Whose Choice is it Anyway?

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Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash

I had a moment today. It was kind of big.

I like giving my students feedback forms. I use them a lot! I use them in the beginning of the year, after big projects, check-in times, and at the end of the year.  I like the feedback and the information that these check-ins provide. One of the questions I asked my students at the beginning of this year was, “What is one thing Mrs. Finger can do to improve your experience in this class?” Kids responded with several, “Nothing, Mrs. Finger is great!”, (which is lovely. I could stop looking at the others and rest on my laurels)- “More coding,” “Learn more tools,” and “More freedom.” There were other similar responses, all of which I have tried to incorporate into class so that my students would feel more engaged and empowered. Thankfully, no one said, “she can leave us alone to do as we will.”

The end of the year we do a big project that basically lasts from April until the end of May and in the past, this has been a coding project. I love to teach the kids coding and this end-of-year project has been a highlight (for me).

The children have learned about several ancient civilizations and using Tynker, they share their learning about three of the five civilizations. This year I have decided to make a change: I decided I would let them choose which digital storytelling tool they would like to use share their learning. They will all have the same initial content from which to work: the GRAPES of the civilizations (Geography, Religion, Achievements, Politics, Economy, Social Structures) as that is the lens through which they studied, and from there they can choose their storytelling tool and go. This year they have used Google Slides, Animoto, Tynker, and MySimpleShow. Since Adobe Spark just became available as an edu tool, I won’t have time to introduce it for this year but will definitely add it next school year.

The introductory class went off without a hitch. Kids were excited about the project and eager to get started drafting their outline. They loved the idea of having a choice to use one of the tools they used this year. I figured with choice, they would choose something they felt comfortable and skilled using and therefore would be more engaged in the project (this is not to say that the previous years’ students using Tynker as their sole option were not engaged- they definitely loved the project, but it was easier for some than others).

So today I had the first group of students ready to get started and I was excited to  hear their choices.

Until I started to hear their choices.

Until many of them said they wanted to use Google Slides.

Not that there is anything wrong with Slides. There is not!

I guess I was just expecting them to go another route. Animoto or My Simple Show. Or Tynker since I know a lot of the students like to code.

And so I asked them why they were making the choice they were. I figured it best to hear their reasoning.

  • No text limits (like in Animoto and My Simple Show)
  • Freedom to be creative with text boxes, shapes, arrows
  • Easy to manipulate
  • Limitless images and creativity

OK. I took some deep breaths. I reminded them that they should choose something that will highlight their creativity and skills and not choose the easy way out. Perhaps I was trying to sway them into making a different selection.

That is where the big moment came for me.

I gave them a CHOICE. They made it. I have to live with it.

I suppose one cannot give a choice unless one is ready to hear the answer.

And, one cannot give a choice hoping to hear an answer.

I still have two more classes to introduce this project and I have two more classes to get myself ready to hear their choices.

I can do this.

 

 

 

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In the Know

34604271491_919b678a1c_nLast week during the IMMOOC live session, one of the things discussed was how to keep track of everything that is out there and the pressure some feel to be in the know and keep up. A few quoteables that I tweeted from the conversation are below:

It’s not about adding on and doing more; it is about what we want our kids to learn and how we are going to get there- what conditions we need to set. Season 4, Episode 3 with  via

‘I might not be able to keep up with what’s new, but I will try to keep up with what’s best for Ss’

“We need to support & praise everyone where they are at”

“We need to be innovating out of a desire to find what’s best, not just what is new”

With so much out there, it can be tough to keep up with it all. That is why I tell teachers to find what works for you and these students right now, and go from there. There are many different versions of the same thing that one need not use all of them; choose the one that you and your students like. Now of course, what works this year with this group might not work for next year’s students so we have to keep in mind the needs of the group we have at the moment.

Part of why I like to share the way I do is to help my teaching colleagues who might not have time to sift through all that is out there. I love to find articles, videos, research, tips, and tools. I then read, watch, try, and think about what might be helpful, useful, interesting, and thought-provoking. The rest is what comes next- the weekly, or every-other-weekly share. So without further ado, this week’s share.

This first share is from Matt Miller and it is all about taking annotating to a whole new level. I love the idea of taking articles or pdfs and formatting them within a table so that students can annotate alongside it. The comment option in Google Docs is another way to do this. Check out the highlighting and sticky note add-on options in the post.

Speaking of annotating, Richard Byrne is always sharing great tools and tips and this week is no different. In his Practical Edtech Tip of the Week he shares Tools for annotating videos and images. If you are a teacher who uses videos for teaching, introducing these tools to your students or using them yourself will definitely enhance your teaching and their learning. And, if you are someone who uses Edpuzzle, you are used to adding questions, text, and other information to spots along your video timeline, so using one of these should feel natural.

Next up is a podcast from Modern Learners wherein Dr. David Gleason and Will Richardson discuss The Costs of High Expectations. Adolescence is starting earlier and going later. People have social/academic expectations of the kids who may develop earlier because they look older than they are, but don’t have the mental capacity to meet these expectations yet.  This is just a taste of what was discussed:

Is it our fear of losing our reputation for getting kids into competitive schools what holds us back from doing what we know to be right for kids as far as over-scheduling putting undue stress on them? “Who wants to come to a vanilla school?”

For additional reading on expectations, executive functioning, and the mismatch between developmental readiness and expectations, you can take a look at this linked-in  article, “All Aspects of Students’ Development Varies, Including Executive Functioning Skills”.

Student voice, choice, and empowerment are themes in this round of the Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course. These interactive learning menus from Shake-Up Learning offer your students (and colleagues if you use these during PD sessions) the opportunity to choose their learning path from various choices on the learning menu choice board. These boards also allow you to differentiate by offering options that speak to different strengths and ways students like to learn and share their learning.

If you would like to read more about the importance of giving students choice, Alfie Kohn’s article, “Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide” is on point.

Lastly, I have mentioned Pooja Agarwal and retrieval practice as a learning tool a lot recently. That is because of all the science and evidence behind the practice of retrieving that Agarwal shares on her site. This week she shared a quick, no-quiz retrieval strategy called Two Things and it is a fast and easy way to have your students think about what they are learning.

photo credit: wuestenigel What’s new? via photopin (license)

When Opportunity Comes Knocking . . .

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“Teachers open doors, but you must enter by yourself” ~Chinese Proverb

 

When I was trying to come up with a title for this post, I thought about what kinds of things I was sharing. I realized that much of it, while presented as tips, tools, and readings, are really opportunities. Opportunities for our own learning, opportunities for our students’ learning, and opportunities to try something new.

Opportunity #1

I am excited that the Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course or #IMMOOC for short, is offering another opportunity for us to learn together as it is coming back for round 4. Whereas rounds 1-3 revolved around the reading and discussing of Couros‘ fantastic, thought-provoking book, The Innovator’s Mindset, this round includes two additional books to choose from: Katie Martin’s, Learner-Centered Innovation and A.J. Juliani and John Spencer‘s Empower. I loved participating in the previous round and looked forward to each week’s live video session as well as the weekly Twitter chat. If you would like to learn more about the previous round, you can read about it here.  This is a learning opportunity you will not want to miss.

Opportunity #2

This next opportunity is for World Language Teachers. Eric Curts always has great resources to share and this is no different. In his post, he shares 5 tools for increasing your students’ fluency with the target language including one that you probably had not thought to use this way. One of my colleagues has been using Google Hangouts with her students and she loves the authenticity of the conversations.

Opportunity #3

Equally as fantastic is this opportunity from Shake Up Learning to enhance your teaching life:  50 apps/sites that integrate with Google Classroom. As many of you know and can attest, Google Classroom makes your workflow that much smoother with your students. Having apps that integrate with Google Classroom makes using those sites even easier with their share to classroom option. I have personally used the Flipgrid, PBS Learning Media, Padlet, Nearpod,and Screencastify, as well as the Share to Google Classroom extension (which anyone who is using Classroom should immediately install) and find the integration to be seamless. It is really as easy as click, share, choose class, done!

Opportunity #4

While browsing the above post, I saw an opportunity to learn about a new resource and clicked on a site I had not heard of before– Open Ed. Open Ed is resources for teachers and students K-12 including videos, assessments, homework, lesson plans, interactives, and more. You can search by key word, grade, type of resource, standard, or school subject. Once you get your results, you can then share them with your students by printing or sharing to Google Classroom. If you create your free account, then you can create a class and assign things to your students individually, in groups, or as a whole class (similar to your options for assignments in Google Classroom). Your teacher dashboard shows you what you have assigned, what your students complete, how they did, and then offers specific additional resources for each student for each question they need more help with which you can then assign to those students. Talk about differentiation! Pop over to Open Ed to check out what they have to offer; you will not be disappointed!

Opportunity #5

This last site is an opportunity to engage your reluctant or struggling readers. A few weeks ago I heard about this next site and am excited to share it. Storyshares is a site dedicated to pairing books with struggling or disengaged readers that are compelling, age appropriate, and at the same time, are at their reading level. You can read about StoryShares here. What is great about Storyshares is it’s interactivity. You can search by interest level (late elementary through post high school), reading level (Fountas and Pinnell), or grade level (K-5). These are books written specifically to address the need for high interest and relevant books for those whose reading level is not the same as their age and maturity level. It’s really a win-win for everyone involved.

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“Isolation is a choice educators make” #IMMOOC

12160694833I often start my weekly shares with my colleagues with, ” I found this on Twitter” or “I heard about this from so-and-so’s (most recently, “so-and-so” is often Alice Keeler, George Couros, or Eric Curts) post on Twitter.” I say that because at any given moment, one can learn so much so easily and without a lot of effort. Don’t get me wrong, when I say “without a lot of effort” I don’t mean that it is effort-less, I just mean that if you know what hashtags to look at (or even if you don’t and just do a search for a subject), who to follow, and then take some time to scroll through and look, you will most definitely find something new and interesting and with relative ease.

There is a quote by Steven Johnson from his TED talk, “Where Good Ideas Come From” that says, “Chance favors the connected mind.” This is one quote that I always come back to time and again and that I have written about before. I can honestly say that connecting with others via Twitter has been life changing for me as far as my professional life is concerned. Many of the books I read, things that I do with my students, and ways that I share are directly influenced by those I follow on Twitter.

In his book, Couros made a statement, “isolation is a choice educators make.” That is one decision I choose not to make.

 

 

More Highlights from The Innovator’s Mindset, Part III #IMMOOC

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The last few weeks I have been a bit slow in sharing out my thoughts. To be fair, I was heading into and then out of an election and my evenings have been full. And then they were not and I was honestly just tired. But I am steadfast in my commitment to complete the book and share the highlights with those who have either read it, and can agree with me how thought-provoking and motivating it is; or who have not read it, and from these highlights will want to pick up their own copy and get reading.

Part III is no less full of quotables than Parts I and II. In fact, I had to be frugal so that there would be text left unhighlighted. With that said, the beginning of Part III is about seeing others’ strengths and dovetails nicely with the Positive Education that we are implementing here at my school. In fact I have recently watched Lea Waters TEDx talk on strengths-based parenting which speaks to parents as well as teachers about utilizing their children’s strengths and building on them as a way to maximize their potential (and moves away from a deficit model). As you read the highlights below, you will see the connection! It also addresses empowering learners (and, as you will read, we are all learners- teachers included), focusing on doing more with what you already have, and being open to sharing and learning with and from others.

Part III: Unleashing Talent

Chapter 8: Strengths-Based Leadership

  • What if we stopped operating on a deficit model that focuses on a learner’s weaknesses and started operating on a strengths-based model that builds on the learner’s strengths?
  • If we are going to empower our students, we must help them find what they love and create learning experiences that encourage them to develop their strengths.
  • Giving people license to take risks by tapping into their abilities helps create a space where innovative ideas and learning flourish.
  • By focusing on strengths first and building from there, as opposed to working from a deficit model that focuses only on where we need improvements, we create an environment where people feel they have a purpose in their classrooms and for the entire school.
  • Do we really think someone will be innovative in an area they hate?

Chapter 9: Powerful Learning First, Tech Second

  • Technology invites us to move from engaged to empowered.
  • Many technology departments, led by obsolete tech directors, are inadvertently inhibiting learning. The mantra of “lock it and block it” no longer works in a 21st-century digital learning environment.
  • What is best for kids?
  • How does this improve learning?
  • How often do we look at the possible reward associated with doing something?
  • Is this serving the few or the majority? This question is essential when we make any policies
  • Any time a new policy or procedure is presented for an entire school, we must ensure it does not punish everyone for the mistakes of the few. Innovative environments should be built on trust, not the lack of it.
  • Learners are the driver; technology is the accelerator.
  • In education, we are all learners.

Chapter 10: Less Is More

  • When educators and organizations feel overwhelmed by the number of requirements they have to meet, the focus in classrooms tends to be on covering curriculum, rather than focusing on the learning and exploring concepts in depth.
  • Living in a world with so much choice can make us miserable
  • In all aspects of education, what we learn is not as important as what we create from what we learn.
  • In education, understanding the community we serve is critical and necessary for innovation to flourish in each of our unique communities.
  • The basics are crucial, but they cannot be the only things we teach our students/
  • “‘Reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling'” ~Yong Zhao
  • As a school or system, when we limit our initiatives, tools, or techniques, we give ourselves time to discover what deep learning can really look and feel like.

Chapter 11: Embracing an Open Culture

  • Today, isolation is a choice educators make
  • It isn’t how much you know that matters. What matters is how much access you have to what other people know.
  • How do we make great learning go viral?
  • Social media is not meant to be another form of email, but, as my brother would say more like dipping your cup into a stream of information.
  • What really pushes our thinking is not consuming information, but reflecting, creating, and sharing our ideas with the understanding that others will read it.
  • Our world today is participatory; sharing should not be the exception in education but the rule.

Chapter 12: Creating Meaningful Learning Experiences for Educators

  • We often create what we experience, which means that to change what happens in schools, the experiences we create in our professional learning must first change.
  • How many of us purposefully and explicitly model the learning process for our children? ~Scott McLeod
  • How many of us purposefully and explicitly show our students what it means to struggle with learning, overcome obstacles, and emerge on the other side more skilled and more knowledgeable than we were before? ~Scott McLeod
  • Understanding the learning opportunities that we would like to create for our students begins by immersing ourselves in similar learning experiences.
  • “‘Working hard for something we don’t care about is called  stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.'” ~Simon Sinek
  • If schools are ever to be truly innovative, leadership must be open to having people question, even challenge, current practices.
  • Challenge the notion of “we have always done it this way” by starting with the prompt, “why do we . . .?” 
  • “‘Does the process of school impede deep learning?'”

photo credit: ShellyS IMG_6668 via photopin (license)

Highlights from The Innovator’s Mindset Chapters 6 & 7 #IMMOOC

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We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. ~John Dewey

This week I am sharing my highlights from the chapters 6 & 7 of The Innovator’s Mindset. These chapters focused on learning, particularly engagement vs. empowerment and solidifying learning through reflecting.

Some things resonated for me, specifically the quote from Bill Ferriter about empowerment, and the pages in which Couros juxtaposed School vs. Learning.

At first thought, engagement is something I believe we as teachers look for in our students- we want them to be engaged in the content, engaged in our class, actively doing; engagement is a good thing, right? Reflecting on Ferriter’s quote though, makes engagement more something we are doing to our students to get them to want to learn what we have to teach them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as Couros said, something we as teachers should keep in mind when our students are with us. Perhaps we can have both. Perhaps our students can be engaged and empowered at the same time- they can engage with our content and be empowered with choice to use their strengths and passions to share their learning, pursue their questions, and learn more.

I’ll leave you with these highlights.

Chapter 6

  • It is imperative that we teach learners how to be self-directed and guide their own learning, rather than rely on others to simply engage them
  • “Engaging students means getting kids excited about our content, interests, and curricula.” Empowering students “means giving kids the knowledge and skills to pursue their passions, interests, and future.” ~Bill Ferriter
  • If you had to choose between compliant, engaged, or empowered, which word would you want to define your students?
  • “Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.” ~Harriet Rubin
  • Our job as educators and leaders is not to control others but to bring out the best in them.
  • We need to create the same opportunities for our students as those we would want for ourselves.
  • Innovation cannot be relegated to a one-off event.
  • The shift in our thinking must focus on what learning truly can be, not what is has been.
  • School is scheduled at certain times. Learning can happen any time, all of the time.
  • School is standardized. Learning is personal.
  • School often isolates. Learning is often social.
  • School promotes developing your own questions and finding answers.
  • Thinking you already know the answer can keep you from exploring new options.

Chapter 7

  • Before we decide how best to communicate our vision, we have to establish one; we have to articulate the desired characteristics of our learners and the optimal learning environment.
  • The people who help set the vision and mission are most likely to embrace it.
  • If we want innovative students, we need to be innovative leaders and educators. If we want to create a culture of innovation  we must first focus on furthering our own learning and growth.
  • Providing choice allows students to build on strengths and interests to make learning relevant and fulfilling.
  • DEAR time should be an opportunity not only for reading, but to also “Drop Everything And Reflect.”
  • It is important that “innovation” does not become an event for our students but the norm.
  • Let’s start asking kids to find problems and give them a sense of purpose in solving something authentic.
  • Teaching students how to assess themselves, rather than just do it for them, provides another opportunity for reflection.
  • Portfolios are a great way for learners to share their knowledge and document the learning process.
  • Looking back helps students develop their own understanding of where they have been, where they are, and where they are going.
  • What if we recognized and built on learners’ strengths?
  • Dreaming is important, but until we create the conditions where innovation in education flourishes, those dreams will not become reality.

Highlights from The Innovator’s Mindset, Part 2: Chapters 4 & 5 #IMMOOC

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There are many bold statements from chapters 4 and 5 that really resonated with me. I used italics to show my thoughts and immediate responses to some of them below. As I was adding the highlights, I saw them as tweets and responded to them like I would if I was having a conversation about them.

Chapter 4

  • If you are not trusted to make a common-sense decision, why would you go above and beyond to become innovative?
    • If educators and teachers are constantly being micromanaged and questioned about every little thing, rather than trusted to do what is best for the students in their class, they may be loath to take that risk and try new things because they are not given the benefit of the doubt that they can make these choices for the learners they have in their classroom.
  • If innovation is going to be a priority in education, we need to create a culture where trust is the norm.
  • If something works, other educators in the building would be expected to do it, thus creating more work for everyone.
    • Is it fair to hold teachers back who want to take risks, be innovative, do something different to engage their students? Is it fair to the children if the students in the class next door are doing things that they do not get to do because their teacher is not ready (yet)?
  • If what’s best for learners is our primary concern, equity of opportunities will be created at the highest levels, not the lowest.
    • We need to create a culture where teachers collaborate, share, and learn from each other so that when one does something different, others want to do it as well. We need to applaud and learn from each other.
  • To quote Steve Jobs, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.
  • Rather than limiting educators’ initiative, and thereby students’ learning opportunities, let’s create environments of competitive collaboration, where educators at all levels push and help one another to become better.
    • Yes! When we work as a team, we can push each other to create the best learning environments for our students.
  • Likewise, we must build and strengthen relationships with (and between) our educators so that every individual sees him or herself as an integral part of a larger whole.
    • Like pieces of a puzzle or colorful threads, we all bring something different to our school. When we all work together towards the same goal, we create a beautiful masterpiece. (I believe a similar metaphor came out in the live chat with @TaraMartinEdu)
  • Instead of fear driving us to a place where “no” is our default, we need to strive to create a “culture of yes.”
    • We need to find ways to make our ideas work rather than give in to our negativity bias and look at all that could go wrong. We need to think instead, “what could go right with this idea!”
  • Even if other teachers don’t use my suggestions or ideas the same way I do, the simple act of sharing sparks creativity as we tweak, alter, and remix what we and others do.
    • Sometimes we just have to put things out there in the hope that something will catch on. If we don’t put our ideas out there, there is 100% chance they will go nowhere.
  • Our job, sometimes, is simply to be the spark, help build confidence, then get out of the way.
    • Yes! We must have confidence in our teachers so that they will have confidence in themselves when it comes to taking risks and trying something new.
  • If we want meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we can make a connection to the mind.
    • “Relationships, relationships, relationships” ~George Couros

Chapter 5

  • We’ve got to keep asking ourselves the question I posed earlier: Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
    • Just as in design-thinking we start with empathy, designing a classroom experience needs to start with the needs of the learners. We must always keep the learners in mind and remember that the group in your room this year is not the same and may not have the same needs as the group you had last year.
  • Can you imagine going to a place everyday where you felt your voice didn’t matter?
    • I would think that at that point it becomes get in, do what you need to do, and get out.
  • If we want “innovation” to flourish in our schools, we have to be willing to immerse ourselves in the environments where it is going to happen.
  • Another thing we must be willing to do is remove barriers that challenge those we serve.
    • Sometimes it is as simple as moving the laptopcart into the classroom or removing the block on certain websites.
  • It is my job to learn first if I want to lead well. As leaders and innovators, it can be easy to want to rush into change before we’ve taken the time to really explore what that change could and should look like.
  • Being present, learning first, and leading with the learner in mind will help you grown as an innovative leader.
  • Innovative leaders help people continuously grow with small steps that build both confidence and competence, so they are more willing and able to become more innovative themselves.
  • Trying to put yourself in the place of those you serve is where innovation begins.
    • Perhaps we all need to spend a day or two in our students (and colleague’s) shoes to really understand their learning experience.
  • We rarely create something different until we experience something different.
  • People are less likely to take risks and try new things if they don’t see those above the in the hierarchical structure doing the same thing.
    • We all must be willing to do what we are asking of others.
  • Innovation often comes from conflict and disagreement, not in an adversarial way but in a way that promotes divergent thinking.
    • Right! It is when we are trying to make something better, easier, or different that leads to creative innovations. What do we need to do to make this better?
  • If you want to be an innovative leader, your role isn’t simply to come up with new and better ideas, but to involve your staff in that mission.
    • We are all in this together!

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