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Tag: Visible Thinking

#IMMOOC: I Used to Think, but Now I Think…Shifts in My Teaching Practice

#IMMOOC: I Used to Think, but Now I Think…Shifts in My Teaching Practice

In one of my first professional development sessions, I  remember we had to read and reflect on the book Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life  by Spencer Johnson. At the time, American schools were embarking on a major shift in their methods of teaching by using cooperative groups instead of desks lined up in rows. I was chatting with an Australian colleague about it, sharing a laugh about how “innovative” cooperative learning groups were early in our careers– it’s hard to imagine that there was a time that putting desks together to form a group was once an edgy idea in education. Desks seem like an ancient artifact of our former educational paradigm. My how far we have come in such a short period of time.

During this week of the IMMOOC, we are exploring our beliefs about learning, taking a stroll down memory lane and considering the question:

What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?

That question is actually quite provocative because I’ve changed so much as an educator, and I would say that being an IB educator continues to transform my thinking, as we are on a mission to develop student agency so they can co-create a world that works for everyone.

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So as I put students front and center of their learning, who I was as an educator has radically changed from when I first began teaching and it continues to be in flux.

As I review the major shifts in my mindset, I thought I would use this Visible Thinking Routine , that encourages reflection. Just like cooperative learning, I remember this whole idea of wanting the students to share their ideas openly as quite a fresh approach to teaching and learning not all that long ago. It’s rather funny how much has changed in a remarkably small expanse of time in education, huh?!

But anyhow, I digress:

Here are 10 beliefs that have been changed over the years of being a teacher

I used to think that….

  1. it was the students’ job to get along with me and my rules, but now I know, there are no rules, just expectations of decency which are reciprocal and I must respect students in order for them to respect me.
  2. tests and quizzes were true and accurate measures of a child’s capabilities, but now I think, those are “snapshots” of their learning journeys and rarely define the true depth of their understanding and knowledge.
  3. I was the only expert in the room but now I know that there is more intelligence and talent in the room than mine alone.
  4. “good students” were obedient ones, but now I know that all students are “good” and have unique ways of showing it.
  5. my voice was the most important one to listen to, but now I know, that it’s the student’s voice.
  6. I was the teacher, but now I know, I am the learner as well.
  7. “special needs” were only for students who had “learning disabilities” but now I know, everyone has special needs because we are all unique learners; this is just good teaching practice to recognize and adjust the learning to accommodate our learning styles.
  8. labeling a child defined who they would become, but now I know, these labels are temporary and mostly unhelpful in cultivating their confidence as learners. Those labels are to help me more than them in identifying their needs as a learner.
  9. kids couldn’t be “trusted” to be in charge of their learning, but now I know, we are born deeply curious and students remain that way if we permit this curiosity to flourish in our classroom culture. We should trust their instinct for learning.
  10. ideas in education are stagnant and fixed, but now I know, with the research coming out on our brains, the best of teaching and learning is yet to come–and I hope to be a part of that shift.

Here is one belief that I think will always be unrevised in education: Teachers who spend time building relationships with their students will always stand out as exceptional in a child’s life and push students beyond their boundaries.

 

What do you think? What is something that you used to think, but now you know it to be different?–and what idea do you think is timeless and will always be preserved in the teaching profession? Share in the comments below.

 

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! (:

I am the Force, and the Force is Within Me.

I am the Force, and the Force is Within Me.

If you have seen Rogue 1, the latest Star Wars movie, then you know what my title is all about. As I interpret it, it means tapping into the field of our inner potential to overcome challenges and obstacles. I think, as educators, we grapple with this all the time, especially when we contemplate whether or not we are making a positive impact in our classrooms and in our school community.

Recently I reread Ron Ritchart’s Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools. In case you don’t know the 8 forces that shape a school’s culture of teaching and learning, let me give you a cheat:

  1. Expectations (of learning)
  2. Language (teacher and student talk)
  3. Time
  4. Modeling
  5. Opportunities (powerful learning moments)
  6. Routines (Visible Thinking routines)
  7. Interactions
  8. Environment

As I was rereading the parts I had highlighted and bookmarked, it got me thinking about the 2nd term. We have quite a few staff members leaving, myself included, and there is the danger of coasting instead of pushing the boundaries. I recognize that as a leader I have the choice to either uphold the status quo or to compel myself and others out of our comfort zone and demand more of ourselves and our kids. After watching an episode of Impact Theory with Dr. Moran Cerf, it got me thinking even more deeply about the need to move outside comfort levels:

It all comes down to the narrative that you tell yourself… Because the narrative you tell yourself, about yourself, is the most important thing you have; and if you tell yourself a story about struggle and inadequacy, not being good enough then that is going to reinforce your literal identity. The day I stopped thinking of myself as smart, and I started thinking of myself as a learner-that changed everything…it became this identity that is anti-fragile because if you told me I was stupid, it didn’t matter, it just compelled me to learn more.

Tom Bilyeu

I loved that! And as I listened to the interview, it really inspired me to alter our staff meeting. I felt that we all relate to this idea of “the learner” and that the love of teaching and learning could drive our practice to the next level.

During omindset-outline-graphicur staff PD session, we spoke candidly and asked questions about the concept of “YET”; how we can embrace those parts of us that professionally are “fixed” and encourage the growth mindset in our practice and most importantly in our students. What was funny is that inadvertently every aspect of the Ron Richart’s cultural forces came up in our discussions and reflections today. When we got into our collaborative groups to share and rework our professional goals, there was a greater sense of synergy, purpose, and creativity.

I really look forward to hearing what ideas emerge as we go through this process of achieving our professional goals,  as well as the collaboration and peer support that we can offer each other as we engage in more risk-taking in our classroom practice.

Just as “I am the Force, and the Force is within me”, I know that it is also true for the great teachers that I work with, and moreover, our students. Now I  just can’t wait to see what amazing things come out our second term.

Teaching Creativity

Teaching Creativity

Since I have been teaching in the UAE, I have noticed a stark difference between American (ergo western children,in general) and my Arabic children when it comes to creativity. I might easily shrug it off to teaching ESL, but I co-teach so I get to observe their behaviors during Arabic and Islamic Studies.   Indeed, the children here spend more time running feral in play than plopped down in front of cartoons and computers, but that certainly wouldn’t account for the muted expression of curiosity or creativity, in fact, it would have made me think just the reverse since they have so much free play. Thus, it makes me beg the question: are we born naturally inquisitive and creative or are those attributes acquired through our culture?

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When given a box of legos (bricks), students rely on pictures of examples of things they can make before attempting to design something.

Many of us Western teachers have observed similar behavior in other grade levels. And, at home, when we might have been plagued with the endless amount of energy of questions and tangents of imagination our students would go on, we are absolutely desperate to get students to think for themselves, let a lone outside the box. I don’t mean for this observation to reflect poorly on our students, because they are bright and able, but perfection and high marks are what is really valued in this culture.  Whether a student writes a lovely poem or paints a beautiful painting is not as appreciated as an A on a paper. So I have to think that this is a cultural influence.

Since the Abu Dhabi Education Council is wanting to reform their schools to more western style approaches to learning, they are trying to shift from the more traditional methods into ones that will sponsor innovation and technology through critical thinking. Increasing inquisitiveness and creativity seem paramount to this task, so we have felt at a loss at how to systematically teach it.

Enter Harvard Project Zero! Through research done, they have created something called “Visible Thinking”, which they noticed that ” Often, we found, children (and adults) think in shallow ways not for lack of ability to think more deeply but because they simply do not notice the opportunity or do not care. To put it all together, we say that really good thinking involves abilities, attitudes, and alertness, all three at once. Technically this is called a dispositional view of thinking. Visible Thinking is designed to foster all three.”  (Visible Thinking)

I have been implementing many of their core routines and it has been interesting to actually gain insight into their perspectives and ideas.  Naturally, since I teach in a bilingual classroom, most of the responses are in their home language of Arabic, but my counterpart will translate their ideas to me.  It has been very helpful in cultivating a culture of deeper thinking, respect for different points of view, and looking closer at things. The easiest routine for my ELLs has been  I SEE, I THINK, I WONDER  .   I also really find Creativity Hunt to be another really interesting one that has a high level of engagement.

Overall, I really recommend teachers to take a look at their site because their are so many simple things that you can add to your lessons to increase creative thought and critical thinking–No matter the grade level.  I hope you take some time to check  out some of the material and implement some of the routines in your classroom.

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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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