Month: September 2017

A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges

A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges

Design thinking isn’t a subject, topic or class. It’s more of a way of solving problems that encourage positive risk-taking and creativity.

-From LAUNCH by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani-

I am not proud to say this but I am really struggling with our school’s initiative to tear down classroom walls and combine classes to increase collaboration. I’m usually keen to try out new ideas but it’s made me question so many things about what is trending in education and has really made me “sharpen my stone” when it comes to classroom management.  But here’s the thing, I don’t want to ‘manage’ the students, I want to empower them. So I wonder what I am missing –how can I use this structure and type of learning to fulfill the needs of our 21st-century learners? How will this better prepare them for their future?  George Curous says “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing“. So I’ve taken on my innovator’s mindset and have begun to apply design-thinking to build a better functioning learning environment.

In Design Thinking, initially, you seek to understand your “audience” or the “user” and define the problems that they may have.  Currently, we have two perspectives to consider: our students and our team of teachers. Collectively we are a community of learners, but it’s important to put the needs of the children first–they are the reason why we are here anyway, right?!  But as teachers, we are the facilitators of this change, so I think our focus will ultimately be on the big WE, and cannot carve ourselves out of the equation when developing a flourishing community of learning.

user experience.jpg
The journey begins! What does our community of learners need? Why? How does it make them feel?!

Because this is the research and discovery phase, I am really digging into books and articles to find ways to make this work–not that we survive but to thrive in such an environment, and turn this challenge into an opportunity.

So I’ve begun to approach our situation through the lens of curiosity and ask questions about the challenges that are most immediate and pressing. As teachers, we have three main areas of concern: time for learning, the organization of the learning space, and conducting effective and engaging classroom discussion (in the large group and in small groups with our noisy space). Here is a list of just some of the questions I have begun to formulate about our collaborating Grade 1 classes:

  1. How can we structure our timetable to ensure that we have enough stand-alone literacy, maths and then transdisciplinary unit time?
  2. Of those transdisciplinary subject areas, how best do we need to develop the knowledge and skills in that areas?-in the “large group” (both classes combined) or in “split groups” (separated grade 1 classes) or through a carousel of activities.
  3. How do individual voices get heard in all the “noise”? What tools and strategies do we need to employ to make sure that there is a diversity of ideas being shared, especially our English Language Learners?
  4. How can we use our space to design areas, not just for literacy and maths, but for genuine collaboration, creativity, and quiet?
  5. What gets the kids not just “doing stuff” but actually thinking and reflecting?
  6. And how do we develop strong relationships with our students, knowing about who they are and how they learn best? What feedback systems can we create to help them go from learning passively to actively engaging and ultimately being empowered?

Although I know that we have already begun a rough “prototype” with how we tackle these challenge areas, I recognize that we need more time to understand our learners, our constraints and what the research says about developing more collaborative learning environments, which some have dubbed as Modern Learning Environments (MLE). 

desing evolved
From the wonderful website: http://corbercreative.com/the-ux-process/

So as I layer the designer mindset to frame our challenges, I recognize that we will need to actually get more data. If I am to rewind and start again, then our discovery phase requires a deeper analysis into the complexities of our learners and the needs of our community. Other than our co-planning meetings and daily reflections, I have 2 other ideas for mining some data:

  1. Student survey: we need to find other ways to include their student ideas so they are co-designers of our learning community. In the book, The Space: A Guide for Educators  , the authors encourage including student voice to create a purpose for the learning spaces and cultivate behaviors that support their emotional and mental growth. I am thinking of using the formative assessment app Plickers for a general climate survey and then work on interviewing students either individually or in small groups to get their feedback and input on how we can improve the learning.
  2. Fly on the Wall-I would like to ask some staff members, including administrators, to just pop in and make objective observations. I am thinking about making a questionnaire as a framework for their drop-ins, but I’m also really curious about them just capturing some conversations that they hear–what is the “talk” in the classroom?

As I begin to dive into our data, I will be sure to share some of the results. Truthfully, I’ve always thought about design thinking as something that you introduce when doing project-based learning and never thought to use it in this context, so I’m exploring new territory.  I am really keen to hear other people’s stories and ideas about how I can go deeper. What am I missing? What suggestions do you have?

The Future of Homework

The Future of Homework

HOMEWORK!-There is probably not an area of education that is more hotly debated than this. It doesn’t matter if you are a parent or an educator, opinions will vary. There is the 10-minute rule that a lot of schools use that comes out of the research done by Harris Cooper due to the positive correlation between student achievement and homework. Following this rule of thumb, a child in the first grade would be assigned 10 minutes of homework, while a secondary student would be assigned no more than 90 minutes of homework. However, this principle is not helpful in differentiating based on the needs a child because not all children take the same amount of time on each assignment. So this complexity makes it difficult to make generalizations about how much homework should be given. And, quantity is not the same as quality. There’s been a huge trend towards “Flipped Learning” in which teachers assign a video for students to watch at home and then they do the practice problems at school. Math is a particularly popular subject for this type of homework. In the latest season of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC,  George Curous interviews Jo Boaler,  a personal math hero of mine, who surprisingly dismissed this approach to math learning.

She explains that, at the end of the day, all this fuss over homework doesn’t matter. In fact, according to research done, it has a negative impact when you look at access to the internet, meaning that disadvantaged families or families without technology in their homes suffer from a “digital divide”. The research on this rather reminds me of the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler in which one of his main ideas was how technology will create a post-industrial age revolution that will create an economic and psychological chasm. Although back in 1970, these ideas were radical, now in 2017, it has come to past with the era of the “knowledge worker”. And so one has to wonder if our traditional approach to homework is actually serving our students in preparing them for their future, especially as I ponder one of Toffler’s infamous quotes from this book:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. -Alvin Toffler  

At many PYP schools, there has been a shift toward reframing homework as home learning, and parents who have had more traditional educational backgrounds have mixed opinion on this. In a place like Asia, in which students usually take classes after school or attend academies, parents really cringe to hear that there isn’t homework being assigned. And in many ways, sending home worksheets or assignments really helps communicate the learning that is being done in the classroom to families; because parents can see that their child is doing 10 homework problems with expanded notation, they have an obvious idea of the learning that is going on in the classroom. At our school, we send home “learning overviews” that detail the conceptual understanding and learning outcomes of the units of inquiry, adding ways that parents can support the learning at home. Also, since we use we use the app SeeSaw, we post a lot of photos of what we are doing in class. And I wonder if this fills the void that parents feel while meanwhile achieving the aims of preparing students for this “future shock”, that, in many ways, is already underway. At the end of the day, both teachers and parents just want the children to feel successful and equipped for their unknown careers ahead.

What I found most interesting about Boaler’s interview is how she articulates the importance of cultivating students’ genius. More homework? No!-more brain connections!  Jo explains that “when you have a piece of knowledge that you see in different ways”, you can be more of a creative problem solver. And how can homework really achieve that unless it is a passion project or conducting personal research that fosters divergent ways of thinking? More importantly, valuing their ideas helps children to develop confidence, autonomy, and a work ethic. And it can be gymnastics, baking a cake or playing a game. Doing this, rather than a page of math problems, surely will pay higher dividends in the long run. That’s the problem with homework–it’s rarely authentic or inspiring. And if students don’t have an intrinsic drive to learn more, there is absolutely no way that forcing a student to conjugate verbs or memorize the rivers in the world will improve that situation. Getting kids to be deeply curious and willing to try and fail at something is loads better-  that is the only learning that needs to happen, inside or outside the classroom.

So I think that the future of “homework” might just be extinction.

What do you think? Post comments below.

My Flawed Thinking: Confessions of A Digital Immigrant

My Flawed Thinking: Confessions of A Digital Immigrant

Perhaps you haven’t considered lately how far we’ve come in the journey with computers in the classroom. I recently was watching an interview with Hal Abelson about the history of Logo, the first computer programming language that was taught to kids. In it, he shares the philosophy of Logo and the determination that the father of constructionism, Seymour Papert, had in bringing computers into the classroom:

Well, one thing I learned from Seymour Papert is that he used to talk about developing technology with a low floor and a high ceiling, meaning it’s easy to get started, the low floor, and you can do more and more sophisticated things over time, a high ceiling. We sometimes also talk about having wide walls, meaning you can have many different pathways. It’s not enough just to have everyone doing the same thing and doing more complex things, but people doing different types of things.

I know Hal is talking about computer programming, but that is only one aspect of how we use computers and devices in our learning environments. It is fascinating to think about what an impact these pioneers have had in creating a generation of “digital natives”. Once a computer was a huge expensive noisy machine, but now it ubiquitous. Our young learners have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computer video games, digital MP3 players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other tools of the digital age. As an enthusiastic educator,  it’s hard not be inspired by where technology has taken us and where it will take us in our students’ learning.  I am always searching for how we might cultivate deeper thinking and creativity in our use of iPads in the learning to demonstrate this “high ceiling”. However, I recently discovered that I have some preconceived notions about my digital natives. The cartoon really summarizes my error in thinking and that I need to appreciate that, although technology can provide this low ceiling, I have to still lead them into the “learning environment”–even if I am a Digital Immigrant.  

During this last week of learning, we have been working through the transdisciplinary theme, How We Organize Ourselves, inquiring into the central idea: Community Spaces provide people with opportunities to connect. We have developed “expert” groups for different community spaces at our school and it came up that we may need some signs to help us know about the appropriate behavior in different areas. So we considered how technology can help us to augment or extend the learning by this project and decided to use Adobe Spark Post to explore how we might create the visual message.  However, I noticed that the students are accustomed to using iPads just for consumption purposes instead of using them for creativity or collaboration. Before we can shift into higher levels of purposeful use in the classroom, they need to get into habits of taken active roles as learners of technology. They required a lot of handholding to start the project and I began to think how I might have given them more support in orientating to the app before beginning. Even though it wasn’t a total flop, I wanted a lesson “do-over” so that students could make better connections and be empowered. With this in mind, I recognized my faulty logic in assuming that because they are digital natives, they are naturally orientated to using apps. I started to think about what my next steps need to be and how might I approach it differently.

After reflecting, I see these as the basic concepts and ideas that they need further development in:

Learn….

  • What do different icons mean?
  • How to problem solve when they can’t spell a word?

Understand….

  • How their projects are seen and can be shared on the device (co-use and collaborate).
  • How that double tapping is an editing command.
  • That changes made on a project happen in real time.
  • A design can be improved upon and their current model or idea is just one iteration.

In hindsight, these outcomes seem like a natural starting point and should have been obvious in the lesson design;  but as a digital immigrant, I think they implicitly know how to get started with technology. I assumed that so much of their experience has exposed them to these things and thought that the app could teach itself. My design checklist and quick demonstration of the app was simply not enough to draw out the nuances that students needed to develop when creating a product. If I want them to go into higher levels of their learning and creativity, I have to remember that, although I am not a digital native, I am their teacher and I need to make sure they have a clear picture of the power of the tool before them. There’s a careful balance of making sure that students are finding problems that they can solve, and that they have the skills to use technology to solve these problems.

I am sure my confession resonates with many educators, as they think back to a lesson that should have gone better than it did. But sometimes you do the teaching and sometimes you do the learning. (:

Leveled Reading Vs. Love of Reading–The Struggle is Real!

Leveled Reading Vs. Love of Reading–The Struggle is Real!

Since I’ve taught in a variety of school settings, both in America and overseas, what is “best practice” when it comes to reading can be a bone of contention for educators. I’ve worked in some settings whose leaders think guided reading has become blasé and we should do more conferencing with student selected texts, others who feel that “independent” reading is not really reading at all and we should give them leveled texts so that students understand what is a “just right” book for them. It’s hard to argue with either side because each have their points. Although student selected texts show real agency, student chosen texts don’t often expose them to new ideas and challenges which make it difficult to develop strategies to conquer increased demands in an instructional level text. On the other hand, there aren’t too many leveled readers that win book awards and really engage readers to the point that they can’t put the book down. So trying to both instill a love of reading and yet have learning intentions that encourage the growth of skills is a balancing act.

Lately, I’ve been reading Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ book, Who’s Doing the Work? : How to Say Less So Your Readers Can Do More,  and they tell a story of an enthusiastic reader who gets deflated by leveled reading, citing the kind of message it sends our learners:

Accompanying these instructional choices are subtle and obvious messages to students. Think about what …book selection communicates..

• I think of you as a reader almost exclusively in terms of your reading level.

• I trust reading levels absolutely and generally don’t consider the nuances of your reading process, the text, or your motivation to read.

• Although you think you know how to select a book for yourself, you really don’t.

• You are not as good at selecting books for yourself as the others.

• The confidence you have in yourself is misguided.

• Don’t get excited about the books you want to read until you check with me.

• I’m in charge of your “independent” reading.

Burkins, Jan, and Kim Yaris. Who’s Doing the Work? : How to Say Less So Your Readers Can Do More, Stenhouse Publishers, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, .
Created from vientiane on 2017-09-08 20:11:57.

 

Ouch!-Right?  As I ponder the hidden message that leveled texts send, it’s driven my head into a frenzy. How can I do both?–help cultivate the identity of a learner, seeing themselves as “readers” while at the same time, pushing them out of their comfort zone and into the “learning zone”, where their skills are enhanced and extended. Knowing that my school is committed to guided reading, I am thinking about how this concept of “best practice” can be developed in the classroom. Here are 5 ways that I intend to merge what is great about these approaches to teaching in a guided reading group:

  1. Pick texts that reflect the reading interests of the students in the guided reading group.  In the beginning, when we are developing trust in our teacher-student relationship, I think it’s important to honor their interests. I have started off with a reading interest inventory and had a discussion about what their favorite genres might be. It doesn’t always have to be the next book in the DRA or PM reader series (or other level texts series), instead, I can draw from other sources like online magazines or online reading sources like  ReadWorks,  RAZ Kids, and Epic.
  2. Their ability “level” is none of their business. It’s not that I don’t want students to make good informed choices about selecting texts, but all they are not a letter, a number a color or a name. They are a reader. That’s all they need to know. Those levels are for me, the teacher, to ensure that they grow into more challenging and sophisticated texts.
  3. Tool and strategies over pre-reading and post-reading “activities”. When I first read Edgar Allen Poe, I had to sit there with a dictionary. I struggled with all the “big words” but I loved his ideas so I dug in and did the work. I had to go back and reread, but at the end of the story, I felt fulfilled. So during guided reading, I want to expose them to a strategy or introduce them to a tool that can help them solve problems with meaning and print that they encounter in the text.
  4. Encourage them to get a life– a reading life- beyond the group! As an end of week reflection, I want to spend some time discussing some great books that they might have read independently. I don’t want students to choose books because they think they are easy but instead, I want them to really want to find books that excite and interest them. Taking the time to talk about books why we like a book not only gives me data but also shows that I value their choices.
  5. Value questions over answers. A sign of a good book is that it lingers in your mind a while. It leaves you thinking and asking questions about the concepts and ideas in it. I want my readers to apply critical thinking skills when encountering texts and having them evaluating the characters and the information in the book/article closely.  This develops the mindset of a true reader, which I am sure will show up on their running records later.

For any of you who teach reading in the primary/elementary grades, the struggle is real, as we grapple with what is really “best practice” for our unique group of learners. Hopefully, my 5 ideas will give you some pause for reflection as you consider what it is that you believe is paramount to developing your readers. Please share any ideas or take aways, as it helps all of us grow as professionals.

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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