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In his book, The Thinking Teacher, Oliver Quinlan questions the tendency of teachers to find inspiration in every new thing they come upon online. Whether it is be a TedTalk video or a resource picked up online, we need to be wary of taking on and trying everything we discover. As Quinlan states:

We all need a bit of good feeling in our work, but perhaps we should be aiming for achievement not inspiration.

The alternative to inspiration is being purposeful and working towards sustainable habits.

Quinlan’s concern regards inspiration verses achievement got me thinking about my own practise, both online and off. This is something that I am often challenged with as a connected educator. Why share? Why save links to Diigo? Why read endless books and blogs? Why write posts (like this one?) Are these examples of inspiration, achievement or something else altogether? This led me to reflect on my current ‘episode’ exploring documentation, visible thinking and all things Reggio Emilia.

The first question that we are confronted with is who is the judge as to whether something is purposeful or not? It would be easy on the outside to see my interest in Reggio as an example of short lived inspiration. Latest link picked up online, thrown into the classroom, but never properly ingrained. However, to see it as such misses its place within my own learning inquiry overtime into supporting students during the process of learning, not just at the end. Here then area few moments which have influenced how I got to now. Steps in the iterative process.

Starting out as a teacher all those years ago now, I remember manically trying to manage student workbooks. The big problem, as I saw it, was collecting and communicating with students in a timely manner. This was and is always difficult, especially if you only saw students once a week. This led me to explore the use of digital workbooks. Beginning with a simple Word document shared via the school share drive, I soon moved to a cloud solution using Google Apps. This meant I didn’t have to depend upon students placing a copy in the right folder and that I could respond at any time.

In 2013, I attended a keynote at ICTEV by Dan Donohoo who discussed the idea of the village. Amoungst other things, Donohoo made mention of Reggio Emilio. I had never really heard of Reggio Emilio, but his discussion of it piqued my interest and so it became something I became consicous of and looked out for in regards to listening to all voices in the classroom.

At the same time, I had the opportunity to work with an instructional coach. After some discussion, we identified taking notes and keeping evidence during the lesson as my goal. Although I did not necessarily achieve what I set out to accomplish (a simple solution for collecting notes), I did come to the realization that I was trying to own the learning and that maybe I needed to rethink the problem. Rather than how I could capture every moment, maybe I needed to think about how I could support students in sharing and celebrating their thinking and learning.

I have long followed the work of Cameron Paterson and Bianca Hewes are their use of project-based learning as an answer for student-centred learning, especially in the Secondary classroom. In particular, I have been influenced by Paterson and his work around all things Reggio Emilio. It has helped me begin to reimagine questioning, thinking and learning in the classroom.


I understand Quinlan’s warning about the tendency to dip in online for inspiration. However, failing to actively spend any time around the idea well, as David Culberhouse puts it, risks waiting for solutions to fall out of the sky. The challenge is to always be mindful of why we do it. Sometimes I feel that when we talk about achievement verses inspiratiion, the question that is not asked is whose achievement are we aspiring for and in denying inspiration, we are denying teachers a sense of agency? To be honest, I am really not sure, what about you? How do you find balance between inspiration and achievement? Balance between learning with intent, while at the same time allowing space for serendipity and perpetual beta? As always, comments welcome.


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I recently wrote a reflection about different examples of hands on learning that I have been a part of lately. Although there was no question as to whether these different situations involved learning, what seemed missing was a means of effectively elaborating upon the intricacies of the various lessons and activities.

Take the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Program for example. Students engage in a range of activities, including exploring how to care for a garden, developing an awareness of seasons and learning the different skills used when cooking food. This is done while working in groups of six. The usual practise of reflection involves students (not groups) answering a series of set questions each session relating to the focus on the session, either while the food was cooking or as the various materials were being packed up by support staff.Now this was useful to help fill out the time and provide a point of summative assessment, but often meant that the questions used were one-size fits all and did not necessarily capture what may have happened while learning. For example, one week I worked with a group to cook a stir-fry. Each member shared the jobs, taking in turn cutting vegetables or cooking the food. What stood out to me though was how some members took initiative and helped out others. Sharing their prior knowledge and understanding to help other members in the group. Although the questions at the end may have touched on this, it was not necessarily the focus.  One answer to this dilemma is to incorporate more formative assessment through the act of documentation.

One of the key values of Reggio Emilia, documentation involves learners engaging with artefacts relating to their learning. These artefacts can be in any form. Maybe a conversation recorded, a piece of incomplete work or a video capturing learning in action. It can be easy to dismiss the idea of documentation as just a portfolio of work, collected together. The purpose though is not necessarily to summarise products and projects, but rather develop a deeper understanding and provide a narrative. The focus is not to represent a ‘final’ piece of work, but rather a snapshot of learning to focus on. This inquiry may involve questioning what has been done, reflecting on the process and critiquing the product. As Mara Krechevsky, Melissa Rivard, Ben Mardell, Daniel Wilson suggest in Visible Learners,

Documentation supports the social principle of learning by communicating the importance of the experiences captured, the knowledge gained, and those who participated.

An obvious means of supporting this process is through the use of technology.The most common technology used is the digital camera to capture moments. Gary Stager provides an extensive list of possibilities when it comes to photography and documentation. One of the problems though with just using a digital camera is that it is difficult to view the content using the device, meaning that it needs to be uploaded elsewhere.One solution to this dilemma is to use a mobile devices that not only allows you to capture content, but organise it as well. An iPad works really well for this. Beyond the means of capturing learning in a number of ways, it is portable. By allocating an iPad to each group provides a means for different people to capture significant moments as they arise and then use a range applications to organise it. Some options include:

  • Book Creator: A simple application for collecting different artefacts in one place on the go, whether it be images, video or audio. In addition to this, users can add text to provide further context which can be useful when looking back at a later point.
  • Adobe Voice and Slate: Similar to Book Creator, Adobe Voice and Slate allows users to present information in one place. Both have their limitations, but also provide a useful constraint which can help focus the act of documentation. Usually used more reflective, rather than on the go.
  • Google Apps: Whether it be SlidesDocs or Keep, each offer a simple way of capturing content and are available on iOS. They provide the means to share with different members. Google Photos can also be used to simply share videos and images. An alternative to this is Evernote.
  • Seesaw: A cross between a blog and an learning management system, Seesaw provides the means to capture learning in any form. Like spaces such as Edmodo, you can create groups and classes. However, what is different is that even with just one iPad in a classroom you can quickly allocate artefacts to different students. You can also share iBooks created with Book Creator or Adobe Voice videos, as well as continue to develop the conversation further afterwards. An alternative to the various intricacies of Seesaw is having a class blog organised around tags and categories.

So what about instead of students working individually writing their responses they instead got together and considered the various documentation colaboratively? Making their thinking visible. Looking back in order to look forward? As Mara Krechevsky, Melissa Rivard, Ben Mardell and Daniel Wilson assert,

Learners are in groups all the time while they are in school but not all these groups are learning groups. In learning groups, members are engaged in solving problems, creating products, and making meaning; students and adults learn from one another by encountering new perspectives, strategies, and ways of thinking. Members of learning groups also learn with one another by modifying, extending, clarifying, and enriching their own ideas and the ideas of others.

In the end, I don’t think that this is isolated. The same could be said for all of learning. So what about you, how do you celebrate process of learning, whether it be camps, cooking or coding? As always, comments welcome.


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Visible Thinking is an approach to learning developed by Project Zero, a part of Harvard Graduate School of Education. Project Zero was created in 1967 by Nelson Goodman to improve education in the arts. As the website explains:

Goodman believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but that “zero” had yet been firmly established about the field.

Some of the achievements have been Howard Gardner’s work around multiple intelligences and the promotion of educational philosophies developed in Reggio Emilia. A core theme throughout has been thinking and its place within learning.

Central to the act of Making Thinking Visible is a series of routines designed around authentic questions. Rather than focus on the retention of information through rote practice, the routines are intended to be tools which students can draw upon to support their learning at any time. Although it can be easy to see them as activities or worksheets to be handed-out, the focus is on repeated use, in a range of situations, in the effort to create a culture of thinking.

Divided up into understanding, fairness, truth and creativity, some of the routines include:

This however is not a set list, for there are some like Cameron Paterson who have stretched it, both bringing in new routines and borrowing from elsewhere. Some of these routines include the 3 Y’s and Parts, Purpose and Complexities.

The focus throughout is the development of understanding, rather than as some sort of by-product. Central to this is the notion of documentation. This can be split into four practices: observing, recording, interpreting and sharing. What is important about documentation is that it, “must serve to advance learning, not merely capture it. As such, documentation includes not only what is collected but also the discussions and reflections on those artifacts.” Gary Stager suggests that one of the easiest ways to document learning is through the use of photography. However as Silvia Tolisano touches on, there are many different ways. Whatever the form, documentation not only helps advance students’ understanding of their learning, but also provides a powerful assessment tool to help guide practice.

So what about you? How do you deepen understanding and help make learning more visible? Feel free to share in the comments.

RESOURCES

Making Thinking Visible – The first place to start is to read the book by Ron RItchart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison. This provides a thorough introduction and gives practical suggestions for each of the different routines.

Visible Thinking on Youtube playlist – A collection of videos, these short pieces provide a different entry point into understanding Project Zero, Visible Thinking and the various routines.

Visible Thinking website – From resources to thinking ideals, this space has everything needed to get going.

It’s All About Learning – Cameron Paterson is a great proponent of Visible Thinking and has written several posts reflecting on the different iterations in the classroom.

40 Years of Teaching Thinking – A discussion by David Perkins of the history associated with thinking and the challenges that have arisen over time and still need to be faced in the future.

Langwitches – From documentation to thinking routines, Silvia Tolisano has created a range of resources to support thinking in and out of the classroom.


Originally published at Humanities at Brookside


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creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs

I have been wondering for a while about all the hype around the Reggio Emila Approach, an early childhood program that focuses on relationships, documentation, project work, personal expression and active listening. Initially my attention was sparked by Dan Donahoo’s keynote for ICTEV13 Conference and the notion of the digital village. More recently, Cameron Paterson piqued my interest. Firstly, with a post about the links between Project Zero and Reggio Emilia through his discussion of the book Visable Learners. Then more recently in a post exploring the use of documentation in the Secondary classroom. I have been left thinking about what Reggio might offer my own teaching practises.

One of the things that stands out to me in regards to Reggio is the power of play and discovery. The idea of students driving their own projects and inquiry with the teacher providing a space and documenting the various experiences has a lot of potential. Although this could happen in any context, I saw a real opportunity through the teaching of robotics.

I felt particularly challenged by Steve Brophy in regards to letting go. In a post talking about developing a Makerspace, he explained that:

From a facilitator point of view, I purchased everything but opened nothing. I left the whole process to the kids and was constantly amazed by how much the kids would ask “are you sure we can do this?”

Although I had brought in inquiry in regards to wondering about robotics, I was still reluctant to let go of control of the building process. What I noticed in reflection was that for some students this was fine. They liked the structure that I provided. However, there were some that just wanted to explore and I was only inhibiting, rather than harnessing, this.

As I could find nothing in the AUSVels documents that specifically said students must be able to build and program a NXT Mindstorm robot, I decided instead to provide them with the requirement to ‘make’. What unravelled when I handed out the kits was amazing. Some started with instructions, others tested and tinkered. Some explored programming, others making. Some scrapped the instructions part way through, while others picked them up after some initial open explorations. Some walked around to check what other groups were doing, while others supported different groups with their questions and issues. Although I answered a few questions and found some missing parts, I just moved around and documented what the students were doing. All in all, most students demonstrated a depth of understanding and engagement at the end of the first session far beyond what I had ever seen before in a building session.

in a recent post about play, Tom Barrett suggested that:

It is not simply the timeless nature of immersive play but also the way that physical barriers, and even the rules of physics, become non-existent. They are changed, thwarted and ignored. Superpowers ON!

What was so exciting to observe in the lesson was seeing students enact the greatest superpower possible, the ability to not only learn together, but to in fact drive their own learning.


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