the connections between student learning needs and their instructional practices. (Capacity Building Series, Dynamic Learning)

The challenge while reading DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence is to not get caught up in the tools…in a teaching focus, but to hold on to a learning focus.

Please share your collaborative professional learning experiences in the comment box.

Let’s learn together!

 

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Time changes everything.

Time is tyrannical. It strong-arms my work to fit, to conform, to be done without allowing me processing time–the conversation required for me to think out loud and for my colleagues to respond.

When I try to work within the parameters of job-embedded professional learning, the pressure is ever-present. The tick-tock of the clock, eyes shifting upward, phones flicking on & off; time taps its foot, and if I don’t respond, pouts. We are not done, but time is out:  papers shuffle, chairs scuffle, apologies mumbled.

 

The power of the collaborative inquiry is real–if we only have time for it.

I have the extraordinary opportunity to work-learn with an educator who has battled time and won. With her (@CarolineBlack39), I have (we have, I am sure) experienced the satisfaction thrill of deep collaborative learning.

Let me back up a bit.

We know that “we are better together”, and that working in isolation is now a choice. We know that “CI requires a safe, inclusive environment built on trusting relationships”. We know that “genuine learning can only  take place when we collectively accept that learning is not about knowing all the right answers, but about struggling together to find them, without being intimidated by the mistakes that  are inevitably made along the way” (In Conversation). And we know that ongoing learning is not a choice. Jim Knight says it well…

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                           Image is linked to video.

To help educators begin this work, various frameworks have been designed like the Ontario Ministry of Education’s organizing framework for CI processes, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s The Disciplined Collaboration model, and Jenni Donohoo’s step-by-step guide to collaborative inquiry. What all the frameworks have in common is the acknowledgment that CI can only succeed if “trusting relationships” exist so that educators can ” struggle safely”. Stephen Katz and Lisa Ain Dack  in their book Intentional Interruption, suggest that professional learning only takes place when there is permanent change in practice, and to get there our current thinking must be intentionally challenged. We need to be pushed beyond what we think we know, past the head nodding and the congenial (historic? predictable?) conversations. Stephen Hurley builds on the Katz/Dack comment “most people if left to their own devices will talk by defaulting to the lowest common denominator of agreement” by asking us to consider what might happen if the criteria for professional learning includes the notion of intentional interruption.  When we learn to monitor the thinking that emerges from within our conversations, we might be reminded of the need to be challenged.

That’s powerful stuff.

Trusting relationships

Collegial conversation

Intentionally interrupt assumptions

Push past the echo chamber

Work within an organizing framework

This is the recipe for a good professional learning opportunity, and “good” is a goal. But to get to the kind of professional learning that is fearless, energizing, contagious and yes even, joyful, another ingredient is needed—time.

Of course, job-embedded time (not release time) for educators to meet and learn together is a must. (School boards and unions need to figure this one out.) And yet, even this amount of time is not enough to satiate the appetite for learning together, once tasted. It’s not enough when the work/learning you do together can, for example, closes gaps in students’ learning by years.

And that’s the battle: to allow yourself the time to deeply invest in your practice.

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BUILDING CONTENT KNOWLEDGE: COLLABORATE AND CURATE

A contribution to OSSEMOOC‘s pic-and-post series:

Sylvia Rosenthal-Tolisano (@Langwitches) is one of my favourite bloggers. She does visually represent the learning in incredible ways, and I have a number of her posters hanging in my classroom. BUT, it is her teaching through her blogs that I so appreciate.

In this post, “Building Content Knowledge: Collaborate and Curate”, she includes video, images, and annotations to help her reader really “see” the Digital Learning Farm (Alan November) in action!

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Tolisano never forgets the role of technology in the teaching and learning cycle. Skill-building in reading for meaning, gathering information, and note making–all key components in the research process–are front and centre here without the traditional teacher lecture and notes for students and in ways that support students’ acquisition of information literacy skills.

Take some time to explore Langwitches’ Blog. It will be worth your while.

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#Cyberpd 2013 ~ Collaboration for learning

This is the final day for the incredible book study on Alan November’s Who Owns the Learningfor #cyberpd 2013. This event is hosted annually be the marvellous Cathy MereJill Fisch, and Laura Komos. To read what others are saying see the Jog the Web that houses the #cyberpd blogs.

November’s message is that students must have the opportunity to experience purpose and ownership in their work.  We can create such opportunities by incorporating roles or jobs for students that enable them to contribute to the learning of all. When students are tutorial designers, scribes, and researchers for their peers in their classrooms, and importantly, beyond their classrooms, and their work is available on-line, they leave a legacy of their contribution. How exciting and engaging is that!

My personal goal for this summer is to become better versed in creating visual content. I have where ever possible to represent my thinking about Who Owns the Learning? visually.

A few posts back, I wondered about the learning that would emerge by annotating an existing video in Popcorn Maker. What I discovered was that not only did the process of annotation deepen my understanding of the content, it also extended my editing skills.

By chance, I came across a post by Kim Wilkens in her Google+ community Women Learning Tech about using Popcorn Maker as a collaborative tool. She asks “What does open and closed mean in the digital age? Members of the community were invited to view her video and then to add their thoughts. What do you think of their collaborative experiment? This remix represents two contributors. There were more, but the challenge in making this a collaborative project is that each participant needs to ‘pick up’ the most recent remix to add his or her thoughts, not the original version.

I decided, since Chapter 5 is on the student as global communicator and collaborator, I would give Popcorn Maker a go with the #cyberpd crowd. I Tweeted out the idea, and Amy Rudd jump into the project. The first portion of this video is mine, and Amy’s portion is the VideoScribe.

If you would like to try your hand at Popcorn Maker and at collaborative content creation, click on the remix button found at the bottom of the screen below.  Add your ideas, save, and Tweet out the new remix.

For some reason, the Popcorn Maker begins to play as this page loads…so I have removed it for now. You can access the remix HERE.

Reflection:
I do like this idea, especially for assessment as learning. I envision my students each creating 30 seconds of video (either in Popcorn Maker, an Animoto type tool or in Movie Maker) and then annotating the video with links and text  that illustrates their big learning (synthesis) of a unit. Students can post their individual Popcorn Maker video to their blogs, but we can also connect them all (remixing) and post the class reflection on a wiki.Thanks to the #cyberpd folks for engaging in this book study in such creative style! We have definitely moved from thinking and writing about the ideas, to creating visual content too! Thanks to Cathy Mere for gathering our posts at Jog the Web and for initiating our own board on Pinterest. 

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What do you mean, you need more time?

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.

Impossible.

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.

Thanks Julie.

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Collaboration…..food for thought

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Collaboration: to work together.
That’s simple enough, isn’t it?
But what does it look like? And it what way is it different than cooperative learning or group work? Does it matter if I know the difference? I think we need a metaphor to provide some clarity.

I know that when I use cooperative learning strategies with my students, I need to do a lot of front loading and just as much scaffolding.Learning and working as a group, even when that work is compartmentalized as it is in a jigsaw or 4 corners strategy, is hard. Many students feel enormous amount of pressure in these situations, and they would prefer to work independently.

But cooperative learning is not collaborative learning….I mean that cooperative learning is a specific kind of collaborative learning. It is a set of processes which help us interact together in order to accomplish a specific goal. Its focus is on the product of the learning.  So in a jigsaw, students work to learn and share knowledge; they act as teachers of a component of the learning.

Collaborative learning is really working together to create or build new knowledge together. Collaborative learning requires that we all have input, that we all make a contribution, that we all learn from each other.

Have you figured out the metaphor? Thanks go out to Olga Kozar, a TESOL Master’s student at Manchester University for this idea.

Consider the metaphor of a pot luck dinner, where people cook and bring different dishes to the table. The dinner is more exciting than what each individual would have eaten individually—but the guests return back to their homes being able to cook only the same dish they brought to the pot luck. Even though they may have gotten recipes, they still need to learn to make the new dishes themselves. On the other hand, had they cooked together in the first place they would have observed and learned a lot more from one another; they would have taken away some practical, hands-on skills even if cooking together had meant a messier and a more chaotic process. So give collaboration a chance! It is worth the effort.


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