Best BITs: The role of the teacher

In secondary school we often see teachers as subject specialists.  In elementary school we see teachers as generalists but facilitating many activities that cross subject boundaries. Authors Garfield Gini-Newman and Roland Case outline 3 contrasting foundational beliefs about teaching and learning, and the role of the teacher is listed in the discovery, didactic and thinking forms.  I feel that I have been more of a teacher that teaches through discovery working in English, drama and media arts before I was a teacher-librarian.   I often didn’t know the outcome that I would get and would help the students discover their creative work through various workshop-type activities.  I had two major problems: a) the discovery process made it sometimes difficult to return to the curriculum, especially in senior grades after 2 years of discovery in grades 9 and 10, and b) students often chose safe or known topics for discovery which made for shallow learning. Now as a teacher-librarian, each day that I help teachers and students with the inquiry process, I feel stretched to deepen the thinking and to help them find a way through the next stage in their process.

How would you describe yourself as a teacher…more discovery or more didactic?  Can you see yourself becoming more of a choreographer?  What are the challenges with moving in this direction?

Mackenzie Sayers started us off with this thoughtful response:

“As a teacher (who’s been out of the classroom for four years) I believe that I was introducing my students to a discovery classroom after putting up a fight because I initially was instructing in a didactic classroom.  By putting up a fight I mean, after I returned from maternity leave there were changes that I wasn’t familiar with and fought them until I finally realized how beneficial things were for my students and me.  I was the teacher who needed to have perfectly printed anchor charts and unfortunately after not giving what I now feel is a suitable “wait time” for students to give an answer, would correct their errors without waiting.  In my last year of having a classroom I was exploring learning through students voicing their interests.  I felt more confident in the reasons why I conferenced, why I let students introduce ideas, and how experiences and experimentation could be implemented more in the classroom (then what I was doing previously).  I think choreographing a thinking classroom is possible and that despite me not being in my own classroom I hope to facilitate and support this mentality.  I believe I see educators within our own school community experimenting with this and that when we collaborate with teachers at this “choreographing” level we can learn from them and eventually try it in our own classrooms.”

Is your experience the same?  I look forward to your thoughts.


Best BITs: The purpose of schooling

Authors Garfield Gini-Newman and Roland Case don’t go easy on the reader in the first chapter so I think it’s important to ease into the critical thinking with a bit of philosophy.  I have often been criticized for being quick to jump at anything shiny and new in education so I found Chapter 1 to be quite challenging as it forced me to reassert the foundational principles of why I wake up and teach each day.  Gini-Newman and Case argue that most decisions in education are based on 4 core assumptions.  When you think about your own reason for getting out of bed before work each morning, which foundational beliefs do you hold to guide your purpose? a) the nature of learners and learning b) the role of the teacher c) the nature of knowledge d) the purpose of schooling Likewise, which of the 4 components of an educational system do you think are most in need of reform? a) School and classroom practices b) Guiding principles c) Educational beliefs d) Foundational beliefs (the ones listed above!)

Inside TeachOntario we had a great talk.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Mackenzie Sayers says: “We need to be reflective of our practices, what happens if we are not meeting the needs of our learners?  It isn’t to say we haven’t tried but it’s about grit and honouring the struggle because it is important to honour where we came from, what we are doing and where we are going with our successes, especially as educators.”
  • Caroline Freibauer jumped in with: “We need to make small changes on all fronts. Rather than replace everything we are doing, we just need to “invigorate” our practices. Garfield highlights five principles which appear to be the key to addressing problems in the current system: engage students, sustain inquiry, nurture self-regulated learners, create assessment rich learning and enhance learning through digital technology. This lists seems to be simple and straight-forward but when you unpack each idea, they open into vast landscapes of learning for educators and administrators. I think that engaging students and nurturing self-regulated learners would be my personal top focus because if students are engaged and take responsibility for their own learning then they will naturally sustain inquiry and will find ways to use digital technology to enhance what they are doing.”
  • Michelle Hudon relates on a personal level: “In the past 10 years I have been in a variety of capacity building roles. I’ve worked with teachers whose instructional practice is based on the needs of their learners as well as teachers who aren’t there yet. Much of the time I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not making any headway. It makes me wonder what is happening or not happening at the system level–including looking at the purpose of schooling–to provide support that teachers need to shift their own foundational beliefs. Do we even spend enough time on discussing foundational beliefs?
  • Jess Longthorne wonders how evaluation can be reformed: “Mark Driven Culture (page 9)-this is true yet something I am not sure will ever change. Marks/Grades are still necessary to get into colleges and universities. Do students really have a desire for high marks or a desire to want to learn valuable skills that will help them to become lifelong learners? I think many students would chose a desire to learn but the pressure of getting a post-secondary education is all about marks and being the best to get that scholarship in order to afford to go to school in some cases.”

I look forward to your thoughts on the topics.

The pillars of my teaching are shifting

I’ve only read Chapters 1 and 2 (and 10) in Garfield Gini-Newman and Roland Case’s Creating Thinking Classrooms, but I can feel the foundation of my beliefs, the pillars of my teaching and the roof of my practice shifting.  I’m looking through two of my school roles as I read this book.  Firstly, I have to look at the whole school and especially how our teaching with technology is (or is not) changing. Secondly, I am both librarian and e-learning teacher and I want to make sure that my library goals align with the thinking goals of my online classroom self.  There are some practices that have definitely affected the way that I teach (backwards design) but there are lots of other practices that are muddy.

So in Chapter 1 when the authors describe the number of initiatives that are happening in any one school building I naturally asked “Which of the operational components is most accurate in regards to the purpose of schooling?”  My Directions Team spent an entire afternoon trying to align our core values or Finding our Why (Simon Sinek).  It’s so difficult!  When we brought our work to the next group of department heads, they tore it down to the beginning again.  Yet I know that it’s a worthwhile exercise because, as the authors say on page 16, we can’t rush to the practical.

I fear that the digital technologies that we have rushed to put into the hands of students and teachers are just sustaining existing principles rather than transforming them.  I see all the time that Inquiry tasks performed about Google-able answers are minimally impactful on student learning.  For the first time in 3 years, we are suddenly having a scarcity issue of devices again but I’m not convinced that a) our wireless infrastructure can handle more devices and b) that we want them.  We are convincing our students through our repetitive actions that they can rely on the school’s tech rather than to begin exploring their own.  I’m especially thinking of our graduating students who need to get comfy with making their own decisions about which tech tools to use for which purpose.

I never questioned before if student-centred learning had any disadvantages but of course the two things I see everyday as a librarian are clear disadvantages!  They are that the curriculum is often underrepresented or not represented at all in student-centred learning; and that students choose safe/known topics.  One of the frustrating reasons that inquiry continues to be less impactful though is because or our grading system which I know I constantly use as a stick to beat our students into motivation!  After reading Implications for personalized learning I am left with the question How can we separate grades for measurement from grades as reward?  Wouldn’t it be awesome if students found that the learning was the reward instead of the number on their report card?

In my elearning environment, I’m currently playing with the new badges tool where I can recognize students’ behaviour and achievement with a badge.  I know this isn’t a strong motivator at the grade 12 level that I’m teaching, but I want to recognize when a student achieves a technology skill; a foundational skill and a social skill that will serve them well in the environment.  My ultimate plan is to tie more badges into the competencies that are outlined in the curriculum to see where my teaching weaknesses are and also to make sure that my students have a solid foundation when they finish the course.  As a librarian, I think my career goal could be “Sense-making must be grounded in rigorous investigation.”   I like the examples given of inquiry on pages 38 and 39 but I’m hoping there will be more of these in less content-based circumstances as we go through the book.  Although these models gave me a clear point of view when we’re teaching a concept, this format doesn’t always apply to English or the Arts which are often based on skills-based learning.

#BIT16Reads: Branching out