Tag Archives: Learning

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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Filed under #CyberPD, Professional Learning

Poplar trees and tablets. Thinking about engagement.

When my family gets together there is always at least one project on the agenda. From building furniture to changing the brakes on a car, the kids come home to do their ‘making’. “It’s great to do projects here”, they say. “The space, tools and materials are all at hand!”

We don’t mind. The kids, all in their 20’s, are ready to learn from us. They now want to know about buying tires, making jam, and planting trees. 

Last week, on December 24th actually, the project was to take down an old poplar in the back of the property. Tricky business taking down a 60 foot tree.

skitch

But this kind of project is exactly the type that gets everyone ramped-up. There are calculations to be done, and re-done, and theories regarding the falling tree’s trajectory to be hashed out (and then bet upon). Oh what fun!

My job is to document the process, and I did by snapping pics and posting them to the family Google hangout. 

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.33.00 PM

And then an unexpected message appeared.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.38.29 PM

Last year for Christmas, I got my 85 year old father a tablet. Learning to use it has been a slow process. He doesn’t have a smart phone (yet), so everything is new for him. Each time he comes for a visit, he learns or relearns one thing. This fall he began to attend a class to learn more about how to use the tablet.

And he joined the family hangout.

This was always the goal. The family chat is lively with lots of pictures shared. It is one way we stay connected, and I knew that beyond appreciating the conversations, he too would be more connected to all of us. He never chatted with us though, preferring to ‘listen in’. 

Last week when my dad saw what we were doing, he was intensely jealous. He wanted to be there with us to be part of the excitement. In fact, he was so engaged in the event that he overcame his fear of texting, of doing something wrong, of looking silly in a public space, and he typed out his disappointment and admonishment.

How come major move happening without senior advisor?

This story is a terrific example of what engagement can look like at the various stages of learning. Clearly, my dad was motivated to learn how to use  the tablet. He persisted in his learning even though he didn’t always have a teacher. He sought out direct instruction and he practiced. As his confidence grew, he showed a willingness to join the hangout and then to participate in it.

Engaging our learners is not about entertaining them. It’s not about making things easier. It’s not about doing everything for them. It’s not about how much fun they’re having. Rather, student engagement is his or her intellectual commitment to learning. It is building the skills and knowledge needed to make that leap, conduct that inquiry, or create that project. It is the day to day, week to week, month to month learning that makes taking that risk possible. 

I’d love to hear your observations about learner engagement.

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Filed under General, Professional Learning

#makeschooldifferent

I grew up in a place and at a time when communication beyond face-to-face interaction was limited to the phone. Long distance calling was exorbitantly expensive and so, rarely done. It was hard to imagine being an ocean biologist when the nearest ocean was a thousand miles away. It was hard to believe that you could do anything other what you saw in front of you, and most of the time, there was simply nothing there.

Nothing on TVCreative Commons License futureatlas.com via Compfight

I’m not even exaggerating.

I still live on the edge of the populated spaces in this country where there are no traffic lights, no stores open for evening shopping, and no line-ups for…well, anything. Waiting in traffic means someone is helping that turtle trying to get to the other side or a family of raccoons have decided to cross the road. And yet I don’t have to live on the periphery of  intellectual spaces any longer. I can participate in the most current educational thinking of Ontario, Canada, and beyond. I don’t have to wait for someone else to decide what is important for me to know about teaching and learning. I don’t have to hope that someone will provide me with inspiration for my work. I don’t have to draw on only the local resources to design courses that are meaningful, relevant, and intellectually engaging for my students.

What this does mean; however, is that others in my situation don’t have to either. This has been the challenge, then the difficulty, and now the problem facing me of the past five years. Why are the educators around me not embracing the opportunities offered via the current technologies to grow and learn past where they are physically located? Why rely on Nelson or Pearson solely to teach their students? Why do they think that what they have always done is sufficient today?

This brings me to this…..

MakeThingsDifferent screenshot Fryed

And Donna Fry’s blog is a source of inspiration for me. She tagged me in this post where she enumerates the 5 things that she thinks we need to stop pretending in order to #makeschooldifferent.

Here is my list…

#1.  We need to stop pretending that teachers can do this job alone. We need to recognize that planning time cannot mean that teachers work in isolation; nor can it only mean planning across grade teams. It must also mean having time to connect with educators beyond our four walls.  It means growing our PLN. It means honouring social media connection time as valuable.

#2. We need to stop pretending that all educators are de facto good learners. Tom Whitby has said, “To be better educators, we must first have to be better learners.” Agreed. And this does mean all of us who claim the title of educator: ECE, EA, Teacher, Coach, Consultant, Coordinator, Principal, Supervisor, Education Officer, Program Manager etc. We all need to expect of ourselves first what we expect of our students…to be risk-takers, metacognitive, and ‘learning ready’.

#3. We need to stop pretending that someone else is going to do the work. All educators at every level of our education system must engage in the actual work with students. The days of “walk-throughs” by administration need to end. Rather, administration needs to work in the classroom to remain connected to the ever-changing demands of the teaching-learning exchange.

Instructional rounds conducted by teachers and administration have taken hold in some places and work because they support/model a culture of ongoing learning. I have to believe that that culture is passed on to and/or picked up by the students, too.

There are other examples that demonstrate the importance/value of everyone doing the work. You can see here the Northern Ontario eLCs working with teachers and students of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. Another example comes from a session I attended for preparation work for a new e-learning course where Lori Stryker from the Assessment Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Education spoke about her work with teachers and students in classrooms to ensure that the work does not live in the theoretical realm, but moves always to practice.

#4. We have to stop pretending that learning is about isolated subjects driven by content. We need to design learning to be interdisciplinary so that students and teachers can tackle real world needs. This might mean solving real problems like how a school can acquire a new field for outdoor learning and recreation/training, or it might mean developing a program that responds to students’ desire to learn about the traditional life of their people (much like the  Specialist High School Major program in Ontario does). We need to see this kind of learning become the norm.

Frankly, it is becoming more and more difficult to explain to high school students why they need four English credits. They don’t dispute needing to develop and strengthen their communication/literacy skills, but many of them would rather do that work via robotics, student council, or a music business course.

Which brings me to …

#5. We have to stop pretending that only some teachers are teachers of literacy. Everyone needs to be able to speak, read, write, and create really well. Literacy is the set of skills that drives all other content–regardless of discipline. Literacy instruction needs to be built into every part of a students’ day because it is a set of skills that was, is, and will always be needed. Advanced literacy skills ensure that students will be able to think critically, communicate persuasively, and work collaboratively. In Ontario, the work of incorporating/embedding literacy into every grade 7-12 classroom is supported by the Adolescent Literacy Guide and the folks at the Curriculum Services Branch of the Ministry of Education. It’s up to our school and system leaders to make sure that every teacher is skilled at literacy instruction.

Of course, there are more than 5 things to stop pretending. Here are some other voices who have expressed ideas that I would add to my list too!!!

Heather Theijsmeijer

Colleen Rose

Ms. Armstrong

Deborah McCallum

And I would like to challenge my English teacher colleagues  @msjweir@arachnemom, @sarle83, and @danikatipping. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts ladies!!!

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Filed under Literacy, OSSEMOOC, Professional Learning, Teaching

Feeling off-balance is okay.

Note: My article for today is cross posted from OSSEMOOC: Day 8 of 30 days of learning.

 Preparing my Next Sermon
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Mark Hunter via Compfight

Last week, we were asked as a staff to once again articulate what technology needs we  have. Like many schools and school districts, we are working hard to upgrade our infrastructure and our hardware. This is necessary work, to be sure. But as I listened to the ‘wish list’ that teachers have, I reflected on how this conversation about tools did not stem from the need to change practice.

And maybe it can’t. Maybe the process of the integration of technology and shifting practice has to happen at the individual level.

I have a class set of Chromebooks, and the impetus for acquiring them was not pedagogical. In the fall of 2013, I was asked to teach grade 10 communications technology, and the Chromebooks were purchased to support that course. But I had them, so why not use them in all of my classes? This could be a bit of a pilot program, we (the principal and I) told ourselves. Let’s see how these devices work out in the non-tech classroom.

The Chromebooks worked marvelously.

I didn’t.

Sure, I knew how to use the machines and the apps. I knew how to set up student blogs and wikis. I knew how to organize documents and folders, to comment, and to share. What I didn’t know how to do was to integrate the devices into the teaching that I do.  Let me try that again. What I didn’t know was that I needed to see the curriculum (English) in a completely different way. What I didn’t know was that ‘changing my practice’ meant reconsidering every aspect of my practice from how I structured the course (traditionally thematically) to what essential skills I believed my students needed to have and how they would/could demonstrate them.

Here’s an example: Senior students need to demonstrate their ability to research, organize ideas, write, revise, format for publication, and cite sources appropriately. For many teachers, this translates into a research report or essay that is produced in Word or Google documents and that is printed or shared. Is that traditional research report/essay format still valid? Do I need to teach them how to produce their thinking in this manner because that’s the format required or expected in higher ed? Or can students research, curate, embed, link, write, and cite in a wiki? Or is the conversation really about choice?

This past February, I had a conversation with Steve Anderson (@Web20Classroom ) about content curation, in which I raised these same questions. His response? We need to understand that “there is no final solution when it comes to [student] learning.”

No final solution. No one way. No program. No script.

What I learn a bit more each day is to be okay with feeling off balance as I figure out what to hang on to from how I taught before and what to let go of. And this, I think, is not something that anyone else can do for me.

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Building a Community for Learning

Yesterday,  a student asked me for help setting up a reflection page in the class wiki. As I sat beside him, he muttered, “I need to get some work done. I need to get marks in this course.”

I bit my tongue.

I am working very hard to build a community for learning in my courses this year. I really want to say that “we” are working hard to build a community for learning, but that isn’t the case…yet. In spite of establishing a consistent framework for the learning that embeds student choice and minimizes the teacher’s voice, considering the roles and responsibilities of the student, of the teacher, and of the room, and generating our community expectations for all the usual things like leaving the room and helping each other, the reality is that students are too deeply entrenched in the institutional side of education to actually be active participants in their own learning.

There are students for whom the game of school is about grades, increased opportunities to access higher education, and garnering a certain cachet as a top student.

Although Ontario students aren’t racing for the top, they are playing the game of school as well as any of their southern peers. Here you can listen to Kourosh Houshmand, a grade 12 student with the Toronto District School Board in 2012-13, being interviewed by The Agenda’s Steve Paikin. In response to the question, “How well do you feel that this public school system has prepared you for whatever is going to come next?”, Houshmand replied, “If the future consisted of life-long membership in the national regurgitation academy, then I’d be greatly prepared (22:35).

There is another game of school going on though that has nothing to do with high marks or the honour role. This

Learning Community Expectations

is the game of “just tell me what to do, so that I can get this credit.”  You can see that game embedded in the “expectations” the students generated.  In spite of small group discussion around some alternative classroom/community expectations (mistakes are signs of learning, take initiative, be actively involved, bring passion, engage) only those all too familiar rules that teachers list in their classes from grade 1 to well, this is grade 11, made the list (as the holder of the pen, I added “Take Risks” and “Practice Self-Regulation”).

What’s the next step?

To continue the conversation with the students in whole class setting and in one-on-one conferences. To lead them to intellectual engagement through the inquiry process, and yes, for some, through the newly acquired classroom technology. To have the students regularly write from a metacognitive stance. To provide them with lots of timely and constructive feedback. To continually look for ways to help students ask  themselves”What do I need to learn next?” rather than to ask the teacher, “What do I have to do next?”

 

 

 

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Letting learners learn.

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ETMOOC = Educational Technology & Media Massive Open Online Course

What I love about this screen shot  from the introductory ETMOOC session is the evidence of participants’ in their own learning.  The learners in this forum have been asked to answer the posed question, and they do clearly. But they also star, circle, and high light others’ ideas.  Immediate feedback to the teacher is a powerful tool for instructional design.  I wonder how responsive a MOOC can be? Is the feedback provided above useful to the instructor or to the learners? And if it is to the learner, who discovers what it is she has to learn next, where does she go? I know that Alec has said that there are experts within the group, and that help is there if you need it, but as I think about introducing MOOCs to my colleagues, I see that they may choose not to try because the every bit of the learning is public. Something for me to continue to think about as I work my way through the course.

I love the next slide! It is so representative of the shift in the culture of learning.
Learning is fun. Learning is messy. Learning is social. Learning has a back channel.

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To Sir with Love.

 

Greta Tvys Balen circa 1975

Greta Tvys Balen circa 1975 outside her grade 3 classroom.

Since I come from a family of teachers,  many people believed I would be a teacher, too. But I defended my right to be myself. I vigorously proclaimed to the world that I would not be a teacher, that I did not get the teaching gene.

And yet on occasion something would happen that would make me, for a moment, rethink my anti-teaching stance.

To Sir, with Love (1967) was one of those moments. I was not yet a teenager when I first saw the movie, and the powerful combination of Sydney Poitier and Lulu’s song captured my imagination. Although I have seen the movie many times since then each time appreciating something new about the film, this year’s viewing really struck a chord. Let me set the scene…

Sir, or Mark Thackeray to his colleagues, has taught his rambunctious charges to refer to each other using the formal “Miss _____” for girls and the surname for boys. One day, one of Thackeray’s boys comes to the staff room looking for a ball. The boy encounters the negative and argumentative  Mr. Theo Weston, who is confused by the boys politeness. He mocks Thackeray’s attempts at civilizing these kids. The following conversation ensues between Weston and another teacher, Josie Dawes:

Josie Dawes:  Do you object to being taught manners by one of the boys, Mr. Weston?

Theo Weston:  I don’t expect to be taught manners by those morons!

Josie Dawes:  So long as we learn, it doesn’t matter who teaches us, does it?

We are teachers and learners–we must be both. We want our students to be learners and teachers–they must be both. We are told this is the new dynamic; the current shift in educational thinking and practice. John Hattie in both Visible Learning (2009) and Visible Learning for Teachers (2012) instructs us on why and how we need to ‘know thy impact’. He confirms for us the power of relationships in learning and that the most important feedback is that given to teachers by students. Of course, Hattie’s conclusions are based on his huge meta-analysis, whereas To Sir, with Love comes from a generation that simply believed in the possibility of change and the hope for a better world.

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