Future focused fueled by feedback

Wow, okay! I went to another PD today with two colleagues (I know right two weeks in a row go me!). We went to see a multi campus school present to Professor John Hattie regarding the changes they’ve made within their school after developing a series of “Action Research Projects”. This school has been working closely with John and we were very curious to see what has been transpiring there.
I have to admit I’ve come away with my head loaded with ideas and thoughts on better practice regarding whole school approaches to change and if you get the chance to hear or read John Hattie’s work I recommend. All I’m going to do with this blog post is summarise the key themes that kept popping up during today’s PD.

Future Focus
The day was very future focused, each group that presented (there were 7 all up) asked “where to from here?” They reflected on their practice and avoided descending into the hang ups of what didn’t work, instead focusing on what worked and what could be improved. It was generally accepted that engagement and activity was a precursor for learning, yes it was needed but teachers were encouraged to ensure that learning occurred after “hooking the students in”. This train of thought is crucial when considering the use of technology in the classroom. Yeah iPads and smart phones are great ways of getting students engaged in the process but if those tools are not being used to gather further understanding of content being studied then it’s up to both teachers and students to determine their usefulness.

The majority of the day was aimed at feedback. Whether it is gathering feedback from students regarding their understanding of a topic or gathering feedback of how the teacher was going in terms of delivering content. Feedback is important when done right because it lets the teacher know what needs to be done to assist those who need assistance, and also to know when things are done right. Most groups discovered however that questions need to be well planned in order to get quality feedback, and in most cases students needed to be explained the difference of providing constructive feedback as opposed to “good work Miss!”

What is Progress?
Another crucial point that was mentioned during the day was that all teachers needed to have a common perception of what constituted as “progress”. Often teachers have a vastly different view of what is progress and they share this view with their students either explicitly or subconsciously. When different teachers in the same school present different understandings of progress to their students it becomes a confusing affair not only for the students, but also their parents and other teachers within the school. The way this school was attempting to tackle the mammoth task of understanding progress and having students aware of their progress was through the use of visual spaces. They placed the VELS progression points around the classroom and students used avatars of themselves and stuck them to the progression point that they were currently at. Students then used “I Can...” statements to assist them in planning how to move to the next progression point. This process meant that students were aware of their progress as they moved through their course work as opposed to just being handed an end result as if it’s a signal that the learning has ended.

Senior teacher only?
An interesting point that came up was schools that place certain teachers in senior classes only, and continue to do so year after year. These senior teachers are also often not exposed to junior or middle year classes and therefore the earlier development of their potential future students. This has always struck me as odd. Why leave your best players out of the game until the last quarter? Why not give our senior teachers a chance to better prepare their students well in advance before they even step into their senior classes? Keeping key teachers in senior year levels can sometimes send the message to students that some teachers are more “expert” than others and sometimes this could be far from the truth.

All in or nothing at all...
It became abundantly clear that if you want to take on a whole school project that will eventually change the way things happen in your school then you really do need everyone on board. If not students fast recognise which teachers are moving with the change and which ones aren’t. We as teachers also need to recognise that as a professional in a profession we should be staying well read on best practices and implementing what we can to show that we are well equip to develop the young minds of tomorrow. In this day and age it is no longer acceptable to state that technology (in particular iPads/tablets/smartphones) has no place in a learning environment when it is clear that these tools are being used in the business world that we plan on sending our students into.

I’m going to close this long blog post with some key reflective questions that popped up during the course of the day that I found particularly powerful or interesting:

Who is asking the questions in your classroom? Is it you (the “expert”) or is it the students (The “learners”)?

What is success? What does it look like? Do we demonstrate to our students what success is?

How often do you receive feedback from your students regarding your practice? How comfortable are you about receiving feedback from your students?

Are you aware of your impact on students? As a result do you challenge them? Do you challenge yourself?

What I learnt from my day at the VITTA conference!

So today I had a rare chance to go off and get immersed in some Professional Development. I took myself across Melbourne to Caulfield Race Course to my first foray into the VITTA (Victorian Information Technology Teachers Association) Conference. I was to hear from two keynote presenters and from 4 other speakers on an array of topics all related of course to the use of technology in education. I was excited, I packed my iPad, my android phone (Samsung Galaxy III) and pen and paper (just in case). These are the thoughts that I came away with:

What I learnt from my day at the VITTA conference!
Factory Model is out... Creativity, global awareness and entrepreneurship is in!
The old model of marching students into class, having them sitting in rows, asking them to open their brains and teachers then attempting to stuff as much information as we can in before running a memory test is no longer an acceptable mode in which to prepare our young for the future. Instead we heard at the VITTA conference Professor Yong Zhao reiterate what we are fast becoming to accept is the ideal future for education within a school environment and that is a shift to developing individuals that are creative, passionate and globally competent. Individuals who are confident in their abilities, willing to take risks, able to connect with others to develop friendships and of course be alert to their world in order to make the best decisions possible. As we make work places more and more efficient we lose more and more jobs so those students we prepare for the "factory" life will find it harder and harder to find long term employment.

The factory model prepares worker people for the unlikelihood of gaining a job.

Twitter really is a big deal...
Every serious presenter had a twitter account and used it. This is how the world is interacting and we need to embrace and accept this. In fact as we were sitting in our conference listening to key speakers the twitter world was afire with conversation regarding the Mars Landing. The first keynote speaker discussed using twitter for Professional Development and networking. The next presenter I saw discussed it in a similar way, and also for using with a class. The next presentation I went to was about the global classroom and a teacher from a rural school discussed how she used Twitter to network with teachers across the globe to enrich her classes (and in the process her school). Through twitter this teacher was able to connect with teachers overseas as well as professionals in a variety of fields to match what the students were learning, including an explorer in Antarctica.

Mobile Phone / Tech Policies need to be revisited/revised...
Every few years we as educators take the time to review the resources that we are using (usually textbooks) and we make a decision to upgrade/change/develop those resources to best suit where the students are at. Some schools have even decided to introduce iPads/tablets or netbooks to their change. One thing that became abundantly clear from the sessions I sat in was that there were many passionate teachers who had brilliant ideas on how to engage their class using technology, only to be hampered by restrictions and policies. Many were whispering in the corners of conference rooms how their students aren’t allowed mobiles at school “but I ask them to bring them in and use them anyway”. These confessions could be construed as naughty teachers breaking the rules and not supporting the “policy” and maybe some are being deliberately cheeky but knowing this is happening just means a bigger question. “Why are so many teachers encouraging students to SBYOD (Secretly Bring Your Own Device)?” The answer if you haven’t already figured it out... is because it is obviously resulting in engagement in the lesson at hand. No teacher is going to invite more distraction into an already over stimulated environment (I’m assuming that all teachers are endeavouring to have engaging, interesting and challenging classes to begin with). Students and teachers alike should consider exploring and understanding Digital Citizenship and what is a responsible use of online capable devices so they can then begin to develop an agreement that will allow more flexibility in regards to bringing mobiles into the classroom.

Do you SBYOD?

The classroom is not square...
As teachers we’ve always known that learning doesn’t just occur in the classroom, however the way our schools are designed, planned and budgeted for often leaves us designing lessons that fit a timetable of so many lessons per week for x amount of minutes. Students are expected to walk through a door and instantly switch onto their subject. They’re expected to remember what was discussed previously and in some cases prepare for a future moment in the week when they will have a chance to revisit the subject again. In some cases we attempt to assist this behaviour with “homework” which may or may not be completed by the student and may or may not result in any actual “learning”. A constant underlying message during the sessions at today’s VITTA conference was that the classroom can and most likely should be extended outside the confines of the square room that we use to gather with our students. This can be done a variety of ways including the use of online collaboration tools for outside class hours, to the use of communication tools to connect with the world outside of the classroom/school/state/country. So if you’re not too sure, start small... get your students on Edmodo, use twitter or even explore what your school already has and start designing an online version of your class. Invite a colleague to “guest teach” via skype or even better just record your own podcast or start a blog for students to follow.

All in all I found the day a great exercise of the mind and it was nice to know that I wasn't the only one finding the I.T policies and procedures in my school challenging. It was great to connect with a few people through twitter and hopefully I can take back what I learnt from the day to share with my colleagues and develop more exciting and interesting dialogue.