8 Takeaways: Global Axis Summit 2017

 

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend and present at the Global Teachers Institute Axis Summit. The summit was focused on education in South Africa but teachers from all over Africa and America attended. Here ere are some of my key takeaways from the summit:

  1. Dawn Oler: Personal Connection & Reflection are vital. Use a personal Venn diagram to create relationships with students by finding what you and your students have in common. At the beginning of the school year share your life story and have students complete the diagram to see what they have in common and explain what’s unique to them. Also, have students monitor their own progress towards mastering unit objectives. This process is key to empowering students to own their learning.

2. Amanda Burton & Linda Korbus: Expect, inspect & respect mistakes. Create a class culture where mistakes are celebrated and become a regular part of the learning process. The metacognitive process of evaluating your own learning & mistakes is vital to deeper insights.

3. Baba Bantu: Decolonize our minds. Critically examine how Eurocentric narratives & institutions have formed over time. Actively seek counter-narratives and passionately immerse ourselves in cultural practices (languages, traditions, etc.) even if they are not considered “mainstream” or “normal.” Encourage our students to explore and celebrate their own cultures and develop pride for their identities.

4. John Gilmore: Set personal & professional goals every year. Our personal & professional lives are intertwined . Share your goals with others to keep us accountable.

5. Pam Bylsma: Make your values transparent. Nearly every activity and critical decision made in school should include a conversation about values. For example, hallway monitors can recognize students’ citizenship when they pick up trash that’s not their own. Teachers can encourage citizenship by debating social issues in classes & clubs.

Administrators can keep values (such as those highlighted in the Character Counts program) front and center by referring to them when resolving conflicts between staff or making controversial decisions transparent to parents. The following ethical frameworks can help students, teachers and administrators make tough decisions:

  • Harm/Beneficence: Does it do less harm and more good than the alternatives?
  • Publicity: Would I want this choice published in the newspaper?
  • Reversibility: Would I think this a good choice if I were among those affected by it?
  • Code of Ethics: How does this choice relate to the ethical standards of my profession?

SOURCE: Computing Cases

6. Tania Ham: Understand Special Needs. Can you imagine trying to draw with your eyes closed? Describe a painting you had never seen before? These types of exercise can help educators experience the types of struggles some students with special needs experience. By better understanding the challenges students face, teachers can better differentiate & scaffold learning activities.

7. Sunarku Clifford Sykes: Connect & Network. Be a teacher warrior for your students—-the challenges many of them face motivate us to give it our all everyday. Nearly every problem we face has already been solved by someone, somewhere—connect & just ask!

8. Kurt Minnar: ring your passions into your classroom. Connect your passions outside of school to the subjects you teach in school. Even subtraction & dancing can go hand-in-hand. Keep students engaged and moving, then they won’t have time to get distracted.

 

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3 Takeaways from the 2017 SIOP National Conference

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend and present at the SIOP National Conference at the end of June. Although I gained a lot of ideas & strategies I can bring to my class, here are 3 things I hope to apply to my classroom this year:

1) Prepare students for a broader range of academic discourse

Most people believe there are two distinct modes of communication—how we talk with our friends & family and how we read and write at school & work. Conversational language (popularly known as BICS or Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) versus academic language are false dichotomies. In schools, workplaces, and daily life, there are a range of settings that require some use of academic language.

As teachers, we must be aware of the academic language demands on our students and strive to prepare them from a wide variety of language needs. We can do this by not just assigning strictly academic papers by writing, reading, and speaking for a wider variety of authentic contexts.

2) Give students significantly more meaningful interaction with new words

Dr. Deborah Short shared research that shows that students need 12-15 meaningful exposures to a word before it becomes a part of their lexicon.

How can we create word-rich schools?

  • Create word walls so students can easily review and use new words
  • Collaborate with teachers across subject areas to coordinate which words are taught and deliberately design assignments that elicit the use of new vocabulary
  • Teach root words! Teaching a short list of root words (and reviewing them throughout the year!) can help students understand thousands of words that are unfamiliar to them.

3) Read aloud to students more often

In the book In Defense of Read Aloud Prof. Steven Layne argues that teachers should skillfully use their diction, volume, pace, tone and pitch to bring texts to life. Reading aloud helps students see and hear the narrative and appreciate stories in ways silent reading never could. Reading out loud for students has clear benefits:

  • Students can access texts that contain vocabulary, text structures, etc, more than 2 grade levels above their current reading level
  • Fosters positive attitudes toward books & texts
  • Exercises students’ imagination
  • Builds background knowledge
  • Reinforces & improves reading skills
  • Provides a model of prosody and fluency
  • Broader interests in genres
  • Increases cultural sensitivity (if the appropriate texts are selected)
  • Improves listening skills

 

Reflections from 2016-2017

Before I close the chapter on this school year, I want to reflect on my successes and failures to learn how I can improve next year.

Here are 3 of my takeaways from this school year:

#1 Breaking out of our Bubbles: Creating safe but challenging spaces

As a Social Studies teacher I often experience how upbringing shapes worldviews. Parents generally play the biggest role in shaping students’ beliefs, but social media, friends and traditional media (news, magazines, movies, etc) are significant factors as well. This year’s election made this abundantly clear.

Political pundits and those who lean to the left did not anticipate or understand the groundswell of support the President gained during his campaign. Also, many ardent supporters of the President often failed to appreciate the legitimate concerns raised by his critics.

I saw this play out in my classroom. Whether we were debating taxes & government spending in Economics or the Syrian refugee crisis in Global Issues, too often I saw students simply become more hardened in the views they had prior to entering the classroom.

While it may be idealistic, I want to be sure I create a classroom which encourages truly open minds and conclusions being drawn based on facts. I want to create a space where students feel comfortable sharing their views but also are open to being challenged to pierce the bubbles we too often inhabit.

Next year, one way I hope to achieve this is by trying to train students in a more collaborative model of discussions where students must work together to construct new ways of thinking about controversial issues.

#2 Technology: Fragmenting Knowledge & Student Data

With every passing year, the amount of information that is easily accessible to students has grown exponentially. Similarly, tools that easily allow teachers to gather data about student learning has also increased. These shifts create significant opportunities and risks.

In order for computers to gather information, learning tasks must be fairly objective and discrete (e.g. multiple choice tests and rubrics). We tend to do what we can measure. This year using tools like Pear Deck, Actively Learn and Canvas helped generate data that gave me deeper insights about individual students’ performance which then helped me differentiate instruction. However, these tools also increased the likelihood of learning to be fragmented into bite sized measureable pieces. Deep learning does not occur in such a discrete process.

Next year, while continuing to adopt new, powerful education technology tools, I want to be sure I create learning opportunities that allow students to be fully immersed in complex ideas for long stretches of time even if they cannot easily be assessed.

#3 Instructional Coaching: Learning from Others

This was the first year I taught part-time and served as an instructional innovation coach for the remainder of the day. I loved it.

The cliche of teachers saying they learn more from their students than students learn from them, was true in the work I did with other teachers. The most gratifying aspect of being an instructional coach was the opportunities it created for me to peek at the types of lessons and projects other teachers were designing.

While it’s possible that teachers spend time with more than 125 students a day, teaching can be oddly isolating. Rarely do we have time to see what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. Working as an instructional coach helped break down some of these walls.

I learned how to help students create music videos based on the musical Hamilton , construct multimedia-rich interactive timelines about the Civil War and use Google Maps to visualize the French Revolution.

Next year, I want to learn how to truly coach teachers and not simply serve as a technology resource. Also, I hope to learn more about the incredible teaching my peers are already doing and share their successes with a broader audience.

Beauty Pageants & Discussions

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Barn Raising in Action | SOURCE: Wiki Commons

According to Don McCormick of the University of Redlands and Michael Kahn, of the California Institute of Integral Studies most classroom discussions or seminars fall in one of the following four categories:

  • Free-for-All: In this seminar there is a prize to be won, whether it’s the instructor’s approval or one’s self esteem. There is no other goal but to win….One wins not simply by looking smart, but by looking smarter. Thus, important as it is to look smart, it is equally important to make the others look dumb.

  • Beauty Contest: This is the seminar in which each idea is paraded in all its finery, seeking admiration. When it has been displayed, its sponsor withdraws to think up the next idea, paying little attention to the next contestant. Thus, each person’s ideas bear little or no relation to anyone else’s.

  • Distinguished House Tour: Similarly, the Distinguished House Tour seminar begins with one member advancing an idea. The other students spend some time exploring that idea as they might an interesting house. They ask questions and look for inconsistencies, trying hard to understand the conception. When they have a good grasp of it, someone offers another idea and the seminar members explore that….When one is trying to explore a new thought, the pressure of the group probing for problems or inconsistencies is at best like a trial and at worst like an inquisition. We began by observing that the young and the shy, far from feeling encouraged, quickly retreated in the face of this exploration, however friendly and polite it might have been.

  • Barn Raising: This seminar begins with a member telling the group ideas which might be newly formed and not yet thought out. Then the community gathers to build the barn, to put together that idea. As I hear you say the original idea, it may be something I “disagree” with or something I’ve never thought about before; but now it becomes my project, and I set about helping you build it, helping us build it. After you’ve offered the idea, you have no more responsibility for developing it, defending it, or explaining it than anybody else in the group. If I have a problem with that idea, the problem belongs to the whole seminar, not just to you.

The barn raising form of discussion is as superior to other formats as it is rare. Teachers often are satisfied if they can simply achieve the “distinguished house tour” form of discussion because it at least demonstrates students willingness to share and defend original ideas.

However, a discussion where participants are truly interdependent and their exchanges lead to new ways of thinking necessitates the barn raising form of discussion. Above all, every member of the group must genuinely feel responsibility for developing the ideas in the discussion.

To help students better understand what these different forms of discussion look like, McCormick and Kahn recommend the following kinesthetic exercises:

  1. “Divide up into pairs. Now, with your right hand, make the most beautiful hand sculpture you can, and with your left hand, screw up your partner’s.” (Let them continue for a minute or two or until it gets rowdy.) “OK. Now stop and quietly reflect on how that was for you. What feelings did it evoke?” [Free for All]

  2. “Now, with both hands, make the most beautiful hand sculpture you can, but don’t get caught peeking at your partner’s. You might though, sneak a peek to see if it is better.” (Allow this to continue for a minute or two, then ask them to reflect on it.) [Beauty Contest]

  3. “Now, one of you, with both hands, make the most beautiful hand sculpture you can. The other person should explore it and examine it.” (Let this continue for a minute and then have them reverse roles. When both have completed, have them reflect quietly.) [House Tour]

  4. “Finally, make the most beautiful four-hand sculpture you can.” (Let this continue for a couple of minutes, then ask them to reflect on how this is different.) [Barn Raising]

After, each exercise it would be beneficial to have students discuss what this look like in an analogous discussion format. Then, after students have a mental framework for what truly collaborative discussions look like, McCormick and Kahn recommend students prepare for the discussion by reading “ the material looking for a question about it which you can offer the seminar. Choose the question you would most like to ask a very wise person who had read this material. Choose the question that seems to you put the material in the widest possible perspective.”

One way to help students, especially those in K-12, develop meaningful questions is by using the following Bloom’s’ Taxonomy Sentence Stems:

I hope to help students become skilled at the “barn raising” form of discussion over the course of the next school year.

21st Century Humanities PD

The steady stream of developments in education technology along with the books and blogs touting the newest, most student-centered methods of teaching makes it difficult to discern fads from true instructional innovations.

Technology should shift how students learn. However, without appropriate professional development teachers will be overwhelmed by the speed with which technology changes or merely replicate traditional teaching methods using digital tools.

The following is a framework for identifying instructional shifts due to technology and what their implications are for teachers and their professional development. 

Vision for Innovative Instruction

Implications for Teachers

Implications for Professional Development

Cultivate learning materials that meet the needs of all students

Although some learning goals necessitate reading a common text together, the textbook and the teacher no longer are the only sources for learning content and skills. Teachers will need to become skilled at cultivating and organizing resources that are appropriate for their students and learning goals. Teachers should train students on how to find and select appropriate resources.

  • Information Literacy
  • Developing a PLC/PLN
  • Differentiation

Create varied methods for demonstrating learning to authentic audiences

To be successful in the 21st century students will need to be skilled collaborators, communicators, critical thinkers and creators. Therefore, teachers will need to design learning activities that teach and assess these skills.

  • Project/Problem Based Learning
  • Multimedia tools & authentic audiences
  • Differentiation

Gather timely & actionable information about learning

Powerful tools now exist that allow teachers to quickly assess students and respond to student needs by creating flexible pathways to learning.

  • Formative Assessment
  • Asynchronous Learning
  • Grading v Assessing
  • Actionable Feedback

Download & Print from Google Classroom

Normally, I’m opposed to printing student assignments. With the proper workflow, I’ve found that I can offer more timely feedback in digital format, not to mention save acres of trees.

However, there are times when you might find that you need to print entire classes worth of documents submitted on Google Classroom. It can be tedious work manually opening each student’s document and printing it—especially if you teach multiple sections of the same class!  Here’s how you can easily download and print student assignments:

  1. Go to the PDF Mergy website
  2. Choose the option that says “select files from Google Drive”

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3. Give PDF Mergy permission to access your Google Drive by clicking “Allow”

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4. Find the folder that contains your students’ assignments. (If they submitted the assignment to Google Classroom, the assignments will be in a folder within the “Classroom” folder)

5. Select all the students documents (click and drag or enter CTRL A)

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6. Click on Merge. The process will take a fair amount of time ( approximately 2-5 minutes).

7. Click “Save PDF to your Computer”

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Cognitive Science in the Classroom

I enjoy reading Daniel Willingham’s work because he makes complex but important findings in cognitive science accessible to the average, busy teacher like me. I was first introduced to his writing a few years ago when I came across his book Why Don’t Students Like School?

Recently, I discovered that he has written a number of articles on highly practical topics for teachers ranging from spacing study to increase retention to whether critical thinking can be taught. Here are some of his findings, grounded in cognitive science, that might be especially useful for K-12 teachers:

  • Technology:

    • While technology might inherently be engaging, this appeal wears off quickly. Instead, teachers must strive to make the content itself engaging without using technology as a crutch. Technology can be an important support to learning but shouldn’t be at the heart of the lesson.
    • The best ideas for how to use new technologies will often come from other teachers because there hasn’t been enough time to conduct robust academic research on how to best implement rapidly developing education technologies.
    • Encourage students to avoid multitasking while doing an important task. Students aren’t actually multitasking, they’re just rapidly switching between tasks which reduces their focus and effectiveness.
  • Importance of Knowledge:

    • In the debates of content versus skill and whether schools should reduce the amount of material we expect students to learn because everything can be found on the Internet, it’s important to remember that knowledge is still important.
    • Knowledge helps you: take in, think about and remember new information; improve your thinking, and solve unfamiliar problems.
    • Willingham reminds us that “… the goal of education is seen not so much as the accumulation of knowledge, but as the honing of cognitive skills such as thinking critically. Knowledge comes into play mainly because if we want our students to learn how to think critically, they must have something to think about.” Therefore, while students don’t need to memorize long lists of names & dates, they need to know enough to engage in the vital task of critical thinking.
  • Practice makes perfect

    • Anticipating that we forget much of what we learned, we must practice a skill or recalling new information beyond a level of mastery.
    • What type of material is worthy of repeated practice?
      • Core skills & knowledge that will be used again and again
      • Knowledge students need to know in the short term to enable long-term retention of key concepts.