What now, what next?

For some educators who have long advocated for the power of technology to augment, if not transform teaching and learning, this almost feels like a ‘gotcha’ moment.

If it wasn’t so tragic, and so destructive, this might be a moment to point to the teachers who suddenly feel compelled to work out an alternative way and say ‘education wouldn’t be even possible now if it wasn’t for the same technologies that you have been resisting for the last ten  years’.

In Australia the school closure debate has divided experts. Unlike most countries the schools have remained open and teachers ‘cannon fodder’ to the good of the economy. As it is holiday time now that debate has quietened, but it will be interesting to see what Term 2 looks like, whether schools will open at all, and what education will look like? Will schools attempt synchronous replications of the old school day, keep the existing 1 teacher – 1 class paradigm, or look freshly at the challenges and possibilities?

As we energetically run PD on Microsoft Teams, OneNote, Zoom and ‘Screencasting 101’ and VCAA scrambles to keep exam-based structures in place Term 2 beckons.

And, beyond that, what will school look like a year out from now? Business as usual? Or are we likely to have seen new models emerge?  Everything seems broken currently. All seems possible.  The future is unwritten.

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The future is blended

Blender

I’ve been putting the finishing touches on a presentation I’m giving at two Oxford Conferences soon. The title of the presentation is The Future is Blended, and the descriptor for my session is:

In this workshop the focus will be on blended learning and approaches that extend and enhance the classroom experience. The latest research tells us what we have always felt: that good teaching is critical to student learning and that feedback to students is also critical. New technologies provide teachers with powerful tools to organise, collaborate and give feedback and to re-envision the classroom for the twenty-first-century learner. In this workshop participants will get a snapshot of the latest learning theory and get to play with some digital tools in a range of platforms that that can have immediate application in any classroom. The future is not digital, but it is blended.

The Education Changes Lives Conference is focused on Australian Curriculum but my session is more about technology and blending traditional approaches with new ideas. Last year I presented in the English teachers stream; this year it’s for general teaching audience.

The Melbourne conference is on May 16th

The Sydney Conference is on May 30th

Hope to see you there.

What do I hope for my students this year?

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It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been teaching, you can’t help but feel a frisson of nerves, or tension, or anticipation at the start of each year.

Maybe you’re in a new role, or teaching some new content, but more likely, and most often, it’s the thinking about meeting your new class and planning to get that beginning going well and those interactions commencing on the right foot.

The advice I got in my first year of teaching, from a grizzled old salt from the History Department? ‘Don’t smile until Easter’. Talk tough. Start firm and relax later if you can.

But I’m not talking to discipline and behaviour. I’m talking about the anticipation around this particular group of students and how you’re going to create that learning culture that works. The students: Who are they? What do they hope for? How are you going to get to know them at the same time as you know you’ve got some key content and skills that they need to develop. I sometimes wonder if we over-estimate out importance; that maybe we think too much about it, or try too hard, plan too much for what will come. But, I don’t like to think like that. And I’m not getting all blasé about ‘just another year’ and all that. This year matters, for them, and me.

And I plan to smile before Easter.

Above: Flowering gum (symbol of hope!)  Photo: Warrick

Padlet

One thing I always look for when talking to teachers about using technolog is something that they can use immediately, without changing their core belief about themselves as educators, or their key role as teacher. I put the arguments around that aside (sage on the stage > guide on the side > meddler in themiddle) and try to look for simple things that teachers can use in their very next lesson that wil have immediate benefit for their students.
So, things like Padlet are great. Padlet (formerly Wallwisher) is a simple web tool that works just as well on iPad as PC, is free, requires no sign-in and allows a group of students to brainstorm or discuss by adding ideas to an online ‘wall’. Simple. I’ve used with my Literature class a few times this year: to document a discussion we’re having in class (one person is assinged as blogger to capture the conversation), for students individually or in groups to put up some discussion points, or for the same thing to be done at home as a homework task. You can run through the ideas one at a time really easily and ask the students to comment on why they made that contribution. And, at the end, you can embed, make a link or make a PDF or image out of the ‘wall’ and put it on your class home page or email it to the students.
With just enough customisation to be fun without being overpowering, this is a really effective simple tool that can get any teacher ‘doing tech’ in five minutes. Some screenshots are below:

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Planbook as a lesson planning tool

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Last year I got pretty interested in the application of what Vic Zbar called ‘highly effective micro-teaching strategies’, particularly in the area of feedback and formative assessment and particularly related to the Hattie research and applications emerging from all that. Things like: ‘wait time’, ‘no hands up’, the icy pole stick questioning and the ‘pounce and bounce’ strategies, some of which I blogged about last year, and most of which are firmly analog. It’s hard to imagine something more low-tech than an icy-pole stick, even one decorated lovingly with texta and fineliner pen.

I enjoyed that thinking and aim to continue lots of those approaches this year.

One new thing I’ve want to explore is some of the work around ‘explicit teaching’ and particularly the lesson stages approaches that move from things like a ‘hook’ or intention to instruction, guided practice, group work and individual practice, concluded by revision, review and next steps. These are largely American ideas, but have been interested in how they’ve developed from there. Every lesson must have impact, every lesson should have a coherent learner-centric structure.

Sort of makes sense, but it also seems daunting to do that for every class every time.

So, I was interested to see whether there are lesson planning apps that might help, and came across Planbook. Planbook has been a Mac app for a while and I know nothing about that except that it’s about $36 and I’m not sure how well it syncs with the iPad version, which I bought for $9.99. Don’t be confused; there’s several Planbooks out there. I’m talking about the one from Hellmansoft.

What I like about Planbook is its ability to cope with a variety of timetables including our ten day rotation but the ability to customise the fields are the big winners for me.

The fields I included were based on Hattie’s extensions to work around the explicit teaching model.  There’s six customisable fields, so here’s what I chose for each field:

1. Topic/Content/Part of course

– What’s this topic
– Standards
– Stage in the learning

2. Beginning of lesson

– Learning Intention
– Activate
– Review
– The HOOK

3. Presentation

– Teach the concept
– Teach the skill
– Check for understanding

4. Guided Practice

– Development and engagement
– Feedback and individual support

5. Independent Practice

– Applying the concept or skill

6. Review

– Clarify, conclude
Homework/Assignments
– What should be done between lessons

Below, you can see the editing view of Planbook on the iPad. It’s not the prettiest setup in the world, and it would be easier on the Mac I’m sure, but it works well, syncs with Dropbox and is pretty user friendly. On the left hand side you can see the fields I’ve set up for each component of the lesson.

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Below, you can see the weekly view. I’ve got three lessons this week (in green) and you can see the subject name, times and the lesson plan there.

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Below, you can see the single lesson view (not in edit mode) I’ve been using this as my lesson planner, having the iPad on my desk as the planner, and the computer plugged into the data projector showing the students the lesson content or activities.

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It is a bit daunting to plan every lesson in this detail, and to be honest some of the year 12 lessons don’t go exactly this way. But, it has really sharpened my planning and I’m going to persist with this and give it a decent trial. I was considering using Evernote as the lesson planning tool (setting up a blank note with the six fields and simply copying that to a new lesson), but this more purpose-built app has some advantages over that approach, particularly its integration with your timetable schedule. If it really did sync well with the Mac version, it would be even more powerful.

Watch a screencast of the basics of Planbook below; it’s the Mac version, but the basics are the same.

Connected learning

I saw this on Twitter this week and shared it with some people at school.It’s from Sheryl NussbaumBeach @snbeach What do you think? Too zealous and idealistic? As a teacher I like the idea of ‘messy learning’ and the ideas of the teacher as interventionist in a collective and collaborative learning world. As a teacher-leader it’s also a bit confronting; how we can be sure we’re going to get something beautiful out of this messed up stuff, and not simply a mess?

Ted-Ed and all that

There’s been a bit of bite-back recently around the ‘Ted-Ed’ concept and the usefulness, relevance or otherwise of the whole shooting match of powerful people spouting powerful ideas. Apparently, they censored a Ted Talk that was critical of the inequity at the heart of American society. That idea sure ain’t going anywhere fast. Gary Stager had a field day. He’s hated the Ted Talk thing from day one. Salon described Ted Talks this way

Strip away the hype and you’re left with a reasonably good video podcast with delusions of grandeur. For most of the millions of people who watch TED videos at the office, it’s a middlebrow diversion and a source of factoids to use on your friends. Except TED thinks it’s changing the world, like if “This American Life” suddenly mistook itself for Doctors Without Borders. (here)

Admission 1 – I was always a bit sceptical about the $1000 a seat, or invite only idea that the Ted Talks seemed to be about in the first place. Yes, I too, smiled and nodded in hearty agreement when Sir Ken Robinson told us all how schools were killing creativity, but not a lot of the videos interested me, and the education ones always seemed a bit ‘off’ somehow. Too American maybe? Or too corporate? Or is that the same thing?

So, I hadn’t paid much attention to them really. I like video, and I think that they are a great resource when used carefully and judiciously. I’ve been actively campaigning for YouTube access at my school, first for teachers and, just this week, for senior students too. So far, the sky hasn’t fallen.

Admission 2 – However, I’m very dubious about the Khan Academy kind of approach to learning. **Maybe** the drill and drill kind of repeat and rewind thing might be useful for a skill based kind of subject (a concept in Maths?) but for Literature? I want to show that part from Olivier’s Hamlet where he finds himself in the graveyard as Ophelia is brought there, or the amazing swordfight at the end of Branagh’s version. I want to show it at the right moment in the teaching, that three to ten minute scene, then talk about it. That’s not anything to do with a chalkboard screencast of factorisation repeated until you can say it too.

But (Admission 3) I have become very interested in the concept of the *flipped classroom* and how that might supplement and enhance the classroom work I’m involved in. What if I could deliver that 20 minute overview of the SAC *success criteria* in a podcast or vidcast, and then gets the students to watch that at home? Wouldn’t that leave that 20 minutes or so free for the class to actually talk, collaborate, seek support, get on with things? That’s tempting. And (Admission 4) the tools for creating and delivering some of these enhancements, these ‘flipping’ tools, are so powerful and accessible and first time ever that they’re almost too good not to use. I can add audio to a PowerPoint with Adobe Connect and put it online so my students can watch it, and listen to the audio. I can set up an online meeting (I’ve talked about this before) with Adobe Connect and have a revision session prior to the exams, everyone in their own homes, meeting together. And that’s not to mention Skype, Slideshare, Edmodo, Class Dojo and good ol’ podcasts themselves to support student learning. So many geat tools, so little time.

Which brings me back to Ted-Ed, and their next innovation, allowing teachers to ‘frame’ a Ted Ed video with some questions: questions for understanding, questions for deeper meaning, deeper questions. And, they promise that it will work with YouTube videos too. Which is pretty exciting. A YouTube video taken away from the hideous comments and un-related playlists and brought into a learning context.

I couldn’t get it to work at first, and of course if that YouTube video goes away, so does your lesson. But it’s a much better way of looking at and framing a YouTube video in the classroom, or set for homework like the example below.

Here’s one I put together for Literature homework on Frankenstein. 

Getting started on thinking about ideas in Mary Shelley’s text: http://ed.ted.com/on/Cd3PnwNz

Or this one for the students I’m working with in Pen Club: http://ed.ted.com/on/US1FygmB

I’m still not receiving invites to Ted Talks, and console myself that any club that would have me as a member I don’t want to join. Andrew Douch said recently that he thought audio was more powerful and effective than video anyway, but here’s another tool for learning which, when combined with thoughtful teaching, might make a difference.

Flashcards+

I’m always a little envious of those kids with piles of flip cards. Bundled up in big wads, encircled with rubber bands. ‘This is what I need to know’, they seem to say. Here is the contained knowledge. They sit at their desks and spread them before them, almost smugly.

So, I wanted to have some for my students … Just like they had in Psych. And, who knows, maybe some students actually learn like that? Like the question and answer, the certainty, the ability to review and revise.

Doing *some* research for flash card apps (of course I wasn’t going to go down the ‘paper’ pathway, I found Flashcards+ which works quite well (actually it took me quite a while to work out how the cards could be viewed) and works well with Quizlet, a kind of online community of Flashcard makers. I was very surprised to find several sets already made for Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which isn’t’ that widely taught.

Still, I made a set of cards for our literature study of *Wide Sargasso Sea*, mainly terms, concepts, characters, factual stuff, which connected more to the things I wanted the students to know and work on, rather than the standard vocab. style ones already there. You can look it up on Quizlet.

 

Then I told the students about it in class and via the class blog where I could EMBED the cards so you could actually play them from the web site.

And, a couple of the students really liked it. Said it was useful. Said I should do it again.

Monitoring (and celebrating) class behaviours with Class Dojo

A little while ago I was lamenting with my Literature class that it wasn’t always easy to document how that class went and establish what to do next, both of which are critical for effective planning, reflection, and formative assessment practice.

I take notes on student progress (formerly in OneNote, latterly in Evernote) but it takes discipline (and time) to do that after every lesson, let alone in that lesson itself. I might do that once a week, so I often don’t even have a record of who I’d had a good learning conversation with each lesson and, importantly, who I hadn’t spoken to 1-1 for a while in class.

It’s something that concerned me again recently when, at the end of term, I asked the students to complete a short online survey of how the course was going for them. Most of the results were positive; the students felt they could learn, were challenged to think and participate and enjoyed the range of activities, though one wag suggested that I could improve my tech skills 🙂

However, the lowest response came from the question: ‘Do you have a good sense of how you’re going in this class?’. It’s something that is difficult for Year 12 students sometimes, especially early in the year when they haven’t done much School Assessed Coursework (SACs) and it’s one place where a short 1-1 conversation can have much more impact than any general or group activity you set up.

But, who have I spoken to recently? Is the problem I began with.

So, I was very interested in the possibilities of the unlikely tool named Class Dojo which promises real-time behaviour monitoring. I saw the program from Roger Zuidema on Twitter and recorded that I was about to invent this!

I was surprised to get a pretty quick reply from the people who make Class Dojo too, proposing a Skype chat sometime about how it could be improved, which I’d like to do sometime.

How it works is you set up your class, who get zany colourful avatars, and you record good behaviour or bad in the class very easily via web page, iPad or iPhone. They get +/s or -/s against their name and the tally adds up. Over the lesson, or the week, or the term or whatever period you decide.

I’m lucky to work in a school where disruptive behaviour is rarely a problem but I was very interested in how this tool might be used to record learning behaviours. Our school’s reports, for example, include a set of ‘Positive learning behaviours’ from ‘Participates in class discussions’ to ‘Is organised and up to date with set work’ that teachers are asked to record in terms of how often they’ve seen their students exhibit those behaviours? Always, often, sometimes, rarely? But how do teachers record those behaviours and could Class Dojo help?

One of the first things I did was enter my students names and then showed them how the class looked via the data projector in class. They’re Year 12 students but they loved the quirky little pictures, immediately wanted to customise theirs (you can’t) or swap with someone else (you can’t).

We then looked at the behaviours section, which is at the heart of the program. We looked at the default behaviours (out of chair!) and talked about what + or – behaviours might look like in our Literature class, and then added them. One of the nice things is that you can set the positive and negative behaviours yourself and can even vary them from class to class. So, I can set up a series of learning behaviours that suit my senior Literature class, which are different to the ones I want to establish with my tutorial group in the wellbeing program. Here’s the behaviours we agreed on.

 

We agreed on these positive and negative behaviours and I was ticking off some of the things in Class Dojo through the class. This year I’ve started using a student as ‘class blogger’, who records the class discussions, rather than doing that myself all the time in OneNote, (they’re put up on the class wiki) and that’s helped free me up more to direct discussions or take records like this. So you click on the student names and assign ‘points’ as you go and it even pops up on the screen with a cool sound if you want.

At the end of the class, you get a report something like this

or you can get a report for each individual student, from any duration (whole year so far, this lesson etc) and you have the option to email that report card to a parent or student or email all the cards (it remembers the email addresses once you’ve put them in once)

 

 

I don’t think our school would approve of zany colourful non-letterheaded reports being emailed to parents, but I was happy to send them to students, always in a positive way to celebrate some ‘points’ they’d gained during the class. I wouldn’t want this to be a negative thing, and I wouldn’t be showing negative scores a lot, or giving them I hope. But, ‘not doing the homework’ is a pretty clear – in a Year 12 year.

Is it perfect? No. Is it a fun, simple and useful way to clearly document and share the good things that are going on in class? Yes. You need to have internet access and more importantly, your students on board; to involve them in the discussion about criteria and be clear and objective about how you’re using it: it’s not an assessment, it’s a tool for improving learning.

I plan to keep using it with my Literature class and wellbeing class this term and see how it goes.

 

Change and continuity in teaching Literature

I’ve been trying to be more actively interventionist in my Literature teaching this year, inspired by some thinking about Personalised Learning I’ve been moved to consciously work on some ‘high impact micro-teaching strategies’ that might help student learning as a follow up to some thinking on formative assessment over the past couple of years.

So, I’ve kept the things that have been working pretty well (the wikis, using OneNote as the default teaching, presenting and note-taking tool) and the blog as the primary means of communicating class news and information.

But I’ve also tried some new things too. I’ve also been up front with the students about that, talking them through my thinking and what the intention/s are. They’re Year 12 students after all, 17 or 18 old most of them, well able to understand these approaches and generally just as keen to do well as I am for them to do well.

We began with a ‘no-hands’ up approach to discussions and I showed them a couple of bits of research about that, including this piece from the BBC.  This approach, coupled with greatly increased ‘wait-time’ has seemed to make the class more generally attentive and receptive. I haven’t had a problem getting discussion going with this group; they’re great about that, but the ‘no hands up’ means that everyone is involved potentially.

I also moved the room around a bit, based on some feedback I got from a couple of teachers who sat in one of my lessons for a ‘classroom observation’ project we’re trialling. I’m stuck with little individual ‘test-style’ tables and, yes I could bundle them into ungainly little squarish pods each lesson, but the next teacher would probably untangle all that and start again. So, I’ve tried a kind of horseshoe arrangement that I use for lots of meetings I run, where students can really make good eye-contact with each other in all the conversations. They’re still all facing the front where the data projector (and teacher) is, but it’s generally more conducive to a good collaborative atmosphere and, importantly, the other teachers who use the room, can mostly tolerate it and don’t shift things back.

I’m going to do more surveys too, shorter surveys more regularly. I generally do an end of semester student survey and end of year but, inspired by a young English teacher who’s been giving her students short surveys using Google Docs (I don’t even know how to do that) I plan to do more surveys online using our own school system.

I did the first survey this week and already it’s given me some good feedback that I intend on acting upon right now, rather than wait until the end of the semester. This is all about helping students improve as they go. I found that they haven’t much enjoyed the poetry cartoon tasks I’ve been setting, which is interesting as I wouldn’t have picked that. I liked them!

And they’re sometimes not so sure about how well they’re going, the kind of progress they’re making. So I want to work on more individual feedback more often, short, focused learning conversations perhaps.

I was also inspired by another teacher to try the “Icy pole sticks”. A simple technique, that you’d often do with younger students, of having an icy pole stick for each student, with their name on it, and selecting the stick at random and asking that student to answer the question. A kind of simple randomiser, and you can just keep selecting sticks at random, or move them from the big pile to a ‘used’ pile to ensure that questions are distributed around the room. I told my class about the idea and got them to name and decorate their stick with some iconographic aspect of themselves. Which was fun.

So, the icy pole sticks, combined with wait time, and the ‘no hands up’, has helped reshape some of the questioning that goes on in the classes so often. And helped make me more conscious of this approach even though, every now and then, I’m drawn to ask the keen student who I know is itching to say something.

Finally, the questioning itself has been sharpened by trying a technique called: ‘Pose, Pause, Bounce, Pounce’, where a question is posed, wait time is added, the question is responded to, bounced to another student, and then a third is asked what they thought of those answers. Sounds more complicated than it is and you can read about it at the Guardian HERE

I’ve just started to try to collect some of these techniques on a Diigo list HERE.  Suggestions are welcome, particularly focused on assessment for learning strategies.

Finally, some traditions are too good to change. Cake day, once every fortnight at the end of the day, is a student-inspired initiative that I’m happy to continue just as it is.