I have been teaching and consulting - from primary school through adult education - since 1996. Currently an education consultant with la Commission scolaire de la Seigneurie-des-Mille-Îles in Montreal, Quebec, I believe that sharing our stories is the key to getting better together.
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.
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.
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!
Here we are, a few short months away from mandatory implementation of many of our new secondary 3 – 5 courses in Quebec Adult Education and I still find myself asking questions about learning situations. What about you?
My latest line of questioning had to do with the distinction between a learning situation (LS) and a learning and evaluation situation (LES).
Sonya Fiocco confirmed that the LES included some more formal evaluation components (for formative evaluation purposes, remember, our courses have 100% exams) where the teacher would want to track student progress compared to the end of course outcomes and provide them some tools for assessment, like ‘I can‘ statements or rubrics or criterion-referenced checklists.
Essentially, the LS and the LES are the same in terms of the content of learning. The E in the LES has to do with evaluation tools that are integrated into the learning context. And that these evaluation tools would be similar to those used for final evaluation purposes.
This is where my questioning became evident for me. As a teacher, I am always doing formative assessment. I can’t imagine putting my students in learning situations without assessment tools built in throughout the situation.
What about you? How are you implementing learning situations in your centres and classrooms? Is formative assessment always a part of your process? How (and when) do you know where students are in relation to the end of course outcomes?
Coincidentally, this morning I stumbled upon some old DevPro videos about learning situations from back when they were first being introduced to adult education with our Common Core Basic Education (CCBE) programs a number of years ago.
Here they are – you may recognize some of the speakers! (If you are reading this in your email inbox, please visit the blog post via the link at the bottom of the email to see the videos. Thanks!)
The 3 Rs of a learning situation
The anatomy of a learning situation
The learning situation pretenders.
What is an LES? Avi’s take.
What is an LES? Marc-André’s take.
The LES: one way to stimulate learning
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
The tables in the gymnasium are all at the same level, so the sound from the conversations stays at the same level as well.
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.
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.
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.
— Avi Spector (@a_spector) January 11, 2018
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.