Friday, February 27, 2015

New Literacies - part 2

I received a great comment on my post on New Literacies from Tracy Watanabe.  In this she shared a video she had created.  I thought it was much too good to be buried in the comments and so have added it as a separate post here.

Thanks for sharing Tracy!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The value of technology

Last week I turned to Visible Learning to see what Professor John Hattie had to say about the impact homework has on achievement, this week I'm looking to see what he says about technology.
  • Hattie found that when used as a supplement to teacher's instruction, computer-assisted instruction led to a gain of up to 17 percentile points - he writes that the average student in a classroom where technology is being used will perform 12 percentile points higher than the average student in a setting that does not use technology.  Students who collaborate in small groups using technology generally produce better products than those students working individually - and they also gained more individually knowledge.
  • Looking at a 1:1 laptop programme, Hattie found that students developed greater technical proficiency and reduced their disciplinary problems in class, however effective teaching is still required to produce meaningful gains in student achievement.
  • Hattie also noted the effect of the internet on learning.  In the case of distance learning there was a gain of 4 percentile points, however when looked at from the perspective of web-based instruction this led to a 7 percentile point gain.  Studies have shown that web-based learning is most effective for understanding of facts, details, principles and generalizations, and less effective when considering procedural knowledge (strategies and processes).  Blended learning comes out slightly better than face-to-face instruction.  Hattie broke these down into the use of digital media and found a positive impact on learning when using interactive video, audio-visual and simulations.  Once again, using technology in tandem with effective instruction provided the most benefits.
  • There have also been studies of the effectiveness of mobile devices - 86% of the studies showed positive outcomes when looking at achievement, motivation and behaviour.  There have been studies that have looked specifically at how small scrolling screens affect a reader's ability to reason or remember facts - interestingly factual recall is not affected, but the ability to use factual information to make decisions shows a decrease when reading on scrolling screens.
  • Student response systems have been shown to be valuable for giving immediate feedback to students, and for providing immediate data for teachers to inform instructional adaptations. These devices have also been found to increase student engagement.  
I used to work in a school where parents were told there is no evidence that technology improves learning, however with a 15 year study of millions of students, it seems that in fact there is a connection.  What I have come to see is that this statement is one that is value-negative - basically the argument here is that the same achievements can be accomplished with or without technology and that technology has not revolutionized education as was earlier claimed.  There are of course arguments that do support this.  Data shows that most teachers simply use new technologies to accomplish the same tasks that they were already doing without it - they have not restructured their practice to facilitate higher order thinking skills.  I would support the view that technology alone is not enough - this is one reason why we don't simply collect student artifacts in our Tech Audit - we also rank them according to Bloom's Digital Taxonomy to see whether technology is promoting higher order thinking.  

Another perspective is a value-positive one, that claims that technology has the capacity to constructively transform education.  This point of view maintains that schools can improve student achievement by increasing their use of technology.  The final perspective is a value-neutral one. This viewpoint is that technology is only as beneficial as the teaching practices that it enhances - and that the power and potential of educational technology resides within educators and not within the technology itself - however when used with effective practices technology will positively impact student achievement, engagement and motivation.

All the data above comes from the chapter entitled Research and Theory from the book Enhancing the Art and Science of Teaching with Technology by Sonny Mangana and Robert Marzano.

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New Literacies

Many years ago, when I was working as a teacher in the International School of Amsterdam, my colleague Linda Swanson and I were invited by Professor Donald Leu to present during a pre-conference at the International Reading Association.  It always amazes me, when I see his name in a publication, that he reached out to us so many years ago and thought that we had something valuable to share.  Today, I was reading Leu's definition of new literacies (already over 10 years old) as the "skills, strategies and dispositions necessary to successfully use and adapt to the rapidly changing information and communication technologies and contexts that continuously emerge in our world and influence all areas of our personal lives."  In summary, these are the reasons why Leu and his colleagues believe there are new literacies and that we need to intentionally teach them:

  • Publishing content on the internet - online reading and writing - involves texting, blogs, wikis, video, shared writing spaces and social networks.  The skills involved are more varied and multidimensional than the skills required for traditional print-based reading and writing.
  • Evaluating sources on the internet is different from evaluating sources in traditional print.
  • Knowledge and skills necessary to use the internet are still mostly overlooked in assessments and curriculums.  However it is important for educators to provide formal instruction in the new literacy skills most crucial to navigating, reading, using and evaluating information on the internet.
Photo Credit: dannymol via Compfight cc

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lifeschool adventures of a lost student

School is one thing. Education is another. The two don’t always overlap. Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education - Austin Kleon

This quote comes from the book Steal Like An Artist, which I started reading this week. This week I also had the pleasure of having lunch with the newest member of ASB’s R&D team, Abhishek Shetty who spoke to me about his experience of education and his ideas about a Lifeschool.

Abhishek talked to me about his early life in Bahrain. He told me that up to the 10th Grade he was not a good student, however he then got the idea of studying what the “good” students did that was different from the rest and applying this to his learning in Grades 11 and 12 - and that this both led him to become successful academically and to find learning more enjoyable. So much so, that after Grade 12 Abhishek wrote a book about academic excellence to share these ideas with others. This book, published in January 2013 is entitled Academic Excellence … The Start of the Learning Revolution. Abhishek said his aim in writing the book was to show students how they can fall in love with their subjects and become great students who do well in exams.

At this point Abhishek said he still believed the most important thing about learning was getting good grades. After school he went on to university in Mumbai, spending a year doing Media Studies. He said he didn’t plan or do much research prior to starting the course and so became quickly disillusioned. As a consequence he did not do well. Abhishek came to realize that he had never really thought about what he loved doing. He decided that what he had to do was to apply his knowledge to add value to the world in order to be happy. At this point Abhishek described himself as a “lost student” and decided to take a gap year.

And what a year that was! At this point Abhishek developed the idea of Lifeschool. He felt that every experience he had could be a lesson, every person he met could be a teacher, and everything around him could be a learning tool. In 2013, he therefore decided to take matters into his own hands. He spent 6 months doing a tour of India, followed by 6 months of studying the history and evolution of learning from around the world. During this time, Abhishek tried to spend time in as many different educational institutions as he could. In order to get invited into schools and colleges he realized he needed a “product” to share - and so he developed the Empower One Billion youth movement, focused on the message that every student is special, unique and meant for greatness, and started visiting schools in Mumbai to talk to students about putting thought into what they were studying.

In his blog, Learning is Beautiful, Abhishek writes that he “wanted to fall in love with learning again and decided to attend every conference I could, meet as many new and interesting people as possible and read everything I could. It was a learning adventure like no other.” During the year he read 500 books and watched 1000+ hours of video. However he said the most important part of that year was that “I finally got a chance to spend some time with myself. I got a chance to look within and reflect on some of the deeper questions of life.” He studied Indian and Greek philosophy and considered the role of teachers as guides in helping students move from information, through knowledge, to wisdom.

Abhishek is now studying psychology and English Literature. In ASB’s R&D department he is working on the Lifeschool philosophy and is exploring future prototypes to inspire students to fall in love with learning and then use that skill to create products and services of real value to the world.

Photo Credit: The Nick Page via Compfight cc

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bringing Science into How We Express Ourselves

Students in Grade 5 recently completed their How We Express Ourselves unit of inquiry.  The central idea for this unit was "Through play we express our feelings and ideas and come to new understandings".  The students were inquiring into communicating through play, the imaginative use of materials and the roles of toys and games in play.  At the same time they were exploring the science concepts of force and motion to design a one minute game to play with their 2nd Grade buddies.   Finally students were able to reflect on their learning.   The whole 6 week process was documented and turned into a video.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Homework -v- home learning

This week two of the three #pypchats on Twitter are about home learning.  While I haven't assigned any homework for the past 15 years, I've always been at schools where homework (or home learning) has been part of the culture of the school.  I do think that it is interesting to reconsider the advantages and disadvantages of home learning from time to time, especially in the light of what research has to tell us about the impact of homework on student learning.

Actually there is very little evidence that shows such a link. Professor John Hattie studied the effect of various factors on learning by analyzing metadata from over 800 million students over a 15 year period and found that homework has very little effect on achievement.  Of course there is research that shows homework does have benefits and other research that shows it has little or no impact on learning.  There is some variance depending on the age of the students, the time spent on homework, the content of the assignment and the quality of the feedback.

When I was an upper elementary homeroom teacher I assigned quite a lot of homework - an hour a day for Monday through Thursday that involved math, writing and reading.  Most of the time I collected in the work the next day or else, in the case of maths, spent time in class checking it - time that could have been better spent by both myself and my students in doing other things that would have extended their learning.  I also spent a lot of time chasing up students who hadn't done their homework, often making them stay in at recess time to complete it (as this was the school's policy at that time).  In fact, when I think back, quite a large part of my day was spent on explaining the homework, checking to see it was done, staying in with some students at recess times to make sure they "caught up" and then taking a large amount of the work home to grade in the evening and add comments that I hoped would be encouraging and helpful.  Sometimes I spent so long on the homework in class that I didn't manage to finish everything that I'd planned to do in class, and again I would ask the students to "finish it off at home".  This was typical of my first 15 years or so as a teacher.  I had very little time to reflect on what I was doing, but if I had I would probably have seen that giving less (or no) homework would have given me much more time to focus on personalizing the learning for each of my students - something I just didn't have enough hours in the day for.

For me as a young teacher homework was just something I took for granted.  It was something I did when I was at school, so I just assumed it was something I needed to give as a teacher.  I don't remember even discussing it when I did my PGCE to train to become a teacher.  At that time I never questioned what the purpose of giving homework was.

This week as I've been thinking about home learning for the #pypchat, I've been doing some reading about it and realising that there is much more to it that I'd imagined.  In her book Bringing Homework into Focus Eileen Depka writes about the 4 purposes of giving homework:
  1. It can be diagnostic - teachers can use the responses to this type of homework as a pre-assessment to find out how much background knowledge and skills students have.  A pre-assessment might show up certain students' strengths and weaknesses and may help the teacher in designing a unit of inquiry that will better meet the students' needs.  
  2. It can be used as part of the flipped learning model - students can be introduced to new information through viewing, reading or listening to various resources to build their background knowledge.  The idea behind flipped learning is that students then apply their learning to the activities that are being done in class.
  3. It can be used for formative assessments - so students can continue to work on the skills they are in the process of learning.  Again teachers can use this to make decisions about the next steps they need to make.
  4. It can be used for summative assessments - so students can work on projects that provide evidence of their understanding.
As I look back at these 4 purposes of homework, it occurs to me that none of these (except the flipped learning) need to happen at home.  All too often students see homework as something that is being done for the teacher, not necessarily something that will benefit them.  Often they don't see the connection between the homework and the learning goals because the homework simply isn't connected to real-world learning.  And as a teacher I think a lot of the homework that I gave was "busy work" because I knew the students needed an hour a day - which of course then had to be marked by me!  And if truth be told, there were days when I simply checked that the students had completed the homework - rather than checking to see what they had learned, giving feedback and then adjusting the upcoming lessons to better meet the students' needs.

Some of the positive aspects of home learning are that it can promote a positive home-school connection and also give parents an opportunity to work on something together with their child (I notice a lot of positive parent-child interactions in our Maker Saturdays, for example - could the same be true of some types of home learning?)

Well now I really am looking forward to this Wednesday night's AEM #pypchat .  I'm interested to learn from teachers in schools that have decided to give up homework.  I want to know what impact this decision has had on student learning.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

There's no copyright on ideas

Last week I picked up a copy of The Restless School by Roy Blatchford when I was in the Re.D Studio.  This book basically asks what is the recipe for a successful school.  The answer is that they are "restless" to get better.  Blatchford writes that they are "secure in their systems, values and successes, yet simultaneously seek to change and improve.  These schools look inwards to secure wise development; they look outwards to seize innovation which they can hew to their own ends and, importantly, make a difference to the children and students they serve."

Blatchford's recipe for success has 5 steps (I reproduced these in the graphic above):
  1. Confront comfortable orthodoxies and challenge why and what you are doing
  2. Gather data from students, parents, teachers, governors and other sin the community to identify strengths and weaknesses
  3. Initiate small scale innovation to solve problems thoughtfully and at the right pace
  4. As the small innovations win the hearts and minds of others, whole scale innovation will take root
  5. The school is now on a higher operational level and can start again to question the routines (but this time from a better place)
At ASB we often talk about innovation being in our DNA - this recipe has shown how innovation has come to be part of our lifeblood.  Other factors that Blatchford writes about that resonate with ASB are the rich opportunities for teachers to conduct meaningful action research.  Recently in R&D we read the book Accelerate by John P Kotter who writes about the need to create a sense of urgency in order to bring about change.  Kotter writes about role modeling urgency - influencing 10 other people, who in turn will each influence another 10, leading to exponential growth of a change mindset. He explains that this role modeling can be very simple - talking to people in the hallways, for example, or raising issues in meetings, telling people about what you are doing and why what you are doing is important, and in this way gradually influencing those around you to start to think in new ways too.  Blatchford agrees with the necessity of urgency.  He writes that in thriving schools "school leaders place great store by how well they create "a sense of urgency at the right time".  He also points out that these leaders believe that a change that is worth introducing, one that improves students' experiences, should be brought in without delay - and not postponed to a convenient point in the school's calendar such as the following year or semester.  He calls this "accelerating change when change is required".

Another factor that Blatchford writes about in successful schools is that timely communication of the highest quality is modelled by senior leaders.  He explains that this communication is always anticipating the community's interests and concerns - and so dispels rumour, gossip and anxiety.  This again made me think of ASB.  Our Superintendent, Craig Johnson, sends out a weekly Vichar message to parents (the word "vichar" is a Hindi word that means thought and consideration).  Recently when local Indian newspapers wrote about jihadist threats against Western schools, he immediately communicated to parents and teachers both by email and by holding meetings to discuss concerns.  

At ASB the voices of students are also listened to and form an integral part of the development of the school.  Blatchford writes "an excellent school is one in which everyone feels they are making a contribution ... all students and staff believe and know they have a 'next step' to make within an institution and that the institution supports, values and celebrates those next steps."

Finally, and this is where we get to the title of this post, Blatchford writes that the successful school is "thoughtfully outward-facing", allowing teachers to work on external agendas.  Again this calls to mind the work being done by ASB's teachers for organizations such as the IBO, visits that teacher make to IB World Schools to authorize and evaluate them, partnerships built with other schools in various collaboratives, presentations and workshops that ASB's teachers and administrators share at global conferences and the summits and conferences that ASB itself hosts for  both local and international schools.  Our teachers are not only sharing their expertise but are also bringing back good ideas and strong practices from external sources that can be incorporated into their own classrooms.