#futurelearning Reflection

26 Nov

Tuesday, November 17, 2015 was the single most amazing day of my ten year teaching career and not because of anything I did – it was my students who planned, discussed, and worked unbelievably hard in order to facilitate a thought-provoking panel discussion with six phenomenal educators from across Canada.

In considering how I wanted to reflect on this event, I’ve struggled with how I wanted to share my thinking. This is actually the third blog post I’ve started as the other two just didn’t do my students, the panelists, and the event justice, and so I’m going to explain the backstory and then reflect through screenshots of the Twitter conversation. (As well as interviewing the panelists, my students facilitated a thought-provoking Twitter chat.)

In the collaborative and democratic space that is Cloud 428, my students had the opportunity to interview Brenda Sherry, Karen Beutler, Mark Carbone, Donna Fry, Dean Shareski, and Geoff Williams. The students voted on the ideas they wanted to discuss: motivation, grades, and the relevance of school and in self-selected teams, set to work planning the event.

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It makes me really sad to hear this sentiment expressed by the students managing our class Twitter account. Unfortunately, we hear this far too often in class. How do we encourage and foster the love of learning in school?

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Donna and Brenda really made us think here as not only are they putting the onus on the students to own their learning, but pushing back on the idea that content is the most important aspect of teaching. Truly in an age where we have such access to information, we need to be encouraging critical thinking rather than content.

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I love that Dean spoke about the humanness that is learning. He’s absolutely right.

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Great questions from Karen. I think these are questions not only for students, but teachers too.

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I really appreciate Mark’s questions here as they are on the forefront of my thinking at the moment. Change in the education sphere is very slow and although I can appreciate that change takes time, I often worry that we aren’t making it enough of a priority. We really need to be making school more relevant to our students as we want them to be lifelong learners. If it’s not relevant, we aren’t providing the conditions necessary to create lifelong learners.

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Donna nails the issue here. Sinek, Pink, Robinson, and Wagner have all written about how schools are driving innovation and creativity out of our students.

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I completely agree with Geoff that we need to sit down and reevaluate our role as schools. He follows it up with suggesting that if we were designing schools now, they would look very different than they do currently and he is absolutely right! I often wonder what schools would look like if we allowed students to engage in the design process.

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I again totally agree with Donna. I have really noticed a level of fear that comes with learning at school and it makes me wonder what kind of disservice we are doing to our students by creating an environment that causes such anxiety.

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Another major theme that has emerged from the students in my classroom. So many people criticize this generation as lazy or disinterested or selfish when in my experience, those students are the minority. In my ten years of teaching, I would say that students are more interested in the world than I ever was at their age.

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I think Mark has identified that major issue facing education today and that as human beings, we have difficulty adapting to change. We are creatures of habit and school is no exception. The problem with this mentality is that we are very quickly if not already, irrelevant for some (or the majority) of students.

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I think I have learned far more in the last five years by following my passions than I ever did in a classroom.

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I was so humbled that Jackie Gerstein joined the audience. She is truly one of my education heroes.

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Donna again makes the case for the creativity and curiosity in the classroom with teachers as guiding and coaching rather than driving the learning.

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I love this tweet by Peter Skillen. It captures my philosophy completely.

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My students quite enjoyed this comment by Dean.

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Especially in skill driven courses such as English!

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I really appreciated this thoughtful observation from one of my students about our panelists.

Here’s the proof from others about the awesomeness of my class!

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Progress Reports in the Student Centered Classroom

28 Oct

It’s the time of year for Progress Reports and I spent a lot of time considering how I wanted to create them for my students. It’s not a full report card with grades and comments, but rather a “check in” on how the student is doing in class. Most of us here at Cameron focus on giving feedback on learning skills and work habits as opposed to grades and these ideas are then carried into Parent-Teacher Night tonight.

I’ve really been fascinated by the idea of students owning their learning and with this in mind, I asked my students to fill out a Google Form to write their own Progress Report then conference with me about what they had written. I wasn’t sure how this would play out, but I was confident that my students would rise to the challenge.

In truth, they far surpassed my expectations about what they would say. What struck me as exciting is that they all commented on skill development as opposed to content acquisition. They reflected on their performance thus far in the course, and really scrutinized their behaviour, but also their learning. I had many students comment on the fact that they need to use their class time more effectively as they are not used to so much freedom to work on a variety of tasks as opposed to the one assigned by the teacher at the start of a class. I thought this was so interesting as the freedom to choose what to do is an issue that comes up with first year university students. So many have problems with time management and focus as they don’t know what to do when they aren’t being told exactly what to do at all times. By allowing them to discover this in my class, it opens the door for a conversation about responsibility and focus. We have a safe environment here where now they realize that they need to employ further strategies to keep themselves from getting distracted. To me, this is awesome learning. It’s self-awareness, self control, and reflection. These are all skills we need to be fostering in our students for the future.

I also had many conversations about strengths and how to take the skills they have in one area and transfer them to another. For example, one of my students was discussing how oral communication just comes easily, but writing and specifically be clear and concise while still creating meaning, was more challenging. In discussing this, we talked about what are the skills involved in having a strong conversation. How do you then take those skills and use them in your writing. We also talked about using voice-to-text to allow you to get thinking down in text format with the opportunity to edit further. Conversely, I had a conversation where the student is an exceptional writer, but wants to focus on oral communication. We talked about some strategies that this student employs in their writing, and then brainstormed how they could take those skills and apply them to a verbal setting. I suggested that the student keep a note pad or have a Google Doc open to jot down ideas that will help formulate their contributions to discussion.

Finally, one of the other conversations that had me thinking was with a student with really strong skills. In that conversation, we talked about the idea of class work and motivation. My advice was to change the mindset around the idea of class “work.” I often worry that our lexicon is turning our students off learning. We refer to class activities and assignments as “work.” We are doing learning a disservice by using this language. Learning is not work. Learning is fun, exciting, and causes “flow” according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which is an amazing feeling. So I asked this student to change the mindset in how they approach class. We are here to learn. I challenged the student to look for meaning as that is one of the aspects of deep learning.

Overall, it was such a worthwhile, energizing, and rewarding experience for our class. I don’t think I will ever go back to me writing Progress Reports in isolation.

The Voice Coaches = Master Teachers

27 Oct

I always really look forward to Monday nights because one of my favorite shows, The Voice, is on tv. I love singing, (in fact I wish I was a better singer) but I also love to see people grow and progress and The Voice has all of those things in one nice little two hour show. 

I have written before about Adam Levine and the growth mindset, but it occurred to me tonight that not only are they proponents of growth mindset, that all the coaches are master teachers. Week after week we see the growth and progression of each of their, for lack of a better word, “students”. The coaches give them feedback and the contestants use it to improve their skills.

In thinking about descriptive feedback, each of the coaches has a goal in mind for their student and they tailor their feedback in the best possible way for that respective student. For example their choice of language suits that individual student. They have a range of ages and personalities on a show and the individualized approach comes through in how they interact with their students. They use different language, different cultural references, and a different style of speaking such as a mother or father figure as opposed to a friend tone. They personalize the experience for the students, and to me, that is the hallmark of a strong teacher.

I also really appreciate how each of the coaches is so passionate about music. In thinking about a really quality teacher, the image that comes to my mind is somebody who is very invested in students, but also in instigating change. Each of the coaches references that what these individual artists can do is make their own impression on the music industry. And at the heart of it, they want to see music change and evolve and have more voices. I think the same way about education and I love seeing this parallel in another aspect of life. 

I love that teachers are all around us and I really appreciate that one my favorite shows has such great learning for me about how to be a better teacher.

The value of grades?

23 Oct

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the idea of grades and specifically why we assign a number to a student’s outcome in our class. It hasn’t  been until the recent past that I really started to wonder why we define our students by a number rather than all of the progress and feedback that is given them throughout the semester. What do these numbers truly mean? Does it tell us how much knowledge they’ve acquired? Does it tell us how well they’ve taken in our curriculum? What do these numbers really mean?

I think it’s an interesting question as my hypothesis is that we would get a multitude of answers to this question. So then it leads me to thinking about the standards. What are standards? How do we define excellence? How do we define failure? Why is failure something that we feel bad about? Why isn’t it something we’re celebrating? So my mind has been just spinning out of control in considering these ideas.

And then I asked my students.

Today I asked my students to think about what would they want to see in their ideal education system. I got some really interesting answers but the one I wanted to discuss in this post is the idea that so many students feel badly when it comes to grades. They don’t find learning fun; it’s stressful for them as they are judged by a number. The numbers have meaning and in many cases, make the feedback and comments seem irrelevant. It bothers me learning is reduced to a number and in turn, that learning becomes stressful. Why are we doing that to such an amazing aspect and quality of human life? 

My students are amazing people. I feel so blessed to have a job where I get to work with them, but what I’m hoping is that in the future we will have an education system where students feel excited if things don’t work out. They will be problem-solvers, think about how they can constantly improve, think about how they can deepen their learning, and think about how they can share their passions with others. 

 Here’s the comment that has me thinking: 

Voice to Text: is it Writing?

14 Oct

I’ve been experimenting lately with the idea of voice to text. The reasoning behind it is that it’s a tool that I have yet to explore fully and I actually am having arthritis problems in my wrists and hands and so I’m trying to compensate for this issue. In order to experiment, my last four blog posts (and this one)have been written through voice to text.

I think this brings up some interesting issues when it comes to the idea of “writing.” So many people believe the writing is a process that is done through our hands, but to me writing is a process that happens in our brains. I’m curious as to why we think that writing is something that has to come through our hands when we have prolific authors in our world who don’t write their hands. In fact, historically many authors dictated their work to someone else who wrote it down and so it’s interesting to me that we have this obsession with the idea that writing is something that needs to come through hands.

Last year one of my students physically was incapable of writing with his hands and had an EA who scribed all his work. I still assessed his abilities in the writing strand because it was his words; she just wrote them down. How can this not be considered writing?

It was interesting as we were talking about this in my morning class. I think some of the students are hesitant to use this tool because they feel like it’s “cheating.” I don’t see it as cheating as it’s still a student’s words, but they’re coming up in text form. One of my students commented that he thought that was oral communication rather than writing and I understand his point as it is completed with oral communication and they are both strands in the English curriculum. When it’s done voice to text you have the opportunity to edit your words which is not an option when speaking. To me, that’s the major difference. I’m also wondering if the curriculum is in need of a rewrite to consider the idea of “communication” rather than dictating between the two as technology is only going to continue to advance which will further blur the lines.

In reflecting on using voice to text, I’m sold. I love that I can talk my ideas through because when I type, I talk out loud. I also appreciate that I can say so many more words faster than I can type. I feel like things flow better because I’m talking and letting my ideas out rather than fixating on the mistakes that I’ve made typing. My posts are longer, my thoughts are deeper, and it’s faster, so I feel like it’s a win-win situation for me. Hopefully I can encourage more of my students to engage in this technology and I would love to hear their reflections.

Thankful for Creativity

11 Oct

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and I’m feeling grateful. My husband has given me a rare hour to myself, and I spent most of it editing photos. Taking pictures is my main creative outlet (other than lesson planning) and I haven’t done it in a while. I took some family photos yesterday and I’m really happy with how they turned out. We have an old computer so I’ve been less inclined to take photos with my DSLR as uploading and editing is challenging, but I got out my camera and photographed anyway. 

What I realized is that I was letting my fear get the best of me. Yes, it would be more work to have to fight with our computer to edit the way I want to, but the product is of a better quality, and more importantly, I feel intrinsically satisfied. I did run into a problem as my SD card got corrupted but I was able to overcome that and recover the images I had lost.

The experience yesterday has me thinking. I’ve been contemplating how much I haven’t takenphotos with my camera and how I’ve relied on my iPhone to take the photos of my family that I want to cherish. My camera takes far superior pictures and I know that, but I was afraid that my computer would mess things up. This makes me think of the classroom as we have so many students who are paralyzed by fear when it comes to being creative or trying something new. They are afraid of make mistakes. I actually feel like I’m a bit of a hypocrite because I’ve been avoiding my camera because I didn’t want to make a mistake or have to work too hard for something I love. Many students, on the other hand, are doing things in our classroom that they don’t really love and so how can we expect them to be motivated and willing to take risks when they’re afraid to fail? 
It also makes me think about that for many kids school is a irrelevant. How many students have hidden passions like this that we as teachers have no idea about? I love taking pictures and I have since I was a high school student myself, but very few people actually know that about me. It makes me wonder how could I have capitalized on that in my younger educational experiences. So one of my goals moving forward with this next part of the semester is to try and find these hidden talents my students possess. I want them to be able to bring those into the classroom in order to share that love and creativity with their peers AND have it be valued. Some of my students are amazing artists and yet they don’t feel like it’s a valuable skill, but what they don’t realize is that they’ve already discovered something that brings them joy. They’re so lucky that they know that already as many adults struggle with finding activities that bring them satisfaction. I also want students to see how valuable the skills are as these creative passion-based attributes are what makes us human.

Digital Learning and its Pedagogical Value

4 Oct

I’ve had a number of really interesting conversations with my colleagues lately and many of them have centered on the idea of digital learning in the classroom. I am a huge proponent of digital learning as I feel it works for so many of our students, but one of the misconception is that when you’re a digital teacher, that’s all you do. For me that’s the farthest thing from the truth. My teaching does involve technology quite often, however, the purpose behind technology in the classroom is to augment my pedagogy not be the sole driver. I actually get quite annoyed listening to people talk about how it’s either technology in the classroom or nothing at all. I firmly believe it’s a balance of technology as well as “traditional “methods as that’s how we meet the needs of our students.

In considering the needs of our students, this year I use technology quite differently between my classes. Many of my grade 10 applied students appreciate paper more so than technology and so that’s what we do because that’s what works for them. In contrast, my grade 11 class is quite technologically augmented as that’s the world in which most of them live. They are savvy and engage in the digital realm constantly and so that style of learning works for them. To be low-tech would be a disservice because that’s not how they learn. I teach these classes back to back but in very different styles because that’s what my students need.

In my opinion, technology is a fabulous tool. It captures the learning as well as ignites it for some students, but there are many times where technology is unnecessary. Sometimes a good old think-pair-share is way more effective than a technological tool. I often use strategies such as a gallery walk, both large and small group discussions, four corners, choose a side, thumbs up thumbs down, etc., and those methods are just as important for enhancing skills and sparking/furthering/deepening learning. 

So it strikes me as interesting as to how these two camps have sprung up. Why are we either technology / digital teachers or traditional teachers? Why do we need a distinction? Is it rooted in fear? Are we afraid that it’s all or nothing? Isn’t our mandate to facilitate learning? Why are we spending time choosing a camp? Why can’t we just think about the best means for learning to happen in our own individual classrooms? I worry that we are tearing each other down when we should be building our colleagues up and as well sharing our strategies for guiding the learning.

For me it’s the pedagogical value that technology adds that supplements my practice, but realistically, it’s just one tool that I have in my toolbox to get the students thinking. 


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