10 ways to make learning meaningful…

Whether your students are completing assignments, inquiring into areas of their interest, covering curriculum or exploring their passions, to what extent does it feel (to you, as much as to them) as if they are simply complying and ‘doing school’?

How can we extend learning ‘beyond the project’ and ensure it’s a powerful learning experience, rather than a task for school? (Hint: the answer does not lie in assessment criteria, rubrics or grades.)

1. Do you LISTEN more than you talk?

2. Are the learners really inquiring, in the broadest sense of the word?

Look at the description of inquiry from Making the PYP Happen. Are they doing most of these things? Or just researching?

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways.

3. Will this inquiry be worthwhile? Will the learners experience challenges and figure out how to overcome them?

Support them in feeling comfortable in the ‘learning pit’?

4. Is the inquiry concept driven? Are the learners doing more than just finding facts and information?

  • Are they exploring and developing an understanding of big conceptual ideas.  
  • Are they looking through the lens of one or more key concepts?
  • Can they identify big ideas and apply them in other contexts?
  • Can they articulate conceptual understandings developed along the way?

5.  Do the learners have ownership? Will this inquiry help them grow, not just in knowledge of content, but as learners?

Some questions to support their ongoing reflection:

img_0825

6. Are the learners thinking critically and creatively about the content they explore?

A variety of less common thinking routines that can extend their thinking:

Think Puzzle Explore
Circle of viewpoints
Generate Sort Connect Elaborate
Tug for Truth
Parts Purposes and Complexities
People Parts Interactions
Think Feel Care
Imagine if…

7. Are the learners able to think about how their inquiries impact on other people? Will they be motivated to take action?

8. Will they explore ways of extending the learning beyond the classroom?

  • Look for opportunities for collaboration across the year level.
  • Extend it to other year levels. (Can older learners create for an audience in lower grades? Can learners seek feedback or support from another class or year level?)
  • Encourage interactions with primary sources within and outside outside of school.
  • Use your network and theirs to help extend the learning to the broader community and the world.
  • Use Google docs, Twitter and blog posts to reach out globally. (click links for examples)
  • Connect with experts face to face or via Skype. (eg Skype in the Classroom)

9. Will there be opportunities to identify problems and issues and develop solutions?

For some learners, the design thinking process might be useful:

10. Will learners have opportunities to express their  learning meaningfully and creatively?

How will learners present, represent and/or share their learning? Will they choose to express their learning through a creative medium such as art or film? Will they paint or sculpt? Will they write poetry? Set it to music? Do an expressive dance? Create a stop motion animation? Build a model? Develop an app? Design a website? Write a book? Organise a debate? Start a blog? Make a speech? Create a campaign? Lead a workshop? 

Will they do, say, think, feel, want… or be something different as a result of this learning? 

10 questions for teacher reflection…

We’re not even half way through the school year here, but a request from someone important to me on the other side of the world provokes my thinking…

‘ Have you ever written a blog post on strategies, tools or frameworks that a teacher can use to reflect on their past year of teaching?’

My immediate response: ‘ Reflection has to happen all the way along. It’s too late at the end of the year.’

But here are some questions to ask yourself, as you look back, look within and look forward…

1. What were the most powerful learning experiences in your class this year? Can you describe what made them successful?

2. How do you learn best? What hinders your learning? How can this knowledge help you with future teaching and learning?

3. What do you believe about how learning occurs? What are the conditions for powerful learning? Does your practice align with your beliefs?

4. Who controls the learning in your classes? Do you seek compliance or do you foster student ownership? How will you encourage learner agency?

5. What are you proud of in your teaching or learning and what do you wish you could do better? How might you go about it? Who might support you?

6. What do you wish you could change in your teaching, your learning, your classroom, your school? What small steps could you take towards making it happen?

7. What are your strengths? How might you develop them further? How might you use them to support others in their teaching and learning?

8. What can you learn from your students? What works for them? Have you asked them? What might you change as a result?

9. What excites you? What excites your students? How might you make that part of your teaching and learning?

10. What do you dream of doing? How might you work towards that dream? Who might you share it with? What kind of support do you need?

10 tweets that don’t add value…

I’ve extolled the virtues of Twitter as a tool for connecting, learning and collaborating on many an occasion.

A mere ten minutes on Twitter often yields interesting links, book recommendations, thoughtful conversations, opportunities to collaborate, ideas that push one’s thinking…

Live Twitter chats, usually fast and furious, often add another dimension to the learning, as like minded (or better still, differently minded) educators bounce ideas back and forth.

I’ve watched the part Twitter has played in the learning of a young teacher I mentored last year and wondered how educators who don’t connect via social media can hope to keep up.

Sometimes a bit of light Twitter conversation and banter can be fun too!

But then there are tweets that add little, if any, value…

1. Self promotion – How great you are, how fabulous your presentation was, the awards you won. (Unless tweeted by someone other than you)

2. Requests to vote for you so that you can win the above mentioned awards. (Doesn’t canvassing for votes render awards meaningless?)

3. Your minute by minute life updates – where you went, what you ate, how far you ran…

4. Your kids’ minute by minute life updates – where they went, what they ate, how far they ran (even if accompanied by cute pictures).

5. Your popularity on Twitter – how many new followers you have this week, how many RTs, the extent of your reach (whatever that means).

6. Endless tweets with beautiful pictures and quotes about education, leadership or life. (Rather share your own experience and reflections on these topics)

7. Endless retweets of above mentioned posters with beautiful pictures and quotes….

8. Infographics that are more graphic and less info, often not proof read, not thought through and not particularly useful. (Looking good isn’t enough)

9. Lists of 100 best anythings (tools, blogs, ideas, lessons). Who has time to read all that? Did you read all 100 links before you tweeted?

10. This one’s yours. Anything to add?

10 understandings about digital citizenship…

What is digital citizenship and why do we need to understand it?

Earlier this year, we developed a unit of inquiry into digital citizenship for our Year 5 students and I’m currently preparing to facilitate a three day workshop for teachers exploring the same topic. As a result, I’ve been thinking a great deal about what, for me, is simply a part of my everyday life.

On any given day (aside from work and play!) I might write a blog post, read and comment on others, join a twitter chat, search for information, find videos to spark learners’ curiosity, Skype with my grandson, interact with children at one of the School in the Cloud settings in India, respond to applications for the ‘granny cloud’, chat with a friend in another part of the world…

nittai
Photo by Ingrid Muller

Using the key concepts of the PYP as a lens,  I’ve come up with 10 understandings about digital citizenship for teachers and learners (or teachers as learners) to explore…

Do you think I have missed anything?

  1. Digital citizenship is ‘the ability to participate in society online.’ It includes consuming and creating digital content as well as interaction.  form
  2. Digital literacy includes awareness of safe and effective practices and the ability to navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. function
  3. Digital technologies enable us to communicate and collaborate with people all over the world, expanding learning opportunities and increasing global awareness.  connection
  4. Active digital citizenship provides opportunities for intercultural understanding and exposure to diverse points of view.  perspective
  5. Anyone can publish powerful writing, pictures and video for a global audience. Digital citizenship includes making valuable contributions to the online environment.  creativity (which isn’t one of the PYP key concepts, but maybe it should be)
  6. Reusing content is so easy that people rarely stop to think about its original source. We need to understand our rights as content creators and respect the rights of others. responsibility
  7. In a digital world, it can be difficult to understand where privacy ends and what the risks are. Everything you do online impacts your indelible digital footprint.  causation
  8. Content on the internet is not necessarily accurate, true, reliable or valuable. We need to think critically about digital content that we consume, create and interact with.  reflection
  9. The speed of change in the world is accelerating with the rapid advances in technology. We need to prepare our students for a world we cannot predict.  change
  10. Understanding effective practices and developing the required skills, knowledge and confidence, empower us to make wise choices as digital citizens and maximise the opportunities this provides.  all

And later… a tweet from @flipoz hits the nail on the head…

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

10 tips for creating a class agreement…

Do a quick google image search for ‘classroom rules’ and ‘classroom agreements’ (or ‘essential agreements’ as they’re called in the PYP) and see if anything surprises you…

What I noticed is that, despite the heading, many classroom agreements are still lists of rules.

Do teachers value compliance above learning?

These are amongst the most common elements I found, none of which seem to relate to learning...

  • Work quietly.
  • Raise your hand to speak.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Follow instructions.
  • Do your best work.
  • Don’t speak until called on.
  • Be punctual.

Have our students’ training and experience set them up to believe that these are are the appropriate expectations for a learning environment?

Some are even more extreme and less related to learning…

  • Sit correctly on chairs. (big kids?)
  • We sit still on the carpet. (little kids)
  • Keep your hands to yourself.
  • Don’t throw things.
  • Talk to your classmates only when the activity requires you to.
  • Stay in your seat unless you have permission to leave.

Does this set the tone for engaging learning?

Here are some of the more appealing inclusions I found, which are more likely to support an environment conducive to learning… and isn’t that the purpose of school?

  • Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.
  • Try new things even if they scare us.
  • Think before you act.
  • Respect yourself and others.
  • Make wise choices to support your learning.
  • Include people if they look excluded.
  • Be open-minded – Listen to, consider and value other perspectives.
  • Take ownership of our learning.
  • Dream big.

I really like this one!

10 ways to create a meaningful class agreement…

  1. Don’t start till you’ve spent some time establishing your own beliefs about learning.
  2. Have the kids consider what helps them learn and what hinders their learning. (Details here)
  3. Begin with what the learners value or the school values. (Example here)
  4. Have kids unpack your school’s learning principles as a starting point. (I haven’t tried that yet, but here are ours.)
  5. Base it on a common set of qualities, such as the IB Learner Profile. (Staff example here)
  6. Use a ‘place mat’ activity so students have time to think individually, before seeking consensus. (Details here)
  7. Have kids think about what learning ‘looks like‘, sounds like‘ and ‘feels like’.
  8. Take your time. Build the agreement gradually, to ensure understanding and ownership.
  9. Include photos and descriptions for younger learners, to elaborate on the words.
  10. Live it, don’t laminate it. Revisit the agreement often and adjust as required.

What’s in your class agreement?

10 questions to help you become a better teacher…

I read the post 10 Questions To Help You Become A Better Teacher This School Year by Terry Heick with interest.

The post grabbed my attention as I often sum up my own ideas in ten points. It has some interesting questions for teachers to consider, but I wonder if the post perpetuates the (mistaken?) idea that we should focus mainly on what we do and how we teach in order to improve as educators. In my opinion, focusing more on learning and less on teaching is a more worthwhile endeavour.

So here’s my take. 10 (other) questions to ask yourself that I think might help you be a better teacher…

1. What do I believe about learning?

How does learning best take place? Do kids learn by listening? By doing? By finding out for themselves? Does everyone learn in different ways? Do I value collaboration? Do some kids need to work alone? Does compliance contribute to learning?

2. Does my practice reflect my beliefs?

Do I provide opportunities for learning to flourish? Are learning experiences in my class aligned with my beliefs? Do I reflect regularly and critically to check if they are? Can someone else observe my classes and give me feedback? What if I asked the kids?

3. How do I shift my focus from what I teach to how they learn?

Is my teaching responsive? Do I constantly change the plans, depending on the learning? Do I step back and listen to the learners? Do I carefully observe and record where learners are at? How do I use my observations to inform teaching and learning?

4. Is the learner at the centre of everything?

Do I know every child’s story? What makes them happy? What do they care deeply about? What bothers them? How they do like to learn? What’s not working for them? How can I help connect the learning to their personal experience?

5. Do my students own their learning?

Do I talk too much? Test too much? Am I always in control? Does every conversation need to go through me? Do my learners have choice? How can I encourage them to take responsibility for the learning?

6. How can I ‘make friends with the curriculum’?

(Thanks for the quote, Sam Sherratt). Do I let the demands of curriculum get the better of me? Am I always trying to fit things in and tick things off? Can I become really familiar with the curriculum so that it’s woven through the learning experiences? How can I make trans-disciplinary connections? Am I ready to jump in with ‘just in time’ teaching?

7. How do I encourage creativity?

Can I stop playing ‘guess what’s in my head’? Do I encourage divergent thinking? How can I help my learners seek worthwhile problems to solve, rather than just the ones I set? How can I incorporate the arts into the learning? Is imagination as important as information?

8. How can I ensure the learning space promotes learning?

Did I get rid of rows facing the front years ago? Are the tables arranged for collaboration? Do we even need all the tables? Can we change the room around, depending on the learning needs? Do we need all the ‘stuff’ that clutters the room? What makes the learners comfortable? Will some colourful cushions change the feel of the learning? Can calming music affect the mood?

9. How can I ensure I am a learner first?

Am I a connected educator? Have I built a global PLN (professional learning network) using social media? Have I been to a Teachmeet or an Edcamp? Am I constantly reading and thinking about learning? Do I create my own learning opportunities? Or do I expect PD to be done to me?

10. How can I contribute to a culture of learning?

Am I a continual learner? Do I talk about my learning? Am I open to new ways of thinking? Am I ready to learn from my colleagues and my students? Do I willingly share my ideas? Do I bring solutions and suggestions rather than problems and complaints?

OK, so there are actually more than fifty questions, if you don’t just count the headings…

Who said becoming a better teacher was easy?

10 principles of effective professional learning…

Tweet

Apparently this random comment (my response to a tweet in last week’s #edchat) was well received!

This got me thinking (again) about the principles of effective professional learning for educators. In no particular order, the following points are based on my own experience.

Effective professional learning needs to be…

1. Conceptual

Effective learning for teachers is not always about things you can try tomorrow, but rather big ideas that shift your understanding of teaching and learning.

2. Self directed

Teachers need opportunities to set their own goals, choose their own learning and follow their own interests. (Sometimes the most effective medium to achieve that is social media.)

3. Inquiry driven

The most effective learning isn’t usually ‘delivered and received’. Teachers need to question, experiment, apply, find and solve problems, engage in action reasearch.

4. Collaborative

Learn with and from others. build a personal learning network. Create communities of practice in your own school, your neighbourhood, the world…

5. Creative

Think beyond one-size-fits-all PD delivered by ‘experts’ on special days set aside for the purpose. Create your own learning opportunities. Visit other classes. Start voluntary groups. Participate in Teachmeets. Engage via Twitter and blogs. Find your own people!

6. Personalised

How often are teachers compelled to attend one-size-fits-no-one sessions, not relevant to their current programs, practice, interests or experience? Even on school wide ‘PD days‘, teachers can have a choice.

7. Reflective

Too often, teachers are expected to shift rapidly from one ‘topic’ to the next (@lisaburman called it ‘Hit and run’). Effective learning includes sufficient time for reflection, application… and further reflection.

8. Active

Learning is often less effective when the expectation is for learners to listen passively. There need to be active participation and engagement, opportunities to interact, reflect and construct meaning.

9. Enjoyable
(I crowd sourced this one). Teachers like their professional learning to include humour and a sense of fun. It doesn’t need to be a boring chore!

10. Challenging

Professional learning (like any learning) can be messy. There should be tensions to work through and big ideas to connect. It goes beyond solutions and formulae and things to try out tomorrow… which takes us back to where we started!

Of course, all of this applies to any learners, not just teachers. Try replacing the word ‘teachers’ throughout the above post with ‘students’, or simply ‘learners’… which takes me back to a post I wrote a while ago about adult vs child learners. What are your thoughts on that?

What’s been your best professional learning experience? Did it fit the above criteria? What have a I missed?

10 big ideas from eduTECH…

Billed as the biggest educational technology conference in Australia, I note with interest as I sum up the big ideas from EduTECH, that they are not about the technology.

These were some of the messages from the likes of Dan Pink, Stephen Heppell, Ewan McIntosh, Alan November, Stephen Harris , Andrew Churches and Sir Ken Robinson. I‘ll keep it brief, with links to other posts that elaborate. You can apply the big ideas to all kinds of learners, teachers and students alike..

1. Ownership
Enable choice. Foster independence. Encourage responsibility.

2. Collaboration
Learn together. Grow ideas. Build community.

3. Creativity
Experiment. Play. Make something.

4. Problem solving/finding
Think differently. Find solutions. Seek new problems.

5. Curiosity
Ask questions. Notice. Wonder.

6. Diversity
One size does not fit all. Differentiate. Personalize learning.

7. Flexibility
Rethink school. Create new spaces. Unlearn.

8. Relevance 
Make it real. Solve real life problems. Create for an authentic audience.

9. Connection
Build a PLN. Flatten classroom walls. Participate.

10. Change
Do one new thing. Influence someone else. Shift the sand, one ‘teaspoon’ at a time

10 tips for (reticent) bloggers…

A colleague who teaches writing, draws incredible poetry and prose out of her students. Yet she has what she calls ‘writer’s blog’ (block) which prevents her from starting a blog. Another has just had an incredible learning experience and spent four hours organizing her thoughts and experiences by writing blog posts… despite not having a blog, as she feels uncertain whether others will be interested in what she writes.

It seems they are not alone…

When I started blogging, I struggled to find my voice. My first few posts (some of which were subsequently deleted) sounded as if they had each been written by a different person. Then I realised I didn’t need to try so hard.

10 tips for reticent new struggling teacher student  bloggers…

  1. Write in your own voice, as if you are talking to people you know.
  2. Don’t over-think and over-plan, just write what’s in your head. You can write another post when you have developed your thinking further.
  3. Don’t agonise over whether it’s good enough. Write, check, post, done. You’ll improve with practice.
  4. Never force it. If an idea for a post isn’t working, scrap it.
  5. Avoid long slabs of text. Write in paragraphs. Use headings, images and bullet points to express your thinking clearly and ensure your message is evident.
  6. Don’t explain everything. Use hyper-links to existing explanations on your blog and elsewhere on the internet.
  7. Shorter posts are better than long ones. Always. Big idea? Break it into two posts. Small idea? Sometimes one paragraph is enough.
  8. You don’t need to have all the answers. Some of my most successful posts have been composed entirely of questions.
  9. Exclude all words that just don’t add anything. This was the very best piece of advice I read when I first started blogging. Carefully re-read posts that you have written and  try to remove all the extraneous words that add little or nothing.
  10. Exercise humility. (The tips above work for me, I’m just sharing…)