Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Dealing with difficult times

I've been designing a series of learning experiences for the Toddle Community and these have included sets of PSPE experiences for students around how best to deal with difficult emotions and feelings during the time of COVID-19.  With schools around the world closed, students have had to get used to a completely different daily routine, and to deal with the stress, fear and sadness of lockdown.  For all students, schools provide safe places where they can socialise and build relationships, which we know are important aspects of a child's development.  For many, being in social isolation and not being able to connect with their friends face to face has led to all sorts of physical manifestations of stress such as problems with sleeping and concentration.  Students need to know that these feelings are normal at times like these, that it's fine to express them, and that there are strategies that they can learn that will help them to cope.

For our Early Years students, it may be that the only clues that parents have to what they are feeling is in their behaviour, since they will find it difficult to articulate what they are thinking and feeling.  For older students they may react in various ways, from wanting to be online much more and interacting with friends virtually through to becoming more isolated as they feel angry, upset and defensive.  It's important to have conversations about how they are feeling - and for them to know that it's OK not to feel OK.  Older students may need more information and strategies they can do to keep themselves safe and in control, such as more frequent handwashing.  They may also enjoy keeping a diary or journal at this time to record their lockdown experiences, or to get involved in other creative activities such as art or music as a way of challenging their emotions in a positive way.  Mindfulness and meditation can be fantastic ways of coping with stress at this time - for parents and teachers as well as students!

With this in mind I developed 3 sets of learning experiences: one for Early Years, one for Lower Primary and one for Upper Primary.  With the older two age groups I wanted students to come to a better understanding of the virus and how to keep themselves safe through activities such as handwashing, and I included many practical engagements that students could do at home and that would help them to deal with stress, such as meditation, mindful eating, keeping fit at home and getting enough sleep.  I also included experiences to help them focus, such as mindful colouring and origami, which relax the part of your brain that deals with fear and reduces the thoughts of a restless mind.  At times like this, it's also important for students to recognise gratitude and thankfulness as these improve our mood and they are especially important in difficult times, so I included activities about these too.

Equally important to consider is how things might need to change once schools reopen and students start to return.  Looking through the Toddle Learning Library, I came across this webinar by Ali Ezzeddine.   Ali writes about his own experiences as a young teacher during the 2006 Lebanese war and how, once schools returned, the focus was on ensuring students could express their feelings and emotions.  At his school, the decision was made to focus on the needs of the students such as their mental health and wellbeing, before implementing the educational plans already drawn up the previous year, and so teachers rewrote their first unit of inquiry to take account of the students' emotions and feelings (something I have heard described as Maslow before Blooms). 

Right now, whether we are trying to support learning at home, or whether we are now dealing with students coming back into school again, we need to ensure that what we are teaching is relevant and significant and that it acknowledges where the students are right now, so perhaps some of the designated content can be put on hold for a while.  As Ali writes, "your virtual learning is not the same as your in-school learning", and no matter where we are right now we need to ensure that we have realistic expectations of what learning can take place.  Perhaps our focus now needs to be more on the learner profile and the approaches to learning, or perhaps we need to all be focused on the key concepts of causation, responsibility and change.  Ali also questions how we can help our students to connect with others around the world to share our experiences - which is a great way to consider human commonalities.

At this time, many teachers are asking the question: what can we take away from this remote learning at home?  What do we want to hang onto when we move back into school?  What have we been doing that we now want to change?  This is a perfect time for teachers to be doing their own inquiries.  The learner profile attributes of being thinkers, inquirers and risk-takers can help us to re-envision learning as we move forward.

Photo Credit: glendon27 Flickr via Compfight cc

Monday, May 18, 2020

Designing engaging and rigorous learning experiences

Yesterday I led an online workshop for Toddle at the Inquiry Educators Summit (TIES).  It was amazing, even though there was a Zoom outage in the UK and eastern USA during the time of my presentation.  Thanks to the amazing support in India, I was still able to deliver my presentation - and it was really odd because I could not see either my slides or the audience.  Although my intention is to provide a fuller account of this workshop, including a downloadable resource that Toddle can add to their Learning Library, I'm going to give a few brief reflections here.  First of all here were the intentions of the workshop:
  • Learn how to incorporate higher order thinking skills into student learning experiences and assessments
  • Consider how to get students to think and dive deep into their inquiries
  • Understand the importance of giving students voice, choice and ownership in how they show their understanding
I'm always amazed at the wonderful notes that participants take using sketches.  It's a really creative way of taking notes and I'd like to share a couple that were made during my presentation and then shared on Twitter.  Obviously Sketchnotes done live over an hour's presentation cannot cover everything, but for me looking at these later it was interesting to see the main points that were seen as important during my session.  This first one is from Lucy Elliott, a PYP Coordinator in China.


Looking at this one I can see the message that comes up clearly is that teachers are the designers of learning.  I can see references to Bloom's taxonomy and the importance of designing so that students are using higher level thinking skills.  In particular that creating involves new and original work/thinking.  I can also see the reference to the SAMR model.  Again I see lots of verbs being used to provoke higher level thinking and reference to the importance of asking open-ended questions.

This one is from Shailja Datt, a PYP Coordinator in India.  This also mentions Bloom's and the SAMR models, and the verbs that can raise thinking.  This one also includes the other "R"s that I feel are important:  rigour, redefining the task and return on learning.


I'm very grateful to both these that were shared on Twitter as it helps me to reflect on my presentation.  I hope to receive the chat (which I also couldn't see) later and at that point I will write a blog post to answer any outstanding questions.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lockdown: 5 Small Daily Goals

I've been at home for 7 weeks now.  For me this is a very unusual experience.  Last year, for example, I travelled overseas for 24 different jobs, doing workshops, consulting with schools and visiting schools to evaluate or authorise them for the IB.  Of course schools around the world are closed, learning has moved online, and flights have been cancelled to almost everywhere.  Even when flights are still operating, I've had to change my travel plans as countries have employed a 14 day quarantine, which means I cannot realistically travel to a country and spend 14 days in a hotel room before going to a school for a 2 day workshop or visit.  And then of course if the UK government imposes its own quarantine of 14 days on my return, that means basically a month in lockdown for 2 days of work.  What to do?  First of all I had to reassess my goals.  Everything I thought was going to happen had to be shelved.  I came up with both a Plan B and later a Plan C, which got shelved as well.  I've had to reassess my goals yet again - to come up with ones that I can do.  This led me to my 5 small daily goals:  ones that I can control.

First of all I divided my goals into 5 main areas:  me, family, professional, fitness and home.  I then set about defining smaller goals for these 5 areas.  I decided I would choose to do one of these a day.  I write these all down in a book, and at the end of each day I tick off the ones I have done.  So far I've managed to stick to 5 small goals every day and often many more than this.

These are some examples of the goals I have set:

Me Goals - these are all things that I like doing and involve some amount of self care.  They can be as simple as putting on a facepack and sitting in a nice warm bath with some scented candles and relaxing music, or giving myself a proper manicure or pedicure.  Other favourite goals of mine are to do with hobbies I'd been developing before lockdown.  For example last summer I joined a sketchbook class.  Painting a picture in my sketchbook is one of my options for a "me goal" - and I have to say my drawing and painting skills have certainly improved the more I have practiced.  Another goal that I have in this category is to sit in the sun and read a book.

Family Goals - before lockdown I used to see my children, who both live and work in London, about once a month.  For the last 7 weeks we have not been allowed to meet anyone outside our household, so we haven't been able to meet face to face.  However we have set a goal of doing a FaceTime every day so that we still check in with each other and talk about the day.  Both my children are having to work from home - my son has used some of this time to renovate and decorate his house and just last weekend he adopted 2 little kittens from an animal rescue organisation.  It's hard not seeing my family face to face, but I'm very thankful we can see each other using technology.  We have even used this technology to do a virtual family quiz night.

Professional Goals - these are the hardest as so much of my work got cancelled.  I still have a number of schools where I am doing remote consultations and I've been able to devote quite a lot of time to looking in detail at their policies and programme of inquiry.  I've also done some work for Toddle, designing learning experiences and this week I will be doing a webinar at The Inquiry Educators Summit.  Reading blog posts, writing blog posts and reading professional books all count towards this goal.  I've even added applying for jobs here as well recently, since things are so uncertain and I have no idea when I will be able to restart my consultancies, workshops and visits.

Fitness Goals - fall into 3 main categories.  I have the Active10 app on my phone and since the government allowed us to leave the house for 30 minutes of exercise every day this has been something I've been aiming for.  The app tracks every 10 minutes of brisk walking.  Therefore this goal involves doing 3 lots of Active10s every day - all part of the 30 minutes of outdoor exercise.  As well as this right before lockdown I went to try out a new yoga class getting started in the village.  Unfortunately because of the lockdown the teacher has been unable to continue with the class, but I feel so grateful that she has decided to put this class onto Zoom, so 4 times a week I go into my home office, put my yoga met on the floor and join in with the virtual class.  I've got back into doing headstands again - my next goal will be a handstand!  Finally another option for the days when I don't do yoga is to do a weights workout.  I do this using videos that have been posted online.  At home I have some kettlebells and a resistance band, so I have all the equipment I need to do a strength workout.

Home Goals - these are the ones I least look forward to but ones that need to get done.  These goals include cleaning one room of the house every day, washing the car, mowing the lawn, deadheading the flowers in the garden, painting the shed and the garden fence, washing and ironing - you get it.  I've also added going out once a week to do the shopping to the home goals since we are allowed to leave the house to buy food.

That just about sums it up!  Every day I choose one goal from each category and at the end of the day I tick off which ones I've done.  That means that every day I get a small sense of achievement and feel that I've made some progress.  I have been very anxious at times (about my health and the health of those I love, and also about the fact that I have no regular income now which is certainly stressful) but I have also learned to focus on what I can control and do a good job at that - and having 5 goals a day really helps.

By the way all the images in this post are drawn by my daughter - click on them to enlarge them as they catalogue her experience of lockdown.  If you like them you could also follow her posts on Instagram.

How are you getting through lockdown?

A free webinar

Living in the UK I've been in lockdown for the past 7 weeks - and while in some respects it has driven me crazy, it has also given me time to do many things that would not have been possible before.  One of these is a free webinar that is being organised as part of TIES (The Inquiry Educators Summit) which is happening this coming weekend, 16th and 17th May.  There is a stellar lineup of presenters and keynote speakers and I'm honoured and excited to be part of this.

Here are some of the things I'll be discussing:

  • The importance of engaging and rigorous content
  • Higher Order Thinking Skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy and the SAMR Model
  • Why we should not be asking students to do “tell about” summary projects
  • Redefining the task to focus on rigour and a return on learning
  • Different types of communication
  • Adding more rigour to informational projects
  • Going beyond technology to focus on craftsmanship

Click here to register for TIES

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Books for Upper Primary

My third (and final) booklist has now been published - and it's for upper primary students.  This is an age when many parents and teachers feel that students can read alone very competently, and so read-alouds often diminish - yet students of this age and older still love being read to.

In addition, at this age, books can often provide a great (and safe) starting point for discussions about values - things that students are now starting to question.  In this list I've expanded the genres to include fantasy and historical novels, as well as adding in graphic novels for the first time.  I've also suggested strategies for class read-alouds with students participating by taking on the voice of the characters in the books, and book groups - and some strategies for reading at a time of school closures due to COVID-19.

Here is the Upper Primary booklist

I hope these book lists are useful - it has been fun putting them together!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Books for Lower Primary

My second booklist has now been published!  This one is for supporting the Learner Profile attributes with lower primary students. 

Of course, children of this age can read to themselves, but what better to promote a love of reading than having an adult model this by reading aloud to them!   At this age, children also love listening to books that would be too challenging for them to read themselves, and in addition love to revisit some books that they enjoyed in previous years.  Read-alouds allow the teacher to stop and check for understanding and to find the "teachable moment" in every book.  Whereas students of this age may grapple with concepts such as being principled or reflective, these can become apparent through the words and actions of the characters in the books, so teachers you need to plan for asking some really provocative questions to get your students thinking.

Here is the link to the Lower Primary collection - the Upper Primary collection will be published in a couple of days.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Books for the Early Years

As many of my readers will know, I've spent much of the past 18 months doing IB workshops and school visits.  However with schools around the world closed, and travel severely limited, I've turned my attention to things I can do at home.

Often, when visiting a school, I'm asked about the best way to promote the learner profile, in particular with very young children.  I know there are some schools that focus on one learner profile attribute a week (or month) but this can come across as a bit forced.  A better way, I've found, is to use children's literature, linked to the current unit of inquiry, that demonstrates particular learner profile attributes.

Over the past month I've been putting together 3 booklists: for early years, for lower primary and for upper primary.  These are now starting to be published on the Toddle website.  Since many schools around the world are closed right now, there's an additional section about how to use these books if you are teaching remotely. 

The first Learner Profile Booklist is ready - and it is published here.  Enjoy!