Sailing Uncharted Seas

Hmmm perhaps this should have been my very first blog post, but better late than never, right?!  I thought I’d just share a little bit of my journey – how I got to be in this metaphorical boat, sailing uncharted seas where the maps available may only warn ‘here be dragons’.

In a former life (i.e. last term ;)) I was HOD English.  Now that was the ultimate goal for me in becoming a teacher.  I wanted to teach English (mostly Shakespeare) and I wanted to be the Head of an English department.  Mission accomplished.  Happiness to follow?  Not necessarily…

It was when I found myself actively applying for non-teaching jobs (a massive wrench for someone who always wanted to teach) that I realised something just wasn’t adding up.  While still applying for jobs, I started listening to myself.  What messages was I relaying about my days at work?  I always had a funny or warm anecdote about something that happened in class.  I really like my colleagues.  I really didn’t find satisfying the constant war on how best to spend my time.  The hierarchy went: stuff with parents; stuff that affected colleagues; senior marking; junior marking; planning lessons; department strategic stuff.  Very rarely did that ranked list lead me to do the things that I felt would make a difference.  Something needed to change – but the teaching wasn’t actually it.

In amongst this, it was announced that the school was going BYOD.  Even me, with a severely limited understanding of what this meant in real terms, could see that this required a massive shift.  What was the school doing about this (in case I don’t make this point later on – behind the scenes there was lots of really good thinking going on, I was just unaware of it at the time) to prepare staff?

I could spy an opportunity.  Land ahoy?!  I presented myself as a ‘willing skeptic’ – I could write a blog, and present some ideas to staff about how to teach ‘BYOD’.  I had some ideas about the 3Cs of creativity, communication and critical thinking.  I convinced the principal.  Job mine.  Go to ULearn.

Bam!  I was suddenly adrift on an ocean of amazing ideas and opportunities – uncharted yes, but exciting in its very openness.  Overnight (OK over the three days of the conference) I was converted – no longer ‘willing skeptic’ (how I cringe – who would go for that idea anyway?!) but raving zealot!

So, no longer HOD English, but Future Learning Leader.  The seas remain uncharted, but the way forward is becoming less mirage-like.  I will co-lead staff learning around the WHY of e-learning/BYOD with a strong emphasis on future learning principles and strategies.  I will not jump up with a new app every day.  I will work alongside departments to follow through an inquiry process into what they’re interested, and what might work technology-wise to support student needs for them as 21st century citizens.

I am no expert.  I am but a learner, and hopefully we can all work together to learn more.  Lifejacket anyone?

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Degrees of Engagement

Being an English teacher, and placing great importance on words (see my post on students as learners here as an example), I love this post from Dan Haesler on ‘engagement’.  I’ve some more thinking to do on this – so watch for another edit/revision on this post perhaps, but I endorse the provocative questions being posed here.

Engagement in Schools: A Case of Mistaken Identity?

Collaboration v. Plagiarism

Really useful blog post here on the trouble teachers feel trying to reconcile the concepts of ‘collaboration’ and ‘plagiarism’ – when does sharing become cheating?

The post picks up on some of the ideas I reflected on here in a previous blog post/reflection on a collaboration podcast I had listened to.

I agree with the author, Jennifer Carey, that we need to come back to the activity at hand.  If learning is key, then collaboration contributes to this.  If assessment is key, then collaboration is cheating.  We must reflect carefully on the questions we pose and hold as central that the purpose of any task is to promote learning.

 

Reflection: ‘Is the Sage on the Stage Really Dead’?

Something I’ve been enjoying is listening to podcasts on my morning walk (Wellington weather permitting…).  Friday morning’s podcast was asking whether or not the ‘sage on the stage’ model of teaching was really dead.  To be fair, the speakers’ responses clearly indicated that it is not, as they were mostly giving advice on how to move away from direct instructional teaching methods to more guiding or facilitating of students.

Some of the comments I heard really got me thinking and reflecting on my own practice.  The comment that had the most impact on me was the thought that many teachers agreed with the need to shift from ‘sage’ to ‘guide’ from an ideological view point, but found it difficult to enact from a practical stand point.  Hands up.  No, just me then?

This comment really encapsulates my fear when looking to move forward pedagogically next year.  I’m in the process of writing programmes for my classes in 2014, but what if they’re not ‘flipped’ enough, or provide enough authentic context, or seek to provoke genuine engagement… And I’m meant to be leading professional learning with this stuff?  Yikes!

In a way it’s really difficult to imagine what a student-centred classroom would look like when you’ve never experienced it yourself.  I’ve moved so much from when I first started this journey – from being a reluctant adopter, motivated essentially extrinsically due to the fact that my school was moving to BYOD and I would hate to see laptops as expensive electronic exercise books and pens, to being a raving enthusiast.  But.  I’ve yet to implement any of the stuff I’m likely to advocate.

I guess I just have to live in hope that my fear will be my saving grace.  That, as one participant in the podcast said, where there’s a will; there’s a way.  I’ll consider the advice I gleaned from the chat: ‘ask, don’t tell’ – how can I pose questions to lead students towards information rather than rely on me for direct instruction?  I kind of like the idea of setting the daily homework assignment of students asking a question about their learning every day – preferably in an online environment – which could help me to guide further learning, and, if I track the questions over time, to help me develop question-asking skills in learners.  Because, ultimately students don’t need us to be their source of information.  They have Google and Wikipedia for that.  We need to provoke students into asking their own questions, and to help them find or use the tools to explore their own answers.

 

Reflections on a professional reading – Take 3

Ok! Sound the trumpets! I’ve finished reading the whole NZCER document – it’s here if you need the link again 🙂

Overall, I have to say my head is full and that I have a lot of thinking to do.  Luckily, I like thinking!

The final section of the report document reinforces the idea that I’m already a strong supporter of – that technology is just a tool, and that it can be used to teach ‘old school’ if the thought behind the tool isn’t there.  I like the diagram on page 56 which outlines that thre must be four interlinked strategies in order to support transformational change through using technology:

  • supporting innovation
  • improving capability
  • providing inspiration and articulating the big picture
  • providing enabling tools and infrastructure.

Without all four of these things, meaningful, sustainable change is not possible.  And these four must be linked to future-oriented learning.

So, in terms of my final thoughts, I’m struck by the following:

  • That teachers must be helped to ‘unpack’ their current classroom practice, and the philosophical ideas behind these (e.g. why do we have assemblies – what learning comes out of these? e.g. what is the purpose of teaching English – what is the use of it in the ‘real world’?).
  • If teachers are encouraged and supported to think in this way, then they are likely to recognise that there is a need – a pressing, genuine need – to do things differently (p. 62).
  • That there are a lot of things that almost need to happen altogether – the strategies above, the engagement with the six themes of the report…and that’s massive.  And maybe even a little overwhelming.  But the important things usually are!
  • That while essentially systemic transformation is needed, there are some steps we can begin to make right now towards the big picture.
  • And that these steps are beautifully supported by the teaching as inquiry model of the NZC.
  • We (students and teachers) are all learners, and all want to be life-long learners.
  • Oh, and it’s still fun to continue to wrestle with all of this 🙂

Reflections on a professional reading – Take 2

Ok, so I’ve found it challenging to find the time (or, perhaps, more truthfully, prioritise the time…) to continue to read NZCER’s report “Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective”.  But!  I’m nearly through, so I thought I’d take the time to reflect on the five further themes which the report links to “contemporary views of learning for the 21st century: (p. 9).  And as a reminder, the full six are:

  1. Personalising learning
  2. New views of equity, diversity and inclusivity
  3. A curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity
  4. ‘Changing the script’: Rethinking learners’ and teachers’ roles
  5. A culture of continuous learning for teachers and educational leaders
  6. New kinds of partnerships and relationships: Schools no longer siloed from the community (pp. 9-10)

I’m intrigued by the idea of ‘diversity’, which, as the report rightly captures, has been dominated in New Zealand schools by definitions of equity, or reducing disparity between different ethnic, in particular, groups.  The report doesn’t downplay this approach, but rather, I think, shifts the focus from a negative to a positive perspective, calling for ways in which differences are seen as valued as they allow for ideas and problems to be seen in different lights, from different points of view.  Overall, the concept of educating for diversity, I think is key.  We must be able to engage with “people from cultural, religious and/or linguistic backgrounds or world views that are very different” from our own (p. 25), and we must be able to engage with a diversity of ideas (p. 25).  I love this, and find it sits comfortably with my personal values and beliefs.

Theme 3 is centred around shifting the concept of knowledge from one of knowledge as “content or ‘stuff'” to “something that does stuff” (p. 31).  I think this is a huge challenge for secondary school teachers, in particular, whose core business has been imparting knowledge – filling the empty vessel analogy.  The idea of knowledge as a verb, or that “knowledge is about creating knowledge and using knowledge” (p. 32) may be comfortable in theory, but to put into practice is less straight-forward and clear-cut.  This is where inquiry-based learning, learning how to learn, and learning how to work with ideas and people, seems to me to come into play.  Working in a cross-curricula fashion in order to learn transferable skills will become important.

The fourth theme, focused on the shifting or rethinking of teacher and student roles, I’m gratified to see, is something I’ve considered already on this blog here.  I actually really like that this entire report seems only to use the word ‘learner’.  I think we should remember that this applies equally to ‘students’ and ‘teachers’ as we all seek to embrace learning about, in, and through a ‘future-oriented’ lens.

Indeed, this feeds well into the fifth theme of continuous learning.  The NZC speaks of creating ‘life-long learners’, and many schools have adopted this into their vision for their students.  However, equally, teachers must see themselves as ‘life-long learners’ – and not just in terms of their specific knowledge, or learning, area, but of pedagogy as well.  “21st century teachers need to be able to think about knowledge as a tool to do things with” (p. 46).  This strikes me as being akin to the extended abstract end of the SOLO taxonomy that Marsden has been working with for a number of years.  Teachers, with their subject-specific expertise need themselves to be able to think in a meta-cognitive kind of way about their subject and the ways in which the knowledge can be accessed, categorised, and linked.

Finally (for now ;)) is the sixth theme of forging community partnerships.  I like the two-fold rationale here –  firstly around providing authentic learning contexts, but also because these school-community connections will help to stimulate “real community understanding of and support for future-oriented ideas” which will be needed “if schools are to achieve the required shift in focus” (p. 49)

This (along with the previous blog post) form my reflection on the six themes outlined.  There’s still a wee bit more to go, so bear with me as I explore the final ten pages…!

First client!

Am very excited!  Met this morning with a teacher who wanted to know more about blogging.  I’m feeling thrilled for two key reasons:

  1. I can be seen by staff as someone approachable and as someone who might be able to help
  2. My blog is starting to provoke thinking about ways in which technology might be used to enrich the classroom experience – for staff as as well learners

Prior to our meeting, I had prepared this FYI document: blogging help.  I referred to it as part of the developing discussion, and followed up the meeting by immediately emailing to the teacher.

The responding email was very kind and emphasised to me that I had approached the request for help in the right way:

“You have given me much to think about, not least of which are the ‘Why’ and ‘Who’ questions…”

Fed the hungry?  Hopefully!