As much as I love my ePLN and being a connected teacher (and I do – see my posts here, and here, and here), I have moments where I ponder its drawbacks. One of them is how it sometimes make me feel like I’m a really bad teacher (even when I feel like I can’t give any more).
Teachers are reflective creatures at the best of times, but sometimes it feels like I’m walking through a hall of mirrors when I immerse myself in my online network of teachers. For example, the past few days alone my online teaching network has told me:
There’s a difference between a boss and a leader. What am I? How can I improve? What makes a good leader? (five different blog posts gave 25 different criteria, so now I’m really confused).
I need to stop thinking about ‘best’ practice and start thinking about ‘next’ practice. (Geez, it’s hard enough just finding the time to keep up with best practice!)
Wow, there’s another 50 better ways that I could be using PowerPoint/Instagram/Glogster/Pinterest/Twitter/[insert software and/or Web2.0 tool here]? Yeah, I guess my current practice really is passive/unengaging/pedagogically unsound/just not cool
How to differentiate more. Why I shouldn’t grade. Why I should grade but grade differently (wait a minute…I don’t even LIKE grading…why am I even entertaining this idea?). Why I should use iPads. Why I shouldn’t. Why I should only use them THIS way using THIS matrix to ensure that I’m maximising their effectiveness.
Oh man. Not ANOTHER educational buzzword I have to Google and self-teach myself…. *conducts initial Google search*…hmmm, but that sorta sounds like that OTHER term I was reading about last week. But wait…here’s another post telling me why this buzzword is just a fad and will be terrible for my kids. And I’m not doing ANY of this in my classroom yet. Far out.
Approximately 39872348 stories telling me why my education system is failing because of bad teachers, how SE Asian school systems are succeeding, and a thousand HOW WE CAN BE MORE LIKE FINLAND stories (and a thousand other articles disputing the measures that all these assertions are based on).
I should be a teacher, not a facilitator.
I should be a facilitator, not a teacher.
Apparently good teachers need to be reflective practitioners.
Everything I read seems to be telling me about how I’m not doing something correctly or how I could be doing it better or tells me something I’m not doing at all that I should be doing. And it’s not just the content that sends this message, it’s also the tone – you must be doing this, or you should be doing that. In short, sometimes it feels like I’m just not up to scratch. How can I ever possibly be the amazing teacher who meets the Criteria of Awesomeness that’s fed to me by the interwebz?
I suppose that it’s not too different to how the media (and women’s magazines in particular) have provided me with a small range of socially acceptable “girl phenotypes” and tried to make me feel flawed or useless if I don’t fit one of them. I’ve taught myself to deconstruct those messages and see them for the laughable, misogynistic guff that they are – I guess I just have to apply those same critical analysis skills to the collective voice telling me that I’m a crap teacher unless I do x, y, z and a, b, c.
But if this makes me – a seasoned web user with reasonable digital literacy skills and an OK BS filter – feel like curling up into the foetal position, it must be far more overwhelming to those who are just starting to dip their toes into the digital waters. What a confronting experience that must be.
Anyway, in an attempt to counter the constant hyperexpectations and the negative media portrayals, I thought I’d make a wallwisher where teachers can just write one simple thing that they do which makes a difference to the students they teach. It’s not intended to be a place where teachers can try and outdo each other with the amazing stuff they do. Instead, simplicity is key. In this ‘edufrenzy’ culture of buzzwords and increased window-dressing accountability and teacher-bashing, it’s important to keep it simple and remember that our job is one that involves helping little humans in their journey to become big humans who contribute to society in a positive way. A big responsibility, sure, but it doesn’t have to be rocket science.
So it’s now 2013, and I guess that I’m supposed to be looking back at 2012 with warmth and fuzzy reflection and looking towards the brand new year with hope and positivity. And I suppose that I should write a list of some sort that weaves it all together.
Well, here it is. My misty-eyed prophecy of what I want 2013 to look like:
1. Make our schoolworld better for our kids with Autism. Give them a space where they can hide away if it’s all getting too much for them. Increase understanding of their needs amongst their peers and teachers. Remind myself of my commitment to advocacy – I felt last year that I lost a bit of my oomph while I was finding my feet in my new job. Need to rekindle the oomph.
2. Stay in peak condition. I’m in for a tough one this year. I’m going to have a classroom of gorgeous, wonderfully unique but potentially exhausting Tiggers and I’ll need to stay physically, mentally and emotionally in top form to ensure I don’t burn out. I’m seeing yoga, I’m seeing healthy food, I’m seeing mindfulness all being key factors to my survival this year.
3. Keep on geeking. New tech challenges for the year include migrating my class program to Weebly rather than Google Sites; using an iPod touch to help journal learning and collect assessment data; reinvigorating and maintaining websites for my support unit and school and, if I can swing it, starting the conversation around social media presence and digital citizenship education; managing and meaningfully using a larger set of iPads in the support unit.
It’s going to be a big one. Perhaps even my last in special education (but that’s a story for another day). We’ll see how it pans out.
Last year I began my journey with digital choiceboards. After two years of testing, making many mistakes and having the odd lightbulb moment, I thought I should finally make some time to share the process and products with the world!
What are Choiceboards?
How I’ve used a traditional choiceboard in a classroom.
Physical choiceboards are often used in special education to help kids with speech, language and communication disorders choose activities or request things. In mainstream teaching, the term choiceboard is sometimes applied to activities where students are given a choice from a range of activities that work towards the same outcome. Sometimes this are in the form of a Pirozzo Grid or Tic Tac Toe activity strategy.
A digital choiceboard is essentially a digital variation on these themes. I have been experimenting with digital choiceboards for different purposes – simple cause and effect choiceboards through to student-directed learning choiceboards – but essentially they have the same goal: to provide students with choice, in a digital format.
Last year I taught a student with Autism who was highly sensory seeking. He started the year with no independent activities, visual discrimination difficulties, and was unable to sit and attend to things for any longer than a few minutes.
I noticed he attended more to computer activities, particularly some flash games we used that he seemed to get a visual and auditory fix from.
While refining the choiceboards for this student, I found other ways that I could use them in my classroom for all students. This included allowing student direction in their literacy and numeracy learning, and making theme-related song choiceboards. I also created a few special interest boards for a student with Autism, to act as a motivator/reward/chill out time.
Uses Beyond Special Education
Since then I’ve been thinking about how I would have used them as a mainstream teacher.
They’re useful for early years tech skills, supporting students with special needs in a mainstream room and extending G&T students. You could also create a digital version of a Pirozzo Grid or a traditional Tic Tac Toe choiceboard. This idea, developed as a digital choiceboard, would be a great way to integrate ICT into the curriculum and support 21st century learning. Or why not make a digital choiceboard as a way to give students choice in homework tasks?
Regardless of your purpose, a digital choiceboard allows for student direction, and depending on how you design the choiceboard, it has the potential to involve numerous other QTF elements.
How to: SMART Notebook
This was the initial approach I took, as I needed to introduce the concept using modelled and guided instruction on the IWB.
I used Priory Woods flash games as they motivated the student. Basically I took a screen grab, pasted it onto the Notebook page, added a link to the Flash file and locked all the elements in place. My computer at the time didn’t have Snipping Tool on it, which would have made life much easier, but it was still easy enough to do a screen grab using the PrintScreen-Paste-Crop method.
Below is a clip of my student using his SMART Notebook choiceboard. By this point, he was independently locating the file icon on the desktop, choosing a visual on the choiceboard, using the escape key to minimise, click on the red close button on a window and he’d worked out how to switch between windows. It took about 3 weeks of daily teaching (about a 15 minute session a day) to get him to this level of independence and another 3 or so weeks to start teaching him problem-solving strategies beginning with getting a communication partner to ask for help and then explicitly teaching him strategies to solve common problems he was encountering.
Pros : Easy to create; doesn’t neccesarily require net connection if you link to files on your computer/server.
Cons : Lots of editing tools on display for kidlets to mess around with once they are able to use it independently; Even when used in full screen mode, kids can figure out how to minimise/muck around with tools; my student somehow kept finding the ‘add text’ tool which stopped him from being able to click on the links, causing frustration; to escape the full screen flash video, the student needed to be explicitly taught a key/click sequence of Esc/close window which he picked up really quickly but would be challenging for other students with motor/coordination difficulties.
How to: Video Lightbox for YouTube Choiceboards
Using a VideoLightbox choiceboard for counting on the IWB.
Video Lightbox is a free downloadable program that allows you to embed a range of online videos as thumbnails on a webpage. It is particularly good for special interest choiceboards, e.g. the Wiggles. When students click on a thumbnail, it launches a larger window to play the video, and the window closes again when the video has finished. You’ll need to have some server space to upload the files. I tried to embed it on a wiki but it wouldn’t work.
Pros: Customisable number and size of choices; Quick and easy to add videos and upload files to server; Confined choiceboard – rare for students to click beyond page; Excellent for special interest choiceboards.
Cons:Requires net access to use; Requires server space to upload; Passive pedagogy due to video-only content – good for early learners to develop computer skills or special ed kids for choice/reward, but for mainstream students, it’s just babysitting, unless you attached a decent task to it, e.g. providing a range of video texts for students to compare and contrast; Clips can sometimes take a while to download, depending on net connection; If you’re a NSW DEC teacher, your kids won’t be able to access them using their own accounts as YouTube/Vimeo etc is banned and Video Lightbox doesn’t support TeacherTube.
How to: 3×3 Links
The 3×3 Links website allows you to make 3×3 grids with visual links to chosen sites. You simply type in the website address, give the button a name, choose a picture and click OK to add a link. Too easy! I have used these to allow for student direction in literacy and numeracy learning. E.g. I have a phonics board where all the choices are links to simple phonics activities that all students can complete independently, and students are given the freedom to choose the one that appeals the most when it’s their turn on the computer.
Pros: Limited number of choices – great for littlies/special ed; Minimal distractions on page – reduces misclicks/distraction clicks; Large picture links – easy to click for those with poor mouse control.
Cons: Requires net access to use; Clicking takes you to external page – difficult to navigate back to choiceboard for some students; Not able to fully customise visuals used on buttons, so it can be confusing for students.
How to: Symbaloo
Like 3×3 links, Symbaloo provides a visual grid of links, called tiles. Except this time it’s a HUGE grid. It requires a similar process to 3×3 links to add links – paste the website address, give it a title, customise the image. I used to use this more for storing my own links or to share links with colleagues, but this year I tried using it as a quick and easy way of making individualised maths choiceboards for students in my upper primary IO/Autism class. It was pretty successful. As they can be embedded in our wiki, it was easy for the kids to navigate back when the wikispace was added to the Bookmarks Toolbar in the web browser. Many of the kids now request sites that we use as a class be added to their wiki board so they can do them at home. For older, mainstream students these could be easily used as choiceboards relating to a unit of work, or for creating a digital Pirozzo Grid.
Every day it seems like there are new visual bookmarking tools coming out (like Symbaloo). Some of these include Pinterest, Sqworl, Wonderpage, Delicious Stacks or Zootool. You could even use something like LiveBinders. And I am sure that there are others out there that I just haven’t stumbled across yet. They all have their strengths and limitations, though I’ve found Symbaloo at this point to have the most “pros” (though Wonderpage, which is currently in beta form, could potentially be a better option further down the track).
Pros: Lots of choices – great for G&T students and mainstream classes; Able to personalise and colour code the visuals on the tiles – easier identification; Easy to add links.
Cons: Requires net access to use; Lots of choices – not so good for those students who need fewer distractions/choices.
1.Create a page using a wiki.
2.Insert a table with the number of rows/columns that relate to your number of choices.
3.Take a screen grab of each activity you want to include in your choiceboard and use an image editor to make them all have the same dimensions.
4.Insert one image into each table cell.
5.Add a link to each image to the matching activity using the external link/open in new window option.
For younger kids, I used these mainly for whole class activities as the sidebar was too distracting and clickable. For my older class this year, however, I’ve been able to set up links relating to their IEPs which gives them more control over their learning. They are mostly pretty good with staying on task, and parents comment about how the kids love accessing the wiki at home.
Pros: Can customise number of choices/size of pictures etc.; Can link videos, online activities, songs etc.; Quick and easy to do once you have wiki and know the process; Being a wiki – many hands make light work! Get lots of people contributing and you’ll have a whole lot of digital choiceboard resources.
Cons: Requires net access to use; The links down the side of the page can be distracting to some kids, or result in accidental clicks; If you’re a NSW DEC teacher you’ll need to check that all the links are accessible to kids using the DEC Web Filter Check (check out my how-to guide here).
Although I haven’t tried it, you could also create simple choiceboards in PowerPoint or Word. You can link flash files or videos, or web sites. May be a good way to begin if you’re familiar with these two pieces of software. If you set your PowerPoint to run in kiosk mode, it will take up the full screen and students won’t be able to click out of it (unless they hit the escape key or click to a weblink). You’ll need to be careful that any files you attach are on the machine you’ve got the choiceboard on. You’ll also need to ensure that your computer has net access if you’re linking any websites.
The Final Word
Ultimately, the format that you choose for your digital choiceboards comes down to your familiarity with technology, your workflow, your student’s needs and skills and environment in which they will be deployed. There is no “best” option, just “best options for a particular set of circumstances”.
But there’s no doubting that digital choiceboards are an effective teaching tool for both school and home. They utilise technology, which is highly engaging for most students, and above all, they allow for student choice. This latter feature is incredibly important, particularly in special education where our students all too often have choices made for them by other people.
So be brave, and give it a go! If you have any questions, you can email me – I’m happy to help out. Or if you are using digital choiceboards and have another way of creating them, I’d love to hear about that, too! (except if you make them with Boardmaker, because everyone knows my opinion of Boardmaker!). But if you ARE a Boardmaker (or Clicker6) fan, you may find Charlene Cullen’s blog post over at Spectronics another option for you.
The NSW Government has introduced a new initiative called Every Student, Every School which uses a combination of Federal and State funding in an attempt to provide more targeted support for students with disabilities in our schools. Whilst I have personal opinions on the pros and cons of the initiative and its implementation to date, I think a pragmatic response right now is to acknowledge that all teachers are going to have to increase their capacity to understand and cater for students with disabilities and difficulties in their classrooms. Although I think this shift is a positive one in terms of inclusivity, it doesn’t mean that won’t be a long and bumpy road of learning for many teachers.
Whilst the department will be providing some support to teachers in terms of professional development, the reality is that with limited funds and time, not all teachers will be able to access this PD in a timely manner. I’ve also noticed a few more ‘cries for help’ from schools/teachers who are no longer able to draw on the expertise at a district level to support students in their schools and are being required to start building their own capacity.
So to meet this need, I thought I’d put together a range of resources that may come in handy for schools/teachers to utilise in the upskilling of their staff in a range of areas. It’s a short list (thought I’d go with quality over quantity) but if you or your school requires information on specific disabilities/issues, please drop me a line as I’ve collected quite a few useful sites/resources/contacts over the years and I may have something stashed away to help out!
(Of course my favourite subject gets top priority! )
Positive Partnerships is funded under the Federal Government’s Helping Children with Autism package. They offer a really useful online Autism course and fact sheets both for parents and teachers, which address typical characteristics and implications for learning. Best of all, it’s FREE.
In term three, all schools in Australia should have received a package from Autism Awareness which included a DVD of a fantastic documentary called What Are You Doing?: A Film About Autism which also included a range of age appropriate teaching resources. Although intended as a way to support peer understanding of students with Autism, the film is also a great one to show as a staff meeting to increase general awareness of the needs of students with Autism.
ASPECT is a not-for-profit organisation that provides support and guidance for people with Autism and their families. They provide a number of useful fact sheets and run workshops to support educators. Also a useful contact point if you just want to know where to start with Autism.
Sue Larkey is well known for her entertaining workshops and her growing range of resources and books about Autism Spectrum Disorders. Her site is one to bookmark, and her workshops are highly recommended for people new to Autism. She also puts out a lot of useful fact sheets and you can subscribe to her mailing list.
General Disability Information
Physical as Anything is a website put together by NSW DEC and Westmead Children’s Hospital and it is a FANTASTIC resource that provides a wealth of information from explaining specific medical, developmental and psychological conditions through to whole school planning and making adjustments in the classroom. This site was launched with much fanfare a few years ago but it doesn’t seem to get much of a mention these days. This is a huge loss, because it really should be in the bookmarks lists of all teachers.
LDOnline is another comprehensive site (albeit US-based) to support kids with learning difficulties that provides basic facts, support for teachers and resources.
Caroline Bowen is a speech pathologist from Australia who has compiled a phenomenal list of resources that can be used with students with speech, language and communication difficulties. If you click on the ‘resources’ link there is lots to choose from, and her “links” page has some handy resources as well. Although the target audience is obviously other speech pathologists, there is a lot that can be utilised by teachers with a little bit of research to get their heads around the terminology.
Speech SPACE is a site that evolved as part of the Riverina Schools Project Partnership and has a non-overwhelming range of practical resources that have been tried and tested in educational settings. Lots of useful checklists available here.
Talking Point is a UK-based site that provides information for parents and teachers to support children’s communication. You can search for information by age group and it also includes teaching strategies and case studies.
Therapy Street for Kids is a brilliant, practical site that describes the key areas addressed by occupational therapists and provides a list of activities that can be used to support students in the classroom in these areas. It also provides sensory regulation tips for students with Autism, however I highly recommend you use something like Sue Larkey’s Sensory Checklist (available in her Practical Sensory Programmes book) before embarking on this path.
Once you’ve brushed up on your OT basics, the site OT Plan is really useful for teachers designing a program to be used in the classroom. You can develop an OT plan for your students by choosing a range of variables.
This Fine Motor site via the NSW DEC’s K-6 Linkages program shows a range of ways that fine motor activities can be linked to KLAs, so that OT can be embedded into the curriculum rather than just an ‘add on’.
I think this is enough for now. There are lots of other sites, and maybe I’ll look at creating a Symbaloo of links in each of these categories as a more permanent and comprehensive resource. Do you have any sites that you find useful in any of these categories? Feel free to share them so we can help reduce the load for teachers on their new learning journey under ESES.
So I’ve had a week to let my brain unwind, and I’ve been thinking about those moments during the term that really stood out for me. I wanted to share my favourite.
I have a kidlet in my class who is always asking questions. Sometimes he drives me nuts with all the “whys”, but mostly, I love it. I never give him answers, but I shine a light on paths he could follow to find the answer.
So anyway, we’ve been making dioramas of the Sun, Moon and Earth this term, inspired by a student’s question of “where does the Sun go?” and this particular lad wanted to have a go at making one at home, but then remembered that he didn’t have any glue.
I suggested that maybe he could make the glue. “How?” he asked. I reminded him about the maracas he’d made with our RFF teacher, and asked how they’d made the glue for them. “With flour and water! How do I know how much to put in?” he queried. I asked him if he had any idea how he could find out, knowing we’d spent the term looking at procedures and recipes.
“A recipe!” he exclaimed. “Can you write it for me?”
My reply? “No way! I’m not writing it for you. You can figure it out yourself. How do you think you could find one?”
“I don’t know,” he immediately shrugged, with a bit of his learned helplessness creeping in.
I shrugged back,”Well, I’m not thinking for you. You’ll need to have a think.”
He went away with a quizzical look, and I could tell he was chewing it over in his mind. About 10 minutes later he came back, and replied “I could look on the internet at home?”
“That sounds like a great idea!” I replied. He’d done the hard yards, so I met him halfway. “Maybe if you Googled flour and water glue, you’d get a recipe?”
So off he traipsed, head full of things-to-do when he got home.
The next day, I asked him how his search for a glue recipe went.
“So, did you find a glue recipe on Google?” I asked.
“No, silly. I searched for ‘how to make glue’ on YouTube. It was much better. It showed me how to do it with pictures,” he replied.
Yes, how silly am I! But how cool is he? This was my moment of the term, for a number of reasons:
- I love that even though I have high expectations of my kids, they always give me moments like this that cause me to raise them even higher.
- I love that this is authentic, connected and student-directed learning.
- I just love the richness of the skills he’s demonstrated in this interaction: the communication, the evaluation of tool appropriateness, the problem-solving – all the hallmarks of a teaching ‘buzz moment’.
Recently, I was at a meeting where I sat through a painful discussion about attendance awards. These are little merit certificates dished out at the end of each term to students who have attended school every day that term.
Most schools I’ve worked at have these awards. But as someone who had many days off school as a student (due to both illness and boredom with school) and had the truancy officer on her doorstep a few times, I’ve always found the whole thing a bit pointless.
What is the point of rewarding attendance?
Is it a good thing to reward kids for soldiering on through illness and coming to school, potentially making themselves sicker and passing their germs on to others? How is this a good thing?
Is it a product of the industrialisation model of education, in that we’re simply doing our bit to contribute to the socialisation of reliable futureworkers who produce maximum productivity for their employers?
Is it intended to provide a systemic “look down your nose” at those students who don’t achieve 100% attendance? Because as one of those students, I can tell you that a bit of tacky cardboard, a sticker, or a book did absolutely nothing in terms of motivating me to attend school if I was sick or just bored of being dished out dullness every day.
From what I can see, attendance awards are really just a game of luck – ”Oh, you were lucky enough to avoid the flu this term? Well done!”
(As an aside, it also seems quite discriminatory towards students with certain disabilities or health conditions, as they surely have greater cause than most to be away from school due to greater frequency of illness).
In fact, I’d argue that attendance awards should be handed out to teachers. As a student who had lots of days off, I know I would have had far fewer days off if I’d been told in the afternoon that something exciting was going to happen the next day, or if I knew that there was always going to be fun, engaging stuff waiting to happen in the classroom. And I would have been at school more regularly if someone had bothered to notice a pattern that I was taking most Thursdays off and asked me why, so I could tell them that I was really uncomfortable with my creepy PDHPE teacher always calling upon me to name the parts of the male reproductive system in health class every Thursday morning. Ultimately, it would have been the teacher’s influence that would have resulted in a reduction of my absenteeism – therefore, it would make more sense that they should be rewarded.
I feel like I’m focussing on trivial stuff by writing a blog post about attendance awards (#firstworldproblems, anyone?) but when vast chunks of precious meeting time are dedicated to discussing it, and the practice seems to be one that goes unquestioned, I feel that someone needs to do the questioning.
I’d be interested to hear from people on the other side of the fence. The people who were always at school, and who got a buzz from the little tacky bits of cardboard they received for always being there. I’m happy to have my perspective adjusted.
This week, I spent two days at a PL session relating to my new executive position. This was delivered in the traditional way – PowerPoint after PowerPoint, with the occasional group task that was inevitably cut off short just as the conversation was getting good, which was used in an attempt to lure participants from their semi-comatose state into some type of engagement. It was PL-in-a-box.
Don’t get me wrong – I did learn some things from these two days, and having the time to think and reflect gave birth to some new ideas and new ways of doing things. And it was good to have the opportunity to sit with colleagues at a similar point in our careers and share challenges, successes and strategies. But it was 2 days away from my class and when I’d already found many of the documents/sites/info through my own DIY online learning when I was first appointed to the position, I just didn’t really feel that it we got bang for our buck (and yes – it cost the school $300 plus a casual for me to attend).
But what made this experience even more poignant, was that straight after the last day, I went home to engage in a two hour, FREE, virtual TeachMeet, in which I connected with a whole stack of educators from as far away as Scotland, via Adobe Connect, and got to watch a smorgasbord of presentations from a diverse range of amazing, inspiring, innovative teachers. There were teachers from elite private schools, through to teachers from remote parts of the Northern Territory. And they spoke about how they were successfully integrating tech such as Edmodo, videoconferencing, Google Docs and iPads into their teaching and learning – they demonstrated real world practice and gave me a glimpse into their classrooms. I got more inspiration and more synapses firing in 2 hours than I got in 2 days.
This was supported by ongoing collegial chat online throughout the presentations, in which I could ask for things to be clarified or ask related questions to the wider group, or just generally support one another in our learning. It also provided me with a slew of new links, which were easily popped up into the Adobe Connect interface for me to click on and bookmark. My professional e-library was rapidly populated, and it was a stark contrast to the sharing of links at my ‘old school’ PL earlier in the day, which involved someone sloooooowly and clunkily modelling how to navigate to a website, and people frantically scribbling down pencil-and-paper breadcrumb trails or worse still, massive, non-SEO friendly URL strings.
So these two experiences, paired back to back, really shone a light onto the idea that 21C PL is here, and it’s SO MUCH BETTER. Of course, bad PL will always be bad PL, and good PL will be good PL, no matter how it’s delivered – if it’s relevant, engaging, supportive and purposeful, it will probably hit the mark. But 21CPL has so many more advantages – mostly, it’s free; it’s easy to establish learning communities with a common goal; it’s easy to find innovative models of practice; it’s WHAT you want, WHEN you want (PL in my PJs was BRILLIANT!) and it’s not confined to a set date and time – it’s self-paced and easy to dip in and out at your own convenience.
So I’m convinced. And plenty of other people are convinced too. But judging from the responses of people at the traditional PL session to the question “What does good PL look like?”, I’d say we’re a long way off from hitting critical mass in terms of 21CPL. What a shame – I really want others to be able to experience the buzz I experience from learning a bunch of new stuff every single day, from a global network of inspirational and supportive educators. I want them to discover that there’s a more exciting and connected way of learning than through PL-in-a-box.
So, at the start of the year I had a mini personal goal to try and be as paperless as possible. I have my iPad, my netbook, my lappie and a whole buncha cloud and other storage to record, file and store everything I could possibly need.
Well, we’re almost halfway through the year and I’m realising that it’s damn near impossible to go anywhere near paperless.
I’m at the point now where I’m pretty much sounding like some kind of crazy “NO PAPERRRR!!” lady at work. I used to politely accept paperwork, and give an internal sigh of resignation. But now I’m getting vocal. I don’t care if people think I’m some crazy tree-hugging hippy or a Cutting Edge Tech Hipster Guru Wannabe. I’VE JUST HAD ENOUGH OF ALL THE PAPER!!!!
- I don’t need half an A4 piece of paper with a meeting agenda on it. Just email it to me. I don’t pay too much attention to it anyway, but if I needed to, I’d just alt-tab between applications to see what’s up next.
- I don’t need reams of paper printed from documents that I can find online. Just send me to a page with hyperlinks to documents and/or relevant page numbers, and I’ll sort myself out. In fact, in the time it took for you to hand out those ten pages to each PL session attendee, I was able to google the doc in question, skim the contents, and bring up the same pages on my netbook. And guess what? I can still highlight and add sticky notes, the way I’d do it on the hardcopy. Except the added bonuses are (a) I’m not killing trees (b) I’m not creating a paper swamp at home/in the office and (c) When I inevitably forget about this document in a few weeks time, it’ll quickly pop up when I search for particular tags or filenames – much more efficient than Ye Olde paper filing systems.
- I don’t need a folder with all your handouts. Just pop them in a Dropbox somewhere or give me a Google site or Wiki with them listed. If that’s too techy, just email them!
- When you give me digital forms that I can fill in online, don’t make me have to return them via fax with a physical signature, because this means I have to print out and waste paper. Please allow for a digital signature and let me email them back.
During my time teaching special education, I’ve attempted to put a square peg into a round hole, that is, to structure HSIE/Science units of work much in the same way I taught them in mainstream – with a pre-defined set of outcomes/indicators and a learning sequence designed to achieve those goals. I adapted existing BoS or DEC units of work to meet the needs of my students, and off we went.
Well, thus far, I’ve found this to be pretty uninspiring, and I’m pretty sure the kids have as well. You know, “Workers in our Community” might be hugely fascinating the one week you look at firefighters, for the kid in your class with Autism who has the fire engine fixation, but by and large, it’s dull, dull, dull for all concerned.
So I’m going to try something new.
I’m going to ditch the traditional HSIE/Science learning sequences or integrated units, and instead schedule in “student-directed learning” sessions twice a week. These sessions would emerge from questions the students have asked, or interests they have shown. And it would be up to me to find ways to make valid links to the curriculum and determine outcomes/indicators “on the run”.
For example, at the moment we examine/graph the weather each day using an interactive weather chart. The kids are hugely interested in the way the sky changes and the temperature drops as the sun goes down. My most articulate student has asked “Where does the sun go?” and my student who has difficulties verbalising things makes a rare comment of “sun goes down” – it’s something they’re all really cued into and fascinated by.
So I’m going to use this interest and these questions to drive a mini unit of work (about four lessons) on “Where does the sun go?”. I can easily link it to Science and Technology, and I’m sure I can attach some Creative Arts lessons into it (and Maths and English will be integrated by default). Perhaps I could even organise a Skype session with someone overseas during their “night time” to make the difference more real (potential HSIE links, maybe? I’m thinking along the lines of Stage 3 Global Connections – would be kinda cool to be potentially working towards Stage 3 outcomes in a senior IO class!).
I think this approach will be successful, primarily because it gives students the opportunity to drive their own learning, thus making it more relevant and meaningful, and hopefully more engaging.
Having said this, I think there are potential pitfalls, though I think there are possibly ways to counter them:
1) Will they gain deep knowledge/understanding of the content, if they are just briefly addressed over, say, a four lesson period? (I’m hoping interest causes them to ask questions/share interest beyond school, and that will make up for the brevity of in-school learning time. And I guess the units of work could go for longer, if need be).
2) What if there is (and there probably will be) a diversity in student interest? (I guess I’ll need to try and find links between interests and ways interests can be co-accommodated, or creatively use grouping to meet the needs of students? Perhaps I can create online learning modules/personal learning environments in an area of interest for students, so we can rotate around between teacher-support instruction and self-regulated learning?)
3) What if there are no questions? (Hmm. This would be problematic. Though it’s pretty rare for kids not to ask questions/be interested in something. But if it happens, I think I’ll need to find a way to structure events/activities that lead to questions).
I think I’ll need to be quite explicit about these learning sessions, and explain to the kids that it will be an opportunity for them to learn about things they’re interested in. Maybe we have have a Question Wall where we can record questions the kids ask, or a “Things I Like” book to gather student interests.
I imagine the transition process will be interesting for the kids. For many kids, the idea of “choice” in a classroom or even the idea that they have to initiate their own thoughts/ideas/learning can be problematic – we often spoonfeed too much! But I think this is particularly pronounced for students with disabilities – choices are often made for them, either overtly or covertly, especially when communication is limited. I think getting their heads around freedom of choice will be a lesson in itself!
So, we’ll see how it goes. I’d love to hear from other teachers who’ve tried this method, or any suggestions/questions/potential problems you may see from this approach. I’m not sure if it strictly fits into PBL or any other fancy pedagogical category, but I’d appreciate anyone who’s willing to point out any giant black holes in front of me, before I fall into them, or to shine a light on other avenues I haven’t explored
In the meantime, I’ll keep posting updates on how it’s all going.
You probably need to go and read it so you can couch my following grizzle in some kind of context. So off you go. I’ll go and make myself a cup of preferred beverage while you read it…
… ok then.
Now, this article has some merit. Yes, I understand that the technological steamroller moves on, squishing untenable technologies and paving the way for their replacements. It’s adapt or die. I get that.
I understand that he’s making criticisms of Word that are in a similar vein to those I may or may not have made about Publisher.
But I think the author uses a tone that I seem to be encountering more and more online, particularly in the realm of education.
And admittedly, it’s probably a tone that I sometimes adopt in moments of frustration. But as I become increasingly aware of how horrible it sounds, I’m going to be trying really hard to avoid using it in the future.
It’s the tone that I like to commonly refer to as the “I’m a cutting edge tech hipster* guru and you’re so passé for using today’s technology” tone.
It’s the commentary you hear or read which infers “I’m beyond this” or “I already know everything there is to know about this”.
It’s in those statements that feel like they have a bored eye-roll attached, or which indicate their author/speaker thinks that something is only relevant and worthwhile if it’s new and uncharted territory.
Do you know the tone I’m talking about? Or am I delusional?
I admit that I’ve been in situations where I’ve made eye-rolling, sarcastic comments during PL sessions where I’m being given a beginner’s session on how to use a [insert piece of software/webtool] that I’m already proficient in. And yes, I’m as guilty as charged when it comes to taking a stab at particular pieces of software that give me the irrits (*cough*Publisher*cough* ). Hell, I’ve even referred to anti-tech teachers as Luddites (though I reckon if they aren’t making any effort at all to come to the party, then they probably deserve this label. In fact, I reckon some of them would wear it proudly! ). And I will admit that sometimes my tone becomes condescending. But every single time, these comments are borne of frustration, and the elitist cow element that makes me sound like a twonk is merely a by-product
But I dunno…there seem to be people who are aiming for the elitist cow thing, straight off the bat. It feels a bit like the author of Death to Microsoft Word might be aiming for that. Particularly with his addition of the heart-warming anecdote at the bottom of the page which essentially says: “Look at what a clever little digital native my four year old Einstein is. My spawn can synthesise knowledge and use MS Word to record it, so obviously I have superior sperm and parenting skills. But by the way, it means if you’re using MS Word you’re the mental equivalent of a four year old”. But I digress…
Yes, we need to be critical evaluators. Yes, we need to be constantly reflecting on the way things are done and how they can be improved. Yes, we need to keep up with the new stuff and sort the wheat from the chaff. And yes, we need the trailblazers who’ll happily take the leap of faith off the pedagogical cliff. But I think that we need to do it in a way that acknowledges that change takes time, and respect that people are at different stages of their own personal learning journeys. Creating cliquey little groups of Cutting Edge Tech Hipster Gurus who sneer at the Microsoft Word users isn’t going to work as we move into a society of networks. We’re going to need to hand-hold, and respect that we can all complement each other’s knowledge and skill-sets in one way or another.
And if I ever start sounding like I’m suffering from Cutting Edge Tech Hipster Guru Syndrome, please slap me about with a wet fish
* I use the term hipster to reflect ethos, not some superficial horn-rimmed-spectacles-and-corduroy version of the word
**I apologise to anyone I’ve ever offended with one of my MS Publisher rants.