Tag: Instruction

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Developing Fluency in “New Literacies”

slide-1-638The growth of Information and communication technologies (ICT) is causing a shift in what are and will be deemed best instructional practices in our schools. Many of today’s educators participated in a school system that was based on the printed text and have had to adjust their own learning and teaching practices to incorporate “new literacies.” New literacies such as blogs, wikis, Snapchat, SnapStories, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are a part of the learning, employment and social realms of the students in our classrooms today. Add to this that new forms of communication continue to develop and enter mainstream society and we see a real need to prepare our students to be literate in a wide array of forums ranging from the traditional textbook to being able to access and analyze online content to participating in Twitter chats, Snap Chats, Instagram and discussion boards as well as wikis and blogs. The list is open ended. As ICTs continue to develop, our school systems will have to stay current and incorporate responsible and effective communication skills in the varying platforms. It is therefore necessary to instill traditional literacy skills in our students as well as newer digital information and communication skills, and to be able to adapt to and fluent in yet to be developed literacies.

The question arises, “How do we provide on-going systematic professional development that allows teachers and school administrators to stay current with continually developing literacies?” The need for an open mind set ,as characterized by Carol Dweck in her book Mind Set, and job embedded professional development have taken on a new level of importance. Consider that students entering preschool this year will be retiring around 2080. The skills these students will need to navigate jobs that may not even exist yet are challenging to imagine. We can however work with the business industry to stay knowledgeable about the types of literacies skills they are looking for in their employees. It is also important that we teach our students to be good digital citizens, that we teach them how to use social digital literacies in a way that reflects their individuality while presenting themselves to be of sound of character.

I had the opportunity to read a couple of articles on the development of New Literacies and how they can impact instruction. In the April 2004, fifth edition of Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading published by the International Reading Association, Leu, Kinzer, Coiro and Cammack in their work entitled “Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies,” offer strong historical background on the development of various literacies throughout history and how society has adapted to and adopted new methods of communication. Challenging to our society today is the rapid rate in which new technologies are influencing our knowledge and communication.

Part of the answer to the question, “How do we provide on-going systemic professional development that allows teachers and school administrators to stay current with continually developing literacies?,” can be found in David Warlick’s article “The New Literacy.” Warlick offers a nice foundation of knowledge about what are being referred to as “New Literacies” as well as an outline of to develop a strong instructional program that supports the development of these skills among our students. I’ve started to read his book Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century. In his introduction which he also refers to as a User’s Guide, Warlick provides an excellent word of caution as we look to modernize our classrooms for 21st Century learning. While redesigning our classrooms and curriculum to integrate technology has become a national, if not international focus, many of us have the process of modernization backwards. We should really be focusing on redefining what 21st Century is, what it looks like and then using technology to integrate these skills.

It is incumbent on each of us in the field of education to stay current with the types of communication being used by society. It is also important to keep in mind the historical contexts that have brought about different types of literacies as well as the reasons different groups and leaders have chosen to suppress the knowledge that allows a society to become literate. What will the impact on society be if we do not clearly define what 21st Century literacy is and teach students how to use these skills responsibly? It falls upon education leaders, teachers, administrators, politicians, parents and community members to work together to create a culture that embraces professional development that supports teacher expertise with information and communication technologies that allow the field of education to maintain current literacy practices as they evolve.

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An Observation: A Key Difference between a Son’s E-learning and his Mom’s E-learning

imgres-1My own e-learning begins fairly early in the morning and is often a large part of my overall day. I get up before the rest of my family every morning, grab coffee and dive into my email. My inbox is filled with professional articles, blogs and ed. tech resources. Some of my favorites include: Edutopia, EdReach, Seth Godin, Emerging EdTech and Ron Edmondson. I throw in a little morning humor in there with Andertoons as well.

I’m an education “learning nerd.” Not only do I love the profession of being an educator, but I love to learn! The advent of the internet, online courses, learning modules and articles, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and email have been a blessing to my learning habit. On the flip side of my joy in having learning just a click or couple of taps away is the need to find balance in life. I make a concentrated effort to put my digital tools aside when my family gets up or the clock lets me know it’s time to get ready for work. I do however look forward to when I can get back to my inbox and click on the next article to read, persuse the posts in my Twitter feed or take a look at what has been posted in the various Google+ communities I subscribe to.

There have been times when I’ve reflected on the idea of the learning being somewhat superficial or cursory and not “good learning.”  However, the topics I am really interested in are ones that I spend dedicated time with, studying deeper and accessing further resources. The cursory learning is a bonus as it gives me an idea of what else is out there that is of interest to others and also gives me a conversational knowledge that is good for connecting with others.

I suspect that other adult learners who engage in online learning would have similar responses to this type of a reflection regarding their online learning experiences. I also suspect our school age students are more likely to get distracted though. While I may sometimes veer towards a game of Jelly Splash

IMG_2109to take a break, my lives tend to run out quickly and I am able to refocus.

My son however, is taking an online driver’s education course. I noticed him working intently this afternoon, took a look at the computer screen, saw the module he was working on and made sure not to bother him so he could concentrate. Yet, when I returned to the computer to do some work for my Leading Edge Certification in online/blended learning,I was greeted by the following image:

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 6.28.59 PM

It turns out he had finished the unit we had agreed he would complete by the end of the day, but being at the computer gave him quick and easy access to playing games while his parents thought he was studying. He is a pretty typical teenager and I suspect most students his age would do the same thing. It’s not such a big deal over the summer, but as it gets later into a school night, the temptation to reward oneself for finishing an assignment could, and I know has in our home, result in some unintended late nights.

As we teach our students how to learn using the internet and Web 2.0 tools as well as how to become good digital citizens, we also need to guide them and teach them how to create balance in their lives to be sure they eat their meals away from the computer, engage in regular exercise, get together with friends face to face, and moderate their online gaming and socialization. These have the potential to turn into a battle of wills on the home front as watching too much tv was for my generation. Yet as educators, we can support our students and their families by sharing models of guidelines for home use of the computer for learning and entertainment. As the learning environment continues to shift towards increased use of digital resources, guidelines will need to be adjusted, but they are an important part of the overall education of our children as well as adult learners.

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An Online/Blended Teaching Approach to Staff Meetings and Professional Development

teacher_cartoon-257x300After spending seventeen years of my career as a classroom teacher, four years ago, I was hired for my first administrative position. Nevertheless, I continue to find that at the core of my being, I am a teacher. Having had the chance to mentor both new and experienced teachers in my administrative role, I have become aware of the skills and insights that I have as a part of my repertoire and how to share these with other educators. I am also highly cognizant of the fact, that once out of the classroom we, as educators, must stay knowledgeable with current as well as innovative practices that have the potential to be “disruptive” to our profession. Disruptive is used here to reference the work of both Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, both of the Christensen Institute, who have collaborated to explain how new technologies can enter a market such as education. Through success with a previously untapped base, “disruptive” technologies and practices can grow to introduce effective innovations in a market that previously may have been inaccessible.

Online and blended teaching models have been a “disruptive” force in education. These models have tapped into students who have experienced struggles with the more traditional brick and mortar school system and traditional lecture style approaches to education. Online programs tapped into the market of students requiring credit recovery to graduate from high school. Given the opportunity to learn at their own pace, at a time that worked for them and with access to a computer and the internet, online learning made a significant impact in assisting students to earn their high school diplomas. This same approach was used by students who were receiving home school instruction or who required accelerated course work.

The successes did not go unnoticed and educators began to incorporate online learning within the more traditional education structure. Thus the blended learning model was born. As I reflect on how I might incorporate a blended model of instruction into my own practice as an administrator in the field of education, I see the opportunity to use this pedagogical structure to enhance professional development opportunities for staff and model how to incorporate a blended approach to a previously more traditional classroom.

Let the days of boring staff meetings be gone. Let those of feelings of our time as educators being wasted disappear. Welcome, the blended model of teacher professional development and staff meetings. I believe face to face time with staff and as a group continue to be essential components of site based communication and identity, however, using a blended approach, similar to the rotation model of a blended learning environment, could allow staff to more effectively use their preparation and professional development time. Let’s give staff access to announcements via video (and let’s make those videos entertaining), engage in discussions through a Google+ Community and focus on personalized learning to enhance individual teaching practice via internet modules and readings. In-person meetings and professional development or guest speakers via Skype or Google Hangout can be enhanced through back-channeling via Twitter discussions or by using Today’s Meet to comment and ask questions. Staff can comment, ask and answer questions for one another and share resources without ever interrupting the flow of a presentation. The level of engagement increases dramatically when the learner has the opportunity to actively engage in a presentation. These approaches offer a more effective method than the previous, “Write your question down on a piece of paper so you don’t forget it and wait until the end of the presentation,” expectation.

In order to engage staff in a blended approach to staff meetings and professional development, it is essential that the staff know how to access and use each of the technologies that will be incorporated. This requires planning and training in addition to well prepared materials to present to staff. It was not uncommon in my teaching experience to hear from the principal during lunch on a staff meeting day that the agenda for the afternoon had not yet been set. This led to the perception that administration did not place a high value on the opportunity to meet with the staff which was often reinforced by overly general agendas with a lot of “discussion” topics being made available at the time of the meeting. By incorporating a blended approach to staff meetings and PD, administration has to engage in thoughtful planning. Creating a rotation to include activities such as meeting as a large group, taking on online courses, creating an innovative lesson to share in an online community or reading an article and discussing it in a community create opportunities for increased engagement and personally relevant PD.

The intention would be that by modeling the skills and strategies used in an effective blended model of staff development and communication, staff would feel positive about their higher level of engagement as well as feel increased respect for their personal expertise within the profession. This would allow for discussion on how students could share in the same experience. Using the tools of the blended model, part  of the PD would be to learn, discuss, create and share lessons and ideas for relevant, rigorous and engaging learning.

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The Common Core – A Challenge or an Opportunity?

When looking at the Common Core, I see more opportunity than I do challenges. I see the opportunity for teachers to engage more in the “art” of teaching. I see the opportunity for greater focus and financial support to integrate the 21st Century tools our students use in their personal lives. I see the opportunity to take all students to application and synthesis as part of their learning.   I see the opportunity for teachers to engage in the art of teaching. As a profession, we have spent significant time and resources on training our teachers in the science of teaching, direct interactive instruction and implementing researched based curriculum in a structured and consistent manner. The importance of this can not be understated as we consider Bloom’s taxonomy and providing our students with the foundational skills needed and acquired through gaining knowledge and developing skills to support comprehension. However, as we get into the higher levels of learning that support students as critical thinkers where they begin experimenting, comparing ideas, evaluating outcomes and imagining possibilities, we need to engage with them from the heart. Teaching and learning involve emotion. We can inspire a student. We can also bore a student. The Common Core with it’s focus on critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration create opportunities for teachers to engage the mind and help students understand the “why” of their learning and the “why” of what they are learning.   Part of the transition to the Common Core will be in changing the mind-set of educators on how they approach the presentation of lessons in the classroom. There will have to be a shift in professional development, the tools used to support the learning of both the teacher and the student and how we teach students to express their understanding. It will take a while to adjust from a long-held practice of filling in bubbles and circling the correct answer to supporting students in articulating how they have arrived at their conclusions, but this approach will ultimately engage the learner in much deeper learning.   Transitions can cause trepidation. Thirteen years after the No Child Left Behind Act, a policy that strongly encouraged a very regimented approach to teaching, our educators are being asked to make quick shift in their practice. It will take time to make the mental adjustment, to engage in professional development and reading that support our teachers’ expertise and to implement changes in the classroom that support the Common Core. Educators are by a nature a conscientious group of people. They want to do what is best for their students. They want to meet the expectations set forth by their profession. It can however feel challenging to have to sway with the winds of both the State and Federal legislature as politicians define the focus of instructional expectations and the funding that is allocated to support the changes of those expectations.   It is our responsibility as administrators to teach our teachers and our communities. It is our responsibility to support our educators in understanding the origin of and the “why” behind the Common Core. It is our responsibility to assist our teachers in understanding the caliber of input that was provided by our professional colleagues toward informing this educational policy.   In order to successfully make this shift with buy-in from the teachers who are charged with modifying their current practice, we need to provide them with the knowledge, tools, professional development and time to adapt their practice. This will be done through an allocation of resources that will allow for the opportunity to engage in study and professional collaboration combined with the sharing of ideas, successes and failures. A well-organized Professional Learning Community focused on the successful implementation of the Common Core can support this. As the teacher’s pedagogical approach shifts they will need access to 21st Century learning tools that will support their instruction in conjunction with on-going professional development on how to incorporate these into the classroom instructional model.   Ensuring and monitoring the success of Common Core implementation will be measured not only by the data collected from students’ Smarter Balance testing results, but also by how teachers’ instructional practices change, the tools they use, their knowledge base and comfort level with teaching to the higher level of learning that the Common Core has set forth as well as student work samples and projects. In order to evaluate on-going progress and success, site leadership should take time at the beginning of the year to collect baseline information on their staffs’ comfort level with the new standards, how confident they feel in the professional development they have been provided with, what tools and instructional strategies are currently being used in the classroom, the level of buy-in they have to the Common Core. After gathering this information, site staff and it’s instructional leadership team can decide on goals for the year and what type of professional development should be provided to support the goals for the site as a whole and for individual teachers looking to gain specific areas of expertise. The same survey given at the beginning of the year should be given to the staff again at the end of the year. Once the results are analyzed, they should be presented to the site’s instructional leadership team and then to the full staff. This process should be cyclical and can become a part of the planning done during the spring to plan for the following school year.   Are these challenges or opportunities? I understand the mind-set of viewing these as challenges, particularly in terms of funding a transition of this magnitude, but I do see great opportunity in the process of making this change. It appears that as educators, we may be participating in a revolution of our education system; a revolution that may have a similar impact on how we teach as the industrial revolution did. I suspect this period of history will one day be studied for the influence it is having on society in the same manner in which the impact of the industrial revolution is studied for its effect on our culture. This is an exciting time.