Saturday, March 29, 2014

I've Been Thinking...

A recent edSurge article I was a part of with Erin Klein on Class Dojo, followed by some twitter conversation this morning has encouraged me to finally publish some of the posts I've held locked up in draft on my blog.  Here's one of them.

For the past few months  I haven't shared too much of my personal thinking.   It's what happens when I'm struggling with things and I'm just not sure how to put them into words.  I'm not sure I can now either but I need to share some of my thinking.

To no surprise, I read a fair number of tweets, blogs, and on-line articles.  I thrive on soaking up knowledge, thinking about it, making it my own, and then doing something with what I'm learning.  I don't always agree with what I'm reading and unfortunately this school year I often remain quiet because  I just don't have the strength to speak up.  I read, think about it, and allow it to push my thinking.

Right now so many things are swirling around in my head.  I'm drawn into many topics searching for the best ways I can help my students move forward in their learning journey. Over the winter break, while struggling with trying to write a blog post I tweeted out a few of my thoughts.

As an educator for most of my career I have felt that it was most important to let my students be exactly who they are. I certainly believe that now more than ever.  I understand that each child in my class learns in a different way and instead of trying to make them learn my way, I listen and watch more and try to find ways to help them learn in their way.  I've always learned differently than those around me.  As a result my room doesn't look like a traditional classroom but it doesn't mean that "traditional" concepts and skills aren't taught. They are just taught differently than how many of us were taught.

I very clearly remember math coming easily for me. In grade six my teacher had math worksheets we could do if we finished early.  I completed many of them quickly and  received the "Math Whiz" award pin.  Once you won the pin for the month you were given a handicap for the following month. I had to complete  at least 15 more worksheets than the next person in order to win another "Math Whiz" pin. To no surprise  I earned a second pin the following month.  But after that I started to figure out what a waste of my time these worksheets were.  The pin had little value to me.  I knew the content and gained nothing other than a pin for completing the tasks. I didn't need a pin to let me know I knew the math well.  I knew I knew the math well.

So why do I share this story? When I went to school we were all expected to do the same thing at the same time. I can assure you as a classroom teacher  it is much easier to set one way of learning and expect others to learn in the exact same way.  It's much easier to manage a class this way too.  But is the one way only method best for the learners in our classrooms? NO!  Expecting every child to learn in the same way makes it close to impossible to personalize and go deeper with learning.

Unfortunately it still happens all the time in classrooms around North America.   I am doing my best not to have it happen in my classroom. It's one of the many reasons why I believe so strongly  in providing student choice with  learning.

However I am also in the midst of a challenging school year.  I love my students very much and I am doing what I can to best meet their needs.  For the majority of my students providing choice has been as successful as I could expect.  I am seeing unique ways to practice and share learning. I am seeing students engaged in what they are doing -whether it be on their bellies at the carpet, under a table in the corner of the classroom, working with a friend, or in a quiet spot on their own.   But I won't lie, I have a few that are still struggling with choice and their struggles are affecting many.

I am also having personal internal struggles with what will make my life easier and what will be best for my students.  I have read blog posts on motivation, mindset, self regulations, and authentic student learning.   Because of what I know and some of the chatter I hear from others I am constantly being pulled from what is best for my learners vs what is best for me as their teacher.  It would be very easy for me to be more strict with my students, laying down heavy rules which I have created and expect my students to follow.  I could tell them exactly how I want things done, and accept nothing but that to show learning.  In fact it would be really  easy for me to set up a behaviour chart and reward kids for complying to my rules.  But I don't want to be the controller of my students learning, I want them to be in control of their own learning.  Plus just because I can make my life easier by being more strict and controlling, doesn't mean it's best for my young learners.

 I am also having internal struggles with doing what's best for most students vs what's best for just a few.  I don't want to run my room where I am the boss telling everyone what to do, yet I know I have some students that still require a lot more guided practice to be successful with their independent learning. I don't want to take choice away from those that can handle it for those that can't.  I also know there is a decent balance some where out there and there are many times when I've found it.  They are also times where I have not.

So each day I return to my classroom hoping it will be better than the previous.  I am constantly looking for ways for each learner in my classroom to be successful.  For many it's providing choices in how to learn, show, and share their knowledge.  For others it's a far more structured approach with a lot  more social skills being taught.  But ultimately what I am doing in my classroom has very little to do with me, and making my job easier, and a whole lot more about what's best for my students.  It's been a very challenging year, but it's a year that I won't give up on.  When I keep my students' needs at the forefront things can only continue to improve, right?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Back Channeling in the Primary Grades

If you've attended a professional development session in the past year or two you'll notice that more and more presenters and participants are utilizing a back channel to share learning.  A back channel is a space to share real time learning.  Often it's a conference or session hashtag on twitter, or a shared Google Drive document, or a room in Today's Meet, or the comments section in a Google Hang Out.  Back channels happen in real time and highlight key learning  shared by the speaker or presenter.  For those that are able to be in the session, it's a great way to collect personal thinking and it's also a place to refer back to.  For those that are not able to be in the session it's a great way to learn from those that were in a session.  Back channeling has may positive benefits.

Like most new things I'm discovering on my learning journey, I try, when possible to make it something my young learners can do too.  To no surprise back channeling is one of those things.

Often when we watch a live webinar, or a video I encourage my students to take notes of the important information being shared.  My grade one students have back channeled in three different ways.  Let me explain how.

Using a White Board to Back Channel

Last year we watched a live Discovery Education Webinar on Amphibians.  While watching the webinar my students were asked to recognize and highlight the important facts being shared.  They wrote these important facts on their personal white boards.  Although they were developing writers (aren't we ALL?),  they were able to pull out a lot of important information, in their own words.  As my students were listening, watching, and writing I was able to see (in real time) what they were learning from the webinar.

 After the webinar my students and I reviewed what we felt were the important details of the webinar. Many of my students also blogged about what they learned on their individual blogs.  It was successful back channelling at the most basic level.   In fact a week later we shared what we learned with Mrs. Cassidy's class and my students had remembered many interesting and important facts.

Using Today's Meet to Back Channel

*Note it has recently come to my attention that you must be 13 years old to use Today's Meet. Obviously my students are not 13 so as fantastic as this is as a site for back channeling my students will no longer be using it.

Just before spring break we watched a Discovery Education video on salmon and we used Today's Meet as our tool for back channelling.  Today's Meet allows you to set up a "some what" private room to share thinking and ideas.  I say "some what" private because anyone who has the link can enter the room but as the creator of the room you can decide how you want to name your room.  You also decide who you want to share it with. In the case of our salmon back channelling I named the room Div19Salmon. I quickly created a QR code that helped my students access the room independently.  Before the movie began we added what we already thought we knew about salmon, and what we were curious to learn more about.  As the movie was on we added important facts and information that was being shared.

Once the movie was over we were able to review the information we had learned and shared.  As a class we took this a step further by creating a class book with our knowledge which we shared with the world. You can read more about the salmon learning and read our complete transcript here and you can find a link to the book we created here

Using Twitter to Back Channel

Over the past few years my students and I have used twitter as a tool for learning.  More specifically we have used twitter  for back channeling.  Just like adults who attend professional learning conferences, children can also create hashtags to share information.  Late last school year we took part in another Discovery Education live webinar about an aboriginal community in Canada.  As we watched the webinar my class and Mrs. Cassidy's class tweeted to the hashtag in real time to share our learning.  We used the back channel to ask questions, and to reflect on what we were watching.  The cool thing was that the hashtag was shared with all the classes watching the webinar and so many others were contributing to the hashtag just like in a "real" conference.  

So you see there are many different ways that young learners can back channel as they are learning too.  If you haven't already, I strongly encourage you to give it a try with your students.