GAFE for Comprehension

A fantastic idea to help students to build a deeper connection with the story. Thinking about all the applications for this in my secondary English / History classes.

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In my previous blog post, I wrote about using Google My Maps to demonstrate comprehension of a text.

This post will be about taking that comprehension to a deeper level using Google My Maps and Screencastify; a Google extension.

If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that my class have been plotting locations from the text they’ve been reading in Google My Maps. They have also been adding important information to those points of interest  – what the characters in the story did in this place and the historical significance of that location.

Their next challenge is to combine all this together to create a screen recording. Students need to:

  1. Read the chapter
  2. Plot the locations on their map
  3. Add the historical significance information to that place’s description
  4. Add images to the description
  5. Add in what happened to the characters at this location in the description
  6. Taking turns…

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Implementing SOLE for the First Time

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Yesterday, it was my first day on a new class. Thus, as is my usual modus operandi, I decided to try something new. I decided to combine two newly discovered learning tools; Google Advanced Power Search and SOLE.

Google Advanced Power Search is difficult to find for a reason; it’s built so that people can’t google answers within the site. Developed by Google, it’s a research course that helps participants think laterally when searching for information as well as check sources. Participants are provided with a video which asks them to research several questions that are not easily ‘googlable’.

I wanted to use this tool to enhance collaboration and help my students to think outside the box. You can find the example question, strategies for research, the example solution and further questions here.

The other learning tool that I was keen to try was SOLE. SOLE is an “unprotocol”…

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The problem of learning – Accreditation, or moving from novice to expert behaviour?

This post will reflect on some of the questions raised through my reading of “The New Science of Learning” (Sawyer, 2006). In the introductory chapter, Sawyer discusses the emergence of the “Learning Sciences” and highlights the ways in which they present a new paradigm of learning when compared to the traditional instructional model. Sawyer draws on Papert’s (1993) description of traditional schooling known as instructionism where:
“knowledge is a collection of facts about the world and procedures for how to solve problems…Teachers know these facts and procedures, and their job is to transmit them to students.” (Sawyer, 2006, p.1).
He argues that whilst instructionism is well suited to the demands of an industrial society,
“the world today is much more technologically complex and economically competitive, and instructionism is increasingly failing to educate our students to participate in this new society.” (Sawyer, 2006, p. 1)
In contrast to this, Sawyer highlights the view that
“in the knowledge economy, memorisation of facts and procedures is not enough for success. Educated graduates need a deep conceptual understanding of complex concepts, and the ability to work with them creatively to generate new ideas, new theories, new products, new knowledge.” (Sawyer, 2006, p. 1)
When I was reading this chapter, I was constantly reflecting on the fact that this information is not new, I’ve heard it in different forms for my entire teaching career, but instructionism still dominates most of the teaching that I witness. Why is this the case? Is it the teachers, the system, the environment?
Ultimately I fell to reflecting on where I am situated as a learner.
In table 1.1, Sawyer compares deep learning and ‘traditional’ classroom practice – in the traditional classroom practice, learners engaged in more “surface learning”, whereas, in the deep learning students were actively involved in “redesigning their brain.
When you put it like that, who is going to argue with the fact that deep learning is better than surface learning. But, on reflecting on my own attitudes as a learner,  I realised that in some contexts I could classify myself as a “deep learner”, but in a other areas, I definitely exhibit the traits of a traditional one.
When I’m engaging in learning by choice, because it’s a perceived area of need, or passion – then I exhibit the behaviours of a deep learner. This is evident when I’m engaging in professional reading, discussions, reading blog posts and engaging in twitter conversations about pressing educational topics. However, when the purpose of the learning is compliance, mandated “up-skilling” or accreditation, I tend to approach my learning from a surface level.
This insight leads me to reflect that maybe one of the reasons that the shift towards deeper learning has failed to eventuate in the majority of our schools, is not because of a resistance to change on the teacher, or system’s behalf, but rather that the students are framing their learning as a “hoop jumping exercise”. That their perception of the purpose of schooling (to get good grades and go to university) is restricting their ability to engage in deep learning. When this perception is reinforced through community conversations, government policy, overcrowded curricula and an increased focus on knowledge as a collection of facts, it’s no surprise that, despite the best intentions, we have not made the systemic shift required to address the needs of our future economy.
This is further emphasised through Sawyer’s discussion on the problems of learning where in which education is conceptualised as the “problem of transforming novices into experts by developing their ability to reflect on their own thinking in these ways”. In this view, expert behaviour is not seen as have expert knowledge, but rather:
Expertise is based on:
  • a large and complex set of representational structures
  • a large set of procedures and plans
  • the ability to improvisational apply and adapt those plans to each situations unique demands
  • the ability to reflect on ones own cognitive processes while they are occurring.” (Sawyer, 2006, p7.)
Most importantly, “studies of experts show that they are better than novices at planning and criticising their work-both reflective activities” (Sawyer, 2006, p.7). The research cited by Sawyer highlights the belief that
“One of the central underlying themes of the learning sciences is that students learn deeper knowledge when they engage in activities that are similar to the everyday activities of professionals who work in a discipline” (Sawyer, 2006, p. 4)
This hit me like a brick! I totally agree with Sawyer in that the
 “research revealed that outside of formal schooling, almost all learning occurs in a complex social environment, and learning is hard to understand if one thinks of it as a mental process occurring within the head of an isolated learner.” (p. 9)
But in my classroom, we are not engaging in activities that are similar to the everyday activities of professionals who work in a discipline. Instead, the scaffolding that I provide is targeted at ensuring that every student can “get over the bar”, as opposed to promoting the reflection and criticism that characterises both “expert behaviour”, and the work of professionals in the discipline. Even though I don’t teach through chalk and talk…(I pride myself on creating a flexible learning environment, drawing on a range of activities to work with each individual student)…I still emphasise the purpose of the learning through an accreditation frame.
Earlier, I highlighted my emerging belief that this frame inherently shapes students towards more “surface” learning. I’m now re-evaluating my everyday classroom conversations and programming for Semester 2 using the following “key questions” to refine my thinking:
  1. How can I re-frame my class discussions and individual student feedback away from accreditation and towards “expert behaviour”.
  2. How can I incorporate the work of professionals into my learning design.
  3. How can I create an environment that seeks out, and draws students into deeper learning – and meet the accreditation requirements along the way.
As I work to refine my own practice, I also know that there is broader work to be done. I believe that until, as a profession, as a system, and as a site we articulate the purpose for education in the knowledge economy. Until we communicate how it looks, sounds, tastes and feels different to the shared societal norm of instructionism; and that we do that to the point that our stakeholders actually internalise it – we will continue to maintain the status quo – pockets of innovation within a generally intransigent, irrelevant system.

Activating Students as Researchers Part 1- Considering and refining your topic

I’m changing tack for this first post for week 2 in #28daysofwriting.

The main subject I teach is Research Project, which is a compulsory, independent subject, that all students need to pass (achieve a “C” grade or better) in order to complete their school studies. If you haven’t heard of it, you can find out more about it here. It really is the most incredible subject, and I love the challenge of supporting students to transition from the teacher directed model, into a self directed one.

We are currently in the “planning” phase of our projects, and the challenge is in supporting students to document their “Visible Thinking” that enables them to select and refine their topic. At the moment, the students are struggling with the fact that there are no right answers!…and that I’m more concerned with their understanding of the process they employed to select and refine their topic – than I am with the topic itself. Over the years, I have developed a number of tools that help me track each student’s level of understanding, allowing me to engage in the critical and clarifying conversations required to support them to transition.

Using the language of the Performance Standards: This may be a no-brainer, but it’s essential in providing the actionable, formative feedback that students require to improve their work. As a class we pull apart each standard, in this case “Consideration and refinement of a topic” define what it could mean, and what “evidence” of this could look like. From that point on, all discussion is phrased with reference to the standard:

  • “Show me where you have evidence of how you considered the different aspects of your topic”
  • “I love the way you have used this mindmap to show all of the different topics you considered to come up with this question. What constraints are going to help you refine this into your final question” etc…

I find this focus on the process and the standards has a couple of advantages in shifting students into the independent research / learning space:

  • Takes the focus away from the content – This allows for more considered planning, and enables deeper reflection at the end of the subject
  • Provides a scaffold for the “What next questions” (Next is planning research processes appropriate to the question for those who are interested)
  • Is open enough to allow individual choice and ownership, but structured enough to support the full range of students to develop the skills required to be successful.

Lastly, as you can imagine, with a class of 28 students, 250 minutes per week that’s about 9 minutes per student, per week…nowhere near enough time to engage in the deep, learning conversations required to support the individual development. So I use Google Forms to track student progress…Here’s the google forms planning tool that the students are currently using…as a teacher, using google forms as a checklist is awesome for the following reasons:

  • Students can link specific evidence of performance and share to me via google drive (Always available to be marked)
  • All the students links are compiled in a spreadsheet (I can easily group students who are struggling with a particular process)
  • Provides a scaffold for the “What next” question…freeing me up for individual learning conversations.
  • Identify students in need of extension.
  • Easily share innovative examples of student work.

Tomorrow’s post is on selecting and refining your research processes.

Professionalism and Teaching

After some interesting conversations over the weekend, I’ve again come to thinking about the importance of professionalism in our identity as teachers. Surprisingly, there is a considerable degree of contention around what constitutes a profession, and what is required to be professional.

For anyone who is interested, I found this paper “Professional Ethics in Teaching, and Professional Teachers Organisations” gave me some good background reading. Apparently, in 1966, the International Labour Organization defined teaching as a profession for the following reasons:

  • it is a form of public service which requires of teachers expert knowledge and specialized skills, acquired and maintained through rigorous and continuing study;
  • it calls also for a sense of personal and corporate responsibility for the education and welfare of the pupils in their charge.

The key elements of this definition for me are:

Public Service: A service culture is the antithesis of an entitlement culture. The organisations that I have seen working well have a culture of service. Leaders serve, teachers serve and support staff serve…all focussed on common goals and working for the greater good. When those organisations start to come apart, the language of me permeates, minutes are counted and individuals fight for their entitlements.

In order to truly embrace teaching professionalism, we need to loose the entitlement culture. But, this needs true, committed, service orientated leaders that build a culture of mutual trust, respect and service.

Expert Knowledge & Specialized Skills: This one is contentious for me…as professionals, what are teachers expert in? Content or Skills? A brilliant scientist does not necessarily make a brilliant science teacher. I believe that our expert knowledge and specialised skills are in the educative process. A strong understanding of content is a necessity, but not as important as an expert knowledge in the learning process. Particularly as it relates to the modern context…it is not ok for your doctor not to be up to date with the latest practices…it’s also not ok for any of us to ignore them.

The rise in the “corporate educator” selling the next big thing in “online, personalised learning” is an ever present danger in this space. As Professional educators, we need to ensure that corporations are not dictating the learning in our classrooms. We need to develop, employ and reflect on our expert knowledge and specialised skills to design the learning experiences in our classrooms for our individual students…if lesson plans follow chapters 1-6 only, then we are de-professionalising our vocation.

Rigorous & Continuing Study: Another interesting element to our profession. How much of this study is to be provided by our employer, and how much is an individual responsibility. I know that I definitely went through a ‘flat patch’ for a couple of years where I was coasting. Fortunately, I was challenged by a professional leader, leading to some of the most rewarding learning experiences…and flipping my practice, with significantly improved outcomes for kids.

As professionals, I believe we need to drive our own study. It needs to not be a “hoop jumping” exercise, and it needs to be relevant. I’d love to move away from having to count up the number of hours of PD I’ve done…as professionals, it should be obvious in what we’re doing in the classroom / leadership, what we’re publishing / tweeting, what we’re presenting and who we’re connecting with.

Personal & Corporate Responsibility: Enough said…Professionalism is a partnership, between the corporation (Department / Admin) and the individual. Unless both expect professional behaviour from each other…it will fail. Trust in teachers to do the right thing, trust in their expert knowledge, the quality of their continuing study & research and their service ethos. Control them less and empower them more. Teacher…rise to the challenge, demand the trust, hold yourselves and your colleagues accountable…anything less is irresponsible.

Why G&T Classes Are A Relic of the Industrial Era

The keys to an innovative, inquiry based curriculum should not be tied to success in outdated concepts of educational success. Every child has gifts and talents, I strongly believe that as educators our role is to help them discover them and enable them to unleash them.

A truly inspiration program.

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We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (NIV, Romans 12:5-8)

Up until this year, I had spent 4 years “teaching” what NBCS labeled as the AIM class. This was quite ironic as I’ve always had a belief that every child is gifted and talented in some way. Prior to taking on the class, I was given a stern word about keeping an open mind to how successful a G&T class could be. I was open to being proved wrong but, somehow, I doubted…

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Writing on the Window’s

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Power is about what you can control…freedom is about what you can unleash

(Stephen Harris)

You can’t just change the space, you have to change the narrative.

(Steve Collis)

The #ELHST14 conference in Lorne was amazing, transformative and so much more…but echoing through it was a call to action. It’s not OK to have known everything we know about the Industrial Model of Schooling and not change what we do.

So many of the keynotes, sessions and conversations challenged and inspired me, but this post is not about them…it’s about my first tentative steps towards “Changerous” .

Influences

1.  Lou Deibe (@ldeibe) – Agitating in the War Room

Lou’s session challenged my thinking about how I teach and lead. I love working in the virtual space, so walking into a session with butchers paper and post-it notes…hmmm, I was feeling uncomfortable from the beginning as all of those memories of uncomfortable brainstorming sessions that had no meaning came flooding back to me. And then Lou explained WHY

I love the War Room mentality, the concept of learning as “strategy” makes sense to me…I want to create a space where “ideas can collide”…. I teach / mentor a research project class, and I could see immediate possibilities for the War Room approach. So We tried it in class.

My original idea was that we would brainstorm on the whiteboard…but we ran out of space – and this was where something AMAZING happened – the students asked if we could write on the windows…Given the vision of NBCS form ELHST 14 and the emphasis on writeable spaces…I said yes. They asked if I’d get into trouble, and I said, I’m not sure… this is what happened, the students jumped out of their seats, and defined audience, purpose and context for their question (see below).

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I had to borrow more whiteboard markers from other classes…there were some students sitting down, but they were calling out ideas / directions to the drawer’s. Student’s were “bouncing” around the window, laughing, shaking their heads, and saying “this is the most fun we’ve had in class”

Even better than this, at the end of class the year 12’s (I was teaching in their common space) came in and looked at the content and un-provoked engaged with the graphical thoughts. They were overheard saying – this really shows their thinking, it’s cool to see their thinking etc… and reflecting on their experiences of research project.

This got me thinking:

Steve Collis (@steve_collis) – Taxonomy of Frames ( taxonomy of frames)

When we wrote on the window’s we broke the rules of that space…allowing the students to re-frame their behaviour. I want to build on that and create a space where idea’s can collide. I want to use the windows as a means for yr 11 and yr 12 students to communicate their  thought’s understanding and learning about the research project…I want to shift the frame from classroom to startup and we will…I hope.

Where to from here?

The 5 week, Stage 1 Integrated Learning (Research Project) Group project is going to be a start-up entity. We are going to work as a class to  design, prototype create and publish a product that enables students de-mystify the research project. We will blog our progress and keep you all abreast of how it goes.

Thank you Will Richardson (@willrich45) I’m confused…and it’s a good thing. If anyone’s got any advice, or strong design thinking processes post below, otherwise it looks like a busy weekend of googling ahead for me.

 

 

Checking in on the Journey to C21 Learner – Develop Proficiency with the tools of technology

The inspiration for this post was one written by Corinne Campbell written with the same name. I read the post just prior to boarding the plane in Melbourne, returning from the ELH School Tech conference, and I was struck by the honesty and openness with which Corrine was able to reflect on her journey. It’s a post structure that resonated with me then and now as I am starting out on my journey towards becoming conscious of what  I need to do to be an effective educator now and into my future. If you haven’t had the chance to read Corinne’s post above, then I strongly recommend that you do.

Corinne highlighted Dr Alec Couros summary of 21st Century skills below

“21st Century Readers/Writers Must…

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.
  • Create, critique and analyse multimedia texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by those complex environments

NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment (2007)”

So how am I travelling against these as both a teacher and a leader. I thought these would initially be quite short, but they’re not so I’ll split them into individual posts.

Develop Proficiency with the tools of technology

I’ve always been someone who used technology, but to be honest my technology use was mostly personal and task focussed. In fact I can remember having to participate in an Learner Management System (LMS) discussion forum at University, and I could not have found it less engaging.

However, over the last two years I have been working at a school that encourages its teachers to use technology to support student learning, and gives us the systems (Hardware, software and network) that takes away the excuse not to try. But, to be honest, I didn’t know where to start. So ike so many of my peers, I trawled through TED, Google, YouTube, TES etc… but as an individual to see what I could find. Whilst I was able to get some improved outcomes, particularly in my SOSE units, I was really functioning at the Substitution level of SAMR – Generally substituting the textbook pre-reading with a YouTube, Vimeo clip, but the assignments were still paper based and classroom focussed.

In 2012, I was fortunate enough to participate in an ideasLAB trial. Whilst I didn’t recognise it at the time, the 10 week program challenged my thinking about the role purpose and pedagogy of technology use in the classroom and was truly transformational in my approach to teaching in a connected environment. As a result of the this trial, I committed to using the edmodo across all of my classes, this led me to using Dropbox and survey monkey with students.

By the start of 2013, I was comfortable with using all of those tools, but I noticed that all of my focus was on facilitating better ways for me to support my students learning… At the ELHST 2013 conference, it finally clicked that I could use technology to collaborate, support and grow my own professional learning in a way that I had never imagined. In the last two months, I’ve posted 530 tweets, started students blogging on edublogs  used google docs to feedback on student work and collaboratively plan a unit that I team teach with another teacher. In our research project class, we are using Instagrok and Pearl Trees to record information, and exporting outcomes using infographics. The students are (mostly) keeping their reflective journals and records of evidence on their EduBlog, creating survey’s with survey monkey/google forms and co-authoring documents on google docs. Every one of these ideas have come from a tweet or blog post from another educator, and I thank you all for sharing.

Reflecting on my journey towards becoming an effective 21st century teacher and learner, I am drawn back to George Couros’ excellent “Leading innovative change series”  (Again, if you haven’t had a chance to read this, I highly recommend that you do!) and the following quote:

“What I also noticed was that with the staff that did embrace everything that was being shared, they were only scratching the surface of what could actually be accomplished.  Our practice was becoming of the “garden variety” nature; knowledgeable in all, but masters of none.”

I think that this quote definitely identifies where I am at with my teaching at the moment. I have no doubt that the “Garden Variety” approach has had a positive effect on the learning outcomes for the students (The google forms survey we conducted highlights this as on e of the strengths of the program), however, my limited knowledge has meant that I have only been able to scratch the surface in terms of what could actually be accomplished through a few key tools. George Couros highlights Bernajean Porter’s work  on moving from literate, to adaptive, to transformative. For me to really make a difference for my own professional learning , and for the students in my care, I need to maintain a broad knowledge of a range of tools, but develop a deep knowledge in a few in order to design truly transformative learning experiences for both my students and myself. One of my goals in preparation for 2014 curriculum delivery is to do just that…choose three key strategies to focus on for three years…watch this space!

Act Sense Decide Adapt

I’ve called the blog Act Sense Decide Adapt. This is a hangover from my limited military experience. It describes a decision making cycle with a bias towards action which is in direct conflict with a more deliberate Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop or Boyd cycle (http://bit.ly/GJcOoI). I believe that the pace of change in our global environment is such that if we observe (collect data) in order to identify and orient ourselves to the problem, by the time we have come around to deciding and acting, the dynamics of the original problem have shifted so much as to render our solution ineffective. The ASDA approach is connected the the “fail fast” approach (http://bit.ly/1842jXq) By shifting to a bias for action, reflection and adaption, I believe that we are more likely to be able to design the learning programs that will engage the cohort of students we are working with in their current space and time.

As teachers, I believe that we need to actually be 21st Century learners, not just prepare our students to become them. We need to immerse ourselves in the emerging technologies, so that we can design the most appropriate learning experiences for our students. To this end, I’m committing to take more considered risks with both my teaching and leadership. I’m committed to learning by jumping in feet first, failing fast, working out what went wrong and refining both the product and the process, and I’m going to use this blog to document the progress…

Why am I Blogging?

This year one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to start blogging, another one is to work out Twitter…because I have to say that I still don’t get it…but I think that I need to. So here we go.

Why am I doing this? Well I’m an educator, and an English teacher…I like the idea of using blogs as a text in the classroom, but I don’t really “get” what they are all about. I also like the idea of documenting the twists and turns as I move along my professional journey.

I’ve latched onto the iterative teaching concept, learning by jumping in feet first, failing fast, working out what went wrong and refining both the product and the process. This concept gels well with my past (very limited) military experience, where in the absence of information, you act in order to sense a response, decide how to respond and adapt your approach (known as the ASDA Loop). So here I am, jumping in feet first into the world of blogging and we’ll see where it takes us…