Tuesday, September 24, 2013

New Blog

Thank you very much for visiting my blog! 
Please check out my more recent posts on my new blog Educating in the 21st Century. Thanks.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fueling Motivation with Purpose and Passion

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/5896504098/">Stuck in Customs</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

We all like to see students motivated and inspired to learn. We've all worked with students when they truly seem to be in the 'zone', craving to increasing their knowledge and skills. They are a pleasure to work with when they're taking initiative, asking great questions and diving deeper into their learning. Unfortunately, the reality is students aren't always in the 'zone' and we find ourselves asking what we need to do to motivate our students. Undoubtedly we play a significant role in student motivation, but the question is...what role? As adults, is it our responsibility to motivate and inspire our students? Or, is it our responsibility to help students develop their own motivation and inspiration?

On the surface, these may sound like subtle differences in language but when you think about this distinction a little more, you start to realize that they speak to different philosophies. The educator who believes it is his/her responsibility to motivate students often falls back on 'carrots and sticks' in an attempt to motivate. (S)he views motivation as something that is done to kids. Dangling the reward of marks and threatening to punish with late marks and zeros are two of the more common strategies. Both strategies focus on extrinsic motivators, where the teacher assumes the role of the motivator who initiates the process of motivating a student who is passively waiting to be motivated.  

And then there are others who believe in the power of intrinsic motivation and help their students fuel their own motivation.  They believe that enduring motivation comes from within oneself. These teachers lead students to explore answers to real-life questions, create solutions to authentic problems in the world and help students uncover areas of interest.  They want students to see purpose and develop passion towards their learning. They create the conditions where student learning is personalized, meaningful and seamlessly connected to their experiences outside of school. They want students to drive their learning, own their learning and be inspired to make a difference.

The interviews below feature students sharing their thoughts on learning opportunities fuelled by purpose and passion. The first student discusses how her desire to help others led her to voluntarily initiate a shoe drive through Soles 4 Soles.

These students describe how their participation in Composition and Technology has enabled them to further explore their passion for music.

One point that's made clear by these three students is that 'marks' and 'grades' are not contributing to their motivation. They are clearly inspired by purpose and motivated by passion!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

"You don't know what you don't know!" It's a funny saying yet very true. Think how often someone suggests something new to you that they've been doing for quite sometime but yet you've never heard of. We truly don't know all that is out there. Sometimes other people's suggestions sound interesting, other times not so much. But the better question is, despite whether or not you find a friend or colleague's suggestions interesting, how often do you pursue the idea? And what inspires you to follow up on an suggestion? Are you the type of person who is naturally open to new ideas or skeptical of why you should try something different?

I consider myself an open person who will always hear out others' ideas but when a colleague suggested to me that I sign up for a Twitter account, I admit some question marks flowed through my mind. Twitter? Isn't that for celebrities? What could I possibly find there that would benefit my practice as an educator? 

Now, I'm not trying to toot my own horn but I've always considered myself to be a pretty good educator. As a teacher, I took time to reflect on my students' learning. What do I want my students to learn? How will I know if they've learned it? What will I do if they haven't learned it?  I constantly searched for creative ways to scaffold my students' learning. I tried to present information more clearly, improve the clarity of my instructions, tidy up my handouts and worksheets and modify activities to better support my students' learning. And I've always taken pride in being a learner. I was doing 'some' professional reading and attended workshops and conferences when they were recommended to me by others. So considering I was already learning, why would it be so important to get 'connected'? Seriously, how much could I really have been missing?

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cobannon/2983755589/">cbucky</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>

Fast forward to October 2010 when I signed up for a Twitter account, and opened myself up to a whole new world of professional learning. All I can say is 'WOW'! Immediately, I became aware of other educators, both locally and globally who were connecting with each other to share, discuss, support and critique one another's work and thinking. I realized that there are people out there who are talking about and proposing new ideas for teaching and learning. Inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, Web 2.0, iPad apps, mobile devices, BYOD, assessment for learning, etc. The list of ideas is endless. More importantly, these ideas signalled to me that educators are talking about a new paradigm of teaching of learning.

Sadly, what dawned on me is that as hard as I had once worked as a teacher, I had restricted myself by my own educational paradigm. I had been stuck within a paradigm of 'coverage' and in hindsight I realize that all of the improvements I had made were incremental at best. Now, thanks in large part to my Personal Learning Network, I view teaching and learning through a new paradigm...a paradigm of 'inquiry'. (more on this in a future post!)

More than anything, I now find myself inspired! I would never have anticipated how much my shift to becoming a 'connected' learner would change my understanding and perspective about education. Social media has helped accelerate my discovery and consumption of information and ideas many times over what I would have previously accessed through books and magazines. Add to this the fact that I am now having conversations with others worldwide about what I'm discovering and what they're sharing with me and I can't see a way to possibly replace the amount and depth of learning I'm immersed in. I used to view connecting with my PLN or writing a blog post as an added extra at the end of an already full day. Now, I can admit I look forward to connecting with my PLN on a daily basis, sometimes as the recipient of other peoples' thinking and other times to share my own thinking.

We can only strive for what we can envision. What we can envision is limited by the paradigm we know. And we construct our paradigm from the ideas and experiences that we expose ourselves to! "We don't know what we don't know!"

So, I encourage you to take the bold step of creating a PLN and begin connecting with other passionate educators from around the world. I'll guarantee you'll see there is a world of learning out there that you didn't know!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Is school actually meeting the current and future needs of our learners?

I walk the hallways at breaks and lunchtime and I overhear many students’ conversations. ‘… is so boring’‘I don’t see the point in …’‘I don’t want to go to …’. I observe students desperately asking their friends for answers to worksheets and textbook questions. Are they interested in learning or motivated by the threat of losing marks? I see tired and stressed faces. Did they stay up late at night engrossed in their learning? Or were they going through the drudgery of homework and cramming for a test?
I walk into classrooms and see students quietly gazing out the window, secretly glancing at their phones and mindlessly doodling on paper. Are they distracted or disengaged? I bump into regular ‘hall wandering’ students while classes are in session. Some tell me they are ‘going to the bathroom’; while others say they’re ‘getting supplies from their locker’. Are they being truthful or do they simply require a break from class where they can get up and move around? I meet with students in my office. Some of them display such lifeless, apathetic expressions. Why are their spirits so defeated? Why are they simply going through the motions of school? Others demonstrate frustration and negativity towards school. Why has school become a source of their frustration? Why are they so ‘anti-school’?
“Our schools must equip learners with the skills necessary to not only adapt to but also influence this rapidly changing world they are growing up in. We need to move away from a system where subjects are taught in isolation of each of other, where content delivery is the focus, and where the teacher is seen as the expert and is the one who asks most of the questions.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I know these examples don’t describe all students. But it does describe the norm for some of the students whom I work closely with. It’s clear that school just isn’t meeting the needs of ‘these’ kids.
Which brings me to a larger question. Is school actually meeting the current and future needs of our learners?
When I look at today’s high schools, I still recognize them as the same basic model as the one I went through over 20 years ago. And then I consider the world in which we live in. It’s a faster and more automated world, where knowledge is at our fingertips and information can travel across the globe at the push of a button. We are blessed with luxuries all around us. Smartphones, sports cars, online shopping and banking just to name a few. But this rapid progress and advancement have created changes in the workplace and society that demand new skills and competencies. Routine, assembly line type work that requires learning simple repetitive skills and memorizing basic information has become a thing of the past. The application of knowledge, critical thinking and creative problem solving is now more important as the world of work shifts to non-routine tasks.
This places new demands on education. Our schools must equip learners with the skills necessary to not only adapt to but also influence this rapidly changing world they are growing up in. We need to move away from a system where subjects are taught in isolation of each of other, where content delivery is the focus, and where the teacher is seen as the expert and is the one who asks most of the questions.
“Rather than asking learners to work towards one ‘right’ answer, we must grow comfortable with there being many answers to students’ questions. And, our practices must support the idea that learning is a process, often one that is messy, non-linear, and will likely include unlearning and relearning.”
We need to create a system that encourages students to pursue personally meaningful challenges and initiatives that are relevant to their lives, values students asking big questions to which the teacher doesn’t have the answer, provides students some autonomy to follow their own inquiries and enables students to amplify and share their learning through the use of technology. Similar to real life, learning at school should integrate the many traditional disciplines, allowing students to shift naturally and apply knowledge and skills from different disciplines in order to answer their questions. Rather than asking learners to work towards one ‘right’ answer, we must grow comfortable with there being many answers to students’ questions. And, our practices must support the idea that learning is a process, often one that is messy, non-linear, and will likely include unlearning and relearning.
To put it bluntly, the pressure is now on us to collaborate on new designs for learning that will engage both studentsand teachers!
We need to stop worrying about what others think school should look like and start imagining what it could look like. We mustn’t shy away from big steps or our bold vision. Now, more than ever, we need innovation in education!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Low Floors & High Ceilings: A Universal Design for Learning

In the final days before the winter break, I visited a Psychology 11 class and had the opportunity to view a collection of student projects on the topic of drugs. It was clear that students had invested considerable effort into their projects but even more impressive was their depth of understanding and the level of confidence with which they shared their learning with me.

While this is a topic that Psychology 11 students have studied in the past, this year Ms. Morrison had her students approach their learning in a different way.

She began by asking her students to describe what they knew about drugs and their perceptions about drugs in the local community. This immediately made the topic relevant and proved to be an excellent way of activating students' prior knowledge and gaining their interest in the project. It also served as a great way to generate student questions and uncover some of their misconceptions.

Next, she laid out the learning goals for the project and asked students to address these goals as they researched their respective topics. Rather than delivering the content, she allowed her students to uncover the information as they gathered background about a specific drug. While Ms. Morrison provided a list of suggested resources to get her students started, she allowed them the freedom to access information in different ways from a variety of sources. Students accessed books, magazines, websites, videos, etc.  

Finally, students had the opportunity to choose how they would demonstrate their learning. Many students chose to create posters in which they included a variety of images, drawings and text to represent their knowledge. Others produced videos. 

One student elected to create a painting and include a QR code linking to a documentary she had watched. Listen to her describe her project.

Another student created a box covered in digital images he had designed himself. Listen to him describe his project and reflect on his learning experience.

And read another student's feedback on the learning process she engaged in during the project.

What I observed and heard from these students confirmed what I had heard days earlier at a workshop on Differentiation and Universal Deisgn for Learning (UDL) facilitated by Leyton Schnellert. It was great to hear Leyton share much of what he modelled 17 years ago when we co-taught Science and Technology 11. Leyton stressed that our plan for student learning should have 'LOW FLOORS and HIGH CEILINGS'. He pointed out that teaching to diversity is nothing more than 'good teaching'...it should include approaches that invite all learners in by providing different access points.

What was particularly fitting about the Psychology project is that it exemplified the three main principles that Leyton suggested we should focus on in our learning designs.

Multiple Means of Engagement: It captured the interest of learners and motivated them to explore their topic.

Mutliple Means of Representation: Learners were provided flexibility as to how and from where they acquired knowledge and information.

Multiple Means of Expression: Learners were encouraged to choose a means of demonstrating their learning that best suited them.

Below is a diagram from the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) that provides a visual representation of the main UDL principles Leyton shared.

Friday, December 28, 2012

What I've Been (Re)Reading in 2012

Looking for a good read to kickstart 2013? Here is a selection of some of the books I’ve (re)read during 2012 that have really influenced my thinking. Thanks to those of you who recommended them to me through your tweets and reflective blog posts! If you know of another worthwhile read, I’d love for you to share it with me!
Drive (Daniel Pink)
A great read for teachers leaders and administrators who are interested in learning about what intrinsically motivates people. Pink’s big three are autonomymastery andpurpose. Big questions I’m once again asking myself…How can we create the conditions where all teachers are intrinsically motivated to be learners? What frameworks/models can we apply to increase student-driven learning?

Shifting the Monkey (Todd Whitaker)
Another good one for leaders. Whitaker shows how to shift an organization’s focus from compensating for and working around people to cultivating and supporting responsible employees. I’ve definitely identified some ‘monkeys’ I’m carrying. The challenge for me is to shift these ‘monkeys’ back to whom they belong to!

Start with Why (Simon Sinek)
“People don’t buy WHAT you do. They buy WHY you do it!”  Sinek discusses what inspires us and the people around us. This is a natural complement to Drive. I’ve realized that often times I’m too quick to share ‘what’ I’d like to see without fully sharing the ‘why’. I may know the ‘why’ for myself, but I will only inspire action if I share the ‘why’ with those I hope to influence.

I found this a really easy read that touches on a variety of educational technology topics. Anyone interested in exploring ways to use digital technologies in schools can benefit from this one.  I will continue to revisit sections of this book as we explore ways to engage teachers, students and parents through digital technologies.

Tom’s book has really made me question some of my beliefs about assessment and grading. The biggest point I continue to reflect on having read Tom’s book is the impact that grades can have on student motivation.

It’s all about Thinking (Faye Brownlie, Carole Fullerton & Leyton Schnellert)
Having just participated in one of Leyton’s workshops a few weeks ago, I’m very interested in reading about practical strategies we can use to differentiate for all learners. Many of the ideas he shared in his workshop (and I anticipate are shared in this book), Leyton modelled when we co-taught 17 years ago.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Earning or Learning?

Just over a week ago, we distributed first term report cards to students. In the days that led up to this, many of the comments I overheard students say reminded me of the question, "Is the focus on earning or learning?"

Here are a few examples of students comments:

"I have to get the assignment done. I need the marks so I pass the term!"

"I'm already getting an ok mark in that class. I need to spend time studying for the test in the (other) class so I can raise my mark for the report card."

"It's marks cut-off time. I have to finish it before the cut-off otherwise it'll be too late and won't be counted towards my report card mark."

"Whatever...I totally don't know what I'm doing in that class. I'm failing anyways. What's the point in doing the assignment?"

"Seriously, why does every teacher have to give us a test right before marks cut-off? Couldn't some of them wait until next week? I need to keep my grades up and this is stressing me out!"

When I hear comments such as these, a number of things come to mind about these kids.

Their motivation to do the work and study for tests is marks and grades.

Not even the threat of a low mark/grade is enough to motivate some students.

Our obsession with marks and inflexibility about due dates is causing stress for some students.

Sadly, these kids seem more interested and concerned about earning marks than learning.
Is their focus on marks something they have arrived at independently or have we, as educators placed such a high value on marks that we have coached them into this thinking this way?

I think back to the beginning of my career, full of energy but very inexperienced. I remember wanting my students to believe that every class period is important. So, I attached marks to almost everything my students did. This would teach them to come to class and hand in all their work...so I thought! By the end of a term/year my marks book was bursting with entries. Of course, I figured the mark I would assign each student would have to be valid. I'd have so many entries as evidence to back it up.

But what I started to notice is that my students were asking lots of questions about their marks, how to gain more and how much an assignment/test would be worth. Fewer and fewer of my students'  questions related to their learning. Rather than motivating my struggling learners, many were getting overwhelmed and turned off by a lack of success. They were disengaging, withdrawing and some were avoiding class. The impact on the higher achieving students was no better. They were becoming so consumed with point gathering that they were afraid to make mistakes and they were no longer asking deep questions. The constant pressure of meeting deadlines and having their work judged was contributing to leading to anxiety and in some cases caused them to cheat!

As I look back, I realize I was really missing the point.

I should have placed much greater emphasis on formative assessment.

I should have provided greater opportunity for students to make mistakes without punishing them in the gradebook.

I should have provided much more descriptive feedback that would point out to students what and how to improve.

I should have been more flexible with my arbitrarily decided due dates.

When determining grades, I should have exercised my professional judgment when looking at the data I had collected on each student. Data should be nothing more than a guide.

So now think about the students in your class..."Is their focus on earning or learning?"