Saturday, February 17, 2018

What about the Sweetness and Light of Teaching?

Friday's chat on #whatisschool was all about the sweetness and light of teaching - appropriate seeing as it was #nationalgumdropday - did you know there was such a thing?? I did not, but I'm very happy that there is.  (You should learn something new every day).

Back to the serious issue at hand.  When was the last time you celebrated the 'sweetness and light' of being a teacher? Of teaching and learning?  Take a moment to think about that one.  I know I did when I saw what the topic was for today's chat.  It wasn't so much the topic - it was the questions that really challenged me and then the chat itself even more so.  That's the power of a PLN (Professional Learning Network).  It doesn't matter whether they're face-to-face or online.  As long as they push you to reflect on your practice, to really get down deep into your thinking and beliefs about what you do, then they're really worth their weight in gold.

I love my online PLNs because they include such a wide range of educators from all sectors and from all parts of New Zealand and the globe.  That's real real power and real challenge if you truly want to be a reflective practitioner.  I've blogged about this many times before, (A few links to previous posts are below).  It's something I'm really passionate about and believe it's essential if we want to be the best we can be - for our students and also for ourselves and our colleagues.

Image source: #whatisschool Twitter chat

It really was the questions - and the discussion - that got me today though... Sweetness and light? 

I love a laugh but teaching and learning is a serious business - isn't it?  I wasn't too sure about this one... Then, as always the chat started and made me really question my own thinking and practice.
Image source: #whatisschool Twitter chat

  Think about this for a moment...

When was the last time we did this?  Have we ever done it?
Have we forgotten how to celebrate the joy of what we do?
What would happen if we stopped to take 10 minutes in each professional learning session or staff meeting to celebrate what we do?  How would that change our environment?  Is this something you already do?  What difference would it make to you? To your teaching and learning? Could it be a way of addressing teacher burnout?

Maybe we need to sometimes just take a little time out to reflect and celebrate the sweetness and light - the gumdrops of this crazy profession.

If you'd like to read through the gumdrops of wisdom from the chat today, please click this Storify link.

#whatisschool chat can be found on Twitter at 12.00pm NZDT.


Reflecting on Reflective Practice

Connecting to Your PLN for Powerful Reflective Practice

Communities of Practice

On Being A Connected Educator and Why I'm Grateful for the Connections

Social Media as a Learning Tool

Connecting to Your PLN for Powerful Reflective Practice

#whatisschool #reflectivepractice #CommunitiesofPractice

Friday, February 9, 2018

Learning - it's not just about testing my friend

I was having a fascinating conversation with a very articulate 9 year-old yesterday about learning and what it meant to him and he came out with the statement I've quoted above.  My heart sank a little but I knew that, in the past few years with the focus we've had in Aotearoa/New Zealand on the National Standards, that this had become the reality for many of our students.  This is not what teachers want for their learners and hopefully, there will now be a shift in practice with the Bill introduced yesterday by the Labour Government to remove National Standards.

Teachers are professionals. They know on a minute-by-minute basis how their students are achieving. They are making these assessments against their knowledge of their learners and the National Curriculum and the background knowledge they have of the criteria of the formal tools constantly.  They don't stop.

Coincidentally, in my Twitter newsfeed this morning, a blog post by Steve Wheeler, (@timbuckteeth) popped up.  Learning is a Journey - his latest blog post.

He writes about the importance of learning as a 'process not a product' and I couldn't agree more! Have we become forced to be so focused on the end result of the assessment that we've lost sight of that?  I hope not and there are great Principals and teachers out there that continue to fight incredibly hard to keep that process to the forefront of learning.  I wonder if the students see this though.  Have we made it explicit enough to and for them?  

Do they understand it as clearly as we do and what can we do to make it clearer to them?

We, (and our students), need assessment to know the next learning steps for our students but is learning 'driven by assessment' as Steve Wheeler suggests?  I think, to a certain extent, it has been... particularly when you read the quote from a very wise 9 year-old.  I'd love your thoughts.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Feedback - What Works?

In 2011 one of my research projects for my Masters looked at feedback and what had the greatest impact on learning and teaching.  My focus was on writing and, in particular, what motivated 'reluctant' writers.  It was really interesting research to complete and I nearly carried on with it for my PhD but have gone down the path of Gifted and Talented for that.

The Slideshare presentation summarises the research but the main points are:

There Are 4 Main Types of Feedback

  1. Personal Praise Feedback
  2. Summative - 'Right' or 'Wrong' Feedback
  3. Self-regulatory Feedback
  4. Process Feedback
Two of these are more effective than the other two - do you know which ones and why and how they work?  It's a really fascinating area.  Have a look at the slides for a summary of what each one is and how and why they work.  The slides also detail the 'traps' we can fall into as teachers when giving feedback.

Being able to give effective feedback - and knowing what makes 'effective' feedback (had a great debate with a fellow student over that word), is something that I've had to practice.  It doesn't always come easy and it's so easy to say - 'That's fantastic!'  'Well done!'  These, in themselves, are not bad things to say - they are Feedback Type 1 - as long as they go along with Feedback Type 3 or 4, (more in the slides).  I'd love your feedback on this...

The Slideshare presentation below is a summary of the findings.

What's A Community of Practice?

Recently I've been having a lot of discussion about Communities of Practice, (CoPs) in connection with my studies.  There's been an assumption that they're the same as the Communities of Learning set up by the previous government in this country but they're not.  While they do have some similarities, they have some very fundamental - and very important differences, both philosophically and pedagogically.  This post is about reflecting on these and trying to break them down into bullet points.

CoPs are a bit of a passion of mine and were a focus for my thesis for my Masters thesis back in 2015.  I developed an online community of practice for TeachThought and, Along with Beth Leidolf in the US, we created a weekly Twitter chat.  Beth then became a big part of running the online community as part of the leadership. CoPs are all about sharing the learning with everyone having an equal say as you'll see in the bullet point summaries below.

The summaries - these won't be perfect and are just my summaries as I see them at this point, (and I'm always willing to be challenged).  These points come from my research in the case of the CoPs and from research and discussion with many teachers involved in the CoLs in the case of the CoLs.

Communities of Learning

  • New Zealand government initiative
  • Top-down model
  • Large groups of schools, small numbers of facilitators and 'expert teachers'
  • Lead teachers and professional development providers with expertise lead the learning
  • Other teachers learn from the 'experts'
  • Knowledge is grown
  • Data-driven
  • Goal is to improve success for students and raise achievement
  • Ownership of the process is largely by the leadership of the CoLs

Communities of Practice
  • Groups are created through a common interest/need
  • Distributed leadership and ownership model
  • All members are seen to have expertise no matter what their 'level', e.g. a beginning teacher's knowledge is as valuable as someone with a PhD.  
  • The value is in creating knowledge together
  • Knowledge is grown, created 
  • Data is valued and guides the community but doesn't become the overall focus
  • Goal is to raise success for ALL INVOLVED - students AND teachers
  • Everyone involved owns the process and has opportunities to lead

I've blogged about CoPs before and through the years, (see links below), my thinking hasn't changed.  I still believe that they are a way for teachers to be in charge of their own professional learning and for them to create excitement about that learning.  It becomes ongoing, real and relevant - just like we want for our students.  It's not a top-down model controlled by a small group of people and it's always relevant to the individual teacher's own learning needs.  This is how it should be for ALL learners.

Links to Previous Posts on CoPs

Communities of Practice
PLN - aka Powerful Learning Network
Developing a Community of Practice - Improvements and Feedback

Wanting to Develop Your Own Online CoP? 

This presentation may be useful...

Thursday, February 1, 2018

And So It Begins Again

2017 - the year that was...or wasn't in my case.  After a few health challenges which turned out to be opportunities to clarify my thinking around my study (never miss an opportunity to try and turn a negative into a positive, or so I keep telling myself), I have decided to change my study path from an EdD, (Doctor of Education), to a PhD, (Doctor of Philosophy, Education).

I have decided that I won't go back into the classroom as a teacher.  I love a good challenge but being completely deaf in one ear is a little too much of one and I have a passion for research - always have - and this completely feeds that.  It's something I've thought of doing, and wanted to do full-time, for many years now so this is the opportunity to do that.

Researching in a Different Way

While figuring all of this out, I've been working with my long-suffering supervisor at Otago, (he also put up with me for two Masters' papers).  We started to talk about what form my research should take in terms of methods, theories and all the usual bits and pieces that go along with planning one of these journeys and we hit on something called Grounded Theory.  I must admit this was a new one for me - had never heard of it before so this was my first bit of research before the research.

What on Earth is Grounded Theory and Why I Think it is Going to be so Powerful in Teacher Research

Grounded Theory is based on a constructivist approach to research (as a constructivist teacher, this already had me hooked!) where data is analysed throughout the research process rather than after it and this can lead to a change in direction for where the research leads.  It also emphasises not making any assumptions and that the researcher tries very hard to leave their biases at the door, so to speak.  This is a fantastic challenge for any researcher if they're prepared to take it on.

Grounded theory also has a strong aspect of ako integrated into the process where they researcher and the participants in the research process are learning from and with each other.  If done well, it becomes a collaborative process.  This also fits in well with my other passion - Communities of Practice - which were the focus for my Masters.  (Note - Communities of Practice are not the same as Communities of Learning, but that is for another blog post...)

What is Classical Grounded Theory?

Biggest Opportunities and Challenges for My Research

  • Keep an open mind 
  • Avoid preconceived ideas 
  • Always be open to new ideas and different opinions
  • Try to avoid bias at any cost - the hardest part of Grounded Theory but the most important if we want to create new theories together with our participants in the research process
  • Build a community of practice through trust, connections and collaboration
  • Constantly interact with and question the data

Let the journey begin...again...

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

An Ear for Inspiration - Educational Podcasts and Podcast Apps

A wonderful friend and colleague has inspired this post - thanks Jazz!  I've been very lazy on the blogging front lately.  Blogging has always been a valuable way for me to reflect on my practice and the way I think about what I do as an educator so, as I really get cracking on this PhD journey, it's even more important for me to not be so lazy and to use blogging as the tool I have in the past to think more deeply about what I do.  It's metacognition at its finest!

Podcasts are a great tool to get a daily dose of inspiration from a huge range of educators around the globe.  There are now more apps than ever that you can download to listen on the go - in the car, on a walk or run, at the gym, wherever you want to. (Don't forget the importance of completely switching off at times too though!  Balance is key.)

Which App...

I'm a huge convert to Spotify and have a tonne of music and podcasts stored there but you might prefer others such as some of those listed below.  I've include a bit of information on them and links to the sites.

Spotify - You can either have a free or a premium account. The free account does come with ads but they're not too intrusive. 

Podcast - This is a app from Apple and was the original one I used, and still do.

SoundCloud - For iOS and Android - more popular for streaming than downloading but is very popular.

For more information on these apps and other digital trends, check out Digital Trends.

Who To Listen To...

Now for the daily dose of inspiration... there's so much out there, where do you start??!!  I've included the following links to lists of recommendations for you to have a look at.  Many will be familiar to you already but there may be some new ones.  I'd love you to add any others in the comments so that I can get some new inspiration too.

51 Education Podcasts for the 21st Century Teacher
A great list and range of podcasts curated by TeachThought.  Pretty much everything you could want is on here from Digital Technology in the classroom through to the future of education, flipped learning and general education topics.

The Cornerstone for Teachers - 12 of my Favourite Podcasts for Teachers
There are a few different and really inspirational ones in here - definitely worth checking out.

Student-Centred Learning
This is a valuable collection of podcasts all dedicated to student-centred learning.

Some of my current favourites are: 

TED Talks - always inspirational and they don't always have to be education-based. 
Steve Hargadon - always has something interesting and thought-provoking to share on education. He will challenge your thinking.
Simon Sinek - from the first time I heard him speak about knowing your 'why' I've been inspired.

There are so many amazing ones out there. Please share some of your favourites so that others can tap into them too.

Monday, January 22, 2018

I Still Don't Give Homework Anymore...

As we head into a new year many teachers are thinking about how to keep everyone happy around the issue of homework, and it's never an easy task.  We know from all the research that it doesn't really work and yet we still give it, either to keep the school happy or, more often than not, to keep the community happy.  It is seen as something that is expected and that if it's not given then the world may just come to an end!

I have also travelled this well-worn path, giving homework which I thought was engaging and spending hour after hour writing very specific feedback to each of my students about their completed homework.  Most of my class completed the work because they liked the messages I wrote - or so they told me, but was the homework really engaging and targeted to meet their individual needs? No, not really.  It was to a certain extent in terms of maths and reading but, overall, it wasn't. It was just given to meet expectations. To mark it thoroughly used to take me all weekend! Completely crazy!!

In about 2007 I started to really think deeply about what I was doing and started to have conversations with the students about what I could be doing better. I started to make small changes but it wasn't really until 2010 that the changes became big ones after listening to speakers such as James Nottingham talk about being prepared for learning prior to showing up in class I started to have a few 'lightbulb moments'.  The presentation below is the end result and explains what it's all about...

I Don't Give Homework Anymore - changing thinking to motivate and engage students, teachers and parents. from Justine Hughes / Deputy Principal/ Teacher

I first presented this at an online global conference - RSCON5 - in 2014.  I had at that stage been trialling this strategy in different formats with different age groups for around 3 years with success at all levels.  Engagement was much higher in class and parent/caregiver/whanau involvement was also much higher and far more enthusiastic. The learning became more relevant and students were achieving at higher levels.  It's all about being prepared for your learning and being actively engaged in that learning at all times.  There's no opt out.

One of the main questions I am asked about it is around the use of technology for families who don't have access to the internet or computers. I worked in a school where this was a concern but this didn't stop the learners.  They were coming to school earlier, (some had had issues with truancy up until then) and many were using the computers before school, at break times, staying after school while I supervised and I also gave them extra time in class.  All of this was so worth it as they became so passionate and enthusiastic about their learning.

This is just one way of changing things up and making a difference to the engagement of our learners. It's a way of making the issue of homework more relevant and meaningful and connected to real world learning.