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 7, 2017

Learning and video: Where is the teacher?

I use video a lot in my practice. I make video, I create online resources that incorporate video, and I use video in the workshops I offer. Lately, I hear students (and some parents) talk about how some of their teachers rely too heavily on video, that much of classtime revolves around class viewing of different videos. Also, I’ve begun to see a few articles claiming that video is not all it may be cracked out to be in the grand scheme of learning (see links to other resources at the bottom of this article).

And I agree…

..if all you are doing is getting learners to watch video as a replacement for you, the teacher.

Video will never kill the radio star in education! Why? Because while the location of content may be shifting, we must maintain our role as teacher in order to structure the learning. That has not changed.

I have long argued that the student teacher relationship is essential. I’d push that even further to say that this is even more acute in adult education. Many of our students, not all but a significant amount that I have met, have long-held wariness and even distrust towards the education system. Our relationship, is one of learning. When I show my students that I truly care about them as learners, I am working on relationship.

A student I worked with a few years ago once remarked, when I ask my teacher a question and he tells me to watch a video or go to a website instead of answering me, I feel like I am not important to him.

So how do we manage teaching with video when relationship is so important in learning?

The idea of a flipped classroom, where homework shifts to the watching of content videos outside of school so that classtime can be used for actively applying content instead of listening to the teacher deliver the content, has been around for – believe it or not – about 17 years.

The thing with a flipped classroom is that it holds a number of assumptions that I am just not comfortable making – the biggest one being equal access to technology outside of the classroom. In adult education, where many of our students have jobs and families, there is also the question of equal access to time and place for learning outside of school. This can be an issue at other levels as well.

Also, as teachers we know that the only thing we have control over is what happens in our classrooms. We have no control over things outside of that realm – and that includes over whether or not students will watch video, or do any kind of homework, at home.

Yet, I still believe that video can play an important role in the learning process. For the past couple of years, my colleague Avi Spector and I have been advocating for the well-structured use of video within the classroom. Essentially, you could say that we argue for flipping in the classroom instead of outside of it!

In our collaborations with teachers, we have learned about different strategies that work when it comes to using video for learning.

In this PD Mosaic tile, there is a video of Lindsay, a teacher who talks about how she structures the use of video with her second language adult students. Some of her key points are: ease of access – equity – autonomy.

What she doesn’t mention is that she teaches her class through the use of stations and that she structures the video viewing.

When students watch video on their own at a video station they are not truly on their own because of how a teacher structures the activity. Lindsay and other teachers use instruction cards at each station that clearly outline what is expected of the learners. In that way, the teacher is always present through how she scaffolds each part of a learning situation AND she is free to work with another group of students on a different aspect of the same learning situation.

Such an approach really helps to amplify the teacher student relationship.

(You can see sample instruction cards in the PD Mosaic tile pictured above – http://bit.ly/videoscaffolding.)

So teachers are not going anywhere and video is not enough on its own to enhance learning. But we can increase learning through relationship and how we scaffold our students’ learning experiences with video.

Other resources
Watch that Hand: Why videos may not be the best medium for knowledge retention by Tina Nazarian on EdSurge, Oct 4, 2017

Hell-oooo! Watching videos does not necessarily lead to learning by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway in THE Journal: Transforming Education through Technology, May 6, 2015

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.

IMG_0059

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.
http://bit.ly/1strategyAQIFGA

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. http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-36-fall-2009/feature/relevant-beyond-basics

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 Showhttp://bit.ly/stationsfga – Some of this was presented in the initial intro and a lot was addressed at the Teacher Station as well.

YouTube Playlist: Emilie on Stationshttp://bit.ly/videostation – 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