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Posts Tagged ‘student centred teaching’

Friday’s I have decided to encourage others to engage in the reflective practise of blogging followed by my sharing of their work here at The Principaled Life.  Today I am honoured to include teacher voice on my blog.  That of Jodie Nardone.  Mrs. Nardone teaches and learns at Eastwood Public School.  She works with ELL students and students that access the Special Education Resource Room.  Mrs. Nardone has used class blogs for some time.  She is an active Ontario Educator on Twitter.  Most recently I challenged her to use her blog as a reflective practise tool.  The result of our Skype calls is the rejuvenation of her professional blog.  She shared this initial story with me as she most recently chaperoned her students, along with her teaching partner Mrs. Silvestri, to the Windsor Mission.  This trip was the result of her students digging deep to truly understand the need and process that our most vulnerable citizens go through for the basic necessities of life.  Enjoy.

Mission Inquiry by:  Jodie Nardone

I am pretty confident with the why and the what about Inquiry. I’ve been struggling a bit with the how, particularly how it looks in my SERR (Special Education Resource Room) classroom. Until recently, and quite by accident.

In keeping with the spirit of the season and at the same time respecting the many cultures in our building, my teaching partner @SilvestriESL and I decided to decorate our school Christmas tree.  It sat bare, save for a few strings of lights, at the main entrance of the school.  We would decorate it with mittens and scarves to donate to people in need in our inner-city.  We would call it the “Tree of Warmth”.  It became a provocation for inquiry.  Each day more items were added to the tree by the kind staff and students of our school.  My students began to ask questions.  Questions about why we are collecting these items.  Questions about what we were going to do with all of the items the students and staff had collected. This prompted us to do some research and watch some videos. Together we decided it would be a good idea to deliver the donations as a class to the local Downtown Mission and get a first hand look at the impact their kindness has on our own community.

Tree of Warmth

We packed up all the items that had been collected, hopped in the cars and headed to the Downtown Mission where they welcomed us with warmth (despite the fact that their furnace had broken that morning).

The Windsor Mission

The Students were given a tour of the building by MaryJo, the Community Outreach Coordinator, with an explanation of what happens there. When asked at the start of the tour what was special about Eastwood school, in typical Eastwood fashion, students responded with answers like “because at Eastwood we are kind”, and “people there are respectful to others”.  Our visit to the Downtown Mission has since inspired our class to do more and thus began individual student inquiries.  The students learned that the food items needed most are proteins like tuna and peanut butter as well as boxes of cereal.  They brought that data back to the school and used it to create what they called a ‘7 Day Cereal Challenge’.   They were on their own ‘mission’.  With minimal direction from teachers they researched more information about the Mission on their iPads, prepared a presentation to share with all classes in the school, designed and hung posters, wrote and read announcements, and created videos using iMovie on the iPad to advertise their challenge.   Students who are not easily motivated were engaged and students who ‘don’t write’ suddenly had a purpose.   Ali was inspired. He wrote, practised and delivered morning announcements to motivate his student colleagues to take part in the challenge.  Each morning they are collecting, tallying and graphing the total donations coming in.  This is just the beginning for us.  Our intent was to collect and donate hats and mittens to the Mission.  It sparked more.  While not a traditional inquiry, it certainly lead me to understand how student ownership of the learning increases engagement and the moral purpose of education.  Where will my students go next with investigations around poverty in Canada?

Please listen to MaryJo describe the Foodbank and the personal care room.MaryJo in the Food Bank

 Please consider following Jodie this #FollowFriday at @iteachELL .  Her newest Blogging venture can be followed and read at mrsnardone.wordpress.com

@iteachELL

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“Critical consciousness, they say, is anarchic. Others add that critical consciousness may lead to disorder. Some, however, confess: Why deny it? I was afraid of freedom. I am no longer afraid.” Paulo Freire

Last February myself and six teachers (Jr, Int) attended a local highschool PL session on Critical Thinking in the classroom. Garfield Gini-Newman is a Senior Consultant for The Critical Thinking Consortium, TC2, and an adjunct professor at OISE in Toronto, Ontario. While originally challenged by the space to learn in and the seating arrangement I slowly appreciated the value of sitting with 70 other professionals in a fishbowl in the welcome corridor of the high school. Students walked past and watched us listening, talking and learning from behind the glass.

Our reason for entering the room was laid in evidence from 8 years of performance on the grade 6 EQAO assessments (limited level 4 performances), results from our Stretch your Thinking questions of 2010-2012 and most importantly the professional opinions and anecdotal evidence of our expert teachers around students’ abilities with critical thinking. The perception: our students, en masse, have not been able to access level 4 performance tasks. The tasks that largely involve critical analysis, critical thinking and higher order problem solving. We decided as a group that this may not be because our students simply cannot present and perform this way but rather (and more introspectively) that we are not preparing lessons and activities that allow for students to illustrate or possibly access this level of thinking and thus practise the process. We asked the question: Are we using Critical Thinking as a framework for our learning activities?

We came prepared to be critical of ourselves. Each teacher brought with them a lesson or activity that we wanted to “Tweak and Fortify” (Gini-Newmans’s mantra for Critical Thinking prep). Garfield uses the “problematize the content” method to make learning happen in the classroom. He juxtaposes the “correctional method” and the “problematization method.” One stifles learning and thinking and the other instigates it. He calls this whole process “Additive Teaching.”

We began with a picture of Burnaby BC in 1942 and were asked to decide the month, day, and time of day from the evidence we had. We were left with the question, Why should you or should you not give the students the answer to the question posed? Many answers revolved around stopping the thinking, not highlighting the process, undermining the learning and talk, creating winners and losers.

Before coming to today’s event the teachers were sent a form in Google Docs asking questions about student performance, engagement and thinking. Questions also were asked of teacher learning need. Teachers were asked to watch an embedded YouTube clip of Garfield and were asked: Do you want/need more of this learning? The results were clear. We needed to attend the workshop.

Garfield stated a number of times this day, you can do this in your classroom tomorrow. The most practical of his ideas: Stop having students copy from the board or take notes and instead throw four statements on the board and ask them, “Which one of these statements is true and which ones are false?”

One of the watershed quotes Newman threw up on the screen was a poem from T.S.Elliot in 1933 in which he stated: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” He specifically was referencing the role google, apps, iPhones and the lot have played in the classrooms and learning work of the 21st C teacher and student. With the knowledge that the answer is “out there”, instead of inside your head, he challenged all educators in the room to start framing problems and content differently. He challenged each of us to reframe our roles. Of specific practical interest was his work on a PBL matrix. My grade 5/6 teachers used this work to create the framework for a unit on Ancient Civ. the very next week! Garfield provided a 7 step process for designing critical challenges:
1.critique the piece
2.judge the piece
3. Rework the piece
4. Decode the puzzle
5. Design to specs
6. Perform to specs

(One example used was that students not only chose the most important items to carry into the woods with them but them they must rank order them. All this is done on a sea of talk–critical talk)

Garfield started to scare some people when he suggested flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy on its head. “What if we flipped on end the foundations for teaching and learning and made invitations to create products of value or solving meaningful problems the foundations of learning for all children?” He called this being a “little bit provocative.” Newman also juxtaposed Critical Thinking and Inquiry Based Teaching. His goal is to bring these two things together in the classroom and call it Critical Inquiry. As we discussed this process I was drawn to think about and reflect on the work of my Early Years teachers currently. Critical Inquiry is alive and well with 4 and 5 year olds when an adult knows how to probe with questions.

There were strong connections to my teachers’ current work on Visible Learning stemming from the work of John Hattie. Problem Solving teaching only has positive learning effects when students are taught the skills they need to arrive at an answer. He continued to develop these ideas by showing us his Engagement Taxonomy. Garfield asked us to consider: To what degree are the students: Empowered? Challenged? Entertained? On task? Are they asked to be actively involved? Are they required to use a high degree of concentration and committed to the process of learning? All of these questions were digested and discussed at table groups.

The Critical Thinking classroom involves a Community of Thinkers, Critical Challenges and the Teaching and Assessing of Intellectual tools. These tools include: background knowledge, criteria for judgement, critical thinking vocabulary, thinking strategies and habits of mind. This, in essence, is the TC2 Model of Critical Thinking.

Garfield was certain to share his website that houses many free Critical Thinking resources. http://www.tc2.ca is the home of the Thinking Teacher. Also included is the electronic source book. This work stems from Garfield’s work with the Alberta department of Education in which he problematized the social studies curriculum. Thoughtful Books is another resource that highlights mentor texts to engage the learners in thinking critically. Tools for thought requires a subscription in order to use ready made resources for specific topics. Again the lessons are created to build critical thinking skills. The teachers that subscribe to the service can add content from their experience. There is a cost to this material. (Sounds somewhat like the work of Ian Jukes with the 5 Fluencies, http://www.fluency21.com/, if you have not already you need to become a “Commited Sardine!”)

As days and months passed I came across this picture, that was shared on twitter, a couple weeks ago. It reminded me of Garfield’s opener and his critical thinking work. How might you use it?

Garfield’s work brings into question our roles as teachers. He challenges us to look more critically at our own processes. He asks us to “unfreeze” our current systems and free the students thinking. Releasing responsibility is always hard. It is definitely needed in classrooms. Let’s let our children think by provoking them with problems to resolve rather than providing them with answers to remember.

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How many times have you heard “Research shows that…”

I saw my first “Back to School” commercial yesterday (July 26) and the How Soon is Too Soon question popped in my mind. Here in SWOntario we don’t start school until September 4th. I digress.

This ad claims that “laboratory tests, over the last few years,” have shown that babies fit in better during those awkward pre-teen and teen years after drinking cola.

Hmmmm…..my math isn’t that bad.

Be careful when you quote, listen to, claim and read research that might strengthen your point. Read critically, question, seek further resources and by golly make sure the math adds up. When it does it makes a world of difference. When the math doesn’t add up we lose the trust we are building in the public education system. As Douglas Reeves says “It makes us all look bad.”

Do you still:

  • have spelling tests?
  • “do” calendar?
  • work in isolation?
  • say “they mark too easy” when referring to colleagues whose students excel?
  • give a student a grade a week later, a month later, never?
  • think a grade is feedback?
  • ban handheld devices in your classroom?
  • show movies on the SmartBoard?
  • believe social media is a fad?
  • believe the best learning environment is a quiet one?
  • demand (parents) or give worksheets (plural) for homework?
  • say “respect must be earned?”
  • use the sentence “the problem with kids these days…”
  • blame the teacher, the administrator, the parents, the students, the school district or rock and roll music…etc.

Now, do you know what the research says about these practises? Does it align with your thinking or challenge your thinking?

It is time to learn something new. Step out of the comfort zone and into the learning zone, the risk zone. Take a learning stance. Find new research. Heck, develop your own research out of an inquiry.

This school year, abandon a practise that you are hearing questioned more and more. Replace it with something new, something different, something from a colleague or even “scarier” a colleague’s blog! Something that makes the kids say…”What has gotten into Mr. Cowper?!? This guy wants us to Tweet our learning? OMG He has changed! He is CRAZEE!”

Yup…there it is. The magic word. Change. Do you believe they used to allow ads like the one above in magazines? They also used to smoke on airplanes, have back seats, with no seatbelts, the size of Montana, give children bottles of ink and a fountain pen? My gosh…the Principal used to use a strap to teach learnin’!

“They” is actually we. We have segregated our schools, isolated our most vulnerable students away from schools, assimilated the culture out of our students and myriads of other draconian practises that kept us from being true learning institutions. Institutions with a culture where the most important learning was about ourselves, about our interconnectedness with the earth with each other (our kids) and about learning.

This year connect. Research shows that, good or bad, the greatest and most impactful aspect of a student’s life (no matter the grade) is their teacher. Connect with them. Learn with them. Know them.

And have fun doing it. (I know Ms Rotundi, I am never supposed to start a sentence, let alone a paragraph, with a grammatical conjunction.)

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I had a funny evening with a couple friends the other night.  They were friends before our conversation started.  I can only hope they all are now, or, will be by the time this is Tweeted.  It started with a comment from Friend#1 that he enjoyed my tweets from a recent P.D. experience I had had.  Friend#BanSocialMedia jumped in with a “You tweet during meetings? That is rude!”  There was some silence at the table from Friend#1 and Friend#4 (a high school I.T. department teacher).  The conversation quickly lead to “Friend#BanSocialMedia”‘s expectations, complaints and comments about his students’ level of engagement in his history class.  Now let me just say, this teacher is a great teacher.  He loves his students.  He stays current.  He pushes the envelope.  He is leading the education reform movement in his school if not in his district. Sans social media technology.  He absolutely detests student cellphone use in his class.  So . . . he has procured the specifications for his own “cell-phone jammer” and is in the process of manufacturing one.

Insert laughter here.

“Instead of swimming upstream why not harness the power, knowledge and expertise that your students already have?” I asked rhetorically.  “I can teach you in five minutes how to run a cellphone, text back channel that could add in your delivery, provide by the minute feedback to you, engage your audience deeper and make you the talk of the lunch table from now until 2018!”

“Are you crazy?” was his response to me.  “Cellphones are the worst things in schools.  We banned them.  I hate them.”

From here on out Friend#1 interjected to keep the peace, Friend #4 took notes on his cellphone and the band played on.

I kinda went “soapbox” on my friend.  I asked questions like “Why are you denying me my learning?  Because of my learning style?” and “are you afraid of the feedback you will get?” and “would you take away a students pencil when he was taking notes?”  I admit, it got kind of ugly.  I finished with a statement.  “If the students are talking about what to do on the weekend, fights at lunch and who is dating who, give them something even better to text about:  Your teaching methods, your expertise and your efforts to reach them in a medium that they all get and love.  Tell them to follow your blog and follow your twitter account . . . then pump their heads full of historical fact that is more like fiction.  Give them stuff they won’t believe and then they will try to prove you wrong by doing some of their own research.  Ah . . . the old Jedi Teacher Trick, get them to learn when they think they are having fun. ”

(See Fun Theory)

I am sorry Friend#BanSocialMedia.  I went over the edge.  Please watch the video, continue your incredible work and consider buying a cellphone, engaging in some social learning yourself and with your students.  Having an experienced opinion will give you much integrity with your students.  I am sure you have taught history and World War II!  You know what “cellphone jammers” and denying the public voice pangs of.

Sorry for that last one.  I am refusing lately to take the passive way out.  Our kids, my own children are worth it.  When we refuse to meet students half way we do nothing to close the teaching – learning gap.  Instead of investing in a “cellphone jammer” why not take a leap and allow the kids to answer questions, pose arguments and ask questions via a texting back channel.  Come on . . . give it a try.  The kids are going to jam your jammer anyway.  Learning is supposed to be fun.  If we don’t make it so . . . those darned kids will!

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Well I did it.  I started a Facebook page for my public school.  I don’t know whether this is a planned social experiment on my part or a new way of sending out morning announcements.  One thing is for sure though, the kids dig it! 

Here are the logistics so far.

  1. To follow the school facebook page you must send a request.  The school does not ask to be your “friend.”
  2. The school does not engage in conversations or chats.
  3. The school only sends out information that the public community would find helpful.
  4. Currently there are 27 members.  There are many suggestions of course but the school is waiting for those contacts to request access.

This is what I have noticed.  Simply by being “in the room” the content of the conversations has changed slightly;  Kinda like when the Principal is at the basketball game and everything simmers down a notch.  I think that almost every student past grade 5 may have an account.  Is it possible for the school to send information out to this “Student Learning Network” and be more effective than morning announcements?  I think it is!  I have been talking to every class about their digital footprint and their online citizenship.  Facebook is a great place for me to continue the messages.  I am very careful however.  I do not want to scare my followers off with corny messages of a kinder, gentler school and a thousand points of light like I am tempted and apt to do.  The power to use this medium for positive cultural and behavioural changes is evident.   I will continue to be very careful.

There is more to come on this front but for now I thought it necessary to mention my foray into the realm.  I have been holding out for some time.

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I just finished watching The Effective use of Consequences on my PD 360 account. This video was great as it reminded me of so many ultra-important philosophies when dealing with kids (my own included). Here are some examples:
1. Most kids would rather be seen as behaviour problems than slow learners.
2. There are no punishments, only consequences and consequences are opportunities for learning.

I found the poem below in an email one day.  The subject of the email was “do you read bad poetry”  This was a reflection activity on the relationship between consequences and punishments. After I read it I deepened my belief that we must understand the student’s perspective and stance on consequences and punishments for it to be truly reflective.  Many schools have them.  Detention rooms, Reflection rooms, Room 104, The “Thinking Room”.  What ever you might call yours I ask you, what are they for?  Who do they serve?  Is it effective or is there a better way? 

Reflection Room–author unknown
I have spent too many nights – sleepless,
fighting with you in my head.
I cannot live with it.
Yet each day that it continues
without my action condones it.
My soul hurts
for kids like Kye-
punished for who his parents are,
and where he comes from,
and because he is a bother-  to us.
Kye doesn’t get what he needs.
Kye gets what we think he needs
from our privileged position.
Kye gets our pity,
but not our compassion.
When did we forget-
what it looks like and feels like
-school for Kye?
Maybe we didn’t forget-
maybe we never knew.
When did good intentions
become a battle for control-
Us vs Them? Final SMACKDOWN!
When did being on Kye’s side
mean that I’m not on yours?
Look in the mirror-
I can’t live with the reflection. (room)

I am reminded of so many important learners that have shared their experiences and beliefs with me over the last 6 years.  Todd Whitaker’s stance on relationships and student behaviour-“they need to leave the office happy because hurt people hurt people.”  I think of Kevin Cameron’s empty vessel analogy in reference to students that need “one caring adult in their lives to make a difference.”  Ruby Payne’s work goes without mentioning a single quote just the simple idea that discipline without relationship breeds resentment.  I thought about many things when viewing this segment.  What I thought about the most though was that I wanted my boy to be loved and treated with patience and understanding when he enters school.  And that is why I will extend that same right to all the students I work with.

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