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.

November 14, 2017

Learning Environments + Professional Learning: Updates

autumn image of leaves from pixabay How has your fall been? Everyone I talk to lately agrees that this fall seems even busier than ever. At first, I thought this was just in Adult Education since we are implementing a ton of new programs this year but I am hearing this from people in multiple sectors and I am starting to think that has something to do with a growing shift to re-examine teaching and learning within the context of our learning environments.

As I wrote in my first blog post of the year, I am looking closely at learning environments and the role they play in learning, in using technology while we teach and learn, and in changing how we offer professional learning opportunities to teachers.

The more I work with teachers, the more I realize that when we start to consider our environments of learning, the closer we are getting to ensuring equal access to learning for our students. And THAT makes me super happy!

Here is a quick look at some of the professional learning opportunities and resources that Avi and I have developed over the past month or so. You can click on the images to visit the different resources if you like. (direct link to the document: http://bit.ly/recitoct)

Posted in: News
November 7, 2017

Learning and video: Where is the teacher?

I use video a lot in my practice. I make video, I create online resources that incorporate video, and I use video in the workshops I offer. Lately, I hear students (and some parents) talk about how some of their teachers rely too heavily on video, that much of classtime revolves around class viewing of different videos. Also, I’ve begun to see a few articles claiming that video is not all it may be cracked out to be in the grand scheme of learning (see links to other resources at the bottom of this article).

And I agree…

..if all you are doing is getting learners to watch video as a replacement for you, the teacher.

Video will never kill the radio star in education! Why? Because while the location of content may be shifting, we must maintain our role as teacher in order to structure the learning. That has not changed.

I have long argued that the student teacher relationship is essential. I’d push that even further to say that this is even more acute in adult education. Many of our students, not all but a significant amount that I have met, have long-held wariness and even distrust towards the education system. Our relationship, is one of learning. When I show my students that I truly care about them as learners, I am working on relationship.

A student I worked with a few years ago once remarked, when I ask my teacher a question and he tells me to watch a video or go to a website instead of answering me, I feel like I am not important to him.

So how do we manage teaching with video when relationship is so important in learning?

The idea of a flipped classroom, where homework shifts to the watching of content videos outside of school so that classtime can be used for actively applying content instead of listening to the teacher deliver the content, has been around for – believe it or not – about 17 years.

The thing with a flipped classroom is that it holds a number of assumptions that I am just not comfortable making – the biggest one being equal access to technology outside of the classroom. In adult education, where many of our students have jobs and families, there is also the question of equal access to time and place for learning outside of school. This can be an issue at other levels as well.

Also, as teachers we know that the only thing we have control over is what happens in our classrooms. We have no control over things outside of that realm – and that includes over whether or not students will watch video, or do any kind of homework, at home.

Yet, I still believe that video can play an important role in the learning process. For the past couple of years, my colleague Avi Spector and I have been advocating for the well-structured use of video within the classroom. Essentially, you could say that we argue for flipping in the classroom instead of outside of it!

In our collaborations with teachers, we have learned about different strategies that work when it comes to using video for learning.

In this PD Mosaic tile, there is a video of Lindsay, a teacher who talks about how she structures the use of video with her second language adult students. Some of her key points are: ease of access – equity – autonomy.

What she doesn’t mention is that she teaches her class through the use of stations and that she structures the video viewing.

When students watch video on their own at a video station they are not truly on their own because of how a teacher structures the activity. Lindsay and other teachers use instruction cards at each station that clearly outline what is expected of the learners. In that way, the teacher is always present through how she scaffolds each part of a learning situation AND she is free to work with another group of students on a different aspect of the same learning situation.

Such an approach really helps to amplify the teacher student relationship.

(You can see sample instruction cards in the PD Mosaic tile pictured above – http://bit.ly/videoscaffolding.)

So teachers are not going anywhere and video is not enough on its own to enhance learning. But we can increase learning through relationship and how we scaffold our students’ learning experiences with video.

Other resources
Watch that Hand: Why videos may not be the best medium for knowledge retention by Tina Nazarian on EdSurge, Oct 4, 2017

Hell-oooo! Watching videos does not necessarily lead to learning by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway in THE Journal: Transforming Education through Technology, May 6, 2015

September 25, 2017

What’s new? Learning environments + Modeling

This post is about my plans for the year. I call them my plans, but really they are a result of great planning and collaboration with a number of partners, in particular Avi Spector. Thank you!

I am also going to include some brand new resources that are available for you at the end of this post. This year is going to be great!
—-
Happy New Year! This means a few different things at this time of year. It is the Jewish new year of 5778 and, I just discovered, the Muslim new year of 1439. We are also about a month into the 2017-2018 school year. This particular school year is a time for renewal as we transition into our new courses, the bulk of which will be mandatory by the end of this school year (breathe, it will all be fine!).

Collaborative Networks

As we continue to try on our new programs in Quebec Adult Education, we are experiencing greater collaboration than ever – which is great. We are modeling what we want to see in our classrooms and what we want to teach our students. I feel like I have spent much of this past month sharing my work from last year and my plans for the upcoming year at different venues. In fact, I did it twice last week and will do it twice again this week! I do this because I believe it is important. It is important that we are all aware of what we are all doing. We want to work in concert and not alone in our own sections of the province. It reminds me, though, that collaboration can be hard work – something we need to remember when we expect it of our students.

I feel like everyone must know my action plan by now, I’ve been talking about it so much, but I know that isn’t true so here is what is important to me this year.

what environments are best for learning with tech in our new programs and how do we model this with our teachers
Environment
There are a whole slew of reasons why teaching and learning environments are important to me. Our courses are competency based. As a teacher, I need to make sure I can observe my students as they are developing competencies – as they are doing things with learning situations. So I need to provide an environment that allows for this. More centres and teachers are starting to make significant shifts in their environments for these very reasons.

Technology
I work with the RECIT so I’m a technology consultant, yet I hate the idea of asking teachers and students to do special projects just for the sake of integrating technology. We just need to make sure that our teachers and students have access to resources and to devices in order to better share and collaborate with others. When we change our environments, we can make sure that our spaces allow for better use of technology to do those things.

Modeling
A couple of years ago, Avi and I realized that it was no longer enough to talk about cool ideas for teaching and learning. We had to just do it. The first time we did a workshop IN the style of what we were talking about (Stations) resulted in a number of teachers integrating stations into their classrooms. Almost immediately.

We learned the importance of modeling. It’s harder work for us. It would be so much easier for us to create our PowerPoint presentations and to talk for the entire workshop than to design active learning situations and participant-driven professional learning oportunities that model implicit use of technology for competency development. But we do it because we know it’s important. Teachers have told us and we are starting to see the results in classrooms.

So, this year the work I plan on doing will be framed by those ideas. I will continue to make videos and PD Mosaic tiles in collaboration with some of you. I will continue to share what we do on this blog, on Twitter, and additionally through Carrefour-FGA and RECIT newsletters as well as on The Launch. I will also share all of these resources in the different workshops and other learning sessions I design with Avi and other teachers and consultants. And I will continue to facilitate and participate in a variety of communities of practice related to learning environments (individualized and not), technology, and, of course, our new programs.

Here is one of my action plan presentations from last week, if you are interested in a few more details.

 

**And now the fun stuff – new resources!**
This is a selection of the new resources you can find on PD Mosaic. They include work by and for the teachers, consultants, and administrators we work with. Be sure to check out the main site to see if there is anything you haven’t seen yet! And please let me know if there is a resource you would like to develop with me!
PD Mosaic

Knowing the Program on PD Mosaic

New PD Mosaic tile with a video by Shanna Loach, ETSB.

Change in Program, Change in Practice on PDMosaic

A collection of PD Mosaic tiles about how our practice is changing as a result of new progams. With videos by and about teachers in Quebec.

Transforming mathematical thinking PD Mosaic tile

A series of videos by Ayodele Harrison on transforming mathematical thinking through engaging conversation.

UDL and flexible learning on PD Mosaic

A collection of tiles on UDL and flexible learning in the classroom – including videos and resources from Quebec Adult Ed classrooms. For teachers and administrators.

Posted in: News