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Tag: engagement

3

Why I Love Learning

I used to say to my kids that “I love learning” and they would just laugh at me. But I do. I relish each new concept I learn and take apart and roll it around in my brain. I love what I do which is helping teachers develop learning environments that are engaging and full of joy. Maybe what I want is for everyone, teachers and learners, to have that same “love of learning.”

I read AJ Juliani’s post “Why do so many bad students turn out to be great teachers?” and definitely could relate. I was just a s0-so student in high school. Traditional teacher-centered instruction just turned me off. I didn’t see why I had to learn the times of events in history from the most boring teacher I ever had. We had to sit straight with our hands clasped while he talked in a monotone voice. This was 10th grade. Now really!!

He destroyed my curiosity about history. I barely passed his class and felt stupid. Then in 11th grade my eyes were open to World History. I was drawn to want to learn more about the people and the times they were living in. We relived times and events and performed as characters from the past. I never had this experience before where I participated in the learning. I was even given a choice on how I wanted to express myself. This was where I got the bug for learning. I grew up in Maryland in a very nice area not too far from Washington, DC. A great place to grow up. I don’t think my experience with school was that different than others my age.

Barbara and Her Mom, RosalieI’m going to go back where I lost my way — when I was in first grade. This is where I realized I was a “bad” student. My teacher was strict and even punished us with a ruler. She would put people in groups by height, girls or boys, and even by color of hair. So that’s when I lost my confidence. I was the only redhead in the class and sat by myself. Why would she do that? The year got worse and my confidence dropped farther and farther. I felt that I wasn’t very smart so this is how I participated in school all the way to 11th grade until I had that great History teacher. There were a few good teachers here and there and my parents always believed in me. My mom was an artist who taught me to think outside the box and draw outside the lines. That was never allowed in my 1st grade class.  I loved learning before I started school, but school made me feel like I couldn’t learn.

After I graduated High School (barely), I moved to California and went to community college. I felt free. I felt like me. I was told when I was younger that I can’t write. But I can. I love to write. I wrote some poems for my English teacher and he asked me to read them in the quad. Everyone gave me great feedback. Then he helped me enter one of my poems in a contest. I won first prize. Then I took Anatomy and Physiology from an amazing teacher who made me want to learn everything about the body. I couldn’t wait to go to his class. Then I took Humanities and Art History. I loved this. All of it. I wanted more and more.

I realized and believe now that I am smart in my own way. I love to write and read and learn. I wish and hope all children never lose that love of learning, the curiosity they were born with, and the opportunities to be creative. This is why I see the importance of making learning personal for each and every learner.

I love learning. Do you?

1

Didn't we do this already?

It’s Sunday and a great time to reflect on the last week. All I can say is that it was a whirlwind. Working 12-14 hours every day on Race to the Top proposals, refining our process, talking to different groups about what is and what isn’t personalized learning. The talk always goes back to technology.

It’s not about the technology. It’s about the philosophy you embrace around personalizing learning.

If it’s all about the learner and starting with them, then everything about teaching and learning changes. Technology supports personalizing learning but should not be the focus.

Just putting technology in teachers’ and learners’ hands doesn’t mean they know how to personalize learning. I remember the early days of technology in schools. I believe the late 80s and early 90s, schools built labs called CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction) such as Computer Curriculum Corporation, Success Maker and others.

Old Computer LabAs a technology consultant during those times, I was asked to help build those labs. Most of these labs were built in high poverty schools in rooms that weren’t made for computers. Even the electricity in some of these older buildings couldn’t handle the capacity. They would string together extension cords from other classrooms and hold them in place with duct tape. In some rooms, we had to step over the cord that was 2 feet high. There were some rooms where they moved the computers next to the heaters. Actually, that didn’t matter, because the heaters didn’t work. I needed the work at that time, and that’s where all the money was going. One lab with 50 computers and the software took all the technology budget. There was no money left for training. Only enough to train a paraprofessional who managed the lab. There was no integration with any curriculum in the classrooms.

I observed these labs. Kids loved them in the beginning because it was new, interactive, and included games. They loved the idea of playing in school. The paraprofessionals collected the data and shared with the administration. Scores were going up. The kids rotated through the lab once or twice a week.

But after about six months, kids started talking about how boring it was. One third grade told me that it didn’t matter how he answered the questions so he just hit any key to make it go to the next screen. Scores were at a plateau then dropping. Dropping all over. All the labs. Everywhere. Few years later, the labs were changed. They took off the headphones and brought in technology teachers. Teachers with credentials. Only issue I saw was that they were prep teachers. This meant that there tended to be very little integration of what was happening in the classroom to what was happening in the labs. I know so many of these fantastic computer teachers who did amazing projects. When I was asked to come in, work with the computer teachers, and help integrate technology into the classrooms. Classroom teachers were so busy teaching the curriculum that they didn’t have time or the energy to take the work in the lab and connect it to the classroom. So once again, the work in the labs stood alone and was mostly focused on building isolated technology skills. But there were some amazing computer teachers and librarians who found ways to integrate the skills with projects happening in the classroom.

So now fast forward to today and learning labs to support blended learning rotations. The labs look similar to the CAI of the past and, yes, the scores are improving.

Rocketship Education

But the real learning that is needed seems to be lost. In some of these environments, the student to teacher ratio has increased because the computers “individualize” the student’s learning and they don’t need as many teachers. Maybe that’s how or why schools are looking at this solution — to save money. Based on algorithms and data, teachers keep track of performance and work with individual students to respond to intervention — to increase scores based on standardized tests. This may sound good to some people, however, to prepare our children for the global workforce, they need different skills then they acquire sitting in front of computers like this. It just cannot be about the scores.

The skills needed for today’s jobs include:

  • collaboration and teamwork
  • problem-solving
  • critical-thinking
  • creativity and innovative thinking
  • choosing and using the appropriate resources for a task
  • building a network of learners locally and globally
  • learning how to learn, unlearn, and relearn

 

Computer labs like the ones some schools are building to blend learning are fitting learning into strict schedules: 20 minutes at one station then move to another station. Real learning doesn’t work that way. We did this already, and it didn’t work. Now we have mobile technology and learning can happen anytime anywhere. Let’s rethink this strategy before we invest millions again into set labs with desktop computers that are just trying to increase scores and use curriculum that adapts to their performance based on algorithms instead of how they learn best.

Personalizing learning needs to be social. It starts with the learner not the technology. Real learning encourages play, creativity, experimenting, taking risks. Learning is supposed to challenge the learner and that cannot happen if they don’t have a stake in it. Learners have a stake in their learning if they have a voice in their learning and are motivated and engaged in the learning. Learners just cannot own and drive their learning when they sit in front of a computer with headphones on clicking through adaptive activities that keep track of their keystrokes.

7

Building Community in your Classroom

School starts soon for many. Some have started already. If you think of your classroom as a community of learners right away, then the culture changes. What is the culture of your classroom? Do you…

  • spend hours and hours getting your classroom ready?
  • buy lots of posters and materials to put on bulletin boards?
  • arrange all the furniture just the right way?

 

If so, you have set the culture of your classroom where you are in control, you manage what happens in your classroom, and your classroom is teacher-centered from the start. I’m not saying you have to take everything down and start over, but think about what it might look like to your learners if you…

  • left the bulletin boards and walls empty so the room was an empty canvas ready for the community to design?
  • had all the furniture in the middle of the classroom and had each learner help arrange the desks or tables together?

 

This sounds like chaos and you may not be ready to do something like this. So start slow. The classroom is where your learners will be part of for almost 9 months. It is their home with you. Consider your life as a learner. What was it like? Did you have any say in how you would learn or contribute to the classroom?

Communities work if there is trust and respect. I remember sitting at desks in rows. Fear was one way to control the class in the classes I attended. Was it yours? Did it work? I didn’t feel much respect in many of my years as a learner – even in college. I felt I knew a lot but was not given many opportunities to share what I knew or dreamed about or wanted to know. I was tested on facts that were not relevant to me. I remember an art class where the teacher scolded me because I went outside the lines. I came from a home of artists where there were no lines. What about you? What was it like in school when you grew up?

Some of you probably hear ” if it was good for me, it’s good for my child.” Remember your experience and what it might feel like for your learners in your classroom. Their lives and experiences are connected and different than many of their teachers. Their experiences include the Internet, mobile devices, and have everything at their fingertips.

If you already set up your classroom or that’s just too out there for you. Then take a chance to arrange your furniture in an unconventional way. Then ask your students for feedback. Keep some of the walls or bulletin boards empty and ask your students to submit ideas on what to put on them. Have ways to hang student work or questions from your students from the ceiling.

Some more ideas for the first few days of school:

  • meet and greet each student at the door with a smile and a handshake.
  • invite everyone to contribute to the class rules — include some off the wall, funny rules.
  • use an icebreaker or have them tell a story so everyone has a voice the first few days.
  • share what the expectations are for the year and ask for feedback.

I’m sure some of you are thinking “this is an open classroom and I saw it before.” I’m talking about learner voice and choice. This is a classroom where everyone is part of the community and sharing in decisions. There is a feeling that each voice matters. I am only touching on a few points and know there are so many wonderful teachers out there who can share more.

How would you build a community of learners where there is trust and respect?

11

Get over it! It's already 2012

How long do we have to be in the 21st century to say we are 21st century teachers? 

Everything has changed because of the Internet. Schools are going wireless, using interactive whiteboards, flipping the classroom, putting in 1:1 solutions — some are even BYOD (Bringing Your Own Device). I see exciting technology yet rarely see innovative teaching and learning. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but  I read Med Karbach’s What Does It Take to be a 21st Century Teacher? and thought I need to write something. It’s all about a culture shift. It’s not just the technology. It’s a mindset.

There are lots of great teachers that don’t use technology. They motivate their students. Students are engaged and love being in their class. Karbach included this image:

To Be

This image says it all to me. It is all about each learner and their own learning potential. Do we tap into it? Teachers mostly teach the way they have been taught. To move to a more collaborative learning environment involves all stakeholders. One teacher in a school can move desks around, have students create learning plans, but this is a whole culture shift that needs to happen.

I am invited to facilitate change at schools all over. Observing teachers, I notice a desperation. They tell me that they want to make a difference; they want to use the technology; but…

Here’s the buts:

  • I have to cover the curriculum.
  • There is such a diverse group in my class.
  • It is so much work to design projects for all my students.
  • Group work is a pain to set up and assess how each student is learning.
  • I’m told to differentiate all my lessons which now takes even longer.
  • My class size was increased by 10 more children.
  • I am so tired each night grading papers, there’s no time left for me.
  • I am spending more time creating video lectures to flip everything.
  • paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.
  • The parents are so demanding that I have to put up homework every night.

 

Do any of these concerns sound like you and your situation?

 

I have an idea. Let’s flip learning. Your students have been 21st century learners most of their lives. They know how to use all of the technology. If they don’t, they figure it out. Why not make them more responsible for their learning? What if…

  • your students create the videos about the content to flip the classroom. Check out Mathtrain.tv where Eric Marcos realized that students learn best from other students.
  • involve your students in lesson design. Be partners in unpacking the standards and designing activities. Children today are very resilient and smart if we give them the chance. Check out this post from Kathleen McClaskey and myself on Personal Learner Profiles and the Common Core.
  • See Think WonderAsk your students to brainstorm and prioritize questions about the topic. This post on Making Just One Change where I interviewed Sara Armstrong helped me understand the importance of inquiry.  Michael Wesch encourages his university students to wonder. Dave Truss shared the opening of their new school The Inquiry Hub where students “learn without boundaries.”
  • Imagine your students building lessons with you as partners in learning.

 

Maybe it’s a matter of letting go and trusting that your students can learn — want to learn. I have a difficult time sitting in a lecture hall myself. When I go to a conference and listen to a great lecture, I learn. But I learn more when I am more involved in the learning process. Sharing. Curating. Discussing. Even arguing a point.

So maybe we need to rethink what a 21st century teacher is. It’s a culture shift. Maybe that teacher is a…
  • partner in learning with their students.
  • facilitator who guides the learning process.
  • an advocate for each learner who has strengths and weaknesses, passions, interests, and aspirations to be whatever they can be.
  • person who realizes they can never know everything so learns to unlearn and learn again.

 

How about some innovative strategies for professional development? Like having students teach teachers how to use the technology. Maybe include students in professional development so you hear their point of view. If this is a culture shift, can one teacher do this alone? I still believe it takes a village idea. We need to involve all stakeholders including the parents. But if you want to make a difference now.. start involving your students — one lesson at a time. Let’s see what happens and share back. Let me know.

7

UDL Guides Personalizing Learning to Meet the Common Core

by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is used to design curriculum, lessons and instruction based on the diversity of the learners in their classroom. The three principles of UDL are:

  • multiple means of representation
  • multiple means of expression and action
  • multiple means of engagement

 

When a teacher understands his/her learners through the UDL lens, he/she creates a flexible learning environment and provides opportunities for learner voice and choice. When lessons are designed using the UDL model, the lesson includes goals, methods, materials, tools, and assessments to reach and support the maximum amount of learners in the classroom.

Learners can use this model to help them understand how they learn best and what learning path they can take to become an independent expert learner, leveraging their natural abilities in the process. This process helps the learner create their personal learning profile that is understood by both teacher and learner.

Personalize Learning to Meet the Common Core

The importance of this strategy is that both the teacher and the learner understand who the learner is and how they learn best. The learner and the teacher uses the UDL lens to personalize learning. So what does that look like? Here are two eighth grade students and their Personal Learner Profiles.

Susan

    • is an avid reader, likes to write descriptively, and enjoys drawing.
    • is anxious when she speaks in front of others.
    • forgets the sequence, moral and message of the story.
    • wants to ask questions but is uncomfortable voicing her concerns.
    • works better individually or in a small group.

 

Justin

    • reads and writes at a third grade level.
    • requires projects to be broken down into smaller segments.
    • has a difficult time organizing and little ability to interpret concepts.
    • needs to know purpose behind reading assignments.
    • loves to draw and is interested in multimedia.

 

For US History, eighth graders study the Civil War.  There is so much information on the Civil War. The teacher and learners  needed to choose one essential or anchor standard. In this case, they determined that the main issue learners had problems with was analyzing text and making connections to a concept.

Essential or Anchor Standard

> Key Ideas and Details (Informational Text)

RI.8.3. Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories).

After determining the essential standard, the teacher and learners identified supporting standards for the history topic: Civil War. The power of using historical information such as primary and secondary sources is that learners can use visual information in multiple forms to understand the concept. They also were going to choose one subtopic to do a short project.

Supporting Standards

> Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (Integration of History)

RH.6-8.7. Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts

> Comprehension and Collaboration (Speaking and Listening)

SL.8.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

> Research to Build and Present Knowledge (Writing)

W.8.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

> Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas (Speaking and Listening)

SL.8.5. Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.

 

After the teacher and learners chose the standards, they brainstormed questions about the Civil War. They worked in pairs to prioritize questions until they chose one essential question.

 

Essential Question

What are the causes of the Civil War?

Learners then paired with another learner to come up with supporting questions. The pairs prioritize those questions until they came up with one question that they will research and answer for their project.

Supporting Questions:
  • Why did southern states secede from the union?
  • What events or publications sparked the start of the Civil War?
  • Was slavery the main issue for the war’s beginning?
  • What other factors contributed to the civil war beginning?
  • If slavery began in 1619, why did it take 200 years for it to become an issue?
  • Why did the South believe that they needed to continue slavery?

 

The learning strategies Susan and Justin used were based on their learner profiles to help them meet the Common Core and demonstrate what they know and understand. Because Susan and Justin understand how they learn best through their UDL lens, they were able to make choices for themselves. Those choices included how they access information, how they are engaged with the information, and how they like to express what they know.

Learning Strategies and Common Core Standards

To personalize a unit of study like the Civil War, it is more than just memorizing battles, events, people, places, and times. The essential and supporting questions push the investigation of history further. This project encourages diverse learners to own and direct their own learning about the Civil War. Susan and Justin have diverse learning challenges, yet both of them have a passion for drawing. Because they were able to choose how they respond to the question, they were more motivated to design a title graphic and a Prezi presentation that utilized their creative talents. They were responsible for  their learning by choosing the question, the direction of their presentation, and which one of them did each of the tasks to complete their project.

Universal Design for Learning is the guide for schools for personalizing learning to meet the Common Core State Standards.

2

What does Community mean to you?

Community

Everyone is talking about building community, but what does that mean?

There are many ways to build a community. The first is to create a presence in that community that people identify with. Most online environments have various ways that you can do this: building your profile, leaving a comment, retweeting a tweet, uploading pictures and videos, sharing a resource, or collaborating on a project.

How do you create a presence online? How do you sustain an online community?

I thought I’d refer to Tucker’s Five Stages of Group Development and Five Stages when building a community.

1. Forming: The group comes together and gets to initially know one other and form as a group.

2. Storming: A chaotic vying for leadership and trialling of group processes

3. Norming: Eventually agreement is reached on how the group operates (norming)

4. Performing: The group practices its craft and becomes effective in meeting its objectives.

Tuckman added a 5th stage 10 years later:

5. Adjourning: The process of “unforming” the group, that is, letting go of the group structure and moving on.

I wanted to take these stages and how they relate to online communities.

Stage 1: Forming
This stage is about building a presence in the group or community. Group members rely on safe, patterned behavior. Group members desire acceptance by the group and a need to know that the group is safe. They gather impressions and data about the similarities and differences among them and form preferences for future subgrouping.

Self-organized learning and social media is all about starting the community around you. An online community may not have a leader. There may be multiple leaders or a self-proclaimed leader who starts the conversations. The leaders can change at anytime. Everyone and anyone can join, contribute, or leave when they want. Some members don’t have a presence. They join and lurk. They are just watching the activity in the community.

How can you build community in a group where members come and go? Can you trust that the profiles of some members are real?

Stage 2, Storming, is characterized by competition and conflict as  group members organize. Individual members mold their feelings, ideas, attitudes, and beliefs to suit the group with an increased desire for structural clarification and commitment. Questions will arise about who is going to be responsible for what, what the rules are, what the reward system is, and what criteria for evaluation are. Yet, in an online community, there may be no rules. The reward is connecting or someone responding to you, sharing your picture, or retweeting your tweet.

Is this enough to keep you in the community?

What if someone in the group writes something controversial and upsets many of the members? Will people stay in the group? Some people will step forward and take responsibility for posting, answering questions, and sharing information beyond the community.

In Stage 3: Norming stage, group members are engaged in active acknowledgment of all members’ contributions, community building and maintenance, and solving of group issues. Members are willing to change their preconceived ideas or opinions on the basis of facts presented by other members, and they actively ask questions of one another. Leadership is shared, and cliques dissolve. This is the true online community that is working. When members begin to know-and identify with-one another, the level of trust in their personal relations contributes to the development of group cohesion. It is during this stage of development (assuming the group gets this far) that people begin to experience a sense of group belonging and a feeling of relief as a result of resolving interpersonal conflicts. The major task function of stage three is the data flow between group members: They share feelings and ideas, solicit and give feedback to one another, and explore actions related to the task. Creativity is high. Members feel good about being part of an effective group.

The major drawback of the norming stage is that members may begin to fear the inevitable future breakup of the group; they may resist change of any sort. Actually online communities tend to stay around even if there is no activity. Sometimes you can go back after years and realize you still have a membership there.

Is this a community? Does a community only work if there is activity?  Is the community safe? Do you feel safe to post what you believe? How do you trust the people in a community?

How to Build Trust
Trust Building
Building Trust

In Stage 4: Performing stage, people work independently, in subgroups, or as a total unit. Their roles adjust to the changing needs of the group and individuals. By now, the group is the most productive. Individual members become self-assuring, and the need for group approval is past. Members are both highly task oriented and highly people oriented. There is unity: group identity is complete, group morale is high, and group loyalty is intense. The task function becomes genuine problem solving, leading toward optimal solutions and optimum group development. There is support for experimentation in solving problems and an emphasis on achievement. The overall goal is productivity through problem solving and work.

Do online communities ever get to Stage 4?

The only way I see this stage working is with a facilitator or someone nudging the members of the community to participate online. If you just want a community to share when you want, then you don’t care about a specific task or project. You join the community to connect and share resources or ideas. If you have a specific task or project, then you need a plan with who’s doing what by when… and a facilitator or coach checking in regularly.

Stage 5 Adjourning means a community ends. This is not happening in online communities and social media unless you leave the community. Or the infrastructure housing the community ends.
Some questions about building community:

  • How do you design interaction so all members contribute and participate?
  • How do you determine roles and responsibilities for each member and the facilitator?
  • How do you see the difference of an on-site and online community of practice?

 

The reason I wanted to discuss this today is that I am in multiple communities where I am the only one posting. It’s frustrating. I write on this blog and people write me via email a question or comment or scoopit or retweet it. I really appreciate when someone comments on my blog even if I don’t agree with their position. People are not posting on blogs like they used to. People are commenting in social media with 140 characters or pinging back in Scoopit or pinning on Pinterest.

Is this community or just a way to share your thoughts and ideas? Online communities are different now then just a few years ago but are they sustainable? Are they real communities that have good discussions that you can refer to later?

I am in groups in Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Scoopit and many more social media environments. Are these the type of  communities that you can use to build communities of practice? I’ve tried Ning and Wikispaces, but they still depend on the facilitator to get conversations going and many have no leaders. I built My eCoach for educators to build communities of practice. I wanted a safe and secure online community that allowed for private conversations and the ability to share publicly.

Why?

I know the word “transparency” is big. However, some things you discuss online happens more effectively in  private areas. That means you need to trust that whatever you write or share is used the way you would hope it would be used. You can still publish publicly. Now that everything is moving toward “Open” and “Transparent,” more people are uploading all of their pictures and videos to the cloud. They are also sharing their private conversations.  This more than often backfires on the author. Now you can have your own YouTube Channel. Anyone can be an author, a filmmaker, a journalist. But having a coach or facilitator helps. I know I’m taking a chance writing here my thoughts. It would probably be better if someone proofread it first. Oh well! Let’s see if any of you comment on my blog.

I found that many conversations didn’t happen effectively without a facilitator so I set up an eCoach program. eCoaches keep the conversations going and encourage members of the community to participate.

Social media doesn’t care if everyone participates. I believe the different types of communities are used for different purposes. I don’t know what I would do without social media. But I still need My eCoach and many members of My eCoach keep coming back because they know it is safe, secure, and their intellectual property is still in their digital locker. It’s all about believing that all of your material will always be there when you need it. That the conversations are still there. Try to find the tweet with the link you saw last week. 

Gone!

Yes, you can bookmark it on Diigo or Plurk. Facebook is trying to build community based on each member’s timeline. Google+ is trying to build community around circles. I am watching and believing that social media is going to look different in the future. Communities are evolving. Communities are becoming extensions of our families and friends. Actually many are blurring between business, family and friends. I get it that social media is about all of us nudging and supporting each other, but usually only 1-10% are really contributing. I’m keeping My eCoach because I see the importance of public and private spaces and an ability for a facilitator to nudge and help members participate. When communities ended in My eCoach, members stopped using it. All of a sudden, many are coming back. They tried to make their own eCoach system. They used existing programs using social media programs but when they realized that their data is sold to third parties, they lost trust. When they saw relevant ads based on what they were writing in their messages, they didn’t feel safe. When they came back to My eCoach, their “stuff” was still there and there are no adds. Their data is not sold to third parties. Yes, it’s not a great revenue model, but we have to believe in the cloud, in the people, in the community.

So I am part of many communities. My neighborhood is my community. I know many of the people in my neighborhood. I feel safe and secure because I can walk around the block and know that people know who I am and I know who they are. My family is my community. Many are online in my social media but we are family first. I am in different groups online and build ongoing relationships with people I met online, in My eCoach and other communities and now are close in real time face-to-face. Community is important. Building a sustainable community takes time, trust, and building relationships that matter.

What does community mean to you?

1

Inquiry Circles in Action

Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action
by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels

Comprehension and Collaboration is a guide for teachers who want to realize the benefits of well-structured, engaging, cross-curricular projects. Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels lay the foundation for inquiry circles:

  • explain 10 fundamental classroom conditions needed for active, small group learning;
  • profile 19 small-group inquiry circles that bring strategies and principles to life;
  • provide 27 practical lessons in comprehension, collaboration, and inquiry;
  • offer how-to instruction for four types of inquiry circles – mini inquiries, cross curricular inquiries, literature circle inquiries, and open inquiries; and
  • address characteristic management concerns.

 

The authors Harvey and Daniels stress the importance of student collaboration and using inquiry as a vehicle to increase comprehension and deepen understanding.

“Comprehension is about understanding…Reading is about thinking.” (p. 27)

Inquiry is a process of learning that encourages kids to ask questions, to work together to solve problems, to discover knowledge, and to construct their own meaning, with guidance, rather than lectures, from teachers. The inquiry approach has three key strands (p. 56-57):

  1. “framing school study around questions developed and shaped by kids” which means allowing students’ genuine curiosity about curriculum topics to form the center of teaching;
  2. “handing the brainwork of learning back to the kids” meaning that instead of sitting quietly and receiving the information presented by a teacher, students actively work to construct their own learning experiences and take responsibility for the outcomes; and ultimately,
  3. “focusing on the development of kids’ thinking, first, foremost, and always.”

 

“The Gradual Release of Responsibility” has different stages (p.112):

  • Teacher Modeling: Teacher explains and models a new strategy, thinking aloud in order to demonstrate their thought-process behind the strategy use.
  • Guided Practice: Teacher and students practice the strategy together in shared contexts, constructing meaning through interchange; students gradually take more responsibility for task engagement and completion.
  • Collaborative Practice: Students share thinking process with one another or work in small groups and pairs and reason through text together; the teacher moves between groups, checking in on how things are going.
  • Independent Practice: Students practice using the strategy independently of teacher and other students; students receive regular feedback on their progress.
  • Application of Strategy: Students use the strategy in authentic situations, across a variety of settings, contexts, and disciplines.

“Kids’ questions really matter.” (p. 228)

I recommend this book as prompts for discussions about bringing inquiry-based learning into your classroom and as part of your professional learning communities.

The authors also created DVDs that support their work:

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Reboot to Encourage Wonder

“Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier.” Charles Kettering

 

Professor Michael Wesch reboots after hearing advice that his teaching isn’t working. This article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed speaks to me and not only for higher ed.

Michael Wesch teaching students

How many of us reboot what we are doing when we realize we are going down the wrong road? We are all guilty of continuing down the same road because it is easier than changing. Educators in all grades have worked for years developing lessons that we believe teach the concepts they want their students to learn. If one lesson didn’t work, then another did. It takes a lot of work to start over — reboot.

Caution for the futureWhat that means for many teachers is to change the way they teach. This means letting go and using technology. Both of these concepts are scary for many teachers. Some are almost ready for retirement and just don’t want to reboot now. Some are resistant because they don’t want to believe that what they are teaching isn’t working. Let’s rethink why we went into the teaching profession. It’s really not about us. It’s all about the learners. If we continue to teach like we did years ago, we not only leave many of our learners behind, we do them a disservice. They won’t be prepared for their future.

In the article, Professor Wesch realizes that students can use technology to search for wonder.

“At its best, Mr. Wesch believes that interactive technology—and other methods to create more active experiences in the classroom—can be used to forge that kind of relationship between teachers and students where professors nurture rather than talk down to students.

In one of his courses, he teamed up with students to produce an ethnography of YouTube users. The project helped the students feel more like collaborators because the technology allowed them to immediately publish their work online.”

 What does that mean? Talk down to students? I don’t think teachers think they are talking down to students if they are lecturing, giving feedback or grading papers. When you teach something you love, you think that your enthusiasm will be enough to excite your students. Times are different. You’ve heard “times are a changing.” Well, the future is here now.  If you give control to your students to drive their learning, that doesn’t mean you are not teaching effectively. Lectures and direct instruction is one way to present information, but are you losing your students?

Lecture and chalkboard

I remember sitting for hours and hours staring at my teachers’ backs. I zoned out. I doodled. I knew there had to be a better way for students like me. I learn best by doing. Now more students are like me and have gone way beyond me. They are tweeting, texting, and googling while in class. Mr. Wesch writes about using these tools to engage students.

What if you set up a backchannel chat or Twitter group to give you instant feedback? Ask a student to help you do this? If you ask students to blog, don’t correct their spelling. This is a great space to journal and publish their thoughts. You can learn from their posts. This is still scary for some teachers. Are these teachers resistant or just obstinate? What if they really believe what they are doing is making a difference?

See Think WonderAsk your students! Give them a survey or ask for feedback on how you teach and how they learn. It’s not just about you or the content anymore. It’s about learners being prepared for a career, the type of job that they love or pays them enough so they can live comfortably, or gives them the opportunity to be an entrepreneur. There are some learners who just want to learn because they are excited about something — passionate and interested to learn. They may want to take amazing photographs or understand astronomy because they always wanted to know about the stars.

What do you wonder about?

Just imagine a day in your class that you encouraged wonder! Take 20% of your time to let go and reboot your teaching so students wonder about something they are passionate about. Encourage students to use technology and teach you. I wonder what will happen to your students. Let me know.

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10 Steps to Encourage Student Voice and Choice

To transform a classroom to a personalized learning environment is challenging. First, you need to know what personalized learning means. Last night I was fortunate to be part of a panel on personalized learning for the Future of Education hosted by Steve Hargadon with Kathleen McClaskey, Lisa Nielsen, and Shannon Miller. All of us are in agreement that it is all about the learner and that student voice and choice is necessary to personalize learning. Personalized learning is all about the learner, starts with the learner, and means the student drives their learning.

What does Student Voice and Choice mean?

Student voice is difficult to hear in a traditional classroom where the teacher provides direct instruction and curriculum that is either provided for the teacher, adapted by the teacher, or designed by the teacher. Student choice means students choose how they learn something and, possibly, what they learn. This chart (Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization) shows how personalized learning is different than differentiated and individualized instruction. In the latter two approaches, the teacher adapts or customizes the instruction to meet the needs of either a group of students (differentiation) or for an individual student (individualization).

In these situations, there is little or no student voice. These are mostly teacher-directed. Students may participate in projects and take responsibility for specific roles within a project, but, in most cases, the teacher determines the topics, roles, and responsibilities. Project-based learning (PBL) has students collaborate and produce an end product together. However, to personalize PBL, the student has a voice in the design of the project and possibly, the process.

Student Voice and Choice
What if you take one topic that you love to teach but you just cannot get your students motivated to learn about it? What if they just don’t seem to understand the topic no matter how many times you’ve taught it? Some get it. Some don’t. So what can you do to motivate students so they are engaged in learning and want to explore the topic?

The answer: Student Voice and Choice

Ten Steps to Encourage Student Voice and Choice

  1. Introduce the topic and share the standards that are normally met with typical instruction.
  2. Determine prior knowledge by using a poll, then having students share what they know in small groups, and then sharing out to the whole group one thing they learned about the topic they didn’t know before.
  3. Show a video or other type of media presentation about the topic. If you know a personal story that might hook your students, share it.
  4. Share how you normally taught that topic and invite them to help you redesign how you teach the topic. Tell them you want them to have a say in redesigning how they learn, what the classroom will look like, and your role as a teacher. Let them know that for this topic, your going to need their help in coming up with the questions, that they will be able have a place in the class and online to ask questions, ask for help, give feedback, and maybe help others in the classroom.
  5. Brainstorm questions about the topic with the whole group. You can project your computer and use programs like Google Docs or a mindmapping tool like Inspiration or Mindmeister. The more questions, the better. Encourage students to use “how” and “why” questions. If they come up with one big question like “why is there war?”, ask them to be more specific and come up with 2 to 5 more questions that take that big question deeper. Be sure to tell them that there are no stupid questions.
  6. Ask students to work in pairs or small groups to select a big question about the topic they want to explore. Students can choose a group based on the question they want to investigate.
  7. Ask groups to design how they want to answer the question(s) and demonstrate understanding of the topic and question they chose. Have them choose up to five supporting questions that they will also explore to learn more about their topic.
  8. Invite each group to write a proposal on how they plan to demonstrate understanding, what resources they will use, how they will present what they learned, and how they will measure if they are successful. Each group can design a rubric to assess teamwork, research, presentation, and other criteria they determine necessary for success.
  9. Ask groups to share their proposals with another group who can give them feedback. Then ask another group for feedback and approval. Your job is as guide and facilitator.
  10. Give them enough time and resources to do the work they need to do. Watch the excitement of students immersed in the topic.

Watching students take responsibility by giving them their own voice so they are able to choose how they learn can be scary for teachers. But if you take a chance and try it, you will be amazed what happens. Just be open to some things not working the way you think they will work. You are giving up some control and letting students have more responsibility for their learning. Just watch and enjoy!

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10 Tips for Active Listening

“Listening is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.” – John Marshall

Dog headphones“What, Huh? What did you say?”
“Are you really listening?”

The problem with “kind of” listening is that it can lead to mistakes, misunderstandings, the wrong goals, wasting time and lack of teamwork. As a coach, I learned the importance of careful and thoughtful listening. Yet, I still have to remind myself about active listening. Some people think they are listening but to build relationships that work, they need to listen well. They may be listening just enough to jump in to say what they want to say. Some have trouble concentrating on what the other person is saying so they zone out or daydream while the person is talking. There are others who think they are listening but actually are thinking of all the things they need to do that day. Yet, listening is less important than how you listen. By listening in a way that demonstrates understanding and respect, you build a true foundation for a good relationship no matter if it is between coach and coachee, teacher and students, friends, mother and child, spouses, or team members.

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

Here are ten tips to listening well:

  1. Decide you want to Listen: Remember the old adage about having two ears and one mouth. Maybe we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we speak. Whatever, it starts with the decision to listen.

  2. Come with an Open Mind: It is very easy to come to a conversation with a preconceived idea about the other person and what they are going to say. Give them a chance to surprise you and you surprise them with an open mind and listening well.
  3. Hear What They Say: Make sure you can really hear the other person. It is surprising how often people do not realize that they cannot even hear other people. Make that you can really hear them first for effective listening. Let them know if you cannot hear what they are saying.
  4. Give 100%: Show you care about the other person or persons by giving 100% of your attention to them and suspending all other activities. If you multitask while listening, you are not listening.
  5. Listen 75%, Speak 25% of the Time: This is a powerful tip unless you are giving a speech. Try to allow the other person to speak more than you and listen to them.
  6. Respond with Interest: While you are listening, you can give both verbal and nonverbal responses such as nodding, smiling, and comment to the other person(s). You can demonstrate you received the message and how it had an impact on you. When you respond, speak at the same energy level as the other person. This will help the person who is speaking that they really got through to you and will not have to repeat what they said.
  7. Show Interest: While the other person is speaking, lean forward and maintain eye contact. Be sensitive to their cultural background while listening. Some cultures find smiling offensive. Some people talk with their hands. When you are listening, use similar cultural gestures and actions.
  8. Let the Speaker Finish the Point they Were Making: Our brains speed along four times faster than when we speak. Try not to finish their sentences or interrupt. Wait for Pauses. When the speaker pauses, you might be able to jump in and ask a clarifying question. If there are not good long pauses, then wait until the speaker has completed speaking their idea.
  9. Show understanding: Just saying “I understand” is not enough. People need some sort of evidence of understanding. You can demonstrate that you understand by occasionally restating the idea they were sharing or ask them a question that probes deeper into the main idea. Try not to repeat what they said just to prove you were listening. Active listening means you can show you understand what the other person is saying.
  10. Be Respectful: Let them know you take their views and ideas seriously. Be willing to communicate with others at their level of understanding and attitude by adjusting your tone of voice, rate of speech and choice of words to show that you are empathetic and trying to imagine being where they are at the moment.

“I think one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention.” – Diane Sawyer

Resources:
How to improve your listening skills
Listening Secrets
Listening First Aid
The Art of Effective Listening
Talking is Sharing, but Listening is Caring
Listening is crucial in a Multicultural Workplace
Training in the Art of Listening

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