Author: Judy Imamudeen

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.

Designing a Classroom of Writers: An Inquiry-Based Approach To Writer’s Workshop

Designing a Classroom of Writers: An Inquiry-Based Approach To Writer’s Workshop

I have a desire to be the teacher that I always wish I had and to have a classroom whose energy and enthusiasm for learning is palpable. I don’t care if my students remember me when they are older but I certainly wish that who they became as writers might be because of me.

This week was the first full week of school and like many classrooms, the early days of learning are full of cultivating our learning culture and assessing children. However, since we are a PYP (Primary Years Programme) school, we are also trying to determine what they know about our central idea Our choices and actions as individuals define who we become as a community while looking through our lines of inquiry:

  • Ourselves as learners (reflection)
  • How our mindset impacts our behavior (change)

So this week, as we inquired why people write, students examined old exemplars of writing. And when I say old, I mean REALLY old, as in ancient, such as these.

ancient

We did the See, Think, Wonder Visible Thinking routine, and the students came up with lots of wonderful ideas like “words are like codes that have secret messages”, “old humans had different things that they wrote about”, “writing looks different today”. Then their questions began to emerge, with the most poignant being  “what message do they want to tell us”. From there, we decided to create a “message” about something that is important to them. They could write about anything, which would help me assess a bit into the line of inquiry-who we are as learners, and most importantly, who we are as writers. What ideas do they have? Would they use pictures AND words to express their ideas? What words would they use?

So with no other prompt, they began to “write”. All of them drew pictures, none of them wrote words beyond their name on top of the paper. I thought this was very interesting and it was great data. At that point, I decided to stop the class, and have them share their pictures with a buddy. While they partnered up, the partner who drew the picture was silent while the other described what they thought the picture was about. Then they switched roles. When we did a whole group reflection, the students began to articulate what they needed to add to their picture so that its message was clearer: more details in the picture, more color, and add WORDS! Then they set off to work on their writing and the words started to come onto the page naturally. This showed me that they were beginning to understand the purpose of words in our writing and motivated them to use labels and captions.

During our next lesson, students explored books with the learning intention of determining what the author was trying to tell us–what was their message. When the students came back and shared, the purpose of writing began to come into focus: to entertain or to inform us about a certain topic. Then I gave them back their original sample of writing, I asked them if they were “done” with this idea of if they needed more paper to explain what happened before and after the page that I had in my hand. All of them agreed that they had more work to do, and within 30 minutes, their books began to emerge. Students ideas for book making began to spill out and they started to think about their purpose of writing: “When I am done with this book, I want to write about mermaids”, “Next time Batman is going to fight another bad guy.”, “I want to do a different kind of I-Spy book”.  Later students asked when it was writing time and if they could take their books out on break so they could share them with a friend. But my happiest moment of this week came when a student who felt overwhelmed and exasperated about reading came to me and asked if he could do more writing during our classroom ‘personal inquiry time”. I couldn’t help but beam with my joy–Yes!, I thought, they will become genuine writers!

I firmly believe that when students get the “why” of writing and the “how” will come naturally because they are motivated to do the heavy lifting in their learning. So as we work through this unit of inquiry, I intend to find mentor texts to help support them and to “tune into” their voice so they develop their skills as writers.

I am wondering what others have done that has sparked a love of writing. What strategies and provocations have you used that got students motivated and energized about their work? Please share because it elevates teaching, not just in my classroom, but in other’s who read this blog. Sharing is caring! (:

When “Me” Changes to “We”: 6 Things to Consider With Teacher Collaboration

When “Me” Changes to “We”: 6 Things to Consider With Teacher Collaboration

When I arrived at Vientiane International School, the primary school classroom walls were taken down either altogether or partially during the summer. This left no choice for teachers to figure out how they might manage this open concept idea. Would teachers coexist, cooperate or collaborate? How would they approach this new initiative by admin and how would they manage this new relationship to sharing their “teacher territory” with their peers? These were looming questions that began our teacher prep week at VIS and the context for the ideas I share.

Let’s be clear, there is a big difference between “coexisting”, “cooperating” and “collaboration”,  so I’d like to dissect these terms.

collaborateCoexisting in a space means that you both “live” there and tolerate each other and are friendly, but you are doing your own thing. Cooperating means that you are developing a relationship with another person because it is mutually beneficial to do so;  on occasion, you plan something together or share resources on a needs-based basis. Collaborating means that you co-labor together, working together toward a common goal, which could be done in parallel with each other, in supporting roles or as a tag team. It is a very powerful model for learning but it’s not an easy one to pull off and takes some time to develop a strong working relationship with the team of teachers.

According to the work of Ochan and Bill Powell,  there are 6 things that need to be considered and agreed upon before teachers begin to embark upon this professional journey:

  1. Roles and responsibilities: Figure out who is going to take the lead in what learning area. What systems and routines do you want to use in the classroom?
  2. Attitudes:  Assess what philosophies and practices you share in common. What can you agree upon?  How can you share joint-ownership for the students and the learning space?
  3. Planning: What are you going to plan together? What are you going to plan on your own? How will you share your planning with each other?
  4. Delivery of Instruction: How is the learning going to look? Will it be done in large or small groups? What will the groupings be based upon and what model of collaboration will you employ?
  5. Assessment of Student Learning: What tools and procedures will be in place to evaluate student progress? Who is assessing what students and how frequently will this be done? Where will these assessments be kept and how can team members access them?
  6. Evaluation and Reflection on the Learning:  How can teachers provide feedback on the effectiveness of the learning? How frequently will this be done and in what format? What norms must be established so that feedback is seen as a positive habit of reflection?

Looking at these 6 areas for collaboration, you can imagine the level of candidness and trust that is involved with teachers. You have to think collaboratively so you must find ways in which your ideas intersect with one another in order for mutual respect to be developed. You may not agree with everything but if you can articulate what is non-negotiable and develop shared values, then your team can rally around that.  You have to find the opportunities to connect and identify with each other so that a positive working relationship can start to form, as you begin to see the classroom as “ours” and not “my”.

As I start to begin this process with an unfamiliar group of teachers, it does seem a bit daunting to “nail this” straightaway. Our PYP Coordinator, Chad Walsh,  has really challenged us to examine our willingness towards collaboration. Just today my Grade 1 partner reminded me to not call one side of our space as “my” and “your” room and instead refer to it as “literacy” area and “maths” area.  I appreciated this gesture but it made me very aware that my thinking and language will definitely need to refine as we undergo this transformation. But the willingness and eagerness to try something new are shared by all the members, which makes this effort so much easier. As long as we work on these 6 areas, I know that we will reach the highest levels of collaboration.

What do you think is the most important area to focus on first as you develop collaboration between staff?

The Educator’s Companion to Professional Development

The Educator’s Companion to Professional Development

Anyone who knows me realizes that I am ridiculously committed to my craft and am always looking at how I can improve teaching and learning. For the last year, I’ve been hemming and hawing about doing a podcast, partly as a challenge since it gets me to step out of my comfort zone and partly for a fun exploration experience so  I can bring this media format into classroom learning. It took me ages to come up with a topic, learn the basic skills, record and launch it. I didn’t want it to be some meaningless content that was clogging up the internet. I wanted it to be useful for fellow educators. As someone who easily spends $200 USD a month on professional development, I began looking for free and inexpensive ways to increase my professional learning. The resources and insights I have gained in my quest to uplevel my practice is the basis of the podcast.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the Educator’s Companion to PD podcast! Its whole purpose is to provide ideas for personalizing your professional development so that you can master the concepts and skills that can make the impact that you want to make in your school communities.  The resources are free and my commentary is my own. I have 5 episodes recorded and ready for your ears with much more on the way.

To help facilitate personalized professional development, I made an infographic to help people through the process. I am hoping that this will get people to consider how they might structure and begin a learning journey in pursuit of updating and expanding their skills.  I have nearly completed the ebook that expands upon personalizing your professional development but for now, consider this little cheat sheet a taste of what to come.

 

 

Your Cheat Sheet to Personalized Professional Learning. (2)

Also, I have created a guestbook for you to share your favorite professional learning resources. It’s incredibly helpful for fellow educators to learn more about these fantastic opportunities and it lifts up the whole profession when you do so. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience!

Share a tip: What's one free professional learning resource that has impacted your teaching and learning?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Shouldn’t the Madhatter be a Girl? He’s Having a Tea Party After All!

Shouldn’t the Madhatter be a Girl? He’s Having a Tea Party After All!

I have really been grappling with the idea of “girl stuff” vs. “boy stuff” lately and it’s a conversation that I have had with many of my friends who are likewise trying to navigate the concept of gender with their children in our modern age. In an effort to make sense of this, I reached out to fellow International Baccalaureate educator and creativity wizard, Tim Fletcher to help me explore this idea in a guest blog post. Tim is an avid dancer and Middle Years Programme (MYP) performing arts teacher at The Inter-Community School in Zurich, Switzerland. I am excited to share his ideas and I hope they are as thought-provoking and insightful for you as they were for me. Enjoy!

 


 

I knew I was different. I thought that I might be gay or something because I couldn’t identify with any of the guys at all. None of them liked art or music. They just wanted to fight and get laid. – Kurt Cobain

There is something incredibly sad with this quote from Cobain, a guy that went on to make music that defined a generation and most likely resonated strongly with those that he could not identify with growing up. What it does show is the huge disparity between the perception of gender role play and the reality. What Cobain found interesting was disregarded by his peers as not being ‘masculine enough’, yet his through his own path he became a revered figure. It is a complex subject which I can reflect on from a personal perspective, having started ballet in a small rural city at the age of six, but it has many wider implications about how our brains are wired, how society reinforces that wiring and what we can do to change those perceptions.

What gave me the desire to ask my mother to start ballet so early? Why was I driven to dance, that it became such a driving factor in my life that it turned into a career? To be perfectly honest I have no idea, I must have seen it – and that was it, I had to dance. It is a decision that shaped my life, took me travelling, introduced me to my wife, etc. My whole being was attracted to movement and moving, and still is.

Not to say I didn’t like doing the boy things too. I ran around with toy guns and built spaceships, I just did ballet as well. Now I got lucky, my friends accepted that ‘Tim just did ballet’ and never questioned it or its masculinity. But in lots of situations it is questioned, take this anecdote, for example, the given starting point for this blog post: During a recent sleepover, my daughter creeps over to me and whispers “I think when I grow up, I’m going to be a boy”. My eyebrows raised and a curious grin comes to meet her gaze. “Really, what makes you say that?” She confesses, “Well, I like boy stuff like robots and remote control cars”.  “Ah, I see”. “and I don’t think it’s fair that boys get to have all the fun, why can’t us girls play with those things? And furthermore, I don’t think it’s fair that us girls only get to play with Barbies. Maybe boys would like to play dress up as well. What do you think?” My 7-year-old explains what prompted this revelation–her girlfriends prefer to play with Barbies all day and she gets bored with them after a while. So she feels like she’s not “girl enough”. The socialisation of this situation is frightening in that seven year old questions herself and feels she may not be “girl enough”, like Cobain, when we don’t fit – we feel ‘unnormal’.

As soon as young children figure out the difference between being boy or girl (we’ll stay with the binary for sake of not exploring another theme) they start to play out roles. Although, the exact cause of gender identity remains unknown, biological, psychological and social variables clearly influence the process1. These are reinforced by older siblings, peers, education, media, toys, marketing and most of all parents. Very quickly children fall into what they hear in the playground, like ‘boys are dumb’, ‘girls aren’t strong’, etc… and let’s not start with the parents who bolster these attitudes.  

We are quick to jump on the bandwagon today and blame marketers, toy manufacturers and tv producers that create gender specific products and content for today’s youth, not to mention the sickening phenomenon of pink for girls, blue for boys (which only took hold in the early eighties). In fact, we have been going in reverse with gender neutral toys, so much so, that when you wade through the mass selection in a toy store it represents more a vision of the 1950’s than the 21st century.  Surprisingly, it’s only the last three decades though that the toy industry has made massive strides backward, making a buck and greed has driven this trend. But it wasn’t always this way, check out this letter from Lego that came with a set of bricks in 1974.

lego to parent

Marketers and our environment contribute to this problem of gender identity and what is “normal” or not. All that being said, there is now some growing evidence to suggest that we may actually be predisposed to certain types of toys based on our gender. Recent studies with rhesus monkeys showed how female and male bias may be biological in what types of toys they preferred to interact with. In this study, male monkeys took to the trucks and females to the dolls. And there is a lot of historical reasons to support this, men hunted and built the shelters, woman cooked and bore children. Then these roles were repeated and repeated, and repeated, until very recently. It provides us with a framework of why the world is constructed as it is and why some people have trouble surrendering to modern structures.

This creates what we call ‘norms’. Most males probably have a predisposition to building and most females to nurturing, within a bell curve of sorts. Most people fit into (more or less) this type of behaviour, which is fine. Although, these norms can be twisted. We know through psychology that we categorise and compartmentalise as a coping mechanism. It is impossible for me to think of every person as an individual, with uniques traits, likes and dislikes, etc. So my brain groups them by their ethnicity, nationality, gender, clothing, etc. These rough categorisations have associated attributes from my specific environmental socialisation, i.e. my opinion, based on my experience, to a particular ethnic group, gender, etc – determines that… and violà I have a sweeping inaccurate impression of someone I saw for a second on the street. Although it is inaccurate, our impressions of others defined by this categorising, creates cognitive comfort.

What is not fine is giving into it and judging people for not fitting into the stereotypes we have built of the world, like when a girl prefers to play with robots and a boy prefers to do ballet. Even worse berating them for being different. Many parents who insist and tell their child that they are an individual, special and can do anything often struggle when the child falls from the realms of normal gender play. This cognitive dissonance must also cause some discomfort for the child “Mum says I’m special and can do anything… except, as long as I don’t play with dolls and stick with trucks”.

This is why we have a responsibility to educate, establish acceptance and shape a new set of norms, which is the responsibility of all those I listed above that contribute to this predicament. So, what can we adopt to remedy this perception problem?

Asking children why they think one way to challenge the stereotypes is a good place to start. Why is it stupid to brush and stylise the doll’s hair? What could you learn from doing it? Could the plaiting of hair give them ideas to build in different ways? This could be supported by showing innovative building designs but also showcasing successful male hairdressers. Breaking down false stereotypes can be done rationally, and emotionally. There can be an appeal to the emotions in the context of a game or competition. Children facing gender opposite tasks during a game will often “get on with it” because of the nature of competition and through doing, their actions may appeal to their emotions – that actually, it feels alright.

What can happen by observing different toy vehicles in action? The tyres make different patterns which could be the formation of an eventual print on the material. There are an unlimited amount of ways we can look at using gender specific toys in a variety of ways if we allow ourselves. In terms of creativity, it is a well-documented technique that putting odd things together can have very productive and unique outcomes, as I have covered in this post. It could be introduced as a rule of playing with gender opposite toys at home or in the classroom. How can I apply this toy, or playing with this toy, to an area of interest for me?

But most importantly we must be installing a new ‘norm’ of acceptance with what children are drawn to and indeed prefer to engage in. If that interest manifests it could shape their lives, so we have more female physicists and male midwives. I hate to think what would have happened if I had not been allowed, and indeed encouraged, to follow my passion for movement and attend ballet classes.

  1. https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/psychology/development-psychology/psychosocial-development-age-02/gender-development

nela_painted_1

If you would like to read more from Tim and his research more specifically into creativity and education, check out his blog, Learn Creatively. He has a lot of interesting ideas about the intersection of art, learning, and inspiration.

Why Schools Should Rethink the Use of Classroom Time

Why Schools Should Rethink the Use of Classroom Time

Before I begin to ruminate on the title of this post- are you familiar with the work of Cal Newport? His book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, changed the way I think about my use of personal time. I highly recommend it. Its premise is simple, we live in the Age of the Knowledge Worker, in which our highest value to society is the ability to apply our understanding to solve problems and think critically.  Our fragmented attention deters us from doing something well, and thus if we want to work at our highest levels, then we must “drain the shallows” of our life and put the focus on developing the skills the understanding that will move us forward in our work and passions through ruthless command of our schedules and excavating frivolous habits that waste our time and do not produce any benefit in our lives.

Since reading this book, I systematically eke out time in which I can do research and reading to improve my craft as an educator. The more I work with the principles of Deep Work, the more I wonder how it can be applied to my classroom.

As an avid fan of his blog, I have to share an excerpt of a recent post:

A Tale of Two Schedules

In 2009, tech investor Paul Graham published an influential essay titled “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.” In this piece, he argued that the best types of schedules for people who makes things are different than the best schedules for those who manage things.

As Graham elaborates:

“The manager’s schedule is…embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour…”

“…But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.”

He then delivers the key conclusion: “When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster.”

Though Graham doesn’t mention it specifically in the essay, we might add that the need to keep up with an inbox or chat channel can be equally disastrous to a maker. The constant context switching, as we now know from research, also prevents the maker’s brain from fully engaging the creative task at hand.

In the years since this essay was published, it has spread widely. The (slightly modified) terms maker schedule and manager schedule are well-known, and most people who deal with both types of workers agree that Graham is speaking the truth: if you want someone to make something valuable, they’ll be most effective if you let them work in long, uninterrupted chunks.

But here’s the thing: almost no organizations support maker schedules.

Speaking of organizations…ahem, let’s talk about schools, shall we? What does your school timetable look like?- Are you creating “makers” or “managers” in your school? And, is one type better than the other, you might ask?–what am I implying here?

This is actually tricky to articulate but I’m wondering about my students’ futures. Managing seems to go with manufacturing, which I believe automation will make so many of those jobs obsolete. So developing their time organization skills seems more relevant as a “maker”.

But I am reminded of the words of Katie Wood Ray, a passionate educator of young writers, who says:

We need to talk about time in our conversations about the teaching of writing. Time is not just when writing instruction happens in school; time must be part of the curriculum, part of what students are learning about as they develop as writing. You see, it doesn’t really matter how many craft lesson or genre studies a teacher plans for students if she doesn’t first teach them how to sit down in chairs, stay there for a long time, and make some work for themselves that leads to writing. With blank paper in front of them, students have to leave how to make something out of nothing, and they must learn to come back the next day and do it again. The curriculum of time is fairly simple: Sit. Stay. Put something on the paper.

Excerpt from her book In Pictures and In Words: Teaching the Qualities of Good Writing

As a teacher of young students, I wholeheartedly agree that we must instill in our students’ a desire and curiosity in order for them to develop stamina and elaboration/experimentation in their work.  They must learn how to focus. I think ahead to next school year, I know I want to create habits of critical thinking and deep work, in which students approach their learning with the willingness to engage in the effort to create something. I know that some schools have Genius Hour or have special occasions such as Day of Design, but what if there were more embedded opportunities within a day to do something like this? Not only am I refreshing myself in the workshop model, but I am spending some time this summer considering how I might cultivate this habit and how I might structure it in the classroom. I want them to have the time to think and create artifacts of their learning that matter to them, that communicate who they are and what they care about. I want them to be intentional with their time.

I believe that we owe to our students to analyze our school timetables and consider if we are helping or harming our students in preparing for their future work. Are we bobbing from subject to subject or are we offering them chunks of the day dedicated to learning? Can we cultivate curiosity and carve out long blocks of time in which students can explore ideas and projects that matter to them and yet still move them forward in developing skills and knowledge?

What do you think? How does your school or your classroom develop time management skills in students? Do you think block time is successful in creating a culture of Deep Work? 

Why the PYP Exhibition Brings You to Tears

Why the PYP Exhibition Brings You to Tears

This past month was an explosion of students who completed their PYP Exhibition. It was fantastic to see on Facebook and Twitter all the pictures and videos of the kids. For those people who live outside of the International Baccalaureate (IB) bubble, The Exhibition is the mother of all projects for the primary program and is a culminating event of the Primary Years Programme (PYP). Students, in grades 5 or 6  have to literally become their own teachers and plan and conduct a personal inquiry and then present their research using the arts and technology. Anyone who is familiar with the IB will understand that this is no ordinary project as the kids have to incorporate all 5 elements of the PYP into this inquiry, creating a central idea and lines of inquiry based on conceptual understandings they want to explore, all the while demonstrating the learner profile and attitudes. The major emphasis is to “do something” now that they “know something”, so the students are expected to act upon their new found knowledge in a way that is meaningful to them. Needless to say, it is an exciting 6-8 weeks of learning, and it is a lot of work to guide the students as they are pushed to go deeper and are challenged to become independent learners.

At the end of April, we completed our own school’s P5 exhibition and it was really powerful. For 7 weeks, the typical school timetable collapsed and they only met with mentors and specialists who help guide their research, as well as stand-alone math lessons. It’s hard to really articulate what a transformative experience this is for the students, but it is definitely one of my favorite parts of the PYP and why I am such a staunch believer in the IB framework. During our opening ceremony, the students performed this song and there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole room, everyone was moved to tears.

Say something, I’m giving up on you I’ll be the one, if you want me to/ No one’s been there when we ask them to. Anywhere, I would’ve followed you/ Ignoring the problems that you knew Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I am feeling so small It was over my head I know nothing at all

And I will stumble and fall/ When we stumble and fall I’m still learning to love/ The way we treat others Just starting to crawl/ It makes them feel small

Say something, I’m giving up on you I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you/ no one’s been there when we ask them to Anywhere, I would’ve followed you/ ignoring the problems that you knew Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I will swallow my pride/ And you, are using your might You’re the one that I love/ The power you have And I’m saying goodbye/ To take other’s rights

Say something, I’m giving up on you And I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you/ I’m sorry that I didn’t fight for you And anywhere, I would have followed you Oh, oh, oh, oh say something, I’m giving up on you

Say something, I’m giving up on you/ Say Something, you have the power to Say something

Created by Ms. Overby’s P5 students, 2017

Parents and teachers were in awe and other students were inspired, as our students inquired into the “access to equal opportunity” in the Sharing the Planet theme.  On the day of the Exhibition, students gave workshops and shared their art, as they explored issues such as family problems, human rights, money’s impact relationships, gender inequality and the Syrian refugee crisis. We had a giant “reflection” canvas that students, teachers, and parents wrote or doodled on to express their reactions to the presentations and ask questions to the students. The students got a lot of feedback from this process and enjoyed engaging with an authentic audience.

But even leading up the day of Exhibition, students were promoting awareness of their topics during school-wide events such as assembly and International Day. Their research wasn’t hidden in the 4 walls of their classroom but was shared with all of the students, and many of the younger students’ curiosity was sparked.

I think because of this, it made the opening ceremony and the workshops even more potent, as finally, the unveiling was taking place. Because all the artwork was put on display all over the school, students were still commented on the ideas presented and the topics still lingered on their minds. It was obvious to us teachers, that other students had impacted and uplifted just by proxy of the Exhibition.  I was glad that we did Exhibition earlier than other schools because there was still a buzz for weeks afterward and it inspired the Grade 4 class to want to do a mini-X for their final unit.  The Grade 5 students then became mentors for this mini-X, which further empowered them.

 

One of the group’s artworks on display, demonstrating the basic human rights which government must uphold.

There is absolutely no doubt that these Grade 5 students are prepared for our Middle Year’s Programme, as the seeds of life-long learning have been planted and they have the skills necessary to be successful. As a teacher and PYP coordinator, I wish this experience for all students, as they discover that they can take charge of their learning and can create their own path in life, making a difference through community service, raising public awareness and art. As a parent, it gives me great hope in what this empowered generation can bring to our world. It is for this reason why I have tears of joy and not sadness when I look upon the accomplishment of these students.

 

 

The 14 Gifts of Design Thinking

The 14 Gifts of Design Thinking

Last month I finished up the MITX Design Thinking for Leading and Learning course, and I’m still assimilating the profundity of these ideas and the impact they can have in classrooms. It’s actually really hard for me to articulate since I’m in the midst of a paradigm shift as ideas are colliding between developing empathy, creativity, and critical thinking in students. It’s been a “perfect storm” in my mind and I’m still trying to erase my former notions about design as a cycle instead of it as a creative process–which was probably my key take away. When I learned about how schools of poverty and underachievement are transformed by using it, I was impressed, to say mildly.  And I have been chewing on how this is possible when it occurred to me that it wasn’t all the great knowledge that was gained, it was the mindset that was cultivated. In particular, it made me think about the work of Brene Brown and her research on shame and vulnerability.

The REVOLUTION will not be televised. It will be in your classroom! You are working on the hardest edges of love.

Do not ever question the power you have with the people you teach!

Learning is inherently vulnerable and it’s like you got a classroom full of turtles without shells.  The minute they put their shells back on, they are protected–from their peers, from their teachers, from whoever–no learning can come in…so we really have to develop ‘shame resilent’ classrooms.

-Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly

I agree with Brene Brown about developing “shame resilience” and have found the usual tug of war between with teaching and mistake making diminishes when we introduce students to a mindset in which they appreciate the importance of recognizing our errors and strive for constant improvement. When I think about design thinking, I believe it could beinnovation a powerful way for students to experience their vulnerability and develop perspective taking, all the while creating real cool stuff–whether it is a piece of writing, a t-shirt, a rollercoaster, an app or, in my Early Year’s classroom, a garden. They learn how to fail forward and create another prototype. This design sprint is not a destructive but constructive element because, although they spent a lot of time developing their idea, the focus shifts from the product itself to the user–who will reap the benefits of this redesign. It gets the kids to detach from what they are making to who they are making it for. This nuance has a relatively big impact on the process of improvement.

So, it’s been in the midst of implementing it at a deeper level, that I had a moment of clarity in which I connected Brown’s ideas to that of design-thinking. Design-based learning creates a space in your classroom in which different “gifts” from the students’ learning can emerge:

  1. Love Of Ideas
  2. Belonging (in their collaborative groups)
  3. The Joy of creating something and learning new ideas.
  4. Courage to try new things
  5. Problem-finding by thinking future forward and considering what the possible issues might be with their design.
  6. Innovation by using different strategies and materials to solve a challenge.
  7. Ethical decision making by considering the different perspectives and considering if their solutions will be harmful to the environment or hurtful to others.
  8. Trust in each other and themselves
  9. Empathy for the users.
  10. Accountability to finish the job
  11. Flexibility with our time table and dealing with challenges.
  12. Creativity in designing.
  13. Listening to Feedback from others
  14. Hard conversations with each other

As my class is still in the midst of this design-based unit, I continue to be fascinated by their growth as the process reveals another level of their thinking and feeling about issues and ideas related to our current unit. I’m enjoying observing this process and love how it fits so well with the inquiry-based learning model of the Primary Years Programme (PYP). I definitely look forward to implementing this approach in future.

I’m wondering if others who have more experience with design thinking would agree with the “gifts” and/or add different ones to the list. Please share. I’m genuinely interested in your perspective.

How to Avoid Being Napolean Bonaparte

How to Avoid Being Napolean Bonaparte

I’ve long held a suspicion that there is a difference between an administrator and a leader, but now I know it is the truth. My current school has suffered through major changes several times since I’ve been here and now it looks to restructure again with its expanded campus. Needless to say, this has provided a lot of fodder for me to consider what is my role at the school and made me reflect on what is the distinction between someone who sees themselves as a someone who “ticks off the boxes”, my definition of an administrator,  or someone who is in fact in command of the school, my definition of a leader. As I see, you can’t lead people who don’t want to follow you, but you still can be an administrator who manages things lovelessly.

Music Genre

And the difference between the two is what are the values of the person in charge: completing paperwork or developing trust. Whether or not someone at the top is an administrator or is a leader, they influence the culture of a school, but the outcomes of their decisions permeate all areas of school life. The perspectives they hold about education plays a major part in how school policies and procedures are shaped and implemented.

Some of the fault in exercising power comes from the fact that the higher you climb in a hierarchical structure (which most schools ascribe to), the more you are the target of criticism and complaints. How you handle being the target of these remarks and gossip makes a huge difference. You have to ask yourself: Do I want to be liked or do I want to be trusted. The nuances in this perspective cannot be underscored enough. To put simply, if you think of your title like winning a popularity contest then you will always be defending your title. If you think of your title as earning a vote of confidence, then you continue to work toward maintaining and developing the strengths of your organization.  When you are in a “title”, there is hubris and then there is humility that becomes the norms of a school.  You get to decide which will define your use of power.  Douglas MacArthur said it best:

A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.

As I wrap up my school year and prepare to move to another school, I will store away the memories of these experiences. Although I will not be in a leadership title next year, I have come to understand that “words without actions” are meaningless, so I feel strongly that titles without real leadership qualities are void of any value. I am a bit disenchanted with any grabs at power at the moment because I have witnesseleadershipd first hand at how detrimental it can be when people thirst to be given power or maintain control over others. I have come to feel relief in taking some time to redefine what I am and how I can best serve my new school community and the field of education at large. Alas, that will be my new focus–out beyond the 4 walls of my school–and look to how I might contribute to making a difference, not just in the International Baccalaureate, but in the larger conversation that is taking place in education: What really matters for our learners as we look to the future?

What about you? What are your thoughts about school leadership? What perspectives am I missing?

2 Questions Worth Asking To Determine Your Professional Fantasy?

2 Questions Worth Asking To Determine Your Professional Fantasy?

Have you ever been asked by an administrator a question like Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Well, a close colleague and school leader posed a different flavor of the question to me: What is your professional fantasy? I was absolutely startled by the question and fumbled through my answer, mostly because of the word fantasy- something that is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as:

a pleasant situation that you enjoy thinking about but is unlikely to happen.

So now that I have had a few days to really process this question, and it got me really thinking 2 things:

  1. What ridiculous thing would I like to do in education?
  2. And does it have to be “unlikely to happen”?

 

Before I go into a state of mind wandering,  let me provide the current context of most educational systems around the world:

In the past, we heard about the “digital divide” between those who had access to technology and those who didn’t. We are now seeing a new divide emerge–a Creative Chasm between those who actively create…Our current model of schooling amplifies this Creative Chasm. From the bell schedule to the grading system to the lesson planning and pedagogy, our students inhabit factory-style schools. Phrases like  “content delivery” and “delivering a lesson” treat education as a commodity to be collected and then used in the future. This model might have worked in developing compliant factory workers. So here are now, well into the twenty-first century. The factories are gone … Yet, this industrial model remains.

Excerpt taken from LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer

So how do I, as an educator who has been raised and trained in a factory-model system of education lead students into the future whose workplace values has shifted? This is highly personal–will I cling to the past or participate in the future? Well, this is where my fantasy begins, as  I cannot stand by and stagnate in my practice and continue to leave technology to the “kids”.

To answer my first question (What ridiculous thing would I like to do in education?), I’d like to be involved in a revolution in education–in which paradigms are shattered and we rip into the sacred cows of education. What sacred cows do I speak of? Mainly, that, as an educator, I am the knower of all things and I hoard that knowledge wisely and dispense it in time through a scope and sequence or a curriculum map.

Some of you might have gasped aloud–if that responsibility of our profession was downsized or completely eliminated, then what? Well, don’t be silly. The universe abhors a vacuum, something innovative and necessary would undoubtedly emerge to replace it. I daresay it already is. Read The Future of Professions  or gain insight through this video:

 

In my former career as a scientific researcher, I used to experiment on animals. I have sometimes joked that my students are like my “lab rats” with whom I manipulate and observe the results of my prodding (aka, “the black box of best practices”). But now I have come to see them, not as “animals” that I “experiment” with, but as fellow researchers. They are right along siding me, poking at reality and questioning its very nature. That’s the paradigm I wish to infuse in our educational systems: Students are Teachers; students can recognize what is worth knowing and develop effective ways in which these ideas can be transferred and shared.

I  understand that many of our students grow up immersed in a consumer culture and then attend schools where they consume rather than create knowledge. In my professional fantasy, I enlist an army of educators who plot and scheme an offensive to drive out students’ resignation and apathy towards their learning. Instead, these students join us and become generals themselves, crippling this very infrastructure of this archaic industrial age model.

Truthfully I believe that this revolution is presently underway and this army is already amassing with innovative and passionate educators. Educators like you.  And so I have to wonder if this is really a fantasy at all? Maybe through this blog and other ways and means, I can connect and engage with fellow concerned and diligent educators who do not wish to stand by and allow the old to become new again; but instead will we engage and empower our students, who may very well rewrite our job descriptions and redesign the frameworks and goals of our institutions.

Say you will join me!

 

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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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