28 October 2012

21st Century Teachers

Following six difficult ‘teaching’ years tantamount to herding cats, I left the UK in search of ‘teaching Utopia’. I landed in the Middle East, where behaviour was improved and my teaching evolved into some semblance of the shaping of minds that I'd dreamed of. However, the ‘state of the art’ facilities I’d been promised were sadly lacking. The ban on all electronic devices in school seemed anachronistic so next came a move to SE Asia, into a world of Apple Macs that changed that way I teach forever.

1:1 Systems and Google Apps for Education
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Classes were small, learners IT-savvy and Wi-Fi strong and through 1:1, I discovered Google Apps for Education (GAFE). The ability to create interactive multimedia Google sites as learning platforms, revolutionised the way I approached teaching. I went from a ‘teacher’ to a ‘facilitator of learning’ - my lessons were no longer paper references instructing me what to do to them; they became sites authored directly for the learners as the audience. It changed everything.

GAFE allows learners to be in the classroom even when they aren’t; frameworks and resources are collected together and accessible for all; learners’ work can be showcased to the community. Learners are able to collaborate both in and out of the classroom - in literature circle work for example, documents are shared via Google Docs and learners meet up via Google Hangout to complete the reading. Literature Circles can be completed without the technology - on paper, with reading done individually - but the interest levels and ability to rely on each other is enhanced when all learners have access to these technologies. As long as there is access.
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In a 1:1 school, planning and design happens in the knowledge that learners all have access - which is not the case everywhere. Economics and Internet access are obstacles to these technologies and whilst GAFE is free, schools need a 1:1 environment or at least plenty of computers available for it to be successful. The majority of GAFE work well on most devices meaning Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes can also benefit though whilst GAFE is free, costs arise in Wi-Fi, as there needs bandwidth to support it. Nothing frustrates learners (or teachers) more than interactive lessons crumbling with network downtime. Online teaching means teachers must be prepared with hard copies or alternative activities available for such situations.

Equally, GAFE is huge and can be daunting for learners and teachers alike. In order to be successful, teachers must buy-in to believing that learning experience is improved; teachers also need to be one step ahead in order for it to work effectively; we must, as stated in Lecture 1, become 21st century teachers and know our stuff. This adds cost to school in terms of training. I am lucky enough to work in a school that actively encourages professional learning and every teacher was allowed the opportunity to attend the GAFE Singapore Summit in September – where my exposure to Twitter as an educational technology arose.

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At the GAFE summit I was learning so much so quickly, it became my tool of choice for sharing and the contacts I made from this has rippled out increasing my PLN exponentially - I learned about this course; I started Quadblogging and have forged links between other schools to start collaborative work. It is my go-to tool for increasing knowledge - surely the potential is there for learners to experience this too? I set up a Project Twitter account, with a specific Twitter role defined in each group though I have yet to evaluate it as a tool for learners. However, I read an article recently confirming that research has shown that Twitter ‘does make students more engaged’ (Edudemic, 2012). Incidentally, I found this article via Twitter.

Once learners have access to the Internet via 1:1 (or BYOD) the world is at their fingertips. Our responsibility as 21st century teachers is to keep up! Are these technologies sustainable? Who knows? The world of IT is ever changing and technologies are updated incessantly. Whilst it is impossible to determine whether Google or Twitter will be around in ten years, the skills we need to deal with these technologies are sustainable. Technology is not going to go away, it is going to get bigger. We need to teach learners how to discern the right tool for the job and mange their lives and the multitude of applications they will need to juggle. Using social media is an important 21st century skill. The extent of how it informs their learning is to be seen, but we need to learn to navigate this ever-changing world and help learners be safe and successful digital citizens within it.

"It’s Official: Using Twitter Makes Students More Engaged | Edudemic." It’s Official: Using Twitter Makes Students More Engaged. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. http://edudemic.com/2012/10/its-official-using-twitter-makes-students-more-engaged/.

27 October 2012


"In terms of young children developing as writers this is the most interesting development in the last 20 years." 
Pie Corbett

As a culmination of the Snapshots project and to authenticate the digital citizenship work we have just done, I signed up my Grade 7s to Quadblogging.

If my emphasise is that much of what they do and create is public, necessitating the need to be responsible in their posting, I need to give them an audience. All too often, we ask the learners to write a blog - but who sees it?

Ok, I do. But do they care about that really, beyond me being their teacher? I see all their writing - no big deal to them.

Parents? Some sign up but I have never yet seen a comment from one.

Hence Quadblogging. The programme was specifically set to up to provide audiences for learner blogs. Peer audiences. Authentic, real life and structured - making it a part of 21st century skill learning. Awesome!

I launched it with Grade 7 this week. They seemed very enthusiastic about linking up with schools from other countries - we have been linked up with Australia, the UK and America. They enjoyed looking at the blogs and got some great ideas about how we can organise our own blogs and what we can write on them - this being their major question. One of the reasons I signed my class up last in the cycle, was to give them the chance to read the other blogs - as the other bloggers are a lot more experienced than mine.

The freedom this gave them saw them quite hesitant at first, which I found interesting. They asked if I needed to check their comments before posting. They asked if they were allowed to leave voice mails. They seem to have been given too little freedom to get out into the world. I told them I trust them; we have done the learning, we've signed the pledge and agreed what it means to be responsible digital citizens; we've read and signed the guidelines and practised on paper. I think I am ready to let them go. I think they are eager to get out there and communicate with the world.

We are still ironing out details of what we want in our blog, which generated problems, as none have yet got their own blog - plus I saw the learners once this week again due to Eid holiday, and we are already a week behind the other schools involved as we were on term break. I have left a lot of it up to them - but then I guess, that is what this all about right? Initial decisions were that they wanted their own blogs - so we started the process of setting them up - then I will link to them from our main G7 blog. Overall though, I think it will be a great experience for them. I think they will, at least I very much hope they will, use this opportunity to really consider what they post and how they communicate with the world.

02 October 2012

Ticking boxes

Can rubrics hinder as much as help?

I had an official lesson observation for the purpose of our school Teacher Performance Assurance (TPA) about two weeks ago. I had my feedback meeting today, which is far longer than recommended 'same day' guidelines, but hey, life gets in the way most of the time.

Peer Feedback Using Google Forms 
My personal thoughts were that the lesson was 'bitty', as the learners were doing presentations that had spilled over from a prior lesson, followed by reflections on their learning. This meant that the lesson had two distinct halves - the half where learners were presenting or completing peer feedback on Google forms, and the half where they were working in groups to support each other to complete learning reflections on their project.

This meant there were two learning intentions, one for each half of the lesson and, whilst success criteria were determined by me for the first half, to ensure they met the criteria for assessment, they were devising their own success criteria for the second half, based on the differentiated outcomes of the reflective task. This was the first time the learners had really written their own success criteria and it took them a while - but they came up with succinct and helpful ideas, such as:-

  • follow instructions (which they kept failing to do), 
  • use the peer feedback (which some did), 
  • use the project log (which some had 'lost') and 
  • use the checklist (most did this). 
They then paired up with learners specifically predetermined and identified in conjunction with ELS and LS - in fact, the whole reflective task was designed collaboratively with these support departments. These learning partners used the checklist, which came from the reflection guidelines, to check all necessary elements had been included. This worked really well and learners used the 'no's on their checklist to make amendments and additions to their reflections.
The 'Onion' poem: each layer reveals a new line

The feedback from my observation was positive (thankfully) and apparently, I managed to 'tick' most of the boxes on the required TPA form. Which was really interesting, as I purposefully did not look at the TPA matrix before planning or teaching the lesson, as I wanted to see if my teaching is naturally 'ticking the right boxes'.

I feel like too often, teachers plan a lesson for observation in a different way than we normally would or naturally would, but rather so that all the 'boxes' are ticked - therefore making us a good teacher, right? This, coupled with the prior warning/preparation time, means that I believe these observations become a worthless exercise and a 'performance' (even the name of the exercise almost confirms this, if I really want to be facetious). Indeed, I have in the past been told by a colleague following such a 'performance', that now they can go back to the way they 'normally' teach - i.e. not in a way that does 'tick' the boxes and is instead, lackadaisical, mediocre and not given as much thought as is really needed for learners to benefit.

I do agree that we need to be accountable and we do need to meet certain standards. Realistically though, how many people put as much effort into everyday teaching as they do for the lesson we are being observed on? For the 'performance'. Even though I am rigorous and thorough and don't plan 'special' lessons for observations, I like to think I am always trying my best. I don't always give an observation-worthy performance - especially on days like today, when I have had too little sleep and too much wine the night before, on the back of too much running at the weekend, but hand on heart, I know that most of my lessons are up to scratch and that a great deal of thought goes into my planning (this was my main criticism from my feedback; I do too much planning). Hand on heart, I would welcome observation on any day of the week.
Any lesson.
Without warning.
I know I don't 'perform'. I know I don't plan a lesson to tick boxes - I just do what I do. And to know that that is good enough is awesome. I  do know I can improve and I do know I am not perfect but I do know I work hard to be good at what I do. Every day. Not just to tick boxes on observation days.

Can this thinking be applied to learners? This whole exercise made me think (which is really the point of it all, right?) - about rubrics and assessment. I firmly believe in co-constructing rubrics and sharing assessment criteria with learners to help them be successful. But if I apply the same thinking to my learners as I do to the observation process, is this at the expense of natural ability and creativity? Does the fact that we tell them what we 'expect' to see in any given task mean they do what they need to do to 'tick the boxes/ rather than do what they would naturally do without such 'limitations' or particular focus? There are always going to be some who go the extra mile and do more than is expected, but the majority of people want an easy life and will do what is expected; only what is needed and no more.

I have so many goals as a professional this year - yet I have to decide on a target for myself as the final phase in this round of TPA. I want to get Google Trainer certification, get my PBL certification, do some flipped classroom training, pass the Flat Classroom certification and implement all this learning into my teaching... I also want to really determine what it is I want my learners to learn, what it is that I feel is the heart of my teaching. This year, in a new school, also offers a great opportunity for curriculum review, which I have already started on... Ultimately though, I think I would like to focus on the rubric and assessment conundrum this year - do rubrics hinder as much as help, whether co-constructed or syllabus-based? I want to ensure my learners are informed about how they are assessed - because let's face it, ultimately, they are assessed - and yet not stifle their creativity, so they don't just 'learn to the rubric' and do only what is expected or measured.

Oh look, here we go again - where am I going to find the time to do all this?