Listening diet: EAT

TeachMeets are fantastic events for teaching and learning. Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to be part of a big one at the ATP (TMWR2012); big enough to be featured in the Sydney Morning Herald: Lesson in Numbers.

The TMWR2012 journey began for me from the moment I volunteered to be part of the organising committee, a cross-sectoral team of dedicated educators who really want to celebrate teaching and learning TeachMeet style (Simon Crook tells a better and more complete story in his post). ¬†It was a joy to be at the Registration desk and say hello to my edu friends, old and new. I am deliberately not mentioning names here as this would end up like the sign-on sheet! ūüôā

This post is also to share my 2-minute pecha-kucha entitled, “Are you listening?” ¬†It’s about how challenging it is to listen nowadays and yet when we do, we learn. ¬†I shared a few stories where this was definitely true for me and what listening entailed, ie. the listening diet.

E – empathy – feel the other, their questions, their struggles

A – attention – focus on what they are saying, or not saying

Ttake the other seriously – what they are saying is true for them at that moment, in that context

The stories I shared are all in this blog – 2 minutes is not very long to share 3 stories and plant a seed; I don’t think I even stopped to breathe :). ¬†These are:

  1. Claire’s art to express dyslexia
  2. Pedagogical shifts in teaching Algebra – Introduction via Rihanna, Big-Picture Style
  3. Crowd-sourcing “How do we teach empathy?

These are among my favourite blog posts because these experiences were moments of real learning for me; real examples of me employing the listening diet.

As an aside, I’m really glad I’m doing the 365+1 photo project this year as my Flickr stream provided (CC-licensed) photos for my presentation.

I also decided to join SlideShare and embed my presentation here, such as it is.

Spelling Tips

A few months ago, I told the story of Tania, a girl I met as a parent volunteer for the Literacy program at my daughter’s high school. ¬†For a maths teacher, I place¬†a seemingly unusual high importance on literacy¬†and know that for some, numeracy problems stem from literacy issues.

Today I met James (not his real name), a boy in year 7. ¬†I’ll see him once a week for just under an hour and hopefully help improve his literacy. ¬†The set program involves going through spelling words, a bit of drill on mistakes and then on to reading (aloud) and comprehension.

James obviously struggled, particularly with the words ‘again’ and ‘another’. ¬†He had a few goes and finally got ‘another’ right. ¬†I gave him the correct spelling for ‘again’ which he eventually verbalised as ‘a – gain’ with the long a in gain, as if to make a mental note of how it should be written. ¬†James struggled to string words into sentences; his perseverance was truly awesome. ¬†This was when we got on to ‘another piece of cake’ and he stumbled on ‘piece’. ¬†I suggested ‘piece of pie’ and his face lit up and he said, “oh, that’s a good way of remembering it.” ¬†Little did he realise that he thought up ‘a-gain’ all by himself!

Like¬†Tania, James is lacking but keen to learn literacy strategies and skills. ¬†So, I thought I’d compile a list of spelling tips¬†(Google doc), at least, and share it with him and perhaps the other kids in the program.

I’m not a literacy specialist so I’m hoping my PLN can help either by leaving a tip as a comment below or adding on to the Google doc of spelling tips. ¬†Links to resources would be good, too, though I really have to follow the set program as a volunteer.

Tips for teaching literacy improvement are welcome too, of course!

One could argue, I suppose, that technology can help with auto-correct thereby minimising the importance of learning to spell correctly.  I am not in a position to argue either way though biased towards correct spelling.  Anyway, all I want to do is to support the program and help James. If you can help in any way, it would be much appreciated.

Keep Blogging

I haven’t blogged for quite a while but now’s a good time to pick it up again. A recent Twitter conversation between @MitchSquires, @kathleen_morris, @henriettaMi and @lindayollis is the real catalyst. ¬†The question was on how to sustain blogging after the initial enthusiasm wanes. In tweet form, the answer boils down to this:

Twitter post

Twitter post

ie, Prioritise, make it a habit, persevere and apply to self (i.e. be a model).

@henriettaMi has written a post on how to make class blogging a habit (please visit and read the comments, too, as the conversation continues). ¬†I’m not about to re-create any of that but rather, in the interest of keeping this going, build on it (also, if you don’t follow this people, make sure you do especially if you teach primary school students, click on my hyperlinks above).

I’m adding by persevering and applying to my self. Here i am blogging again, making myself do it!

Beyond that, let me tell a story.

Working as an IT integrator, it is actually my job to help teachers integrate technology. As it happens, I started two teachers out this year on the road to blogging: one with a focus on numeracy (Teacher A) and another on literacy (Teacher B). ¬†Both work with strugglers and my pitch was that a class blog is an extension of the classroom and allows the teacher to document the lesson so students can re-visit it and associated resources as often as they want as well as free-ing up the teacher to provide more individual support as needed (here’s more on why a having a class blog is good). ¬†Enthusing both teachers was not a problem. ¬†For some reason, Teacher B seems more able to sustain the effort and appears to be more successful.

Here are some reasons of why this is….(just my initial analysis).

  1. Have a specific scope. Teacher B decided to use a blended learning environment (fortunately fits my idea of class blog) for a novel study, incorporating both a class blog and OneNote. She did this as an Action-Research activity such that if it proves successful for one unit then she’s got more reason to use it in other units. ¬†I guess, you can call this as Identify your blogging focus as well.
  2. Have specific objectives. Teacher B knew she wanted her students to write more and that they were only to do comments initially. Blogging was more reflective writing whilst OneNote was used for research. That’s 2 forms of writing right there. ¬†She also wanted more collaborative work which meant getting each other to read and comment on each other and pairing up on the research activity.
  3. Feel your students and have a willing and active audience. Teacher B respected the fact that the class wanted a close environment.  They did open their real and virtual doors to me (Lucky me!!!) and they were happy to see me in both environments (classroom and blog).
  4. Persevere. Yes, it works. Teacher B engaged her students the whole time, prompting them to interact face-to-face and online. ¬†In my case, I kept touching base with her and encouraging her: face-to-face, visiting the blog and email. ¬†She knew she has my full support and my enthusiasm should hers start to flag (it hasn’t).
  5. Highlight and celebrate successes. The beauty of specific objectives and scope is that it is much easier and quicker to see successes. Even in just 5 weeks, both of us have seen improvements in student collaboration and writing.  Her students have shown great empathy for the characters in the novel and understand the context deeper than expected.  Our celebration was a mere exchange of affirmation (is it too early for bubblies?).

So there you have it, a few more ways to sustain blogging from the perspectives of a teacher and IT integrator.

Any other ideas?

Can you describe your journey?

I’ve said time and time again that learning is a journey and blogging about it helps not just for documentation purposes, but with a growing community, actually challenges and supports. Can I describe it in a way that would facilitate someone to not only understand but also do something similar (sometimes we call these processes as meta-cognition and teaching, respectively)?

Why is it important to ask this question in the first place? Looking at learning as a process is a good learning strategy, quite often because the process is more transferrable than the content, e.g. mathematical thinking viz-a-viz maths curriculum.

I digress….

Today, I was fortunate enough to stumble on @Veritasium’s post on the effectiveness of videos – which is interesting in itself and worthy of a reactive post¬†(in the meantime, I did tweet about the veritasium site).¬†I mention it here now merely as attribution for leading me on to a 2011 TED talk by Sarah Kay – If I should have a daughter.

There’s much to glean from this video like being a mother, story-telling and connecting – she’s got a wonderful way with words. Truth be told, I struggle to focus on this one thing about learning journeys. Sarah started and ended with powerful renditions of two spoken word poetry : B and Hiroshima. In between these, she described her journey to being a spoken word poet as involving 3 crucial steps (yes, it’s a list):

  1. I can
  2. I will
  3. I continue to grow, taking what I know already to help me make sense of that which I don’t yet understand. She goes on to say that this is not an end because it’s a constant evolution.

Simple. Powerful. True.

If I were to describe any sort of real learning on my part – including my blogging journey – these 3 steps fit the bill. I would be happy to use this model to describe my journey and, in the work that I do helping teachers integrate technology, facilitate teaching and learning.

For those who prefer nouns to verbs, here’s a parallel list (my interpretation):

  1. Self-belief
  2. Decision or Choice
  3. Growth (others like to call this lifelong learning)

This is how I describe mine – thanks to Sarah. Does this make sense? Do you have another way?

Concentric Circles of Learning

I like collaborative work and social constructivism, i.e. learning from and with others. Today, I got to use this method in collaboration with another year 8 maths teacher.  This post is both a lesson idea as well as a reflection on this type of learning.

As an introduction to the new topic of Circles, this lesson was designed to assess (for learning) what the students already knew about Parts of a Circle. Instead of the usual questioning and Diagnostic Test methods, we decided to do this:

Lesson Idea

1. Pair up students within each class. We used class buddies.

2. Each pair list as many parts as they can remember in 3 minutes. Materials: PostIt notes or small piece of paper

3. Each pair is paired up with another pair, i.e. group of 4. We had 9 groups with one having more than 4 members.

4. On butcher paper, each group constructs (draws) circle/s and labels the parts accordingly.

We were only going to give them 10 minutes to do this but the students were engaged in discussion and construction (some got very artistic) so we extended this to 15 minutes. Materials: butcher paper, compasses.

5. Each group presents to the whole group (2 classes) their posters and is asked to describe one part in detail, e.g. Diameter as a line passing from a point on the circumference to another point on the circumference passing through the centre (or something along those lines).

This was actually a good conceptual review as well as literacy exercise.

6. For homework (and reinforcing what was learned), give a worksheet on labelling parts of the circle.

Concentric Circles of Learning

Concentric circles are circles within circles, all sharing the same centre point. I think this is a beautiful metaphor for learning. At the centre is the individual learner. When this learner learns from and with others, his/her learning circle radiates outwards and gets bigger and bigger, as does personal learning and knowledge. As in the lesson above, each learner brings his/her own knowledge to share firstly with one other, then with another two, then to a bigger group and so on.

While there were technically two teachers in the classroom, more teaching and learning happened between students. Today, we (my colleague and I) did not teach. Today, we facilitated learning at individual and group levels. Collaboration happened at many levels today (and before today where planning was concerned). Today was a good day.

Where this metaphor falls short is that in fact, there are many concentric circles and these circles overlap as they do in Venn Diagrams. But, that’s perhaps another post!