Monday, November 21, 2016

Meaningful learning

Since the IB webinar last week, I've been reading and thinking about learning:  not just acquiring knowledge but being able to use this knowledge in a variety of new ways and situations.  One of the articles I read was by Richard E Mayer on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.  I was interested in this because we use Bloom's Digital Taxonomy in our tech audit when discussing student work, and I wanted to dig a bit deeper - to go beyond the 6 categories.

Obviously, two important goals of education are to promote retention and to promote transfer.  Retention simply means that students remember material that was taught to them in the past, whereas transfer indicates more meaningful learning as it's the ability to use what was learned to solve new problems or to answer new questions in the future. Teachers traditionally teach for retention, possibly because it's easier to assess, whereas transfer is more complex as students not only need to build their knowledge, but also need to build their cognitive processes in order to devise ways of achieving a goal that they have never previously achieved.

  • Remembering - this is the lowest level of Bloom's yet it is essential that students can retrieve knowledge from their long-term memory in order to use it in more complex tasks.  If the goal of teaching is meaningful learning, then remembering is simply a means to an end, and not the end in itself. 
  • Understanding - this is where the shift from retention to transfer starts.  In his article, Mayer argues that this is where the largest category of transfer-based educational objectives are emphasized.  Understanding involves building connections between new knowledge gained and prior experience.
  • Applying - this is where students use procedures to perform exercises or solve problems.  This may be to a familiar task (for example being able to divide) or to an unfamiliar task, which is often called implementing.
  • Analyzing - this is where students break material into parts and determine how the parts relate to each other.  Analyzing can also involve students being able to determine the point of view, biases or values embedded in the material.
  • Evaluating - this is when students make judgements based on criteria and standards, and are able to determine how well something is working.  It can involve critiquing (critical thinking).
  • Creating - this is when students can put various elements together to form a coherent and functional whole - it involves making a new pattern or structure, for example when designing an original project.  
It was good to revisit some of these definitions again and to consider the implications for teaching.  If we want to promote the transfer of learning then we really need to be designing learning engagements at the higher end of the taxonomy.  It also has implications about what and how we assess.  If we as educators want to promote transfer, then we need to design assessments that go beyond recognizing and recalling.

Photo Credit: ggrosseck Flickr via Compfight cc

Sparking learning

I took part in an IB Strengthening Programme Implementation webinar last week.  There were around 850 people participating in this webinar from across the Asia-Pacific region, and our focus for this session was on the written curriculum.  It was great to be part of this webinar, to consider the IB Mission Statement and how it frames learning in our schools and also to become more aware of a new upcoming Principles into Practice publication for the PYP, aligning it with same language as the other IB programmes, and of course ensuring that the 5 transdisciplinary skills - now referred to as Approaches to Learning (ATLs) - are common to all programmes.

As well as the Approaches to Learning, we are now talking about common Approaches to Teaching. These are:
  • based on inquiry
  • focused on conceptual understandings
  • developed in local and global contexts
  • focused on effective teamwork and collaboration
  • differentiated to meet the needs of all learners
  • informed by assessment (formative and summative)
We had some great discussions, including how we are not just trying to cover content, but instead we are trying to spark learning.  We talked about how the written curriculum must identify the knowledge, concepts and skills to be developed across the whole IB continuum, and the importance of having mixed teams to look at the units.  In particular the importance of starting with the concept was stressed - not just adding them into existing units.

One of the slides shared in the webinar was this one, based on the work of Lynn Erickson.  With this we started with a world map showing locations of ancient civilizations, for example around the Nile, Tigris and Eurphrates, Indus and Yellow rivers.  From that came the facts and topic about population distribution.  Identifying the concepts based in these facts and topic led to the concept of pattern, and finally to putting concepts together into a central idea:  Natural environments influence population distribution patterns.

As we focus on ensuring the learning is engaging, significant, relevant and challenging, it's important to remember that  "a good inquiry statement is unlikely to be understood by studying it once."

A large amount of reading material was sent to us along with our webinar invitations.  I've been ploughing through this - in particular all the papers about Bloom's Taxonomy - and will be blogging about this shortly.

Above all else, being part of this community and the hashtag #ibstrong on Twitter has enabled me to feel really connected to the IB programmes as they develop.

Photo Credit: The Sales Whisperer Flickr via Compfight cc

YES - Youth Employment through Skills

I don't usually post these things on my blog, but this did seem to be a worthy cause as it combines education, technology and a country close to where I'm living now that really does seem to need such opportunities for its youth.

Bangladesh, one of the world's most densely populated places and also one of the poorest countries, has found a way to face the problem of 41%s of Bangladeshi youth not being a part of the education system, employed or in training. The idea is a crowdfunding project called YES (Youth Employment through Skills).

The online freelance market is exploding - over 5 million companies are posting over 100 000 paid jobs every week. Organizers of Youth Employment through Skills found a way to bridge the gap between the millions of ambitious Bangladeshi Youth and the $2 billion freelance market.
The idea is to enable 100 000 youth across Bangladesh to become IT freelancers. By providing access to training, finance and mentorship, they will be connected on the online freelance market, earning up to $300 per month. The program is created to teach youth in-demand IT skills, communication skills and freelancing skills.

Within six months of graduating from the YES Program, students will earn up to $300 per month. Over a period of 3 years, he or she can earn up to $10 000 through online freelance jobs. This means $1B earned by 100 000 Bangladeshi Youth over 3 years.

If you wish to find out more about this project you can visit the   Indiegogo Campaign page.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Becoming knowledgeable about thinking

One of the "hardest" thinking skill that is contained in the PYP Approaches to Learning is metacognition, thinking about how you think and learn.  This knowledge can be divided into 3 different categories:
  • Strategic knowledge - knowing general strategies for learning - basically the what and how of the different strategies (for example how to memorise, extract meaning, comprehend what they are hearing or reading, to set goals, to check their answers and so on)
  • Cognitive knowledge - knowing when and why to use the strategies because not all strategies are suitable for all situations
  • Self-knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses.  Accuracy of this is really important - it is not the same as good self-esteem which might include inflated and inaccurate self-knowledge.
It's important to teach for metacognition as part of regular teaching - discussions about thinking should be an everyday part of the classroom.  As students hear and see how other students approach a task, they can compare their classmates' strategies with their own and make judgements about how useful the different strategies are.  It's also important for us as teachers to plan assessments where students can develop their self-knowledge by assessing their own strengths and weaknesses.

Metacognition enables us to be successful learners.  How are you developing this thinking skills in your students?

Photo Credit: Sidereal Flickr via Compfight cc

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Work is the new retirement

When I started work in my 20s, the retirement age for women in the UK was 60.  It's quite disturbing to me that if things had remained the same, I would be looking at working only 2 more years as a teacher beyond this current school year.  What happened was that the goal posts changed.  As the government realised that people were living longer and that their retirement pensions were having a huge impact on the budget, the retirement age gradually increased.  I'm now looking at working 10 more years until I can retire on a pension - and even then I might not be able to if I haven't managed to save enough into my retirement fund.  Is this an alarming prospect - not really because I love work.  What is scary though is that once I turn 60, or even as I approach 60, schools will no longer find me attractive as an employee.  My years of experience will count for nothing against the younger and cheaper teachers entering education.  I may need to work for another 10 years, but will I be able to?  Will another school employ me?

This is an interesting thing to think about in the light of the GRC fair (Global Recruitment Collaborative) - the first free face-to-face job fair for teachers in the world, held in Dubai last weekend.  Which teachers were most successful in getting jobs, the older and more experienced ones, or the ones just out of college with little or no experience?   While figures are not yet in to answer this question, it's certainly something worth considering as I wonder if or when is the right time for me to look for a new job somewhere closer to my family.

I read an article in the Harvard Business Review about this today.  The traditional stereotype of people in their 60s and 70s is that they are less interested in work and looking forward to the leisure time offered by retirement.  However a survey of 10,000 people between the ages of 24 and 80 showed that this is not really the case.  Many of today's 50 year olds will need to work into their 70s in order to finance their retirement, and many of today's 20 year olds could find themselves working into their 80s.

One of my mother's cousins used to work for the University of the Third Age in the UK.  This implied that there were 3 stages of life:  education, work and retirement.  The U3A was an attempt to bring learning to retired and semi-retired people in their "third age", not for qualifications but for its own reward:  the joy of discovery.  Currently there are branches of the U3A all over the UK where people come together to learn for pleasure.  There are around 300 different subjects in various fields including art, languages, music, history, computing and so on.   However even this concept is changing.  Rather than there being 3 stages of life, education, jobs, freelancing and time spent out of the workforce will increasingly become part of all stages of life.

What the HBR survey did was to find that the stereotypes we have about people of different ages just don't seem to be true.  It's not a case of young people being more interested in learning new skills and older people wanting a slower life.  Here are some of the findings;

  • People invest in new skills throughout their lives - almost everyone feels that their skills are not keeping up with changing work demands.  Over the age of 45, almost 60% of respondents said they were up-skilling
  • People of all ages are positive and excited about work - it was constant at about 50% of all respondents, regardless of age.  The really troubling thing is that the other 50%, regardless of age, are not!
  • People of all ages are concerned about keeping fit - only about 50% of the under 45s actively keep fit as opposed to 71% of the over 70s.
  • Older people are not more exhausted and less productive - in fact the opposite is true.  43% of the under 45s reported being exhausted with work, compared with 35% of those over 45.  The least exhausted are those over 60.
  • Older people don't want to slow down.  In the age group 46 - 60 more than half said they wanted to slow down in contrast to 39% of over 60s and 20% of over 70s.
  • People of all ages want to explore - it's not just 20 years old who want a "gap year".  
This is the important thing:  because ageist stereotypes abound, many companies (and schools) believe that older employees invest less in their knowledge and are less excited by their work - this leads them to making the wrong decisions about who to select, promote and develop.  The call to action in this report is this:  we need to face up to stereotypes and challenge them - only then an we create workplaces where people are accepted for themselves - young or old.

Photo Credit: dankos-unlmtd Flickr via Compfight cc

Monday, November 14, 2016

A new reality: after the Internet of Things comes the Internet of Everything

I was sent an article today about the Internet of Everything (I0E).  This term was new to me.  I'd heard of the Internet of Things (IoT) of course, where physical objects that contain technology can be accessed through the internet - basically the emphasis is on machine to machine.  The IoE goes further than just objects.  It is the intelligent connection between people (through smartphones, tablets and PCs), data, processes and things.

Basically the IoE builds on top of the IoT because billions of objects will have sensors that will measure and assess their status. The IoE is driven by the development of IP-enabled devices and the increase in global broadband availability. This will impact business in new ways:
  • Business processes - technology will improve products, services and processes
  • Business models - as companies digitize products and processes more transformational changes will happen.  Examples of this are the sensors in Nike clothing now being able to play a part in healthcare, and Google getting involved in self-driving cars because sensors can detect objects and relate them to maps.
  • Business Moments - all these objects that contains sensors will generate real-time data, which can be collected, analyzed and stored.  Privacy and security concerns may well increase.
A great quote from the article is from Dave Aron of Gartner:
Digital is not an option, not an add-on, and not an afterthought; it is the new reality that requires a comprehensive digital leadership.
The IoE was listed as a top trend by Gartner last year.  The prediction is that businesses will soon be making extensive use of IoE technology.  Products that will be impacted by this include medical devices, factory automation, robotics, and infrastructure monitoring systems (roads, railway, water, electricity).  Cisco predict that the IoE is a $19 trillion global opportunity, mostly for private-sector firms.

Are you ready for the IoE?  What opportunities and threats do you think we need to consider?

Photo Credit: perspec_photo88 Flickr via Compfight cc

Change Ahead!

The Primary Year Programme (PYP) has been around for almost 20 years now.  It's the largest of the 4 IB programmes, covering up to 9 years of school, and is currently the fastest growing of all the the IB programmes.  It's now implemented in more than 100 countries worldwide.   Several years ago the IB embarked on a review of this programme to respond to advances in educational practice, and updates are posted regularly on the Online Curriculum Centre (OCC).   The aim of the review is to ensure that the PYP continues to be relevant, challenging, significant and engaging.

The document issued in June 2016 sets out 8 principles that permeate the PYP to help teachers design learning that is significant, relevant, challenging and engaging.  These principles are as follows:
  • Developed in meaningful contexts - basically this means they have personal relevance to the learners.  Having just facilitated an online workshop on collaborative planning which had a learning engagement about how students can be partners in the process, I'm interested to read that there will be more focus on learner agency and involving students in the planning process from the outset.  My hunch is that this will mean the PYP becomes more student-centred, as they will be given more opportunities to "take initiative, develop ownership, conduct peer feedback and self-assessment and are consulted in the decisions that affect them."
  • Inclusive and values diversity - there will be more emphasis on individualization and defining learning goals with each student.  Inclusivity implies all students are capable and benefit from meaningful and challenging learning experiences.  Again the emphasis is on students being partners in the education process.
  • Conceptually focused - the focus is on the learner constructing thinking and applying new concepts in creative and innovative ways.  While concepts reach across subject boundaries, there also needs to be more understanding of the disciplines within the transdisciplinary framework.
  • Fostered in supportive environments - these environments (including resources, time, people, spaces and materials) promote collaboration, inspire creativity and allow for experimentation and failure.  Tech integration is addressed here to aid and extend the learning and to link to the world beyond the school.
  • Based on inquiry - learning is based on our curiosity to explore and investigate and is a social process.  Students wonder, ask questions, think critically, research and test theories as they build their understanding.  The review will give additional guidance on balancing planned learning engagements with exploration.
  • Informed by assessment -  we need to use evidence to determine whether goals have been reached and to make decisions about what to learn next.  Feedback to scaffold learning is an essential component of this.
  • Sustained by relationships and collaboration - because learning is a social practice we need to focus on interactions within and beyond the learning community.
  • Focused on challenge and high expectations - we know that our expectations have a powerful influence over motivation, persistence and achievements.  The PYP review will consider self-efficacy and how it can be enhanced because when students believe in their capacity to learn they are most likely to succeed.
The PYP review has been ongoing for about 4 years now and in 2018 will culminate in the release of a new document PYP: From principles into practice.  The idea is that this will not be a PDF, but an interactive digital one-stop resource for PYP teachers.  I'm really excited to know more about this digital resource and about the PD that will be involved in developing and enhancing the programme.

Photo Credit: molossus, who says Life Imitates Doodles Flickr via Compfight cc

Thinking about the thinking hats: creative and critical thinking

This weekend it was another TTP at school (Teacher Training Programme - which we offer to teachers who work at local NGOs).  I always love doing this because it's great to work with such a dedicated group of educators, especially as many of them are working in extremely challenging situations.  This Saturday's TTP was especially great for me, however, as we had a morning workshop on the 6 Thinking Hats, run by one of our parents who is a trainer in this method.

Philip started his session with a 1 minute exercise - to look around the room and write down what you can see.  I managed to write down 16 things.  He then changed the directions - we would be still looking around the room for 1 minute but this time we would do it in 15 second chunks - to look at the front of the room, the ceiling, the back of the room and the people in the room.  This time I managed to jot down 27 things.  It was clear that when we were channeled and targeted that we were able to get more out of the exercise.

Philip then went on to explain the principle of parallel thinking and explained that the idea behind the 6 thinking hats is to all be thinking in one direction at a time (like train tracks).  Generally, without direction, we adopt one of four thinking preferences:
  • Clarifier - making sure everyone knows what we are trying to solve.
  • Ideator - someone who comes up with expansive and often wild ideas
  • Developer - someone who takes the ideas and refines them
  • Implementor - the person who takes action.
Edward de Bono's research into the mind in the 1960s led him to develop an interest in creative and lateral thinking, which in turn led him later into developing his model of parallel thinking.  He pointed out that critical thinking is great for a career in parliament or the law courts, but not great if we are trying to encourage creativity.  Critical thinking is related to only 2 of the 6 hats.
  • White Hat - this is the information hat.  When wearing this hat you look for information and assess how accurate and relevant it is.  You can also consider other points of view.
  • Red Hat - this is the feeling hat and covers perceptions, intuition and emotions.
  • Yellow Hat - the first of the critical thinking hats - looks for the logical positive value of something - why an idea has value and how it can work.  This is the most difficult of the hats.
  • Black Hat - this is the second critical thinking hat - looks for logical negatives such as the problems and risks associated with an idea.  This is the hat of caution.  Philip said that the black hat can be the most useful hat - but it is also easy to overuse it.
  • Green Hat - this is the creative hat that encourages you to ideate and consider alternatives, possibilities and choices.
  • Blue Hat - this is the hat that helps you frame the problem and it's worn by only one member of the group.  Philip likened this to the air traffic controller or the conductor of an orchestra.  The role of the person wearing this hat is to look down on the whole process and at thinking as a whole.
Another great analogy for the 6 Thinking Hats is that of a set of golf clubs - you deliberately choose which one you will use for a particular shot.  Without the different golf clubs (hats) it's like just using one club for all the different shots.  Alongside this is the idea that creativity can be learned - we all have the potential to be creative and we can learn to be more skilled to maximize our potential.

Which hat do you use first?  Well mostly you would start with the white and the red hats and then move onto the yellow and black.  However the order does vary depending on whether or not the topic under discussion is a controversial one.  If you use the black hat first you may be getting rid of ideas that would work if the green hat was then used to work on them.  In those situations it's better to start with the yellow hat so that you immediately recognize all the good points about the ideas.  In fact De Bono said that the yellow hat was his favourite.  However if the subject is a controversial one it might be better to start with the black hat - but be sure that what is discussed is black hat and not red hat thinking!

With the red hat, it might be useful to do a group check on feelings.  We did this with a quick "love it or hate it" continuum.  If the feeling is spread across the whole continuum then the group is not ready to make a decision.  The red hat can be used several times throughout the process, for example to do a personal or group check or to get feelings about a decisions (parallel thinking).  The green hat can also be used in different ways.  It can be used for designing and brainstorming new ideas or it can also be used to overcome issues, for example to fix some of the black hat issues or difficulties (lateral thinking).  Philip explained about lateral thinking being like a roundabout - there are many different options and if one way isn't working you can come back to the roundabout to choose a different route.

Philip spoke a lot about creativity.  He said that creativity is the best and cheapest way to get added value from your exiting assets.  It's a logical necessity.  As time passes we get more, new information and we have to make use of this new information.  Being right at each stage is not enough - you have to go back and redesign or recreate when new information comes in.  The order information comes in will determine the outcome.  You don't know the future so you can't arrange for the future.  With creativity it is logical only in hindsight - so we don't need better logic we need more creativity and we must learn the skills of creative thinking.  He explained that the 6 Thinking Hats are a way of "designing accidents".  For example here in India we frequently experience roads being blocked during the monsoon season.  This necessitates us having to search out new routes.  Sometimes as we do this we make happy discoveries - maybe a new restaurant that we would not have found had we stuck to our regular route.  What De Bono's thinking hats do is to design these "accidents" to generate ideas.

There could be 2 reasons why you want to use the Thinking Hats for ideas - these could be "active" to design something, or "reactive" in response to something.  The blue hat person will design the sequences which might look like this:

Active:  Blue - White (info) - Red (feelings) -> Green (ideas) - Red (feelings about ideas) - Yellow (value of ideas) - Black (risks of the ideas) - Green (overcoming the risks) - Red (new feelings about the ideas) -> Blue

Reactive:  Blue - Red (feelings) - White (info) -> Black (if controversial) or Yellow (value) - Black (risks) - Green (ideas) - Black (risks based on new ideas) - Green (ideas) -Red (feelings) -> Blue

This week in India we have been faced with most of our currency (the 500 and 1000 rupee notes) being abolished.  We used this as a case study.  We started with our feelings (most in my group were fairly negative) but after going through the process we were able to generate many ideas as to how we could make the best of the situation and reduce the impact on those people who are most struggling (those small businesses who rely on the cash economy).  We ended this session feeling much more positive about the currency changes and the reasons behind the government's decision.

Have you used the Six Thinking Hats?  I'd love to hear about your experience.

Photo Credit: jnd_photography Flickr via Compfight cc

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Startling Statements

Over the past week I've worked with both Grade 4 and Grade 5 students on writing assignments that are summative assessments for their units of inquiry.  In Grade 4 students studied ecosystems during Sharing the Planet and inquired into various factors that were impacting them (for example pollution, global warming etc). Their summative assessment was to write a speech that could be presented at the UN to bring governments of the world together to try to save an ecosystem or tackle and environmental issue.  Students had to decide if they were going to save an ecosystem, which one should it be and why, or if they were going to tackle an environmental issue and which issue should be tackled first.  The teachers worked with the literacy coach to design the assessment and to teach the students techniques of persuasive writing.

In Grade 5 students have just finished Where We are in Place and Time.  In this unit they discovered that history can be learned through the study of people, places and artefacts.  For their summative assessment they chose a person, place or artefact that they wanted to research, and a curation tool for collecting their information and then had to decide themselves on a way to share their research with other students.

With both Grade 4 and 5, teachers worked with the students to come up with an attention grabbing beginning to their writing.  This could be a startling statement that would hook other students into their presentations.

As I was thinking about startling statements, I came across an article shared on Facebook by Kim Cofino.  This article was entitled Make Time To Do Your Best Work.  As I read it through, I found there were many attention grabbing, startling statements that seemed to speak directly to me.  I decided to share a few of them here.

This month I've started to take over the mentoring one of our student teachers, who is going to take over from a teacher who is due to start maternity leave after the Christmas holidays.  This mentoring is on top of everything I already do.  At the same time, because I'm thinking that I may need to take extensive periods of leave next year to care for my mother, I've also started to think about what is vital to do in my job, and what is not.  Could I drop 20% of my job, and spend that time with my mother?  The article I read today helped me to put some of this into perspective.

The first point made was that it's hard to say no - and that causes us stress as we are trying to do too many things and not getting satisfaction from doing them as well as we can.  Basically the only way of dealing with this is to say "No" to some things, so that we have more time to do other things well. It's not possible to be a multi-tasker and split our attention among many things:  to do our best work we have it give it all our attention.

But that's hard to do - and here comes the first startling statement:
A goldfish attention span is 9 seconds.  And as from 2015 a human is 8 seconds.
Many things suck at our attention - for example our phones, which apparently we check around 221 times a day!  If we eliminated some of these distractions (2-3 hours each day without wifi or phones) then that 2-3 hours of focused work would be equivalent to other people's 8 hours.  Cal Newport, in the book Deep Work writes "They may be working longer, but they will be doing shallow work." This is because when we get distracted it takes around 20 minutes or so to get back into the flow.

So here's another startling statement:
Most people don't ever do their best work because they give up before they have mastered all the skills required to do it.
According to Malcolm Gladwell everyone can learn the talent to do their best work, but not everyone has the patience to practice until they are good enough to deliver it.   And this is where passion comes in:  most people don't really love what they do.  If you do love it, then the passion to improve is what will drive you - and the practice will be fun.  Work will not feel like work when you love what you do:
10,000 hours of learning can be a short time when you love it.  Or an eternity when you don't.
So finally we get to purpose - which is the multiplier of effort.   When you have a reason, when your work matters, then you refuse to quit even when things get tough.  It comes down to this:  to do your best work it has to matter to you.  Knowing your purpose will help you be the best that you can.

Photo Credit: cusp kid Flickr via Compfight cc

Pauses and soundbytes

It's election day today in the US, and although I work in an American school, I've tried my hardest to distance myself from the emotions that surround this election and the political leanings of both colleagues and students.  However it has been interesting to look at the techniques that have been employed by the candidates to try to influence the electorate and persuade people to vote for them.

To be honest, over the past month or so I've been very busy with things out of school - designing an online workshop, facilitating an online workshop, and leading a couple of PD opportunities for teachers in Mumbai.  Because of that I've been thinking about adult learning and the things that I can influence, such as my presentation and skills.

I've written before about the power of pausing.  I read a bit more about this recently, also tied to politicians.  In Bob Garmston's book The Presenter's Fieldbook, he advises us to "employ an extended period of silence before making a point ... speakers who do not pause for long enough may sound subordinate."  Garmston cirtes the research done by Iain Ewing who analyzed the speak patterns of French politicians and he discovered that the more important the speaker, the more slowly he or she speaks and with more and longer pauses.  For example he analyzed the speeches of Mitterand in 1974 when he was in opposition and running for president and found that around 30% of his speeches were pauses, with an average length of 0.8 seconds.  However when he analyzed the speeches of Mitterand in 1984 when he was president of France he found that 45% of the time in speeches was pauses, and that the average length of these pauses was 2.1 seconds.  Garmston mentions other notable speakers who also spoke slowly and with lots of pauses:  Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

Now along with this he noticed that the most important points of these speeches were delivered as "soundbytes".  This style of speaking became popular as an effective communication strategy during the 1988 US presidential elections.  Analyzing speeches before this time, for example during the 1970 election, the average soundbyte for candidates on the network evening news was 42.8 seconds.  However by 1988 it had fallen in 9.8 seconds, and by 1999 it was 7.3 seconds (about 20 - 25 words).  I'd be interested to know what it was for the current elections!

Pausing, and thinking about how to get the most important point across as a soundbyte are certainly things I can work on to improve the effectiveness of my presentation skills.  Before I use this with adults, however, I'm going to try it out with a couple of classes to see what the impact is on student learning.

Photo Credit: Marc Wathieu Flickr via Compfight cc

Friday, November 4, 2016

Developing a designer's mind

Back in September I attended the Presenter's Forum in Denver in order to further my goal of becoming a Cognitive Coach trainer.  I was also hoping that learning more about presenting would lead to me delivering better presentations in the future.  At the time I was working on designing an online workshop for the IB on digital citizenship, preparing for a tech integration workshop for Consilience, and preparing to lead a 3-day Making the PYP Happen workshop in Mumbai.  One of the things I really hoped to do was to develop a designer's mind so that the presentations I would eventually give would be really useful for the participants.

According to Bob Garmston, design thinkers ask 4 questions when planning a presentation:
  • What do I want the participants to learn?
  • How will I know they are learning it?
  • What strategies or approaches will I use?
  • What can I learn by designing and delivering the content and how can that inform refinements?
When I thought about it, the first 3 of these questions reminded me of the Learners Constructing Meaning model that we find in the PYP:

The Pathways to Learning Model, developed by Lipton and Wellman and referenced by Garmston in his book The Presenter's Fieldbook is similar:

When designing my recent workshops I tried to put these ideas into practice.  For example in the activating and engaging phases I tried to show my adult learners that we are all experts - we bring with us a wealth of teaching experience and we know about the context in which we work in our schools.  Often as teachers we already have a lot of prior knowledge, so the initial step is to activate this, to have the participants talk about what they know and to get this knowledge into their working memory so that new information has something that it can stick on to.  At the start of each day of the workshops I tried to have the participants actively engage with each other.  The message I was trying to get across is that adults socially construct their understanding - I expect them to be interactive, not just passive recipients of knowledge.  I explained to them that I would not be talking for more than 20% of the time - they would be expected to work together and share their knowledge with each other.  Garmston explains that using interactive strategies right from the start provides psychological safety for the social construction of meaning.

Once the participants were active and engaged, I then planned my next set of engagements, which was to have them explore and discover.  This is the point where new information can be introduced. At times I did give a short lecturette (for example a short history of the IBO), and at other times I expected the participants to read and interact with articles and publications (for example through paired reading, jigsaw or visible thinking protocols).  All these activities were designed to tap into the participants cognitive processing skills.

Finally we moved into the organize and integrate phase.  Here participants had to organize and integrate the new material to make it their own.  Again I employed various strategies such as KWL charts, diamond rankings, making visuals and so on as a way of re-ordering knowledge.  Garmston tells us that this stage is "the work of the learner, not the presenter ... it is the stage at which learners crystallize meaning for themselves."

At this point in the design process, it's important to think about the balance between content and process.  At the Presenter's Forum this was likened to chewing gum, the gum being the content and the chewing being the interactive engagements that are designed to help the participants receive, process and apply the content.  When designing a presentation it's vital to consider how much gum and how much chewing is needed:  the content has little or no value unless it has been chewed.  The following image, taken from the ASCD website, explains this in more depth:

If your aim as a presenter is simply to raise awareness or to share knowledge, possibly you want to give a lot of content, interspersed with short periods of processing.  If you want to develop skills, then more time is needed for processing.  With attitude development you will need to process at the start, and then introduce the content later.  Finally for application you might want to design a lot of content at the start and then time at the end to apply what has been learned.   I tried a combination of all of these approaches in my workshops, though often had to think on my feet.  At times things took much longer or shorter than I'd anticipated.  Sometimes I had to provide more gum.  Sometimes I had to let people chew it for a bit longer.  A couple of things I decided to leave out altogether in order to allow more chewing time.

Generally I feel I learned a lot from the Presenter's Forum that I was able to put into practice right away.  I also videoed myself presenting - I haven't yet had the opportunity to watch this video, but I'm hoping that by reflecting on it I'll be able to hone my presentation skills even more.

Photo Credit: canonsnapper Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Energizers - a new site to explore

A few years ago ASB began its journey with Responsive Classroom.  This approach to teaching addresses academic, social and emotional growth with an emphasis on HOW children learn, as much as WHAT they learn.  The idea behind Responsive Classroom is that academic success is tied to building social and emotional competences.

One feature of the RC training is energizers, which can be used to pump up the energy in a class, or alternatively to calm students down.  The idea behind energizers is that students need frequent physical and mental breaks so that they can continue to function well, both socially and academically. Energizers are short, playful, whole-group activities that are used as breaks in lessons.  Energizers improve behaviour and attention, strengthen classroom cohesion and lead to better academic performance.

Today I was in a 4th Grade class and found they were using a new website for their energizers - it's called GoNoodle.  I stayed and participated in this activity and was really impressed.  The students had just come in from recess, where they had been running around.  Before they were ready to sit at their desks and research for their unit of inquiry, it was necessary to get them to calm down and focus.  For this the class teacher chose the calming activities on GoNoodle.  There are 47 different activities here - she asked the students to choose one (they chose Manage Frustration which is just under 4 minutes). We did several poses together and reflected on what to do when a challenge is frustrating (take a break and start again).  There are hundreds energizers on this website ranging in duration from 1 - 10 minutes and categorized into dance, free movement, sport and exercise, stretching, kinesthetic learning, coordination and calming - at various energy levels.  You could quite literally do one a day for the whole school year and never need to repeat one - though in fact I noticed that students had favourites that they asked for again and again.  Best of all GoNoodle is completely free.  It's certainly worth giving this site a test run in your classroom.