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.

December 3, 2018

Why I still love teaching in stations.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to work in stations in three very different environments:

  • Online – in a stations-based webinar session for teachers, directors, and consultants across Quebec.
  • In the classroom – with Secondary 5 students and their awesome teacher, Natasha, at Place Cartier.
  • At a conference – with teachers in a workshop for the Collaborate. Create. Innovate conference.

During each of those occasions, I was reminded of why I feel so strongly about working in stations. Before (and beyond!) flexible learning environments, is my relationship with the learners in my classroom…or in my conference room. Stations allow me to work closely with students and teachers at one station while they work closely with each other and learning resources at other stations.

Working with students in Natasha's classroom
I structured the learning at one of the stations in a google form, you can see what that is like here: http://bit.ly/selfiesinform1

As a teacher, when I work in stations, I am closer to my students. It is no longer me vs. a mass. It becomes me with the individuals in each small group. In stations, I can talk with each of my students during a class period and, more significantly, they can talk with each other in small learning groups. Conversation is how we make sense of the world together and talking with each other in small groups is a safe way to test out our sense-making – much safer than when we talk in large groups.

I put all of the content for this workshop in a website to make it easier to access: http://bit.ly/cciselfies 

As a consultant, when I work in stations, I am closer to the participants in a workshop. I get to talk with each person and find out their needs, their ideas, their dreams for teaching. They also get to talk with each other and share their expertise with each other. Teaching can be lonely and we may question what we do on a daily basis but finding out that others have similar experiences and shared ideas is liberating. Conversation is how we make sense of the world together.

I turned the webinar resources and recordings into an e-book so you could experience the webinar in the order you prefer. You can read it online or download it here: http://bit.ly/selfiesbook

Even online, where I tested out virtual stations for the first time on November 20, 2018, I experienced conversation – whether through the chat box or the open mic, we made sense of things together. I sat in a ‘teacher station’ virtual room where small groups of participants rotated in to talk about selfies and different art forms and I learned from each group. It added a very human element to the online webinar format that I intend on continuing to explore.

In each case, I was able to speak with (almost) each of my participants and I learned through those conversations. When we talk to each other we are sharing our stories and stories are what make us, us.  I learned new ideas and new approaches, but most of all I learned about who we are as people. It is these stories and conversations that enable me to keep my work interesting for me and, hopefully, relevant to those who I am working with at any given time. 

So, yeah, teaching in stations is still the bomb and I still love it.

November 12, 2018

Flexible spaces for individualized classrooms

A place for everyone.

I taught a multi-level French Second Language course a number of years ago. The students were following a mix of Pre-secondary through Secondary five programs – and I had one student studying math. The students were part of a special program offered through Tewatohnhi’saktha and Nova Career Centre and they had one morning of French class  a week. The work was immense. And there was one French class a week. 

When I think about multiplying the work 3, 4, or 5 times a week, I start to shake. Yet this is what many teachers in Adult Education in Quebec do on a regular basis. The longer I work in Adult Ed, I am seeing that individualized classrooms are more the norm than the exception. I am humbled by teachers like Janie Lamoureux and Karine Jacques (and so many more!) who strive to make their classrooms work for all of their students, regardless of level, background, or course they are taking.

…& they do this through flexible learning environments.

But of course, flexible learning is SO much more than just a pretty space! And this is what Janie & Karine spoke about at the first après-cours for individualized teachers of the year, November 6, 2018.

An après-cours for individualized teachers.

Avi Spector, Véronique Bernard, and I decided to create an online community for Individualized teachers so they could have a place to meet with others and talk about the unique challenges and opportunities that come with an individualized classroom. 

The theme for the first meeting was changing things up in the classroom and I think the best thing we did was to hand the content over to two master teachers – Karine Jacques & Janie Lamoureux. They spoke about how their flexible classroom environments help their students as well as their teaching. The meeting was completely bilingual and it was great to see the chat box blow up in both English and en français!

Their presentation/conversation was nothing short of inspiring. Below is a video of the meeting and some links to other resources from the après-cours. Enjoy – and I hope to see you at our next meeting! We will announce the date soon.

Resources

A huge thank you to Janie and Karine!


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.

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.

—-

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!