May 1, 2018

More than just a pretty space

A recent edsurge article talks about how the race to buy fancy furniture is turning flexible classrooms into a fad.

What then happens is instead of designing classrooms that positively impact students, we are decorating classrooms, celebrating the new, and then moving on to the next shiny thing. Pinterest-pretty classrooms bring instant gratification, but little else.
from: How Furniture and Flexible Seating Is Turning Classroom Design Into a Fad by Robert Dillon, Jan 4, 2018, on EdSurge

And that is true.

As I like to say – flexible classrooms are so much more than just a pretty space.

Flexible learning is so much more than just a pretty space

If we focus on good pedagogy and design our classrooms according to that, we can stay away from jumping on a fad that will soon disappear when we ultimately discover that it isn’t a magic bullet on its own, just like any number of other education fads – remember differentiation, flipped classrooms, multiple intelligences, teaching to learning styles, technology infused learning, *insert education fad here*…

But what is good pedagogy? Even the term pedagogy is thrown around so much that its become jargon.

I think that terms like pedagogy and ideas like good teaching and learning are fluid. My belief is that good teaching and learning need to be based on theory, yet are then made very personal as they relate to each teacher’s classroom and practice.

It is no secret to those who follow my writing here or who have been to my classroom or workshops, that I define ‘good pedagogy’ as access to learning for our students. And for me, that is closely connected to how we design our learning environments.

The way I see it, it comes down to these things:

As long as we keep our goals in mind when we begin to design our learning environments we are off to a good start – and these goals need to be strongly intertwined with whatever program goals we are committed to teach

Then, if we ensure that the largest number of our students can access these goals we are off to an even better start. We can do that by providing diverse resources, diverse ways for students to see the course goals, and examples of how we can achieve these goals (processes and strategies). Actually, it is not enough to just provide them. Explicitly teaching students how to access all of this (and/or getting out of their way when they figure it out!) is an important step.

I can’t just expect success to happen. I explicitly design for it.

Build it and they will come? No. We need to change the conjunction –> Build it SO they will come.

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My ideas are heavily influenced by this article by CAST as well as the experiences of teachers across Quebec, some are seen here: bit.ly/qcspace and on PD Mosaic – UDL + flexible environments. A special thanks to Avi Spector, of course – we explore these ideas together a lot!

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
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
September 25, 2017

What’s new? Learning environments + Modeling

This post is about my plans for the year. I call them my plans, but really they are a result of great planning and collaboration with a number of partners, in particular Avi Spector. Thank you!

I am also going to include some brand new resources that are available for you at the end of this post. This year is going to be great!
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Happy New Year! This means a few different things at this time of year. It is the Jewish new year of 5778 and, I just discovered, the Muslim new year of 1439. We are also about a month into the 2017-2018 school year. This particular school year is a time for renewal as we transition into our new courses, the bulk of which will be mandatory by the end of this school year (breathe, it will all be fine!).

Collaborative Networks

As we continue to try on our new programs in Quebec Adult Education, we are experiencing greater collaboration than ever – which is great. We are modeling what we want to see in our classrooms and what we want to teach our students. I feel like I have spent much of this past month sharing my work from last year and my plans for the upcoming year at different venues. In fact, I did it twice last week and will do it twice again this week! I do this because I believe it is important. It is important that we are all aware of what we are all doing. We want to work in concert and not alone in our own sections of the province. It reminds me, though, that collaboration can be hard work – something we need to remember when we expect it of our students.

I feel like everyone must know my action plan by now, I’ve been talking about it so much, but I know that isn’t true so here is what is important to me this year.

what environments are best for learning with tech in our new programs and how do we model this with our teachers
Environment
There are a whole slew of reasons why teaching and learning environments are important to me. Our courses are competency based. As a teacher, I need to make sure I can observe my students as they are developing competencies – as they are doing things with learning situations. So I need to provide an environment that allows for this. More centres and teachers are starting to make significant shifts in their environments for these very reasons.

Technology
I work with the RECIT so I’m a technology consultant, yet I hate the idea of asking teachers and students to do special projects just for the sake of integrating technology. We just need to make sure that our teachers and students have access to resources and to devices in order to better share and collaborate with others. When we change our environments, we can make sure that our spaces allow for better use of technology to do those things.

Modeling
A couple of years ago, Avi and I realized that it was no longer enough to talk about cool ideas for teaching and learning. We had to just do it. The first time we did a workshop IN the style of what we were talking about (Stations) resulted in a number of teachers integrating stations into their classrooms. Almost immediately.

We learned the importance of modeling. It’s harder work for us. It would be so much easier for us to create our PowerPoint presentations and to talk for the entire workshop than to design active learning situations and participant-driven professional learning oportunities that model implicit use of technology for competency development. But we do it because we know it’s important. Teachers have told us and we are starting to see the results in classrooms.

So, this year the work I plan on doing will be framed by those ideas. I will continue to make videos and PD Mosaic tiles in collaboration with some of you. I will continue to share what we do on this blog, on Twitter, and additionally through Carrefour-FGA and RECIT newsletters as well as on The Launch. I will also share all of these resources in the different workshops and other learning sessions I design with Avi and other teachers and consultants. And I will continue to facilitate and participate in a variety of communities of practice related to learning environments (individualized and not), technology, and, of course, our new programs.

Here is one of my action plan presentations from last week, if you are interested in a few more details.

 

**And now the fun stuff – new resources!**
This is a selection of the new resources you can find on PD Mosaic. They include work by and for the teachers, consultants, and administrators we work with. Be sure to check out the main site to see if there is anything you haven’t seen yet! And please let me know if there is a resource you would like to develop with me!
PD Mosaic

Knowing the Program on PD Mosaic

New PD Mosaic tile with a video by Shanna Loach, ETSB.

Change in Program, Change in Practice on PDMosaic

A collection of PD Mosaic tiles about how our practice is changing as a result of new progams. With videos by and about teachers in Quebec.

Transforming mathematical thinking PD Mosaic tile

A series of videos by Ayodele Harrison on transforming mathematical thinking through engaging conversation.

UDL and flexible learning on PD Mosaic

A collection of tiles on UDL and flexible learning in the classroom – including videos and resources from Quebec Adult Ed classrooms. For teachers and administrators.

Posted in: News