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?
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.
(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.
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:
— Sébastien Deschamps (@sedeschamps) October 3, 2017
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.
Last spring I wrote a post about two teachers from the Western Quebec School Board who are doing great things in their classroom to help their learners develop autonomy.
(go read about that here: http://pdpractice.com/?p=146 )
I shared their story with a number of people and everyone I spoke with wanted to learn more, so we had a conversation which became this video. In it, they talk about why and how they developed their online resources but more significantly, they share what these resources mean for their classrooms and, ultimately, their learners. They also talk about their own learning throughout the process. I encourage you to watch this video! Thank you so much to both Michelle and Julie for sharing their story!
The video forms part of a professional development tile on Motivation in PD Mosaic.
The first workshop I had the pleasure of attending at this year’s AQIFGA conference was presented by Michelle Robinson and Julie Salomon of Western Quebec School Board, called: Les TICs au service de L’autonomie en FLS, roughly translated as ICT in service of autonomy in French Second Language.
Essentially, their workshop was organized around the presentation of three tools they have been experimenting with to help the learners in their classrooms develop autonomous learning practices. Too often, learners wait for teachers to supply them with the answers…why? because this is how it has always been! In particular in adult education centres, this type of learning and teaching is becoming less and less relevant. Classrooms are beginning to look more and more like this:
What Julie and Michelle are experimenting with in their French second language classrooms is creating an online resource center of videos, activities, and explanations of basic, key concepts that their learners can access whenever needed – both in the classroom and outside of the classroom.
So far, they have used Popplet – an online mind mapping tool – to organize resources around ‘La phrase de base’ (basic sentence structure); Padlet – an online bulletin board – to organize multiple resources for second language learning, including their Popplet resource and videos they created to support their students as they learn French; and Quizzlet – an online quiz making tool – to provide their learners with multiple ways to practice what they learn.
What I would like to highlight were some comments Julie and Michelle made in conversation with the participants about student use of the tools:
You can’t just create resources online and expect learners to use them – and to use them in the way that you expect! Technology use needs to be modeled. They both spoke about the need to model how to look for information and solve problems in relation to what learners are working on. As students worked on creating sentences in French, for example, it was important for the teachers to show them explicitly how to use the online resources they compiled to help them in their tasks.
A common thread of teacher conversations is about learner autonomy and what I love about this project is that Julie and Michelle are teaching learners how to become autonomous and not merely hoping for it to happen.
The tools that Julie and Michelle create are in constant evolution as they use them with their students and as they receive feedback from their students as to what works more, what works less. Here is how their collection of resources looks at the moment: