Friday, October 29, 2010

Visible Thinking Routines to introduce G3 students to blogging

Having been an advocate of Visible Thinking routines for many years, I was excited to be involved in using these with a Grade 3 class as they started blogging.  For those unfamiliar with Harvard Project Zero, Visible Thinking routes are used in the following way:
Visible Thinking makes extensive use of learning routines that are thinking rich. These routines are simple structures, for example a set of questions or a short sequence of steps, that can be used across various grade levels and content. What makes them routines, versus merely strategies, is that they get used over and over again in the classroom so that they become part of the fabric of classroom' culture. The routines become the ways in which students go about the process of learning.
The Grade 3 class had been reading the book Imagine A Night by Sarah L. Thompson, illustrated with the paintings of Rob Gonsalves.  One of the routines for exploring works of art is See, Think, Wonder.  Students are asked 3 questions:
What do you see?
What do you think about that?
What does it make you wonder? 
This routine encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations.  It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry.

Before the students came to the IT lab, the class teacher had already made a post about the book and the students had been introduced to the See part of the routine.  When they came to the lab I listened to the rest of the story with the class.  After each page students viewed the illustration and were encouraged to comment about their thoughts and wonderings.  

To introduce them to blogging, we had already decided the students would begin by making comments about the teacher's post.  To show the students how to do this I modelled what I would write as a comment for one of the illustrations.  I was then able to sit with individual students and help them to add their own comments.  The students who had been shown how to add comments were then able to help other students and show them what to do.  You can read the blog post and the students' comments (written with my help) by clicking here.

Following this, the class teacher used blogging as part of maths and story telling (they have also been working on narrative writing and digital storytelling).  This time students were given the blog comment to do as a homework activity.  The students did a fantastic job, writing long and complex stories and showing their understanding of maths in the process.  One thing that we had forgotten to tell the students, however, was that they wouldn't see their comments straight away as they had to be moderated.  Some students came to me this morning quite worried that they "hadn't done it right" because they didn't see their comments immediately.  A couple of parents also emailed the class teacher asking what had gone wrong - one boy even wrote his whole story twice!  Luckily the class was able to view all their stories successfully this morning.  The stories are exactly as the students have written them with no editing for spelling at all - they are Grade 3 students, many of whom do not have English as their first language - and I was very impressed by the amount most of them had written.  If you would like to view their work please click here.

Today the students are blogging as an introduction to their new unit of inquiry, How the World Works.  This unit explores how natural and man-made processes create changes to the Earth and its inhabitants.  For tonight's homework the students are looking at the CBBC website posts about the recent events in Indonesia and writing about how these natural disasters are affecting the people.  The students are also asked to reflect on how we can help.

When we set the blog up, we decided to add a Clustr map so that students could see how many people were visiting their blog and where they were from.  Two weeks after the launch of the blog we have had 78 visits from 16 different countries.  The students would love it if you would visit the blog and add your own comments to it too!

3N Kids Blog

Photo Credit:  Imagination by Tiffany Trewin

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Writing down my thoughts

It seems ironic that in school where all teachers are given laptops the use of them in meetings is still discouraged.  I've thought a lot about this as it seems that taking notes in a meeting is a very good use of the tool we have been provided with, and I'm wondering why speakers or those leading meetings find it off-putting or intimidating that we are using technology in this way, when they don't seem to mind people writing notes with a pen and paper.  I've come from a school where there was a tablet programme, I am very comfortable as a teacher with students using their computers to take notes and I'm wondering if it is perhaps in schools that do not have a 1:1 environment that teachers or administrators are uncomfortable with the use of laptops in meetings.

Here are some advantages I see in using a laptop to write down my thoughts:
Making notes:  I tend to learn best when I take notes.  I'm the sort of person who drifts off if I don't focus on what I am hearing by writing it down.  I like to come back later and reflect on what I have heard.  I think that meetings and presentations are important and I don't want things to go in one ear and out the other.  It's also good to share notes with those who are interested but who could not attend the meeting.
Backchanneling:  A back channel is a very useful way of giving feedback on a presentation or meeting through real-time online conversation alongside the spoken remarks.  Over the past couple of years I've been encouraged to use Twitter to backchannel using hashtags in conferences I've attended.  I like the way that a backchannel helps me feel connected to others in the audience or elsewhere in the world - I feel more like I am a contributing participant, rather than just a passive member of an audience.  I would like to explore the use of backchannelling at school meetings but think that it might be seen in a negative light.
Multi-tasking:  In my last school I made a deliberate effort to multi-task during some meetings as I wanted to experience what the students were doing with their computers during lessons and to see how it impacted on the quality of my work, my attention to the meeting and so on.  This is definitely something you get better at the more you do and it is something that teachers need more practice at - for example I have seen teachers struggle in planning meetings to take minutes, fill out the planner and be involved in discussions simultaneously.
Modelling:  I think as teachers we need to model learning.  When I use my computer to take notes during a meeting I think I am showing that I am trying to learn from the meeting.
Articulating and redefining my thoughts:  When I take notes I don't just write down what is said, I often document my thoughts about what is said.  If I then share my notes, for example in a blog post, I get feedback from others with different perspectives which helps me redefine my thoughts.

Photo Credit:  Fast Fingers by Katie Krueger

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The IB Learner Profile: Risk-taking -v- Courage

I was looking for a couple of documents on the IB Online Curriculum Centre today as I needed to download them to take on my Workshop Leaders Training next week, when I stumbled across a recent document by George Walker where he discusses whether the IB is too closely associated with Western values.  As it happens I had been having the same conversation with a friend on Sunday, a teacher who used to teach MYP and DP but who has now left international education.  The question asked was how appropriate the IB Learner Profile and the PYP attitudes are for non-Western students.  The IB is committed to promoting international mindedness and some of the PYP attitudes promote respect and tolerance, however that aside many of the values are certainly more Western than Eastern.  In some societies independence, for example, or risk-taking are just not very highly valued.

George Walker's position paper entitled East is East and West is West outlines 4 major area where Western and Eastern values may differ:

  1. The group and the individual:  here the IB Learner Profile is very concerned with individual attributes that promote active participation in learning (inquiry, communication and risk-taking) and personal responsibility (thinkers, knowledgeable, balanced, reflective, principled, open-minded).  Only the attribute of caring really involves other people.  Certainly there is a different balance between independence (Western) and interdependence (Eastern) in the Learner Profile.
  2. Respect for authority:  having lived and worked in Europe, North America and Asia there is clearly a difference in relationships with and respect for teachers.  The IB Learner Profile refers to all in the school community being learners, teachers, administrators and students.  This might not sit so comfortably with Eastern views of teachers.
  3. A holistic view:  Eastern cultures are more likely to see the whole picture and to view issues in shades of grey instead of the black and white approach of the West.  One Learner Profile attribute that alludes to this holistic view is balanced.
  4. Taking risks - this is probably the one attribute where there is the greatest difference between Eastern and Western values.   While we can see risk-taking as being something positive, many cultures would view it as negative and irresponsible.  
George Walker suggests that courageous might be a more appropriate word to use in the Learner Profile than risk-taker.  While many see courage as bravery, strength or endurance in the face of adversity or the ability to do something hard despite pain or fear, the word actually derives from a French word meaning "heart".  Thinking about it, the word risk also implies some sort of danger and the possibility of  unpleasant or unwelcome consequences.  Applied to learning, the attribute of risk-taker is defined by the IB as someone who can approach new situations with forethought and who is not afraid to explore new roles, ideas or strategies or to express and defend his or her beliefs.

At the end of all this, I'm not at all sure which word would be a better one to substitute for risk-takers, however I do agree that the IB promotes more Western values and attitudes than Eastern and that if the IB is really to promote international mindedness these issues will need to be addressed.

Photo Credit:  Weather Vane by Leo Reynolds

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Devil's Buttermilk

I am currently working on a unit of inquiry with one class of Grade 5 students that deals with physical, social and emotional changes at different stages of our lives and focuses on rights and responsibilities associated with each.  When talking to the students about what they can and cannot do at different stages, they have mentioned things like adults being able to vote and get married, or teenagers being able to drive.  Of course the age at which you can vote, drive or get married varies from country to country.  In a similar way so does the age at which you can buy and drink alcohol.

One of the chapters in Dr Aric Sigman's book that I am currently reading is entitled The Devil's Buttermilk.  In this chapter Dr Sigman outlines the issues associated with alcohol use during adolescence and the role alcohol can play in preventing teenagers from developing self-control.  When teenagers drink they are affecting brains that are still undergoing development.  He discusses figures from the UK which show alcohol use is associated with 50-70% of homicides, stabbings, beatings, fights and assaults and that the UK has the worst figures in 35 European countries for binge drinking and alcohol related problems in 15 and 16 year olds.  Alcohol is number 5 in the Lancet ranking of Britain's most dangerous drugs (ahead of ecstasy, LSD, solvents, amphetamines and cannabis) and Dr Sigman debunks the myth that allowing teenagers to have small amounts of alcohol at a young age at home with the family will prevent binge drinking later on (he asks would we have the same attitudes in other areas - that early sexual encounters would prevent later unwanted pregnancies or that early exposure to cigarettes might prevent nicotine addiction later, for example?) and quotes from American studies that show having a first taste of alcohol before the age of 15 increases the risks of alcohol-use disorders that persist into adulthood.

In the countries that I've lived (which include the UK and the USA) there are many mixed messages we are giving our teenagers.  In the UK while it's only legal to buy alcohol over the age of 18 in a supermarket or off-licence, it's actually legal to give alcohol to children over the age of 5 in their own home with parental permission, children can sit in pubs with adults who are drinking until 9pm in the evening, 14 year olds can enter a pub unaccompanied by an adult if they order a meal and 16 and 17 year olds can consume a glass of wine, beer or cider if they also order a meal (these facts were taken from a website from Woodland's Junior School in Kent).  In Switzerland, where we currently live, teenagers of 16 and over can buy beer and wine, but not spirits - though I've seen plenty of teenagers here drunk after consuming beer and wine.  American parents who have come here with their teenagers have spoken to me about how shocking they have found this - in the USA the age for buying alcohol is 21 and in some states people under 21 cannot enter a bar or off-licence or even drink in their own homes.

This is a difficult area for parents of international students, who have come from countries with very different laws - and even more so because a lot of parents drink alcohol socially themselves.  It's one thing for non-smoking parents to tell their children not to smoke, but quite another thing for parents who do drink a glass of wine or beer socially in the evenings to tell their teenagers not to drink.  I don't have any easy answers here, but as a mother of 2 teenagers I am certainly starting to think more about this issue as a result of reading The Spoilt Generation and as a result of discussing rights and responsibilities with our Grade 5 students.

Photo Credit:  Pelican by PinCheck

Self-esteem -v- self-control (part 2)

This week I'm continuing to read the book The Spoilt Generation, ready for our staff meeting on Wednesday.  This is my second reflection based on the Bigging Them Up chapter.  Dr Sigman writes about how important it is to consider "what kind of self we are trying to raise the esteem of".  If a child's sense of self is distorted so that the child is what he terms "a narcissistic entitled child" then Dr Sigman writes we would do better to promote more responsibility or accountability (self-criticism, self-discipline, self-control etc) than self-expression, self-indulgence or self-esteem.  He goes on to write that constructive criticism now has a bad image as it is seen as undermining a child's self-esteem, but that there are, in fact, many behaviours that should be met with disapproval.

Also in this chapter he explores the problem of defining the self, especially in terms of on-line identities on social networking sites, which can lead to a distorted view of the self.  He explains that young people are always "looking over their shoulder to the sea of gazes from their "friends" on Facebook" yet often they are lacking in these gazes or feedback from parents or other reliable adults.  He talks about the problems of young people "invading their own privacy and giving their self away".  He claims that by sharing their private self so openly in social networking, they are actually eroding the individual, and points out that it is ironic that there is such concern for privacy in many areas such as data protection, but less concern about privacy in online identities.

Photo Credit:  Narcissism by Nicolai Kjaergaard, Internet -v- Privacy - A Helpful Venn Diagram by Dave Hoffman

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Speculating, exploring, questioning

Questions unite people, answers divide them (Elie Wiesel)

On the PYP planners is a place for teacher and student questions.  At our planning meetings these questions are discussed before the unit begins as it is very important to have excellent questions and provocations to encourage the students to think deeply at the tuning in stage of the inquiry.  Even more important, I think, is teaching students how best to ask questions, so that they can questions their own beliefs and opinions and those of others and so that they can find answers through their own inquiries and share those answers with others.

At my last school several staff meetings were devoted to the work of Kimberley Lasher Mitchel, a former PYP teacher from the International School of Athens.  We viewed videos of a couple of inquiry lessons that Kimberley conducted at different schools and discussed her methods for increasing inquiry in the classroom.  This is what she recommends to promote inquiry:

1.     Provoke discussion and challenge thinking – challenging preconceived ideas encourages more critical thinking.  It’s OK to wonder and not to know everything.  Ensure what is being studied has relevance to the students – if not it’s very difficult to have true inquiry.
2.     Stay neutral and judgement free – don’t say “good, great response” which implies these are the “right answers”.  Listening to what students are saying leads to students feeling safe and taking risks and also leads to them responding better to each other.
3.     Invite elaboration– let them think through their theories.  Ask questions such as what makes you think that? How do you know that?
4.     Honor student theories – even the wrong ones.  Other students can debunk or support the theories that emerge from discussions.  Some of the original theories can therefore be challenged and students can change their minds if their thinking has been challenged with new evidence or information that comes from their inquiries
5.     Teach  students to listen to each other – the teacher has to let go of some control and facilitate the learning.  True inquiry is not having students work on teacher questions or activities devised by the teacher, but  involves students listening and responding to their peers.
6.     As students think out loud their opinions becomes clearer and teachers can assess student knowledge and understanding.
7.     Ask students where they have got their information from – the source, date, copyright, bias, and to evaluate the sources  Ask students:  How do you know what you know?  Do you trust that source – could anything new have happened?
8.     Wait time –give time for students to think and to get the courage to express their thoughts.  The message you give by waiting for students is that their ideas are worth waiting for.
9.     Paraphrase or reiterate to guide discussions back to the central idea  and to articulate students’ implied connections.
10. Use the IB Learner Profile to elicit responses – model and speak to the attributes of the learner profile, teaching their meaning and showing their value.

Photo Credit:  Unabridged inquiry by Quinn Dombrowski

What does inquiry look like?

In a PYP school inquiry is used across the curriculum to explore new ideas, build meaning and construct new knowledge.  There are many ways classrooms can be set up to create inquiry, but essentially inquiry will involve many of the following activities:
·      Speculating, exploring, questioning

·      Making connections between previous learning and current learning

·      Researching

·      Developing and testing theories

·      Collecting data, reporting findings and constructing explanations

·      Clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events

·      Identifying assumptions

·      Taking and defending a position

·      Solving problems in a variety of ways

·      Analyzing and evaluating

·      Considering alternative explanations

(taken from the IB document Towards a continuum of international education)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Go for it Google!

In July I was lucky enough to attend the Google Teacher Academy UK.  It was a fantastic experience and since returning to school I've thought so much about what we did and tried to put into practice some of the things I learnt.  Today I was reflecting on the evaluation that all Google Certified Teachers were asked to fill in at the end of the event.  The aim of the evaluation of course was to provide Google with feedback so that they can improve the academy and make it even more meaningful and worthwhile for teachers in the future, hence there were a lot of questions that dealt with communication before the event as well as the activities and pacing of the days.  Right at the end was this last question:

Of course Google wanted our evaluation straight after the event, while everything was still fresh in our minds and at the time I filled in my answer to this last question (which was about the Google 20% time), but today my response would be very different.  This is because since coming back to school we have set up a school domain to run Google Apps for Education with our students.  So far we have set it up for our Grade 4 and Grade 5 students and are ready to start all these students using Google Docs when we return to school after the half-term holidays.  We have also discussed using Blogger to have the students make ePortfolios and have already used Google Earth and Google Maps.  I've also got plans to introduce Picasa and Picnik to our teachers when we're back at school after the holidays with the aim of using both these with the students later in the year.

However in the past few weeks at school I've also used lots of other Web 2.0 tools and I would love it if these could also fall under the Google umbrella or if Google could develop similar apps that we could use as part of Google Apps for Education with a single log-in for our students.  Suggestions would include a way of commenting using video or audio on photos similar to VoiceThread, animation such as DoInk and Xtranormal, timelines such as TimeToast or Xtimeline or apps such as HistoryPin to add old photos and stories to maps, presentation tools such as Prezi Meeting or SpicyNodes, and how about a comic maker along the lines of Bitstrips or interactive posters similar to Glogster?  Currently we use all of these apps, some of which have educational versions, some of which are free and some of which we have subscriptions for.  But for each of these the students have to remember their log in and password.  Keeping track of these, and all the different subscriptions, is a bit of a nightmare.

Is this perhaps a bit of an ambitious suggestion?  The more I thought about it, the more I decided it wasn't.  For example about 10 years ago I remember buying SketchUp which we had to download onto our computers.  Now it is GoogleSketchUp and it is free.  There's a similar story with  YouTube, Blogger and Picasa which Google bought up 4-5 years ago.  So if I had to come up with a big hairy audacious goal for Google now, and if money, time and resources were not an issue, this is what it would be: buy or develop more of these Web 2.0 tools and put them in Google Apps for Education so that students around the world can use them to publish their work and show their understanding.

Go for it Google!  Please.

Image:  Google Logo by Matt Hamm

The IB Learner Profile - Open-Minded

Often when I was a homeroom teacher I would do tuning-in activities with my students at the beginning of a unit of inquiry with the aim of showing me where the students were currently in their understanding of the concepts we were going to explore.  At this point I wasn’t really looking for answers, but just for dialogue, so that I would know what the students were thinking and why they were thinking that.  From that prior understanding the students would be moving forward, exploring and inquiring to build new knowledge.  At the beginning of a unit of inquiry all students have some knowledge and therefore it’s important to find out what the students are thinking and to value their opinions – even if what they think they know is wrong.  For me as a teacher it was often hard to accept answers or opinions that I knew were incorrect – but I also knew that I had to accept them.  If I started off by correcting them and they just accepted my explanations, then where was the inquiry and how could students construct their own knowledge?  If I told them that their ideas were incorrect then the message I was sending them was that their opinions were not valued, whereas what I wanted was for them to feel that it was OK not to have the right answers and that they shouldn’t be afraid to take a risk and say what they were thinking – that it was fine to wonder and not to know everything and that we could all learn from each other.  If students’ misconceptions could be challenged by others in the class and if that challenge led to new ways of thinking, so much the better.  Of course some students were very resistant to these challenges while others were more open-minded to the views of others.  I remember seeing an interview with a school principal a couple of years ago who said that some children learn quicker than others and that this could be because they are more open to having their opinions changed.  In an inquiry based classroom, asking students what they think and accepting all their answers definitely makes them more open-minded and also more open to changing their minds to develop new and deeper levels of understanding.

Photo Credit:  Son and Moon by Swissrolli

Teaching for Understanding

When I trained to be a teacher, in the early '80s, and during my first few years of teaching in England before moving into international schools, I heard very little about understanding.  The goal seemed to be to make sure the students learnt the facts, and that they could recall the facts during exams.  Teaching was heavily based on textbooks, worksheets and activities.  A lot of what we did was teach topics and then test students on what they could remember, often using multiple choice tests that came with the textbooks.  All the assessments were summative - I'd never even heard of formative assessment.

However when I was teaching at the International School of Amsterdam I attended the Harvard Project Zero summer institute which focused on teaching for understanding.  The school also started using the visible thinking routines which were very helpful in having students think through their theories and  explain their understanding.  Some years after this when teaching in Bangkok I did a workshop with Grant Wiggins on Understanding by Design (also called Backwards by Design).  Again, the focus was teaching for understanding.  It was in these schools that I also heard about formative assessment, which I have come to think of as much more important than summative assessment - in fact if we do the formative assessments of understanding properly, so that they inform our teaching, there's often not a great need for extra summative assessments.

The IB explains that
The central purpose of teaching and learning is to help students develop and extend the concepts they use to understand the world, solve problems and communicate …. A new concept is developed when meaningful connections are made between bodies of knowledge and other existing concepts and the process of making those connections leads to a deeper understanding of the world.
Inquiry is central to the PYP programme, and inquiry involves asking questions which help students to make these connections and develop their conceptual thinking.  Students are expected to explore significant issues by formulating their own questions in order to design their own inquiries and move “from their current level of understanding to a new and deeper level of understanding.”

I love the emphasis on understanding that permeates all the IB programmes.  For me, now, it would be impossible to go back to a system where students work through a textbook a year, with tests at the end of each chapter and the answers in the back of the book.

Photo Credit:  This my Daddy gave me by Iris Shreve Garrott

Monday, October 18, 2010

Self-esteem -v- self-control

When we return to school after our October holiday Dr Aric Sigman is coming to talk to teachers and parents about his book, The Spoilt Generation.  I decided I would read this book beforehand so that I would be ready for his presentation.

The first 9 chapters concern Dr Sigman's views of parenting.  However it is Chapter 10 that I found interesting to read as a teacher.  This chapter is entitled Bigging Them Up and deals with self-esteem.  Dr Sigman quotes from the research of Professor Roy Baumeister who says that high self-esteem in schoolchildren does not produce better grades - actually it is the other way round - getting good grades leads to higher self-esteem.  Mediocre students who received frequent praise from their teachers ended up doing worse in their exams than students who were told to bite the bullet and try harder.  Baumeister's research also pointed to the fact that high-self esteem doesn't predict who will make a good leader, and that humility rather than self-esteem was the crucial trait in determining successful leadership.  In fact people with high self-esteem are more likely to respond aggressively when their view of themselves is criticized.  He also notes that high self-esteem has been linked to bullying.   His conclusion is that schools should "forget about self-esteem and concentrate more on self-control and self-discipline."

Photo Credit:  Espejo by Agustin Ruiz

Friday, October 15, 2010

Teachers of Learning

The focus of IB world schools is on learning, not on teaching.  Learning is a process that is facilitated and modelled by the teachers, therefore it's important that all IB teachers are teachers of learning.  Our job is to help students understand how they learn and how to reflect on what they have learnt and to help them value learning in their lives.

In the IB document "Towards a continuum of international education"  there is a section on learning how to learn.  I was reading this document today in preparation for our in-service day after the holidays, which will focus on connecting the various programmes, PYP, MYP, DP (and even AP which some students at our school choose to do in their final years).  The IB offers 3 programmes, each of which is self contained, since schools may choose to offer just one of these, but the expectation of the IB is that programmes should form a meaningful continuum when schools offer all three, or a sequence of two.

The IB views learning as a process.  In international schools students bring with them their own beliefs and knowledge based on their previous experiences, and are then exposed to new experiences which may challenge previously held beliefs and allow students to create new meaning by developing and extending their understanding.  Running across all three programmes is the IB Learner Profile.  Some parts of the Learner Profile deal with cognitive competencies (inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators and reflective), others deal with dispositions and attitudes (principled, open-minded caring, balanced and risk-takers).

What should we be teaching to develop effective learners?

  • learners need to process and evaluate knowledge, not just acquire it
  • learners need to be able to adapt to change, not just respond to change
  • learners need to be able to transfer skills and learning
  • learners need to know how to work collaboratively to solve problems
  • learners need to know how to learn
  • learners need to develop self-confidence as well as academic competence
  • learners need to be able to think critically in order to make their own informed judgements
Students have their own individual learning styles, and in addition students' learning styles may vary from one class to another.  As a result it's difficult to teach "study skills" out of context as there is no one method that is useful for all students in all subjects.  Teaching students how they learn best is therefore an integral part of the curriculum, not just a separate "add on".  As teachers of learning it's vital for us to understand our own teaching and learning styles and to model the reflective practices we want students to develop.  It's important for students to see that we are learners too.

Photo Credit:  Teaching the youngster to feed by John Haslam

Blogging with our G3s - I see, I think, I wonder

This morning I had a great lesson with one class of our Grade 3 students.  The homeroom teacher, Rebecca, started a class blog this year and she decided this morning to show the students how to get to the blog and add their comments.  She had been reading them a story from a book with some fantastic art, and as she read each page and showed the paintings she asked the students what they could see, what they were thinking and what it made them wonder about.  This afternoon some of the students were able to visit the class blog and to comment using this thinking routine.

Click here to visit the 3N Kids Blog

Photo Credit:  Tesla Trees by Harold Lloyd

Webspiration Wednesday - on a Friday

I couldn't resist this one - I know it's a Friday but I just couldn't wait to share this one with our teachers.  We're on holiday next week and I didn't want to wait until we came back to show them this from Sir Ken Robinson and the RSA.

The IB Learner Profile - Thinkers

Students know that in IT we think carefully, we make decisions and we are problems solvers.  Thinking is one of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile.  Thinkers are defined in the following way:
They exercise initiative in applying thinking skills critically and creatively to recognize and approach complex problems and make reasoned, ethical decisions.
Critical thinking implies being curious, asking questions, connecting with others, taking a objective approach and looking for alternative perspectives.  It also implies the ability to reflect on what you are learning, not just to accept what you read or hear but to question the validity of what you discover taking into account the attitudes of those who have created the information.  Eventually our hope is that students grow in confidence and that they are able to form opinions based on their experiences.

While the PYP (and MYP) are frameworks, as opposed to a prescribed curriculum, and while the content is developed by the teachers in each school working in collaborative teams who discuss what is important for the students to know in their own cultural context, the important thing is that the subject matter has to be relevant, provocative, challenging and significant.  The central ideas of our units of inquiry are timeless and universal concepts which should engage the students and challenge them to use their critical thinking skills as fully as possible.

Photo Credit:  Port-51 by Victor Bezrukov

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Motivate, Challenge and Empower

I've been thinking again about our mission statement and I've decided I like the words motivate, challenge and empower better than respect, motivate, achieve.

Both contain the words motivate which must be the cornerstone of what we are doing at school, stimulating our students' interests or enthusiasm, but let's look at the other words.  Respect is to admire someone as a result of their abilities, qualities or achievements and to have due regard for feelings, wishes, rights or traditions.  Achieve is to reach or attain by effort or skill.  Of course I think these are great qualities, but in some way I find them a bit passive.  Let's contrast these words with challenge - to invite  students to do something difficult, and empower - to make them stronger and more confident.

What do our students most need to be successful once they leave school - respect for the achievements of others, to be able to use their efforts and skills to achieve something for themselves, or to be enthusiastic, strong and confident to take on things that are difficult?

Photo Credit:  Warrior by Sebastien Bertrand

Monday, October 11, 2010

You are either moving forwards or you are moving backwards

Yesterday I was reading a post from Andrew Torris, the Deputy Superintendent from Shanghai American School.  He drew an analogy between teaching and marathon running:
Like a long distance runner preparing for a race I expect a teacher to plan their career in the same way. I need teachers who can see past the next vacation or school year and consider what they need to do continue to improve, to learn and to reach their ultimate potential throughout the entirety of their career. As new employees come to our school we have a long conversation within the interview process about career goals. Professional stagnation is not an alternative at our school. We ask that people take their goals seriously. We ask that they stay professionally current and focused on goals that can be supported not only by the teacher but also by the organization. 
This post was especially meaningful to me as I'm involved in goal setting right now and in discussing these goals with my administration.  I love the way that at SAS the focus is further than the current school year and that the organization is also responsible for supporting the teacher to reach his or her goals.  I love goal setting - I always see it as a positive experience, though for me it has been hard to focus on goals that are long-term as I'm not sure how long I will be staying in my current school.  However what this post has made me realise is that my personal goals need not be just for this school - they can be goals that I will reach after perhaps many years and in a different school.

Before I moved to Switzerland I already decided that there were areas where I wanted to professionally develop myself.  In Asia I had thought about workshop leader training, but had to commit to staying 2 more years in the region, something that I didn't want to do.  Recently, however, I have been accepted onto WLT training in my new region - so this is a goal I had some years ago that will only now be realised.  In the same way I would eventually like to be involved in ADE training as I was unable to attend the planned ADE Institute in Singapore when the "yellow shirts" blockaded the airport in Bangkok a couple of years ago.  Last week I moved a little closer to that goal too, when I met with someone from Apple who is keen to restart the ADE programme in Switzerland.  

To me you have to keep moving forwards - it's not possible to stand still.  Either you are making progress or you are falling back.  Moving forward always involves taking risks - some people don't like to be out in front where everything you do gets noticed - good and bad.  They'd rather keep their heads down and stay safe.  Andrew Torris addresses that too:
Like a runner, a good stretch outside of one’s own comfort zone keeps a teacher professionally limber. We all know the person who strives to stay in their comfort zone, They never take risks. Their constant focus is to remain in the middle part of the pack (or the back) but not stand out in last pace. Mediocrity is their norm. 
I have another thought about this too:  sometimes it is not enough just to be moving forwards, sometimes if you are not moving forwards fast enough you are still moving backwards compared with everyone else, and that's probably the hardest of all to deal with and when you start to question if you really can make the distance.

Photo Credit:  Morning runner by Olivier

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Lots of teachers have disclaimers on their blogs, I do too, but this is one of the most interesting ones I have seen:
Of course these opinions, musings, rants and reflections do not express the opinion of my employer. One would be crazy to think that one single teacher could be the mouth piece for an entire district. Nor are my posts meant to offend mostly, nor mislead but rather provide a snapshot of my mind at a certain point in time on a topic.
So please feel free to disagree, agree, compliment or discourage further blogging but promise to not think this is in any way an official mode of communication for my employer. These are my opinions and while I stand behind them right now they may change so while you are at it, don't hold that against me either.
It's from a blog called Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension.  The things I really like about this disclaimer are the words "snapshot of my mind at a certain point in time" and that the opinions of the writer "may change".  To me this is exactly what we want to see with our students too.  Where they are now and allowing for  the possibility that after more learning they may be in a completely different place.

Have a nice day ... or else!

This morning I read a great post by Alfie Kohn about looking at what is on the walls of a classroom.  Please follow the link and read the whole article, below are just a few of my reflections on reading it.

A poster Alfie mentions seeing in a school is one that said "Only positive attitudes allowed beyond this point".  The point Alfie makes about these sorts of signs or posters is that they reflect an ethos or culture of a school where it's not safe to speak up about what is bothering you.  Alfie says:
Kids don’t require a classroom that’s relentlessly upbeat; they require a place where they’ll feel safe to express whatever they’re feeling, even if at the moment that happens to be sad or angry or scared.  They need a place, in other words, where negativity is allowed.  Bad feelings don’t vanish in an environment of mandatory cheer -- they just get swept under the rug where people end up tripping over them, so to speak.  What you or I may describe as a negative attitude, meanwhile, may be an entirely appropriate response to an unfair rule, an intimidating climate, or a task that seems pointless or impossible.  To exclude such responses from students is to refuse to think seriously about what may have given rise to their negativity.
Alfie also goes on to write about inspirational posters that encourage unrealistic expectations - that all students could be "the best" for example.  As he points out:  
... this status, like so much else in our schools and our society, is set up as a zero-sum game.  If I become the valedictorian, then you can’t – and vice versa.  In a competitive environment, our dreams are mutually exclusive.
In the second part of his post, Alfie comes up with some signs that he would regard as good to have around a school.  He writes:
All else being close to equal, I‘d be thrilled to send my children to a school whose walls featured variations on the timeless reminder to “Question authority.”  And imagine if the principal’s office contained a framed print-out of this reminder from researcher Linda McNeil:  “Measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of learning.”  Visitors would be reassured that such an administrator understood a lot more about education than do most politicians. 
Alfie says the best classrooms are those that feature material created by the students themselves and the important question is not just what goes on the walls, but who decides what goes on the walls.

Tomorrow I'm going to go and have a really good look at the walls in my classrooms and ask myself what message are my displays sending.

Photo Credit:  Hungry Caterpillar Display by Steve and Jemma Copley

Disconnect to Connect

As most of my readers know, we used to live in Thailand.  Below is a great Thai commercial about getting away from technology and reconnecting with people.  It's well worth a watch - you don't need to speak Thai to understand the message.  Thanks to my son Joal for sharing.

Building a team - part 2

Last week I wrote about my daughter's experience in her previous school in being part of building a volleyball team.  Thanks to her amazing coach my daughter learned to love the sport and build a team spirit.  Yesterday the girls played in a tournament against schools from different countries:  Poland, Austria, Germany and other schools in Switzerland.  The girls came 5th out of 9 teams.  So why are my daughter and her co-captain holding a trophy you might well ask?  The reason is that there was an award for sportsmanship - the coaches and the girls in the other teams all had a vote as to which team would get this award and our girls got it!  For me this is actually better than getting first place in the tournament.  It's not all about winning or being the best, it's about being part of a great team.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Time to press the pause button

I was at university in Leeds in the time of the Yorkshire Ripper, serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, in the late 1970s and lived in the same place as Jacqueline Hill, the university student who was his final victim in 1980.  While the advice to most female students was basically to stay home at night, I was part of a group that organised Reclaim the Night marches.  At the time I did voluntary work on a rape crisis helpline, which is how I originally got involved in the Leeds Women's Action Group.  The marches started in November 1977, one month after I arrived at Leeds University and aimed at raising the issue of women feeling unsafe walking home at night.  We felt that the more people that were out on the streets, the safer the streets would be, and that telling women to stay in or stay home was really counter-productive.  We wanted to promote the message that women should be able to walk anywhere, and not be restricted because of the fear of violence.  You can read about why we decided to reclaim the night here.

A very dear colleague of mine sent me an article to read today about Managing October Exhaustion from Teacher Magazine.  This sounds like a very different topic from what I've just written about, but the reason I thought about the Reclaim the Night marches today was because the final section of the article deals with reclaiming fair working conditions for teachers.  The teacher who wrote this article is asking for a fair 8-hour day and to be treated with respect and dignity.  She talks about burn-out and how this is causing teachers to leave the profession.  When I reflected on how many of my teacher friends from the 1980s are still teaching, it occurred to me that more have left the profession than have remained in it.

Most of the teachers I have known and worked with over nearly 30 years of teaching have been dedicated and committed professionals who want to make a difference in the lives of their students and to encourage each student to reach his or her potential.  Unfortunately many things come in the way of them achieving this goal.  The article in Teacher Magazine calls for a "Pause Period" to regroup and regenerate.  This period can be made up of the following:

  • taking some time off
  • refreshing your surroundings
  • reflecting on why you became a teacher
  • celebrating your successes
  • optimising your time - cutting out what is unnecessary
  • getting more help - from students or parents
  • saying no - prioritizing so that you only do what is really important
  • keeping healthy  - getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well and spending time with people who are important to you.
With one more week to go before our October break I am definitely in need of pressing the pause button and reclaiming my life!

Don't lower the goal - increase your support

Over the years I've learnt a lot from mountain climbers, and one of the ones I've learnt the most from is  Jim Hayhurst Sr who was the oldest member of the 1988 Canadian Expedition to Mount Everest.  In his book, The Right Mountain, Jim talks about pitons - the metal spikes that climbers bang into the rocks to give them support.

Jim talks about the pitons in our lives - our support systems (knowledge, technology and people) and about taking the time to make sure we are secure.  He asks:  do we update our technical skills frequently?  Do we read and keep up to date with information relating to our jobs?  Jim says that on the mountain, if your pitons are not secure, you fall and die and tells us:
There is hardly anything you can't do if you have, and you nurture, the proper support systems.  Don't lower the goal, increase your support.

Photo Credit:  Photo of Juliano Magalhaes climbing RJ/Barrinha, Brazil by Ricardo Cosme 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Teaching and Learning in the 3rd Millennium

I've met Professor Stephen Heppell twice and have been fascinated by some of the things he has said about the dawn of learning.  Today I read an interview with him where he talks about the rule of 3s for 3rd Millennium learning spaces:

• No more than three walls so that there is never full enclosure and the space is multifaceted rather than just open.
• No fewer than three points of focus so that the "stand-and-deliver" model gives way to increasingly varied groups learning and presenting together (which by the way requires a radical rethinking of furniture).
• Ability to accommodate three teachers/adults with their children. The old standard size of about 30 students in a box robbed children of so many effective practices; these larger spaces allow for better alternatives.

A few days ago I was reading about flexible learning spaces in another blog post from Edna Sackson.  She describes a new building at her junior campus with one closed room per level but then lots of open spaces for group work, using the computers, small spaces for small groups, outdoor spaces and so on.  Having such spaces opens up a realm of possibilities.  I've worked in two schools that were able to design spaces in this way and know how wonderful it is to be able to rethink traditional teaching and learning and not be confined by the 4 walls of a classroom.

Photo Credit:  Eden Project by Sharkbait

Be Different .... Teach Different

There are a lot of really sad comments in this movie, but for me the saddest of all is:  I want to keep my mouth shut and wait to become an administrator.  I write this particularly because some of the best administrators I have known are those who have spoken up and spoken out for what they believe in, and who have supported and encouraged their staff.

Thank goodness there have been some great administrators in my life who have believed in me and have helped and encouraged me to grow as a person.  Thank you to Paul, who encouraged me to move into primary school, thank you to Linda and Frans who encouraged me to publish my Grade 6 students' work on the web, even when we didn't have an internet connection at school,  thank you to Lesley who encouraged me to become an IT teacher and to Ed who sent me to Project Zero and to Adrian who encouraged me to think one more time about teaching IB Geography.  And thank you to all the administrators and teachers who were truly my friends and who encouraged me to open my mouth and to be me!

The IB Learner Profile: Being open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others

I had a long conversation with someone at school today about why I blog, and whether the different people who read my blog get a positive or negative view of me and of what we are doing at our school when they read the things I am writing about.  It's all a matter of perspective I suppose, and in general I would say from the people who have read my blog and then spoken to me in person and from the comments I have received on the blog and through Twitter, most people find it interesting and useful and think we are doing great things at school.  Of course not everything I say is positive, I try to be balanced and write about the things I am thinking about and experiencing and not all of those things are positive, but on the whole I feel I have grown as a person and become more reflective through writing down my thoughts and getting feedback from those who read them.

Through my PLN I have come in contact with school principals who blog about their school.  Immediately after the conversation I had today,  I read this blog post from George Couros, a principal of a K-12 school in Canada, about why he blogs.  George lists 12 reasons why he blogs and I would have to say I agree with all of them.  A blog is so much more dynamic than a newsletter - it allows comments and feedback and is truly a dialogue as opposed to a monologue.  I know that not everybody may agree with some of the things I write, but if they give me their comments then I have another perspective and can rethink my ideas and grow as a teacher as a result.  Another blog post I came across today was Shelly Terell's interview with Patrick Larkin, a principal in Massachusetts.  Here he explains how he uses social media to connect with members of his school community.  The important message I get from both George and Patrick is that as principals they are blogging and using other social media because they want to model this for their teachers and students and because they want to improve learning and communication at their schools.

The IB Learner Profile encourages all learners at the school to be open-minded and reflective.  I am always happy to have feedback and to hear from others with different perspectives from me - actually I really love hearing all these different perspectives and I guess that is why I blog.

Photo Credit:  Typing at Night by Modenadude

"I understand how you feel" - The PYP Attitude Empathy

In Making the PYP Happen, the IB asks the question:  What do we believe international education to be?  The IB has a deeply held philosophy about the nature of international education which can be summed up in the words "international-mindedness", and an internationally minded person is defined as someone who demonstrates the attributes of the IB learner profile.

The word empathy first appears in the learner profile under the attribute caring, which is defined as showing empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others.  A caring person should act in a way that makes a positive difference to the lives of others.  In addition, the PYP's curriculum framework is made up of essential elements - one of which is promoting attitudes that contribute towards the well-being of the individual and of the group.  Empathy is defined as:

Imagining themselves in another’s situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others. 
This blog post has been prompted by the news of the death of Tyler Clementi and the posts and comments that have followed it.  Recently the Deputy Head at my old school has started blogging and today he posted about kindness.   I would like to say how much I appreciate that Adrian has reached out to the school community in this way and I would encourage others to read what he has to say about this. I have also read other posts, for example this one by Jim Power, which deals with empathy, compassion and human decency and this one by Jeff Jarvis who deals with privacy and this one from Anil Dash who questions the term cyberbulling. 

While we deal with eSafety issues in many of our classes, and while we promote a responsible use of technology for all students and educate students not to use technology to bully or tease people, we do explicity teach about cyberbullying in Grade 5 in our Sharing the Planet unit of inquiry to support their central idea that "finding peaceful solutions to problems leads to a better quality of human life".  We use the following movie from Digizen to prompt a discussion:

and then we go on to have the students play this interactive game about decisions they could make during a school day to be responsible digital citizens.

Most of the students say they feel sympathetic for Joe, the main character in the movie and game.  However what we talk to the students about is the difference between sympathy (feeling sorry for someone) and empathy (feeling with someone and understanding his or her perspective), and what they should do if they experience bullying themselves or if they are bystanders to bullying.  It's important for students to know that they are not alone and that there are responsible adults who will help them deal with these situations before they get out of hand.

Photo Credit:  Reflection on You and Me by Doug Wheller

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pedagogical Leadership

This week in our subject leaders team meeting we were given a questionnaire to fill in from the IB.  This prompted me to go back and re-read the Pedagogical Leadership in a PYP School document - and I was so glad I did because I got a lot out of re-reading it and re-thinking about it.

One of the first things I noticed was that the document deals with the idea of sustainable leadership - very important in our international schools where principals are frequently moving from school to school, country to country.  Because of this the PYP encourages a devolved or distributed leadership model to develop the talent of the teachers within the school.  The document states that it is important to identify and train teachers to take on responsibilities for pedagogical leadership:

Given the premise that PYP schools are communities of learners, the school leaders should be mindful of ways to motivate, challenge and empower teachers to accept and enjoy leadership roles, and to support them on that path. Assessment as feedback, to improve learning and performance, is as relevant for teachers taking on new responsibilities as it is for the students in their classrooms. 

The emphasis is also on developing collaboration within the leadership team.  It is therefore important that the leaders of the school have significant experience of working in collaborative teams:

a .... significant contributing factor to a deeper understanding, and improved practice, of the PYP is the nature of the collaboration in which any individual has participated. 

The responsibilities of the pedagogical leadership team go further than just leading the teachers - the aim is to create an internationally minded community of learners so that the school has a responsibility to:

• regularly arrange general sessions about the PYP for the whole school community and for interest groups within the community, for example, parents 
• demonstrate reflective leadership practice that values feedback 
• model the constructivist approach, including inquiry, during meetings or workshops focusing on gaining a better understanding of the requirements of the programme 
• model and promote the IB learner profile and the PYP attitudes 
• encourage teachers to see themselves as researchers and support their inquiries into pedagogy. 

In addition I was interested to read that teachers and the pedagogical leadership team should develop a teacher's job description collaboratively.  Last year I did get the chance to discuss my job description and I'm happy to see that this development is supported by the official documentation.

Another role of the pedagogical leadership team is to develop an ongoing professional development policy - this is because the pedagogical leadership team has the responsibility of encouraging the learning of everyone in the school community  (Note to self - check out whether such a policy exists at school).

What I love about this document is that it directly addresses how we find the time for all this.  Suggestions include releasing teachers during assemblies, early release or late start days.  Other suggestions are:

• During the orientation days at the beginning of a school year, keep administrative details to a minimum and use the time for planning together. 
• View each staff meeting as a professional development opportunity; handle administrative issues in other ways—memos, daily bulletins, a read-and-pass-on file. 
• Reconsider how best to use in-service days; recognize that the one-off consultant is not always effective in bringing about lasting change and that training days may be better used by providing time for teachers to plan together. 
• Use more of the budget to release teachers to plan and reflect together. For example, pay substitutes or pay staff for part of their own time. 
• Take the whole staff on a weekend retreat away from school and spend the time discussing, planning and reflecting. 
• Alternate staff meetings so that some are for professional development, some for collaborative planning, and some for administration. 
Time is a big problem for many teachers, and it's all too easy for collaborative planning to be pushed aside with the many other demands on our time.  Quite a few of the suggestions in the document cost little or nothing, yet have a great impact on time available and also on morale.  It would be great if some of these ideas could be taken on board to create the time for more collaborative planning and professional development.

Photo Credit:  take mee too ur leeeder by Harold Lloyd