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So it is Week 4 of the #youredustory challenge and the question this week is what is the best thing happening in your class/school/network. Again, for the second week running, I have been spurred on by the thoughts of Steve Brophy. In his post he suggested that the best is often based on context:

My one best thing changes depending on who I am working with, what I’m working on, the context and a long list of factors.

I would like to take this a step further and suggest that the best thing that is happening in my network is the network itself.

Borrowing from David Weinberger’s saying idea that ‘the smartest person in the room is the room’, I feel that the best thing happening is the network itself. Whether it be online associations, colleagues from nearby schools or those I connect with in person, I am continually inspired at the awesome things happening and the potential of others to go beyond the fixed ideas that we can unintentially confine them with. He did what, but … Or she is just a …

I think that ideas about ‘best and greatest’ are better understood as a way of seeing. More often than not there are great things happening all around us that we never seem to have the time to notice or the eyes to see.

Doug Belshaw wrote a post recently which really challenged my thinking. In it he spoke about our tendency to get bogged down in thinking about the way the world ought to be, instead of celebrating the way that it is. As much as we would like to think otherwise, change takes a lot of time. Patience is therefore needed by the bucket load and change to begin from within.


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There is so much written about change in education. What is wrong, how things should be fixed. I have added my voice to such dialogue penning a few pieces focusing on innovation and technology. The more that I reflect upon the matter though, the more I feel that an incessant focus on technology often misses the mark. It is the wrong ‘driver’, as Michael Fullan would put it. The real change to me is that of mindset.

In a recent post on George Couros postulated about which attribute was more important when hiring a teacher, “someone who is great with relationships and terrible with technology, over someone who is terrible with relationships but great with technology.” After arguing that relationships trumps technology any day of the week, Couros then went onto suggest that the ability to teach kids how to learn is what is most important at the end of the day. I was left wondering what Couros’ discussion says about education and where it has come in the last few years. It is easy to get caught up in debates about technology when I believe that the greatest change has been a move from a emphasis on power and control in classroom, to a dialogue about culture and environment.

At the start of this year, one of the goals that I set myself was to place students at the centre of the classroom. To step off the stage and let them shine. In reflection I feel that this focus missed something. Instead of ‘students’ at the centre, I now feel that the focus should have been on fostering the optimal conditions for learning. Although students are integral to this process, it is the creation of a positive learning environment, in and out of the classroom, that is central. This starts in my opinion with the teacher and the way they design learning.

Maybe my students have improved, are more behaved than when I started teaching, but I just don’t talk about ‘discipline’ any more. In class or out. My focus instead has moved to learning and creating a classroom where students are able to get the most out of themselves. If there are students who are disengaged, my first port of call is not to chastise them or make veiled threats. My first port of call is me. What are they meant to be doing? Why are they disengaged? Is there anything that I could be doing to support them, either now or maybe next time.

A part of this change of mindsets is being open and honest with students. No secret teachers business, no surprises. I always attempt to share why I chose what I did, whether it be in regards to assessment or curriculum, as well as why I feel that something is not necessarily working the way I intended it to.  I may not go to the extent that Cameron Paterson does in sharing research literature with students, but I at least involve them. I do this in the hope that they too can be honest about where they are at and that they feel safe in taking risks with being wrong. For as it is said, you need to be wrong if you are ever going to be right.

We so often give lip service to the saying that students have a right to learn, yet the habits we form in and out of the classroom can seem to counter this. For a right to learn is surely to be spoken to in an appropriate manner, to be given some ownership over learning and to be given a voice about what is and is not necessarily working. The biggest change for me in my time in education has been the introduction of such programs as Restorative Practises, Leading Teams and the Framework for Understanding Poverty. Maybe not necessarily for what they have brought in regards to actions and process, but more so in regards to the way we see things. That are a part of significant shift in paradigm.

For me, without such a change, what are we really aspiring for? For in the end, I believe we are most productive when we have a purpose for learning driven by intrinsic desire, but to have a that learners need to be able to have a say. So let’s start there.


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We got talking the other day at school about our NAPLAN reading results. Again, the reading results were below the state average. It was therefore raised that maybe this needed to be a focus and that maybe we should investigate bringing in a coach from outside of the school. So even though we have several great coaches already working within in the area of literacy and we had a focus on reading a couple of years ago, it was believed that the answer was to get a new perspective on the problem. As long as you are seen doing something then that’s alright.
 
Having been a part of the push across the region a few years ago in regards to literacy I posed the question as to whether anyone had carried out any sort of audit of the current practises to identify any areas of improvement. For I was told that to bring about deep and meaningful change takes between three to five years. The comment that I got in response really startled me. I was told that it wasn’t anything that we were doing or not doing, that what I needed to understand was that reading standards in the region have always been poor, a consequence of our clientele. Maybe I’m too much of a dreamer or just naive, but I think that before you go chasing the silver bulletin maybe you stop and reflect on your own practise and back your own staff.
 
This subsequently got me thinking of some simple things we could introduce tomorrow to improve reading and responding within the school. Here then are three changes that I would make:
 

Share the Conferences

A few years ago I investigated the idea of digital workbooks as an alternative to the usual exercise book. Going beyond the cliché of ‘saving paper’, I wanted something that I could check in at any time without having to go through the rigmarole of collecting books at the end of the lesson. After moving to Google Apps, I then realised that there were benefits far beyond the workbook. One change I brought in was making reading conferences collaborative.
 
Before that moment, the conference notes were kept by the teacher, with students writing their goals in their reading journal. Other than being owned by the teacher, rather than the student, the process of a literacy coach checking how students were progressing was rather tedious. In moving the notes to a collaborative document, sharing with all the various stakeholders was just a click of the button. This provides a means for teachers to possibly touch base with students on a more regular basis, even if they are not able to literally conference them. It also allowed the process, which was done by Session Five teachers, whoever that maybe, to be shared with English teachers in order to gain a better perspective as to where students are at.
 

Recognising Digital Literacy Too

One of the things that has always confused me in regards to reading and comprehension is the dominance of the written text to the digital text. Although there are differences between the two, I feel that the ability to be critical is pertinent to both. As I have spoken about elsewhere, I wonder how we are modelling the way we read online within today’s curriculum.
 
Personally, a majority of what I read is online now. One of the reasons is that I feel it supports my comprehension, allowing me to annotate texts, as well as is interact with others in a way that was not possible before. In the past such sharing was often stunted by whether they too had read or were interested in what I was reading. Now online I can find my niche community, those who are also interested in the same topics as me and connect with them whenever I like.
 

Fluency and Authenticity

Another interesting idea in regards to working on areas such as fluency and accuracy (see the CAFE menu) is the ability to record yourself and become your own critique. Usually when working with Secondary students I suggest reading to sibling or finding someone else. However, the challenge associated with this that not everyone has a sibling and for many it feels contrived. An alternative to this, that I came upon, via +Corrie Barclay, is to video yourself reading. Not only does this make learning visible, but it also allows students to watch themselves back and be their own critique.
 
A way of building upon simply recording yourself is to create an audio book. For example, I had some split kids in my class the other day and they had finished all their work, so I asked them to get a picture book and record themselves reading it for a Prep class using Adobe Voice. Not only does this then bring in visualization, as they need to choose the appropriate images to support the text, but I have found that the authenticity of the task brings something out in the students. Instead of recording a one take performance, they would read over each line, play it back and then often rerecord it until they felt they had perfected it.
 
 
In the end, the problem to me is that the search for a silver bullet is a facet of the fixed mindset. A belief that if we just get the right teachers or brought in the right coach that somehow everything will magically click and we will get the results. The only silver bullet for success is hard work. No outside coach can bring that in my view, this sadly needs to start at the top with the question why do you want to change and what is the desired outcome. So let’s start there.

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