Thursday, April 26, 2018

Guest Post: Digital + Traditional = Teaching at Its Best


Rachel Salinger is a high school English teacher at my school, St. John's Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts. She is passionate about literature and about giving her students learning experiences that arm them with the skills they need to be thoughtful and good stewards of our future. I asked her to share her recent project on my blog because I think it is a stellar example of how traditional teaching and learning strategies can be effectively combined with digital tools for a deeper student learning experience. I referenced this project briefly in my recent EdSurge column and wanted to be sure to highlight it in detail on my blog.

Introduction

In my CP sophomore classes, we read Macbeth over the course of a few weeks. The students really enjoyed the play (surprisingly!) and I wanted to do a more creative assessment at the end instead of a typical paper or test. In the past, I’ve done an iMovie project with Macbeth but really wanted to do something different this year. I met with our digital learning specialists, Julie and Kerry, to try and brainstorm some new ideas for what we can do. I also needed to incorporate some research this year, though a traditional research paper is a lot for my CP kids to take on.

Assignment

In Macbeth, we focused on two main themes: Power and destiny/fate. With those ideas in mind, we came up with the idea of giving each student a historical figure from the last 100 years. The list included politicians, athletes, celebrities, and authors. Students were assigned a person (randomly assigned with the opportunity to re-pick one time)

Students then researched their historical figure using library databases, and found connections to Macbeth.

After they did their research, they put their research and comparisons on an infographic and presented it to the class. The infographic showed the main ideas and comparisons that they found between their historical figure and Macbeth. 

Modeling

I first did this project myself for two reasons:
  • To figure out how much time it would take the students so I could plan accordingly and make sure they have enough time to complete it.
  • To show them a model so they could visually see my expectations of what it should look like and refer back to what I did to avoid some repetitive questions. 
I chose Hitler as my example, since I knew all students had heard of him and he was not an option on their list. I also created a graphic organizer to help students keep their research focused on the topics they needed to cover in the project and completed the organizer with my own Hitler research. Then, of course, I designed my own infographic detailing my analysis.



Student Example

This example was one of the best and I particularly loved it because comparing someone like David Ortiz to a Shakespeare character is not an easy feat. It is an unusual pairing, but this student really did a great job going above and beyond with his analysis. His research was really well done and it was clear that he spent a lot of time working on this.




Overall Reflection

I absolutely loved this project and my students really enjoyed it as well. I got an email from another teacher on campus saying they overheard students talking about it and how it really helped them understand the text better, which is such a wonderful and reassuring thing to hear. While this was a major risk for me to take, I am so glad I did it! It was something new and challenging for me, but the students really did benefit from it much more than they would a traditional paper or test. I look forward to trying more things like this next year!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Stop Thinking About Screen Time

I was lucky enough to be part of an Ignite breakout session at ASCD's Empower 2018 conference in Boston, Massachusetts this weekend. My co-presenters were impressive educators from throughout Massachusetts. My Ignite was focused on the changing research and education around screen time. Please watch, think, and comment.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Why Student Creation is the Hardest/Best Form of Assessment

The goal of assessment has traditionally been to measure student mastery. With that mindset, some students measure high while others do not measure up. While that seems pretty cut and dry, it can be problematic. The students who measure high tend to always measure high. And the students who don't measure up tend to experience disappointment over and over. For students who experience continued success, the consequence is that they believe in their abilities and continue to challenge themselves to achieve more. For students who don't measure up, the consequence is that they learn not to trust their own work and fall into a cycle of self-doubt. They tend to avoid challenging tasks and always take the easiest path to completion.

Why Students Prefer Creative Assessments

When students are able to go through a creative process (rather than taking a traditional test or quiz) to demonstrate their learning, the process includes benchmarks at which students receive feedback from their peers and their teacher. Feedback in this instance is not in the form of a score or a grade, so it feels less like a rating and more like an opportunity to improve for many students. While traditional tests and quizzes are intended by educators as an opportunity for students to improve, that is usually not how it feels from their perspective.

The final product that results from a creative assessment is a unique expression of each students thinking and learning. Because it is unique, students are often proud and empowered to share that work with an audience beyond their teacher or classmates. These creative projects tend to be the ones students choose to share via digital portfolios or as part of applications to internships or even college. If the students are younger, these are the projects that are put on display at parent nights or open houses.

Why Creative Assessments Are a Challenge for Educators

In traditional tests and quizzes, answers tend to be correct or incorrect. Grading is measurable, simple, and usually efficient. Putting a number or value on student work in the form of a creative artifact is more challenging. Sometimes teachers meet this challenge by creating instructions and rubrics that resemble step-by-step recipes. Their students follow the recipe and create a product that looks just like their classmates' products. This is actually not a creative assessment at all. It is an exercise in ensuring students can comply with instructions.

Another question from educators: How do we come up with these creative assessments? For many of us, both our experience as students and training as teachers comprised of readings, lectures, note-taking, studying, and test-taking for scores and certifications. The answer is that educators need both training in project-based learning (Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy's Hacking PBL is a great place to start) and opportunities to observe teacher leader colleagues who are successfully implementing that model in a tech-rich purpose-filled way. At St. John's Prep, a group of teachers who have excelled at this implementation and who want their colleagues to experience the same challenge and joy with their students banded together to create this video:



Wait... No More Tests and Quizzes? Ever?

That's not what I'm saying. Not even remotely. Short quizzes and summative tests have their place in every learner's academic experience. There are regulated, standardized, and necessary. They help colleges and professional organizations determine the readiness of their applicants. They have their place. At the same time, every learner deserves to experience an iterative creative process filled with plans, mistakes, feedback, and micro-successes along the way. In the course of day-to-day work for most professionals, this is the process:

  1. We pose a question or are challenged with a task by a supervisor.
  2. We do some research. Usually this includes reaching out to our networks, crunching numbers and data, and consulting academic/scholarly suggestions.
  3. Based on the unique question/challenge and what we've learned, we come up with a solution.
  4. We ask for informal feedback from colleagues and friends we trust.
  5. We use that feedback to edit and revamp our work.
  6. The first, and still somewhat rough, draft of our idea is proposed to a supervisor.
  7. More feedback.
  8. More editing and revamping.
  9. Rinse. Repeat. You get the idea.... It's a process.
If the purpose of school is to prepare our students for the experiences that await...
If the purpose of school is to prepare them for the challenges and successes they will encounter...
If the purpose of school it to help learners build the skills they need for success in the modern professional world...

It is worth noting:

Source: Partnership for 21st Century Learning
If creativity is the "premier skill", then schools should focus their work on building creativity into lessons for their students. Student creation activities open the door to meaningful feedback, more honest relationships among learners and educators, and an environment that build the characteristics of creativity.

Encouraging student creation is hard, but it is also what is best for our students.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Semester Check-In: Three Tools That Are Trending at My School


One of the most important values I hold as a professional coach for educators is that I must model risk-taking with new strategies and tools constantly in my work. If I take a risk and use the tool in a professional learning workshop or as I facilitate a meeting, then my colleagues will see the potential of the tool in their own classrooms.

Now that we are halfway through the school year, there are a few tools that have caught fire after my digital learning colleagues and I demonstrated their use whenever we could.

Adobe Spark Post

To facilitate professional learning or even co-teach classes of students, often I create slides with prompts or instructions. Spark Post allows me to create more beautiful designs that inspire my learners to think bigger or make more connections. When words are cleverly paired with an image, mood and tone are more evident and the audience will not just process the information. They will feel or experience the information. One of my favorite examples comes from a keynote I've presented to educators and parents about the impact of screen technology on the human brain and on teaching and learning. Notice how the colors, words, and images combined can send different messages about the same idea.

 

We've taken Spark Post into professional learning by asking teachers to set goals and then create a Spark Post to share their goals with their colleagues. The resulting quote graphics capture their willingness to take risks and also inspired many of them to use similar strategies with their students in their classes. Some of our students even created PSA style quote graphics, after learning about digital distraction and the skills of concentration and focus, in Spark Post that are displayed on our middle school plasma screens in the hallways and lobby.

 

Worth noting: Educators should be sure to review this guide for information about privacy and security when using Adobe Spark.

Flipgrid

I'd heard about Flipgrid in the spring, but really didn't get a feel for it until I talked to some of my edu-friends at ISTE in June about how they were using at their schools. My colleagues and I decided to give it a try at the annual in-house conference, we call it #JumpStartSJP, for our teachers in August. To help kick off the week of professional learning, I reached out to some of the top education experts to ask for their tips for our teachers. Then our teachers used Flipgrid to reflect on some of the most used and most misunderstood education buzzwords. At the end of the week they used Flipgrid to give us feedback on their top takeaway from the week and how they were planning to use it in their teaching during the school year.

Since then, many of our teachers have been using Flipgrid with their students. It has been especially popular in our world language classes. Students tend to work harder at speaking the language fluently when they know they will be recorded on video and those videos will be shared with their classmates.

Grade 8 German students record interview in Flipgrid.

Of course, we are planning to continue to use Flipgrid in lots of upcoming meetings and workshops so that more teachers can experience how fun and easy it is to use and how valuable it can be to share ideas in the form of a selfie video to make the sharing feel more personal.


OneNote

Oh. My. Goodness. Creative, collaborative, multimedia notes are at their best in OneNote. I have tried pretty much every other note taking and note keeping tool out there and this beats them all. I can draw, type, embed documents, record audio, hyperlink, and collaborate all in one place. Once my school integrated Microsoft 365, it wasn't long before I started tinkering with and was won over by OneNote.

Recently, my colleague and introduced it to the teacher leaders in our innovation cohort. We asked them to each create a note in a shared notebook and use that note to share out photos and artifacts from a recent lesson or project implementation they were proud of.

Note that each page was created by a different teacher in the cohort.


It is only a week later and one of those teachers has already rolled it out in her high school Latin classes. Others are using it to take their own professional notes in faculty and team meetings.

_________

There are at least 3 more tools that are on the brink of catching fire now that we've started 2018. I can't wait to see how they're used by teachers and students and share those stories here soon.

Which thoughtful uses of edtech tools are trending at your school this year? How have you modeled those strategies and tools for your colleagues?