Modern Learning Curriculum

Over the past couple of months, I have been shadowing and participating in one of CORE Education’s online programmes: Modern Learning Curriculum. It’s been really interesting and I thought I’d just reflect a little on what I’ve learned.

Firstly, I enjoyed the opportunity to bring together some prior knowledge (and I want to do a shout out here particularly to the #edchatNZ MOOC that I did last year) with some more specifically New Zealand-context research and readings. I thought it was excellent the way that the course moved between global trends in education, for example the research coming from the OECD, and our Aotearoa New Zealand context using research from NZCER, as well as firm grounding in the New Zealand Curriculum and Education Review Office materials.

In terms of my own learning, I would say that I was prompted to think more about three things:

  1. Agency. Ah yes, this popular buzzword. Specifically, student agency. In a course entitled “Modern Learning Curriculum” there is going to be strong advocacy (and rightly so) towards a learner-centred curriculum that empowers student agency. I particularly liked Tim Gander on the idea of agency. This helped me to evolve my understanding of ‘agency’ beyond just ‘the power to act in one’s life’ to ‘the power to make choices that make a difference’.
  2. The crossover between learner-centredness, emotions, wellbeing, Universal Design for Learning and modern learning environments. If we accept that we cannot learn unless we feel safe and feel a sense of belonging, then this has huge implications for the design of our classrooms / learning environments before we even begin to think about what and how we teach. I could really end up channelling Hamlet here and getting stuck by the massiveness of the issues: paralysis by analysis.
  3. Assessment. I don’t think I’ve done nearly enough thinking about assessment. The word has become a bit ‘dirty’, perhaps not dissimilar to ‘data’. But we have to know we’re making a difference. Learners have to know where they’re at, and what their next steps are. And this requires assessment, otherwise how will we know what to keep doing, stop doing, or do better? This has offered me food for thought: assessment OF learning = teachers assessing students against goals and standards; assessment FOR learning = teachers using assessment to inform their teaching, and to offer feedback to students; assessment AS learning = students self-assessing and setting learning goals.

But what have I learned about curriculum? In many respects, I am potentially more confused about what constitutes ‘curriculum’ than I was at the beginning. But I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. Where does curriculum start and end? I’m not convinced there are firm boundaries around ‘curriculum’, ‘pedagogy’, ‘assessment’. But I do wonder if many schools stumble into their curriculum without deeply considering all the aspects that frame it. I’ve tried to capture some of these things here:

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My image, curriculum, November 2018

We need to have open and robust conversations to set the parameters around our local curriculum, and we need to be deliberate in our choices.

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DT Reflection

Apologies in advance for what will be a longish blogpost…

My final unit with my Year 8 (12 year olds) English class of 2014 was an extended design thinking exploration. For it, I posed the following question: ‘How might we welcome students into the Marsden family at Years 7 and 8?’

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To shape my reflection of this unit of work, I’m going to use some of the headings from the d. School design thinking process that we used as our base structure.

Empathise

Under this heading, I’m going to focus on what my students thought of the unit we completed, and what they reported they learned through their reflections.

The girls learned three key things: what empathy is and why it’s important in a design thinking process; the value of prototyping; and a greater appreciation for design thinking and what it has to offer. They reported especially enjoying the ideation and prototyping phases of the unit. They loved that all ideas – no matter how wacky – were accepted without judgement, and they loved making physical prototypes. As one student said, “I can concentrate when it’s fun.”

We spent quite a lot of time in the empathy phase in this unit, for one thing, this was where I was particularly emphasising some specific English-related close reading skills, and consequently I felt the girls really grasped this important concept well. In their own words, they defined empathy as “informed sympathy”; learning “to put yourself in someone’s shows and relate to how they feel.”

I was equally pleased, however, with their obvious enjoyment of the prototyping phase. Being a highly academically successful school, sometimes I worry that our students are afraid of taking risks and being ‘wrong’. Learning to fail fast, fail forward, and fail with a positive attitude to build resilience is crucial. So to hear comments like: “it takes a while to get the exact thing that you want/like,” and: “I learnt how good it is to design something without it being perfect and then changing and evaluating later,” made me feel proud.

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Here are what the girls themselves said they learned through experiencing the design thinking process:

  • “how to think hard to create more ideas”
  • “how to put yourself in other people’s shoes and produce things that will help others, not just yourself”
  • “design thinking helps you to learn how to process ideas into something to help people”
  • “design thinking helps you to efficiently solve a problem”

And my absolute favourite:

Design Thinkers must be selfless people.

Define

In this section, I’m going to outline the unit that I put in front of the students.

I had no preconceived ideas of the products or solutions I thought the students might come up with. I really just wanted an authentic issue – the overarching question links to something staff had been discussing over the year – and a context the girls themselves could easily relate to, with resources easily on hand. I’m indebted to the #dtk12chat community, and this LiveBinder resource, curated by Thomas Riddle. And from this resource, I based my unit on this challenge.

The folder of resources I created is available here.

Something I was pleasantly surprised to learn about a benefit of using a design thinking approach was the way that it made me be much more consistently explicit about what we were doing, and how it tied into the bigger picture of the unit and the guiding ‘How Might We’ question. I became much more focused on the learning. Instinctively, I started to write reflective sentence starters on the board for students to use in the middle and/or at the end of the lesson. This is something I would like to formalise more in a future iteration. Schools who use a learning portfolio could really capitalise on this.

Overall, what I needed to improve on was the ‘define’ phase of our unit. This was woolly and waffly, and the girls themselves identified this weakness in their reflections. We had a guiding ‘HMW’ question already, and although we spent time writing point of view statements (‘___ needs a way to ___ because she ___’) these weren’t quality and therefore failed to be of sufficient value. Subsequently we didn’t whittle our mass ideation down well. Although the overall products definitely met the brief, and have been taken up by the school for implementation in 2015, we lost our way in the middle here.

Ideation

In this section, I’m going to brainstorm some ways in which I could improve this unit in future, particularly focusing on the identified weak points of the ‘define’ and refining ‘ideation’ phases.

  • Have a formalised reflection log. This could take the form of: portfolio, blog. Consider other forms, e.g. voice/oral reflection.
  • Spend more time explaining the ‘point of view’ statements. Just as we did with ‘ideation’ and ‘prototyping’, build these skills first. Have a practice run.
  • Rather than write ‘point of view’ statements, refine the original ‘how might we’ question.
  • Write a ‘point of view’ statement for an actual person, rather than a fictional girl.
  • Write a different ‘point of view’ sentence frame that suits the specific challenge better.
  • Research other user statements to use in place of the ‘point of view’ statement.
  • Evaluate the defined problem in light of the over-arching HMW question.
  • Use more than one method of refining ideation: 6 stars; safe bet/long shot/darling; rating system e.g. novelty, usefulness, viability, risk.
  • Think about what online tools could help, e.g. writing user/point of view statements in Google Docs for ease of collaboration. Google Forms to rate ideas/get feedback on point of view statements.
  • Sum up what’s been learned by empathising to guide more direct links to defining a specific problem/area of focus.

[I’d love your input here…what thoughts/ideas can you suggest for me?]

Conclusion

Because I won’t be in a formal classroom like this in 2015, I’m not going to prototype a further iteration of this unit at this stage. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching this unit, but, more importantly, teaching in this way. It confirmed for me the power and promise and purpose of design thinking, which I’ve written about before here.

I was highly amused at the stumbling block we hit as a class once we finished our prototyping phase, and I expected the students to actually create their products/solutions. The girls thought I meant just making a ‘tidier copy’ of their cardboard creations. It took almost a full hour to convince them I meant otherwise. This brought home to me that mostly teachers require ‘fake real’ projects from their students. Unschooling my students out of this, albeit briefly, was a win.

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These are the girls’ final products. They presented them to their deans, who were so impressed they had the girls work on a modified version for use with the new students starting next month. I hope my students learned that they have a voice to create something of value, that they have the skills and resources, and, most importantly, the disposition to make a contribution.

Reflection: Social Media in Year 13

I’m continuing to reflect on my practice this year. As you may recall from this post or this post, I chose a focus for each of my classes upon which to build more future-focused pedagogy. In Year 13, where I taught a very small class of students who had opted into tackling Level 3 and Scholarship English, I wanted to focus on the use of social media in order to promote the idea that learning is ubiquitous. The social media tools I chose were Edmodo and Twitter.

The latter was a complete flop. While I certainly learned how to set up a separate Twitter account for teaching purposes, and how to start a new Twitter hashtag (i.e. just start using one), with a small class, and an even smaller proportion using Twitter, there just wasn’t the critical mass required to be sustainable. I would definitely try this again though, because there is such a richness of material out there that would be of interest to students. I think I would explore other ways of making this material available to students – even if it’s just posting links to interesting readings on Edmodo.

Edmodo was much more successful. When I surveyed the students, they naturally compared and contrasted it to our Learning Management System, and favourably. The students liked that they could post questions and articles themselves on the forum (although I acknowledge that this is also a feature of our LMS – the students don’t spontaneously do this). They liked receiving notifications from Edmodo via email when something new was posted. This prompt was viewed as handy. I take it as a sign of success that the students did not set up a separate Facebook page, which they usually do. To me, this meant Edmodo was fulfilling the need it should do.

While not social media per se, in the survey one student also commented on the use of Google Docs, reporting that she enjoyed collaborating with the class in real time. This was my favourite comment from our end of year survey: “I think that the actual information we learnt and way of thinking we developed was improved by not being as credit focused and more education focused.” Yes! I’ll take that as a compliment!

My overall reflection is that this was an enjoyable class to teach, primarily because of it being small, we could all sit together, and have a more informal, discussion-based learning environment. I think I would like to find ways to encourage more reflection on skills and content, ways to ‘check in’ with how students perceive they are progressing, in order to provide them with more targeted support. Because the class was small, I fell into the trap of assuming I was observing accurately how they were feeling. Mostly I was correct, but assumptions are not valid means of assessing situations!

I like the way I really did re-jig the 2014 course based on the feedback from the 2013 students. I feel taking on board their advice was helpful, and did create a better, more cohesive year. Again, there would be further adjustments I would make to the programme, particularly in our focus on critical theory. And this year’s students wanted me to insist on more work being handwritten – note to self.

 

Reflection: Collaboration in Year 11

This year I have looked to push my teaching practice to embrace ‘future-focused’ pedagogy. In order to make this more manageable for myself, I chose to focus on one area of inquiry for each year group. I gave an overview of this at the end of Term 1. As a quick snap shot, I wanted to provide more opportunities for my students to learn from one another, rather than solely relying on me. I had my tables in little ‘L’ shapes, had a seating plan which changed every term, and introduced the class to Edmodo and Google Docs. I was hoping that students would learn to connect their ideas to other texts, and to the world beyond the classroom. We had as a theme for the year ‘find your voice’ and I hoped to reflect this in honouring student voice.

Before the girls left to sit their final exams, I surveyed them on several aspects of the year’s programme, but particularly focusing on the measures I had put in place to encourage collaboration. Here’s a summary of the data:

Question 1: Comment on the layout of the classroom

All of the comments here were positive – although ranging in enthusiasm. I was interested in the perception of seating plans, which is mandated by my school. However, the girls like being mixed through as this gives them the opportunity to work with other people and be exposed to other ideas. For next year, if I am to keep a similar physical layout, I want to think more about moving students more from the front to the back and to put more thought into the groupings of students. Perhaps seeking their input would be good. Although there was a comment about sight lines, I didn’t use the front of the room much, in terms of a ‘chalk and talk’ approach. While the projector screen is at ‘the front’ almost every time the same document was available to the girls on their own devices via Edmodo.

Question 2: Comment on the time given to you to discuss work with your group or with the whole class

There was always going to be a range of opinions here! However, 11 out of the 17 respondents felt positive about the time they were given. Students commented on the fact that working with others helps them to understand better, to hear a variety of ideas and “appreciate” them, that it brings out ideas everyone can benefit from and that you can “analyse work with lots of different perspectives”. I’m pleased by these responses. What I would like to do more of is shared negotiation of time and to ensure these mutually agreed time frames are put on the board for everyone to monitor.

Question 3: Comment on the use of Google Docs as a way to work together with others

Again it is clear that the students enjoyed working in Google Docs…once we had got over the novelty of them! One student responded honestly that they were “sometimes frustrating but a good way to learn new ideas”. I also liked that it was “fun to share our opinions instantly”, and that “if you were ever stuck you could get inspiration and help from other people through the doc”. Here’s an example of one of our collaborative docs, from towards the end of the school year.

Question 4: Comment on the use of Edmodo as a way to help you access information and resources

All of the comments were positive in response to this question. The girls liked having all of their notes stored in one place, the ease of access, and being essentially ‘paperless’ (less to lose, their lockers were tidier said one student!). Students felt that Edmodo was a great way to share files and to have tasks set for them. I was appreciative of one student who made it her mission to capture any notes that went on the board and share these with the class via Edmodo.

So, what are my next learning steps?

I didn’t especially want to teach Year 11 this year. But this class was a blast! It was a great embodiment of ‘hard fun’ and the surveys reflect this. However I felt that overall the lessons were still very traditional. I really want to get into the habit next year of timing myself – no more than 15 minutes of direct instruction at any one time. This comment from one girl: “I thought the classes were run really structured and organised which I really enjoyed! I also like how sometimes we were allowed to plan the lesson to what the class as a whole thought we needed more work on.” has prompted me to commit to more co-construction of work. This is always successful when I take this approach. And I want to push the boundaries of collaboration more. Rather than ‘just’ sharing of ideas – which the girls clearly found powerful – I want to encourage more reflection, analysis, feedback and critique. Suggestions welcomed!

Marsden Matters

Our publication: Marsden Matters 

This year for my ‘traditional’ Year 8 newspaper unit, I decided to give the students a more authentic twist. I assigned each group one of the four ‘Marsden Pillars‘ – the values that underpin our school. The groups ‘pitched’ for which of the four pillars: creativity, resilience, giving and excellence, they wanted to showcase in their newspaper. Based on the suggestions they made for content, I matched one pillar with each group. Each newspaper had to include a masthead, three articles, and a solus advertisement.

An unexpected win was that the girls took their articles very seriously. Not content with just relying on what they knew of events and successes around the school, they undertook interviews and conducted research. If I had realised the girls would move in this direction, I would have taught more around questioning techniques. And also, the girls knew I was going to use Youblisher to publish their work. Just like when we completed our King of Shadows website in Term 1, having this wider, authentic audience, does encourage them to lift their work and not to be satisfied with a ‘one and done’ drafting process.

It struck me during the course of this unit how hard it is for students to write formally, in a newspaper-style. They struggled to recognise the difference between key facts and added detail. They struggled not to editorialise or not to put themselves into their article. They didn’t know conventions like avoiding brackets and using people’s surnames rather than their Christian names. If I use this unit again, I will make sure I teach some of these concepts more directly. However, when I realised we were struggling with some of these basics, I wrote a little lesson starter to highlight these points, and I think this helped.

Nevertheless, the four newspapers were well-written, and I am proud of their finished products. The reflections the students completed at the end of the unit attest to the fact that the girls enjoyed the work. Their suggestions of having more articles to write, and less time in class to produce their newspapers meshed with thoughts I had had during the unit itself – always gratifying to know that your thought are on par with the students’!

Being in the process of reading Key Competencies for the Future, Rachel Bolstad et al, 2014, I can see real possibilities to expand this unit into a focus on the relationship between the media and society, and I would love to explore some of the rich ‘meaty’ problems this would reveal.

Any thoughts or suggestions gratefully received – comment below!

 

TeachMeetNZ

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Click on the badge to see my TeachMeetNZ page.

Ever grateful for the opportunities that come my way, this weekend I shared a presentation through TeachMeetNZ to the CLESOL conference.

I really enjoyed presenting in this way: the combination of speaking to your slides seemed to suit my delivery style well. I learnt a few more ‘techy’ tools along the way, such as how to embed my presentations, set them to auto-advance, and how to share my screen during a Google Hangout. I really enjoyed working more with the wonderful Sonya van Schaijik, who also works on the #edchatNZ steering committee with me. Getting to know a few more connected educators, my co-presenters, was also a bonus. It was fascinating to hear all the different topics people spoke to, but also some of the common themes of really knowing your learners well in order to best meet them and their needs with empathy, understanding and support.

I also want to reflect a little on my topic in particular, as putting together my three minute wonder gave me good time to reflect on my Year 8 inquiry into flipping lessons. Here is my presentation:

I’ve been ‘flipping’ my language lessons for six months now – it’s roughly about one lesson every two to three weeks. I  find using TED-Ed straightforward, and although I can sometimes spend a while to find exactly the ‘right’ video to choose, making the lessons themselves in this way, is fairly quick and easy. The students seem to enjoy completing their TED-Ed homework, and I remain convinced that the three minute videos I choose will always be more fun and engaging than drill and practise out of a workbook.

One of the aspects I really like about flipping my language lessons is that it gives me a much better understanding of the students’ individual strengths and weaknesses. One example in particular is one of my very bright, articulate students, who did poorly with a lesson on verbs. Without the data provided from TED-Ed, and flipping this activity, I would have assumed her to be confident with this material.

It is this ability to personalise learning more that I see as an important benefit to flipping lessons. And, conversely, it’s also where I can see I need to do some more work. Because the questions I tend to set for the students to complete are largely multi-choice, the spread of data I get is really insufficient to separate my class into more than two groups in an informed fashion. Thus, the flipped lessons I have prepared these holidays are less reliant on multi-choice, and I’m hoping this in turn generates a greater spread of students. I would like to be able to put them into at least three groups, each with their own tasks to complete in the classroom, so that I can target their needs to a greater extent.

I’ve also just taken my first baby steps to making my own videos! I had a play with the ‘Educreations‘ app on my iPad and I’ve made a revision lesson on apostrophes. It was surprisingly quick and easy to do. However, I really want a tool that means I can upload my videos (gulp) to YouTube so that I can incorporate them into TED-Ed. I think the ‘Show Me‘ app will allow me to do this, but I’m open to other suggestions if you have them!

I think this has become a bit rambly, so by way of summing up:

  • Being a connected educator means great opportunities come your way – these are to be embraced.
  • I recommend presenting through TeachMeetNZ or its equivalent to you – supporting the professional learning of others is a neat experience.
  • Reflecting on my ongoing inquiry has shown me that flipping lessons has much potential – but I can do more, and I have already taken some steps towards doing so.
  • A common denominator between the subject of my presentation and being involved with TeachMeetNZ: rewindable learning! Technology really does have the power to boost our learning experiences.

 

#edSMAC 2: The Follow-up

At the start of Term 2, Matt Nicoll, from St Andrew’s College in Christchurch, and I, dreamed up a brilliant plan to be an ‘agent of change’ in our respective schools. To encourage staff to shift their pedagogy and to see what’s happening out there in the world of education, we invented #edSMAC, a Twitter hashtag to help us to connect and collaborate.

Matt’s managed to write his reflection on our term’s work, and here’s mine. Finally 😉

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/esthervargasc/7921868448/
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/esthervargasc/7921868448/

I want to begin with an overview of the #edSMAC term. I first put the call out to interested staff during a staff professional learning session I ran which looked at Professional Learning Networks and being a connected educator. I followed up the verbal invite with an email, and was pleasantly surprised to receive responses from six staff. I love that these staff volunteered their time, were willing participants, and were from across the full range of learning areas.

Once the PLN/#edSMAC Marsden group was formed, the first job was to get them all signed up on Twitter. This was relatively straight forward, once I ran a lunch time help session, and everyone had a go at introducing themselves to the national #edSMAC group. I also asked staff to indicate to me what their goals or aspirations were for being part of this group. Some wanted to learn more about Twitter specifically, others wanted to connect with more educators, others just wanted to develop their skills with technology and future learning more generally.

The next week, I set the challenge of exploring some blogs. I wanted to ensure that I provided other pathways into developing a PLN besides Twitter – my personal bias. I suggested several Kiwi and international blogs, and provided information about curation in case people started to feel overwhelmed with information.

We came back to Twitter after this, and Matt and I ran our own mini Twitter chat between Marsden and St Andrews using #edSMAC. We were hoping to help people to transition into #edchatNZ. This remains a work in progress, although I know one or two of the Marsden staff have lurked on occasion. A fortnight later I invited the Marsden PLN group to my house during #edchatNZ, but no one could make it as it was report writing season. Next term I hope to have wine and nibbles one Thursday evening in the staffroom to support this move further.

Another avenue I highlighted for staff was to check out popular educator websites like edutopia, edudemic and TeachThought. (The ‘extra for experts’ homework was to subscribe to RSS feeds and/or follow the sites on Twitter!)

One week I set a ‘give back’ challenge: to comment on a blogpost, or share links on Twitter using a hashtag for an even wider audience, or start a blog! I wanted to encourage staff to move from consumer to sharer or creator. Again, this remains an area that is full of potential for more exploration.

I surveyed the Marsden PLN group at the end of the term and 5 out of 6 responded. I was deeply fascinated by the replies. I asked if staff felt that being part of the PLN group met the needs they had personally identified at the start of the term. 3/5 said yes. The other 2 felt it was still a work in progress and that more time is needed. I asked if staff wished to continue being part of the PLN group next term. 100% replied yes! When asked what areas people wished to focus on next term, the responses were extremely broad: “anything at all”, being fairly typical. My heart was warmed by the “just keen to keep learning” reply.

The key reason I was so fascinated by these responses, was that I felt the experiment had been a bit of a flop. As is frequently the case, #edSMAC started with a hiss and a roar. I worked really hard to keep it ticking over, offering weekly ways to get involved and explore, and really focusing on making these ways manageable. However I would feel quite confident in saying that I believe very few of the staff did the activities on offer, which is why I’m dumbfounded they wish to continue. I confess to also feeling a little tapped out. I need new ideas about how to keep #edSMAC going from the Marsden end, and what new avenues to offer. Any advice gratefully received!

Nevertheless, I am supremely grateful to Matt, and to his colleagues Sam and Gin, for their constant support and encouragement of the #edSMAC movement. Many thanks, guys. If nothing else, I’ve enjoyed working in this collaborative way, and I can see the many, many benefits that come from being a connected educator. I am lucky to count you in my PLN.

Image Credit: https://openclipart.org/detail/192884/computer-handshake-1-by-merlin2525-192884
Image Credit: https://openclipart.org/detail/192884/computer-handshake-1-by-merlin2525-192884

 

 

 

And #edSMAC was born…

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.”

– Unknown

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:PL Survery T1 Q1

PL Survey T1 Q2

PL Survey T1 Q3

PL Survey T1 Q4

(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:

slide1because 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, SAndrew’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.

King of Shadows

With my Year 8 English class last term, we embarked on a novel study of Susan Cooper’s book King of Shadows. I’ve taught this novel for a number of years now, so it was time to try something new. Particularly in light of the ‘inquiry’ focus I’m looking to bring to this class. I decided I wanted to have the class make a website to reflect their knowledge and understanding of the text.

In terms of process, the plan I followed was to introduce the class to the kinds of websites students usually go to to access information about texts: Wikipedia, Shmoop, Sparknotes. We thought about what kind of information is on these sites, the language that is used, how the sites are organised and laid out. We considered what someone wanting to know more about our particular novel might be after. This brainstorm eventually generated our ‘to do list’ and the various tasks students completed to generate information for our website.

I did some lessons on digital citizenship. I tried to shift the focus away from the ‘don’t dos’ that the girls could easily and happily recite to me (‘Don’t post mean things’, etc.) and onto making a positive contribution to Internet-land.

We decided on an appropriate time frame, considering that the teacher, as editor, needed time to look over everyone’s work, and that the website designer in the class needed time to upload and format everyone’s work. Students nominated the tasks they most wanted to attack, and the partner they felt they would work well with. I collated this information and allocated tasks on this basis. We also had a go at co-constructing an assessment schedule. And then we went for it!

I was really excited to observe the engagement of the students in the task. They will openly and happily tell you that they didn’t especially love the book, but this didn’t stop them from being thoroughly engrossed in their work. They came into class and got started straight away – no need from prompting by me. They sought very little feedback from me in terms of clarifying their understanding of the task. If they asked, I simply asked a question of them: ‘What do you think someone visiting the website wanting more information about the book will want to know?’ No-one came back for more help after this.

I also liked that no-one blinked an eye when I sent work back to them for a second, third, fourth edit or proof-read. They accepted that if the work was being published for a genuine audience, it needed to be accurate and high quality.

The finished product is here. I’m very proud of what the class produced.

In terms of my reflection, there are two main areas I would want to improve upon if I used an activity like this again:

  • More time on digital citizenship, and to co-ordinate better with the school librarian to deliver this.
  • Better co-construction of the assessment schedule. I don’t know how to do this well, and the way I went about it meant both that the girls lost interest, and we didn’t end up with something they understood or could use to self/peer assess their work.

However, I surveyed the class at the end of the unit, and here are some highlights of what they said:

  • I liked that “everybody had a part, each person was a piece of the puzzle. I also liked the ‘freedom’ of each task and independence.”
  • “I found it interesting how the class is making a website to help others focusing on the book. Not just in NZ but the world.”
  • I got a “better understanding of the book and I quite like the idea of it going ‘live’.”

Reflections on Term 1

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.

social media

Year 13

  • 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?

collaboration

Year 11

  •  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. 

Year 10

  •  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!

???????????

Year 8

  • 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 of Shadows 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.

Image credits:

Social Media: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Social-media-for-public-relations1.jpg

Collaboration: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/advice/research-excellence

Eye: Microsoft Clip Art