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.

February 19, 2019

Universal Design for Learning…Online.

About a month ago, I was invited to speak about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) at an online conference during the Semaine de la Formation à Distance, organized by FADIO. That week is happening this week and I presented yesterday.

As you can see in the tweet below, I presented in French. I called my presentation La CUA et la FAD: tenir compte de l’humain à travers l’écran (Loosely translated as UDL and distance education: considering the human through the screen. Link to tweet)

Tweet describing the workshop with an image of the presentation and some participants.

I had two goals:

  • To introduce the topic by talking a little about how I discovered the importance of UDL and other inclusive frameworks for my practice
  • To allow my participants to work in small groups and / or alone to experience and reflect on some activities that I designed using those frameworks. 

I actually had a third goal – it was to not explicitly present the frameworks in detail. I wanted to allow participants to experience learning that was designed using the frameworks. I decided that anyone could go read the frameworks if they wanted more detail and so I included them as extra resources.

I used a website to house all of my materials as well as the instructions for the experiential parts of the presentation. Those activities were sandwiched in between different parts of my presentation and feedback conversations. 

So, how did it go?

First off, I was out of my comfort zone on a few different levels.

  • My audience was a mix of teachers, instructors, consultants and administration from public schools but also CEGEPs and Universities – not my typical audience.
  • I was presenting entirely in French – not my first language.
  • The conference platform was Zoom and this was my first time using it

To add to that, there were two uncomfortable moments:

  • A participant was persistent about her belief that presentation was missing information and I allowed that conversation to last a bit longer than it should have.
  • At one point, there was a somewhat sexist comment made by one of the participants towards other participants.

I didn’t manage those conversations well. I think that working entirely in French on an unfamiliar platform didn’t help. Luckily, they didn’t last all that long and I don’t think they detracted all that much from the rest of the session. 

Back to how did it go?….I received verrrrrrrry mixed reviews! 

Ranging from – this remains very superficial. Where are your schema and frameworks? Do you have any meat to add to your presentation?  To this:

(Loose translation: The presentation and activities that Tracy proposed offered us different ways to sustain participant engagement, to act and express ourselves, and to access information. A true demonstration of UDL. Link to tweet)

Much of the response I received was positive and there were also others who left during the presentation.

So. What do I take away from these mixed responses?

I believe that the best way to learn about new classroom practice is to experience new classroom practice. I have seen how this kind of experiential learning can have an impact on practice many times. But that does not mean that is the only way I need to interact with participants.

I could say, oh well, you can’t please everyone. BUT. Actually, that wouldn’t be very UDL of me, would it?

For some people, they need to see those frameworks before experiencing them in order to experience them and make connections. For others, they make the connection to theory through the experience. And for others, they might make the connection to theory afterwards. All of this lies in the area of motivation and engagement- the Why am I learning this? principle of UDL

I had placed the frameworks in an extra resources section of the website and included the option of visiting the extra resources section when participants completed activities but did not offer them as a specific choice during one of the activities.

In my presentation, I talked about how the teacher’s task is to create an environment where instruction of content is well-balanced with learner needs. I discovered that I didn’t quite do that here. 

Each time I work with teachers and other educators, I learn something new. In the future, I am going to explicitly offer detailed views of frameworks as a choice during the small group activities. 

(And I am also going to reflect on managing uncomfortable conversations, regardless of the setting.)

 

Posted in: Modeling, UDL
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
January 12, 2018

Designing your space to match your goals

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.

McGill active learning classroom, redistribution of sound over levels

picture of McGill’s active learning classroom in the Education building taken by Jovette Francoeur, posted on Twitter. Click on the link to see the full tweet.

The tables in the gymnasium are all at the same level, so the sound from the conversations stays at the same level as well.

January 11, 2018 WQSB

PD hosted in the gymnasium at Hull Adult Education Centre, picture by Tracy Rosen

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.

forest hill class levels

classroom at Forest Hill Sr., picture taken by Avi Spector

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.

Seating levels at Centre le Vallon

pictures by Nadia Veilleux, Centre le Vallon, Commission scolaire au Coeur des Vallées. Click on the link to see a video about her classroom (en français)

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.

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.

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.