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February 14, 2018

A note on keynotes

Do big conferences still have keynote speakers because it is what has always been done?

We talk about the prime real estate in our classrooms – how the start of any period of learning sets the tone for the rest of the day, at times, the rest of the year. So why don’t we apply this to our professional learning as well?

I have been to a number of conferences and most of them have one thing in common – the keynote speaker. After a few minutes into a keynote presentation I usually look around at everyone in the room and think: What an opportunity we have here! …If only we could all connect with each other right away. Recently, I was at a conference with hundreds of teachers, consultants, and administrators from primary, secondary, and adult education centres across the province of Quebec. The keynote was interesting for about 20 minutes and then… people started fidgeting. The woman across from me was playing candy crush. The person next to me was reading the upcoming workshop descriptions. You get the picture.

Conference organizers spend a lot of money getting big-name keynote speakers. WHAT IF we reframed the keynote?

A keynote is supposed to energize participants and get them primed for the learning to come. WHAT IF we focused our energy on finding great workshop facilitators and asked one or a handful to energize participants for 20 minutes? We know that the shorter, and more concise the message, the more potential there is to light a fire and to keep us wanting more.

There is nothing worse then getting all excited about going to a conference, hearing all of that buzz in the lobby of the conference centre as people see colleagues they haven’t seen in a long time or meet others for the first time…only to have that energy quashed by sitting on plastic chairs and listening for 45 or 60 or 90 minutes. Think about it – so many initiatives in education are moving away from lecture based teaching and learning… so why are we modeling this kind of learning in education conferences?

WHAT IF we limited our keynote presentations to 20 minutes? And if keynote presenters were forced to use technology in ways that make sense for learning by using powerful images with simple bits of text to support what they were saying?

Think of the potential for igniting our excitement for learning and for harnessing that valuable real estate at the beginning of a learning cycle. If a group of people are gathering in one place to learn together, is the best way to launch the learning through…lecture?

Posted in: EdTech, Modeling, News
February 6, 2018

Some questions about digital portfolios

This post starts of with a personal experience and ends with a series of questions for adult educators.

Last week, while I was at a conference focused on our new programs in Quebec adult education, I received this via a portfolio app called SeeSaw that my son’s teachers use to share news from the classroom.

image of dictee with red pen corrections and stickers

I usually love to see pictures of him working on different projects or singing songs but this image affected me differently. After a few days, I sent a message to his teacher to let her know this (I shared this article with her before publishing it).

I was thinking, Way to go, Jack! at the same time as I thought about all of the work I have been doing with teachers and consultants over the past number of years to move away from the celebration of weekly quizzes, at the same time as I thought about the role of educational technology and how this app brought this image to me along with all of what I just described.

I love the idea of digital portfolios. I have my own all over the place, most recently here:

image of portfolio webpage, click to access

Jack even has one that I started for him and that he added to through most of Kindergarten.

As a technology consultant, I love the premise of using technology to share learning with others. One of my central beliefs about the use of technology has to do with its power to share our stories. I love seeing pictures of Jack during the day, they lift my heart. But when this picture came in, it didn’t have the same effect.

One of SeeSaw’s selling points is that “Seesaw gives families an immediate and personalized window into their child’s school day.” (from their website).

Do we need this? Is this what a portfolio is?

If I wanted an immediate and personalized glimpse into my child’s school day… shouldn’t I be homeschooling?

Part of it is that I just don’t celebrate weekly tests and quizzes. Especially when I received this image completely out of context, in the middle of the day, while I was at a conference in another city. And I guess that is it. A system like SeeSaw doesn’t really give us a personalized window into the school day. It gives us tastes, as determined by the teacher.

A big part of it is my own fault for not changing the settings on the app. I now have it set to notify me only once a day for any updates. (Not sure what time of day that is, guess I will find out!)

I know that some of you have used apps like SeeSaw with adult students – either in adult ed or higher education. What do you feel about it? What do your students feel about it? Do you find that it gives you more work? Are you using it in ways that encourage students to self-assess? To assess their peers? To assess their teachers? What is amazing about it? What are its downfalls, if any? Have you ever received feedback like what I just wrote?

And what is our responsibility as educators when we use apps to share things with our students and their families?

I don’t claim to know all of the answers. This is a new line of questioning for me. Help me out.

January 12, 2018

Designing your space to match your goals

My last post was called the magic of flexibility but really, the magic is a result of very careful planning.

The first sentence to go through my mind when I plan a learning session with teachers is ‘Design the space to match the goal‘ (see CAST, 5 UDL tips for learning environments). If I want participants to talk, I need to make sure that I set up a space that facilitates conversation. If I relate this to the classroom, and I want my students to talk to each other, then I have no choice but to set up my classroom space in a way that makes conversation a part of the learning.

Yesterday, Avi and I were working with about 50 teachers and administrators of the Western Quebec School Board on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and flexible learning environments. Our space was given to us – a gymnasium. So there was plenty of room for us to set up our stations and for the participants to comfortably move through them throughout the morning.

In conversation with one of the teachers at lunch, she remarked on how loud the room was and she compared it to a PD session we held at McGill University the month before called Designing Engaging Classrooms. There were over 100 people having conversations in one room at McGill and she commented on how it was far less noisy in that room than it was in the gymnasium and that it must have been engineered specifically for better acoustics (which it was). So I looked at pictures of the room to see how we could recreate this effect in our public school spaces – like gymnasiums and classrooms – when our goal is to facilitate conversation.

If you look carefully at the image, you can see that the tables in the active learning classroom at McGill are on different levels so conversations happen on different levels within the space as well.

McGill active learning classroom, redistribution of sound over levels

picture of McGill’s active learning classroom in the Education building taken by Jovette Francoeur, posted on Twitter. Click on the link to see the full tweet.

The tables in the gymnasium are all at the same level, so the sound from the conversations stays at the same level as well.

January 11, 2018 WQSB

PD hosted in the gymnasium at Hull Adult Education Centre, picture by Tracy Rosen

I remember Tom Rhymes, Director of Educational Services at LBPSB, talking about how classrooms were less noisy at Forest Hill Senior Elementary School since the teachers started to design different seating levels in the classroom – from lower milk crates, to chair level, to standing desks – and this resulted in a redistribution of the sound in the room.

forest hill class levels

classroom at Forest Hill Sr., picture taken by Avi Spector

What can this look like in Adult Education?

At the Centre le Vallon in Papineauville, Nadia Veilleux has carefully designed her classroom with different seating zones for her students. The result is an example of how we can use different levels of seating with adult learners to better manage conversation levels in a room.

Seating levels at Centre le Vallon

pictures by Nadia Veilleux, Centre le Vallon, Commission scolaire au Coeur des Vallées. Click on the link to see a video about her classroom (en français)

And finally, when we model flexibility, participants are encouraged to be flexible in their own approaches to learning as well. Take a look at how one of the groups at Western Quebec School Board dealt with the noisy gymnasium… they created their own quiet oasis in the space.

Follow #qcspace on Twitter for more on Designing Engaging Classrooms at McGill (Dec 12, 2017), Flexible Spaces and Adult Learners at WQSB (Jan 11, 2018), as well as other UDL and flexible learning environment initiatives in Quebec.

Here are some highlights from those events:
#QcSpace Dec 12, 2017
#qcspace at Western Quebec School Board, Jan 11, 2018

The #qcspace website updates as new resources are created across the province, so visit it often!

You can also visit PD Mosaic for even more Made in Quebec resources on UDL and Flexible learning environments.

December 7, 2017

The Magic of Flexibility

(if you are reading this in your inbox, please go see the original article on PdPractice in order to see the videos and other media. Thanks!)

Last Friday, Avi Spector and I facilitated two very intense professional learning sessions with two very different groups of teachers in two very different parts of town.

On a Friday.

When I started the day, I felt exhausted and thought to myself – 8 hours until the weekend! But by the end of the day I felt invigorated. THIS is the magic of working in stations and offering flexible opportunities for teachers to talk about what matters to them. If I had gone in there to present a fancy slideshow, I would have ended the day even more tired from talking all day long.

Listening to teachers talk, watching them interact at different stations, seeing them use technology as par for the course, and hearing their feedback on the different activities, such as this reflection activity using flipgrid, was absolutely inspiring and affirming.


Click here to view the full grid

Friday’s sessions were two in a long line of different PD opportunities since August. Each of them represent another chapter in this year’s story about learning environments. More and more, both Avi and I are examining how we embed the principles of UDL (Universal Design for Learning) in what we do as we redesign our professional learning environments. Because – if we want to see this in our classrooms, we want to model this in our PD. I believe that, deeply.

So here are some highlights from various sessions since August.

We arrive early in order to set up our space. We want to model flexible learning environments that include different stations to facilitate small working groups as well as opportunities for personal learning & reflection. The stations tend to look something like this:

  1. Design Station: a station where teachers are invited to design a learning space, choosing specific design criteria from a booklet of 3 different choices. Sometimes we ask teachers to take pictures of their spaces and share them at the teacher station or on twitter.
  2. Resource Station: a station where teachers can view different resources on PD Mosaic and other platforms, and write or talk about what they learned. We usually offer a lot of choice here, so people can choose the resources they view.
  3. resource cards to choose from

  4. Presentation Station: a station where teachers guide themselves through our presentation and have a discussion or take notes about what they view (we usually have a presentation, we just don’t present it ourselves!). I learned this strategy from Natasha, a teacher in one of our adult centres.
  5. tweet about collaborative presentation notes

    presentation station

  6. Reflection Station: a station where teachers can reflect and respond to different prompts. Sometimes it is an article or a set of questions. Sometimes the reflections are done individually or in pairs. We are starting to use flipgrid to structure these responses.
  7. Teacher Station: a station where teachers can talk to the workshop facilitators about any ideas or questions that come up from the other stations. In the classroom, this would be a great place for some conversation-based formative assessment.
  8. An instruction card from one of our teacher stations.

    teacher station instruction card

Here is an example of what our spaces might look like before we set them up:

And this is what our learning environments tend to look like once we set them up:

We are very intentional in our planning for these kinds of workshops. We design each one based not only on our subject matter but we want to make sure we differentiate our content and activities so that each of our participants can access what we are offering to them according to their comfort level and background knowledge.

To help us do that, we cycle through these orientations, adapted from CASTs 5 tips for designing learning environments:

Design the space to match the goal

Provide resource areas that everyone can access (This includes technology & digital resources)

Make learning processes visible in your environment

Make learning goals visible in your environment

In my next article, I will write about these orientations in more detail. They are becoming super influential in how I approach the learning environments in which I work.

November 14, 2017

Learning Environments + Professional Learning: Updates

autumn image of leaves from pixabay How has your fall been? Everyone I talk to lately agrees that this fall seems even busier than ever. At first, I thought this was just in Adult Education since we are implementing a ton of new programs this year but I am hearing this from people in multiple sectors and I am starting to think that has something to do with a growing shift to re-examine teaching and learning within the context of our learning environments.

As I wrote in my first blog post of the year, I am looking closely at learning environments and the role they play in learning, in using technology while we teach and learn, and in changing how we offer professional learning opportunities to teachers.

The more I work with teachers, the more I realize that when we start to consider our environments of learning, the closer we are getting to ensuring equal access to learning for our students. And THAT makes me super happy!

Here is a quick look at some of the professional learning opportunities and resources that Avi and I have developed over the past month or so. You can click on the images to visit the different resources if you like. (direct link to the document: http://bit.ly/recitoct)

Posted in: News