Tagged: communication

Allow your students to respond in ways you can’t predict

Our Grade 2 students are currently learning about emotions and emotional intelligence. They went on a field trip to the cinema to see Inside Out and the movie has inspired some very interesting thinking.

Cathy, one of the G2 teachers, gave her students a blank piece of A3 paper and asked them to draw what’s inside their heads. She got back a combination of ideas from the movie and original ideas developed by the students. This kind of open task brings out creative ideas, misconceptions, interesting language and unique interpretations that can drive inquiry in ways that teachers would not be able to predict. All too often, teachers provide their students with closed tasks designed to elicit predetermined responses that the teacher determines to be right or wrong, good or bad. When they design ways that create space in the learning for the students’ genuine responses, things are very different!

When I saw the drawings, I immediately wondered what it would be like to photograph them, put them in one of our green screen studios and film the students inside their own heads taking us on a trip around what’s inside their heads! This extended the task into new territory as the students stretched their ability to explain their thinking and to coordinate both sides of their brain as they watched themselves live on the monitor!

So, next time you’re trying to think of a way to find out your students’ ideas, thoughts or feelings, don’t design a closed set of questions to which you can anticipate the answers. Instead, design something open that creates space for them to release information that you couldn’t predict – it’ll be much more interesting.

Why making thinking visible depends on who you are as a learner

Using strategies to make thinking visible can be incredibly powerful. Their power, however, hinges almost entirely on how willing teachers are to learn about their students.

Far too often, I see visible thinking strategies used as an “activity” or as a way of decorating the walls. In some cases, I think teachers believe that just by doing a visible thinking strategy they are automatically finding out what their students think and that by displaying the results their thinking has been made visible.

However, in order to make the most of the opportunities that visible thinking strategies provide us to delve deep into the minds of our students, we need to be willing to scrutinize their responses. We need to be incredibly curious about the way they are thinking. We need to probe further when we’re not sure a student has responded fully. We need to try different strategies to see if different ideas are revealed. Most importantly of all… we need to be doing all of these things with them.

By showing them how interested we are in their thoughts – and by involving them in the way we respond to their thoughts – we honour them, we give them pride and we let them know their thinking is important. By basing the subsequent planning – ours and theirs – on their responses and reactions, we show them how their learning is constructed… how it builds on their existing knowledge, their ideas, their misconceptions and their questions.

This is inquiry.

So, next time you decide to use a visible thinking strategy, ask yourself if you are genuinely interested in how your students respond. If you are… great. If you’re not… try your hardest to make yourself interested. Its worth it.

Redefining collaboration with the PYP Exhibition

Unfortunately, I think that the idea of collaboration is very rarely understood properly by teachers of the PYP. For many of us, student collaboration has always meant “working in a group” and never really progressed any further than that. Part of the problem with this is our misguided belief that teacher collaboration means “planning in a group”, but more on that another time.

Ironically, it is our flagship student experience – the PYP Exhibition – that can be held responsible for our misconceptions about collaboration. It was always designed to be a “collaborative inquiry ” and so, to that end, teachers have been popping their poor students into groups in PYP schools worldwide every year. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well, yes, its catastrophic for many of the following types of student:

  • those students who end up being put in a group because there wasn’t a group based on their interest
  • those students who end up being put in a group because the group they wanted to be in was “full”
  • those students who always end up doing all the work in groups
  • those students who always fade into the background while others take the glory
  • those students who have always let others do the work because they lack confidence or skills
  • those students whose interests and styles of learning are never quite the same enough for them to be in a group
  • those students who make misguided group choices and regret it later
  • those students who compromise their own identity just to be in a group
  • introverts
  • extroverts
  • outliers
  • etc… have I left anyone out?

When teachers create a finite amount of groups for the PYP Exhibition (often defined by a finite number of pre-determined things the kids can learn about) with a finite number of places in each group they are undermining inquiry from the word “go”. They are also pushing cooperation and not setting the scene for genuine collaboration to happen naturally. They are creating the conditions for conflict, frustration, bickering, divisive behaviour, sulking and competitiveness. We have all seen it.

When you remove this obsession with grouping from the equation completely and allow students to develop their own inquiries… a real, natural, diverse, dynamic and unpredictable culture of collaboration begins to evolve:

  • you get partnerships and groups emerging at different times in the process based on a recognition of like minds or similar goals
  • you get frequent, spontaneous collaborations taking place as students share information, exchange ideas or help each other with things
  • you get collaborations happening between students and adults as teachers, parents and other members of the community get involved in the process
  • you get collaborations between the students and students of all other ages who become part of the process
  • you get collaboration happening by email, and online
  • you get collaboration you never anticipated

Putting students (and all people) in groups and calling it collaboration is a mould that must be broken. We have been breaking that mould for a while now, and it works.

Why not give it a try? There’s no need to wait for the PYP Exhibition, after all… it’s just another unit of inquiry.

Ideas People vs. Finger Pointers: If only it wasn’t like that.

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Myself and Chad are on our way to Phuket to spend a week at the wonderful, small, new school called The Gecko School. This is a cool story in itself, and one I will tell in subsequent postings this week.

However, I am going to look backwards first, to my time working in the city I sit in now – Bangkok – en route to Phuket.

I was here last week too, and bumped into a couple of ex-colleagues as I wandered around the city I both love and hate. We sat for a few minutes and analyzed the strange culture of one of my former schools – a place where innovative and “different” teachers tend to struggle. One of them casually came out with a statement about teachers who don’t share their ideas and try and glorify themselves by keeping hold of them and being secretive about how they teach. I nodded without really considering what was said. I only really thought about it afterwards, and it annoyed me because I was pretty sure it was a thinly veiled dig at me!

It is in the nature of ideas that sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It is also in the nature of ideas that they are spontaneous and organic. Very often, one is not aware of how good an idea actually is until its happening! A strong teaching team is aware of what each other is doing in their classrooms. Student learning is public. Doors are open. Chats about learning are frequent, formal and informal. When you see something working in another classroom, your curiosity is piqued… you ask the students and teacher what they are doing, why they are doing it and how. You may ask the teacher to come and run a session in your class – or, even better, some students. Or you may just pop back, take a few photos and consider how, or even if, to adapt it to the way your own students and classroom culture operates.

It is not a problem caused by “Ideas People” not sharing their ideas. It is a problem of the people who have the ideas sharing them and sharing them and sharing them and sharing them and ending up being stigmatized because of their ideas. Having other people not think their ideas were valid, worthwhile, important, meaningful, realistic… but then when they see those ideas come to fruition, when they see those ideas become powerful, when they see a transformation in those students because of those ideas – that is when they announce that ideas were not shared. That is when the envy kicks in, that’s when it all turns around… because there’s no proof. There’s no proof that they didn’t hear that idea, see that idea, chat about that idea… but just didn’t think it was a good idea.

But there is proof that they didn’t do it. And there is proof that the teacher who did do it, did do it! And there is proof that their students’ learning was transformed because of it.

Sadly, in some schools, that is proof enough to damage a great teacher, to render one guilty of not being a “team player”. I am not sure that many people in schools have a very sophisticated understanding of what a team really is.

  • So, if you are one of those “Ideas People”, be strong. Let your practice do the talking. People who are genuinely interested will show their interest in positive ways – make them welcome. They will be important allies when times get tough.
  • And, if you are one of those people who keeps pointing your finger at “Ideas People” and copping out by saying they are not a team player, look to yourself first… that may well be the root of the problem.

What really matters?

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What really matters in life? We all hear this a lot. True.

I’m sure most of us could rattle off an extensive list of what really matters to us. Ultimately, it would boil down to a very small number of things. Family, happiness, and…..well, happiness.

It is so easy to get sucked into things which often sit on the circumference of what really matters. Think about the people and relationships in our life. Why is it that we sometimes treat them worse than complete strangers….. because we know they will always be there. Well, hopefully. This is quite telling and also really stupid. It tells me that people don’t really know what matters or even who matters. Now, let’s think about arguments we have with people. This includes colleagues, friends or family. The real reason the confrontation surfaced often gets lost, and you start fighting about other things. Things that have no connection or relationship to how the initial argument started in the first place. Vexing!

We need to make time for what matters. This requires a lot of effort and awareness. It is all about closing the chasm on what we know we should be doing against what we need to do more of.

This also applies to learning too. We should be asking our students this question every day. “What learning today meant something to you?” I wonder what responses we would get if we asked the students that at the end of each day. Let us make no assumptions about what they would say. Imagine the natural inquiry to extend and explore on the learning that mattered to them. Spending time on something they are on the edge of knowing to help construct their own meaning about learning.

Alright, now I need to bring this posting back to the center. The real purpose and motivation for sharing this points to human interactions more than learning (even though there is an obvious connection to learning). If people could focus on the things that really matter all of the time, our interactions and dealings with others would improve dramatically. If people dump problems, concerns, dilemmas or issues on you challenge it in a way that asks, does this really matter?  At what point did things turn sour and what triggered it? People need to find alternative ways to communicate on what is really happening without judgment or ego. Be very clear about making a choice on what is at the center and focus on the ‘one thing’ that needs to be addressed. Stick with it until there is a resolution or a conclusion. Don’t get pulled into the things that end up making us feel overwhelmed or inadequate, either indirectly or directly. A lot of what other people dump on us often says a whole lot more about them, than it does us. Step back, take a breath and take stock of the things that deserve your attention right now. I challenge anyone who is reading this to try it for just one day. Observe any noticeable change in how you feel and/or make others feel too in the process. Challenge people to be better and have the same expectation for yourself. What really matters?

Give parents a voice right away!

I forgot to do this last year, but usually I ask the parents of my new students each year to write to me. I ask them to tell me all about their child, to tell me who they are as people and as learners and, basically, to tell me anything that might help me to be a better teacher for them.

Parents love this. They love to have the opportunity to express themselves and give their perspectives about their children. They appreciate being able to do this in a positive way, before parent-teacher conferences or even before something goes wrong.

I learn so much from my students parents, things that may have taken me a long time to find out for myself.

I fully recommend giving this a try. Let me know if you do and how it goes.

Image from RowdyKittens on Flickr

Give the parents a voice right away

I forgot to do this last year, but usually I ask the parents of my new students each year to write to me. I ask them to tell me all about their child, to tell me who they are as people and as learners and, basically, to tell me anything that might help me to be a better teacher for them.

Parents love this. They love to have the opportunity to express themselves and give their perspectives about their children. They appreciate being able to do this in a positive way, before parent-teacher conferences or even before something goes wrong.

I learn so much from my students parents, things that may have taken me a long time to find out for myself.

I fully recommend giving this a try. Let me know if you do and how it goes.

 

Image from RowdyKittens on Flickr