Thursday, March 31, 2011

Integrating Understanding by Design and Differentiated Instruction: focusing on the students

This year I've been thinking a lot about UbD and DI and recently borrowed a book from the professional development section of our school library on this very subject.  Written by the gurus of these practices, Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe, I knew that this was a book I wanted to read when on the very first page I came across the statement:  beset by lists of content standards and ...... accountability tests, many educators sense that both teaching and learning have been redirected in ways that are potentially impoverishing for those who teach and those who learn.

At the recent ECIS IT Conference I was in a session where we were asked what factors could influence how well a student was doing at school.  We came up with many different things, only one of which was connected with the actual teaching.  In the first chapter of the book it was pointed out that effective teachers take account of the following:

  • WHOM they are teaching - the students
  • WHERE they are teaching - the learning environment
  • WHAT they teach - the content
  • HOW they teach - the instruction
If teachers lose sight of any one of these, the quality of learning is impaired.

Having read previous work by Carol Ann Tomlinson, I know she believes in teaching to the high end.  That all students benefit from complex tasks that encourage creative thinking.  She says that differentiation begins with what are too high expectations for many students - but that the purpose of differentiation is to support and enable more and more students to succeed at these very high levels.  Often it is a matter of allowing learners to express their learning in ways that best suit their strengths through varied products and performances.  Yet assignments often don't allow opportunities for diversity and students are often not encouraged to express diverse views.

The final section of the first chapter states:  Excellent teaching is of immense importance.  So is coherent, meaning-rich curriculum.  But in the end, education is about learning.  Learning happens within students, not to them.  Learning is a process of creating meaning that happens one student at a time .... However impressive our curriculum design, it will have to be implemented in diverse ways .... and in response to diverse learner needs .... or it will not result in learning.

The next chapter is all about the content and what really matters in learning.  I'm excited to be reading more.

Photo Credit:  Think Different by Guy Fawkes

Making Schools More Democratic

Today I came across Kirsten Olson's blog, Pedagogies of Abundance.  Kirsten writes about educational transformation and reform, and her post today was about making schools and classrooms more democratic.  This post was made up of the contributions of hundreds of teachers from around the world and I'm sharing here some of the ways that resonate most with me.  Please click here to see the full list.

Classroom routines:  many of the suggestions involved giving more ownership to the students about their classroom environment.  For example it was suggested that students could come up with their own class essential agreements rather than the teacher setting the rules, they could decide what goes up on the walls, play a part in determining the homework policy and come up with requisitions for supplies.  Letting students choose where to sit, but at the same time shaking up the seating regularly was recommended, with the idea of encouraging the students to sit by someone they have never sat beside before in order to get to know more people.  Another suggestion was that of a "talking stick" so that everyone gets a chance to speak.  I was interested to see that having the students do the school clean-up, as is common in Japan, was suggested for fostering community involvement.  Happily most teachers have a lot of control over their own classroom environment.

Student work:  there were several suggestions about students having more choice in many different areas, especially in their assignments.  Developing their own rubrics for judging excellent work was also a common suggestion.

Conferences:  many of the ideas submitted by teachers involved having students play a greater role in conferences - perhaps as part of a 3-way conference or as taking the lead in student-led conferences.  I'm happy to say that in all the international schools where I have worked this has been the norm.

Whole school:  while many teachers are able to make changes in their own classrooms, having the whole culture of the school change to become more democratic is more problematic.  One of the respondents suggested participatory budgeting to engage the whole school community and that students could be involved in staff appointments.  While I've never been in a school that had students making budget decisions, in a previous school we did have students as members of an IT committee where budgetary decisions were made.  At this same school students also sat on the panel when administrators were hired and were able to give feedback/recommendations on appointments.

Having parents more involved in decision making and development of whole school policies was also suggested, as well as encouraging parents to participate in discussions, work and activities.

Many suggestions were about allowing the students to be in charge of organising various whole school events - such as assemblies.  Letting the students set up a student council is also an excellent way of giving students more influence in the decision making process - for example recently our student council was able to look at various designs of "spirit wear" and make recommendations to the parents association as to which styles they liked the best.

Several teachers mentioned uniforms and dress codes - that they need to be as free/restrictive for staff as they are for students.  This is one area where I have seen a huge difference in the various schools where I have worked:  from a school with a very strict uniform policy for students (including a tie for all boys and girls) but where teachers basically wore what they liked, to schools where students came in a variety of clothing that was more suitable to a nightclub at one extreme and where ripped jeans and displays of underwear were not uncommon at the other extreme (as fashion statements - not because the children couldn't afford new clothes) but where staff were told they could not wear jeans.

There are many different ways to define democracy, so when thinking about how to make schools and classrooms more democratic it's important to know what we really mean.  Does it mean control of an organisation by the majority of its members?  Does it mean that everyone has a voice and that these voices are listened to so that the teachers and administrators understand how everyone thinks and feels and that questions are valued?  Does it involve equality of status, rights and opportunities?  Is it important for our students to experience this at school, so that they can eventually go on to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect?

Photo Credit:  King Arthur's Round Table, Winchester, Hampshire by Gillie

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I see, I think, I wonder .... about art

One of my personal goals this year was to further explore the Visible Thinking core routines.  I wanted to try out different routines with students on the 2 campuses where I teach and to blog about the process and the learning.

Today I was at our smaller campus where I was due to give an IT lesson to our Grade 2s.  They have been working on the How We Express Ourselves unit and have a fabulous exhibition of the artwork they have created over the past few weeks.  The central idea of this unit is:  art is an expression of human thoughts, emotions and experiences.  Students visited local galleries to find out about artists and for inspiration for their own artwork - for example they made wonderful aquarium paintings after visiting the Paul Klee Museum.  They also made great models and 3D art, for example in shoeboxes, and in the IT lessons they made graphics in the style of Piet Mondrian, Vincent van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and M.C. Escher as well as experimenting with software such as BRUSHster, Flow and Pixel Face.

I was really impressed with the visible thinking routines I could see had been used to discuss artwork.  For example students had looked at this painting, American Gothic, by Grand Wood and used See ... Think .... Wonder as a routine.  This is what some of the students said when they explored this picture as a class:

I see ...

  • a lady wearing a brooch
  • a red building
  • a pitchfork
  • glasses on a man
  • a spotted dress
  • a red hand on the man
I think ...
  • the woman is married
  • the white house is a church because of the arched window
  • they live on a farm because he's holding a pitchfork
  • they are rich because they own the house and have nice clothes
I wonder ...
  • if these people are real
  • why they are so unhappy
  • what she is thinking
I could see that the students had become familiar with this thinking routine because they went on to use it themselves for paintings of their choice.  For example one of the students wrote about The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali:
    I see ... a blue sky mountains, four flat, dented, clocks, a bird and a plant and a red clock and a fly.

    I think ... the bird is dead because it's missing an eye, the things in the picture are melting because they are old.

    I wonder ... why all the clocks are dented, why the bird is not flying and has no wings,  why the artist used so many dark colours.

    It's clear that these students are very comfortable and familiar with this thinking routine and I am keen to work with this and other thinking routines in my own classes in the final part of the year.

    Photo Credit:  American Gothic by Grant Wood from the Art Institute of Chicago and The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali from the Museum of Modern Art in New York

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011

    It's not about technology, it's about the information

    The title to this blog post was something that David Warlick said on Saturday morning in his keynote to the ECIS IT Conference.  It's something I've been saying at school for the past year and a half.  It's the reason why I felt it was necessary to change the name of the IT (information technology) department to the ICTL (information and communication for teaching and learning) department and why I felt it was necessary for the library and IT to merge into one.

    David pointed out that our students today have no real recollection of 20th century - they are 3rd millennium citizens. There is a difference between how our generation thinks about information and how our children think about it.  To them information is a raw material - its value is what they can do with it, how they can add to it, how they can make it more fun. Today our students are connecting media - actually they are doing things they have never been taught in schools - in some cases they have found people on line to help them do what they want to do.  David pointed out that one of the best things we can teach our children is how to teach themselves, that in a time of rapid change this is a skill they will carry with them their whole lives.

    As teachers we are worried about our students relying too much on online sources such as wikipedia - many are concerned that it is not really accurate.  David asked: Is there information in the textbooks that is not accurate? He pointed out that if information is questionable that is a good thing - we should be asking questions about the answers we are finding.   Information literacy skills are as critical as being able to read the text. Our sense of being literate has expanded.

    Photo Credit:  Information Overload by Verbeeldingskr8

    Friday, March 25, 2011

    Presenting at the ECIS IT Conference

    Today I'm in Frankfurt at the ECIS IT Conference.  Here is my Prezi:

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Encouraging Creativity (part 2)

    This post is a follow up on my wonderings about how to encourage more creativity in Pre-Kindergarten students while still having them practice using the different drawing tools on the computer and reinforcing their knowledge of different shapes.

    I first started wondering about whether I was doing too much thinking for the students after watching Priya Ganesan's TED talk.   I then tried a different approach to teaching the Pre-Kindergarten students and was encouraged to explore this further after reading a poem called The Little Boy, sent to me by one of our Kindergarten teachers.

    Today I had my 3rd class of Pre-Kindergarteners.  I decided today I would approach the whole lesson as a series of questions.  Rather than explain to the students what they would be doing (my first approach) or model what they would be doing (my second approach), I tried to encourage them to explore the tools and when I noticed students who were not using different colours I asked them:  "Do you know how to change the colour of the lines?"  If the answer was yes, I let them get on with it assuming they would change colour if they wanted to. If the answer was no I asked, "Do you want to know how to change the colour of the lines?", if the answer was no I let them continue in their own way, if the answer was yes I showed them how to do it.    In the same way if I noticed students who were drawing lots of similar shapes I simply asked, "Do you know any other shapes?"

    So here is a slideshow from our PK students today.  Some students drew fairly conventional shapes (squares, triangles, circles etc) others drew lots of different looking shapes, some drew lots of shapes and some drew a few, some used lots of colours and some used a two or three colours.  Some used the whole screen to draw their shapes, some used a small area and some drew shapes within shapes.   I thought all their drawings looked unique and I hope they are all proud of what they created.

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Valuing a diversity of talents

    This whole week I've been thinking about creativity, learner outcomes and standardized tests.  I love the thinking in this movie.

    Looking to the future

    This morning I was reading the Edutopia article Five Reasons for Integrating Technology.  I was glad to have read it this morning before having a discussion this afternoon about the best way to move forward with our tech integration next year.  We discussed many things such as the need for a whole school vision for IT, whether we should be taking away a lab and using more laptops in the classrooms, requests for hardware and software for next year and how many teachers/coaches/mentors would be needed to move the programme forward.  It was great to have the time to discuss all these issues.

    The Edutopia article raises a number of important questions but for me these 2 are the most important:  how will we train the teachers and where does the time for this come from.  Here's what the article says:
    How ever will we train all those teachers? Answer: It's simple. Have teachers train teachers. Give teachers who know how the paid release time to be trainers. 
    Where does the time come from? How can we add more to a teacher's plate? Answer: How 'bout this? Don't. Instead, take something off teachers' plates rather than put more on. We have to prioritize, and including technology is too important. We can't continue to have teachers waste their time on the curricular needs of yesteryear. We need to redefine how a teacher spends their time during the day and redefine the curriculum of tomorrow.
    Photo Credit:  Signpost by Joanna McCunn 

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Encouraging creativity

    In the last week or so I've been doing a lot of thinking about creativity.  This started when I watched the TED talk by Priya Ganesan about Creativity in Schools (click here to see my reflections on this talk).  I have been questioning whether or not I give too many instructions to the students and whether or not these instructions limit the students' creativity.  Last week I had one class of Pre Kindergarten students who were drawing shapes on the computer using different coloured lines and then colouring them in using different coloured paints - this was to reinforce the knowledge of different shapes they had been doing in maths and to have them practice using the line tool, fill tool and colours in the drawing software Pixie.  I gave them specific step-by-step instructions and waited while they did each step before moving onto the next one.  My conclusion was that all the students did the task, but that all the drawings ended up looking the same.  I decided that with the next class of Pre Kindergarten students I would try to do this a different way.

    Today with the students I started off by asking them to name any shapes they knew.  Then I modelled drawing the shapes - some of the shapes I drew were ones the students had named and some were different ones. I drew about 8 shapes on the board, but I said to the students "You can draw as many shapes as you know."  I made sure I used a different colour to draw each shape and I said "I decided to use a different colour for each one, you can decide yourself if you would like to use different colours".  When I coloured in I also made comments like "I'm going to put yellow inside this shape because I think it will look good with the red line outside." I told the students they could use whatever colours they liked to colour in the shapes, or leave them white if they wanted to.  I showed them the Undo button and told them that if they didn't like what they did they could always undo it.

    Then I watched them do it.  I found this hard.  I found myself wanting to step in to "help" when I could see students drawing all the shapes and filling them in the with same colour.  I found myself wanting to stop students colouring in the background the same colour as the shapes - which meant that the shapes then disappeared altogether.  The results this week were more mixed.  I thought the students definitely had more "ownership" of their drawings, but I also thought that some students had not really practiced using the different tools very well.  I'm going to think again about how I can improve on this approach before I take another class of Pre Kindergarten students.  (Early Years teachers please give me some feedback on this - how can I make this more creative yet still have the students learn how to use all the tools?)

    After school today we had a staff meeting where we were writing learner outcomes for the visual arts, for the creating and responding strand in the PYP.  As our school is also trying to align all 3 IB programmes, we had to put these creating and responding learner outcomes into the school strands too - one of which was acquisition and application of technical skills.  I was with a group of Kindergarten and First Grade teachers and we were asking ourselves how we should teach technique to this age group - or even should we teach technique?  A learner outcome must be something that can be assessed.  We asked ourselves should we really be assessing these things or would this kill creativity?  One of our teachers shared the poem below.  I left the meeting with even more questions about how to encourage creativity and whether or not it is possible to assess it in children so young.

    The Little Boy - by Helen Buckley
    Once a little boy went to school.
    He was quite a little boy
    And it was quite a big school.
    But when the little boy
    Found that he could go to his room
    By walking right in from the door outside
    He was happy;
    And the school did not seem
    Quite so big anymore.

    One morning
    When the little boy had been in school awhile,
    The teacher said:
    "Today we are going to make a picture."
    "Good!" thought the little boy.
    He liked to make all kinds;
    Lions and tigers,
    Chickens and cows,
    Trains and boats;
    And he took out his box of crayons
    And began to draw.

    But the teacher said, "Wait!"
    "It is not time to begin!"
    And she waited until everyone looked ready.
    "Now," said the teacher,
    "We are going to make flowers."
    "Good!" thought the little boy,
    He liked to make beautiful ones
    With his pink and orange and blue crayons.
    But the teacher said "Wait!"
    "And I will show you how."
    And it was red, with a green stem.
    "There," said the teacher,
    "Now you may begin."

    The little boy looked at his teacher's flower
    Then he looked at his own flower.
    He liked his flower better than the teacher's
    But he did not say this.
    He just turned his paper over,
    And made a flower like the teacher's.
    It was red, with a green stem.

    On another day
    When the little boy had opened
    The door from the outside all by himself,
    The teacher said:
    "Today we are going to make something with clay."
    "Good!" thought the little boy;
    He liked clay.
    He could make all kinds of things with clay:
    Snakes and snowmen,
    Elephants and mice,
    Cars and trucks
    And he began to pull and pinch
    His ball of clay.

    But the teacher said, "Wait!"
    "It is not time to begin!"
    And she waited until everyone looked ready.
    "Now," said the teacher,
    "We are going to make a dish."
    "Good!" thought the little boy,
    He liked to make dishes.
    And he began to make some
    That were all shapes and sizes.

    But the teacher said "Wait!"
    "And I will show you how."
    And she showed everyone how to make
    One deep dish.
    "There," said the teacher,
    "Now you may begin."

    The little boy looked at the teacher's dish;
    Then he looked at his own.
    He liked his better than the teacher's
    But he did not say this.
    He just rolled his clay into a big ball again
    And made a dish like the teacher's.
    It was a deep dish.

    And pretty soon
    The little boy learned to wait,
    And to watch
    And to make things just like the teacher.
    And pretty soon
    He didn't make things of his own anymore.

    Then it happened
    That the little boy and his family
    Moved to another house,
    In another city,
    And the little boy
    Had to go to another school.
    This school was even bigger
    Than the other one.
    And there was no door from the outside
    Into his room.
    He had to go up some big steps
    And walk down a long hall
    To get to his room.
    And the very first day
    He was there,
    The teacher said:
    "Today we are going to make a picture."
    "Good!" thought the little boy.
    And he waited for the teacher
    To tell what to do.
    But the teacher didn't say anything.
    She just walked around the room.

    When she came to the little boy
    She asked, "Don't you want to make a picture?"
    "Yes," said the lttle boy.
    "What are we going to make?"
    "I don't know until you make it," said the teacher.
    "How shall I make it?" asked the little boy.
    "Why, anyway you like," said the teacher.
    "And any color?" asked the little boy.
    "Any color," said the teacher.
    "If everyone made the same picture,
    And used the same colors,
    How would I know who made what,
    And which was which?"
    "I don't know," said the little boy.
    And he began to make a red flower with a green stem.

    There is another (happier) ending to this poem - please click here to read it.  I know which teacher I would most like to be!

    Photo Credit:  The Captain by Thomas Hawk

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Dream Big

    Real leadership is dreaming bigger for others than they dream for themselves-  G.J. Hart

    I often tell my Grade 3 teachers that they are my "shining lights".  They have embraced technology  in a way that I never thought would be possible at the beginning of the year.  They are pushing limits and finding new ways to move forwards.  They have given up thinking that every class has to do the same thing and are working out how technology can support the students in each class in different ways as  they understand that there are many paths to the same destination.  They are risk-takers.  I was talking about this earlier this week and I said that some of them had jumped into these changes because they believed in them, but others had changed their practice first, even though they might not have truly believed in it at the start of the year - but with changed practice and seeing how it worked, has come changed beliefs.  I am proud of every single one of these teachers for how far they have moved this year.  I am especially proud of our 2 classes who have started quad blogging this week with schools around the world.  (If you would like to visit these quad blogs here they are:  3N Kids have published poems, photos and music using Animoto and 3K Kids have published poems and artwork using VoiceThread.  They would love comments.)

    There are some other shining lights in different grade levels too.  I don't teach 4th grade this year, but I was recently asked to help out with a photography course being run by one of these teachers as part of the How We Express Ourselves unit of inquiry.  I didn't need to do much helping - she already knew what she wanted the students to do and how she wanted them to do it, my support was basically making sure the wireless network was working properly (she's in a portacabin so the wireless is not always great), and helping students save their work in the correct place.  The photographs the students took with her were outstanding.

    Another Grade 4 teacher started a writing blog with his class this year.  Students have been publishing their work as eBooks embedded into the blog.  Yet another teacher in Grade 1 started using Pixie to have her students tell stories.  These were also published on her class blog.  If you would like to see what these students have been writing please click on the following links:  4S Writers' Workshop and 1B's Writing to Entertain.  Both these teachers have got Clustr maps in their sidebar and the students are always excited to see who is reading their work.

    Since today is Tuesday, I spend the day at one of our other campuses.  Last week I introduced digital storytelling to the students in Grade 4 as they are working on their How We Express Ourselves unit of inquiry.  Earlier this year I did digital storytelling with our Grade 3s on the main campus and introduced a different tool to each of our 4 classes there.  This time I decided to introduce all 4 tools to all the students and let them choose themselves which way they wanted to tell their stories.  They had the choice of making a strip cartoon, an animation, a photo story or an eBook.  The most popular choices were animations and eBooks.  Now this class is always a challenge to me because the students have to use laptops and there are not enough - this whole year I have never actually taught a lesson where all students have had a computer to themselves - often they are sharing 2 or 3 students per laptop.  Last week, therefore, it was not possible for all students to start making their stories.  Today however I was surprised and delighted to find that some students had already finished their stories - they did them from home.  Others had not only finished off their stories, but had created their own private accounts to use at home too.  Today the students asked me could they publish more stories - could they try out several of the tools and not just one of them - could they write more at home too? Their enthusiasm is so contagious!  Hopefully mine is too!

    Earlier this week I was also talking with a colleague about how to capture this enthusiasm and use it to move everyone forward - students and teachers.  I know some schools have students who are producing tutorials for teachers or who are acting as tech-suport buddies in their classes.  I'd love to connect with teachers who are doing this to find out how it is actually working.  Please leave me a comment or get in touch by email if you can give me some feedback or tips.  Thanks.

    Photo Credit:  Ninja cat by Robert Couse-Baker

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    21st Century Learners need 21st Century Teachers

    I was reading a post today from Derek Keenan on the Developing Education blog.  Derek lists 5 traits that are essential for teachers who are working with changing students and practices.  I am copying these from his blog post below, please click on the link to read his full post and the interesting comments made about it.

    1. Driven to Learn - Educators absolutely must be driven to learn in order to teach effectively in the 21st Century.  It is no longer acceptable to teach only from a textbook, to rely on the same worksheets an methods year after year without at least questioning them and researching why they are the best resource available.  There is simply too much new information, too many new strategies, and new learning available to us to ignore the implications it may have for students in our classes.
    2. A Media Creation Expert - Whether posted online or simply used in the classroom, our materials must be highly engaging and effective.  Powerpoint and Word are becoming antiquated as newer and more powerful presentation and editing suites become available to teachers.  It is our responsibility to compete (where necessary) with the quality of video games and media construction in order to hook students into great learning.  As media conscious teachers, we can win student attention by working with them, not against them, for their learning.
    3. A Digital Navigator – Not many teachers would consider themselves digital natives, but we must understand enough about digital content and how it is used to effectively operate in our student’s world.  This means having social media accounts and understanding how they are used, even if you don’t use them specifically for learning.  We must be familiar enough with the new digital landscape that we can help students navigate their journey online, even if we don’t (or can’t) join them.
    4. An Empathetic Mentor – Gone are the days when teachers dole out assignments and send students on their merry way.  A modern educator realizes the plethora of factors impacting students in our current world, and strives to tailor learning where possible toward individualized needs and interests.  This student-centered focus also creates learning opportunities for the teacher to learn with students, developing their teaching and collaborative skills.
    5. A Technology Harmonizer – As teachers of our time, we must realize the implications of pervasive technologies such as smart phones and highly mobile tablets/computers.  In addition, we must find ways to ‘make it work’ with technology, which may include enlisting students to help or (as in trait 1) learn more about the technologies we are using.  One of the keys here is that we work at making the technology work (in the best way we can) so the lesson becomes about the learning instead of the management of machines.
    Some reflections on these:

    One of the things I've been impressed with this year is the way some teachers are driven to learn.  Oftentimes this drive comes from teachers new to a team or a school.  They are learning about the PYP programme here, the units of inquiry that the students are studying and perhaps they are also teaching a different grade level than they have taught previously - they HAVE to learn and take on-board new things.  Others are happy to talk about what they did last year and to recycle some of the old activities.  Despite the fact that we are told to "start with a blank planner", some find it hard to do that.  And now that we have moved all our planners onto Altas Rubicon, I'm wondering how realistic this is too:  it seems we actually have to delete the things that are on the old planners each year, rather than starting with a new one (this is new to us this year and it may be that it actually works better in practice when we revisit these units again next year - time will tell!).  I know at school this year some teachers are unhappy because they have been told they have been teaching the same grade for many years and now it's time to move to a different grade.  However I think this will be a very rejuvenating experience.  It's time to move away from what Ian Jukes refers to as TTWWADI (that's the way we've always done it).  In the grades that I have taught this year I love the way that the teachers are questioning their practice and embracing change.

    This year some of our teachers have also been driven to create in new ways.  They have been blogging and as a result have been finding out how to post and embed media into their blogs.  I think that this will be given a big push forward as we start to quad blog.  Already I've seen teachers using YouTube, VoiceThread, Animoto and Issuu to publish student work on class blogs.  In Grades 4 and 5 students all have their own blogs and are using Google Docs.  This is also pushing teachers to think in different ways about creating and collaborating.

    Social media - an interesting one that.  I assumed most of our teachers were on Facebook at least, simply because I am and I have many friends who are colleagues and ex-colleagues.  I know others are on Twitter, LinkedIn and are using various nings and wikis (not as many as on Facebook for sure, but the numbers are growing).  However in the light of plans for parent education sessions, a couple of teachers and administrators have mentioned that they do not use these at all - though their students do.  Again I feel it is a responsibility of teachers (and parents) to be aware, at least, of what their students are doing.  To be alert to signs of problems so that they can deal with them.  At my last school I decided to explore Second Life, only because I knew the students were using it.  I'm now asking myself should I also be exploring some of the popular games the students are playing? (Rob Newberry has written a great post about Minecraft and how he uses this with students in an after school club).

    I know we are moving forward here - but my question is, as always, are we moving far enough?  Are we moving fast enough?  Are we really the teachers that our students deserve?

    Photo Credit:  Building a New World by Jaki Lopes dos Santos

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Are teachers doing too much of the work for their students?

    I came across this TED talk from Priya Ganesan yesterday on the Tech & Learning blog. Bob Sprankle's post is about play time, using the Sandbox Mode.  As it happened yesterday afternoon I was helping one of our teachers who was subbing in Middle School for another teacher who was away.  She was doing Grade 6 IT and asked me to pop by to help with a lesson on Photoshop.  I was interested to read her sub notes and to find the teacher had asked the students to "play in the sandbox" - to discover how to move things from a layer on one image into another image.   It was great to see the enthusiasm of the students, how they problem-solved and how they were able to help each other out.  Actually I learned a couple of new things about Photoshop during this session too!

    Bob Sprankle posted the above TED talk after he met Priya Ganesan at the TEDxRedmond conference. This is what he says about her talk on creativity in schools:

    You'll hear her talk about her experiences in school where "half of the work" has been done for students, as in her example about writing a poem. She questions why schools don't trust students of being "capable" to create the entire poem themselves. 
    This is a profound question. Does it actually have to do with trust, or are students provided half of the poem to speed things along in order to get through the curriculum? Or is it a matter of control... making sure that all students reach the desired (successful) outcome? No matter what the reason, Priya brings to light that students aren't being allowed to fumble on their own; aren't given the time to create an entire piece independently; are restricted by strong routines set in place.

    Are we as teachers ---unwittingly, and with the best intentions--- doing too much of the work for the students?
    As anyone who reads my blog regularly will know, I'm all for choice, for allowing students to use different tools to express their understanding.  But yesterday I caught myself out too.  I was teaching a group of Pre-Kindergarten students and I wanted them to be able to draw closed shapes with the pencil tool and fill them in with the bucket.  I thought it would be a good reinforcement of the work they'd done in maths on different shapes and at the same time give them practice in the different tools in the Pixie drawing programme we were using - the pencil tool, how to change the colour of the line, how to change the thickness of the line, how to use the bucket.  So I tended to give them very specific instructions.  I asked them to name different shapes that they could draw, I asked them to choose a different colour for each shape, and a different colour for filling in each shape.  I asked them not to use the "textured" fill patterns.  I even told one student to change the colours he was using when I noticed that he was just copying the work of the student on the next computer.

    So now I'm reflecting on this.  Did the students' final drawings look a bit "samey"?  Did I do too much of the work, or too much of the thinking for these students yesterday?  Did I limit their creativity?  Did I have an idea of what "good" looked like and try to steer them in this direction?  Should I do it differently when I have anothert class of PK students next week?

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Reverse Instruction as explained by Salman Khan

    Salman Khan's TED talk explains how the Khan Academy works and how important it is for students to master something at their own pace and then move on to something more advanced.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    Differentiated Assessment

    This school year I've been thinking a lot about the type of assessments students are doing and about how these can be differentiated.  I've been trying to give students more choice in the IT they are using to show their understanding.  Here are some things I've been trying out as well as ideas that I still want to work on:

    • Being more open-ended:  for example with our Grade 3s when they were doing narrative storytelling (adventure stories with that involved decision making) the task was the same for all students but the tools they could use were different.  The idea here is not to be too rigid in what the end product should look like, but to be sure that what we are assessing is the understanding, not the use of the tool.  As someone said recently "painting by numbers only shows how good you are at following instructions".  Often in the past I've given different assignments to different students, now I'm realising that we just need to give the students multiple pathways to a target and not a different target,  showing that there are different ways of getting to the same goal, letting the students choose which is the best way for them, and then providing the support and scaffolding the students need to succeed.
    • Observing the process more:  In the past I've tended to assess the final product - and many students have ended up with a similar product which has shown very little about their IT skills or abilities.  The product is important, it must be relevant, but I've come to realise more and more it's the process that counts.
    • Focusing on the learning, rather than the achievement: making sure that all students are challenged and are learning something new.
    • Encouraging more reflection and discussion:  accepting all answers but then asking students why they think that or why they have done things in a certain way.
    Photo Credit:  18 pans of paint by hddod