Category Archives: Aligning Resources with Priorities

Banning Cell phones: Ongoing Tensions

Recently, there was a news item about a school in Toronto which chose to ban cell phones. My first thought was, “How can this still be happening in 2017?” My other thought went to the number of awesome educators from the same school District who are really advocating for the thoughtful use of technology-enabled learning. What do they think and why is this school not talking to them? But then, I realized that, like any other topic, there are always varying tensions that motivate people to make such a decision and we have to be careful about making broad assumptions.

Of course, a conversation ensued on Twitter (and Facebook prompted by Sylvia Duckworth) around this topic. Distraction because of cellphones is cited as the main reason to ban cell phone use.

David Carruthers put out a poll:

Because the poll is on Twitter, where there are so many like-minded educators, the results may be slightly skewed.  The reality is, there are so many teachers who really do feel that cell phones should not be allowed.

This blog began in response to this question by @ClarkStSchool several days ago. I needed more than 140 characters to articulate my opinion.

I get it. I am in a school. I have taught classes where students feel compelled to check Instagram or their group chat no matter how interesting and engaging my lesson might be. I feel the frustration. But I also see a whole other side and truthfully, if my school went to a cell phone ban, I would have to look for other employment. To give you a true picture, here’s what I did this past week (Wed-Fri).

Wednesday

I ran a morning and afternoon workshop for teachers at my school to help support their students with Literacy strategies and the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT). In the session, I showed teachers how to use Snapchat and Instagram stories for a close reading of text: aka Booksnaps.  I used my phone to demonstrate and participants used their phones to try it.  A few teachers looked at their cell phones from time to time, but I think that is natural; we were doing lots of intense learning and they needed the cognitive break. I wondered to myself, “When students do this are we as forgiving?”

Thursday

I worked with a teacher who is using Garageband for podcasting in her English class. Students were given the choice during my brief demo: take notes on a lined sticky or take notes on their phone. Well over half the class used their phones. The ones who used a lined sticky, used their phones to take a photo of their notes in the event that they lost the sticky.

When we gave them time to explore Garageband, many students used the school iPads, but a few students were concerned that they wouldn’t finish on time. Others wanted to work on their projects at home. We told any students who had an iPhone that they were welcome to choose. Many chose to use their phones.  We had one or two students who were “distracted” by their phone: the rest were creating their music and preparing their podcasts.

Friday

I worked with a teacher who is engaged in the collaborative Amazing Race Global project I am organizing. Students were using the period to research their assigned pit-stop location.  Most students were completely engaged and on task. They were working at their own pace and exploring interesting websites.  The classroom teacher and I had talked to them about the fact that we would be assessing their ability to “Work Independently” (a learning skill in the Ontario Curriculum). I had created a Google Form which has all of the learning skills on it, and saved it to my homescreeen on my phone. We walked around, phones in our hands, talking to students and assessing them, checking in with them, and chatting with them about their progress. All but one student got an Excellent.

Here’s a link to a folder which should allow you to modify this form for your own class as well as a self-assessment form for students to set their own goals around cell-phone use (Self-Regulation).

Students used their phones to refer to the questions they were supposed to answer so as not to have to close the tabs on their computers as well as update the calendars on their phones to record what they needed to finish for the next class.

Could I have done all of these things without access to cell phones? Perhaps? But why would I need to or want to when it was so much easier and more efficient this way?

The Toronto Star article likens a cell phone to “talking in class”, which I think is such an oversimplification of the very powerful tool students hold in their hands. Many smartphones are faster and more efficient than most of the computers in my school.

The crux of it is that, despite a very well-planned and engaging lesson, students will be pulled to their phones (aka their friends) just as in the past when they (we) passed notes to one another: peer relationships are crucial to adolescents.  But if students are going to be distracted, they don’t need their phones to check out.  I am not easily offended by this; I use it as a gauge to know when I need to change my teaching methodology.

Banning cell phones will not make this issue go away; it might however increase the likelihood of students needing to visit the restroom or hiding their phones in their desks. And ultimately, there is always an accompanying power struggle when the teacher tries to confiscate the phone. Instead, if checking phones and being off-task is an ongoing problem, I would tackle it by having a conversation and re-establishing classroom norms. I would also have students set their own goals and monitor their own progress–In Ontario, this is a learning skill (Self-Regulation) which I would explicitly focus on.  My  most common response has been to ask students if they are being distracted by their device and what they plan to do about it.

These are the questions I would ask a school that is considering a ban on cellphones:

  • Do you teachers and students see the devices in their hands as powerful tools for learning or a distraction? If the latter, who might support teachers to help them to use them differently?
  • How might students contribute to this conversation?
  • Are we creating a policy that would stifle the creativity and innovation of some teachers for the sake of appeasing others? Can there be a happy medium?
  • Is the decision motivated out of control, what’s  best for teachers or what’s best for learning?
  • Are there any schools in your District or area who might also be facing this challenge? What are they doing?

Cellphones are learning tools. Any classroom in which I teach will embrace them and help students to make the most of the learning potential and monitor their own use of them.

David Carruthers speaks to the issue of using cell phones as a BYOD strategy here.

Andrew Campbell’s thoughts are well articulated here.

Donna Fry makes a compelling argument here.

Please use the comments to continue the conversation!

 

 

Is it time to innovate your staff meeting?

I have time to write a blog post tonight. Want to know why? Our administration team is taking to heart the idea of innovation and “Flipping our Staff Meetings”.  Year after year, don’t you sit in staff meetings thinking and wishing that there was a better way?

As a staff, we have been using this definition to guide our school year goals and the decisions we make:

Innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new and better.

It can come from ‘invention’ (something totally new) or ‘iteration’ (a change of something that already exists).

Technology can be crucial in the development of innovation, but innovation is less about tools and more about how we use those tools…  

–George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

It’s really very simple

Prior to the meeting, information items were distributed to staff prior to the meeting via email with the request to have a look and bring any questions to the meeting.

In addition, I had created a video tutorial for staff to show them how to go about proctoring our Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test happening on Thursday.  This is BIG and could have taken at least 1/2 hour to explain thoroughly.  But the video provided explicit instructions and support for the teachers who need it.

The Meeting Agenda

Whereas most time at a staff meeting is usually spent going through many administrative items, people have already received via email, this meeting was SHORT. Once we answered a few questions people had about what was shared via email, we had TIME for a teacher to share an awesome lesson happening in the school.

Ricky Machala, a Religion teacher shared a collaborative project on “Culture” between her grade 10 class and Fabiana Cassella‘s class from Buenos Aires. She admitted that she wasn’t really convinced that connecting her students to others would have such an impact on them because she figured that students are so connected already. What she learned however, is that students are connected to their own friends and communities, but know very little about the world around them. She admitted that students learned more about Culture by talking to kids and asking questions of their “Argentinian” friends, than they would have otherwise and they were eager to continue to connect personally.  She shared the tools we used to connect with the teacher: Voxer and Padlet (the best choices considering the classes could not meet synchronously) but the experience and reflection was the focal point of the presentation.

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Best of all, after the sharing session, it was still at least 45 minutes earlier than when most staff meetings end and so when we invited anyone who wanted to learn more about the Culture project or the tools we used to connect the classes to stay, so many of them DID! Others stayed to chat or connect with other teachers, or have a snack (food is essential).

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I applaud my principal, Richard Maurice and our VP Luisa Rocca for changing “what we have always done” in favour of trying something NEW & BETTER! Flipping a Staff Meeting is literally something you can do tomorrow to change the culture in your school and to help foster a community of sharing and learning.

Why not try it at your school??

 

 

Leading & Building a Positive Culture as a Teacher-Librarian

I was at a family function last weekend when my sister said it.  No one had talked about the fact that I was changing roles in September.  Now I know why–they had talked about it amongst themselves.  She said, “So you went from being the Literacy Consultant for a whole board to a Teacher-Librarian? Like isn’t that a total demotion?  Why would you do that?!” (yup, her exact words–gotta love my sister’s direct & honest approach??)

Needless to say, I was a little taken aback, but it made me really think about leadership and how people perceive leadership as being connected to titles. It also showed me the extent to which people don’t recognize how valuable Teacher-Librarians can be in a school.

What I explained to her is that I chose to be a Teacher-Librarian so I can continue to be a leader. In that role, I have the privilege of working with teachers, administration, and students in positive and impactful ways.

Two awesome posts by George Couros this week : 10 Easy Ways to Create an Amazing #Classroom Culture this year and  10 Easy Ways to Build a Positive #School Culture as a Principal, helped me to think about the ways in which a Teacher-Librarian is not just a leader, but has the incredible opportunity to contribute to the building of  an amazing culture in a school.

An effective Teacher-Librarian supports teachers to try something different, offers a little tweak that can move a lesson or unit from good to awesome, offers a second set of hands, eyes, and ears to help differentiate and assess.  An effective teacher-librarian can help a teacher find the perfect tech tool or resource to serve the learning needs of their students.

We know about critical literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, and every other modern literacy classroom teachers haven’t had the time to dig in to or keep up with in this age of abundant information.

But our space isn’t just another classroom in the school.  The Library Learning Commons can and should be the heart of a school; a place where learning, literacy, critical thinking, creativity, and fun come together.

Teacher-Librarians also interact with students– lots of students every day.  I am completely new at this role, so maybe I’m off base here, but I think that George’s Top 10 list can be modified for the role of Teacher-Librarian.  This is what I’m thinking:

10 Easy Ways to Create an Amazing School Culture as a Teacher-Librarian this year (2)

 

I’d like to create an inviting and positive learning culture when it comes to allowing cellphones in my Learning Commons.  I am experimenting with the wording on this poster and would love your feedback on this sign:

Be prepared to rethink how you use social media here (2)

 

More about building a positive culture by connecting your students

I am committed to helping teachers and students to see how technology and social media can be used to learn and share learning, connect with others, and be a more positive influence in the lives of others!

I am excited for the opportunity to work with teachers and students at my school and in the world on the following initiatives:

I would like to start a High School Global Book Club to foster digital leadership and a love of reading.  My VERY DRAFT ideas are here.  So far, I’ve got a few North American schools and an International school in Thailand interested.  Would love for you to join us!

I am participating in the Global Peace Project sponsored my Buncee launching September 26th. It is free to join and is an excellent way to build empathy, cultural awareness and to work towards spreading peace.  Details here.

I am helping my friend, Barbara  from Norway to get some North American classes involved in a Digital Storytelling project beginning in September. Check it out here.

I am organizing a Global Amazing Race EDU for grades 7, 8 and high school.  The project launch happens on February 10th with a Virtual Breakout EDU!  Details here.

I can’t wait to see my sister at the next family function to tell her all about my  start to an amazing school year!

Quotation source: http://ottmag.com/most-famous-leadership-quotes/

 

Critical Thinking and Tech Tools: Let students choose

The other day my 13-year old daughter took a picture of a sunset and told me that she uploaded it to VSCO.  Are you thinking what i’m thinking? What is the heck is that?

I had never heard of the app, but a whole bunch of her friends are posting and sharing on it. VSCO has sharing and creating capability so would be considered a social media tool and its age is listed as 13+.  Unlike Instagram, it  doesn’t allow for comments, but you can follow people and add their photos to your own collections.  Most of the posts are ideal for people who are interested in art & photography as the editing and filtering is far superior to Instagram.  

Our ensuing conversation was enlightening (and much longer than the monosyllabic responses I’ve been getting lately–if you are parenting a teen, you know what I’m talking about!!). I asked her whether or not she used her real name or a username, whether or not she still had rights to her photos. The first question she had a ready answer for, the second she hadn’t considered so we looked at the Terms of Service together.  I also showed her the Creative Commons logos and we explored the idea of creating a watermark signature that she could put on her photos.  

If I hadn’t taken the time to talk to her about this app I’d never heard of, I would have wasted such an incredible learning opportunity for both of us!   And I wouldn’t have learned about a new tool that my daughter (and possibly other students) are using or interested in.

Here’s a link to more information about VSCO or ask a kid to show you!

Classroom Application

Being a typical teacher, I couldn’t help but think about how, why, or if I would ever use this in the classroom.  But more than that, I am thinking about how this conversation with my daughter speaks to the fact that we need to give our students opportunities to share their knowledge and participate in the learning process, especially when it comes to the technology tools they choose.

One of the barriers that teachers with whom I’ve worked face when it comes technology-enabled learning in the classroom is the fact that there are too many tools from which to choose which may or may not contribute to deep learning.  With over a million apps available, teachers sometimes find it overwhelming to integrate technology and thus abandon it altogether!  When they do integrate technology or social media, many teachers  find it best to use the one tool they know best.  I’ve done this as well; when I work with teachers, we always talk about what tool might be the best to serve a certain pedagogical purpose or curriculum expectation and sometimes I have showcased one over others; either because of time or ease.  And then WE make the choice at our professional development session which then gets brought back to the classroom.  Instead, why not engage in the same process with kids?

At the end of it all, when we focus on the learning goals, the tool we choose shouldn’t actually matter.  This thoughtful post by George Couros based on Ross Cooper’s musings brings home this point as well. 

Differentiation and Personalization

Sometimes in our zeal to incorporate interesting tools or social media in our classes for the purposes of student engagement, we revert back to a one-size fits all approach. For example, everyone needs to upload an image or images that reflect the theme in a story we explored together to Twitter OR Instagram OR Snapchat .   Some kids who don’t have that specific account have to create one for the purpose of the assignment.  And while I’m not saying this is a bad thing, as I strongly believe that integrating social media in the context of the classroom is a very effective way to help kids navigate online spaces,  I also wonder if we are making these decisions based on what choice is best for the teacher or the learner.  Yes, it’s more complicated to assess work when kids post to a variety of platforms, but then again when we talk in terms of differentiation, should everyone be handing in identical things–doesn’t this same thinking apply whether it is a pen/paper or electronic format?   

The example with my daughter reminded me of the fact that when kids are asked to make their own choices, they are also more engaged and practicing critical thinking; a skill our students very much need today according to a study from the World Economic Forum.   The reality is that some students might still require support and so a Choice board or a teacher-recommended platform is a really great place to start, but increasingly, students should be making their own choices based on tools with which they are familiar.  This will not only honour what they know, but may also help others who may be looking for ideas.  The most important benefit is that, when conferencing with students about their choices,  we can bring in important questions about the tools they’ve chosen. help them to determine whether or not they are using the tool in the most ethical and responsible way and whether or not they have made the right choice.

Not ready for that?  Simply share the learning goal(s) with kids (the what and why) and have them come up with one (or two) choices which may be most effective and then alternate over the course of the year.  You can even have the class use Dotstorming to include everyone’s voice in the decision-making.

Donna Fry asks similar questions about student choice in her post, Are All Kids Able to Choose.

What about Assessment?

This is a question I am often asked.  How can I assess a product if everyone is using something different?  The teacher needs to know the why and the what (Curriculum Expectations), but how kids get there, can be flexible.  Assessment should not (at least in Ontario) be based on anything other than an assessment of how students have met the standard.  Have we ever traditionally evaluated students’ ability to glue picture onto a bristol board or their colouring abilities for a graph or poster?   A conversation about font choices, focal point, etc…provides excellent teacher or peer feedback especially if it takes away from the students’ ability to demonstrate their knowledge effectively, but unless the standard or curriculum expectation you are evaluating involves the creation of a media product, that should not count towards a mark.  When I see “demonstrates an understanding of” as a Curriculum expectation, this is where the tool they use to demonstrate it doesn’t matter–a critical understanding of the concept does.  As a result, as long as the teacher is comfortable accepting numerous different iterations on different platforms, this could be an excellent way to tap into the strengths and interests of students.

 RAFT + T: A modern update

In the classroom, I often used the RAFT template (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) to help students plan effectively for their writing I’m not quite sure where this originated.  In light of my conversations with my daughter and my extended thinking around this topic, I think that it’s time for an update. Firstly, where we traditionally talk about the audience as static, social media allows for kids to actually connect with the audience for whom they are writing–so I’ve asked kids to consider how they might share with their audience.  Secondly, there should an additional T added for Technology tool. The choice students make is integral to the way they can best demonstrate their understanding.  Thirdly, I’ve also added a reflection section as we can’t ignore the research around metacognition; it is necessary for students to reflect on their choices at the end to determine whether or not they made the best choices.

RAFTT (4)

Copy of template  (Google docs) for student use.  Copy of image here.

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Would this graphic organizer be useful to you?  What would you change?

 

Digital Citizenship, Learning, and Student Voice

“Just as schools have played a role in preparing students to be citizens in the traditional sense, educators must now ensure that our children are ready to be active and responsible participants in our increasingly digital society”

(Couros & Katia, 2015, pg 6).

There isn’t a single educator who would argue with the fact that we need to teach kids how to navigate online spaces safely and critically.  What I have noticed however is that there is an extremely huge variance in what educators think this should look like.  In my research this week I am overwhelmed by the number of different definitions of digital citizenship as well as the different components.  If you google, “digital citizenship defined,” there are 506,000 results.  It seems like every District and every organization is trying to come up with their own unique framework.  This makes sense to me on some level as every school District, every school even has its own culture.

But are we creating these frameworks on a grand scale which then become stagnant?  Are they simply units that need to be “covered” and checked off?  Even in my own practice, I curated this resource in 2011 which I now look at and would (and will when I have time) completely revamp because my own stance and the kind of choices I would make today are radically different.  Is it a decent resource that teachers, especially those who are not comfortable utilizing in online spaces would find supportive? Absolutely.  But, I know that personally I would need the resources I use to match the group of students I had in front of me and the learning context in my class.

To me, it is an absolute necessity, to teach kids how to navigate online spaces in creative, critical healthy and ethical ways (my own definition of digital citizenship) positively, in context rather than isolation.

This is supported by research about situated cognition (Brown, Collins, Duguid, 1989) around reading, writing, and mathematics, which has stood the test of time and which I believe is completely relevant to this conversation.  Consider these quotations about student learning:

  • learning methods that are embedded in authentic situations are not merely useful; they are essential and knowledge must be applied in context in order to be used and made explicit (Brown et al, 1989).
  • Research around using vocabulary words from a dictionary to teach reading show learning to be ineffective because “learning from dictionaries, like any method that tries to teach abstract concepts independently of authentic situations, overlooks the way understanding is developed through continued, situated use. (Brown et al., page 33).  
  • People who use tools actively rather than just acquire them, appear to build an increasingly rich implicit understanding of the world in which they use the tools and of the tools themselves. (Brown et all, 1989, pg 33).
  • given the chance to observe and practice in situ the behavior of members of a culture, people pick up relevant jargon, imitate behavior, and gradually start to act in accordance with its norms  and that despite the fact that cultural practices are often extremely complex, students, when given the opportunity to observe and practice them, students adopt them with great success.  (Brown et al., 1989, page 34)

And now apply this analogy to using technology tools and social media in context.  It makes complete sense!

Any yet…

We continue to treat Digital Citizenship as discrete units in school.  

We rarely explore social media within the context of the classroom in order to support the nuanced understanding of etiquette, usage, etc…that can only come with using tools in authentic and meaningful ways.

We also tend to block sites that may be problematic which makes a guided and contextual approach to digital citizenship problematic at best or worse yet, becomes about teaching kids how to circumvent firewalls.  This passage from Participatory Cultures in a Networked World reinforces my own feelings about this:

“[B]locking sites perpetuates risk as it ensures that many kids will be forced to confront online risks on their own. Many young people lack opportunities to learn how to use new media tools effectively and appropriately. Not just that, but a reliance on blocking sends the message that sites and tools important to students have little to nothing to contribute to intellectual pursuits. (Jenkins, Ito, boyd, 2016, pg 16)

As much as the thought of encountering an inappropriate image in front of an entire class instils dread in me, I know that at least a safe classroom environment is less problematic that that child encountering that image on their own device…a fact we definitely need to address with parents!

Can kids learn about self-regulation and what a healthy balance of online and offline looks like if we ask students to leave electronic devices in their lockers?

Do kids really understand what appropriate commenting looks like without extending and practicing this skill with explicit instruction and practice with an authentic audience?

Can kids really understand intellectual property if we don’t have them explore Creative Commons licencing for their own creations which they post for a widespread audience?

If we only focus on the fear narrative, will students recognize the positive potential of connecting online?

It is true that many teachers don’t feel comfortable enough to be the “expert” when it comes to modelling the use of social media, but teachers know their curriculum well and most importantly know how to pose the right questions, which is arguably a more important skill than answering questions anyway.

Teaching kids about the online world needs to be an organic and contextual process guided by an adult who can ask the right questions.

Student Voice and Digital Citizenship

Students need to part of the Digital Citizenship conversation.  In as much as we talk about student voice, I often find it missing when it comes to practice.  Whatever table I am sitting at, I always invite students to it to give their thoughts and opinions.  Check out how students contributed to the solution during our Yik Yak episode here.

That’s why I am so excited about  @Digcitkids,  Digital Citizenship for kids by kids. It is created by  a 4th grader  with the help of his mom Marialice  who is as passionate about bringing student voice and student digital leadership into our schools as I am.

Be sure to watch the Digcitkids website (which literally just went live in time for this post!!) as it develops and grows. The idea around Digcitkids is to provide an opportunity to amplify student voice and to promote students as digital leaders  k-12. The student and/or classroom ambassador program provides an opportunity for students from around the world to get involved in creating and sharing content and will allow students to participate in monthly challenges.

Curran wanted to start digcitkids as a way to address the conversation about digital access & connected learning opportunities for all students.  Plus, after his Ted talk he didn’t understand why he was the only elementary aged student talking about the topic and still doesn’t understand why educators wait until students are in high school to highlight student voice.   More about Curran and his quest here.

He presented the idea during Edcamp Global on July 30 at 7 am.

Other resources for teachers and leaders

Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools

Created by Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt in collaboration with a larger working group, this is perhaps my favourite resource.  It aligns with my thinking about situating learning of using social media in context and is a comprehensive, thoughtful and thorough approach. It is framed around Mike Ribble’s 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship  I also really appreciate the guides found within the document.

OSAPAC

The OSAPAC Digital Citizenship resource is an excellent and comprehensive resource created for Ontario teachers and leaders but which is useful to any educator.  Our District used it as one of the key resources for its Digital Discipleship framework.  The resource is grounded in research and has practical and positive lesson plans.  It is divided up into both elementary and secondary around the following themes:

osapac

Common Sense Media

Common Sense media offers a continuum of skills offered by topic beginning from kindergarten to grade 12. Lessons are available as PDF downloads, as well as Nearpod lessons, and iBooks (for purchase) for an agnostic experience for students. They are organized in the following way:

Common Sense Media

MediaSmarts

Media Smarts is a Canadian resource for digital and media literacy and is grounded on ongoing national research on Canadian children and teens and their experiences with networked technologies.  The resources are relevant to any educator.  They use the following framework:

Media Smarts 1

iKeepSafe

IKeepSafe is a non-profit organization which adopts a global citizen approach. ” It contends that modern technologies like telephones, television, and most of all, the Internet, allow for a global society where individuals can access information from around the world—in real time—despite being thousands of miles from the source of the content (Searson et al, 2015).  This is how they organize their topics.

iKeepSafe Digital Citizenship

ISTE Standards for Students

In the newly revised standards put out by the International Society. It is useful as a point of reference for educators.

Digital Citizenship ISTE

References

Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, S. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.

Couros, A., & Hildebrandt, K. (2015). Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools. Retrieved from http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/11/83322-DC%20Guide%20-%20ENGLISH%202.pdf

Jenkins, H., Itō, M., & boyd, d. (2015). Participatory culture in a networked era: A conversation on youth, learning, commerce, and politics. Wiley.

Searson, M., Hancock, M., Soheil, N., & Shepherd, G. (2015). Digital citizenship within global contexts. Education and Information Technologies, 20(4), 729-741. doi:10.1007/s10639-015-9426-0

Social media as Literacy

I remember George Couros when he came to our District, asking the question, “If you don’t know what a hashtag is are you considered illiterate today?”

I thought about that as I read a recent article by CEO of Hootsuite, Social media skills millenials lack.  Ryan Holmes states that using social media effectively is “the most important digital skill for tomorrow’s CEOs”  He refers to a “social media gap” which is further supported by Professor William Ward, professor of social media at Syracuse University, who states “Students using digital and social media professionally in an integrated and strategic way have an advantage. [They’re] getting better jobs and better internships …”  

The fact is, students are good at connecting with people they already know, but don’t understand how to network professionally.  I would add they don’t often know how it works for learning either.

That is a compelling reason to incorporate social media in the context of the classroom and yet there is a real reluctance to do this by many Districts.

What are the barriers to this?

Firstly, there is a gap in curricular guidance and support but also especially since the practices are rapidly evolving. Some teachers feel they can’t keep up. Secondly, and probably most prevalently is the fact that “these dynamic multi-modal and mobile practices are at odds with the tightly framed definitions of literacy that dominate many educational contexts” (Burnett, & Merchant, 2015, 272).   I have been expanding my thinking around how we define literacy for some time now.

Rather than engaging in the opportunity to engage with a variety of media to help students understand the forms and techniques, we often focus on traditional reading and writing tasks which in no means is bad, but does not offer students some of the skills they will need in the workplace.

Doug Belshaw, in The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies says, “When it comes to developing digital literacies, therefore, negotiating online social networks becomes important on many levels. At the most basic procedural level there is the understanding that, for example, Twitter allows only 140 characters whereas other social networks do not tend to limit text input. More conceptual is an understanding of hashtags as ‘channels’ of communication and how these can be appropriated and re-appropriated by groups and loose networks of individuals.”

One research study suggests that we not only expand the kinds of texts that students produce, but that we provide “contexts in which students can draw in open-ended ways across this developing repertoire [of literacy strategies] to combine and remix varied textual and linguistic practices within contexts that matter to them. (Burnett, Merchant, 2015, pg 271).  

Rheingold, a social media scholar and instructor at the University of California Berkley and Stanford, discusses five “social media literacies”.

(1) attention: the ability to identify when focused attention is required and to recognize when multitasking is beneficial;

(2) participation: more than consumers, participants actively participate-knowing when and how to participate is important;

(3) collaboration: participants can achieve more by working together than they can working alone;

(4) network awareness: an understanding of social and technical networks;

(5) critical consumption: identifying trustworthiness of the author or text (Rheingold, 2010).

Rheingold believes that all of these are interconnected and that they all contribute to a “way of being” and when I consider these, I see so much overlap with traditional information and media literacy.  And yet, with all of the curriculum expectations required I can see why teachers might feel like this is an add-on.

 

Which other factors might be holding us back from doing using social media in the classroom?  Doug Belshaw (2014) suggests that we are continuing to evaluate and consider literacy from an analogue perspective, without the recognition that digital technology has created completely different environments for learners.

A few wonderings:

  • What are some of the ways Districts can support teachers to explore the use of social media in the classroom with students in meaningful, authentic, and guided ways?
  • What support(s) do we need to model and explore social media literacies together in the context of an English, History, or Geography class? Are those at a school level?  a District level?  a Ministry level?
  • How can we show kids that social media can be used beyond  just connecting with friends, but for learning and sharing their learning?
  • To what extent are we limiting our definitions of literacy based on our own past experiences?  How might we expand these?
  •  What are your own experiences with social media in the classroom?
Social media as literacy

Just for fun, check out this fun video of a mom trying to figure out hashtags:

References:

Belshaw, Doug  (2015) The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. http://dougbelshaw.com/ebooks/digilit/

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship.Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210-230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393

Burnett, C., & Merchant, G. (2015). The challenge of 21st‐Century literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy,59(3), 271-274. doi:10.1002/jaal.482

Holmes, Ryan. “5 Social Media Skills Millennials Lack.” Fortune. N.p., 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 July 2016.

Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention, and other 21st-century social media literacies. Educause Review, 45(5), 14-24. Retrieved June 12, 2016, from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2010/10/attention-and-other-21stcentury-social-media-literacies

 

 

 

Curation Tools, Social Media, and Student Digital Leadership

“The sheer volume of digital information that is available makes it increasingly challenging to find the information you are interested in.  Curation in a digital world isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

–Stephen Dale

As I embark on a new self-directed course called, Social Media in Education at the University of Ontario, Institute for Technology (UOIT), I am set with the task of finding a curation tool to keep track of the various resources I accumulate over the next couple of months.  Because of the content of the course, I am thinking that the curation tool I select, should be public and shareable.

What is curation?

I really like Sylvia Tolisano’s definition of curation:

“…the ability to find, to filter, to evaluate, to annotate, to choose which sources are valuable.” (Valenza, et al. 2014)

Stephen Daly, in his article, Content Curation: The Future of Relevance, reminds us that when we think of curation we think of a museum curator who keeps abreast of trends, listens to what guests are discussing and finds resources that resonate well with those areas.  He states that you no longer need to have studied curation : “social media sharing has enabled anyone to share anything with the world.”  (Daly. 2014, pg 1)

Content Curation Tools

The following are a few content curation tools which I either like or want to explore and what I know about them so far:

Storify (13+) allows me to draw content from a Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Google Plus feed or from Google in order to create a digital story with annotations.  It’s also very intuitive; I use it regularly to consolidate learning like here and to summarize events.

Diigo allows me to individually or collaboratively bookmark and annotate links, pages, notes, and media.  I have been able to add tags to make my bookmarks searchable as well as add highlight, sticky notes, or screenshots to my libraries (Valenza, pg 63).   The Chrome extension is extremely useful.  I don’t believe there is an age restriction, but you need to sign up with an email.

Flipboard (13+) also has a handy Google Chrome extension and is a place to not just read content, but curate it as well.  I tried this tool out for one of my previous courses and like that I can add a comment or idea to the articles, videos, or photos that I “flip” and that I can also categorize magazines and share them.

Pinterest  My 16 year old uses Pintrest all the time for decorating and recipe ideas and I follow the Edumatch board, but that’s about it.  I’d like to explore how Pintrest might be used in a school or classroom setting especially because of its incredible visual quality; I know some teachers are already having their students create boards for a variety of subjects.

I have been using Google Plus Communities (13 +) more and more lately to share information, links, videos, or project ideas with various groups of people.  I think this platform has great potential as a curation platform.  I am interested in exploring this tool more in this context.

Bundlr is a tool that I learned about through Joyce Valenza, in Curation Platforms.  The tool allows you to create relevant “bundles” using articles, images, videos, tweets, and links and share them.  Out of all these tools it is the one tool I know absolutely nothing about but would like to challenge myself to explore.

I have also personally used Evernote and Symbaloo, to curate and organize articles, websites, images, and blogposts based on themes and ideas.  This blog  (any blog by virtue of tags) serves as a curation tool for my own learning as well.  Many of my friends (especially my Edumatch Voxer PLN),  also use Blendspace, Livebinders, Educlippers, and Scoop-it,.  Like anything when it comes to technology, there are literally a hundred apps and tools that might serve a similar purpose.  Check out this list.

So how many of these tools are currently being used by or taught to students?

The current practice in many schools when it comes to curating information involves citing or annotating resources for one specific unit or project at a time, usually in the form of research notes, a bibliography or annotated bibliography which is submitted it to the teacher and sometimes even graded.  This is good.

And so I asked the Twitterverse via a poll:

Curation Poll

Only about 35 out of 97 people who responded teach students to use online curation tools. This is by no means reliable data–people may have said no because they teach kindergarten or don’t meet the age restrictions or don’t have access to technology.  The results are interesting nonetheless.  As educators we are constantly seeking ways to be more efficient and productive with finding and organizing information, but this hasn’t quite translated to classroom practice. Don’t our students need these same skills?  I think we need to do better than this in 2016, especially when content curation utilizes so many different forms of literacy. Here is a graphic outlining Content Curation Competencies which I modified from Stephen Dale, and to which I applied three sample tools (Pintrest, Flipboard, and Storify).

Content Curation Competencies

Curation and Student Digital Leadership

In the meantime, I randomly Googled myself (a practice I regularly encourage students and teachers to do) and saw that my Symbaloo account came up. This made me think about Student Digital Leadership.

Why? I wonder about the current practice of showing students how to curate information specifically for a class or a teacher, which then never goes anywhere, when we could be teaching students curation tools that can actually contribute to their online presence and allow them to both learn and share their learning in a guided and scaffolded way.  Better?

What if we modelled what content curation looked like in the early years by having a collaborative online curation space, and then helping our kids select and create content for that online space?  This would work especially well in inquiry-rich classrooms where research is happening based on student interests.  Here is a link to a class-created Flipboards by Lisa Noble’s class.

What if students in older grades were able to make decisions about where to curate their work and that part of that decision included a social networking opportunity which allowed them to share their learning as well as actively learning from the curated resources of other students?

And what if we asked students in grade 12 to reflect on their curated resources from grade 9 and the extent to which they feel they have grown as learners and as information gatherers and seekers?

Ideally, you would compare and contrast the tool’s features, check the terms of service to ensure it doesn’t sell your private information and that you are using the tool with the age suggested.  Even better, why not decide as a class what features you deem important and have your students investigate a few of them and decide on which tool(s) they’d like to use for the year?

 

An emphasis on curation will not only help students to track the plethora of information on the web, and provide them with essential literacy skills but an organizational tool they can readily use if they choose to go to post-secondary.  It also serves to provide students with an opportunity to learn and share their learning and thus foster Digital Leadership skills.

References

Dale, S. (2014). Content curation: The future of relevance.Business Information Review, 31(4), 199-205. doi:10.1177/0266382114564267

Valenza, J. K., Boyer, B. L., & Curtis, D. (2014). Curation outside the library world. Library Technology Reports, 50(7), 51.

Valenza, J. K., Boyer, B. L., & Curtis, D. (2014). Curation platforms. Library Technology Reports, 50(7), 60.

 

Success is your personal best: What does that look like in school?

Are you like me?  It seems that no matter what I’m doing, I always seem to connect things back to education.  I guess I know that teaching and learning is a vocation for me, not just a job.

So I was in Spin class this morning and couldn’t stop thinking about this class as an analogy for learning.  First of all, I only started spinning about 8 months ago because a friend of mine who was a Spin Instructor told me it was awesome; I had written it off previously as something I didn’t enjoy or couldn’t master.  In the spirit of trying things outside of my comfort zone, I picked it up again and now it’s my absolute favourite class.

But I digress.

There are lots of different instructors who each have their own strengths and styles and who motivate us in different ways.  Kelly, the owner of the gym, encourages us to modify the speed & resistance to suit our own needs; actually all of the instructors say that.  She tells us that success and failure is just a state of mind in this class and that the goal is to do our personal best.  I LOVE this!  It gives me the freedom to not compare myself to the person spinning beside me (though admittedly I always sneak a peak to see what others beside me are doing).  Each week I push myself to go a little farther & to increase my resistance so I am working harder.  When I leave the gym, it is with a sense of elation and accomplishment: success!

This morning, another instructor told us the same thing–modify according to where you are at.  But then, she walked around and checked everyone’s speed.  I guess this was meant to encourage us to go faster & push harder, but what it did to me, was make me cover my speedometer with my towel and pray she wouldn’t say anything to me  or check my progress.

And if you haven’t already made the connection, I am thinking about what this looks like for..

  • teachers leading learning in classrooms,
  • administrators leading learning in a school, and
  • people like me who are leading professional learning at the District level.

It made me think about  John Hattie’s idea of a year’s worth of growth and my evolving understanding of what that means, and what George Couros says in The Innovator’s Mindset about helping people move from their Point A to their Point B.

Are we measuring one learner’s performance against another or are we helping learners to recognize their strengths ?

Are we allowing adequate time or opportunity for them to reflect on where they need to go with our guidance, descriptive feedback, and encouragement?

Are we saying one thing but then our actions indicate differently?

Are we celebrating what success looks like in incremental steps,  or do we hold an unattainable standard that some learners may never even try to reach for because it seems too impossible to do so?

How do we help learners to know what their “personal best” looks like and help them become accountable to themselves when they don’t get there?

Does this look the same whether we are talking about young learners in a classroom or adult learners engaging in professional development?

I will never go as far or as fast as the gal who spins beside me on Saturday mornings.  We have different body types and fitness levels.  I’m ok with that. But I can tell you that compared to 8 months ago, I am rockin’ it!

Success =YOUR personal bestnot someone else's

 

New Year’s Resolutions

I was challenged by my #edumatch friend, Margaret Sisler to write a reflective post for New Year’s and thought, wow, no pressure!  Then I came across this wonderful sketchnote by Sylvia Duckworth and figured this would be a great way to organize my thoughts.

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 2.58.52 PM

2 Things I do well and will continue to do

2015 has been a great year for me in my professional learning journey.  I have connected with so many educators and have developed a very strong professional learning network (PLN), with many educators around the world; many of whom I have never met face to face.  I will continue to look for ways to foster connections with other like-minded and passionate educators in 2016.

I will also continue to practice leadership qualities that I think are important: empathy, humility, passion, servitude, co-learning, as well as continue to challenge established norms and not accept, “because we’ve always done that” as a reason to not change or innovate.  I don’t know that I do all of this well now necessarily, but I will certainly strive to continue to try and develop these skills in 2016.

Something I want to STOP doing

Feeling guilty!  I am a good Catholic that way!  I often feel like I’m not doing enough or that I need to be or act a certain way in order to fulfill everyone’s needs.  I need to be able to say “no” sometimes and not feel badly.  I need to accept my imperfections and not feel the need to do things because I feel I should.

1 Person you want to improve your relationship with

Myself. I saw this poster and loved it:

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 3.20.14 PM

If I take care of myself, then relationships with my family and friends, who mean the world to me, will definitely follow suit.

6 Things I will do this year to step out of my comfort zone

  1. I will take courses that challenge me
  2. I will apply for opportunities and put myself out there even if I don’t think I’ll be accepted
  3. I will try on a new professional role
  4. I will practice silence: listen more and talk less
  5. I will try 1 new thing a week (and if it happens to be once a month, I won’t feel guilty about that).
  6. I will engage in more conversations with strangers

Tag.

You’re it!  

Why not write a reflective post for 2015 or a New Year’s Resolution post?  Would love to read it!

 

Professional learning that works

There is no paucity of articles bemoaning the state of professional learning and providing suggestions as to what to do about this.  I have been collecting articles about this since I began the draft version of this post back in August.

Doug Peterson’s post, “Thinking about Professional Learning”,  based on Tom Whitby’s post, “Poor Teachers, Who is to Blame”.

Katie Martin’s post, Re-envisioning how teachers learn  and two posts by EdSurge about personalized learning for PD.  Part 1 and Part 2

Mark E. Weston’s post, Flip the Switch for Professional Learning and Professional Development vs Professional Learning by George Couros.

These are all great reads about the need to personalize learning for teachers.  My reflection here provides insight into the models which I have had the privilege to lead and that I believe have been very effective for us in our District.

One of the key components in all of these is that professional learning opportunities I have led are voluntary in that teachers choose to participate.  

The Collaborative Inquiry Model

Many Districts in Ontario have been employing this method of professional development for several years now.  The point of a Collaborative Inquiry (CI) is not to come to a session where a District leader gives you a mass of strategies to go and try and then you are on your own.  It is a learning process which involves trial and error, co-learning, co-assessing, and reflecting.  It is iterative and requires a sustained commitment to meeting regularly.  At the end of the inquiry, there are no golden answers, but a better understanding of how to approach a student need.

The basic components of this model of professional learning include:

  • developing an inquiry focus to address a student need based on data (including standardized test scores, student work, and observations/anectdotal information)
  • unpacking assumptions (both teacher and student)
  • experiencing strategies and protocols rather than just presenting them and thinking about what these look like in the context of the student need
  • determining and/or developing resources needed
  • selecting two or three students to observe closely over the course of the CI
  • co-planning, co-teaching, co-debriefing
  • observation of student learning in the classroom
  • reflection and refocus based on student learning and feedback

For example, a Collaborative Inquiry I ran last year asked the question, “If we give students greater opportunities to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning will they become more self-directed learners?”  The question came from a desire for English teachers in my District to address the “Reflecting on Skills” strand in their Curriculum expectations.

And though our journey began with this very broad and lofty question, when we reflected on student work and listened to student feedback we realized we needed to reassess our direction and focus on something more specific: we decided on metacognitive strategies with reading as we noticed this to be the more student urgent need.  In the end, the students involved in the inquiry did see a value in metacognitive reflection before, during, & after reading, and became better at planning, monitoring, evaluating their own learning.  The teachers with whom I worked felt they had more strategies to address metacognition, and we all came to a better understanding of what metacognition looked like in a high school English classroom.

Learning Series

The Learning Series model is a solution to the  one-off PD session which we all know does not work, but is less intensive than the Collaborative Inquiry model (which is fairly time intensive as it requires co-planning, co-teaching, and co-debriefing and ideally works better with a smaller group of teachers).  A Learning Series model allows for teachers to come together to address a specific student learning need and meet regularly to address it.

This model includes the following elements:

  • establishing Norms for working and learning together to create a risk-free environment
  • community building activities and opportunities for sharing and asking questions
  • selecting two students of “interest” to pay particular attention to as we move through the learning series
  • experiencing a variety of strategies and protocols and brainstorming ideas for how to best incorporate these into the classroom
  • trying it out–teachers go back and try the lesson, idea, or strategy/protocol in their class; co-teaching is voluntary
  • collaborative assessment of student learning and conversations about next steps
  • hands-on integration of technology in the context of the student learning need
  • regular assessment of whether or not the series is meeting the needs of learners a re-focus as necessary
  • participants (the same group) meets about five times over the course of the school year
  • culminates in sharing and celebrating

My Learning Series this year is focused on Reading in the 21st Century. This particular series is also concerned with meeting the needs of students with learning disabilities, so we went through similulations in order to better understand what accommodations need to look like to support those students. Though I do provide the framework for the sessions, these are guidelines only and the sessions themselves are participatory and hands on.  If we need to spend more time on one idea, rather than move onto another, then that is what we do.  The time spent in community building means that teachers feel comfortable challenging one another (and me), and asking questions.

Inquiry Carousels

Last Spring, our elementary Curriculum team (led by Sonia Racco, Annette D’Addese, Yvette Sztorc, and Simone Kennedy) created a professional learning opportunity in the form of Inquiry Carousels as the culmination of some of the Collaborative Inquiries they ran.  What did this look like?  Essentially teachers who were involved in the CI’s, set up stations and shared their learning journeys including artefacts of student work. Participants (Teachers K-12) were invited to visit each station for sharing and asking questions.   It was a great consolidation and sharing opportunity for teachers who had engaged in the Collaborative Inquiry throughout the year, and an engaging experience for people who had never been a part of a CI, but who were interested in learning more about Inquiry-based learning in their classrooms. Most people left saying it was one of the best sessions they had attended.  It was organic, fluid, and very learner-centered.

Student Learning Proposals

Our District allots a budget for teachers who are interested in pursuing their own professional learning needs to submit a proposal for teacher-release time.  In this model, a Curriculum consultant or program resource teacher’s support may be requested if needed.  Primarily the learning happens at the school level and is driven by a community of learners interested in pursuing a common problem of practice.

When one-offs are inevitable

A few weeks ago, my colleague Gina Micomonaco and I had to run a session on Assessment for our NTIP (new teacher) program: A one-off and NOT voluntary like the other opportunities listed here. With only 2 hours and an after lunch time slot, the easiest thing to do would have been to engage in the presentation model with occasional opportunities to “turn and talk” with a partner.  We opted for a more constructivist approach.  We gave each group a different artefact (student work, an assessment tool, etc…), a copy of Growing Success (our Assesment and Evaluation guidelines for Ontario), and guiding questions about Assessement FOR, AS, and OF learning.  The result?  Almost the entire session was spent discussing the nuances of assessement in small groups in ways we would never have been able to achieve by presenting information at the front of the room.  We strategically and intentionally modeled what learner-centered instruction could look like, even in a very content-driven context and though there were still questions at the end of it, their feedback indicated that they really had a better understanding of assessment by the end.

EdCamps and District-Level Conferences

Let’s face it, the average teacher is not afforded the luxury of attending a conference–it’s just too cost-prohibiitive.  So it is incumbent upon District leaders to provide opportunities to teachers to attend an EdCamp and/or an in-house conference, free of charge which is modelled after some of the bigger conference experiences.  Teachers can choose sessions that will help them to learn and grow and are provided with the opportunity to network and share beyond the walls of their own classrooms and schools.  Best of all, our sessions are facilitated by our own teacher leaders which ultimately buids the capacity of our own talented teachers.

Elements of this model that have worked for us:

  • Lead learners from throughout the District facilitate sessions based on successful classroom practices.
  • Ignite sessions (by both teachers and students) which provide just the right amount of ideas and motivation.
  • Lots of opportunities for hands-on sessions where participants are doing rather than listening, blended with opportunities to pose questions and have discussions about topics that are important to them.
  • Providing food and prizes and not charging our teachers to attend
  • providing a back-channel for feedback and questions

Is all of the Professional Learning offered by our District this personalized?  Of course not.  But these are some concrete examples of professional learning opportunities that have worked and that we continue to model as we move towards more learner-centered and participant driven approaches.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 4.46.03 PM

This post by Dean Shareski, Professional learning is messy is an interesting read on the topic and suggests that job-embedded practices are top-down, which they can be.  It’s worth a read.

What are some of the examples of professional learning models that have really worked for you in your District?  What has the best learning looked like for you? Please share!