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.
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.
In it, we describe how we organized a day-long workshop for teachers… a little bit differently. We describe what we planned and our intentions behind it. We also share images and videos that we took throughout the day as well as our reflections after the fact. Some of my favourite parts of our book are the videos of teacher testimonies taken throughout the day. They give me hope in the work I do.
Both the workshop and the book were labours of love for us and our hope is that it can inspire others as well! It is available here – please share with your colleagues and friends!
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!
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?
(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.