Friday, April 26, 2013

An Alternative to Asking for Students to Raise their Hands.

How do you control a classroom?  When you ask a question, how many students raise their hands and one or two just yell out the answer.  You don't want to stop the moment and reprimand the students who didn't yell out, you want to continue the teachable moment.  

Here are some better alternatives to the hand raising routine:

Turn and Talk. Tell students to sit in pairs of two.  After the question is asked, pairs of children turn to each other. One listens while the other answers. This way half of the class is engaged in talking, and it is easier for children to pay attention to the speaker in a paired situation. This should move quickly, so keep the pace brisk to support children staying on task.

Think-Pair-Share. Similar to Turn and Talk, except that children are first given time to solve a problem or answer a question individually, then they turn to their partner, quickly share responses with each other and come up with the best or most interesting answer. Next the teacher calls on a few pairs to share with the class. You can use the Random Group Creator to make your groups.  

Choral Responses. To increase student engagement and reinforce simple concepts, allow the children to respond all together. This works best for questions with one answer, and as a quick review of previously covered material.

Hand Raising for simple questions.  When you have a yes or no question, ask students to raise up their hands if their answer is yes, and then ask raise your hand if your answer is no.  Then finally, raise your hand if you don't have an answer.  Quick assessment.

Cold Call. Keep a list of children’s names,  on cards, or Popsicle sticks, and randomly pick children’s names using the Randimizer to answer. This helps to improve the pace of the lesson, and keeps children engaged since they don’t know when they will be called on. However, it should still be used sparingly since it still suffers from the problem of only one student at a time interacting with the question.

One more randomizer - for groups.  To form groups out of two classes or more.  It's only for forming two groups.

Hope this helps you in your teaching method.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Inquiry Based Learning.

In a traditional classroom, the teacher is the center of attention, the owner of knowledge the main person that gives out the information.  Teachers often ask questions of their students to gauge comprehension, but it's a passive model that relies on students to absorb information they need to reproduce on tests.  What do you do if you reverse the situation?  What if the students ask the questions and find out their own questions.  That's Inquiry Based Learning.

After a session at one of the Digital Learning Series Dinners I came away with many of my own questions.  How do I incorporate this means of learning in my classroom.  Isn't it part of Project Based Learning?  Do the two work together?  Neil Stephenson (Thinking in Mind, Introduction to Inquiry Based Learning, @NeilStephenson) was and is, an excellent speaker who helped me come up with my own questions of inquiry. Neil is the District Prinicpal of Innovation and Inquiry, from Delta School District.  The archive can be found here. He runs an Intro to Inquiry-Based Learning blog here.  Neil used to work at the Calgary Science School which supports grades 4-9 students. Their blog documents the learning at the school by both students and teachers. Stephen's presentation was informative, humorist and just plain good.  He made me think.  And isn't that what you want people to do when they come listen to a speaker?  

So what follows are some questions of my own and some of the answers I've come up with, as well as some of some areas to look further into.  Hope this helps you.  

What is Inquiry Based Learning?  Very simply it's when students ask questions to find out the answers.  Use collaborative learning and deep engagement with complex problems for students to solve.  The more realistic the problem, the better for students.   There is no problem unrealistic that can not be real in the end.  Thus the video below.  

If you haven't seen this before, it's excellent to show students, that when you ask a question no idea is too silly.  You need to be able to teach students taht the more open to divergent ways of thinking about problems, more open to exploring and understanding differrent ways of perceiving the world and less concerned with providing firm solutions to problems that do not have simple or unique solutions, the better equip you are for real life.

This is an excellent video to start up your questions.

For more information about getting students to ask the big questions you can read the book by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana.  The book "Make Just One Change;  Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions", documents a step-by-step process to help students formulate and prioritize questions about nearly everything.  

As seen above, coming up with the right questions involves hard thinking of the problem, looking at it at all angles, turning the situation all around, and using "open-ended" questions and prioritizing which are the most important questions to get at the heart of the matter.  

So where do we go from here?  We look at getting our own questions answered.  Here is a list of resources online for you to read for further information.  I hope this information helps you in your own inquiry.

Inquiry Education Resources
The links to the videos he shared to spark our conversation are below.

Thank you.  I hope this blog entry helps you on your own trail of inquiring questions.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mentoring.... Isn't not just for the new teachers.

Ever have a problem in your classroom and asked a friend for help?  Your friend talks to you for a while, asking you questions for clarification.  Then they give you some suggestions, advice or work with you to make an assignment or help you change your lesson plan.  Congratulations, you just experienced the "mentor - mentee" experience.  

After a discussion with my peers that are just as interested as myself in regards to Peer Mentoring, we agree on many characteristics that make an excellent peer mentor.

Peer Mentors do:
  • learn along with the mentee
  • listen carefully (develop excellent listening skills)
  • encourage
  • empathize
  • support
  • share resources and knowledge
  • give feedback
  • be approachable
  • encourage self-reflection with questions and comments
  • follow up with communication after the experience
  • Keep your confidentiality.

 Peer Mentors don't
  • spread negativity
  • break trust
  • think they are the experts
  • assume anything
  • go in with any pre-conceived notion.
  • and make any assumptions about the situation
If you think about someone that you always went to for help in your first year of teaching, or even now that you've been teaching for a number of years, you could probably see many of the characteristics listed above in that person.  

Most people need help, no matter how many years they've been teaching.  Sometimes you can't see the
forest for the trees, you need to sit back and think, you need time to reflect and another pair of eyes to help you see what you're missing or what you can't see clearly in front of you.  Sometimes you need someone else helping you to reflect and question you on what's really on your mind, what has happened or what you want to happen.  Sometimes you just need to talk in a safe, collegial environment.  That's what mentoring is to me.  Helping people to reflect, and make their own personal learning goals.  That's why peer mentoring is not just for new teachers, it's for everyone.  I encourage everyone to have the experience.  A great support system is there to help you grow, in your professional life as well as your personal life.  If you see my last entry, you'll see that one comment can change the way you teach, only for the better.  Thank you for reading.  That's just my opinion....

How do We Sustain this Learning in our School?

Many of these posts have been written with the intent to show the learning at our school, not just mine, but all the members of this school.  Our Innovation Grant is not just about myself and my co-chair Jennifer Spain, but every person in our school (from secretaries, aides, to the teachers and admin) have been trying new ways to be innovative and improve their own practises. My purpose in this large scale learning (along with my co-chair Jennifer Spain) is to organize events, give people time to evaluate what they are learning and its effects, listen when need be and just plain answer questions.

A while ago my administrator Rex Hayes called me into his office to discuss a meeting he attended with all the administrators who were given the Innovative Grant or the Technology Grant.  There were many but only a few who had the entire school involved in the learning.  This alone caused my heart to swell with pride for my colleagues and I.  But it does involve a different dynamic of reporting for our finding and sustaining such a large diverse amount of learning.

We've worked as a group to increase communication inside our school and outside to the community at large.  We used technology with blogs, tweeting, wikis, forms, and just plain emailing parents.  We've brought in the outside world with invitations to other schools with similar classes:  SKYPEing, speakers, online presentation (Dr. David Suzuki was interviewed live online and this presentation was arranged by a Grade 12 student in our school), and many other learning opportunities.

Something that opened my eyes, and changed the way I viewed Sullivan happened two montes ago at a District Meeting for Department Heads of the district.  We had the opportunity to study what type of leader each of us were (Red for make a decision, Green for gathering things, Yellow for creative, but there's so much more).  Rex asked our group (we had two tables of Department Heads interested in learning about themselves) what was special about our school, a question asked by the presentor.  Someone said "Nicole" and I proceeded to list all the learning in our school.  But Randy Jaggernathsingh (an excellent teacher, friend and role model for me) stopped me and said something that changed the way I view the school.  He said "I've talked to other Social Studies Department Heads here and you know what's different about us, what makes us special?....  We really care for each other.  We're a family".

Last week I had a Department Head release day, running around fixing technology, finishing up projects for the school, talking to teachers with concerns.  That's when I cam to the realization that we
are a family.  From the bratty brother to the perfect one, the ADD sister to the hyper cousin.  We have the aunt that gives out gifts and kind words to family members that need a lift to the uncle that says "Pull my finger" (never understood that one...).  All shapes, all characteristics, all personalities in our family.  But one thing that joins us all is our drive to make this school as great as possible, to care for our kids, and to learn as much as we can so we may reach these goals.  We help each other, cover classes, share materials when asked, and give suggestions when need be.  There is trust and love here.  And like every family, we do have our squabbles, but when it's over, there is still the respect of person to person.  We have our ups and downs, celebrating and tweeting all the great things in the school (1000 sulli rocks) and discussing how to handle the huge growth in our school (we have 5 periods and different times that teachers work, so we're a bit separated from each other).  We've lost members that have moved on or moved out in transfer, those that have taken leaves, but we still share anything we learned through blogs, tweet, interviews, forms, surveys,  meetings and more.  

So when asked by the people who gave us this grant to explore new methods of learning, of communicating, of assessment and so much more, how will we sustain this learning in our school my answer is two fold:  "We were learning and growing before the grant and we'll be learning and growing after the grant.  We'll find the means and release time to help support our family in their endeavours to grow professionally as well as help each other to improve our school."   The second thing to help sustain the learning is also just as simple:  Respect for each other, respect for our colleagues outside our school, and love.  Love of the learning.  This school loves to learn everything, they just need a little encouragement and a pat on the back every once in a while, some recognition.  

This is my answer.  I just organize, the Sullivan members of the family do what they do because of love.

Hey, look at that, my summary is my report of our research.  Moving on to the next job of learning ;)