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. 

Data in the classroom

30 Sep

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I collect data in the classroom. Our board goal here in the Waterloo Region District school Board is to have students demonstrate thinking. As I use a lot of digital technology in the classroom I’ve been thinking about how I can leverage the technology to show the journey of each student.

I’ve recently adopted Anne Doelman’s means of using voice to text to record thinking. I’ve also been taking photos and writing a reflection at the end of the week.  I feel like we live in a data driven society where everything is dependent upon numbers and I really feel that learning can’t be reduced to that simple a form. I have lots of data about my students but it is not in number form. I can tell you each student’s individual strengths and areas for growth in all aspects of the curriculum but numbers don’t give a complete picture. My data comes from sitting down having conversations, observing the behavior in class, reading student work, and giving feedback on what he or she can do to improve his or her skills rather than adding up some numbers on a test. Learning is so complex that I don’t see how it can be explained without rich anecdotal and observational data.

Overheard at School

30 Sep

I’ve heard a couple interesting comments this week at school and they have me thinking. The first one was I heard a student in my 3UU class say that I “don’t mark I give feedback.” This is fascinating to me and I really stopped me in my tracks because she’s right. I don’t mark in the traditional sense.

I spend most of my class time observing, encouraging, reading, and giving students strategies of how to improve. I don’t have percentages in my book. Nor is any one task out of a certain amount. I do give levels but that’s only on summative work and to be honest I really don’t even like doing that. I’m so concerned that what we’re doing is we’re devaluing learning when we assign numbers or grades to a specific task. I want students to be curious and I want them to be skeptical and I want them to be critical thinkers but how can I do that when all they’re worried about is what number I’m going to place on their thinking? It just doesn’t compute to me.

The second comment I heard yesterday was ” I’m so scared for the test next period.” It doesn’t seem like an out of the ordinary comment at a school, but what struck me was that I just come from talking with my five-year-old about kindergarten and how much she loves it. I had also had a similar experience with my two-year-old yesterday morning. She just learned how to put her clothes on by herself and her new skills are exciting. When students come to school, however, it seems that the focus is on memorize the content, regurgitate it, and that’s how we demonstrate learning.  It seems like the curiosity and excitement is gone. And unfortunately, in many cases, it’s replaced with fear. I’m worried that we’re going to have future with people who are afraid to make mistakes and who don’t think outside the box. I worry about the detriment on our society because we need those people who challenge. We need those people who know that making mistake is one of the best ways to learn and we need those people who are willing to take a risk. I’m concerned that here at school we are equating learning with fear. How can we have an innovative and creative next generation of thinkers when they’re afraid?

Friday Reflection 2

25 Sep

Integrating Two Courses Into One

This semester I have my 3UU course. It’s a combination of grade 11 university English with Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology and I love it! The courses together are such a wonderful marriage of content and skills that provide excellent springboards for so many different activities. It is my second time through the course and as usual, I’m doing very little the same as last year. One aspect that I am being intentional about is what the expectations are for the course and how we are meeting them. When we start activities, I either ask the students to explain how they think they are meeting expectations or share how I see the goal of the activity. From this, I want to students to engage their complex thinking skills and realize that learning isn’t compartmentalized. For example, we spend much time researching about the various theories in the psych, soc, anthro course. The research then becomes an English skill as we evaluate the credibility of sources as well as generate, gather, and write for a specific audience. As another example, I asked the students to split into teams and research either nature or nurture. Collaboration, research quality, reading for meaning, organizing data, speaking to communicate, and listening to understand all come out of this activity and I love that we can hit all these curriculum expectations in a highly engaging fashion all the while learning the HSP content.

Learning doesn’t happen in a bubble and I really appreciate being the one to help students on these journeys.

Friday Reflection 1

21 Sep

Student Choice in the Classroom:

As one of my professional goals this semester, I’m being even more intentional about promoting student choice in the classroom. In thinking about previous years and this idea has been implemented in the classroom and I’m not satisfied and specifically, I am concerned that we didn’t go far enough when we provided the opportunities to have choice. I spent much of my summer reading about how to encourage students to take risks and be innovative, yet I feel that in many ways we are still providing a larger box than the in past, but it’s still too small. Don’t get me wrong, I think guidelines and boundaries are important, however, there is still too much control being exerted by teachers. If we truly want to have a student-centered classroom that focuses on each student’s individual learning journey, I think we need to provide them with more opportunities to direct his or her own learning.

So I’m experimenting.

In the last two weeks I’ve taken into consideration more student input than I ever have before in my classroom. For example, my students have told me that in our 3UU course (integrated grade 11 University English and HSP – Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology) they want to deconstruct a case study every Friday morning. They want the opportunity to apply the week’s learning in a fun and active fashion. They have also requested that on Friday afternoons, (our class is two periods long – once period in the morning and one in the afternoon) they want to use this time to read, write, and provide feedback to their peers in a more unstructured setting. As I am listening to how they want to guide their learning, we are in an unstructured setting. (I’m participating in the writing as I believe it’s important for teacher modelling.) I’m looking around my classroom and what I see is productivity. Many students are writing their weekly blog post, and are asking their peers for feedback. I see students collaborating and researching the blog post they have asked to write that includes both their voices. I see students asking each other questions because a couple of them are wanting to write blog posts about how to ask and answer questions that reflect more than just surface meaning. I see students reading a variety of books – some fiction, some non-fiction but all on topics, themes, issues, etc., that each student connects with on a personal level.

It’s awesome!

Reflecting on the Year

23 Jun

Hands down, this has been my favourite year of my career. So in honour of this sentiment, I’m going to write a gratitude post about the year.

1. I had wonderful students who once they acclimatized to my style, were all in with thinking and learning differently. I don’t think I’ve ever had a year where I immensely enjoyed all six of my classes this much, but there was never a day this year that I felt apprehensive about the potential for behaviour issues. I was truly blessed with learning with six classes full of fascinating, kind, considerate, and lovely students.

2. I am no longer on an island in my pedagogical beliefs. For a long time, the way I think about education has been both beneficial because it’s given me a variety of opportunities, but alienating as I really think quite differently than many of my peers. Last year was a start, but this year, I’ve found a core group of individuals that encourage and push my thinking. We interact online, but what I’ve really appreciated is the face to face get togethers that have happened over the last year. We talk about pedagogy, we reflect together, and we plan for how to push even more. I am so thankful these people have come into my life.

3. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities this year. I created an integrated course (3U English with 3U HSP with Dan Ballantyne), I was a part of the English Digital Learning Project (EDLP) here in WRDSB, I attended and presented at BIT14, OTRK12, and Connect2015, I helped facilitate a collaborative project between one of my English classes and Colin Jagoe’s astronomy class, I did two presentations at our WRDSB Learning Carousel, I was on our assessment and evaluation team at the school level, I was a part of two learning cycle teams, I worked on an Action Research Project about the Triangulation of Data, and I was the Acting Department Head for second semester.

So in considering these three ideas, this is why the end of this school year is bittersweet for me. I’m looking forward to a chance to spend some quality time with my girls, to read a lot, and to recharge, but I loved this year. Going to work has been a joy for me and I feel so very blessed to be able to feel and express that sentiment as I know that for many people, going to work is an unpleasant and often discouraging way to spend eight hours a day.

I just feel grateful.

Collaborating and Reflecting with Colin @colinjagoe

29 May

As I’ve mentioned before, this school year has been my favourite of my career. In many ways, I have felt fulfilled in terms of my pedagogical beliefs, but I have also had the opportunity to collaborate with some outstanding educators across Ontario.

At the #BIT14 conference this past November, I happened to sit beside Colin Jagoe during Ron Canuel’s keynote. Ron talked about the importance of taking risks and trying new and innovative approaches to learning and Colin and I decided we needed to somehow work together.

Fast forward to March and we decided that the collaboration would be to put our classes together (his grade 11 astronomy and one of my grade 10 academic) and ask them to create a project. His students were in charge of making the science work and mine were supposed to approach it from a media perspective. We co-designed a task where his students designed ultimate sports that could take place in space and my students were the “marketing” team.

Some reflections and next steps:

1. We asked the students to work together by putting them in groups without any knowledge of the people they were working with and that was interesting. My students discovered that it’s hard to work with someone when you don’t know anything about him or her. In the future, I think it’s important to have some kind of introduction – whether it’s a video or image, it’s obviously important to learn about and make some kind of connection with your group members. (In all honesty, we likely would have done this but we unsure of how much time we might have due to the on-going labour unrest in our profession at the moment.)

2. Students think they are being clear and concise, but it’s not always the case. I think next time it would be good for us as the teachers to model this even more. Colin and I had a Google Doc planning page, but I would have showed them what we were thinking and how we were using it to collaborate. We did our brainstorming on the main page and had an ongoing conversation in the comments. I think it would have been beneficial for students to have seen that aspect of collaboration.

3. We need to teach collaboration skills.

4. Students need to be pushed when it comes to sharing their ideas. My students were hesitant about jumping in and sharing their ideas and in many cases wanted the other class to tell them what to do. It was interesting to me though because my students had really great ideas but were worried they would upset the plan the other students had for how the project was “supposed” to be. I had a number of conversations with students about the of sharing thinking and pushing back on ideas, but all the while being tactful. In the end, I think many of my students realized that they did in fact have great ideas and regretted that they didn’t share their thinking sooner.

5. Reflection is key! My students spent a lot of time thinking about how the project went and didn’t even ask for grades! To me, that is a HUGE win! They reflected and thought about how it could have been better and celebrated what they thought well. It was AWESOME!

6. Working with Colin is amazing! One the characteristics of Colin that I admire the most, is that he is one of the most contemplative and reflective educators in Ontario. We had so many awesome Google Hangouts where we planned, but more importantly, reflected. We talked about our classrooms and how it went and what we considered successes and what we would do next time. It must have been serendipity that brought us together that day at #BIT14. I am already looking forward to a future collaboration next year!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,267 other followers