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:

backchannel

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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.

Annotation

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

Learning with @langwitches…

‘The back channel is the conversation that happens behind the real life front conversation.’

love the way @langwitches explains this to the children, even though the back channel is as much real life for me as the front conversation!

On her first day working with teachers, a full day, full on workshop which blows minds – some love it, others are overwhelmed – Silvia introduces several back channels at once. Participants are encouraged to use Today’s Meet and/or Twitter and volunteers take collaborative notes in a Google doc

Monday

The goals are multi-layered – 

  • Understanding NOW literacies.
  • Global sharing. 
  • Documenting for learning.
  • Exposure to new tools and new ways of thinking.
  • Connecting to our whole school goal of using data to inform learning (that of the teachers, as much as the students).

The rest of the week consists of intense learning in our upper primary school, with and from Silvia – in classrooms, in small groups and individually. Teams meet with Silvia to talk, listen, choose and plan before she models in the classrooms. They meet again to debrief and yet again to reflect after they have experimented for themselves.

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Teachers are the documenters of and for learning. We’re watching, listening and gathering data to inform future learning… of the teachers, as much as of the students.

joc

It’s a meaningful model of professional learning:

  • Extended over an entire week, with time for experimentation and reflection.
  • Something for everyone.
  • Tailored to our needs and goals.
  • Big picture then zooming in to the details.
  • Responsive, rather than pre planned and packaged.
  • Thought provoking and challenging.
  • Inquiry driven.
  • Personalised.
  • Change making.

Back to the back channel…

I’m a back chaneller by nature. I like to talk to construct meaning. I interrupt. I blog in my head, as I  distil the essence of learning experiences. And I tweet…

So from Day 1, I document the learning, via several back channels at once. I observe Silvia’s ‘front conversations’ – with teachers, with students, with teams – and I try to listen more than I talk. I have ‘back conversations’ in my head and with others. I join the Today’s Meets. And I tweet…

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I curate stories of documentation via Storify.

I encourage teachers to blog and I join the conversation via comments.

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And then, I blog!

More soon…

Teacher coaching…

I could write a formal post using fancy language, quoting research about coaching if I wanted to, but I choose not to! (There are plenty of those around, just google.)

After much research, including reading, viewing and valuable conversations with experienced coaches, Joc and I have begun to coach teachers.  It’s part of an ever evolving approach to professional learning at our school, which includes teacher choice, a focus on growth rather than judgement and a desire to constantly refine and improve our practice.

The content of coaching sessions is confidential, but we regularly reflect on the process and refine it as we go. Most of the teachers being coached are less concerned than we are about confidentiality. One shares her reflections in a meeting, another talks animatedly in the staffroom and a third is blogging about the experience!

Here’s my take on the roles of the coach and the coachee…

COACHING

I’ve already learned..

  • to talk less
  • to listen more
  • to craft purposeful questions
  • the value of collaborative reflection
  • to see things through the eyes of the teacher being coached
  • that teachers’ goals shift and grow as they see evidence of change in themselves and their learners
  • the value of protected time for teachers to reflect and talk about their practice
  • that positive relationships contribute to effective coaching
  • that effective coaching builds positive relationships
  • that teachers’ observations of their own practice are even more powerful than observations by others
  • that some teachers are happy to share the process of their growth, not just with other teachers, but with their students too
  • that, even in the early stages, coaching can make a dramatic difference to teaching and learning
  • that instigating change requires trying something different
  • that self-directed learning is the most powerful kind there is
  • the power of using data (about yourself as well as your learners) to inform teaching and learning…

Next steps…

Can we replace the old, evaluative model of teacher appraisal with a growth model, based on the coaching process?

Watch this space…

 

Collaborative thinking…

One of my favourite things in the PYP is collaborative planning.

Six times a year, my colleague Layla or I meet with each grade level team to collaborate on planning units of inquiry.  Facilitating such sessions can range from exciting to frustrating, depending on the team, the unit, the time and, particularly, the ability to frame and agree on the desired conceptual understandings that will underpin the inquiry.

This week, I experimented with a different approach to tune teachers into the unit, establish common understanding and model good practice.

The unit of inquiry:

Year 2 – Central Idea: Public places are organised to meet the needs of community.

The opening task for teachers: (given one step at a time)

  1. Write ten places you have been in the past week on separate post it notes.
  2. Work collaboratively to sort them in any way you like.
  3. What did you realise about the concept of place?

Tania’s role was to document the learning. She took photos of the group collaborating, observed the participants’ interactions and recorded the things they said.

planning

Tania’s observations along the way:

  • ‘Are there any the same?’
  • ‘Can you explain to me?’
  • Grouping/ looking for similar places.
  • Debating and questioning each other.
  • Using language to clarify/ refine ideas.
  • Making connections between places and actions.
  • Sharing common vocabulary.
  • Completed a general sort, then refined this to sort again into bigger concepts (Is it recreational, business, infrastructure, wellbeing place, cultural place, an essential service?  And from these more subsets were made.)

Statements about the concept of place:

  • Places can be used for different things.
  • Places have different meanings to different people.
  • Places connect people.
  • A place doesn’t have to be tangible, it can be in the mind.
  • There are public places and private places.
  • Places can isolate people eg remote rural places.
  • Places can unite and separate people eg religious places.
  • Places serve different purposes and needs.
  • There are natural and made-made places.
  • Places are organised in different ways.

What the teachers noticed about themselves as learners:

  • I made connections with others’ thinking.
  • Trying to understand what others were thinking about was valuable.
  • Listening to others points of view helped me clarify.
  • Trying to think outside the boundaries to push the thinking further.
  • Listening to others helped me formulate my thinking.
  • I really thought about the concept of place.

Discussion about how we could apply the above in the classroom:

  • The learners could do the same brainstorming and sorting activity to tune them into the idea of place.
  • Split screen teaching - focusing on content as well as process of learning.
  • The role of the teacher in observing the learning.
  • Documenting data about students’ actions and thinking.
  • How we might use that data to inform teaching and learning.
  • Connecting to our whole school goal of using both formal and informal data to improve learning.

Agreed understandings:

Understandings Beginning Developing Established
Public places are organised to serve the needs of communities.  function I can identify places that I use and say what their purpose is. I can explain how some public places are organised and used. I can compare and contrast a range of public places and classify how they serve different needs.
People use public places for different purposes.  perspective I can find out what other people I know use public places for. I can give examples of different ways people use the same public place and why. I can compare and contrast people’s perspectives on public places and their purpose around the world.
Shared places need to be used appropriately by members of the community.  responsibility I can tell you about how I act appropriately in our shared learning space. I can give examples of how I and other people should act appropriately in familiar public places. I understand and can explain what appropriate use of different public places looks/sounds and feels like.

Conclusions:

  • Process is as important as content.
  • Successful collaborative planning is enhanced by ensuring shared understandings.
  • Different voices bring a range of perspectives which contribute to mutual learning.
  • Experiencing the learning in the same way that our students do can help us relate to the process and refine our expectations.
  • Observing and documenting the learning process reveals valuable information.
  • Collaborative analysis of the data gleaned from documenting learning is a worthwhile exercise.
  • Being aware of ourselves as learners supports our own learning and that of our students.
  • Our beliefs about learning (learning principles) apply just as much to teachers as learners.
  • Putting ourselves in the role of learners adds fresh perspectives and brings depth to learning. (Thanks @katherineqi )

 

The great divide…

I read Dale Worsley’s post this morning and thought about how lucky I am to work in a primary school with a dynamic learning culture, where passionate teachers constantly seek the most engaging and meaningful ways for their young learners to take ownership of their learning, where the learning is for ‘now’ AND for the kind of future in which they will live and learn.

I recently received this email from a friend whose daughter has just started High School (She’s 12. In Australia, children move from Primary School directly to High School. We don’t have Middle School as a separate stage).

My daughter’s education to date has been nothing short of remarkable. She has soaked up and been enticed by all that the school has to offer.

She has inquired and pushed boundaries. She has investigated and wondered her way through the most intriguing PYP journey. She is a thinker and has loved being knee deep in creative expression and pondering units of inquiry that encouraged her to be open minded and inquire into things she wonders about. With amazing guidance, she whole heartedly explored her area of passion and with excitement and exuberance presented her findings at the Year 6 exhibition.

Now in year 7, her school bag is full of thick text books (which also sit on her iPad) which travel to and from school. She sits at night working through pages of maths problems from the text books. Just as I had done when I was in high school (a million years ago) … A little archaic.

I understand it is very early days yet, but where has that amazing transformative thinking gone? The creative learning that is so full of colour and excitement…

Please tell me Ed, that it is on its way????

My sad reply: ‘I cant’

And again I wonder about the great divide between primary schools and (many) high schools…

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  • Why is that as soon as our students turn 12, they need to start preparing for the demands of VCE and university entry?
  • Why are the demands of formal education frequently out of touch with the reality of the world in which our students live and LEARN and contribute? (independently, without the assistance of school!)
  • Why do many high school students still do the same kinds of things their parents and teachers did when they went to school, while the rest of the world changes rapidly and dramatically?
  • Why did a parent once reprimand a high school teacher whom I know for encouraging the students to (gasp) think instead of preparing them for the exams?
  • Why should the focus shift from learning (in primary school) to work (in high school)?
  • Why should grades and results matter more than thinking, learning how to learn and contributing to the world in a meaningful way?

 

A thoughtful response by @alohalavina – Crossing the Great Divide

Everything is an assessment…

What would happen if we didn’t have numbers?

Rubi poses this question to her Year 5 class, as a provocation,  generating wonderful ideas and discussion…

  • We couldn’t build houses because we’d have no units of measurement.
  • No price tags. Everything would be free.
  • You wouldn’t know your age.
  • There wouldn’t be computer technology if there were no binary numbers.

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One student declares ‘We wouldn’t have time’ to which another responds ‘There would still be time, just no way to record it’…and they are on their way to a deeper conceptual understanding.

As Rubi shares the conversation with me, we are excited, not just by the kinds of things the children have thought about, but by the power of a simple open-ended question to  provoke thinking and inspire discussion.

She tells me she had planned to give a Maths pre-test during that lesson but, swept along by the comments, questions and conversation, had forgotten all about it. I point out that everything is an assessment. She agrees that she has gathered a broad range of data via this discussion, not just in terms of their understanding of the content, but about her students as learners. She can tell:

  • What they know about numbers.
  • Who understands the difference between time and the recording of time.
  • Their understanding of the application of numbers.
  • Which learners think in a complex way, beyond what’s on the surface.
  • How open each learner is to debate and ideas that challenge their thinking.
  • Which students are already engaging with higher order thinking and which might need support.
  • Who is naturally curious and eager to learn.
  • Which children think they are not interested in Maths and are turned off by talk of numbers.
  • Who is ready to take ownership of their learning and run with their own inquiries.
  • Who will need another provocation that engage them further…

Our school goal for the year is to use data to inform teaching and improve learning. While many think of data as the formal, numerical kind, it’s interesting how much informal data can be gleaned from careful observation and really listening to the learning. This is how good inquiry teachers decide where to go next.

Plan in response to learning, not in advance…

An essential agreement for change agents…

Our Teaching and Learning Team has an ‘essential agreement’, inspired by this clip:

The Teaching and Learning Team agrees to…

  • encourage creativity and innovation
  • view everything through a lens of curiosity
  • embrace new possibilities and actively instigate change
  • create joy in new ways of doing things
  • foster a sense of ownership and empowerment
  • work hard to plan for and achieve success
  • work collaboratively and value teamwork
  • ensure learning is positive, engaging and fun
  • model positivity and optimism

… and encourage the above in everyone with whom we work.

In a PYP school, every class, every team, even the whole school has an essential agreement which sets the tone for collaboration and teamwork. How else would we know what the shared norms and expectations are? There are endless ways to develop such agreements and, since it’s the start of a new school year in Australia, all our teams and classes have been working on theirs.

It didn’t take long for our Teaching and Learning Team – Director of Teaching and Learning (Literacy) , Early Years Learning Coordinator, Head of Learning Support, Teaching Coach, Maths Coordinator and me – to come up with ours, since we already have common passions and a shared vision.

We watched the Piano Stairs clip, noted and shared how it relates to our roles and goals and.. voila! All we had to do was compile them into a list and we are ready to take on the new school year… and the world :-)

 

 

A learning community…

Do you feel part of a learning community?

What teams exist within your school?

How do you build a culture of learning within and across your school teams?

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We start the year with a whole school gathering, an address by the principal in which he welcomes new staff,  shares achievements from the past year and outlines goals for the next. 

Moving inwards to the next circle, we have a two hour workshop for P- 6 staff across our three campuses, facilitated by the Teaching and Learning team.

Objectives-

  • Get to know each other across teams and campuses.
  • Develop a shared understanding of the primary school goal for the year.

Almost a hundred teachers are seated at tables in groups of 6. Constantly moving between groups will allow opportunities to meet and talk to a range of people, while engaging in educational dialogue.

  • Choose one of the chocolates on the table and say how it represents you. The ice is broken and everyone is laughing before we go any further. 
  • Examine the visual (above) and discuss what it says to you. The responses are varied and interesting, questions are raised and discussion is animated as we consider the purpose of each of the teams.
  • Explore the goal: Use data to inform teaching and improve learning.

What is data? Teachers are asked to classify a dozen items under the headings of data or not data. Some groups debate whether informal, subjective information counts as valid data. Others question how much information we get from formal testing. Watching Peter Reynolds’ The Testing Camera reinforces that testing is a snapshot, not necessarily representative of where the student is at. The conclusion is reached that everything is data. Observing students and listening to the learning, analysing their thinking and questions, watching them play and learn and interact will provide much more data than testing alone.

  • Traffic light protocol (adapted).  Teachers highlight which types of data they are already using, which they are uncertain about and which they haven’t yet considered.
  • Hopes and Fears protocol (adapted) This provides an opportunity for teachers to share what they hope to achieve in terms of our goal and where they might need support. (We are gathering data too!) 

The activities have given everyone the opportunity to clarify what data is, consider how they already using it and how they might in the future. They have engaged with the big idea that everything is grounded in evidence. We don’t just plan lessons and teach them. We build our planning around responding to the individual needs of every learner. (We are ready to take this further as the year unfolds.)

  • Individual and group reflection time. Did we achieve our objectives?  A ‘Plus Delta’ protocol (with which we try to conclude all our meetings) returns these amongst the popular responses: 
    • Opportunity to meet and talk to different people from different campuses.
    • Clearer understanding of what data is and how we will use it.
  • What does the school value? Each group brainstorms a list, based on the workshop we have just had. Responses include some of the following: 
    • Learning.
    • Each child reaching their full potential in all areas. Student centred learning. The wellbeing of every child. Holistic development. Individuality. Meeting all children’s needs. Targeting teaching to student needs.
    • Collaboration and communication. Collegiality. Teamwork. Community. Relationships. Each other as colleagues. Staff input, ideas and initiative.
    • Deep understanding of learning. Educational dialogue. Teachers as learners. Critical and creative thinking. Different perspectives. Reflective practice. Purposeful PD which models purposeful teaching and learning.

Our workshop has been successful.

Moving inwards to the next circle…