Monday, November 25, 2013

What should come first learning to teach or the pedagogy of teaching?

I remember the first class and the first time that I heard of Bloom's Taxonomy.  There were three things that popped into my mind:

  1. Does this have anything to do with flowers?  I grow roses so I believe you can see how I came up with that idea.
  2. Does taxonomy have anything to do with taxidermy or taxes? Really it's about classification?
  3. How is this 1956 paper going to help me in today's classroom?  After all, what I was looking for in teacher's college was the magic formula that was going to make me into a super teacher. How was reading about a bunch of theories going to help me or any other new teacher?
The problem was that at the time I was so impatient and nervous of becoming a teacher--a good teacher that I forgot to be a good learner.  Even now, a year after finishing my masters, I am revisiting lectures and papers I read and realizing how they're applicable in today's classroom.  The more I think about this, I'm really not that different from many of my students.  With their G.P.A.'s being held over their heads to whether or not they'll continue on to post secondary, learning sometimes takes a back seat to performance--and one doesn't necessarily take place with the other.  

 It's a shame when learning to takes a back seat to the final mark.  Although my personal academic focus is on mobile learning and smartphones, my real goal is to further engage learners to develop independent learning skills and see value not only with acquiring knowledge but working beyond the basic scope.  The problem that I face with teaching this way is time.  It's much like how I learn.  On the surface I obtain the information, but the challenge is how deep do I comprehend it?  With this in mind, it's difficult to meet the needs of learners under time constraints.  

As an educator, I too feel the learners' frantic pace as I try to squeeze all of the required curriculum in the set period of time.  While attending teacher's college, I tried to identify how Bloom's taxonomy could be applied, but without experience the learning cycle of a student, I didn't really grasp the importance of it.  After teaching for 16 years, I can identify when students are only superficially scratching the surface of topic leaving them able to spew back shared information, but lack the ability to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate the information/skill's purpose and role.  It's honestly taken me years to take these theories (and to have the time to revisit them) and evaluate them with purpose.  Montessori's approach is one of my favourites and to me is the basis of problem based learning (PBL).  While I re-examine PBL, I have to tip my hat to Seymour Papert for his work in constructivism theory.  As our society changes so does our need for educational approaches that are still deeply rooted in quickly pounding information into students' heads.  As I digress on this point, it leads me back to my original idea for this blog is that sometimes one of the best approaches or tools to increase the learner's synthesis of knowledge is to allow the time for the learning to take place.

Now that I have gotten off of my pedagogical soap box, I am left with the question "how do we allow more time for learning to take place?"  In essence I feel like the learner who is leaving the final examination room only to realize what the answer is to "that question."  Right now, I'm still stuck in that room, but I'll keep looking for answers.  In the mean time, I will seek opportunities to have these discussions with student teachers who are at my school on practicum.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Super Ninja Teaching Moment

Just to be up front, I have never trained or studied any martial arts—that would be my daughters.  I have watched a lot of kung fu films as a Bruce Lee fan, but I do not consider that training.  When I refer to my super ninja teaching moment, I am referring to an incredible moment in an educator’s life when all of your teaching ideas and lessons come together in a learning moment of awesomeness. 

Today was my day.  I wish I had recorded or bottled it so that I could revisit or share this perfect moment.  Just how athletes will rehash that amazing play of the day or a doctor will talk about how they found an impossible diagnosis, educators will share when the most disillusioned student suddenly becomes impassioned in the classroom.

For my new educators or anyone who hasn’t taught in a formal classroom. it is these moments that makes educators want to teach.  If you’re wondering what it looks or feels like, watch any of those great teacher movies—Mr. Holland’s Opus, Freedom Writers, and my personal favourite To Sir With Love. ­When educators watch these movies, we image being Sydney Portier and all of the students are sitting in a classroom having incredible discussions about the curriculum of the day.  They’re not just finishing their classwork, they’re mastering it and teaching each other.  Anyone who has considered entering this profession has these kinds of fantasies.  When I’m having a bad day, I’ll secretly watch these films and think that I really do make difference and tomorrow will get better. 

However, today started as an ordinary day, but something quickly happened when I had my grade 9 students try out a new skill.  They had success and it create a drive for further success.  When my grade 11s arrived, they immediately went to there newly formed groups and started brainstorming.    They kept going right to the bell and beyond; the smiles were ear to ear as they came up with solutions and ideas.  There was no bickering or wasting of time—their goal was clear and they were going to ensure that it happened.   My grade 12s were no different, they were helping each other while solving their own problems and they were talking about the future. 

My description can’t justified what happened today in classroom but I can say that the energy and learning level was off of the charts—I got the best bonus as an educator and I hope for more.  I also recognize that not everyone shared in his or her own moment.  Some teachers had the opposite kind of day, but a good teacher knows to share in these moments, as they will help you get through the darkest days.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Reflections from attending ECOO13

A week ago I attended another fabulous ECOO conference that was organized under the leadership of co-chairs +Doug Peterson  and +Cyndie Jacobs.  All of the volunteers worked extremely hard to do the impossible--top last year's conference. Three years ago I decided to start saving my landyards and hanging them up in my office and I'm sorry I don't have my landyards from the earlier conferences that I attended.  I choose to display my landyards in my office to remind me to  reflect on the knowledge I have gained from these conferences as well to reflect on the importance of continuing to learn.  I have to also thank +Harry Niezen  who first introduced and encouraged me to attend this conference.  He is one of the volunteers that helps plan and run this conference.  His support as a WRDSB secondary consultant always has me exploring new resources and possibilities.  He continues to also provided me opportunities to expand and share my skills.

Leaving your classroom requires a lot of organizing and preparation, but what you gain to bring back to your students makes well worth it. There is no good time to attend a conference.  If you're not starting a new unit, you're getting ready for parent teacher night or report cards.  I missed my school's parent teacher night, but I was willing to do what was necessary to ensure I met those obligations upon my return.  This afternoon I will be contacting all of the parents who left their contact information.  Regardless of what's necessary, ECOO13 had a vast array of workshops, presentations, education suppliers,  and discussion panels.  There were also three keynote speakers that left me energized and inspired to return to the classroom.

+Amber Mac had me furiously bookmarking WBLT resource after resource.  In between book marking, I was trying to tweet them out as they were too good not to share.  As I look at my list of incredible new resources, it reminds the importance for educators to share their knowledge.  The creation of new ideas and resources as increased expeditiously with this digital age and there is no way that anyone person or group can keep up with it.  By sharing, we have the ability to improve all students' learning.

+Jaime Casap's stories of his childhood in Hell's Kitchen and how he see the role of technology in learning and teaching has left me reflecting on the importance of teaching students the importance of remaining in control of the role that technology should play in their lives.  The bigger picture is as important as the knowledge that technology allows you to gain.

+Kevin Honeycutt's address literally made me and others cry while he shared stories from his childhood and teaching various disadvantaged students who include ones that are serving sentences in the juvenile penal system.  He reminded all of us how sometimes we are the only positive role models and sources of support in our students' lives.  He shared the impact that his elementary teacher had on him when she hug him knowing that he probably had lice.  Not being shunned knowing his past helped him become the person and educator he is today.  Whether we as educators know it or not, we have the ability to do the same.  I have had similar experiences with some of my past students.   This year when I read a past student's application to teacher's college, I discovered that I was one of the first adults who made it okay  for him to be gay.  Tears streamed down my face when I read how during one particular class I had addressed some students and the class how homophobic slurs or behaviour were not socially acceptable and would not be tolerated in my class ever.  I didn't think twice about that day,  but it had a positive impact for at least one student in that class and changed the behaviour of some others.  Kevin's talk has me asking myself each day, if my actions with my students have helped or hindered with their growth as a person and as a learner.

On top of these incredible speakers, there was a whirlwind of talks to attend--lunch and breaks were sacrificed or eaten on the run so as not to miss anything.   If you haven't visited the ECOO13 landyard to view the various resources by the speakers, I highly encourage that you do.  It's great how speakers can share their information so that anyone who couldn't attend that particular talk or the conference itself could view these resource.  My own slides from my presentation are located here as well.  Throughout the talks, I was tweeting quotes and resources to both my educator and student followers.  After my talk on the Thursday, I read over the tweets of the attendees and saw the knowledge being shared.  I was both excited and flattered that I was worth those 140 characters.   It's amazing how the social media allows to share, teach and learn in real time.  I had colleagues and students engaged in exploring and discussing the various talks that I attended.

 This is why I spend the time to prepare my class, create a talk to share with my fellow educators and attend the annual ECOO conference.  I hope to see you there next November--I've already added to my calendar.