Turns out I’m a bit pedantic about letters and words. No surprises there, I guess, given my English teaching background. Today I’d like to level my sights at an insidious little verb: to do.
I hear this a lot. Heck, I’ve used it a lot. I’m thinking about sentences like: ‘We’ll start off with some poetry, then ‘do’ some creative writing tasks, before ‘doing’ the assessment.” I was listening to a really interesting piece on the radio the other day about the importance of oral language rich childhoods. Some of this was qualified by explaining that strong oracy skills gave learners an advantage when it came to ‘doing’ reading and writing later on in school. It becomes a short-hand way of lesson or programme planning: we’ll ‘do’ this content, then ‘do’ this task.
So I’ve been thinking about why ‘do’ drives me nuts. And I think I’ve figured it out. It’s because it makes the items become a ‘to do’ list: a tick box mentality. It compartmentalises the ensuing nouns into discrete areas. This all harks back to my other rants about timetables and silos.
When we talk about ‘doing’ learning, it prevents us from so much. It foregrounds content over skills. It implies we impose the learning on our students. It isolates knowledge from its context. It infers little personalisation, authenticity or relevancy.
So I challenge you to listen to yourself when you use the verb ‘do’. I know it’s an easy short-hand, and that you don’t intend to insinuate any of the above concepts. But listen and reflect. Is there another way to phrase your ideas so that you don’t ‘do’ ‘do’?
(And notice I didn’t use the word ‘try’ – that’s a whole ‘nother rant for another time…!)
I wrote a post a little while ago declaring my passion for Design Thinking. Since then I have done loads of reading and thinking about it. I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time participating in the #dtk12chat on Twitter – especially the day that it was summer vacation in the States, so I basically got an hour of one-to-one time with the lovely and uber-helpful Lisa Palmieri to ask her all my annoying novice questions. I’m currently preparing a design thinking exploration for my Year 8s in Term 4, and this resource centre, curated by Thomas Riddle, is proving exceptionally useful.
But this doesn’t explain why I have such enthusiasm for design thinking. And today it struck me. At the risk of making design thinking into some kind of panacea, I truly believe that it offers powerful potential for schools to address the needs of their 21st Century learners.
Last November, as I was starting my Future Learning journey, I read Bolstad et al‘s (2012) research report “Supporting future-oriented teaching and learning”. I blogged about the reading here, here and here. Today I’ve had occasion to revisit those blogposts and the research, and I can see that design thinking can mesh beautifully with several of the future focused themes Bolstad and her colleagues pinpoint in their report.
There is the notion of personalising learning – that the activities and curriculum content students engage with should reflect their input and interests. Design thinking will certainly allow this, as students generate their own questions in relation to the topic or issue at hand, and then follow these ideas through a prototyping and feedback cycle.
Bolstad et al also speak of diversity. Design thinking offers a means by which a great deal of ideas and questions are generated, welcomed, and indeed valued. Learners must generate (ideate) a wealth of ideas, and learn to filter these through the human-centred lens of empathy. Different perspectives offered by people of diverse backgrounds can therefore only be of benefit in order to empathise with others and add to the collective knowledge and ideas of the design thinkers.
Design thinking requires creating and using knowledge in ways that are different to traditional schooling. Filling an empty vessel is so contradictory to the process of design thinking as to render it inconceivable and redundant.
And to work within a design thinking process is to fundamentally shift the roles of ‘student’ and ‘teacher’. The teacher truly does become a facilitator as learners explore their own ideas in relation to the issue at hand. Teachers are just the most experienced learner in the room.
Furthermore, design thinking offers much potential to integrate and foreground the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum. The potential of the Key Competencies to shape the senior secondary curriculum is discussed in another of Bolstad and Gilbert’s publications, Disciplining and Drafting (2008), which I read in the recent school holidays. I suspect the next book in my reading list, Key Competencies for the Future (2014), will continue to make this kind of compelling argument. By following a design thinking process and adopting a design thinking mindset, it is inevitable that learners would be thinking, using language, symbols and text, managing self, participating and contributing and relating to others. This is because design thinking is a human-centred process that has a bias towards (social) action. In fact, it has the power to equip learners to tackle with the “wicked problems” outlined in Keri Facer’s seminal book, Learning Futures (2011), which I have read and blogged about here.
Today the focus was on tapping into student voice to engage learners and allow for learning to be personalised. To run alongside the session I created a ‘TodaysMeet‘ backchannel. I invited staff in, get them multiple ways to access the Meet, and gave them time during the session to use the backchannel to suggest ideas or give answers. This seemed engaging, and people were interested in it as a tool.
Here’s a snapshot of it in action:
It goes to show that having something interactive is a winner!
I also offered a repeat of the Google Drive/Google Docs workshop. I enjoy these when there is a help sheet for staff to follow along and then I can just respond on the fly to what people need. This was my experience this afternoon. Today’s workshop also reminded me that people do not learn new skills by osmosis. They need time to learn, to play, and to have questions answered. As always, it is dangerous to assume a base-level of knowledge.
My most retweeted tweet is a photograph of a quote from Kristen Swanson’s book Professional Learning in the Digital Age. The quote says:
“I wondered why somebody didn’t do something.
Then I realised, I am somebody.”
I think this captures Claire Amos’ challenge to New Zealand educators to ‘hack their classroom’ this term. I’ve written about accepting this challenge in my 100 Days of Learning log, but I thought it might be more useful to contain all the thoughts together in one ‘proper’ blogpost. So here it is.
I have an ambitious job description. I, along with my wonderful senior manager, have been charged with leading staff into adopting future focused pedagogy. We have gone BYOD with our seniors, and the rest of the school will follow soon. As I’ve outlined previously, to help us in this task staff have been given their own devices from the Board, and we have every staff meeting devoted to professional learning in this area.
When we surveyed staff at the end of last term, the results were pretty positive. The summary is below:
(4 is high, 1 is low!)
However, the final graph is, as you can see, a little different. Staff are yet to feel that there is much discernible impact on their classroom pedagogy as a result of the professional learning we have been doing.
My reaction to this is often to swing between ‘it’s early days’ and despair. Which is why I enjoyed Anne Knock’s blogpost so much this week. And especially this graph:
because it makes sense to me that we’re still in a ‘building knowledge’ phase. Mindsets (from ‘fixed’ to ‘growth’ – see Claire Amos again for a great explanation) are shifting for some, but I think that’s still a significant minority at best. So, how to get more staff on board, to realise the potential that future focused pedagogy offers?
Build a PLN.
Niftily, this was the theme of this week’s professional learning. And thus the jump in point for my “hack buddy” Matt Nicoll and I. We decided to hack Claire’s #hackyrclass challenge to a #hackyrstaffroom one! We want to be agents of change.
The plan in progress over this week and next is to connect with a small group of our staff who are interested in building their own professional/personalised learning network. Because we can do this from two schools, we can automatically offer each ‘team’ a ready-made PLN. We are using the hashtag #edSMAC (Samuel Marden Collegiate School, St Andrew’s College) to connect on Twitter.
We’re also surveying the staff to find out what they want from the ‘build your PLN’ project so that we can personalise links, tips and suggestions for what they are wanting.
The theory behind all of this is that if staff can be convinced to look outside their own four walls of their classroom, staffroom, and school, they will be exposed to new ideas that will spark an interest. An ‘ooh, I could try that’ moment. This has the potential to snowball and then – hey presto – a revolution is formed! Not just one individual teacher to hack their class, but a group to hack multiple classes.
Change is hard. But not changing? That’s ultimately harder.
Inspired by the likes of @GeoMouldey and @rosmaceachern and their reflective blogposts (Steve’s here and Ros’ here), I thought I’d put my thoughts about Term 1 so far in writing.
Firstly, here’s a link to my 2014 Inquiry Thoughts document I boldly drafted in January (yes, before school started) where I captured some ideas about what I’d like to focus on with each of my four English classes. The basic thought process was that I knew I needed to change my teaching practice in order to better ‘practice what I preach’ and in order to engage with my students in a more meaningful, ‘future focused’ pedagogy way. However, that was a pretty daunting task. So, my solution was to pick one focus for each class. For my Year 13s, it was around the use of social media in order to promote ubiquity and life-long learning. Year 11s, collaboration, which came out of a department review I conducted at the end of 2013. Year 10s, authentic context and Year 8s, personalised learning / inquiry.
I am fascinated by the low take-up of Twitter by my students. They seem to be keen users of Facebook, and no posting of amusing images or intriguing links appears to be tempting the rest of the class into the Twittersphere. I set up a teacher-specific account (@NicollEngTchr) and mostly remember to use #13AP2014.
However there is genuine enthusiasm for our Edmodo page, and I have recently seen a tipping point reached whereby students are independently posting links to other sources of information they have found which are relevant to our topic of study. This warms the cockles of my heart, and I hope this is a sign that the girls are seeing ‘English’ not just as something that happens when it is scheduled to during the school day.
I have also introduced the girls to the wonder that is Google Docs – they love co-writing and sharing their work this way. They even remember to share their docs with me 🙂
My next step is to check in with the girls themselves – in their busy lives, how else can I encourage ubiquitous, life-long learning?
I feel as though I started with a hiss and a roar with collaboration extensively implemented during our poetry unit in the first few weeks of the term.
I haven’t explored a lot of different tech tools to encourage collaboration, but we do have an Edmodo class site which is the repository of all our documents, etc.
What I particularly noticed is that once the pressure hit with NCEA internal assessments (creative writing, personal reading, speeches), collaboration went out the window to make way for teacher-directed instruction and individual work on assessments. I can’t help but wonder if the time hasn’t come to remove some assessments in order to have more powerful, engaging learning. However, it is also a good reminder to me to continue to strive to find a new way of doing things, not to lapse back into lazy, traditional habits.
My next step is to look into tech tools that could encourage more collaboration – maybe VoiceThread as I noted in my inquiry document. It is also to remember to focus on my ‘word of the year’: innovate.
Authentic context, I am rapidly discovering, is a real challenge. Interestingly so, in fact. Nevertheless this week we launched into a study of the language of advertising, which I have constructed in such a way as to have authenticity. This is that the English Department want to encourage girls to take English at Year 13, when it is no longer compulsory, and, what’s more, to take the ‘AP’ (advanced programme) course, where applicable, to have the challenge of Scholarship English. I have the Head of English coming into class as the ‘client’, I have a current 13AP student coming into class as a ‘consumer’, and I have a friend who works in marketing coming in as an expert who can guide us through the creative process.
I’ll be extremely interested to see if working in this way increases engagement and the quality of their final product – which will really be used!
I have indeed ‘flipped’ my grammar/language classes by using TED-Ed. The girls like learning in this way. I want to start making my own videos, and I want to have some girls create videos. I can see that this will be an ongoing learning process for us all throughout the year. What I particularly want to get better at is working with the separate groups within the classroom, to better personalise the learning once the flipped homework has been completed.
In terms of ‘inquiry’ with the girls, I’m not entirely sure the current work we’re doing is ‘inquiry’ per se, but it is highly engaging for them. We are currently creating a class website using Weebly on our novel study King ofShadows by Susan Cooper. I’m amazed really at how much ‘front-loading’ needs to go into this kind of task. We explored websites such as Wikipedia and Sparknotes to see how they were written and constructed. We co-constructed success criteria. We made a list of tasks and assigned these…and then we got started! However, it is heartening to see how focused and enthusiastic the class is. I feel as though they are improving their self-critiquing as when they ask me for feedback, I simply ask them if it’s the kind of information they themselves would want on a informative website, such as the one we’re aiming to create.
I’m keen to develop a more ‘open’ inquiry next time – what do they want to explore, how do they want to show their understanding.
Whew – no wonder it feels like the end of the term! There’s a lot going on, but I’m really enjoying working in this way, having a specific focus for each class, under the umbrella of the Marsden vision for future-focused pedagogy. As always, there’s a lot more to do, and that could be done, but I’m pretty proud of my baby steps so far. Thanks to my senior manager who met with me to discuss this reflection last Wednesday, and for the encouragement I have received.
Social Media: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Social-media-for-public-relations1.jpg
Today’s theme: Technology allows for personalised learning
I’m definitely becoming more comfortable with presenting to the whole staff. What I particularly liked about this presentation was that I considered modelling the less ‘teacher-directed’ or ‘direct-instruction’ and more ‘personalised’ approach. This meant outlining the concept of what personalised learning could incorporate; acknowledging that there is still a place and a need for some proportion of direct instruction; and showing how technology can allow learning to be personalised more readily. As always, the presentation includes numerous hyperlinks so that staff can go off and explore their own learning and interests themselves, but this time I specifically included a slide which catered for audio, visual and text-based preferred learning styles. In this way I was attempting to model one aspect of personalised learning.
A shout out to @GeoMouldey, @grantwiggins, @edutopia, @edudemic AND @coreeducation who provided me with content for this session!
I also ran a blogging workshop. I’m less sure how this was received – perhaps it would have been useful to find out what aspect of blogging teachers were interested in, as I referred to the possibility of having a class blog, a personal blog, a professional blog anf getting students to blog themselves all together! Hopefully my Blogging Workshop ‘help sheet’ is useful enough so that all those various possibilities are catered for…
(In addition to the list above, thanks to @mattynicoll too.)
In a slight aside reflection, looking at the rows of ‘@’s above – I must thank all the witting and unwitting members of my Professional Learning Network for keeping me up-to-date, informed and in-the-know!
I have read the executive summary twice, and find the ‘teacher friendly’ curriculum update really accessible: NZC Update 26. I actually read the executive summary as almost the first piece of initial exploring I did into this area and upon recently re-reading it, it’s amazing how much more sense it makes now! Thus, I’ve been inspired to read the whole kit and caboodle.
The introduction seeks to define ’21st century’ or ‘future’ learning and to capture what the current educational situation is like in New Zealand. While only being a third of the way through the report as a whole at present, something I’m finding consistent and striking is a call for a “system transformation” (p. 9) in order to support every single student to “develop the skills, competencies, knowledge, and understanding required to participate in, and contribute to, our national and global future” (p. 9).
The metaphor that is used to capture this need for systemic shift is that of ‘unbundling’ – taking apart structures in order to reassemble them in newer, more meaningful ways.
I like that the report directly addresses the why of change, and that this response is not just about economy or changing careers, but also about the fact that more is known about how learning occurs, and that there has been a fundamental shift in the way “knowledge is thought about and used” (p. 11). The two supporting tables which explore these latter two concepts on pages 13 and 15 I find particularly useful.
For example: “It is no longer possible to accurately predict exactly which knowledge people will need to draw on as they move through life in the 21st century. It has been argued that students need, among other things, opportunities to build their sense of identity, become self-reliance, critical and creative thinkers, be able to use initiative, be team players and be able to engage in ongoing learning throughout their lives” (Table 2: Old and new views of knowledge, and the implications for schooling, p. 13) for me, this is real confirmation and justification for my focus on what I’ve been calling the ‘3Cs’ of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
And: “To learn, people need to be actively engaged – they need to be doing something, thinking something and/or saying something that requires them to actively process, interpret and adapt an experience to a new context or use.” (Table 3: What we know about learning, p. 15). This is calling for thinking and having experiences to think with.
Speaking of thinking – something I need to do more thinking about is the concept of ‘wicked problems’ – I almost certainly will come back to this at a later stage.
Finally, I have just finished reading the section on ‘personalising learning’, which is the first of six “themes” that the report deals with as those “linked with contemporary views of learning for the 21st century” (p. 9).
The distinction that is made between ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ practice of personalisation has struck a chord with me. I can see that staff in my school are genuinely making steps towards the ‘shallow’ end of personlisation pool: offering “choices about which activity(ies) [students] will undertake to master the knowledge determined by the teacher” (p. 19). This report suggests, of course, that we should be working towards ‘deep’ personalisation where “students’ learning activities and the curriculum/knowledge content they engage with are shaped in ways that reflect the input and interests of students, as well as what teacher know to be important knowledge” (p. 19).
My gut reaction to this was one of guilt – I’ve been kidding myself that offering ‘shallow’ choices to students was allowing for the personalisation of learning. However, I see that we all have to start something – and the intention behind the choices is a genuine one. We can’t go from zero to hero in one fell swoop (to mix a metaphor). I’m also reassured – but need to make sure I don’t use this as an excuse to try ‘deep’ personalisation within my classroom – by the concrete examples of deep personalisation supplied in the report from two New Zealand schools. I particularly like the model outlined on page 23 that comes from Albany Senior High. Here we can see the recurring call for a transformation at a systemic level in practice – ultimately this is what is needed to create genuine transformation.