Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Global competence

I've been thinking a lot about cultural competence, especially as I've been in a book group that has been reading The Culture Map.  Today I came across an article by Andreas Schleicher, the Director of Education and Skills at the OECD who has been writing about how to assess global competence.  He starts his article with a reference to the 193 countries that adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, pointing out that the goals will only be fulfilled if we are addressing these issues with today's students.

One of the SDGs is about quality education for all, and this goal also emphasises the need to learn to live together sustainably.  As a result the PISA test is now including global competence as something it will measure this year.  There are several components to this:
  • examining issues of local, global and cultural significance - combining disciplinary knowledge to ask questions, analyse data and arguments.  This also involves students being able to critically evaluate messages being posted on the media as well as being able to create media content themselves.
  • understanding and appreciating others' perspectives - being able to see issues from multiple viewpoints.  This should encourage respect for others and mean students are less likely to tolerate injustice, hold prejudices and subscribe to stereotyping.
  • appropriate engagement across cultures - being able to adapt one's behaviour to interact with others from different cultures and to communicate in a respectful way.  
  • being active and responsible members of society - creating opportunities to take informed and reflecting action and to make their voices heard.
So how can teachers help students to succeed in global competencies?  The first thing that struck me is how closely this aligns to international mindedness and the IB learner profile attributes.  Schools can certainly provide opportunities for students to look at issues that have local and global significance as well as being relevant to their own personal lives.  The internet and social media can be important tools for students to use in this respect.  The important thing is that global competency is not an additional "subject" like literacy and maths, it should be integrated into all areas of the curriculum.

How will global competency be tested?  This year there will be a 2-part assessment which will include a critical analysis of news articles about global issues and perspectives, communicating with others and identifying actions that will address global issues.  The other part will be a questionnaire about familiarity with global issues and attitudes.  The OECD believes the data from these assessments will provide the global community with the information it needs to build a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable world through education.  Although measuring attitudes is not easy, hopefully the new PISA assessments will at least form the start of a global dialogue about what is needed for the future, and the role that education can play in sustainable development.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Culturally proficient people, culturally proficient schools

A couple of months ago I wrote several blog posts about a book I was reading called The Culture Map.  Now I'm digging a little deeper into Fran Prolman's book Building Your Instructional Leadership.  I find culture such a fascinating area, working in an international school we talk a lot about international mindedness but it needs to go much deeper than having Festival of Nations days where people get dressed up, wave flags and eat from from various countries.  Culture is evidenced in many ways:  gender, geographic origin, history, ancestry, language, occupation, physical characteristics, disabilities, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on.  People who are culturally proficient try to understand what it is like to walk in someone else's shoes.  A culturally proficient school is inclusive, respectful and knowledgeable.

One thing that does not help cultural proficiency is "colour-blindness".  Often you hear people saying "I treat everyone the same" as if this is some sort of a virtue.  Colour-blindedness is definitely not that!  Treating everyone the same, regardless of their heritage, culture and so on is to ignore or not to acknowledge or welcome our differences.  It's almost like saying that individual needs will not be addressed.  There's a big difference between treating everyone the same and treating everyone fairly.  Schools that don't embrace cultural proficiency fail to address inequity.  In such schools, some students may adopt the behaviours of academic dependence.  Moving towards independence involves teaching and practicing various habits of mind such as using all your resources, practicing perseverance and embracing active engagement such as peer problem solving.  This helps all students to be ready for rigour and independent learning, taking risks and taking agency and ownership for their own learning.

Celebrating diversity as a way of continuous learning and broadening of perspectives is at the heart of cultural proficiency.  It's a way of getting a clear sense of your own culture, as well as knowledge of others.

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Teams - high functioning or dysfunctioning?

At the recent NESA Conference I did 2 days of workshops with Fran Prolman and Gail Seay.  On day 2 of these workshops we talked about how vulnerable connections build team dynamics.  Fran talked about building voice and choice among adults and how team building is based on trust, which involves bonding and knowing each other before you have to have difficult conversations.  One of the things she also shared with us was the 5 dysfunctions of teams which was based on the work of Patrick Lencioni (see diagram below).

Lencioni writes that the largest team problem, invulnerability, is a sign of a lack of trust.  Without trust no team member is willing to interact with each other.  It's only when a team is willing to be vulnerable, supportive, honest and loyal to each other that real teamwork can begin.

Moving up the pyramid, the next big issue for teams is that there is often an emphasis on harmony - however this becomes artificial harmony because dysfunctional teams are afraid of conflict (in other words, when considering the team phases of forming-storming-norming-performing outlined by Bruce Tuckman, these teams get stuck on the forming stage which is superficial and non-productive.

Further up the pyramid is ambiguity, caused by a lack of commitment, clarity and focus which also impacts productiveness as team members all have different interpretations of what needs to be done.  In these dysfunctional teams the members are all going in different directions.

Another aspect of dysfunctional teams is low standards and a lack of accountability.  In these teams the members often blame each other or external factors for their lack of success.  In these teams there are low expectations and poor quality work.

Finally some team members are caught up in their own egos and are not interested in results, or in reflecting on ways to improve.  In these teams they are more concerned with perceptions than embracing reality.

Now we know that there is a direct correlation between adult interaction and student achievement and it's because of this that teamwork is crucial to the success of any school.  The effectiveness of teams, be it grade level or subject teams, have a tremendous impact on how students learn and achieve.  In high functioning teams the members are motivated as they are working towards a common goal - and this motivation leads to synergy, support and loyalty.  Efficiency improves as members volunteer to take on various roles within the team, dividing up tasks to meet the deadlines and building on everyone's strengths.  We learn more through collaboration, and so teamwork expands our intellectual capacity as we consider diverse opinions and viewpoints.  Also, as we establish norms of respectful collaboration, listing to all the voices around the table, our interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence increases, fostering the feeling of connection.

In Fran's book, Building Your Instructional Leadership, she provides a number of suggestions for improving the functioning of teams in schools.  These include:
  • Creating time when teams can meet regularly
  • Providing structures and protocols to help teams focus on the work
  • Giving time for reflection
  • Clarifying roles within the team
  • Empowering each member to contribute and make decisions
  • Building capabilities
  • Providing recognition and reward for success
  • Encouraging risk-taking and experimentation

Do these suggestions resonate with you in your context?  What does successful team work look like in your school?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Learner Agency

As regular readers will know, I'm developing a PYP Workshop entitled Implementing Agency together with a colleague working in Saudi Arabia.  Developing this workshop has been a great learning experience for me too - and it has made me more intentional about noticing the opportunities for student agency in my own school.

This morning I was in Grade 1.  Our students are coming to the end of their Where We Are in Place and Time unit.  During this unit students have inquired into the many ways of finding out where they are in the world, which has included the places they are from, places they have journeyed to, and how our host country, India, is like and unlike other countries.  The unit ends next week and students have been given choices about how they can show their understanding of the unit in their summative assessment.  They have already been introduced to several tech tools over the course of the year, and the teachers are also keen to give students "non-tech" options as well.  In the class I was in this morning, these choices were as follows:
  • Make a poster
  • Make a book
  • Make a Spark Video
  • Make a slideshow
  • Bring in artefacts and talk about them.
For me the important thing is that students are choosing the method where they feel they are most likely to succeed.  They have taken ownership of and are responsible for their own learning.  In fact, as the choices were outlined, one student mentioned he wanted to show his learning in a different way from those listed.  The teacher encouraged him to talk to her about alternatives ways he could use for his assessment.

The students, homeroom teacher, teaching assistant, tech support team and myself are now partners in the learning.  We are all helping the children to plan, present and assess their learning.  I love the way that we have moved away from a "cookie cutter" approach to assessment, and that we are truly building efficacy in our students.

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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Is it real? How VR affects development

This is my second post based on the report issued this week by Common Sense Media on VR.  This post focuses on the challenges and opportunities of VR on childhood development.

The development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain continues through to the mid-20s, bringing changes to working memory, impulse control and cognitive flexibility.  The impact of VR on this development will depend on whether children can distinguish between actual and virtual experiences.  VR's ability to block out the sensory experiences of the physical world can make it more challenging for young children to remember they are in the physical world while they simultaneously process the being in a virtual environment.  In particular, children younger than 7 can face challenges discerning when virtual events are not real - studies have shown that in elementary children this can lead to a high rate of false memories.  This is not the case when children watch TV or play video games as they are aware that events happen to screen characters and not to themselves, but because of the immersive nature of VR this may not be the case, as it feels like a real experience.

Possible negative effects
Studies have been done on sensory and vision effects of VR, though these have been small scale and the researchers have warned that the long-term effects of VR are unknown.  The mismatch between 3D images on 2D screens can cause headaches and eyestrain, and there is concern that this might have long-term impacts on young children because their developing brains make them more susceptible to these disruptive pressures.

There is already a large body of research over the past 30 years about the connection between aggressive behaviour and violent video games, as well as decreases in prosocial behaviour, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.  Young adults who play violent video games using VR report more aggressive feelings and they experience elevated heart rates compared to those who play the same game on a computer.  Young adults also play the VR games more violently than on a desktop.  Another study showed that the psychological pressures generated during violent VR games increased the level of anger they felt after playing them.  This is clearly an area of concern for families.

Possible positive effects
Research into the medical uses of VR show that it can be an effective distraction from pain during medical procedures such as intravenous placements, burn-wound cleansing and dental work

There are also some benefits to education, for example "reverse field trips" where students can virtually visit places, events and times.  When comparing the learning outcomes from VR versus video or desktop games, however, the evidence shows that VR fails to results in an increased retention of facts and there is little transfer of knowledge to new situations.

Finally whereas violent video games are associated with aggression, research has shown that prosocial video games can be associated with positive social outcomes such as helping behaviours.  Experiencing a virtual encounter while "walking in someone else's shoes" can be a powerful experience.

At ASB we have explored VR for virtual fieldtrips and have incorporated it into some science lessons.  Generally, though I've explored this quite extensively, there is little content out there that directly matches with our units and learning outcomes.  I'm also skeptical of the "pre-packaged" narratives which are not always relevant to our students' inquiries.  the questions remains - will VR be a game changer in education, or will it go the way of other innovations such as interactive whiteboards and devices such as Google Glass?

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Friday, April 6, 2018

VR: good, bad or ugly?

I've been following the whole AR/VR in education movement since about 2012 when it appeared on the Horizon Report as a "far horizon" trend, though the pace of implementation has accelerated recently.  This year we purchased a number of devices/headsets in our Elementary School and I've been working with our science teacher to find authentic uses for these in our units of inquiry.  Certainly VR has a lot of potential both for education and for fields such as entertainment and health care - but like everything in education a lot depends on the teachers and what they do with it.  Common Sense Media recently brought out a report on VR that contained some interesting information, as well as data from a survey on parent attitudes towards VR.  This report is a balanced look at the potential impact of VR on young people's social, cognitive and physical well-being and it's a report that I would definitely recommend to parents as well as educators.

One of the issues with VR is its intensity.  A lot has been written about how it can encourage empathy, prosocial behaviour and that it can diminish racial bias.  Indeed I've seen myself how an immersive experience can lead to students wanting to learn more about an issue (for example the hydrosphere Google Expedition was particular impactful on our Grade 5 students).  However as the report highlights, VR is so new that we really don't have a lot of data to show how it affects the developing brain of young children - and as a result the report highlights the need for caution.

There have been small studies about the impact of VR on neurological development in children, though clearly we need more research to really understand these effects.  Recommendations about the use of VR are that it should only be used for 5-10 minutes with children.  Most of the VR devices such as the Gear, PlaystationVR and Oculus Rift state clearly that the headsets should not be used by children under 12 or 13.  Only Google Cardboard, the HTC Vive and the ViewMaster seem suitable for elementary aged students.  Google recommends using Cardboard only with adult supervision, View Master recommends a minimum age of 7 with adult supervision and the Vive states clearly it is not designed for children but that adults should monitor it closely when used by "older" children (what age that is I have no idea).  Here are some of the key findings of the Common Sense report:
  • VR can provoke a response to virtual experiences similar to responses to actual experiences.  The report states that children may face challenges discerning which components of virtual events are not real.
  • The long term effect of VR on the developing brain and health is unknown.  We know the prefrontal cortex develops through middle childhood, but more research needs to be conducted before it can be recommended for children.
  • Children may be influenced by characters in VR and this influence can be good or bad.  There is concern that the power of social-influence in VR could encourage antisocial behaviour.
  • VR is engaging and students report more enthusiasm for learning when using VR - however they don't learn more with VR than through video or computer games.  The report states "VR has yet to demonstrate an increased retention of facts as compared to the non-immersive platforms".  The big challenge of VR is that students focus on the sensorial experiences of the virtual environment rather than the narrative information that is meant to build knowledge.
  • VR can increase empathy in adults, however there is little evidence it can increase it in children as they have not yet fully developed the ability for perspective-taking and generally need to develop a more mature and complex ability to understand that people think and feel differently from them.
Has your school started using VR?  What is your experience of this on student learning (not just student engagement)?  I'd love to know more so please leave a comment.

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Trust - the glue that holds us together

At the NESA Conference I attended several sessions with Fran Prolman about instructional leadership.  The focus of these sessions was on building relationships.  In her book, Building Your Instructional Leadership, Fran writes about trust, which is something that cannot be taught, but which is developed in response to events, behaviour and conversations:  basically trust and loyalty has to be earned by the leader and this takes time (generally 6-9 months).

So how can school leaders build trust so that teachers are working in an environment of risk-taking, mutual support, honest feedback and continuous growth.  Leaders need to know how to promote and facilitate collaboration because adult collaboration in schools has a direct impact on student achievement. Fran lists 5 important ways of building trust:

  1. Model vulnerability - if you want teachers to be honest and to talk about problems of practice you have to model vulnerability first.  Are you secure enough with who you are to give up the pretence of perfection?
  2. Cultivate familiarity - pop into classrooms and ask what additional support teachers want.  Familiarity leads to a raised level of caring, of comfort, of trust and of psychological safety.
  3. Facilitate commonalities - heighten the awareness of similar interests and hobbies - this will build connections and trust.
  4. Invite and acknowledge concerns and fears - model empathy, active listening, being non-judgemental and offering support.
  5. Prove your competence - so that teachers will feel confidence in you as a leader.
What other ideas do you have?  How do you build and maintain trust in your school?

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