Surprise in the cloud…

It should have been a disappointment that my School in the Cloud session is cancelled today, as I was looking forward to reconnecting with the girls at GGSS in New Delhi after their summer break. Instead I end up enjoying a delightful individual interaction with a surprisingly articulate twelve year old…

Jaya, the first student back at school after the summer, greets me with a ‘Hullo Mam’ and I wonder momentarily how we’ll manage to last the forty minute session in limited English, without a whole group to share the conversation. After a brief introductory chat about family and how much she enjoys playing with her three year old niece, I ask about the school holidays.

Jaya draws herself up and talks confidently about an organised school trip to various sites around Delhi. I’m captivated by her enthusiastic description of the hands on activities at the Science Museum, an exciting visit to  Chhatarpur Temple and an interlude at Indira Gandhi Park. She talks about her first ever encounter with soldiers, what she noticed and what she found out from them. She tells me about games they played in the park and offers to demonstrate next time when the girls are back at school. I’m impressed by her thoughtful commentary on what she observed and how she learned from each experience.

I ask Jaya whether she feels she learns more at school or through experiences such as these. We talk about the difference between this kind of experiential learning and the kind that happens at school (especially traditional Indian school) where the focus is on marks and tests. When poor sound or unfamiliar accents limit communication, we use written chat to confirm mutual understanding.

‘I think you can learn much more on your own,’ she says. I ask if she knows that Professor Sugata Mitra, founder of School in the Cloud, believes that children can learn by themselves. ‘It’s true,’ she says… ‘but you still need school and teachers to teach you other important things.’

When time is up, I congratulate Jaya on her English and tell her how much I’ve enjoyed our conversation. After the call, the site coordinator sends me a message to say how impressed the school is by the progress Jaya has made through these interactions.

Hours later I’m still thinking about the grace of this lovely young lady, her eagerness to learn and her appreciative retelling of the kind of excursion that students at my privileged school take totally for granted.

Once again I am reminded of the opportunities for mutual learning which these interactions create.

* If you’re interested in joining the Granny Cloud, read more and apply on the School in the Cloud website.

Becoming a true digital citizen – a bit like a first date

Guest post by Michael Stafford, newly active digital citizen…

Becoming a true digital citizen was quite nerve-racking. After a workshop focusing on Digitial Citizenship, I was inspired to change the way I interact through digital media. 

After a quick self-reflection it was obvious that I fell under the label of ‘consumer’. I consumed goods through the platform of Ebay, I consumed professional resources through a range of teacher websites and I consumed a range of useless facts and irrelevant updates about people I hadn’t seen since I was twelve through Facebook. I wasn’t creating anything for others and there was nothing I could consider meaningful interaction. I guess I was ready for things to change.

Here is where I’d like to introduce my vehicle to becoming a true digital citizen – Twitter. This is where the first date similarities flood in. I was entering an arena where I did not know much at all. The layout, etiquette, basic functionality, hashtags, little @ symbols….. how on earth did this work? As far as I could tell everyone was an expert already except for me. I wanted to get involved but for some reason was strangely nervous. Self-doubt crept it’s way into my mind. What if I did a bad tweet? Would I come across as an idiot? Would they like me? How would I sound professional in my bio without sounding like I was big noting myself?

After asking the Twitter world a few questions and getting quick and informative answers, I could see the benefit of it all. First date going well…. not sure what I was so scared about. However, one of my questions threw me right in the old deep end. “Would anyone be willing to help out my class with their learning?”. Within a day I had attention from India, South Africa, China, Singapore and just up the highway in Melbourne. They were all keen to connect through Skype. This digital relationship was about to go to the next level. Besides the sweating, increased heart rate and mental over-preparedness, the first Skype call actually went really well.

The students’ learning has been amplified through rich, authentic and meaningful connections and we now have peers that we can reconnect with in the future. I am now extraordinarily excited to see what else comes out of it.

It all came down to risk vs. reward really. Risk a bunch of little ego related worries and the reward can be huge. I’m glad I took the risk.

@mstafford1988

Making the PYP really happen…

It was the first time I had led a ‘Making the PYP Happen’ workshop and it was for teachers at my own school, so I approached the planning with a strong sense of responsibility. How would I ensure the workshop was valuable and would impact on practice?

MTPYPH is a workshop for teachers new to the PYP and its name describes it. The purpose of the workshop is to support participants, not just in understanding the principles and practices of the PYP, but in actually ‘making it happen’ for themselves and their students in their own particular learning environments.

The philosophy and underpinning principles of the PYP correlate closely with my school’s beliefs about learning. One of our new teachers (with a background in PYP schools) said ‘ The difference is that you LIVE the PYP here’. I’ve thought a lot about what that means! It means we go beyond fulfilling requirements and ticking boxes. It means we are not afraid to question or challenge the aspects that are less compatible with our beliefs. It means we constantly reflect on how best to make it meaningful in our context.

So planning the recent workshop, with my colleague Joc, included thoughtful consideration of how to take it ‘beyond the book’ and make it relevant and thought provoking. We wanted to focus on the big ideas in order to  help the teachers make connections between the separate elements.

This unit map was helpful in pulling the elements together and went far beyond the original intention (as learning experiences do when the learners take control!) The teachers changed the directions of the arrows and added their own as they realised connections and developed new understandings. This led to ideas for how to improve and develop the unit map for future use.

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The workshop focused on  inquiry, concept driven learning and constructivism. Teachers explored the PYP curriculum model and essential elements through the lenses of these big ideas, by inquiring, focusing on big ideas and constructing meaning themselves, both collaboratively and through individual reflection.

It’s been gratifying to hear them reflect on the shifts they are already making…

  • What I previously saw as disasters, I now recognise as opportunities for learning.
  • I’m realising that the less I talk, the more students do and learn.
  • I’m not planning the learning in advance so much. I’m allowing the learning in each lesson to shape further learning.
  • I’m accepting that learning is messy and realising that students are not all on the same learning path.
  • I’m not so stressed about ticking boxes and completing tasks. The learning is more organic as I hand over more to the kids.
  • I’m stepping back a bit, allowing the students to lead more, reflecting more as a teacher…
  • Relinquishing control, choosing intentional questions so the children can have more ownership of learning.
  • Providing more opportunities for student choice.
  • More opportunities for problem solving and collaborative thinking.
  • Trying to make more connections across different learning areas.
  • I’m reflecting more with my class on the learning.
  • I’m allowing myself to be more of a messy learner, pursuing my own learning and developing the bigger picture of the whole child.

Seems like they ARE making the PYP happen.

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Collaboratively reflecting on what we can learn about students from various samples and photos…

A sense of loss…

Layla, my colleague and friend, has retired very suddenly for personal reasons. Processing my sense of loss, I have this to say…

Would you like to work in a place where you have time to absorb and process one idea before racing on to the next? I’d rather work with Layla.

Would you like to work in a place where you have the space to just be, without disagreement and constantly being challenged? I’d rather work with Layla.

Would you like to work in a place where things are always crystal clear, precise and well mapped out for you? I’d rather work with Layla.

It’s easy to work with people who think in the same way as you do (or don’t think much at all) – You make a suggestion, they agree. They make a suggestion, you take it up. No argument, no raised voices… no progress?

New staff witnessing dialogue between Layla and me are often taken aback. We argue, we disagree, we force each other to examine our beliefs, clarify our goals and adapt our thinking. This is real collaboration and what grows out of it, is dynamic and exciting … often leading to meaningful change.

It’s easy to relax and go with the status quo, accept things because they are good enough or because they have always been done a particular way. It takes courage to constantly question and to fight for what you believe in, even if you upset people along the way.

I’ll miss my thinking partner. I’ll miss pushing her into a corner and making her explain her thought process, examine her motivation and justify her thinking. I’ll be looking out for someone passionate with strong beliefs about learning, who’s not afraid of change… because I need to be pushed in exactly the same way myself.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like being challenged, who doesn’t value debate, who isn’t able to take the seed of a creative idea and use your imagination to grow it yourself into something flourishing… then you might not miss Layla.

I know I will.

Teacher appraisal is dead…

Teacher appraisal is dead. We killed it.

THE GOAL: Teacher-learners, who…

  • constantly reflect on and strive to improve their practice
  • are open to ideas and challenges
  • respond to meaningful feedback
  • plan for learning with our learning principles in mind
  • engage in professional dialogue and reflect collaboratively
  • actively seek to learn, grow and change…

THE PROBLEM: None of this was achieved by appraising teachers in the traditional manner we used in the past. A fleeting visit from the head, capturing a moment in time in the classroom, ticking some boxes in terms of ‘performance’… What purpose could that possibly serve? How could we address our school goal of ‘using data to inform teaching and improve learning’ and harness the success of our new coaching initiative to make a real difference to teacher development?

THE PROCESS: Our Teaching and Learning team unpacked our Learning Principles collaboratively. How would they actually look in a learning context? How would teaching and learning reflect our beliefs about how learning best take place? We created a ‘more like /less like’ chart for each of our learning principles, as seen in the draft example below (always a work in progress!) Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 4.00.32 pm The decision was made to replace appraisal with a growth model which would achieve the desired goals. Trialling the model with volunteer teachers brought us valuable feedback. Collaboration with our global network garnered further ideas for adaptation…

THE GROWTH REVIEW – A NEW MODEL BASED ON COACHING PRINCIPLES:

Step 1 – Teacher looks at the ‘more like/less’ like charts of our learning principles, reflects on his/her own teaching and self assesses how he/she is applying the learning principles.

Meeting 1 – Teacher and reviewer collaboratively explore and discuss the learning principles and select what the teacher will focus on.

Observation 1 – Reviewer observes for evidence of the selected area of focus, using the ‘more like/ less like’ charts as a guide to facilitate observations and records the data. Evidence might include conversations with students.

Meeting 2 – Teacher and reviewer discuss the data. Teacher reflects on the teaching and learning and the reviewer asks key (coaching style) questions to support the teacher in thinking about possible improvements.

Observation – Reviewer watches for evidence of the selected learning principles, and records the data. Focus on looking for improvements, new things being tried, application of points from the discussion.

Meeting 3 – Teacher reflects on the process with the reviewer, and goals are set for moving forward.

POSSIBLE FOLLOW UP:

  • Further observations and meetings if required.
  • Coaching.
  • Peer coaching.
  • Discussion about personal learning focus.
  • Suggested readings.
  • Team teaching.
  • Teachers sharing expertise.
  • Follow up, once a term to review progress in relation to goals.

Feedback and comments invited, as always!

Can you teach digital citizenship, if you are not an active digital citizen yourself?

It seems that a number of participants in my Digital Citizenship workshop imagined they’d be learning about cyber safety for three days! Is that what comes to mind for some people when they hear the term digital citizenship?

Instead, we explored what it means to BE a digital citizen and, by the end of the workshop, every one of them had become an active contributor online, developing confidence to participate as thoughtful, active citizens themselves.

Can you teach digital citizenship, if you are not an active digital citizen yourself?

During the workshop, participants reflected on the ways they engage online and categorised their online activities under the headings of CONSUME, CREATE or INTERACT.

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Participants also…

  • Googled themselves and considered the impact of having a positive digital identity, a negative one… or none at all.
  • Considered and prioritised the key competencies for our students (or anyone) to learn in order to participate in society today (online society too).
  • Connected with educators around the globe, via Skype and Twitter as well as face to face.
  • Explored our rights and responsibilities as digital citizens.
  • Debated the risks vs rewards of online participation for ourselves and our students.
  • Heard the perspectives of some enthusiastic and articulate Grade 4 and 5 students.
  • Inquired into digital citizenship through the lenses of the essential elements of the PYP – knowledge, concepts, attitudes, skills… but mainly ACTION.

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Some of the action…

Take a look at the brand new professional blogs by Tania, Joel and Leona and follow up on the action via Twitter…

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It’s exciting to see empowered digital citizens thinking about how to foster active digital citizenship in their students, instead of focusing only on the’ don’ts’ and the ‘dangers’.

I’m thinking about all the authentic learning about to happen in a real context…

Playing to learn…

Dear Shai

Your mom has invited me to present a session to student teachers in the Masters program where she works. She wants me to inspire them to focus on learning, beyond the content and methodology of their teaching.

All I need to do is show them a video of you going about your daily business. At 20 months, you are inquisitive and fearless, and you are actively learning almost every minute of the day!

 

Observing your self driven experimentation and learning  might help them value and encourage these qualities in their learners…

  • curiosity
  • independence
  • persistence
  • initiative
  • enthusiasm
  • creativity
  • courage
  • resilience

And it might encourage them to think about the process of learning…

Does learning best take place through sitting and listening, waiting for instructions or permission, responding to the teacher and demonstrating compliance? 

Or will the students learn more through…

  • active engagement and interaction
  • imagining new possibilities
  • experimenting and exploring
  • making connections
  • constructing meaning, individually and socially 
  • seeking and solving problems

and, even in high school students…

  • playing and creating?

Thanks for being my inspiration,

Love,

Granny xx

How do you listen?

Are you a good listener?

 

Do you nod and say ‘aha’ while thinking about something else? Do you make connections to your own life and hijack the conversation? Or do you really listen? Do you wait, ask clarifying questions, show genuine interest and thoughtfully consider your responses?

We explore these options as part of the GCI  Coaching Accreditation Course and I wonder briefly whether the presenters and participants think I’m not really listening, since my laptop is open and at any given time they might see Twitter, Google, Amazon or Youtube on my screen. Almost everyone else is taking notes with pen and paper.

I check with the world, and I appreciate the clarifying response from @CmunroOz:

Having just spent a week learning with @langwitches, I’m even more aware of the value of documentation, not just OF learning, but FOR learning.

I’m recording the learning, for myself, for others at my school… and for a global community of educators with and from whom I constantly learn. The documentation of today’s learning via my Twitter stream will be read by people whom I know in person, people I connect with online… and people I don’t know exist. (I might never know what they learned from my sharing!)

As the presenters speak, I distil the essence, documenting the big ideas via tweets. If a book is mentioned, I find the link and add that to the stream. As we go along, I Google the big names mentioned, make connections, share the video clips and add my own thoughts. If others in the room were doing the same, we’d be sharing the responsibility of documenting collaboratively.

At the end of the workshop, all the tweets, thoughts and links are collated into a Storify to which I (and you!) can refer later. It’s documentation OF and FOR learning – my own, that of my colleagues… and whom ever out there in the world is listening.

How do you listen?

Back Channelling in the classroom…

Does ‘the research’ know best?

“I think that enough research has been done on the delusion of multi-tasking to say, yes, do all the back channel stuff, but perhaps leave it to afterwards?” … This is part of a comment left on my previous post, in which I introduced the notion of back channeling as a form of documenting for learning.

Perhaps it’s a skill one can develop with practice, since many are able to do it successfully.

Or perhaps it’s best seen as part of a collaborative exercise. Different people capture different elements in the back channel and the combined results are greater than what you could have achieved on your own.

Or perhaps it’s simply not for everyone.

One size does not fit all

The comment writer says  “I take copious notes during presentations and then go back to blog on them, however I’ve tried at times to do the twitter backchat thing and find I can either listen properly or tweet, but not both.”

It’s the opposite for me. Personally, taking copious notes is what distracts me from the content. Distilling the essence in tweets works better for me. One size does not fit all… nor should it. Not in life and not in the classroom.

Which is why @langwitches introduces teachers to a range of different options in her presentation. And it’s why she introduces the students to a range of options in the lessons she models throughout the week.

Back Channel in the classroom

‘The back channel is the conversation that happens behind the real life front conversation,” says Silvia by way of introduction to Today’s Meet, which the students will use to document their thinking during this particular lesson. ‘You’re going to have your own chat room.’ The students are instantly engaged!

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It takes a bit of time for them to get used to watching a video and expressing their thoughts in the back channel simultaneously. Some find it easier than others, but that’s ok. They are all learning to use the tool today. Once mastered, it can be just another option in their tool boxes (and that of their teacher) to add a layer to the learning, used by those for whom it’s useful at appropriate times.

After a while, Silvia switches to the ‘front channel’ to discuss what’s going on in the back channel. When a student writes something inappropriate, it’s a ‘teachable moment’ and she happily takes the opportunity to talk about audience and purpose.  Hopefully, lessons are learned. She skims through the comments with the students, highlighting valuable contributions, listening to their observations and pointing out good techniques, like inserting an @ when replying to an individual. Silvia points out that the teachers observing in the room are learning too.

The learners are practising a range of transferable skills – reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking, analysing, applying, interpreting data, decision making, evaluating…

Students comment ON the back channel IN the back channel:

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How might you use the back channel in future?

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 2.44.25 pmAnd some other ideas…How about sharing a back channel with another class in our school for a discussion?  Or a class in another country – synchronously or asynchronously? What if teachers shared their learning with their class while they are out at professional development? As Silvia says ‘It starts with imagination… ‘

The back channel as a source of data

Silvia meets with the teachers later to unpack the back channel. The process involves pasting the transcript into a google doc and ‘cleaning it up’. Any irrelevant comments (lots of ‘hi’s’ and ‘sups’ to begin with) are removed. Misconceptions are noted for addressing. She shows the teachers how to use Skitch to annotate a screenshot of the remaining conversation with different colours representing different kinds of observations.

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Some students were able to repeat points they heard in the video, some asked and responded to questions, some connected ideas and demonstrated original thinking. It’s a rich source of data to inform teaching and learning and a way to assess a range of skills.

Documenting OF and FOR learning

And all the while, we are documenting the learning, that of the students and that of the teachers, through photos, video, annotations and notes…

Simon

and via ‘that’ Twitter back channel…

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What are your thoughts on back channelling?

#2 in a series on learning with @langwitches