Sunday, 29 June 2014

What can Secondary School Teachers Do Differently?

Secondary teachers are wary.  They have students coming to their schools with digital skills that they have learned or taught themselves while at primary at intermediate schools.  These same students have already been thinking about the way they learn (metacognition) and know a lot about the kinds of things that they are interested in.  And then they arrive at secondary school.
Some secondary schools have "gone BYOD" which often simply means that the school has decided to allow students to bring their internet capable phones to school. There are often a lot of rules attached with this shift. The students can use them for research, and googling, but that is about it, otherwise they are "off and in your pocket."
So what can secondary school teachers do differently?  There should have been quite a bit of planning done to begin with but what if this hasn't happened and teachers are landed with these students in their class and don't know how to stop the students texting inappropriately in class, breaking digital citizenship rules and generally causing mayhem in the class?
Here are my recommendations
  1. The first thing I would recommend for these teachers is to start to use a learning management platform for the students to access.  This could be Moodle or Google or Edmodo or Schoology or any of the others endorsed by the MOE at the moment.  This means that the students know where to go to get their work and can start on it straight away. Use multimedia resources on that platform so that all students have videos, audio, images and text to access learning and activities which will build and strengthen their knowledge.
  2. The second thing is, change the way you work.  You do not have to be the person at the front of the room "delivering" any more.  You can put the same work, that those with devices can access, up on the whiteboard so that it is available for all.  You now have the freedom to walk around the class and help your students.
  3. The third is, give the power over to the students to complete the work collaboratively, and in their own time, so they all become peer tutors and responsible for any deadlines they have to meet.  Be clear in the required outcomes (what has to be learned) and in the words of the song in the movie, Frozen -  " Let It Go! " (Talk with parents, keep them in the loop, express your concerns if you have them, have consequences for missed deadlines).
  4. Let the students be creative - let them create sites and presentations and blogs about what they have learned.  Let them create eportfolios.
  5. Let them share and learn to critique each others work in positive ways.  Teach them to be positive digital citizens by discussing the work in the context that is created.   Give them opportunity to improve their work after you have collaboratively critiqued it.
  6. When it comes to summative assessment for NCEA, be very clear about revision of what should have been learned and the conditions of assessment.  This is the time that individual students must show what they have learned.  Get them to test each other beforehand, read each others work, ask for clarification and then they are on their own for the assessment.
  7. Finally sit back at watch the change in engaement and improvement in achievement.  Celebrate!  Move on and make the next unit of work even better than the first.  Allow the students to choose their own contexts whenever possible.
Thanks to Rebbecca Sweeney for publishing the images used in this blog today.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Golfing and teaching - the same but different.

To help teachers understand the concept of teaching as inquiry, I use the analogy of golfing. When you start golfing, it takes a while to learn how to hit the ball and send it in the general direction you want it to go. After the first few months you start to get the hang of it and then you start trying to refine and hone your game.

You think about the way you hit the ball. You try different clubs and irons to get the best result. You start taking into account the conditions on the course, wet, dry, long or short grass, wind from what direction? You don't go out on a golf course and hit the ball and say "that is as far as I am ever going to hit that ball, I can't get any better". You go on and try different strategies to stop the ball curving in the direction you don't want, and you seek improvement in any way that you think will work. You practice. You ask you golfing buddies to help you. Sometimes you seek help from a professional, Sometimes you might even become a professional but you never, never, never say, "that is it, I cant do any better." You analyse what happened after you hit the ball. Did it go where you intended? Why or why not? Do you need to try it again?

So when you talk to any teacher, ask them what their inquiry is this year. They will be excited that someone is interested in their role as a professional. Teaching as inquiry starts with looking at the evidence (know your students using student data, and information about their environment) and then deciding where do you want to get your students to. You put together a plan based on your experience and you trial new strategies that you think might work, and if they don't, then you try another strategy. You reflect on the influence your strategies have had on the outcomes for the students. If it does work, you keep practicing and striving to hone your practice. You don't ever, ever, ever, give up!

The difference is, that in golf you can go home happy that you gave it a go, good day or bad. In teaching, the well being and future of the children is at stake. You see - same but different!

Note: - Teachers in New Zealand must be registered. Their principals must attest to the fact they they have satisfied the "registered teacher criteria" every three years for them to remain fully registered. There are twelve of these criteria and they can be found online.

Criterion number twelve is that a registered teacher must 'use critical inquiry and problem-solving effectively in their professional practice.' This means that teachers must strive to improve their practice. They must continually look at ways that they can improve outcomes for their students. This is known as "Teaching As Inquiry" (TAI) in the profession.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

So What Are You Afraid Of?

I was a cautious child. As I have grown older, I have taken more risks in my life (not the least of which is flying, my least favourite pastime) and, with every risk I take, come more great spin-offs. Admittedly, they are not the kind of risks like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel but risks in my personal and professional life have had much greater benefits to me than if I had not taken them. With every risk taken, there is an element of letting go control, allowing yourself to be swept along by fortune, and having to give up something that you may find comfortable and comforting. But along with the risk-taking comes a journey of new experience and richness in my life.
As I go into schools, and talk to educators across New Zealand, I become very aware that so many teachers are in that position of fear of taking risks - not wanting to take the plunge into the unknown when it comes to being curious and letting students tell them how to do things. In our past, we were educated in a system where you did as the teacher said and there was no questioning of that at all. If you did you were deemed to be a "cheeky little monkey" as I once heard a teacher tell a classmate of mine who was much more questioning than me. Now, although the concept of Ako (being a learner alongside your students) is relatively well known, it seems to be hard for many teachers to actually step down from their position of power or control to allow the students to take the lead. I have heard many times "I need to learn this so I can show my students how to do it" when I would like to hear "I wonder what the students could do with this if I gave them some time to figure it out?". The natural curiosity of children seems to be suppressed and certainly it is lacking in many of their teachers. The future oriented teaching and learning themes also accentuate the changing roles of teachers and learners, alongside the theme of an educator of being a life-long learner. What is it that makes you think that once you are qualified and trained, you can be content with that for the rest of your life? My question to you educators out there is, what are you afraid of? Is it not meeting the agreed achievement goals? How many of you allow your students to take control what is learned in your classes? How many of you have stepped down from the sage on the stage position to become a guide on the side? I am taking a risk, asking this of you. Lead me down some unimagined pathway of enlightenment.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Confident, connected, lifelong learners.

The very things we are trying to instil in our learners are what we should be continuously culturing in ourselves as teachers.

I have met some wonderful educators over the years. Often late career educators are the best at reaching out and connecting with others, looking for new ways to teach.
What do you think connected means? To me, it means having a sharing relationship with other teachers, offering and receiving ideas and resources.
What does it mean for you?