Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Get in the pool!


I spend a lot of time reading educational blogs.  Just as we all would want our doctor to be up on the latest medical discoveries and innovations, I believe we would want our teacher (or our child's teacher) to have an understanding of the latest developments in learning.  It's not about adopting and incorporating everything; it's about listening to and learning from the conversation.

But it's also about being part of the conversation.

I was reading a George Couros' blog post called Figuring It Out for Themselves? that talked about student connection. He made a case for not leaving the facilitation of student connections to a few in the school, but opening the door to everyone having an influence on it. 

Now I am all about connections. And it's not just people. I love that my phone is connected to my music which is connected to my speakers which is connected to my movies which is connected to my TV which is connected to my pictures.  I love when I see a student's learning on their digital portfolio in a post that has an embedded movie or game that they have created on one of their beloved apps and I make sure that I tweet it out or put the link on a Flipboard. Connection: it's just one thing I delight in.

And I have been developing my chops in facilitating student connection.  We have connected with a planetary scientist, a cancer survivor, a stem cell researcher, a food banking organization, business start ups, non-profits and more all in the name of helping, learning and growing.

Needless to say, the post caught my eye.

George was responding to William Chamberlain (coiner of the #comments4kids hashtag) who excellently shared that posting does not mean connecting.  I agree.  In the 21st century the web truly goes both ways.  Web 2.0 is about connecting.  Not only do my students get to receive but they get to give!  I love the fact that this picture was taken as my students were sharing their knowledge of project-based learning over Skype with the folks at FreshGrade. I love that FreshGrade was interested enough to ask students what they knew. Amazing!

There's a to and fro, a relationship, a connection.

A swimming analogy was used in George's post. The quote was:

There was talk in the comments around what that teaching would look like: scaffolding learning, explaining acceptable use, the gradual release of responsibility.  I was surprised, though, when the analogy didn't get to its logical end:

Get in the pool! 

Now I have watched a lot of swimming lessons. And let me tell you, something happens when your kids take Swim Kids 4 for the fourth time. At times your hand reaches into your pocket to feel for a $20 to grease the teenaged instructor's dripping palms to end the madness and it is only halted when you awaken from your chlorine induced stupor with the words: "Dad, it's done. I'm freezing. Let's go."  Anyways.  In all those times, rarely have I seen a dry swim instructor. And if it does happen, it's likely some kid with a cast on his arm whose hanging on to his $15/hour job for dear life despite the skateboarding injury.

They are all in the pool.

Lessons on developing our ability to connect meaningfully are better caught than taught. Are you watching the action go by or are you part of it?

Are we creating opportunities to model online interaction with our students?
Are we part of a developing culture of sharing at our schools?
Are we opening the door to student connections through back channeling, cross commenting, collaboration? Do we participate in it?
Do we make time and space for global connections?

If we prize connection and want to see our students connect, we've got to be part of an atmosphere of connection.  We've got to jump in the pool.

[photo, “Lion's Pool Aug'13“, by Lontzman Katzman licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.]

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

4 steps to Meaningful Feedback #CBL

In #CBL: Authentic Assessment Part 1, I focus on the Connections-based Learning process. I outline how a CBL is shared with the students and what it looks like as students continue to make and leverage their connection to experts, organizations and those in the community. Here in Part 2 (though I don't have a Part 2 in the title), I want to focus on how we get to the point of summative feedback. The inclination, after a student presents learning, is to give summative feedback immediately and move on. Also, the prevalent thought is that it must be the teacher who gives summative feedback.  These tendencies, however, miss vital opportunities for students to develop higher order skills.

The teacher is one voice in the symphony of feedback. He or she might have the best skills and the most experience giving feedback, but that is not to say that he or she should be the only one. Students must be engaged in a dialogue around what meaningful commenting looks like and given many opportunities to practice this skill with their peers.

[photo, “New Blooms Pyramid“, by Andrea Hernandez licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.]
1. Develop Commenting Skills
Lessons in receiving and offering meaningful feedback are crucial.  Having students offer feedback is asking students to analyze and evaluate, two higher order skills in Bloom's taxonomy. These skills are critical in the 21st century. Before and during a CBL opportunity, take time for students to see examples of meaningful comments.  In Meaningful Comments: How?, we find 4 thoughts on teaching students to provide meaningful feedback: ask questions, add ideas, share your story, and (in the comments section by Bruno Winck) offer other opinions.  When students are given opportunities to develop these skills, the community of learning becomes rich.  It is not simply the teacher who is offering feedback but a class-full of connected students.

Some thoughts:
- Has time been taken to have students learn how to feedback meaningfully?
- Are students given a chance to "ask questions, add ideas, share stories, offer other opinions" during student presentations and on student digital portfolios?
- Are comments on digital portfolio entries deemed important for learning or simply an add-on?

2. Enable Multiple Feedback Sources
During the CBL, find opportunities for students to receive feedback from multiple sources. This could be:
- inviting parents, principles, other classes to student presentations
- asking parents, other teachers, and other students to comment on students' blogs
- sharing out student learning through social media (Flipboards; class, school, individual Twitter accounts; Google Communities)

I saw this tweet a few days ago:
Here is an example of a learning community creatively leveraging sources of feedback.  ConnectEd is "an attempt to more efficiently and effectively connect Faculties of Education, teacher candidates, classroom teachers and their students."  What a great idea! Having student teachers not simply connecting with a single school associate, but connecting with teachers all across the world to learn the craft.  Imagine the feedback these teacher candidates are getting.

In Meaningful Comments: Who?, I give many examples of feedback from multiple sources.  It's during this feedback dialogue where deep learning can take place.

Some thoughts:
- Have all the possible sources of feedback through classroom connections been leveraged?
- Does the classroom have a culture of safety and freedom to share?
- Are we experiencing such a community as educators ourselves?

3. Leverage Student Response
It would seem that the natural progression after a student receives feedback is to respond.  When a question is asked, an answer is expected.  When a comment is made, the student is expected to acknowledge it.  This is the to and fro of learning.  The reason I include a focus on student response in the CBL process is that I don't feel it is often sufficiently leveraged.  Giving students an opportunity to articulate how they have come to understand the feedback is a crucial yet often overlooked part of the learning process. Why is it only when giving instructions, do we check for understanding? Isn't it just as important to check that the student understands the feedback. In fact, part of the connection criteria can be: "How well does the student respond to feedback?"
The responses can range from,. "Thank you.  I will try that out next time." to "I don't agree with you."  Either way, the student is brought back to the learning and asked to think about it from an objective point of view.
Because the focus is on connection, CBL learning resembles a dialogue. Feedback is given and the student responds.  Wouldn't it be great to hear a student say: "So what I hear you are saying is that though you feel I have a good grasp on the different ways energy could be used, I need to consider my audience more when I communicate my learning."  Let's work towards giving students an opportunity to surprise us with the way they receive feedback. 

Some thoughts:
- Have students been given an opportunity to respond to the feedback received from the teacher and others?
- Has this response been leveraged for learning?
- Does the students' understanding of their feedback get clarified?  

4. Guide Self-Assessment
When meaningful quality feedback is given by multiple sources and the student has shown a solid understanding of the feedback, a student self-assessment is well-informed and can become a powerful summation of learning.


In a CBL opportunity, self-assessment questions might look like these:
"What competencies/content did you address?"
"With whom did you connect to address these competencies/content?"
"What did peer and reader/listener comments focus on?"
"What did you learn about the content and competencies given?"
"What further learning needs to take place?"

Self assessment, in order for it to be well informed, must be done after meaningful comments have been received by peers, parents, and teachers and students have had an opportunity to respond to the comments.  An honest self-assessment is meaningful to the student. It puts the onus of the learning right back on the most important individual in the process: the learner. And really, shouldn't the learner be the one to sum up their own learning?

Some thoughts:
- Have students been given the time to self-assess?
- Are students' self assessments well informed with feedback from the community of learning?
- Is the student self-assessment recorded in a genuine way?