Feedback works, even when it’s unintentional.

Sometimes my best work is not enough to get through to my students. Sometimes the careful planning to scaffold the learning does not lead us to where we need to go. Sometimes the feedback, timely and descriptive, falls on deaf ears. Sometimes we need a little bit of help.

When I returned to the classroom, I knew what I had to offer the students. I knew that I would ask students to own their learning: to think and to make decisions. And that I would build a supportive framework in which they would do that learning.

But they didn’t know this.

They didn’t know me. I had been gone from the school just long enough that all of my students had graduated. When they left, so did that “muscle memory” –that information that gets passed on from student to student about teachers and their expectations, style, and what you could get away with. I knew this was going to happen, and I knew that eventually we would build a relationship that would support deep learning.  But time was not something I felt we had. These students had not yet experienced opportunities to make choices in their learning, to provide authentic feedback to their teachers, to be participants. I wanted these students to graduate “learning ready” and the clock was ticking.

I worked intentionally to speed up the process of trust-building. I told stories about the school, former students, and myself. I wrote blog posts to them and commented frequently on their posts. I chatted informally with them about out of school interests and goings-on.  To no avail. They simply weren’t buying into what I was selling.

Rather, they sat and waited. Literally. With arms crossed and blank expressions, they waited for something familiar to happen. Where was the class novel? The chapter end questions? The grammar worksheets? They knew what learning looked like, and the blogging, self-selected reading, conversations, digital storytelling, researching, and metacognitive work was not it.

When the school invited a few former students to participate in an Academic Panel Discussion, there was about a month left in the semester. The grade 10s and I had not made the gains I had hoped for. Many of the students were still wary of the focus on the process of learning and the idea that they needed to take ownership of it. The driving force behind the Academic Panel Discussion was the desire to provide students with relevant and current information about the transition to post-secondary from their peers. Since we had never done this before, we decided to narrow the focus to university with the goal of repeating the event in the fall for our college bound students.

Our former students spoke to the challenges they faced when they left high school, but they also spent a lot of time talking about what the students need to do while they are in high school to be prepared to go: learn to make good notes, use every opportunity to get feedback on your writing, take risks in writing, read widely & beyond your favourite genre, make reading part of your day, practice time management, make using your agenda a habit, learn how to plan, contribute to class discussions, force yourself to do oral presentations, and participate in extra-curricular activities. No one talked about worksheets, chapter questions, jumping through hoops. Everyone told personal stories of confidence and accomplishment because when they left high school they had the skills they needed.

________________________

I hardly recognized the grade 10s when they entered class later that day. They were smiling and laughing. I could feel a relaxed and positive energy from them. They looked me in the eye and asked questions, they were interested in the lesson presented, they engaged.

What had happened? Well, I think that my current students heard a very clear message from my former students (yes, I had taught every member of the panel and the panelists’ stories made that evident) that the skills they learned in English class supported them well in post-secondary. I think that they heard that they could trust me.

We know how important the student – teacher relationship is. We know that we have to work hard to build the kind of trust for deep learning to occur. We know that this takes time. I also now know the value of getting feedback to my students from others.

What do my students know now?

Learning is growth mindset.

Learning is asking questions about what you’re interested in.

Learning is inquiry.

Learning is intellectual engagement.

Learning is asking for feedback and listening to it intently. What is it telling you?

 ________________________

In an earlier post, I wrote that everyone in the room that day changed. It’s true. The other teachers and their students continued the conversation in their classrooms that day, but importantly, teachers reported a renewed interest by students in their studies and in their pathway and course selections. The Principal was also impacted by the discussion. He heard a narrative that was positive, strong, and enduring, and that’s a story he doesn’t want to have end.

Feedback: Taking the Risk

 

Academic Panel Discussion

On the heels of both #BLC14 and #VLConf2014, where we (those present and those of us who watched from afar) repeatedly heard messages around the importance of understanding what works in education, getting feedback from students to teachers on their teaching, having the courage to fail forward, and finding ways to make our thinking visible, I reflected on my past year and those times when I took the risk to really hear the students. 

Here is one of those times.

The students in the above picture graduated high school between 2005 and 2011. They responded to a general invitation to speak to current students in their former school about the transition from high school to post-secondary.

We called this event an Academic Panel Discussion: The High School University Connection.

We had never done this before, but we needed something to inspire our students to engage in their learning. 

We couldn’t be sure of the outcome. Yes, we provided the panelists the questions, but there was really no way to guarantee that the resulting conversation would be useful/positive/meaningful.  We asked:

1. Looking back to the beginning of your university career, what aspect of the transition from high school to university challenged you?

2. In what ways did the work you did in high school merge, connect, or continue in university?

3. What skills did you learn in high school that you rely/relied on in university?

4. What skills did you learn in high school, but that you later wished you had practised more while in high school?

5. What skills did you learn in high school that you did not use in university?

6. What would you now tell your 16 year-old self to focus on? 

The conversation went on for 45 mins. The feedback was authentic, meaningful, and personal. And everyone listening in that room that day was changed. (More on this in another post to come.)

 

Would you be willing to take the risk? What opportunity for feedback are you willing to create?

 

What Growth Mindset Looks Like

I saw this post This much I know about…what a Growth Mindset culture looks like for real last week in my Twitterfeed. Since I get incredible value from posts that share student thinking, I realized that I needed to share out some of my students’ thinking as well. And since we had spent the whole semester weaving growth mindset into all of our learning, johntomsett’s post hit close to home.

summary of learning #4

Transcribed:

Summary Learning      June 24, 2104

From February to today I can proudly say I came a long way. I wasn’t a strong learner  back then, until you introduced “Growth Mindset” to us, the class. Growth Mindset made me look at learning a whole different way. I started making goals for myself and setting time frames when I wanted to complete them. I appreciate on how you made me look at different perspectives on the work that i do; just note in this class but my other courses, thank you.         :)

The Collaborative Inquiry. Still Messy.

Ah, the collaborative inquiry…

What is not lacking is the creativity or the knowledge to begin this work, and, in truth, much of it has been initiated already. What may be lacking, however, is the energy, discipline, and patience to study what is involved in the transformation and the courage to test our capacity for commitment to sustain such change.  -Emihovich, C., & Battaglia, C. (2000). Creating cultures for collaborative inquiry: new challenges for school leaders. International Journal of Leadership in Education. 3(3), 225-238. Taylor and Francis Ltd.

Last year, I was part of a teacher collaborative inquiry with a grade 2, 5, and 6 teacher. It was a time of firsts. We had never worked cross panel before. We had never belonged to a Collaborative Inquiry (CI) before. LLCI Glogster We had never dabbled with student inquiry before. We had  never made our thinking visible to our colleagues before. We had never presented our learning at a regional Ministry of Education event (Leaders of Literacy Collaborative Inquiry) before. I did write a post about our LLCI, and although it captures a snapshot of teacher learning, it does not capture the process. But, I can tell you that we had never had a professional learning experience like this before: Powerful.

This year, I have been part of a high school CI that has had its share of firsts, too. For some, it was the first time observing another teacher; for others, it was the first go at student-teacher conferences. We tackled the question

What is the impact of explicitly teaching reading strategies on students’ ability to comprehend complex text?

Here is a summary of our process and our learning:

 

Again a powerful learning experience.

That final note in the reflective video in the above Prezi is the thinking that moved us into our second CI of the year. How might we support students in knowing how to make their own decisions in their learning? How might we help students identify which strategy is the right one to tackle the task before them, and what tools will help them?

Identifying the student learning need is, I believe, one of the hardest parts of the CI process because we can think we know what the learning needs are, but can we be sure? What assumptions might we be making that stand in the way of us realizing what our students need? What is the combination of hard data and perceptual data that will direct the team’s thinking and support its decision?

We certainly had evidence from our work in first semester that students were not self-directed, independent learners, and on the strength of that perceptual data, we decided on a metacognition focus for our second CI. But metacognition is a tough thing to measure, isn’t it? Not for Jenni Donohoo.

 

ci2

We had met Jenni Donohoo, author of Collaborative Inquiry for Educators, earlier in the year, when she was brought on board to assist the CIs in learning the process. Jenni was back at our school at the end of January to deliver a workshop and to participate in our CI ‘celebrations’. I approached her with the problem of creating a tool to measure metacognition, and she responded with a statistically validated questionnaire (Metacognitive Awareness Inventory)! Very cool.

We eventually generated our question:

What’s the impact of explicitly teaching metacognition on students’ abilities to know and apply appropriate strategies when needed?

The second hardest part of the CI process is identifying the teacher learning need. This should be straight forward, right? If I know the student learning need, then I know the teacher learning need. If my students need to learn how to become more metacognitive, then I need to learn how to explicitly teach to that need. So we develop teaching tools, we design lessons around a Strategy Evaluation Matrix, we challenge each other’s thinking around learning goals, we revise, try again , revamp the tools, and run out of time.

 

CI Concluding Statement

It’s messy, this business of learning.

But it’s ok. We’ll go back at it in September because what we know we have is the energy, discipline, and patience to see it to the end.

What are your collaborative inquiry experiences? What part of the plan, act, observe, reflect cycle is challenging for your team? Please share your thoughts and comments below.

 

PBL: What Shifts Do Your Students Have to Make?

A contribution to OSSEMOOC‘s pic-and-post series:

I almost fell off my chair when I read “We Don’t Like Projects” by Shawn Cornally of Iowa BIG. Without a doubt he is writing about my students!
 

OSSEMOOC Projects Pic

  1. The word “project” is not a happy word. When I say project-based learning, most students grimace as they imagine prescribed PowerPoints.
  2. If a teacher doesn’t plan it, it’s not learning.
  3. If there isn’t a test, it wasn’t real.
  4. Their personal interests cannot inform their learning. Learning is sterile, and the actual usage of the word “learning,” to them, is quite different from what a professional might consider learning.

For my students, learning is definitely something the teacher ‘makes’ you do. The move to inquiry this year was rough. Student push back was hard to take and shook my confidence regularly. I will never forget the day when one student in grade 10 called my course “slack”.

 But we need to persist. Students (and teachers) need to own their learning. And the rewards – what we don’t know about until we own it – are transformative. Here is how one student concludes a course summative essay about what he has learned about creating digital stories:

Writing these stories has helped me get better at writing down my full thoughts. Writing these stories has changed the way my mind works. Writing these stories has changed me as a person.

Learning is the work

BUILDING CONTENT KNOWLEDGE: COLLABORATE AND CURATE

A contribution to OSSEMOOC‘s pic-and-post series:

Sylvia Rosenthal-Tolisano (@Langwitches) is one of my favourite bloggers. She does visually represent the learning in incredible ways, and I have a number of her posters hanging in my classroom. BUT, it is her teaching through her blogs that I so appreciate.

In this post, “Building Content Knowledge: Collaborate and Curate”, she includes video, images, and annotations to help her reader really “see” the Digital Learning Farm (Alan November) in action!

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 7.28.11 AM

Tolisano never forgets the role of technology in the teaching and learning cycle. Skill-building in reading for meaning, gathering information, and note making–all key components in the research process–are front and centre here without the traditional teacher lecture and notes for students and in ways that support students’ acquisition of information literacy skills.

Take some time to explore Langwitches’ Blog. It will be worth your while.

“T-SHAPED” PEOPLE

A contribution to OSSEMOOC‘s pic-and-post series:

This post by  David Culberhouse  (Educator, Senior Director Elementary Ed, Previous Principal CA Distinguished School, Co-Moderator West Coast #satchat) is the fourth in a series called  “The Creative Leader”.

Here he explores the notion of ‘T-shaped’ people. His message is clear: leaders need to understand what creativity and innovation look like, and they need to intentionally build a staff with people who have depth of knowledge in one area and who can also branch out and work creatively and collaboratively in another.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.39.47 PM

Shared by: David Theriault,  English Teacher in southern California (@davidtedu)

The work of leadership is not just to ensure that educators have deep knowledge of their disciplines, but that they have the flexibility to move laterally across the building, across disciplines, across grades to be innovative and creative.

I love this post because I do think that we need to figure out how to become more interdisciplinary in high schools. We need to not just have ‘open doors’, but flattened walls. We need people who can think and create and innovate and initiate from their deep curricular and disciplinary knowledge and who can also take that thinking, creating, innovating beyond their curriculum and discipline to uncharted waters.

Bring on the Ts!!

Edcamp Manitoulin 2014 in the news

edcamp 2013 2

The first edcamp for Manitoulin Island, Sudbury, and the North Shore took place on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at beautiful Red Lodge, on Lake Manitou. Nineteen participants from across Ontario and representing Public, Catholic, and First Nations School Boards invested their Saturday to learn professionally and diversify their ideas.

The day began with some opening “minds-on” activities by Jenn Chan and Colin Lacey of Exhibit Change ( a Toronto-based design-driven community engagement firm), and then participants built the day around the conversations they wanted to have. Caroline Black, teacher at Wasse-Abin High School in Wikwemikong connected with Andy Forgrave, middle school teacher from Belleville, Ontario, to co-host a conversation on how to inspire students’ curiosity and imagination, while another group of participants gathered to talk about strengthening the Professional Learning Community process. Other conversations included how to integrate the Arts in all subject areas, how to integrate technology in the teaching and learning process, and how to think about educational change.

Response to the day was overwhelmingly positive. Donna Fry, Ontario Education Officer, and former Manitoulin Island resident, commented that “The conversations were really rich.  I saw “aha” moments in peoples’ eyes. We all learned and shared and saw the power in that.”

Participants also made new connections that day. Jillian Ospina, from the Sudbury Catholic School Board, was glad she made the trip over to the Island. “I met some really fantastic people.  I really enjoyed hearing from others and sharing my experiences a supportive and non-judgmental environment.”

Connie Freeman, a grade 8 teacher at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng, reflected on the fact that Edcamp Manitoulin Island crossed school districts and grade divisions, which was a unique experience for most edcampers. “It was a good networking opportunity and a chance to share with teachers from other locations and boards.”

Edcamps are one way educators can build their professional learning networks (PLN) and keep up with new ideas and educational practices. “You got the chance to interact with forward-thinking educators who all want to make a difference, which is very refreshing, “ explained Manitoulin Secondary teacher, Heather Theijsmeijer. Heather, along with Yana Bauer from Manitoulin Secondary School and Julie Balen from Wasse Abin High School, was instrumental in connecting Edcamp Island with Edcamp Sault (also holding their first Edcamp on May 10th) to help extend the conversations in both events.

Edcamp Manitoulin Island was well supported with 3 of the Manitoulin School Boards providing sponsorship for the event: KTEI, M’Chigeeng Lakeview School, and the Rainbow District School Board.

 

A Challenge of Change.

items in an infinite inventory
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Ana C. via Compfight

“As knowledge becomes networked, the smartest person in the room isn’t the person standing at the front lecturing us, and isn’t the collective wisdom of those in the room. The smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it… Knowledge is becoming inextricable from – literally unthinkable without – the network that enables it.”
From: Too Big to Know by David Weinberger 

 

Last week, on April 8th, I contributed my first post for Ontario School and System Leaders Massive Open Online Community (OSSEMOOC) 30 days of learning event, and I received some push back about it. The concern was not about what I wrote, but that I did at all because I am not a school or system leader.

What this feedback highlights is the dark side of special programs and titles and reminds us of how narrow the learning might be when birds of a feather flock together.

If we agree that the smartest person in the room is the room; then opening up the room—flattening the walls between educational rooms (within K12 and between K12 and higher ed), if you will, can only make the room smarter. 

This is my understanding about the online room. I am as smart as my PLN (and am I smart!). There is rarely a distinction made about title, rank, or level in this room.  Rather, the bond that we have is our passion for education as a means of offering every student (of any age) the opportunity to have a happy, successful, satisfying, interesting—you pick the adjective—life, and our emerging understanding  of the types of changes that education must make in order to realize this opportunity.

The learning with/from our PLN is the collegial conversation, the openness to ideas, the inquiry stance as we question back and forth, and the understanding of and the empathy toward risk-taking.

Following in the tradition of moocs like Education, Technology, and Media Massive Open Online Course (ETMOOC), OSSEMOOC has created a new space for educators to share their learning that is supportive, engaging, meaningful, timely, and inclusive.

And that thing about being a school and system leader?

Every teacher, in every building is a leader.

Feeling off-balance is okay.

Note: My article for today is cross posted from OSSEMOOC: Day 8 of 30 days of learning.

 Preparing my Next Sermon
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Mark Hunter via Compfight

Last week, we were asked as a staff to once again articulate what technology needs we  have. Like many schools and school districts, we are working hard to upgrade our infrastructure and our hardware. This is necessary work, to be sure. But as I listened to the ‘wish list’ that teachers have, I reflected on how this conversation about tools did not stem from the need to change practice.

And maybe it can’t. Maybe the process of the integration of technology and shifting practice has to happen at the individual level.

I have a class set of Chromebooks, and the impetus for acquiring them was not pedagogical. In the fall of 2013, I was asked to teach grade 10 communications technology, and the Chromebooks were purchased to support that course. But I had them, so why not use them in all of my classes? This could be a bit of a pilot program, we (the principal and I) told ourselves. Let’s see how these devices work out in the non-tech classroom.

The Chromebooks worked marvelously.

I didn’t.

Sure, I knew how to use the machines and the apps. I knew how to set up student blogs and wikis. I knew how to organize documents and folders, to comment, and to share. What I didn’t know how to do was to integrate the devices into the teaching that I do.  Let me try that again. What I didn’t know was that I needed to see the curriculum (English) in a completely different way. What I didn’t know was that ‘changing my practice’ meant reconsidering every aspect of my practice from how I structured the course (traditionally thematically) to what essential skills I believed my students needed to have and how they would/could demonstrate them.

Here’s an example: Senior students need to demonstrate their ability to research, organize ideas, write, revise, format for publication, and cite sources appropriately. For many teachers, this translates into a research report or essay that is produced in Word or Google documents and that is printed or shared. Is that traditional research report/essay format still valid? Do I need to teach them how to produce their thinking in this manner because that’s the format required or expected in higher ed? Or can students research, curate, embed, link, write, and cite in a wiki? Or is the conversation really about choice?

This past February, I had a conversation with Steve Anderson (@Web20Classroom ) about content curation, in which I raised these same questions. His response? We need to understand that “there is no final solution when it comes to [student] learning.”

No final solution. No one way. No program. No script.

What I learn a bit more each day is to be okay with feeling off balance as I figure out what to hang on to from how I taught before and what to let go of. And this, I think, is not something that anyone else can do for me.