Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Balanced Approach to High Tech Instruction

What has become a number of years ago now, I made a career change into teaching.  At that time technology was beginning to make its presence in schools with an expectation of high growth use. We saw the introduction of computer labs and the "computer special" in elementary schools. Middle and high schools introduced computer classes and electives. The instruction consisted of Microsoft Office training and the widespread use of educational software. The outcome was teaching technology tools in isolation of content and software as a supplement.

Fast forward ahead a few years and we found the shift from the computer lab to the classroom. Advancements in wifi, lower cost mobile devices, presentation platforms and cloud-based applications provided opportunities for the technology to move from the lab to the desk. Professional development focused on introducing teachers and students to the tools. Teachers were expected to attend workshops or self direct their own learning towards to mastery of tools.

The evolution continues. Ubiquitous access to technology and general acceptance of the disruptive innovation that technology brings to teaching and learning has shifted the focus from "I am using tool x to how can I individualize,  personalize and differentiate instruction in ways I could not before. In what ways can we develop the skills that allow students to be creators of content and knowledge rather than passive consumers.

As technology initiatives evolve a focus on asynchronous learning, publishing, collaborating, creating and connecting will provide our students with future proof skills, differentiated learning and an excitement connected to their perceived control over there growth.

As we embrace this change and explore the opportunities that are presented with technology it is just as important to recognize that a balanced approach to instruction is best. Recognizing the appropriate mix of instructional strategies including independence and self-directed learning is the new demand on educators. The most successful will be able to identify when and with whom to employ such strategies.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Social Network Approach to School Community

Technology has created disruption in Education. Districts have channeled resources towards supporting and expanding infrastructure. Our professional development and pedagogical approach to instruction has grown to expect a significant infusion of technology. To date, we have access to a vast variety of cloud-based applications that allow for the creation, presentation, and collaboration of content.   Professional development has also evolved from “check out these cool web 2.0 tools” to“ how to create a personalized and relevant, curriculum with technology”.


The implementation of various technologies and the increase of curriculum demands was a quick moving tornado of change. Our students are connected, collaborating, creating and sharing. They are developing a digital footprint that represents their academic growth.  The integration of technology based assessment has simplified data driven decision making and a feedback chain that has never been as effective. Teachers are exploring new web-based tools and integrating them into their content areas. We have seen a decline in textbook adoption and an increase in online, curated content. Students seamlessly shift between applications creating opportunities for the representation and assessment of knowledge that has never been so diverse.


During this era of disruption our students have evolved. As educators we struggle with addressing students need for constant connectivity, the management and interpretation of mass information, the desire for immediacy and an overall increase in stress and anxiety connected to our shift in education expectations. Our reaction to a global economy and workforce has fueled an increase in computer based assessment, increased rigor, and demand for competitive college placement.  In many cases, school has become much more difficult to manage.


Today’s students have to balance high expectations, a breadth technologies and increasing demands for time. Keeping track of “what to do” and developing personal efficiencies are vital for their success. Today, Students may find themselves with eight classes and eight different online resources for managing content and communication for those classes. For students at-risk, the ability for mentors, advisors, and parents to assist may be overbearing.  Consider the significant segment of classified students with ADHD.  How do students with executive function weakness manage the technologies and resources that are peppered by teachers, administrators or coaches?


In order to harness the plethora of digital content, the need for on-demand access, and communication & collaboration, districts may consider a learning management system (LMS).   A learning management system provides a central repository for course content and assignments. It provides a starting point for all blended classrooms to curate the information necessary for their courses. While teachers may ask students to use web 2.0 technologies to create content, the learning management system is where they are delivered their assignments and any supporting documentation.


In Chatham High School we were faced with an increased breadth of technology adoption. As more and more teacher’s embraced digital content and creation options for students we found that segments of our student body were struggling to stay organized. For example, a single grade 9 student may have one teacher that posted all assignments on a Google Calendar, one who utilized a website, another who emailed information to a student group and others who shared a Google Document.  For students classified and non-classified who demonstrate weakness in executive function the challenge was amplified.


Our focus shifted to providing a single platform to function as the hub for our course content. In looking for a platform our vision was a web-based application that would provide students and teachers with course/content management, calendaring and collaboration options.  A single platform to curate course information would simplify professional development and teacher collaboration by providing a common language for teachers and administrators.


Our implementation of a learning management system proved to be a success. We settled on an LMS that syncs with our student information system. The end result is pre-populated courses and student rosters. A student has access to all of their 6-8 courses in a single location. Our teachers post documents, video and website links, threaded discussions, and assessments. Teachers can post and collect assignments and even sync them directly with a popular plagiarism software suite without leaving the LMS. Events and assignments are automatically loaded to a class calendar. Students have the option of viewing individual course calendars or a single calendar that lists the events for all of their classes in a single location. This has proven to be the most significant change agent in that students, parents, counselors, case managers and advisors have a single location to know what assignments needs to be done and when. Most LMS providers offer mobile apps that offer immediacy and mobility for keeping up with changes.


There have been a number of unexpected advantages to creating this virtual network in our school. We have utilized the groups feature for all of our student clubs and activities. News, announcements and events are shared through these groups and published on the student’s calendar. Our faculty has taken advantage of these groups by creating collaborative spaces to share ideas, success stories and their questions. One of our more popular groups is the CHS Faculty Shelfie Wednesday, were faculty members share book recommendations. The CHS Think Tank is a group of teachers who meet physically and virtually to share innovative instructional practices across content areas. The Chatham Library for Information and Collaboration (CLIC) shares tutorials and how-to-guides for a plethora of web 2.0 applications and district software applications.  Our departments have created groups to copy and share course materials, assessments, primary sources and other valuable instructional materials.


Instruction in CHS has transformed by providing a blended experience with 24/7 access to course content.  Students have around the clock access to course materials. Teachers provide access to supplemental materials for remediation or deeper exploration into topics. Faculty members have begun to develop their own web-based textbooks by organizing content in unit folders in their courses. In some departments we are exploring the development of virtual only courses. This shift has started a conversation about flexibility in seat time and a typical school day structure. As the available features of the LMS evolve we continue to explore our options for deeper integration.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shifting from Recall to Discussion Requires Teacher and Student Training

Discussion and questioning are two of the most targeted areas of classroom observation and evaluation. The focus has resulted in modified classroom configurations ("u" shaped seating) , varied seating options (table vs. chairs), technology infusion (online discussion forums), and professional development regarding instructional strategies that promote collaboration (think-pair-share, turn and talk). 

At the heart of a collaborative classroom is the formulation of "good questions". The format of the questions dictate the result. There is a very defined  purpose for asking recall or recitation questions. It provides teachers and students an opportunity to check for understanding. In my experience, this is the most prevalent form of formative assessment used in schools today. The use of technology ( student response apps) and various other instructional  strategies (exit tickets, answer cards)  provides teachers with data that encapsulates the entire class instead of an answer from a single student.

There is ample research to suggest that when students engage in active discussion regarding a topic they develop a more thorough understanding. The engagement in discussion provides students the opportunity to  reflect, make connections, validate their knowledge and receive alternative perspectives from their peers.

Shifting from recall to discussion requires planning, preparation, scaffolding and reflecting. To be blunt, it requires training for teachers and students. Teachers and curriculum supervisors work collaboratively to develop "good questions". A good question allows students to form opinions, provide supporting evidence, make a personal connection, present their ideas and respond to feedback from their peers. When in development, teachers consider and anticipate student responses and adjust their questions to accommodate them.

The above mentioned does not come naturally. It must be modeled and reinforced. How have you provided students the classroom "norms" for effective discussion? Are students aware of the expectations for effective discussion. Have you posted them in your room?

Students need to be instructed on how to dissect a question and participate effectively in a group discussion.  How do you dissect the question and establish your personal connection and need for clarification? How do you create "mental space" for peers to formulate responses and contribute to the group? How do you ensure everyone shares their connections and is an active participant in the group? What roles can you assign to group members to ensure a productive exchange? Is it necessary to provide a graphic organizer or outline to guide students progress? How will the ideas of a group be shared with the whole?

There are a variety of resources and publications that assist teachers in the development of effective discussions and productive group work. My goal with this post is to spark a self  reflection regarding your own classroom. How effective is your classroom discussion and should it be an area to further explore?