13 March 2011

Goal 20 - Share Your Resources! #30Goals

Short-term Goal - Share your favorite lesson.

Long-term Goal - Prepare a presentation for a workshop on online conference. Share your resources and ideas during this presentation.

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This is the first challenge that I've done out of sequence and it niggles me because there's something very satisfying about a neat and ordered arrangement. At least to my little brain! But it's just a number, a label, and there's no logical progression going on here so I suppose it doesn't matter too much. (...and I'll try to resist the temptation to fiddle the dates of my out-of-sequence missives?!)

Today's quote comes from Chris Lehmann who says "It is no longer enough to do powerful work if nobody sees it."
- If no one sees it, how can anything be judged to be powerful?
- If it was enough previously what has changed now?
- Was it ever enough to do powerful work quietly?
- Is this any different from "don't hide your light under a bushel", which has biblical provenance?
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I am totally in favour of sharing resources whenever possible. I don't have any lesson plans as such to share with you but I do have a kind of curriculum, supporting notes and exercises in the form of my Clive Sir wiki which I made available right from the start of my current work here in Sri Lanka. I use it as a basis for most of my lessons though I do have other lessons which revolve around Twitter, Blogging, Google Reader, Tweetdeck and Facebook, none of which are covered in the wiki yet.

In my wiki you'll also find my collection of more than one thousand Education blogs which is great for searching or just dipping into randomly for inspiration.

I do often think how great it would be to make a collaboratively-built resource along the lines of Wikipedia but for educators. It would be world-scale - massive - and would need to be well structured and resourced. The premise is that the wheel is being re-invented time and time again in every classroom throughout the world - wouldn't it be cool to build an indexed repository of lesson plans or ideas which could be searched, retrieved and then adapted to individual needs? There just seems to be so much duplication of effort going on. Imagine, if instead, each of thousands of educators put just one high-quality unique plan into the pool - a huge resource would become instantly available. And if you took a plan out and made a customised derivative, that could be fed back in to continuously build the pool. There would be leechers, of course, but so what? I'll bet that many educators would be more than happy to share and build.
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I've decided today to share with you some of the drawings I made with my students in India (at the SISP NGO) to introduce the ideas of perspective and pattern. They were all produced with MSPaint which is a surprisingly versatile little package and comes free on every MSWindows-based computer. Maybe these will trigger further thoughts:

05 March 2011

Goal 14 - Build an Ideal Classroom Culture #30Goals

Short-term Goal - Observe your classroom. Watch the students’ behavior towards one another. Do they communicate with each other? Do they have trust in you? Do they get along with each other? Do they understand the rules and respect each other? Do they feel they can ask you questions? Take observation notes and determine what your classroom culture is perceived to be by these observations. Is this what you want your classroom culture to be like?

Long-term Goal - How can you improve your classroom culture? Do you need to make changes to the environment? Do you need to rearrange desks? Do you need to have more activities that help students learn to build a connection with each other? Think of ways to implement the changes to improve your classroom culture.

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Classroom culture here in my classes in Sri Lanka is pretty good. Most of my teacher-students know each other from all of the government-sponsored training classes that they've received over the years and from the conferences and workshops that my organisation runs. The environment is at least civil, and often friendly and quite jolly! A maximum of four teachers come at a time. Sometimes they start gossiping and I have to try to get them back on track but it's not really a problem - just part of socialising before they get down to lessons.

Sometimes, if one is struggling, another will try to help out - teaching is in their nature! One or two of the teachers are very quiet and don't interact a great deal with the others. If they get stuck they will generally interrupt me or wait till I come round to them again.

What I do find a little difficult is that with non-repetitive tasks, with half of the teachers, I cannot just let them sit down and expect them to follow the written instructions of my exercises (which I have in a wiki). I don't understand that. The tasks are broken down into a sequence of steps and all they have to do is follow in order. I try to keep the language simple and the tasks bite-sized but some seem not to understand or follow the sequence. Whatever, some need more help than others and happily they are not afraid to ask me though frequently I find myself just telling them to read the next step.

As part of the exercises I often encourage them to work with other teachers - for example, by emailing each other, sending each other photo attachments and asking for opinions, organising imaginary parties etc. That's something which can be done asynchronously - the person they are emailing doesn't have to be in the same classroom at the same time. I'm introducing some to Skype right now - they can do video chats with one another which will encourage further interaction.

I think that overall the environment is good - there is sufficient space and it all seems to work well. If there are other people in the office then it can get noisy but not excessively so. I don't think there's a lot I can do to improve things other than maybe add a few more photos or posters. My style is not to stand at the front and lecture - I sit amongst them and move between them. It's all fairly informal which I believe encourages the classroom culture.

Goal 13 - Help Them Reflect on Their Failures #30Goals

Short-term Goals - Have students write a reflection about what they feel they fail at and what they learn from failing and how it impacts them.

Long-term Goals - Find ways to allow room for failure in your classroom and have students reflect on it.

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My students are teachers and I have only four weeks left here in Sri Lanka before I return to the UK so, although I'd like to ask them to reflect on what they consider their failures, I think I need to concentrate on teaching the tools I'm here to teach.

Maybe I can look at my own failings... but today doesn't feel like a good day to do that. I feel quite depressed at the moment. I look back at the year and wonder what I've achieved and think it's not much. Not enough. I could have done so much more. I could have organised myself better and taught more effectively. I could have researched more and found better learning materials. I could have been less grumpy and less frustrated with my students' and my own progress. Sigh!

The other day I was criticised by a visiting teacher for not being supportive and being loudly negative about her lesson in front of the whole class. I didn't think that was justified at the time and felt quite hurt but I apologised. I could barely remember her lesson, to be honest, and certainly not the incident she was referring to but later I raked through the dim pieces of my memory and now think she was probably right. I had been in a bad mood previously and sometimes, when things look nonsensical or poorly thought out or incomprehensible, I can be somewhat scathing or sarcastic, though I do remember trying to be calm and open-minded.

It seems that the failures I see in others are actually weaknesses I am critical of in myself. So I dislike moodiness, and illogical, ill considered things that I don't understand, either because they truly are those things or because I'm too stupid to understand and too moody to think or react calmly.  And even now I am trying, but failing, to express myself. Most of this morning has gone already and I've achieved nothing. I write SO slowly because I think slowly. I feel like deleting this rubbish but then I'll have nothing to show. See - here I am being grumpy again! Oh God!!

There is no real point to this writing. I thought that by putting it down in black and white some clarity or order might emerge but it hasn't. It doesn't feel cathartic either. Sometimes I reflect and reflect and reflect on my failures and it gets me nowhere.

Am I the only one who feels like this?

18 February 2011

Goal 12 - Engage Parents #30goals

Short-term -
This week find ways to seek ideas from parents to implement. Suggest ideas for others.

Long-term - Find ways to continue the dialogue with parents and listen to them throughout the year.

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Engage parents. My students ARE the parents!

This is not a challenge I can meet, unfortunately. At least not if I interpret the goals literally. I'm the square peg in the round hole here because my students are teachers: adults.

I asked Shelly's about this and she replied: "Some goals won't apply to all teachers. Instead, it helps to share tips for others"

Tips. Well, in the part of India where I taught kids, the parents were not engaged at all. Very few ever put in an appearance at school and, if they did, it was usually for social benefits of some kind. Those families didn't see school as a priority. My organisation paid the parents a small amount of money per child, proportional to the number of days' school attendance, to attract them into education. The parents saw it as a favour they were doing the organisation - it was only fair that they received money for their children's attendance because without the children the organisation wouldn't exist. The parents often hadn't had an education themselves and didn't see that as having done them any harm, and many girls were kept away from school because an uneducated girl was seen as more subservient and dependent, and therefore more desirable in marriage. So, for the parents of those children, school was not seen as having value, and it was very difficult to attract them to meetings or parents' days. I have no tips from my India period.

It is obviously beneficial for parents or guardians to be involved in the education of their child. This can mean the traditional things of coming into the classroom to help, coming to open days, parent-teacher days, running clubs, helping on school trips and so on. The school must be as open to parental involvement as possible but it mustn't be to the detriment of the learning. Parents should not expect to just turn up at random and be welcomed with open arms because that, without planning, causes disruption.

Things not requiring physical presence in the classroom might be wikis, blogs and various on-line projects which are great if the parents have the technology at home to view them. But on the other hand, they need to be an integral part of the lessons to minimise the load on the teachers, headteacher and admin staff, rather than an extra duty for them.

I'm all for having days where children guide the parents around their work, classrooms and school. I particularly like the idea of the child as educator - showing parents (or peers) how to use a tech tool, demonstrating some facet of science, or an aspect of a subject which interests them.

But all this is about parental "involvement", not "engagement". The distinction Shelly uses is that with engagement there is a two-way communications channel set up with the parents - the teachers and parents need to talk bilaterally. The idea of this challenge is to communicate with parents and ask them what things teachers/schools can do better to allow the parents to play a greater part in the education of their children.

This is where wikis and blogs score. They can be used to inform, but blogs also allow parents to communicate back to the classroom. Allowing anonymous comments would encourage the more reticent to come forward. Classroom blogs can report on what activities are taking place and wikis can give details of the activities. I imagine this could work well at lower grades but I'm not so sure at upper grades where the level of detail in the wikis would be expected to be a lot higher and therefore require a lot more effort to build.

And cell phones can be used too, for example to inform parents of achievements. Many more parents have mobile phones than have computers and the reach would be approaching 100%. An SMS message would be an effective 'Interrupt' method of actively communicating with individual parents. One or two a day, inclusively spread throughout the year between all parents/guardians, would not require a huge extra amount of effort from the teacher though some record would have to be kept on who was sent what message, when.

One of my favourite bloggers is George Couros (@gcouros). I would commend his blog which has in the past touched on the engagement of parents in children's learning.

17 February 2011

Goal 11 - Give Students Reign #30goals

Short-term - Let your students make the majority of the choices for one class period. Let them do the teaching and leading of the learning. Act as a facilitator.

Long-term - Try allowing your students to have reign of an entire class period once a month and if you’re really brave then once a week.

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My teaching circumstances are probably different from yours: I teach teachers, my classes are tailored to the individual, and I only have three students at a time - four at most. Oh, ... and I'm not a teacher! Well, not one with teaching qualifications anyway. Are your classes like that? Probably not!

At the start of their training we discussed what they were already confident with, what they wanted to cover, and what our mutual expectations were. If they were insistent on covering a certain topic first then it was in both our interests that we covered it immediately before moving on.

Most of my teacher-students, before they come to me, have already undertaken the common Sri Lankan computing classes which cover a fixed number of topics in a predetermined number of days, and heaven help those who can't keep up. They come out with a certificate saying that they attended the classes and could copy and regurgitate but later,when it comes to actual real-world practise, they find themselves foundering. Others have had lessons but haven't practised in years. They come to me either wanting the holes to be plugged or wanting to start over.
My remit is to teach the tools thoroughly so I have found myself fulfilling the hole-plugging requests but then going back to scratch and building up from there again to build up their confidence and so that I know they have covered everything they are likely to need in the near future.

I have exercises which my students can choose to do or not, in whatever order they like, but none of this is really the same as giving them full reign. They cannot really choose how to learn the tools because I give them no alternatives. And I have found nothing on the web which, in a compact form, will give them an alternative to my exercises.

I don't really see how I can give them a free reign. If I said to them, for example, 'choose how you want to learn Gmail's labelling of emails' then, without a doubt, they will simply take the easy option of following my exercises.

Perhaps I'm missing the point - do you have any ideas to help me?

Goal 6 Follow-up

You may have read that I decided to hold an Open Morning to "Invite Them In" - my answer to Goal 6 of the 30 Goals Challenge. I then had second thoughts and reflected on it in my Reflections post.

The event was yesterday and it was actually quite successful! At one point I was even wondering if we'd have to turn people away but thankfully they didn't all come at the same time. We had husbands and wives, sons and daughters, all visiting the office to see where the teacher in the family was coming for computer training. Some of the children went immediately to the PCs and we fired up "Ben 10" cartoons, Facebook and YouTube. Here are a few photos from the occasion:

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13 February 2011

Reflecting on Goal 6 - Inviting Them In #30goals

Perhaps I should send
in the persuaders!
I decided to "Invite Them In" by holding an Open Morning at my office next Wedndesday. It's a national holiday so work shouldn't prevent anyone from coming. I've started promoting it by telling the teachers who came to classes at the end of last week. Tomorrow and Tuesday I'll ask my Field Officers to contact all of the remaining teachers.

But I'm not so convinced this will work. My teachers appear bemused by it and seem to feel it's unnecessary. I've been telling them that just as they are interested in what their children do at school, so will their children be interested in what they do in class. Their husbands and parents would be interested too! But I don't think I've persuaded them.

I get the impression that a few might come just to humour me. That's not what I want at all! Others have told me how much housework they've got and that they have to look after their kids or help with homework, and a few have said they're going away or have relatives visiting. I can imagine that it's all very inconvenient for many of them. I would just like to think that if there was anyone who wanted to show family or friends where they go for computer lessons then I have given them that opportunity.

Oh well, this might not work but at least I'll have tried. I can't think that there'll be a better date for an Open Morning. On the other hand, maybe I should tell them that every morning is an Open Morning, and just to check that I, or someone, will be there and available before they call in. And if no one turns up on Wednesday then what a perfect chance for me to catch up on my #30goals!