Once again I have the privilege of presenting at the PDTC to amazing peers in education. While I have nothing close to ‘all the answers,’ I appreciate the opportunity these sessions give me to learn from others and clarify for others what has worked for me and my context. If you are looking for resources to support what was discussed in the sessions, please see the information attached below!
This year I have the opportunity to present a session on Innovative Leadership at both Palliser District Teacher’s Convention and South West Alberta Teacher’s Convention. You can download a PDF of the presentation below:
This presentation was originally presented at the Canadian Student Leadership Conference 2017 in Waterloo, Ontario. It was amazing to see the response of the students to concepts such as servant leadership and growth mindsets. We have so much to gain with our students and in our society if we focus on fostering growth mindset and looking for opportunities to serve in our world.
Let me know your thoughts on Twitter: @mrdkeenan
Thanks for reading!
This year I have the opportunity to present a session on Project Based Learning at both Palliser District Teacher’s Convention and South West Alberta Teacher’s Convention. You can download a PDF of the presentation below:
This presentation is near and dear to me as it speaks to my beginnings in PBL; I started out designing a collaborative novel writing project that I have used with multiple grade levels. These projects may not always be the answer in the classroom, but certainly create exceptional learning experiences that students remember. As you read through the presentation, please feel free to reach out in the comments, or message me on Twitter: @mrdkeenan
I was thinking today about the choices we give students. When I look at my classroom through the eyes of a student, what would I see in terms of my personal choice? How many times during the day could I offer my unique perspectives, an answer that isn’t exactly what the teacher wants? Some days I think it could be very challenging in school to just have no opinions. Yet, so many of our students experience this very thing on a daily basis; moving from class to class with only notes to write, questions to answer and results to find.
My hope is that you looked at the title of this post and could easily list off the ways your students are able to take charge of their learning, how they can make their learning count in every minute of your class. If you aren’t there yet, maybe there are some ways to integrate student choice into your learning environment.
Create an independent choice project
As a high school English teacher, I often felt constrained by the requirements of curriculum to teach and follow certain texts. Not a great deal of choice right? What I found is that there was more there than I had considered. Not only could I vary how a student approached the text, but I could also vary the required outcome. So though I as the teacher may have wanted a certain learning outcome associated with each project, sometimes the students were better at choosing what was important about each project for themselves. As long as they knew the overall outcomes for the course, flexibility in the response was a worthwhile expression of their autonomy. Often it meant that they would complete assignments that they didn’t want to in order to get to do what they had a strong desire to work on.
Make choice part of the process
Even if there isn’t an immediate method to create choice in the content of the project; solicit initial thoughts, beliefs and feedback in the introduction, feedback loops or review of an assignment. Often there are ways to give students choice in their manner of responding to their learning, if we take the time to do it. Think about the things that seem most resistant to giving students choice, those items that require direct instruction or monitoring perhaps. Even giving the students a moment to speak about what they feel about that learning process can be beneficial. As an adult learner, I know that time to reflect on my learning with someone else is often as useful to keeping me involved in the learning as if I were doing the steering of the learning myself. Better yet if that feedback is collected and has some impact in the learning process.
Making choices allows us to feel a little more in control of our learning process, and can ultimately be the difference between what a student “Had to do,” at school versus what they “Got to do.” I’m always hopeful as a teacher and a parent that the latter perspective is the one that the students in my life are able to experience.
This is the presentation that I gave today for the MPTC Div II and III. Collaborative ideas for all three sessions are in this post as well, so find your sessions ideas and get writing, due date is Friday March 14th. If you have questions or concerns, please email me!
From the High School session this morning:
From the Division II session this afternoon:
I love speaking at teachers’ conventions because it gives us as professionals some time to have deep meaningful discussions about our practice and the time to reflect and process those discussions without having to run off and teach a class afterward. One of the sessions I am presenting this year (writing a collaborative novel) inspires some great discussion around the use of time in our classrooms. Teachers are often hesitant to start big collaborative projects because there is so much that can go awry with the processes and results. We feel it is better to dole out learning in small, digestible chunks and ensure that students eat each piece. What we miss in this perspective is that it does not give students the comprehensive picture of the discipline they are learning. Inspiration is the driver for learning, and if we can inspire our students, they learn with hardly a lesson from us.
I would rather inspire students to drive their own learning than to be docile and ‘receive’ their learning from me. I want curiosity, spark, innovation, passion in learning, as I’m sure we all do. However, that kind of learning is messy and takes time, time that we often assume we cannot take. When I was on the fence about project-based learning, about our ability to write a novel as a class and the time it would take, I thought how can I reach all of those outcomes I have to reach spending this much time on one section of the curriculum. Yet when I sat down with a plan to make it happen, and I saw the students engaged in the work, it was easy to check off sections of the outcomes, because they dove further than I could have hoped, they involved themselves as I wouldn’t as an adult. Our students, when inspired, will make a project a 24-hour a day obsession and give you everything they have.
If we can inspire them.
That ‘direct teaching’ part? It still exists in a project-based classroom. Here’s the difference; instead of me sitting down to ‘teach a lesson’ and keep passive students engaged, students want the information because it helps them progress in their projects. It’s a wonderful shift for students and inspired by inspiring them to think, instead of forcing them to ‘learn.’ They are asking me to support them in finding information, solving problems; and I get to be a learner too!
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!
This presentation is focused on working together in the classroom to meet our goals for young writers by having them consider and write long-length fiction. This process is highly effective in allowing students to understand the craft of the writer and overall structure of extended fiction. We collaborated in the session on a truncated process like the one that may be used in class. Forthcoming will be a series of stories based on the following details we created. Check back to find an updated post including the stories and final product.
- sage like elderly man
- long beard
- isolated hermit
- elderly woman
- separated from Ralph in separate huts same forest
- young hero
- poor bumbling girl
- pure heart
- conniving Uncle to Sally
- bald, goatee
- local mayor
- Sally’s friend/pet
- miniature talking ox
- ridable by Sally
- golden orb
- size of an apple
- Forest with huts
- Town (medieval) Wexlin
- main square or plaza
- town hall
- collaboration to accomplish a goal
Look, I know we many of us want that perfect room where anyone could walk in at any time and see peace, hard work and learning evident on the focused faces of our diligent students. When I started teaching that’s what I thought I wanted, but the reality is so much more than orderly information dissemination. In my classroom these days, the only time my students are quiet is when they are reading, and only because they can’t do that any other way.
Learning is messy stuff, and the best kind of learning requires some noise and movement to occur. Think about the times when you really felt involved; either in learning, planning or at a meeting. Were you sitting passively learning, or were you passionately debating, yearning for your ideas to be incorporated, arguing fiercely for your perspective? I am inclined to think the latter is where most of us fall. So how can we argue that students will learn better with a litany of rules and a passive learning structure? I would argue that the best learning is done on one’s own terms, and with as little direct guidance as is required. Enough background to understand, or know where to look, read, watch or develop the ideas, but also enough freedom that a student can go ask another student for support, can change the assignment to fit their interest, and a path to learning that can light a fire, not cause narcolepsy.
Take the time to ask what you can do with the curriculum, not how to cover it. I would rather have my students take a step back from 200 lines of ‘must do’ items and tackle one ‘could we’ item that keeps them up at night thinking of the possibilities.
Like lighting a fire though, you must have suitable materials for learning, including a solid relationship with and knowledge of each student, otherwise you will have no idea what will strike a cord with them. Also, you must know your curriculum, the expectations on you and your students, so you know how big the ‘dream project’ must be to encompass it. Finally, you must let go of your fear; you won’t do it all right every time, but I can guarantee that quiet kid at the back who never gets in trouble because he is too busy with something creative in his desk didn’t get everything his teachers put out there either!
Thanks for reading!
I gave a talk a week ago at TEDx RockyView Schools, and I wanted to share it with a little bit of context for it with you. One of the biggest hesitations teachers often have when I am working with them on enhancing their practice and working with digital tools is that they are somehow losing in the process. There is an overwhelming feeling out there that the more teachers ‘put out there’ of their work and skill, the less value there is of having them in the classroom. I used to be unsure how to respond to that fear.
For a time I thought (mainly to myself) that if the world was changing in such a way that teachers could be replaced by online tools, then I would want to be aware of those tools, familiar with them, because someone has to know how to keep the ‘machine’ running. If all of us were on the ropes, I would at least be as valuable as I could by understanding the new technology. Then if the teachers were all ‘let go,’ I would possibly still have some value in the new system. It was a naïve perspective.
In doing my research for this talk, I found that I do believe that we are in the midst of a change because of technology and that we most certainly need to become familiar with technology. This is not because technology will replace us, but rather because it could replace us if we aren’t pushing our teaching practice to be as effective as possible.
Make no mistake, there are billions of dollars at work trying to figure out the ‘next way’ in education, you need only look to the United States and the various initiatives at work there to see how money and cost-saving can effect education. However, if you look to Alberta, Canada, you will also see some amazing efforts by teachers to integrate technologies both personal and publicly purchased, to change practice based on current research, and the possibilities the democratization of knowledge has brought to a modern education system. These changes have been brought about by an environment of research and study, willing to look at how to best blend the expertise of teachers with the innovation technology brings. It’s not perfect, but it does inspire hope that instead of looking to replace teachers with some learning program or hardware solution, the answer will continue to be a blended, human approach to learning.
Enjoy the talk!
When I was younger I used to carry a sketchbook around with me. In fact if I wasn’t drawing, I was writing, and if I wasn’t doing either, I was reading. I might not have been a party animal, but I loved losing myself in a story, poem or drawing. I haven’t done any serious drawing since University, when life turned busy and time spent on drawing seemed frivolous. Well, now that we are in the digital age, I have taken up drawing again, but this time with the amazing Paper app by 53. It started with my preparation for my upcoming TEDx talk. I was unable to find the images I was looking for, and was trying out some apps to draw out what I needed. I had tried Paper some time ago, but like many apps, I had tested it a bit then filed it in “Might use it someday,” well, last week the day came. By the time I had unlocked the app, I realized that I was unleashing a powerful creative tool and spent literally hours with a stylus in hand crafting some fun, some poignant and some effective images. Now my talk entirely contains images I have created, aside from a few technology images I had to use to illustrate points.
So, how does this relate to you? Well, there is a lesson I have learned with this app in relation to my practice with technology, particularly apps; there is a someday. I have downloaded literally hundreds of apps for reviews, for school, for presentations, very few of which have a permanent place on any of my devices. However, with the power of Apple’s distribution and the cloud, apps are never more than a minute or two away on a Wifi connection. If you think an app may be useful in the future and it is on sale, or you have a promo code, grab it. You may not use it right away, but that cloud of Apple’s can be really handy.
Finally, I am posting any images I am creating that I think might be useful to educators on my Twitter feed. If I have posted it there with the hash tag #freetouse you can take it, modify it, sell it in your assignments on Teachers pay Teachers, whatever. It is out there for everyone. All I ask is if you can, and remember, tag it with my Twitter handle so others can find the resources too. I don’t claim that my images are great, but I enjoy creating them. I have also started ‘visualizing’ many of the meetings and chats I engage in, to create a summary of learning. These will be posted to my Twitter account as well. It’s how I learn, so I might as well share it!
Have a great week everyone, and thanks for reading!