teaching strategies

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.

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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.