Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Technology Story

"Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time."
~ Chinese Proverb
Recently, while browsing through the happenings at ISTE, I came across a link to tell My Technology Story. Being interested in the ways in which technology are driving change in education I obviously clicked and was taken to a form with two questions:
  • How has technology made you a more effective teacher or administrator?
  • Based on your response to the above question, how has student learning improved as a result?
As I began to type my responses into the form I realized what great questions these were. With all the talk these days about 21st century learning, being digital natives or digital immigrants, using web 2.0 or 3.0 tools I feel we are skirting around what needs to be at the heart of the discussion – how we use technology to improve student learning.

Below are my brief responses to the questions as I shared them on the ISTE form.

How has technology made you a more effective teacher or administrator?
Working in a 1:1 laptop environment with my Grade 6 class has enabled me to do so much more with differentiation. I am able to have students work on very different tasks - informed by need, learning style and interest - yet develop the same concepts, working toward a more in-depth understanding of our central ideas or enduring understandings.

Technology has also enabled me to become a more consistent and effective communicator with parents and the wider school community. Updates on our class blog keep parents informed about our events and activities. My professional blog (this one!) helps me better understand my own practice; reflecting and 'thinking out loud' help me to clarify my own understandings about teaching and learning.

Finally, building a PLN with access to blogs, wikis, organizations and social networks such as Twitter, keeps me connected to other educators. This is a vital part of my learning and I am now trying to share some of these ideas with my students. We are learning to use Twitter as a class, creating a list that allows all of the students and I to share thoughts, questions and ideas with each other.

How has student learning improved as a result?
I believe my students feel ownership over their learning. They have choices about what they will do and how they will show or share their learning with others. This became most evident during our recent student-ledlearning reviews when my students created their own agendas, planning how they would share their learning with their parents.

My students feel connected. They have multiple opportunities to learn with others in various ways: Skype conversations, presenting and participating in a student-led conference series via Blackboard Collaborate, blogging, tweeting – they have an authentic and global audience.

My students are skillful. They know how to locate relevant information and are learning how to evaluate the reliability of the source. They are writers. They not only maintain their own blogs, they read and comment on others’ blogs. They create amazing videos and tutorials to share, applying the processes once reserved for writing. They participate – joining and contributing in areas of personal interest. Many of my students have their own YouTubechannels and SoundCloud accounts where they share their compositions and ask others for feedback ~ which they receive!

Most importantly, I believe my students' learning has improved because they are aware of their learning; they are the directors of their learning. This has been made possible because of the technologies available to them and the access they now have to their own learning communities. As their guide and facilitator, they can contact me when they need help - this might be on a weekend or in the evening, but through Twitter, email, blog comments and Skype, we are no longer confined to the school day or the actual building.

What strikes me when I review My Technology Story responses is that it has little to do with technology. It is about empowering students to be actively involved in their learning. The conversation needs to be about how we develop spaces for learning, where students collaborate, question, challenge, create, participate.

These two questions are a great place to start this conversation.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Student Led Learning Reviews

Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.
~ Chinese Proverb

Today is one of my favourite days of the school year. It is the day when our students share their learning with their parents. Travelling from class to class I see parents listening to their children as they explain the different elements of the programme; demonstrating skills they have acquired; performing and sharing their challenges and successes. Our Student Led Learning Reviews (SLLR) empower our students more than any other school event and I am so proud of my students ~ they shine!

When I first began teaching this was a time of the year I would dread. Report cards about students were written by teachers and then discussed with parents. The adults would then decide upon next steps for the student to ensure continued progress. The person at the centre of all this was not at any time expected to be a part of the process. Innately it bothered me ~ I knew it was not about learning, but it was the way things were done. Thankfully, things have changed.

Earlier in the year we conduct student-led three-way conferences, where students share their portfolio with their parents, discuss their goals and create an action plan to achieve these. This coming together to discuss the learning needs of each child is an essential part of the process. Not only does it set the stage for personalized learning, it encourages children to take charge of their own learning, with their parents and teachers’ support. With such active involvement, students are acutely aware of not only what they are doing, but why they are doing it.

I challenged my students this year to think of creative ways to share their progress with their parents in a way they could not do at home. After all, if their parents were taking time off work to come to the school for an hour-long session, it should be worthwhile and not something that they could have done at home with their portfolio and computer. We developed the following guidelines as a class:

  • Must be relevant - shows your learning 
  • Must be an activity that needs to be done in the classroom 
  • Interesting or entertaining ~ engaging 
  • Show your growth in all of the essential elements and the subject areas 
  • Must share progress toward achieving goals - with evidence 

And rise to the challenge they did! Here are some of the amazing ways in which my students presented what they know, understand and are able to do.

One made a Jeopardy game with the answers relating to our various investigations and her knowledge, conceptual understanding and skill development. Another made a similar game, but did so in French illustrating growth in a second language communication skills.

One boy created a board game that had spaces designated as concepts, knowledge, skills, attitudes and action. He made cards to accompany each category with questions, statements or definitions as well as a special die with a different transdisciplinary theme on each face. Using a regular die to move on the board, you pick a card related to the space you land upon. You are then required to connect what is on the card to the transdisciplinary theme rolled.

Another student had his parents build a unit of inquiry, explaining the process using examples from our previous units to illustrate his understanding of the PYP as well as his growth in various areas.

Others used the charts in our room with the class created success criteria for different routines, such as reflective writing. They then had their parents write a piece, modeling the process and showing their own work as examples.

To end the each learning review I asked the students to write a blog post with their parents reflecting on what was learned through this event. Articulating what was learned through the learning review was a wonderful way for parents to celebrate and acknowledge their child’s accomplishments and growth. It also provided meaningful feedback to our students, allowing them to set new goals. What did they have to say? Below are quotes taken from my students’ blog posts following their SLLR.

"Overall this has been a great way to show my learning journey."

"Choosing what activities to create and play with my parents was the hardest part of preparing for my SLLR. I knew what I needed to share, but did not know how to share it."

"The best part of my SLLR was when my parents applauded and commended my effort in the end."

"Preparing for the SLLR helped me better understand myself as a learner by letting me see some of my strengths and weaknesses."

"I really enjoyed the 45 minutes and now have a better understanding of how and what he learns."

"The children learned a lot of different concepts, much different and more difficult from what I learned in [school]."

"He is an active learner who now takes a lot more initiative and responsibility in his learning, applying his knowledge to everyday life and other similar situations."

"The best part of SLLR was learning what he is doing in school, learning and growing all the way."

"The most exciting thing we observed was how confident she was. We feel that the format of this SLLR where she had the autonomy to decide on the activities she presented to us led to a more authentic interaction, where she could show us with confidence how she is progressing as a learner."

"She structured the learning review in a fun and interactive manner. She presented each subject as a game or activity where we were able to see and learn about the topics and units she is studying. It was fun to experience her interpretations of her learning and take part in her classroom activities."

"I am impressed by how organized he was during the SLLR process. He was clear in explaining the process and the purpose of each exercise. We created a new central idea together and I was surprised at how well he understood the concepts."

"I got to learn more about how students walk through the unit of inquiries, how they prepare for whatever activity they have to do, how they process the information."

"I loved to see the positive change she demonstrated."
Watching my students prepare for this day and then conduct their reviews with such poise and confidence I really do wonder why we still need to write reports. A piece of paper will never have the ability to capture the authentic assessment and reporting that occurred today in my classroom.
What a fabulous day!