March 31, 2017

Telling our stories… with PowerPoint?

Short answer: Yes.

but let me elaborate.

Ever since a group of teachers told me that the professional development I had just done to them flopped big time, my direction has shifted.

(note the ‘to them’, that was intentional)

I was showing them something a group of consultants had made for them in order to encourage them to do things differently in their classrooms. Their response was…meh. They asked – why should we use this thing? We can already find all of that by ourselves, on the Internet. What they really wanted to see, they told me, was concrete examples of teachers in Adult Education, in Quebec, doing things differently in their classrooms.

I felt horrible – I had wasted their time, I had forgotten to ask what they needed before going in. Luckily, they let me know 😉

So, for the past 2 years that has been my mission. Avi Spector and I have created videos of teachers doing things differently in their classrooms. We use these videos in professional development, we share them on PDMosaic and on Twitter and YouTube. We see changes happening – the teachers we have highlighted are starting to offer professional development sessions themselves. They are influencing other teachers and their own practices are evolving as a result of it. When teachers work together, magic happens. And it is so good!

This year, I’m experiencing another shift. I am still seeking out stories of risk-taking, innovation, and success. I am also having more people ask me for help in sharing their stories – as in, they want to learn how to make their own videos. Especially when they hear that I use… wait for it… PowerPoint to make my teacher story videos. Now, PowerPoint is not the fanciest of video creation tools by far but what I love about it is that just about every educator in the Quebec school system has access to it on their classroom computer.

I always say that the biggest objective I have is to make myself obsolete and this shift I described above is playing into that. This year, as I collect teacher stories, I am working more in collaboration with the story tellers: consultants are starting to take video footage, teachers are starting to record themselves and collect creative commons images that are legal to use in videos – for some teachers, they are getting closer to not needing me at all in the creation process! (bittersweet – I do love this collaborative process…)

Parallel Story
While all of this was unfolding, the Service National of the RECIT, of which I am a member, has been looking at developing a platform for self-directed learning of teachers (l’autoformation en français). From the start, I was not interested in this platform. A lot of my energy goes to PD Mosaic, a different kind of space for online professional learning. As the year progressed and as more people were asking for help in making video, I decided to develop a course about making video capsules using PowerPoint. The course also deals with how to choose videos for your classroom and how to structure the viewing of the videos to maximise their impact on learning. The platform is currently in a testing phase and the course, along with the courses made by other members of the Service National, should be available to everyone by the beginning of the next school year. Here is a teaser video I created as part of the introduction to the course. (And yes, it was made with PowerPoint!)

Posted in: Blended Learning, Video
May 26, 2016

Learning at a Distance (or up close!): thoughts inspired by #REFAD2016

I am in Ottawa at the annual conference on distance education offered by REFAD. One of the opening comments was that distance education is just one of the tools we have to reach our learners and to help frame their learning. I like that the conference started off in this vein. It flows well with my own beliefs in tools – that they are just tools in service of our real work: student learning.

The task then is how best to design learning situations that take place at a distance (or up close!) to reach the needs of our learners in ways that make sense.

The answer seems to lie in relationship and intention.

These are the same themes Avi and I explored with online tutors in adult education a few weeks ago.

CORAL (Complementary Online Resources for Adult Learners) is an online tutoring service offered to adult learners from LEARN Quebec. CORAL’s Barbara and Cheryl asked us to accompany their tutors in some professional development on tutoring at a distance.

At REFAD, presenters from CEGEP á Distance (CAD) told us their story of online tutoring. They talked about the centrality of feedback for success and for fighting dropout rates and absenteeism in distance learning.

What I found especially interesting is that their tutors are all CEGEP teachers, which is a similar situation as our CORAL tutors who are all teachers within Quebec’s English sector Adult Ed system. What the CAD is doing, is providing their tutors with explicit professional development in how to provide effective, intentional feedback as the backbone of their practice.

Roselyne Boyer from Université de Laval spoke about the biggest task in online learning being to manage the human element within all of the technology and in face of the distance. That is, in fact, her vision, as shown in this image from her presentation.


It is really from this point that Avi and I framed our Professional Development with the tutors at CORAL. Our main message was that no matter where we are teaching, the student-teacher relationship frames the work.

Rather than focusing on the technology behind online learning, if we focus on student learning we can then find the tools that make the most sense for everyone within that context.

To return to what I wrote earlier – while the teacher student relationship frames the work, there is also that other human factor that is often missing from the context of the work: the social context.

P., a high school student from Ontario took both online and face to face courses at his school and he shared his experiences with us at REFAD2016. While he did well in his online courses, he preferred his face to face courses because of his friends in the room. I have a feeling that a perfect online course (if that can possibly exist…) will exist somewhere in between the online and the face to face.

So. Flexibility, differentiation, and a recognition of the human element (it is sacred) need to be key factors of learning at a distance. Not very different from learning in presence, is it?

**Featured image: Don’t waste your time or money on ROT! Wellcome Library, London, on Flickr. Shared via CC. BY. ND. NC

April 27, 2016

My AQIFGA 2016

Throwing John by Chuck Burgess on Flickr CC BY NC NDThe great thing about AQIFGA is that it holds an annual conference that focuses on Adult Education in Quebec.

Every single speaker and workshop highlighted an aspect of adult education …and that is really rare to find! We are usually left grappling with transferring ideas for youth sector to the adult education context. This is not a horrible thing but it is nice to have a place where this doesn’t have to happen.

In total I participated in four workshops – two as presenter and two as participant – and I was super happy to see a growing number of English sector teachers from across Quebec at AQIFGA this year!

Here is a summary of those four workshops:

Can One Teaching Strategy Respond to Many Needs? Yes!
PresentersDaniel Afriyie, EMSB Math and Science teacher and Tracy Rosen, CSSMI Provincial RECIT for Adult Ed

but really, Daniel was the star of the show here. I jumped in once in a while to go into detail about why I love and respect different parts of his process. Earlier in the year I put together a couple of videos about how he uses his interactive white board to record his lessons and share them with his students. This workshop was an opportunity to go deeper into the idea – he talked about the why as well as the how…and he modeled the process by recording the workshop using the interactive white board in the room where we presented. He also talked about where he wants to go with the concept from here.

I loved that, though he presented about how he teaches math, the participants actively talked about how they could use this technique for teaching other subjects. It is such a meaningful way to use technology to improve learning and the teacher/student relationship. Thanks, Daniel – great job!

Here is the presentation from that workshop, if you are interested.

But I’m Not a Math Person, so I’ll Never Get It.
PresentersInes Renner and Jordan Venne, LBPSB Math and Science teachers

In this workshop Ines and Jordan challenged assumptions about Math and demonstrated how our own attitudes towards the subject can affect our students’ attitudes. They focused on developing a positive, growth oriented mindset in Math and how that is what ultimately affects student self-confidence, progress, and learning. I was so impressed by their presentation that I want to work with them to create resources to share with all of you…stay tuned!

Promoting Oral Interaction in the Adult Literacy Classroom
PresentersYusimy Dominguez Travieso, Maria Cristina Toro, and Farideh Raygan, RSB Language teachers

The workshop focused on different strategies to teach second (and third…and fourth…) languages to diverse groups of learners. The strategies were a mix of technology, role-playing, and game based strategies and the consensus was that whatever we do with our learners it needs to be relevant to their realities. I really appreciated the conversation around culturally relevant teaching – how it is not enough to just teach a language but we need to be aware of who our learners are as well as what is happening in the community around us and integrate that awareness into our classrooms in order to make learning stick.

Culturally relevant pedagogy has theoretical roots in the notion that learning is a socially mediated process and related to students’ cultural experiences. Culture is an important survival strategy that is passed down from one generation to another through the processes of enculturalization and socialization, a type of roadmap that guides and shapes behavior. If new information is not relevant to those frameworks of culture and cognition, people will never remember it. If the information is relevant, they will never forget it.

The ideas they presented fit in so nicely with the CCBE as well as the DBE program philosophies!

Have You Thought About Stations in Adult Education?
PresentersAvi Spector, RSB Regional RECIT for Adult Education and Tracy Rosen, CSSMI Provincial RECIT for Adult Ed

We offered participants a chance to learn about using stations in their classrooms by experiencing stations. We blah-blah-blahed for about 15 minutes before jumping right in to the experience. We offered three main stations – a teacher station, a video station, and a reading station – plus an extension station for anyone who finished a station activity early (ha! With 15 minute rotations between stations there was not much time to extend the learning during the workshop 🙂 ). The two of us sat at the teacher station in order to model how it might work in a classroom where there isn’t the luxury of an extra body to make sure all is going smoothly at the other stations. In order to ensure that things DID go smoothly, we left printed instructions at each station.

nobody listens to instructions anyway

I had a GREAT time at my own workshop! The beauty of cycling students through stations is the quality time that each group gets to spend with the teacher. Both Avi and I reflected that we had a richer experience as presenters because we had the opportunity to sit and connect with each of our participants in a small group setting as opposed to talking at a big group, which is what so often happens at conferences and in our classrooms.

Another reason I love using stations is that it helps to facilitate the concept of flipped learning i.e. using video to present material. The fact that we did this at one of our stations allowed us to flip within the classroom – freeing up teacher time to address questions, gauge understanding, clarify misconceptions, etc…

Here are the resources from our workshop:
Workshop Slide Show – Some of this was presented in the initial intro and a lot was addressed at the Teacher Station as well.

YouTube Playlist: Emilie on Stations – These were the videos we asked participants to watch at the Video Station. They were accompanied with a reflective journal activity (described in the Workshop Slide Show above).

Reading Station – participants could choose to read one or both of the following articles and then interview a partner about them (described in the Workshop Slide Show above).
Create Small Learning Communities with the Station Rotation Model by Catlin Tucker
Les Centres d’Apprentissage by Patricia Munante

So that was my AQIFGA 2016. Did you attend AQIFGA this year? What were your highlights?

***The image at the top of the blog post is Throwing John by Chuck Burgess on Flickr CC BY NC ND

Posted in: Blended Learning, PD
November 11, 2015

How do you reflect on your craft?

Page 3 by Epershandrea on Flickr

Page 3 by Epershandrea on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When I paint or draw or work on some sewing, it is easy to lose myself in the details. I can spend hours – days! – on a small corner of an art project. Many more times than once, I have had to paint over or rip out stitches from that small corner because it just didn’t fit with the bigger picture. Each time, I am reminded of the importance of stepping back on a regular basis to make sure the details support the project as a whole.

That is why I call teaching a craft – the same process applies. Sometimes I can be so intent on teaching a specific concept or skill that I lose focus on the big picture. In fact, it happened the other day: I was working with some teachers, doing some professional development around the idea of using stations in adult ed. Usually when I work with teachers, I feel a sense of flow but…not that day. I had tried to fit in a specific activity that I really liked but it just wasn’t right for the kind of work we were doing and the afternoon ended up feeling … disjointed. More tragically, I felt I had wasted the teachers’ time.

Luckily, I had facilitated the afternoon with a colleague and we were able to de-brief right away as the session ended. The centre’s pedagogical consultant participated in the afternoon session and she gave us some immediate feedback as well.

Like I wrote, we were fortunate in that we were able to receive immediate feedback and reflect together. But what about the teacher who is alone in the classroom? How can you reflect on your craft?

Sure, there is lesson planning but I know that what is planned is not always what actually happens when I am live with students! And classroom time always goes by so quickly – how are we able to capture and reflect what actually happens with students in a classroom?

As a student teacher 20 years ago, my advising teacher used to videotape me from the back of the classroom. Some of my richest learning as a student-teacher happened while viewing those videos. I had no idea that I put my hand in front of my mouth each time I spoke! Seeing it happen and hearing my muffled voice was a much more concrete lesson for me and my teaching than if she had written me a note on my evaluation.

A few weeks ago I shared Daniel’s story about why he records his lessons. In that video, he talks about how the recordings help his students to be more successful in his math courses. That was the first reason why he records, the second reason is as a tool for reflecting on his own practice, his own craft of teaching.

Hear it in his own words:

Daniel’s video is part of a new PD Mosaic tile called Reflective Practice: Using Video to Improve Teaching.

Posted in: Blended Learning, PD
October 14, 2015

Why Daniel records his math lessons

Teacher voices are incredibly powerful.

They are powerful for me because they teach me how I can best support them.

They are powerful for each other because they can support each other in this extraordinarily complex and important profession that can often feel so lonely.

They are powerful for their students because it is their teacher’s voice, their teachers’ voices, that are their prime models for learning – their anchors in learning.

And this is why Daniel records his math lessons. As he explains in this video, he records himself every day so that his students can have access to his lessons when they are ready for them – at their pace. Sometimes it is during class time when he explains things live … but sometimes it isn’t and that is ok. By recording his lessons and posting them online, he can model learning to his students wherever they are in the learning process without having to do much more than press record when he starts speaking. No extra prep, no circus sideshows with apps that do or do not need wifi or login credentials or fancy devices. As he concludes in the video:

It assures the students that, you know what? If I don’t get it now, it’s ok! I don’t have to beat myself up about it right now. I can always go back later and then learn this thing.

And if this weren’t enough, it is only one of the areas where teachers voices hold power.

It was through feedback sessions with teachers that I learned of the need for videos like Daniel’s. Last spring, my colleague, Avi Spector, and I went to an adult education centre to present something that the teachers ended up absolutely hating but that particular afternoon became incredibly valuable to me (to both of us, I think). Why? Because some of the teachers let us know that they hated it (beyond just falling asleep in the back of the room) and let us know what they needed from us. They said, you know what would be valuable to us? Concrete examples of good teacher practice going on in Quebec Adult Education Centres. Some might think that flop of an afternoon PD session was a disaster but it changed the course of how I support the educators I work for. This is the power of teacher voice for me and I am hopeful that videos such as Daniel’s story above (and Julie and Michelle’s story, here) hold proof of the power of teacher voice for each other.

(If you are interested in Daniel’s approach, a good place to start to learn more about it is on this PD Mosaic tile about Blended Learning.

If you know a teacher who is doing something great in their classroom with technology or if you are doing something interesting yourself – please let me know about it so we can share even more stories. Find me @tracyrosen on Twitter)