What choices do your students have each day?

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.

Collaborative Novel Writing Presentations for MPTC

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!

Class Novel for Division II & III

From the High School session this morning:

IMG_6441 IMG_6440
From the Division III session this afternoon:

IMG_6442 IMG_6443

From the Division II session this afternoon:

IMG_6444 IMG_6445

If they think it, learning will come…

If they think it, they will learn

If they think it, they will learn

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!

Writing a Collaborative Classroom Novel: A Presentation

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 10.39.22 AMAs with my other recent posts, this is a presentation given for a local teacher’s convention in Alberta, this one for the Calgary Teachers. My presentation on Scribd can be found here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/207208600/Writing-a-Collaborative-Class-Novel

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.

Ralph 

  • sage like elderly man
  • long beard
  • isolated hermit
Gertrude
  • elderly woman
  • cantankerous
  • separated from Ralph in separate huts same forest
Sally
  • young hero
  • poor bumbling girl
  • simple,plain
  • pure heart
Bruno
  • conniving Uncle to Sally
  • dark
  • eyepatch
  • bald, goatee
  • local mayor
Little
  • Sally’s friend/pet
  • miniature talking ox
  • ridable by Sally
Talisman (object of power or interest)
  • golden orb
  • size of an apple
 Settings
  • Forest with huts
  • Town (medieval) Wexlin
  • tavern
  • main square or plaza
  • town hall
  • market
 Our connecting message (theme)
  • collaboration to accomplish a goal

Create a Buzz in Your Classroom {inspirational teaching, project-based learning, fun in the classroom}

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!

Derek

Education in the age of change: A TEDx Talk

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!

I'm Drawing Again, thanks to Paper

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!

IMG_0569

What Creativity Brings to Student Accommodations

I have worked with several teachers over the years who have specialized in supporting students with exceptional needs, and  have also worked in my own classes to utilize the resources at my disposal to support learning in the classroom. I have learned through this work that one of the most effective methods of providing student accommodations is to look at the problem with a creative lens.  While at times this seems counter-intuitive, as there are long-standing patterns of support used in many schools, by thinking manly about the needs of the student and what they need to be able to do, sometimes we are able to bring a very cost-effective and meaningful solution that would have escaped us if we were just looking in the standard book of solutions.

Case in point; I was in discussion last year about several students in my class who were ADHD and or otherwise easily ‘distractible’ in my fourth grade class. We had tried several accommodations for them that had worked moderately, but they were still unable to function well in the quiet times of class, where they had to maintain focus on a single task for a period of time.  As I watched them carefully, I was reminded of my tenth grade non-academic students who functioned in much the same way during writing times.  Those students, with permission (or sometimes without,) would trot out their iPods and focus themselves by tuning out the rest of the class with their music.  While I didn’t always prefer their musical selections, or the level at which they played them, I could scarcely deny the effectiveness of this self-accommodation to tune out their peers.

With the support of our administration and the learning support team last year, I was able to purchase iPod Shuffles for the classroom. I loaded these up with classical music to drown out the background noise, nothing lyrical, just pleasant and engaging music. The results were astounding. While it didn’t work for every student experiencing difficulty; for those that were engaged, it was a profound change for them.  In fact, the students began asking for the iPods immediately as we sat down to work.  Since the iPod shuffles have no screen, no other distractions, the students are not tempted to ‘play’ with them and are not distracted by the technology.  They simply put the headphones in and get down to work, which is what I was looking for.

Our school has purchased 10 iPod shuffles and they are used in several classrooms now, with great results.  Students enjoy the independence and focus it offers them, and teachers are enjoying having another, relatively inexpensive, accommodation to provide for their students. If we can look ‘outside the box,’ sometimes we will find what we are looking for set just outside. How can you approach student accommodations differently?  What could your students need that no one has seen before?

The Spontaneous Premiere of #edchat8CST on Twitter

I had just finished a very brief chat on #cdnedchat tonight and, as I had joined late, found myself in the mood for more educational conversation. What happened next was one of those moments on Twitter where you realize the power of social media. Darin Johnson (@AnIowaTeacher) was lamenting the lack of a chat at that moment, and so I dropped the suggestion that we start one. At that moment #edchat8CST was born and both myself and Darin sent out the call for educators to join. Within moments we had a topic: Using Social Media to Start Something New in the Classroom and I moderated the conversation with four questions. We had teachers join through the whole hour, and I was astonished that there were people creeping the chat (reading and watching without participating), new connections to both Darin and myself, and the conversation was electric. One of the greatest outcomes was the side-chats and spontaneity of the group, willing to put more ‘out there’ because it was not a ‘regular’ chat. Our four questions over the hour were as follows:

Q1: What social media do you think would be most conducive to classroom use?
Q2: What innovative uses have you found for Social Media as you teach?
Q3: Brainstorming time; If you had unlimited technology available, what WOULD you try using social media in education?
Q4: How can we spontaneously make better use of SM in our classrooms? Like this chat?

I was so impressed that a tenuously connected group of educators (I had never had a conversation of any great length with Darin prior to our staring the chat) could create such a great collection of ideas and resources, experiences and positive conversation. It was the highlight of my week on Twitter, and it’s only Monday! At any rate. Thanks to all who joined in, and we will use the hashtag again for impromptu chats, keep watching! Please read the storify below for the full conversation!

Support for iPads in the Classroom? Check your Staff!

I had a great discussion today that reminded me why I feel it is so important to do what I do with Developing Education, New Teacher Chat #ntchat and other supports I am involved in online.  My conversation was focused on the best way to deliver support to teachers with the various technologies we have been providing teachers.  While there is an inclination to digitize support and send the teachers to a website, video tutorial, or even Google, this misses the mark with teachers who are already overloaded and don’t have the ‘extra time’ to go out to these sources to learn about technology.

Think about it for a moment, if teachers were apt to go online and had plenty of time to spend on their own personal development on their own time, I think the uptake with technology in many cases would be exponentially further than it is.  The truth is, great teachers worry about the art of teaching and the preparation for it in their own time.  Their dedication is part of what makes them great to start with. We burn these teachers out by pushing them to do more in an environment they don’t understand, even when we provide support by way of training videos or websites.  They simply don’t have a passion for technology learning, or they would be doing it themselves.

Instead of offloading training and support for technology to be done ‘at your leisure’ (how many of us have leisure, or use leisure time for that?) look to someone on your staff who does have the passion for using technology in learning.  Give that person some extra prep time, collaborative time, or better yet, make that person a full-time educational technologist.  If you are able to provide your staff with someone who effectively uses a passion for educational technology in the classroom, and has or is developing a knowledge of the curriculum links associated, I bet you will find that the money spent on that position will go far further than the man hours putting together presentations on technology or training guides.  Every teacher I’ve known who has taken up a technology I have offered has seen the value of that technology to their own classroom and situation before they started.  It is hard to instil that value without a passionate, articulate teacher who is willing to walk with them into the classroom and help them make it happen.  Think about your team, your staff, do you have someone you think could fill that role?  You may be further along the path to great technology instruction than you thought!

I have had the fortune of being in this role in two schools, and let me tell you as someone who is passionate about this, it is FUN to watch teachers flip the switch.  It’s why I get so fired up about technology in the classroom!  If you want to ask me more about this, or have me work with someone you want to test in this role, see my contact link above and connect.  I would love to support you!