An Inquiry Into Inquiry Planning…

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to run a few PD sessions at my old school, one of which was a session on inquiry planning–specifically, starting with our students first, rather than the content/curriculum. My first step in preparation, of course, was to consult my PLN:

Here were the responses:

And then, after some additional direct message chatting/advice, Edna Sackson posed one of her trademark call-to-action challenges:

ednas-advice

It made complete sense, so I immediately accepted. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous!

But I knew that to really be there for my colleagues and their concerns about planning this way, modeling was really the way to go.

So we started with the following provocation:

I jotted down a few questions beforehand, including:

  • What are our limitations from an education stance?
  • What if we don’t embrace the “Shake” or what if our students do not?
  • How can being creative within our confines transform ourselves, our students, and our world?
  • What accepted norms do we challenge when we plan around our students instead of content?
  • How is inquiry be seen as “seizing the limitation” instead of “seizing the day?”

Then, knowing the concerns that often surround this topic, I chose to conduct the Compass Points protocol to bring those to the surface (another pointer from Edna)!
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What excited our group about planning from an inquiry stance:

  • Students come up with and create learning
  • Allowing the students to teach their peers as well as me as the teacher
  • Kids are excited and chattering about the concept
  • Student centered
  • New fresh ideas from little minds
  • Freedom for creativity & flexible thinking
  • Kids just come alive and are excited to share their learning in meaningful ways
  • Continue learning trial and error
  • It allows students to be more invested in what they’re learning. Memorable & relevant.

Their worries:

  • Classroom management
  • Getting in content and making it all work together
  • Time limited
  • Kids don’t participate or stay on task. Lose control.
  • Chaos–students putting forth no effort to learn.
  • Students won’t come up with ideas or be silent about the concept.
  • Not meeting expectations. Some failed lessons as wasted time?
  • Lots of planning and unsure where to lead lesson.
  • Having 825 kids for only 30 minutes once a week (specials teachers).
  • Students miss out on valuable time to be active (from the PE teacher)

Their “Need to Knows:”

  • Methods I can take and use right away
  • How to make it all day long and put in the content in a way that can be easily accessed.
  • How to set up behavior expectations without squelching thinking.
  • What counts as an inquiry lesson or activity?
  • The process of guiding and directing the students better.
  • What will excite and engage students.
  • My students–their personalities, limitations/struggles, where they need to go next.
  • Be more familiar with process and what it looks like in my situation

Their Stances (how we might move forward in our opinions):

  • Being flexible and allowing things to get maybe more out of hand than usual
  • Continue learning trial and error
  • Being balanced
  • Ask myself the questions
  • Bring inquiry into more subjects
  • It’s a great idea but often conflicts with how I need to run my classroom

Next, we sorted each of the categories. We focused on the worries for this, and decided we were most concerned about not meeting expectations (ie “covering” curriculum), classroom management, time management, and the logistics of planning this way.

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We were at the “where do we go next” juncture, and together, we decided to look at examples of individuals who are addressing these concerns in their teaching:

  • A couple of first grade teachers examined this literacy example of Jessica Lifshitz allowing her students’ questions to drive the planning.
  • The art teacher read Taryn Bondclegg’s A Class Misunderstood because she was especially interested in what it looks like when issues arise in an inquiry approach, and how we deal with them.
  • Some first grade teachers also looked at Taryn Bondclegg’s summary of her first month of all-in inquiry.
  • A couple of second grade teachers looked at math examples from this grade 2 class and Simon Gregg’s class.
  • Several others browsed Kath Murdoch’s downloads, particularly her “What do Inquiry Teachers Do?”

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to have a proper wrap-up (it was only an hour session and they were in the thralls of exploring the above resources), but I heard some wonderful conversations happening, ranging from how teachers really use their students’ questions, to realizations that giving up teacher control does not mean allowing chaos to rule in the classroom.

And I learned/reaffirmed…

…a solid provocation and relevant visible thinking routine are powerful tools to elicit serious thinking.

…deciding “where do we go from here?” with our students is an act of trust in them and in ourselves as professionals.

…collaboration and curation are essential skills for inquiry teachers. We can lean on one another both for our initial planning (a huge thank you to my PLN!) and subsequent decisions on where to go with our learners.

I think the next step for this group involves a closer look at the daily process of student-responsive planning. What do you think?

featured image: shehan peruma

Digital Citizenship: A Richer Perspective on #Edtech

Digital empowerment through digital citizenship. This will be the main focus of my upcoming professional development training sessions I’ll have the opportunity to conduct at my old school.

Inspired by the idea of providing differentiation in PD, I decided to run one K-2 session and one 3-5 session. Hopefully that will resolve the issue we encountered during last year’s technology PD when teachers of younger students voiced concern over applying more complex resources to their students.

As I reflect on my personal journey with classroom tech application, the good, the bad, and the ugly come back to mind:

  • Like that time I required every student in my class to create a Prezi for a unit summative assignment. And then we watched them all.
  • Or when I created a diy interactive whiteboard with my students so we could more easily select answers for some gameshow-like software.
  • Or when we decided to collaborate on Google Docs by having everyone revise others’ writing pieces and parts kept getting accidentally deleted. (this was before I was aware of the “See Revision History” feature…  
  • Or when I introduced students to Storybird and they created beautiful digitally illustrated fantasy stories.
  • Or when my students started blogging and sharing their work/commenting on peers, including their quadblogging pals in England and China.

The list goes on and on. But now that I have had time away from the classroom to reflect and research, I’ve gained a couple of key perspectives that I believe will make a big impact on how I use technology with future students:

Digital citizenship is about leveraging our opportunities to enhance connections.

I used to think that when it came to technology, I needed to spend a lot of time teaching my students to use it efficiently and effectively (ie, learning to type, navigating interfaces, etc.).  While these skills are still important, I now realize that it’s more important to spend time opening my students’ eyes to the possibilities available to them today.  I want them to know that they can gather perspectives from around the world, share interests with peers well beyond their classrooms, curate resources that matter to them, and enjoy stories with a global audience. Once they have that spark lit, the other skills will come as they dive in.

Digital citizenship is more about empowerment than caution.

We teach about identity theft, cyberbullying, and password security. And with good reason. But there is much more to the conversation on what it means to be a digital citizen! As George Couros often preaches, we must “find the awesome, create the awesome.” A Twitter exchange with Edna Sackson further illuminated the idea:

 

tweet-between-me-and-edna-sackson

Just as in citizenship in general, the opportunities for good are too overwhelming to wallow in excessive hesitation and fear for what might happen. We are empowered when we are encouraged to see what’s possible, to take ownership over our available resources, and to collaborate positively with other learners throughout the world.

I think one of my favorite aspects of our students developing a strong self-identity as digital citizens is that we can’t fathom what they will do with it. With the exponential nature of tech resources and access, if we give them confidence to explore, create, and contribute, the possibilities are truly boundless.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

If Teacher PD Looked Like Popular Pinterest Pins

In “An Open Letter: To Pinterest, From a Teacher,” I reflected upon why certain pins so heavily circulate around the education community despite their lack of learning value. Since then, I’ve continued to wonder on the matter, especially as debates have ensued over the subject of compliance. A recent post by PYP educator Taryn Bond Clegg further pushed my thinking, particularly when she writes:

“…there were some things that surprised me about adult learners – the very same things that used to frustrate me as a classroom teacher. I have started to wonder if these similarities might have more to do with being a human, than being a child.”

This perspective has placed a new lens on my reflections. Namely, what if those pins were applied to teachers themselves?

Drawing from some of the most popular pins I’ve seen time and again, I created 6 images to further drive the discussion.

1

As Taryn says in a comment on her post, “I wonder how I would react if the facilitator took my device away, shut my screen, flipped my device over, called me out publicly or “moved my clip” down the colour chart…”

2

Some of the items on this list might be legitimately appealing, but that’s not the point. The true pride in and intrinsic motivation for our work is degraded when it is turned into such a carrot-and-stick exercise. As Alfie Kohn recently wrote,

“When we deal with people who have less power than we do, we’re often tempted to offer them rewards for acting the way we want because we figure this will increase their level of motivation to do so.”

 

3

The playfully spirited teacher may think, what a low-key and silly way to get students’ attention when they are off-task! But when we truly consider the function of establishing true mutual respect with students, it becomes clear that such communication can only erode it. After all, no matter how playful the intent, it still reinforces your ultimate authority and their ultimate subordination.

 

4

Hand signals may seem benign, and indeed there may be specific instances where they are useful (ie, quick whole-class comprehension check, etc). However, when we outline an entire arsenal of codes for students to silently convey basic needs like going to the bathroom or grabbing a new pencil, we single-handedly undermine their ability to solve their own problems appropriately, along with our trust in their ability to do so.

 

5

At first glance, this one may not seem to be about classroom management. However, experience has taught me that these kinds of worksheets are more about control than learning; they are usually utilized in hopes to keep everyone else “busy” during guided reading or other small group times. But of course, such a sheet will no more make teachers tech-savvy than cylinder sheets will make students adept mathematicians. But if it were replaced with actually using Twitter itself…

 

6

It might not be so bad when all the other teachers start out on the low end of the spectrum, too. But as time passes, how would you feel to see the numbers moving further and further away from yours–because even without names attached, you know exactly where your scores stand? One might argue, “But it’s a great way to motivate,” but is it really? Is demoralizing someone by reminding them of everyone else’s superior performances the best way to elevate effort? As a study cited in this Washington Post article found, “many well-intentioned teachers…appeared to be using data with students in ways that theoretically may have diminished the motivation they initially sought to enhance.”

What about you? Have you seen Pins that could hinder more than help the teacher/student relationship? What are your views on the ones I’ve shared? I’d love to learn with you!

featured image: Highways England

3 Ways to Organize & Maximize diyPD Time

When I finish reading articles that illustrate the sad statistics on absurdly high teacher workloads and burn-out rates, it makes me pause. I wonder whether all my reflections and recommendations about developing PLN‘s and diyPD are just a mirage for teachers trapped in such circumstances.

And perhaps they are. Which is why it is important to continue to spread awareness of such issues and to challenge policymakers to address them. But meanwhile, I find it equally important to share our strategies with other teachers that serve us even amid less-than-ideal circumstances.

On that note, here are 3 resources to better organize and maximize time for personal diyPD learning. I have found them to be enormously beneficial to keep me organized, and it’s especially my hope that they will help lessen the load for those teachers seeking to find scraps of time for personal professional learning!

RSS feed reader. Are all of your email subscriptions bogging down your email box? Try switching to an RSS feed reader. Chrome has some simple and free extensions that I’d recommend, like “RSS Feed Reader” if you want a simple menu bar icon that will give a drop-down menu of new posts; or “Feedly” if you want a more news-oriented layout that you can also sync to a phone app). You can then organize your content into folders to better select what/when you want to peruse specific topics. Remember that you can also subscribe to individual Youtube or Vimeo channels! 

Inbox. Speaking of email boxes, Inbox by Gmail is a fantastic way to lasso out-of-control email. Not only can it sort incoming emails into neat folders, but it’s an excellent task-managing, sanity-saving tool. See more reasons to give it a try: “Why Google Inbox Is an Organized Teacher’s Best Friend.”

OneTab. Seeking respite from the dozens of tabs I perpetually left open on our computer, my husband introduced me to this beautiful little Chrome extension. With one click, all those tabs collapse into an easy-to-organize list in a single tab. I love it because I can more easily see all the pages/titles I’d opened with less mess. And my husband loves it because it saves our computer speed. Win-win.

What are some of your favorite time-saving management tools when it comes to media use? Please share!

Featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

10 End Of Year Reflective Questions Every Teacher Should Ask

Amid surviving end-of-year testing, finalizing report cards, and sometimes, even packing up to swap classrooms, self-reflection can be the last thing on anyone’s mind. All the same, this time of year is a rich opportunity to do so; not only are the memories of this year fresh, but it’s also a great time to create a summer plan to help you better reach next year’s students (while you relax and recharge, of course)!

Below are 10 questions to help spark that honest reflection, along with resources that might help you get started in taking steps toward change.

Would I benefit by finding ways to rekindle my sense of fulfillment as a teacher? Is burn-out becoming your reality? Check out resources like the “Teacher Wellness” section of Edutopia to find inspiration to refocus your why as a teacher.

In what area(s) do I wish I could better reach my students? Choose a summer project based on just one item on your list. Want them to be better digital citizens? Try paving the way by connecting with other teachers on Twitter or Facebook groups (I recommend TTOG for a start). Hoping they’ll take more ownership over their learning process? Explore how you might improve your feedback methods. Wish you could make math more meaningful? Study inquiry and student-centered options, such as guided math.

Do I need to recalibrate my perspective on outside forces that I can’t directly control, such as standardized tests? By all means, please keep up the good fight against large-scale practices that diminish learning. But reserve the bulk of your energy on what is within the more immediate sphere of your control. As Edna Sackson shared on Twitter:

Am I selective enough about the practices that continue from year to year in my classroom? Take a look around your quiet, empty classroom. Leave no stone unturned as you inventory every item’s impact on authentic learning. For a personal example, check out, “What Happened When We Ditched Our Boxed Spiral Review Program–Mountain Math/Language.”

How can I better shift the learning to be more about overarching concepts instead of a thousand individual Google-able facts? For another personal example, see, “What Happened When I Stopped Teaching History in Chronological Order.”

Do I know the required curriculum well enough that I can stop worrying so much about whether I’m “covering” everything? In other words, can you see your role shifting from delivery-person to facilitator/connector? The former centers on a rigid agenda from the state, school, or you. The latter centers on individual students’ learning needs.

Do I give my students the opportunity for frequent and authentic reflection? Having a wrap-up is a simple yet often overlooked reflection strategy, and it’s a great place to start.

Is learning confined within the walls of our classroom? Once we started student blogging, the ability to connect globally with peers through Quadblogging blew our minds. Perhaps the summer project calling your name is to explore a platform that is age-appropriate and that complies with your school’s privacy guidelines.

Am I doing all the “heavy lifting?” Exhibit A: As George Couros recently suggested, you can either spend an age trying to find that “perfect Youtube video,” or you can challenge students to find it instead.

Are extrinsic rewards crowding out students’ intrinsic drive to learn? It’s ok to be afraid of rampant chaos. But don’t let that fear keep you from taking risks and giving students the chance to show you they can really bring to the table as learners. See “6 Thoughts on What’s Wrong with Compliance.”

5 Ways to Stop Using Your Interactive Whiteboard as–a Whiteboard

Remember when I shared that story of the diy interactive whiteboard last year? Remember how I commented that we only even used it for occasional game show activities, eventually ditching it altogether? 

That was a classic example of what happens when edtech exceeds innovation. In all honesty, our usage level probably matched our abysmal functionality level, but I have witnessed this phenomenon in multiple classrooms equipped with full-fledged and shiny interactive whiteboards. And in these classrooms, they might as well have been using bog standard whiteboards. Sure, students may now be coming up to click “turn the page” on a book, or to tap the apples to add them up in a basket, but is that really elevating the learning experience beyond the pre-interactive whiteboard era? I’ve shared the GIF below before, but it seems especially appropriate to revisit here:


This is where this list comes in. In my experience, teachers learning and sharing with teachers is the best way to refine our practices. And in this case, we can help one another access the innovation necessary to prevent that new tech from just assimilating into business-as-usual, and we can do so in just 4 steps:

  • Step 1: Identify areas in which learning is stagnating, or even being diminished.
  • Step 2: Be the provoker by asking how a practice/resource enhances and challenges the classroom learning.
  • Step 3: Write, search out, and/or share strategies like those listed below–in the teacher’s lounge, on your Facebook page, on your blog…
  • Step 4: Reflect & repeat.

And so, here are 5 ways to maximize that interactive whiteboard. Keep in mind that these are targeted toward practical whole-group circumstances. For instance, it may sound tech-savvy to have a student zoom through Google Earth in front of the class, but consider whether that might be better suited for independent or small-group exploration on devices.

1. Document formative assessments: We all know that formative assessments should be a frequent staple, but we also know how cumbersome that documentation can be. Put your interactive whiteboard to work by doing those group Visible Thinking routines on the board. The large Chalk Talk board? Saved for future discussion! That KWL chart? Imagine the layers of reflection as you can easily save and revisit it throughout the unit or even year.

2. Collectively reflect on methods. I’ll let two photos speak for themselves on this one:

via Making Good Humans
via Making Good Humans
via The Curious Kindergarten
via The Curious Kindergarten

3. Provocations: Starting a unit with some thought-provoking photos or videos? Allow students to annotate screen shots with their initial thinking, and then easily revisit at the end of the unit. 

4. Reading and Writing workshop: When it comes to unearthing the complex journey of literacy development, interactive whiteboards can be pure magic. Annotate a students’ writing sample (with their permission, of course). Highlight what individuals notice about a mentor text passage. Co-construct anchor charts of all shapes and sizes. And as you go, shrink them all down to printable a size, pinning them up as evidence, examples, and resources.

 

My old literacy bulletin boards

5. Expand the conversation: After utilizing any of the above, remember your option to share these moments with a broader audience. Ask your quadblogging buddies to add their own annotations to your class’. Post tricky questions to Twitter with the hashtag, #comments4kids. Invite your students to share their follow-up thinking on their own blogs. 

What are your favorite uses of your interactive whiteboard that match the innovation to the tech? Please share below!

featured image: DeathtoTheStockPhoto

10 Mixed Messages: Are You Confusing Your Students?

#1: “I want you to voice meaningful opinions and learn to articulately participate in group discussions, but you need to listen to me speak 90% of the time.”

Speaking and listening skills do not spontaneously happen; they take years of purposeful cultivation. When the teacher voice is the predominant one in the classroom, it takes away from opportunities for students’ voices to be heard, challenged, and refined.

#2: “You are competent, but you need to ask me before you use the restroom.”

We recently wrote about the need to abolish “Can I go to the bathroom?” There will always be specific exceptions for unique situations, but if we want our students to believe that we consider them to be competent and trustworthy, we should make trust the rule, not the exception.

#3: “It’s ok to fail and make mistakes, but remember you’re going to be graded on this!”

Nothing quite like holding a weighty grade over someone’s head to keep them from wanting to take risks with their learning!

#4: “I want you to learn to be a critical thinker and problem solver, but I will give you all instructions for completing tasks!”

How often do we let them struggle? How often do purposefully teach the fixed vs. growth mindset to help them learn to persevere and problem-solve? (check out this wonderful example of supporting students as they learned to examine their own fixed vs. growth mindsets).

#5: “We are part of a shared learning environment, but every lesson, transition, and conversation starts and ends with me.”

We may tell our students that this is a shared learning environment, but are you really sharing it? Giving up control over every aspect of the learning can be a struggle, but it’s an important step toward creating a truly student-centered classroom.

#6: “I want you to discover and act upon your passions, but covering this curriculum is our biggest priority.”

Of course the curriculum is generally set, but does that mean it must be the be-all-and-end-all in your learning environment? What if we let students take the lead with inquiry and project-based learning, while we pull overarching concepts (as opposed to content) and help them connect the dots?

#7: “I believe you can have a true voice in the world, but you’ll need to wait until you’re an adult before you can safely interact with individuals online.”

We want our students to be positive, contributing citizens of their communities; why do we hold back from teaching them to be positive, contributing digital citizens of the global community?

#8: “I want you to make authentic connections to this learning, but you need to memorize this because it will be on the test.”

If your answer to “why do we have to learn this” doesn’t reach beyond the test, it’s unlikely students are going to be making any personal connections any time soon. We can and should evaluate our students’ progress and learning, but it should be in the form of more natural feedback to their learning pursuits, rather than grading memorized content.

#9: “I want you to dream of possibilities, but the moment I give the quiet signal, you must immediately stop and pay attention to me.”

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a quiet signal. However, there are ways we can respect students’ thinking time, ie. giving them plenty of time to begin with, setting a timer, giving them notice before the transition, etc.

#10: What are other mixed messages you’ve seen? What can we do to change it? Please share in the comments!

featured image: Jon Wiley