Friday, February 24, 2017

Establishing patterns of thinking in the classroom

After lunch I attended another session with Mark Church where we looked at thinking routines and how they differ from strategies or activities.  We asked the questions:
  • How do teachers work with, make use of, and develop thinking routines over time? 
  • What happens for students when they work with thinking routines over time?
First we needed to make sure we were all on the same page about what a thinking routine is:
Thinking - use of the mind to form thoughts, to reason, to make connections, to consider perspectives, to observe closely
Routine - a pattern of behaviour adopted for a particular circumstance, a rehearsed set of movements or actions that make up a performance.

Routines are in place for all sorts of things in schools - classroom management, evacuation of the building in an emergency etc. Why wouldn’t we expect to put a routine in place when a certain type of thinking is called for?  Students need to be familiar with thinking routines that can be applied to different content.

Thinking Routines are tools that can be used over and over again to support specific thinking and structures through which students explore, document and discuss and manage thinking.  They are patterns of behaviour adopted to help one use the mind to form thoughts, reason and reflect.

Throughout the day we explored a number of visible thinking routines - and saw videos of them in action in the classroom.  I'm excited to be going back again tomorrow - even though it is a Saturday - to dive deeper into thinking.

Photo Credit: the Italian voice Flickr via Compfight cc

What is the story of learning in this place?

In the second session with Mark Church today, we asked the question how do we use students' thinking to navigate their learning forward? We first of all considered our own experience and thought of a time when we've been part of a group that did really good thinking together that really advanced our learning. We thought about what made it that way - what were the factors, influences or practices that made that group such a good thinking group? As we shared out, we noticed many similarities: our groups had a common goal, all voices were heard, we could learn from our mistakes, there was an outcome we cared about, everyone brought strengths, we could be flexible, and our collaborative thinking was valued. This led us to the following conclusion about cultures of thinking:
Cultures of thinking are places in which a group’s collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular day to day experience of all group members.
We applied this to our schools to ask how we could move away from simply using thinking routines, and move towards "thinking that's routine".  We thought about how a classroom's story gets told - what are we doing to foster this culture?  Again we considered the forces that shape a culture in the classroom: routines and structures, time, opportunities, modeling, interactions and language.  And we came away with a question: If I want to encourage thinking - what I am doing to get the culture into place?

Photo Credit: Anna Marie Gearhart Flickr via Compfight cc

What might we dream of for our learners?

Today and tomorrow we are hosting ASB Plugged-in at school.  We have lots of presenters, but for me I decided to take a deep dive into just one area - to work with Mark Church (an old colleague of mine from the International School of Amsterdam) to really focus in on visible thinking.  We started with some questions:
  • What messages are we sending students about what learning is and how learning happens? What do students think learning is? As teachers, do we know what we mean when we ask children to learn? 
  • What are kids learning about what learning is when they are with us? What is their conceptual understanding of learning?
  • How can we take more notice of the culture of our classrooms - and what it communicates to learners about the value and importance of thinking?
  • How might we make students’ thinking more visible, give it more value, and use it to navigate learning?
  • How can we send a message to students that thinking matters?
Individually and then in pairs, we discussed the 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions and habits that we wished students came to your classroom with that would serve their learning well? We came up with 3 broad categories:
  1. Social dispositions - attitudes and habits that relate to how groups and people function eg: cooperativeness, humour, empathy
  2. Work dispositions - attitudes and habits related to work and school performance eg: persistence, concern for quality, willingness to do one’s best, reviewing one’s work, putting forth best effort
  3. Thinking dispositions - attitudes and habits that facilitate and promote effective thinking, eg: open-mindedness, curiosity, skepticism, looking at both sides of the issue (perspective seeking)
We reflected on how early childhood educators tend to value social dispositions more than the others - the others matter but are not as prominent. With high school all 3 categories show up but work dispositions are more prominent. We talked about what a pre-school through high school continuum looks like? Time is given to social dispositions early on - leading to work dispositions later.  But what about the thinking dispositions?  Where do we take a stance to not lose sight of these - how do we get them on the front burner just as much as the other dispositions?

An observation that Mark made was that If the social dispositions and work dispositions are a mess, you would be hard pressed to find thinking going on in a school/classroom. But the converse is not true. Just because social and work dispositions are in place it doesn’t automatically follow that there is a culture of thinking.

So how can we shift a school or classroom culture? We can do this through the use of routines that foster our disposition wishlist (e.g. curiosity and wondering) and through time (which signifies what is most important in our classroom). We can offer opportunities to engage in the routine and use the interactions around these opportunities to explore the dispositions (e.g. reasoning with evidence). The routine is a model for thinking dispositions, something we can do that signifies the teacher’s wishlist. The environment also needs to allow for the routines. The interactions and expectations afford students the opportunities to engage with these dispositions.

Or as Mark put it - the culture is the co-teacher in the classroom.

And perhaps instead of asking what 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions or habits we want students to come into to our classroom with, we should instead be asking what 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions, habits do we wish that our students left our classrooms with that would serve their learning well - long after they’ve left us?

Photo Credit: NuageDeNuit | Chiara Vitellozzi Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Efficiency (doing the right thing) -v- effectiveness (doing things right)

Another resource shared at the Vietnam Technology Conference at the weekend was Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon's eBook 10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning.  I downloaded this and it's amazing!  Today I've been reading the first section and considering the need to change our current system of "imperfect learning".

Will and Bruce write that schools are driven by efficiencies rather than effectiveness:  efficiency is "doing things right", whereas effectiveness is "doing the right thing".  Schools have always put efficiency first, yet we know that deep learning is not best served by the systems that deliver education as efficiently as possible.  Doing things right involves students coming to a particular place at a particular time with a particular teacher with other students the same age where they all go through the same curriculum and are assessed in the same way.  Doing the right thing relies on abundant access to knowledge and information through the internet, so that we can "learn anything we want, when we want, wherever we are, with whomever we can find, in whatever way works best for us."  Effectiveness is how learning happens in the real world outside of schools.   Will and Bruce write:
It is inarguable that striving for efficiency erodes effectiveness when it comes to learning in schools.  We know that the most effective learning doesn't happen when we take children and separate them by ability, isolate the subjects we teach them, give them little choice over the what and how of learning, try to motivate them with grades, make them sit in rows, and standardize the whole process via one-size-fits-all assessments.
Doing the right thing involves creating classrooms where learning builds on passions and interests, relevance and purpose, and where learning is not constrained by time limits and subjects.   These words really spoke to me today - my heart became full.

As well as the eBook, Modern Leaners is also launching a podcast series and next month a new 8 week course and community is starting focusing on how to effect serious, sustained and relevant change in school.  The aim of Modern Learners is to build capacity of educators to lead real change. This will need time, visionary leadership and community support, but it's definitely something that I want to get involved in.

Photo Credit: Mark Brannan Flickr via Compfight cc

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The elephant in the classroom

At the weekend I attended and presented at the Vietnam Technology Conference in Ho Chi Minh City.  The keynote speaker on the first day was John Burns, the Director of Creativity and Innovation at International School Services.  In this keynote, John shared some very useful resources, which I'm getting round to reading and blogging about this week.  The first one is by Will Richardson and is entitled 9 Elephants in the (Class)Room that should "Unsettle" Us.  Will writes that many educators are more concerned with "doing the wrong thing right" than doing the right thing and that he is frustrated with our unwillingness to acknowledge these elephants in the (class)room - the things that we don't want to talk about in education.  Here are his 9 elephants:
  1. Our students will forget most of the content they learn in school - in fact only a small fraction is retained even for one year after "learning" it because this content has little or no relevance to students' real lives.  One elephant is that despite knowing this, we continue to focus on content knowledge.
  2. Many students are bored and disengaged - and technology cannot solve this.  The answer is to give students more choices and agency over their own learning.
  3. Schools were not built for deep learning - which involves interest, passion and an authentic reason for learning.  Deep learning also involves agency and choice about what, when, where and with whom you learn, and yet in most schools students are told what to learn, how to learn it and how they will be assessed on their understanding.
  4. Assessment is not based on what will matter for future success - such as being a creative thinker.  We should not be teaching and assessing students on the things that in the future machines will be able to do.
  5. Students and parents are more interested in grades than in learning.
  6. Our curriculum is based on the subjects that were important over 100 years ago - not on today's needs.  We need to make new choices about the "one billionth of one percent" of knowledge that we are teaching in schools.
  7. Separating learning into subjects is not real-world - the future belongs to people who combine a range of different skills from different subjects.
  8. Education is not adequately preparing students for further education or for work.
  9. Learning that sticks is usually learned informally in the moment - and yet schools continue to work on a "just in case" belief that access to knowledge is still scarce.
I've been mulling over these elephants and thinking about whether or not they are also present in international school classrooms.  Reflecting on my own experience at ASB I would say that 1, 4 and 6 in particular are relevant, and possibly 5 and 7 further up the school.  I don't see our students as bored and disengaged, and I do think we are preparing students adequately for university, if not for work.  Probably our biggest issue I would think is our curriculum, especially the content knowledge, standards and assessments that don't seem relevant.  In the elementary school I think we do a good job at being transdisciplinary, but still think we could give students more choices in what they learn and how they learn it.

Do you agree with Will Richardson about the elephants in the classroom?  Which ones are the ones you need to acknowledge?

Photo Credit: Timothy Valentine Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Using technology to personalize learning - part 5: mobile devices

As we discuss personalized learning at school, I'm often part of conversations about giving students a choice about how they express their understanding. Inevitably this may depend on the students' ability to choose the tools he or she wants to use. At school we have a BYOD programme, so students already have a choice of which laptop they bring to school. However, they do have to have a laptop as their primary device - just relying on a mobile device is not an option at this time. What we discovered, through various prototypes over the past 5 years, is that mobile devices do offer a different way of doing things - and that one device may not be the answer to all of a student's learning needs.

In our Grade 4 we have just completed a historical narrative which formed the summative assessment for the Where We Are in Place and Time unit. Students were given the choice of making paper slides, using Book Creator, iMovie and Voicethread. At the same time students were encouraged to use whatever devices they had for making these narratives. Some students continued to work on their laptops, others brought in mobile devices from home. Some students even used a mixture of devices, for example green screening on one device and putting the project together on another.

One advantage is that students are able to use the devices that they already have at home instead of or in addition to the laptops that they use in school. These other devices are likely to be the ones that they will be using in the future. Being flexible about the devices they are using is also a skill necessary for the future, as they need to adapt to the rapidly changing world of technology.   Students then published their narratives onto the Grade 4 blog - another tool that they are becoming increasingly confident in using and which supports the aim of the Grade 4 teachers to have their students become global communicators.

Photo Credit: Zach Frailey Flickr via Compfight cc

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Leadership: a rank -v- a responsibility

Last week our Head of School, Craig Johnson, shared a video clip with us about Simon Senik's new book Leaders Eat Last.  Craig wrote:
Much of what Senik says (and much of what the book speaks to) is what we are about at ASB.
Although the clip is only 4 minutes long, there are some important points:
  • Leadership is a choice - to put others before yourself.
  • A leader is like a parent - we want our children/employees to achieve more than we have ourselves.
  • Leaders risk their own interests so that others may advance.
  • Trust and cooperation are feelings produced by the environment in which we are working - and that environment is created by the leaders.
  • When we feel our leaders have our interests in mind, we look out for each other; work harder, are more innovative, and give our best talents and ideas.
  • When times are tough - a great leader makes sure that each person suffers a little so that no one person has to suffer a lot.
  • Great leaders put people before numbers (heart-counts not head-counts)
  • The leader points to the direction in the distant future - we feel excited to participate when we are given ownership and responsibility for the mission. 

Photo Credit: Baron Reznik Flickr via Compfight cc