Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Today's new learning about concept-based curriculum and instruction

While I was a NIST I had concept-based curriculum PD based on the work of Lynn Erickson, but it's truly an honour to be in the 2 day workshop being hosted at ASB with Lynn.  While I'm familiar with most of what we did today, there's also some new learning for me that I want to share with you.

The Structure of Knowledge and the Structure of Process
Now I've been familiar with the structure of knowledge for many years - this is something developed by Lynn back in 1995 and it looks like this:

Lynn explained today that this model works well with subjects such as social studies and science - those traditionally heavy in content dealing with facts and topics which are locked in time, place or situation - but was seen as less useful in process driven subjects such as the Arts, foreign languages and English language arts which are more skills based and focused on what students are expected to be able to do, not the fact that students are expected to know.  In 2012 Lois Lanning came up with a similar model for the Structure of Process - this was new learning for me.  If we look at the 2 models side by side we can see how they work together.  This image is taken from the Corwin website - the publishers of Lynn and Lois's book Transitioning to Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction.

First of all both these models show the lower cognitive levels of facts and skills at the bottom of the diagrams, moving up to principals and generalizations at the top.  In fact Lynn explained to us today that both are essential in any subject.  For example social studies, which draws upon facts, also requires students to understand skills (for example research skills), and process orientated subjects like art also requires students to develop knowledge and understand facts.  In our table group today we talked about these being like the difference between the consumer and the creator - knowledge being the consumer where facts are put together into concepts and then generalizations, and process being the creator as it is focused on the craft of the subject.

No-no verbs in central ideas
I've talked about these at PYP workshops that I've led when participants have been writing central ideas.  These no-no verbs are:  affects, impacts, influences, is, are and have.  The reasons for this is that they lead to "weak generalizations".  Other no-nos include using the passive voice, using proper nouns and pronouns.  Of course I've seen many PYP units that have these in their central ideas, so what we worked on today was to rewrite the central ideas to get rid of them.  

Moving from Level 1 to Level 3 generalizations
Central ideas that contain these no-no words were referred to as Level 1 generalizations.  To get better generalizations or central ideas it's first necessary to ask the questions "how?" or "why?" Here's an example:

Level 1:  All cultures have celebrations
Level 2:  Celebrations express traditions of a culture

Now for most units of inquiry it would be perfectly OK to stop at a Level 2 Central Idea.  However at times it might be worth going further and trying for a Level 3 generalization.  The example continues as you ask the "so what?" question:

Level 2:  Celebrations express traditions of a culture
So what?
Level 3:  Traditions help unify a people

As you can see, when moving from Level 1 to Level 3 the ideas grow in sophistication and become clearer.  Lynn advised us to be careful with this - roughly 2/3rds of all central ideas should be at Level 2, and only 1/3rd at Level 3 - and obviously you also need to take account of what ideas are developmentally appropriate.

Finally this image is a photograph I took of a cartoon in our workbook.  It deals with what happens in schools when students are exposed to more and more factual knowledge.  In the Early Years, Lynn explained, many things that might later on be regarded as topics in school are actually concepts at that age.  Because of this engagement is high.  However beyond Grade 3, when conceptual engagements decline and factual knowledge increases, motivation also generally declines between Grades 4 and 12 as we have to "cover" more content.  Contrast this with the bottom cartoon, where concept-based instruction is now introduced into Grades 4 to 12. You can see that students become more positively motivated - and that both conceptual engagement and factual knowledge increase hand in hand.  
It has been a great day of learning at school today - and I'm excited to go back tomorrow to learn even more!

Structure of Knowledge image taken from the following blog post:  Concept-based Learning by Edna Sackson
Image comparing structure of Knowledge with Structure of Process is taken from the following blog post:  What you need to know about the Structure of Process by Corwin

Concept-based curriculum and instruction

I'm in a 2 day workshop with Lynn Erickson on concept-based curriculum and instruction.  For our "homework" tonight we are in groups of 9, each of us reading a chapter from Lunn's book Transitioning to Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction.  I was happy that when we numbered off, I ended up with number 8, thus having to read Chapter 8 which is about what principals and coaches need to understand about implementing concept-based models in schools.

Now, I have to say that for over 20 years I've worked at schools that already have a concept-based curriculum - the PYP.  However I've also consulted with schools that are moving from a more traditional way of teaching as they have decided to take on the PYP.  As with any new curriculum, change is hard - and those leading the change need to consider up-front what they can do to both to avoid the stresses and failures that might be associated with change, and to sustain any changes that do take place.

In Chapter 8, Lynn writes about how to set the stage for curriculum implementation.  This falls into 3 main steps:
  1. Examining the hidden impediments to change - for example principals who do not provide the necessary support will certainly make change less likely to succeed.  Some people embrace change (the early adopters) and others are reluctant to move out of their comfort zones. Coaches and principals need to consider the different personal characteristics of their teachers to help them to successfully implement change.
  2. Setting up the learning team - some schools know they need to change because students are struggling, yet teachers in these schools may be reluctant to change because of past failures. Conversely, schools that are experiencing success may not see the need for a change towards a concept-based curriculum.   In both cases, setting up a school learning team made up of teachers and instructional coaches is important before implementation.  This team should have members that are well respected by their colleagues, have diverse perspectives and be committed to a concept-based curriculum.  It's really important that there are teachers on this team, as they are the ones dealing with the change and can help anticipate and resolve the problems, as well as help mobilise the buy-in of the rest of the teaching faculty.
  3. Shaping a shared vision - it's really important to show teachers what a concept-based curriculum looks like in practice.  The teachers who are the ones implementing the changes are often not the same ones that were part of the decision making and curriculum development process.  Many teachers who are expected to change their practices experience anxiety and fear of failure, so support, modelling and coaching are vital. 
When adopting a new curriculum teachers go through fairly predictable developmental stages:
  • Self-oriented - wondering what it is and how it will affect them
  • Task-oriented - wondering how they do it 
  • Impact - questioning how the change is working for students
Coaches need to recognise what stage their teachers are at and design differentiated job-embedded PD to address the level of concern that individual teachers have.

When adopting a concept-based curriculum it's also important to consider student assessment. Traditional assessments measure knowledge and skills, but often don't provide much data about student understanding.  Assessments will need to be redesigned in order to focus more on conceptual understanding.

I have had an absolutely brilliant time today and can't wait to get back to school tomorrow to continue the learning.

Photo Credit: Anne Davis 773 Flickr via Compfight cc

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A meeting in Bahrain

I was really excited to be invited to be part of the NESA (Near East and South Asia) Ed Tech Leadership collaborative.  This 5 person team from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Israel and India met in Bahrain last Sunday.  Our task to was to plan and lead professional learning for the NESA community.  Although this was only our first meeting I felt we got a lot done.  Below you will find our purpose statement along with the strands we identified as priorities for professional learning.  I felt a great rapport with the other members of this collaborative and look forward to working with them all again as we move forward.

Purpose Statement
The Ed Tech Leadership collaborative is designed to meet the needs of educational leaders by:
  • Providing a variety of sustainable professional learning opportunities; 
  • Nurturing innovative leadership; 
  • Fostering collaborative partnerships; 
  • Identifying and sharing best practices; 
  • Aligning and contextualizing policies and procedures; 
  • Defining areas and direction for professional growth;
  • Inspiring purposeful pedagogical change. 
  • areas of professional learning will your plan focus on?
Strands (the areas of professional learning we will focus on):
1. Technology leadership and coaching
2. Using data
3. Innovation and change
4. Personalizing learning
5. Technology and standards
6. Digital citizenship

I will be attending the NESA Spring Conference in Bangkok in March to be presenting on coaching and using data to personalize PD for self-directed learning.  I'm really looking forward to this!

Photo taken at the Bu Maher Fort, Bahrain

Monday, January 23, 2017

Social media - your partner in teaching

I heard from Danny Rabara Jr last week in response to my post about PD using social media.  He sent me an article about using social media in education and asked me to share it on this blog. Now I don't often respond to people who work for organizations who try to get me to publish their work in order to promote a service they offer, but this resource was a bit different from most. Having read it through I thought it contained some valuable information and I did want to share it.

The article starts by referring to the fact that the way we search for and consume information has changed dramatically over the past 20 years.  Now most people search for information online, and as well as this by subscribing to various apps and feeds, information comes straight to you.  Because of this social media is referred to as "your partner in teaching".

The first part of the article gives reasons for teachers to be on social media.  These include using it to teach digital literacy and helping students to become better digital citizens.  Other advantages are keeping current with breaking news and sharing your class news with your students' parents.  As well as this you can become part of an online community of fellow educators using tools such as Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.  There's some good advice too about keeping your personal and professional life separate on social media.

The second part of the article is an in-depth analysis of several social media tools and the educational benefits of using them.  There are also suggestions on how to integrate the tools into class activities and a list of various educational groups that you can join within them.  The tools highlighted are Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat.  If you have never used these social media tools as a teacher, this article is a great place to find out how to integrate them into your class learning engagements.

Photo Credit: ePublicist Flickr via Compfight cc

Friday, January 20, 2017

Embracing the excitement and discomfort of innovation

I first met Tom Barrett at the Google Teacher Academy in London in 2010.   We stayed in touch via Twitter when both of us realized it was time to move on from our current jobs to new challenges (me in India and him in Australia) and recently I've enjoyed reading his Friday newsletters from Dialogic Learning.  This week he shared a document from the Australian Department of Employment about their innovation framework.  The document is about putting ideas into practice and calls upon employees to:
  • show courage to engage with new ideas
  • seek insight and be forward looking
  • collaborate openly
  • take calculated risks and experiment
The document also includes a great visual of the innovation process from discovery through to live (click on the diagram below to enlarge it).  Although this is a process aimed at employment and work places, I felt it was a good process to consider for schools as well.  As teachers we also want to inspire others with innovative ideas and we also recognize that good ideas come from collaborating with others.  Hopefully in schools we also embrace new ideas and people who want to drive change, and great school leaders also motive their staff to innovate by supporting, implementing and celebrating change.

The crucial role played by tech-leading principals

I came across the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Tech-leading Principals today.  These are:
  • creating an atmosphere that inspires innovation
  • fostering collaboration
  • being open to new ideas
  • being a connected learner
  • locating and providing adequate resources,
  • taking risks
  • having a visionary focus.
In the book Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology, Grant and Basye write "the importance of a principal's role as instructional technology leader cannot be overemphasized".  However many principals find technology, in particular mobile devices, to be challenging - they are the ones who end up dealing with the disciplinary issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate use, distractions, the dangers and misuses of the web and so on.  Often the conversation about how to keep students safe is about blocking technologies or access to websites.  However other principals realize that blocking technologies does students a disservice, and that an education that fails to account for the responsible use of mobile devices and social networks does not prepare students for the future.  Students need to learn how to be safe and responsible when the go online outside the classroom - as with their mobile devices they can be online anywhere.

Photo Credit: sekihan Flickr via Compfight cc

Standardized Testing and Personalized Learning

Here's an interesting thing I was reading this week:  a study by Hanushek and Woessmann has shown that improved academic scores in a country lead to improved GDP in that country.  However the academic scores measured by standardized tests are basically only science, maths and reading.  We know there are many other cognitive abilities that can also lead to success, in particular creativity, resilience and social adaptation also require cognitive ability, but these cannot be measured using standarized tests.  The premise of the study was that limiting assessments to just 3 subjects ignores a huge quantity of cognitive ability, and therefore a huge impact on GDP is not being assessed, and the call for action could be that a more holistic assessment of students' full cognitive achievements and abilities is needed by countries that want to really assess the impact on their GDP.

Standardized test scores are also not really effective in giving feedback to teachers about which curriculum and which lessons are most effective.  Since most standardized test take place once a year, it's hard to draw conclusions about which activities have produced those results.  For teachers, regular student assessments are more effective when the aim is to gather data that will guide learning and PD needs.  Parents also appreciate more timely information about their children's progress.  The best type of assessment for personalizing instruction is an electronic one where students are given more or less challenging questions based on their responses, so that the results provide a more accurate assessment of students' skills that a paper test.  In general, the conclusion that Grant and Basye come to in their book Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology is that online assessments are the most effective in helping teachers to get the support they need to truly help students using thoughtful, real-time data.

Photo Credit: The Advocacy Project Flickr via Compfight cc

Monday, January 16, 2017

Diversity makes us smarter

This summer I became Irish.  I did this as a response to the Brexit vote in the UK because I wanted to "stay European".  I was really disappointed that all the scare-mongering that went on prior to the election focused on erroneous perceptions, such as migrants taking people's jobs, and the idea that everyone coming to live in the UK should "blend in" in some way, by espousing the notion of becoming British.  Many people were duped in believing that migration is something we should be anxious about because it can lead to conflict. Now at this point I have to mention that I grew up in East London amid quite a bit of diversity.  My school friends were Indian, Irish, Italian and Polish. Some came from even further afield such as Nigeria, Hong Kong and Bermuda and I have to say I loved all the diversity.

Today I was reading a Scientific American article from around 2 years ago.  It was actually shared by a Dutch friend of mine that I met while working in Thailand.  The article was entitled How Diversity Makes Us Smarter and was basically about how being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.  Basically the article pulled on research from a variety of countries to show that:
  • people with diverse expertise do better than a homogeneous group at solving complex problems - being exposed to diversity changes the way you think.
  • interacting with people from different backgrounds leads to new information, opinions and perspectives, and forces people to prepare better, anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.
  • diversity enhances creativity as it encourages the search for novel information and perspectives leading to better decision making and problem solving, and higher-quality scientific research.  
  • innovative companies perform better when women are part of the top leadership and when there is greater racial diversity - interestingly this is because when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.
  • when members of a group notice they are different from one another, they change their expectations and anticipate that they will need to work harder both cognitively and socially. This hard work leads to better outcomes.
The bottom line is this:  we need diversity—in teams, organizations and society as a whole—if we are to change, grow and innovate.

Photo Credit: Sanj@y Flickr via Compfight cc

Using technology to personalize learning - part 4: different tech integration models

Last weekend I received an email from Jon Bergmann, a flipped learning pioneer, that contained a link through to videos he has made about the technological decisions that have to be made by a school when considering moving to a flipped learning model.  There are 18 videos in this series, and together they take about an hour to watch.  They contain information about various topics, such as the costs, infrastructure, interactivity, support, training and issues around student privacy and safety.   This course is free to join and can be found at this link.

Along with looking at these videos this weekend, I've also been reading more in my free eBook from ISTE about personalized learning.  As I'm in a 1:1 school, I was particularly interested in the chapter about how a 1:1 model can change the way teachers teach and so move instruction into more of a personalized learning direction as teachers have more ways of reaching and assessing different types of leaners.  The chapter basically deals with different instructional models, which as well as flipped learning also include blended, online and mobile learning.

Flipped Learning - is a pedagogical approach that moves direction instruction from the group space (the classroom) to the individual learning space (the home).  Students use their computers both at school and at home, though a lot of the instructional material posted by teachers such as videos, text files and so on is for students to access at home at their own pace, and class time is spent on guided practice, experiments and projects.  Often in class the Socratic method is used, so that teachers will pose questions and students will work collaboratively to solve problems.

Blended Learning - a combination of both online and face-to-face instruction that gives students some control over the time, place and pace of learning.  In this model multi-media technology can be used both inside and outside the classroom to give more interactive experiences.  With this model creating high quality resources is vital so that "students work at their own pace and experience success on an individual level, using a range of digital tools and resources to improve their ability to think, communicate and collaborate."  Blended learning allows the creation of more personalized learning experiences which in turn leads to much better results that traditional methods.  "By elegantly blending assessment with daily classroom instruction, technology-based learning platforms can serve as the cornerstone of revolutionary educational change.  They have the potential to personalize the learning process, support teachers in enacting best teaching strategies, and help students meet ambitious and rigorous standards."

Online Learning - this can be online classes, tutorials and wikis, and students can often take these courses to supplement the options being offered in schools.  For example I know of many IB schools who encourage students to take courses online that are not offered in school, in particular students who want to study a language for which there is not a local teacher.  In online learning, games, simulations and chat rooms are valued for the role they play in learning.

Mobile Learning - increasingly tablets and smartphones are being used in learning activities both in and out of school, often alongside laptops.  Studies have shown the dramatic impact of mobile devices on students who struggle with learning - at my school a mobile device is now a requirement for our academic support teachers.

One thing we talk a lot about in my school is student choice.  Certainly one way to personalize learning is to let students choose what and how they learn (for example in student-led inquiry) and in how they show their understanding through more open-ended assessments.   I'm thinking right now of our upcoming PYP Exhibition, where students have a wide choice in how they present their understanding and during the PYP Exhibition process the teachers monitor the students progress through blogs and shared slideshows.

Looking at the above 4 models of technology integration it does appear that technology gives teachers much more choice in how to personalize student learning.

Photo Credit: CAFNR Flickr via Compfight cc

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Using technology to personalize learning - part 3: meeting the needs of all learners

I'm back in Mumbai again, and reading on in the book Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology by Peggy Grant and Dale Basye.  This section of the book, on personalizing learning for all learners, has sections on at-risk students, students with disabilities, gifted students, and English language learners.  However because this is a blog about technology, the part I was really interested in was where the authors divide tech tools into 5 educational areas:

Literacy resources
What this is:  blogs, ebooks and discussion forums
How these help personalize learning:  students can use their own preferred learning styles to engage in topics of interest, and can also access multiple texts on similar topics.  Text-to-speech tools can make these resources available to a wide range of students.

Web tools
What this is:  podcasts, wikis, media editors and aggregators
How these help personalize learning:  students can use these to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways, they can share their work with an authentic audience, increasing motivation.  Students can use these tools to show what they are learning.

Digital information resources
What this is:  encyclopedia sites, podcasts, expert websites and blogs
How these help personalize learning: Web research is the most common use of technology in today's classrooms and students are able to use these resources to interact with content and experts to explore subjects and topics

Social networking sites
What this is:  sites that allow students to network with others
How these help personalize learning: Students with special needs can build up a network of similar students and connect with educators and experts.  This can help students who feel isolated because of problems communicating, and can help them to build constructive relationships with others.

Learning management systems
What this is:  systems that help teachers organize instruction and communicate with students and parents
How these help personalize learning:  Providing a platform for accessing content and keeping records of students' progress.

It was interesting to see how these tools have been divided.  From a PYP perspective, two of these categories are helping students to investigate and inquire, one is helping students to organize,  one is helping students to communicate and collaborate and one is helping students to create.  In the next post I'll be thinking about different types of tech integration and how these can impact student achievement.

Photo Credit: flickingerbrad Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Using technology to personalize learning - part 2

I'm reading on in the eBook Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology by Peggy Grant and Dale Basye and am making a list about the benefits of using technology for learning:
  • Opening up the classroom and connecting with experts
  • Giving students choices about how, when and where they learn
  • Enabling students to take online courses in subjects that are not normally offered in their schools
  • The possibility for utilizing more frequent formative assessments
  • The ability to extend the learning day and school year
  • More collaboration with peers
  • Enhanced research through electronic libraries and online tutorials
  • The ability to engage with simulations, role plays and real-world models
  • The ability to bookmark and organize websites being used for research
Of course for personalized learning it's also important to have face-to-face interactions as well as online learning - in fact studies show that these interactions lead to better accountability when students are online.  Teachers need to be mindful that meeting students' needs involve an alignment between online and offline instructional strategies.

Photo Credit: flickingerbrad Flickr via Compfight cc

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Using technology to personalize learning

Because I recently renewed my ISTE membership, I was given the opportunity to download a free eBook - my choice was Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology by Peggy Grant and Dale Basye.  During my last week in the UK before returning to India I decided to read through this book and share some of my thinking here on the blog.

One of the first things addressed in Chapter 1 of this book is the characteristics of personalized learning.  Briefly it takes account of:
  • students' interests and abilities
  • learning content/standards through real-world activities
  • teachers' roles changing to become facilitators rather than dispensers of knowledge
  • students being in control of their learning by setting their own goals for building skills
  • technology that can enable student choices about what they learn, how they learn and how they show their understanding
  • technology that can assist formative assessment, address weaknesses and build on strengths
  • progress based on proficiency of skills and understanding
  • technology being integrated to support learning
One new thing I learned in this chapter was about the 2010 initiative Project RED (which stands for Revolutionizing EDucation) which looked at the ways that technology can improve student achievement.  Project RED came up with 7 major findings, which are worth mentioning here:
  1. Implementation factors that lead to success include:  technology integrated into every intervention class period, leadership providing time for teacher professional learning each month, technology being used daily for online collaboration, technology being integrated into core curriculum, online formative assessments being done weekly, daily searches for information, principals being trained in best practices.
  2. 1:1 schools that employ all the key implementation factors outperform all other schools
  3. When properly implemented technology saves money - on average a 1:1 classroom saves around $400 per student per year.
  4. Change must be modelled and championed at the principal level
  5. Technology-transformed intervention improves learning
  6. Online collaboration increases student engagement, productivity and learning
  7. The daily use of technology delivers the best return on investment
Project RED came up with 4 recommendations:
  1. Technology should be frequently integrated into the curriculum to personalize learning for all students
  2. Professional learning in the effective integration of technology for teaching, learning and assessment should be a high priority
  3. Social media, games and simulations should be used to engage students and excite them about their learning.
  4. Online assessments should be used to provide data to help tailor instruction, remediation and accelerated learning.
As Project RED is already 7 years old now, I'd be interested to know whether there has been follow-up studies done in those schools that implemented the recommendations.  Hopefully this will be addressed as I read through the rest of the book.

Photo Credit: hackNY Flickr via Compfight cc

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Ongoing assessment and feedback - another IB webinar

About a week before the end of school, I took part in another IB webinar, this time on assessment. The graphic above was really helpful in focusing in on the topic of this webinar and the cycle we should be going through as IB teachers.  I really wish I'd had the time to blog immediately after the webinar, since quite a lot of what was discussed has now retreated from my mind, but thankfully I did manage to jot down a few thoughts on Twitter at the time.  Here are some of the questions that emerged from this webinar:

  • Tools and strategies for assessment - are we over-relying on just one or two?  One suggestion would be to map this out to see what patterns emerge.
  • Authentic summative assessment - Could students do the assessment at the beginning, before even starting the unit? And if so, how would it look like compared with summative?
  • Impact of assessment on teaching and learning - are we designing assessments that support good teaching and learning?  And alongside this, is the feedback that we give students helping to reduce the gap between where they are now and where they need to go next.
  • Is assessment a scrapbook or a snapshot?  We need to think about more holistic ways of viewing and assessing learning, for example combining observations and dialogue along with the products that students create.
There was a great graphic shared about the stages of assessment.  Again I really like the assess - record - report cycle indicated here.  

Assessment is a really huge topic.  It has come up several times as a topic for the #pypchats on Twitter and I know that whenever I lead a Making the PYP Happen workshop it's something that the participants want to know more about.

I really love this series of webinars as it gives me the opportunity to dig a little deeper into my understanding of various aspects of the IB programmes.  I also appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the other IB programmes that I don't actually teach.  I really hope that these webinars continue in 2017.