The way we present ideas influences how they are received…

I was surprised by the number of slides tweeted from a recent literacy conference that lacked a sense of visual literacy. Even the most seasoned presenters sometimes seem unaware of the negative impact their slides have on the delivery of their messages and ideas.

Visual literacy has been described as ‘the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of (still or moving) images, extending the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text’. (Bristol and Drake 1994). It’s not just about consuming though. This definition is missing the ability to create meaning through visual media too.

It is this literacy that underpins our new Year 5 PYP unit of inquiry in the trans-disciplinary theme How We Express Ourselves. 

Central idea: The way we present ideas influences how they are received.

Learners will explore examples of animation, short film, images and presentations to see what makes the delivery of ideas and messages effective. Through their exploration, they will deepen their understanding of techniques and develop criteria that they can apply to their own use of visual media for presenting ideas and messages.

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‘We are a visually illiterate society. Three R’s are no longer enough. Our world is changing fast—faster than we can keep up with our historical modes of thinking and communicating. Visual literacy—the ability to both read and write visual information; the ability to learn visually; to think and solve problems in the visual domain—will, as the information revolution evolves, become a requirement for success in business and in life’. – Dave Gray, founder of visual thinking company XPLANE.

 

Self challenge: A post a day for a week. #4

Alignment of practice with beliefs…

A river needs banks to flow. Think of Learning Principles as providing the banks, within which professional prerogative, academic freedom, and teacher creativity can flow.’ Jay McTighe.

It was at a session with McTighe that I was first introduced to the idea of learning principles, an articulated set of shared beliefs about learning, that underpin decisions and practice within a school.

At the time I wondered if we needed such principles. As a PYP school, we already had a framework and a common language. Our school already had a vision and a mission statement. But it turned out to be a vital process with a powerful impact on teaching and learning.  Over time we’ve explored what each principle looks like in practice and we constantly examine the alignment of beliefs with practice. We came to realise that these principles applied just as much to teachers’ learning as to students’. These days we use the learning principles as a springboard for our growth reviews, a non judgemental, coaching based opportunity for teachers to work with a partner from the Teaching and Learning team on developing their practice in line with chosen goals based on our learning principles.

I recently spent an afternoon with a committed and enthusiastic group of teachers at Preshil Primary School working on the first stage of developing their learning principles.

Considering conditions for powerful learning.  Participants shared examples of deep and powerful learning they had experienced or observed with their students and then considered the defining characteristics of such learning. What are the conditions for powerful learning?

Examining learning theories.  They examined a range of learning theories and placed themselves on a continuum for each. To what extent does each of the theories align with what you believe about learning?

Writing belief statements about learning. Individuals wrote their own belief statements then shared, refined and prioritised them in groups. What do you believe about how children learn best?

Evaluating belief statements. The whole group examined, sorted and evaluated the statements. Which beliefs align most closely with yours? Which would you like to see included in your school’s learning principles?

Next steps…

  • Refining and finalising the learning principles.
  • Unpacking what they might look like in practice.
  • Examining alignment of beliefs with practice.

I look forward to hearing how things unfold!

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Self challenge: A post a day for a week. #3

Kids communicating with kids…

“Hands on heads. Now shoulders. Where are your shoulders? Well done!”

This is the first time Jess and Tyler, two Aussie Year 6 students interact via Skype with preschoolers at KNB, Phaltan, as part of the Granny Cloud project. The little ones on the other side stare wide eyed at these two strangers on the screen. Who knows what they they are thinking!

On the Phaltan side, the session is facilitated by 13 year old Shruti, whose English and computer skills were enhanced by her own Granny Cloud experiences over a number of years. She confidently guides, encourages and translates as required. This is part of an experiment to introduce this kind of exposure at a much younger age to gauge its impact.

After a while, the children begin to warm up and join in, first one, then another, as Jess and Tyler slowly introduce the body parts and sing the song “Heads and Shoulders, knees and toes’. Their excitement is evident through their muttered exchange of observations in between… ‘Heads and shoulders… the one in white is joining in!.. knees and toes… oh wow look at the little one in the middle!.. heads and shoulders…they’re getting it!… knees and toes… look, look they’re all doing it!!…'” It’s an adrenalin rush that I recognise from my own Granny Cloud sessions, even now after all these years, that comes from a rewarding exchange with children when you see it’s going well and they are responding.”

After the session I ask the girls what surprised them. “How quickly they caught on. It was really awesome that we got to teach them. Can’t wait till next week!” And from the other side? Prassana, who’s researching the effects of early interactions of this kind: “It was wonderful. The little ones warmed up so quickly” And a text exchange between the girls…

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Self challenge: A post a day for a week #2

Reflecting on our goal of increasing student ownership…

It’s been four months since we set the tone for unleashing learning via Unleashing Learning, six since we outlined this year’s goal of increasing opportunities for student ownership

In this afternoon’s session, we revisit the notion of learner agency and the teachers, in mixed grade level groups, share steps they have taken this year towards increasing opportunities for student ownership, a goal we set ourselves at the start of the year. This is the second in a series of such sessions, this time with P-3 teachers and it’s great to hear the ways even (or especially?) the younger children can be have more ownership…

“The children decide how to find out what they want to know and it’s  up to them how they want to share their learning with the class.” (Year 3)

“We start with the game before the skills are taught. The children then say what skills they need to master to play the game. Rather than showing them the correct technique, by trial and error they discover for themselves.” (PE)

“Children select from a range of tailored learning experiences, based on their needs and goals. They are developing understandings of what is expected of them as learners.” (Year 1)

“As a result of allowing children more choice in what books they borrow, irrespective of reading level, there are a lot more discussions about books and the reasons for their preferences”. (Library)

“Through physically making their stories before writing (eg plasticine, Lego), the change in the children’s writing has been unbelievable. They are also learning to give each other meaningful feedback. The children are engaged and love writing”. (Year 2)

“During Exploration Time, the children choose what they would like to do and the teachers work with small groups to target specific needs as required.” (Prep)

After the group discussions, individuals think about how they might further encourage student ownership this term and they record these goals on a shared Padlet wall started last term by the upper primary staff. 

At the end of the session, a young teacher, new to our school this year, approaches me to share how happy she is to be teaching and growing in our dynamic learning community.  I am reminded of Craig Eldred’s tweet this week (and my response to it!) 

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An effective model of professional learning…

Joining the cohort of teachers learning with @langwitches last week, when I could, I found them highly engaged and involved in their own learning. The approach was different from the last time Silvia visited our school. This time she worked with a group of teachers, each of whom elected to participate, a diverse group with varying needs and different entry points. This proved to be a successful model of professional learning that aligns with our learning principles, a set of beliefs about learning that apply as much to teachers as to students.

Despite (because of?) the diversity within the group,  a high level of trust and collaboration were evident. Teachers had ownership of what and how they explored and Silvia stressed that this was about being self-directed, self-motivated learners. New skills were mastered within a context and there were opportunities to apply them purposefully and reflect on how they will be transferred.

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The evidence is visible in more than a dozen personal blog posts on our collaborative blog, many by teachers who rarely write about their learning, most by teachers who have never blogged before, all sharing thoughtful documentation of, for and as earning. Take a look at a few examples…

Am I literate? by Lesley

Help! I’m a digital citizen by Limor

Global literacy is a highway by Lauri

I’m on my way… by Nicole

Sharing my learning leads to learning from and with others by Linda

And some tweets that sum up the learning…

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Encouraging creative instincts…

What is creativity?

Can anyone be creative?

What are the conditions for creativity?

Can creativity be taught?

Can/should creativity be assessed?

How might we encourage children’s (and teachers’) creative instincts?

How do we create opportunities for creativity in our classrooms?

Is teaching creatively the same as teaching creativity?

Is creativity an attitude, a skill, a conceptual lens or is it action? (PYP connection)

What is the relationship between inquiry learning and creativity?

How might global collaborations  enhance creativity?

These are some of the big questions with which participants grappled in a PYP workshop on encouraging creativity, last week at Victorious Kidss Educares, an international school in Pune.

It was the first time I had led this workshop and I wanted to ensure that the teachers’ own creativity was awakened and that the workshop would provide opportunities for creative thinking and creative expression.

In addition to exploring the issues above, among other things, teachers designed creativity maps..

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recorded their thinking on wall mounted ‘bubble catchers‘…

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engaged in a newspaper bridge building challenge…

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audited their units for opportunities for creativity…
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Skyped with teachers in Melbourne about creativity in the early years, in writing and in maths…

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planned and created animations...

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Hope they had as much fun as I did:)

The day I met my kids…

A row of serious children sat in front of the screen and stared at me. This was my first interaction with 5th graders at KNB in Phaltan, India but, with several years of Granny Cloud experience, I knew the discomfort wouldn’t last long. Despite the standard response to most of my questions being blank stares, I persisted and, within a few sessions, we were all more relaxed and the children’s confidence and English began to improve.

With the passing of time, the sorts of things we could tackle in sessions developed. From simple topics such as animals and colours, we advanced to searching google maps for places, exploring distances, finding out about languages…

In one session we talked about sports, they told me about Kabaddi and Googled Aussie rules. In another session we looked at art. I introduced them to Picasso, they did their own searching and then produced surreal pictures of themselves.

They told me about their school, their lessons, their families and their celebrations. I shared pictures of my grandchildren and, on one occasion, I showed them the classrooms at my school and they had great fun reading children’s bios on their lockers and noticing commonalities.

Once we did a combined session with another group at a school in Delhi. In the middle of what I’d thought would be an interesting opportunity they sent me a text to say they would rather talk to Edna Granny.

Gradually individuals began to emerge as leaders. I observed Aditya’s particular curiosity and eagerness to learn. I noticed the thoughtfulness in Sanika’s eyes when ever a question was posed. I was delighted by Diya’s confidence in disrupting my plan for a session and replacing it with her own.

And then, miraculously, I had an opportunity to meet ‘my kids’. A few days in Pune for an IB workshop were extended to include time with my friend Suneeta and a couple of very special visits to KNB, once to work with the teachers and, finally, to meet Saniya, Aditya, Diya, Sairaj, Jayesh, Aishwarya and the others… in person.

They waited eagerly near the gate, then hung back a little shyly at first but a couple of warm up activities melted the ice and soon everyone wanted to talk and there was much laughter. They took me on a tour of their little school, showing me each classroom with its stone floor, old style desks, glassless windows and surprising, colourful images adorning the walls, painted by the children and their parents, of honey bees, pandas, flowers and flamingoes.

They took me to the library and we sat in a circle on the floor reading the picture book I had brought them. They sang and danced, we played and talked and they presented me with carefully made cards.

I’m not sure if the photos can capture the magic of our first face to face encounter…

A different workshop…

These are a few of the delightful children with whom I regularly interact via Skype from Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan, an unusually egalitarian school in Phaltan, Maharashtra in India…

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It’s my first time visiting KNB and I’m excited to meet ‘my kids’ in person, but before the school year starts, the teachers gather for some of their own learning. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead a workshop here and share learning with this dedicated group. It will be an introduction to the ideas of Ron Ritchhart and Visible Thinking, something completely new for them.

I head into the session far more nervously than usual, uncertain what to expect in terms of their level of English and their openness to different ways of thinking… but mostly concerned that, without being able to understand their conversations,  I might not get a sense of what connections to help them make, how to shift thinking forward or what to reinforce.

My fears turn out to be unfounded. There is enough English in the room for mutual understanding, be it via valiant attempts at self expression, translation by those who do speak English or facial expressions and body language.

There are so many things that make this a unique and special experience for me…

I love the way most of those speaking in Marathi still make eye contact with me (not the person translating), and I can sense the passion as they talk about their school, even if I don’t understand the words.

I like the fact that a small sprinkling of English words in the midst of the Marathi, along with intonation and facial expression, are often enough for me to get the gist of what they are saying.

I’m delighted by the fact that when I am talking, even though I know they are concentrating hard to understand me, I can see the light dancing in their eyes, because they are excited by the ideas I am sharing.

I love the warmth with which they welcome me, their obvious desire to learn, as well as their pride in their school and everything it stands for.

I’m humbled by the opportunity to share learning in a context so different from the well resourced schools at which I usually work and to observe first hand that the most important resources are not ones that money can buy.

I note with interest that in this outwardly simple seeming, rural school, powerful beliefs, not just about learning but about humanity underpin every single thoughtful thing that happens. (Read more about it here)

I remind myself again that, even at my age, after so many years of experience, there is always so much to learn…

Tomorrow I meet ‘my kids’!

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My first experience of a thinking routine in Marathi!

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Who are ‘they’?

It’s a joy to be spending a few weeks with precious little gifts, Matan and Shai, one blonde, calm and smiley, the other dark, energetic and curious. Perhaps they’ll grow to have much in common, but I think they will always be very different.

The local cousins have seven children between them, aged from 2 to 16, each one so different from the next, it’s hard to believe they are related. They have varying interests and strengths, some have discovered their passions, some find school tedious, each has their own unique learning story.

All of which reminds me of a question I often ask: Who are ‘they‘?

You hear about ‘them‘ frequently, in the things their teachers say…

‘They’ struggled with this.

‘They’ won’t be able to do that.

‘They’ don’t get it.

‘They’ are a talkative bunch.

‘They’ are an interesting group.

‘They’ are a tough class.

They can, they can’t, they do, they don’t…

There is no ‘they!’

Every learner has her own way of constructing meaning. Each one has something valuable to contribute. Each learns in a different way. Each has talents, challenges, interests, needs and a personal story that matters.

Stop lumping ‘them’ together in one generalisation.

And leaders, your teachers are not ‘they‘ either!