November 26, 2019

Active Learning with Student-Teachers at McGill

Last night, I worked with close to 60 student-teachers in McGill’s MATL program. I was invited in by their instructors, Caroline Mueller and Heather McPherson. They asked me to plan a lesson that would allow the student-teachers to experience learning with technology (as opposed to learning how to use technology) in the context of their course, Cross-curricular Teaching Methods. We worked together in one of McGill’s Active Learning Classrooms, which provided an environment that allowed for flexible ways of working together.

Since the course is about the CCC, what I taught wasn’t as important as how I went about it. Caroline suggested I recycle a lesson I did with her students at Place Cartier last year and then again last week so that is what I did…and it worked for close to three times the intended audience.

My How

I organized the entire lesson via a website. I can’t emphasize enough that visual instructions are more effective than oral instructions. How many times have I given extensive instructions to a group of learners and as soon as I say, Go! There is a moment of inaction and then I see and hear this:

One girl whispering into the ear of another girl with a text bubble that reads, "What does she want us to do?"

Organizing everything on a website solves the issue of having to re-explain the instructions any number of times after having already said them. It saves time and it allows the learners to help each other without having to rely on their memories for important instructions . This can be helpful for students who aren’t sure as well as for students who may arrive late. The website deals with the logistics of a lesson, saving my time for interacting with learners around their learning. I prefer this to paper-based instructions because, frankly, I am fed up of cleaning those papers off of the floor after a lesson. Also, if I decide to change the instructions at any point, the website always has the latest version. 

When students interact with a website, they are also practicing literacy skills. Finding the information, reading the instructions, being able to move easily between the different pages of a site in order to accomplish their tasks – all of this helps them in their ongoing literacy development.

I used Google Sites to organize my materials. Google tools are great BUT they have horrible URLs or web addresses! I use QR Codes and Short Links to make sure that my students have access (without frustration!) to the materials I create for them. If you teach second language learners, little kids (or actually – just about any clientele!) you have probably experienced the torture of everyone trying to type in a web address at the same time and the inevitable, “It doesn’t work“s that are yelled out when letters are omitted during typing. You can do a search for QR Code generators or Short link generators to find one that you like. It means the difference between asking your students to type in a link that looks like this:  https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1C8EAbZtMvOHxDOrt4OnxJVU-MWYP-_okZGP-Ut7wQk4/edit?usp=sharing

or one that looks like this: http://bit.ly/selfiespresentation  Even easier? Point your phone or tablet at this QR Code and it can bring you to the same place without having to type anything at all – saving a student’s time and energy for interacting with the material, not accessing it. 

The way that I organize my materials and ensure that students have access to them has a lot to do with how they will interact with the course content. With this lesson, I divided the students up into groups and they went through each section of the lesson using a Station Rotation model.

Working in stations allows for so many things to happen. Most importantly, it helps to increase relationship around learning – between student and teacher and between students themselves. 

Last night, I had close to 60 student-teachers working in three stations. The groups were not small so I organized the activities within each station to be done in even smaller groups. Caroline and I each had a teacher station so that the groups could be divided down even further when it came to interacting with the teacher. Because of this, I was able to speak with each of the students in a way that would never had been possible had I presented to them all as a large group. In the classroom, this station becomes a rich site of formative assessment.

For the other stations, students were asked to be active participants in their learning. They were making sense of the information together. They were able to choose between different activities that spoke to them. I organized their interaction so as to amplify their thoughts and input as much as possible. There was time for reading, for recording, for designing, for writing, for viewing, for talking, for reflecting, and for helping each other.  

Here is the website I created to guide the students through all of these experiences:

At the end of the lesson, I usually present something similar to the info in this blog post alongside descriptions of what competencies we were working on at the different stations. This time, I added an interactive slide to the presentation I was using and asked the students to indicate which CCC they felt were being targeted over the course of the evening by moving little dots around the slide. The final result looked like this… For the course instructors, the mixed results may indicate that CCC are still not fully understood in the same way by all of their student-teachers.

Some of the dots you see above were actually much larger at one point. I think the student-teachers who decided to blow up the dots minimized them a bit since last night…

My favourite part about this activity had to do with the conversation it opened up about how this will likely be how many of their students will act the first time they do a new activity with them. And that usually students try to find fun in learning – especially when they are trying new things that they aren’t sure about. And that is ok, it is their job as students to do that! And it is our job as their teachers to talk with them and to keep trying new things so that they become used to doing things differently. 

Connection to the Digital Competency Framework

I did not explicitly talk about the framework with the student teachers. I felt that I was already asking them to do a lot last night! But what I did do was model how to target and develop the CCC using technology and digital resources. Much of the new Digital Competency Framework does address the CCC from the context of learning, teaching, and doing with technology. 

When working through the framework with some TLTs a few weeks ago, a number of the teachers were concerned about how too much of an emphasis on a specific technology framework might continue to keep technology as something separate from everything else we do.

I think that modeling the features described in the framework while addressing elements of the programs we teach could be a first step towards truly integrating what we do with technology and digital resources into everything else we do with our students and colleagues. Explicitly. Actively.

October 4, 2018

How do our environments affect competency development?

I just got back from a rapid-fire three days at the annual #recitqc gathering. It is called the Formation conjointe et collaborative, which roughly translates to joint, collaborative training. Each year, it is three days where about 150 consultants in the recit network come from across Quebec to learn together. We organize workshops for and with each other and I love the conversations I get to have with my colleagues from all across the province about how we support teachers in their work.

I also love the flexibility of the event. There are tons of workshops and social events scheduled, yet when I need a mental break, there are also many quiet spots scattered around the event venue where I can go to take a break or work quietly alone or with some colleagues.

It’s within this flexible structure that I can really feed and develop my own competencies as a consultant.

This year I had the opportunity to experience the FCC with a new colleague. We worked together with two others to create a flexible workshop that invited participants to think and talk beyond the new equipment that is coming into our centres under the rubric of the Digital Action Plan for Education in Quebec. It is easy to get caught up in the new, shiny tools so we invited participants to ask each other – what else is this digital action plan allowing us to do? How is teaching changing? How is learning changing?

Of special interest to me is how our teaching and learning environments – our classrooms – are set up to support competency development in our students (and ourselves!). We decided to include a standing table in our session and it helped to provide a welcome break from sitting as well as to redistribute the noise from multiple conversations across the space.

As I wrote earlier, I was able to benefit from the flexible learning environment at the FCC. Being able to find quiet spaces to think at different times helped me from getting overwhelmed by the activity and noise of many people learning together. Having a conversation station at the standing table in our session also allowed us to have a conversation above the noise of the other conversations in the room, which made communication so much easier.

How can we create similar conditions in our classrooms? I ask that question in this video (French & English versions) (Merci, Marie-Ève, pour la super traduction!)

If you are interested in pursuing these lines of questioning, all of what we did, including these videos as well as feedback from participants, will always be available at this website.

February 23, 2018

Learning situations

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