Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Blogger Behind this Blog #8

My Mindset

Lately I have been reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck PhD. This is the sort of book that challenges the way you see things. Even when you think you already have a growth mindset! It makes you look at your life and your choices differently. I really want to take some time over the next week or so to think about what it all means to me, but I find myself pondering on it all the time as it is. Today I was thinking about it in relation to my learning.

As I understand it, people with a growth mindset have learning and growth as their goal. People with a fixed mindset have maintaining their ego as their goal. Generally we have a combination of both of these mindsets at play to some degree in our lives.

In My Primary School Years
So, when I look back on my life as a primary school student, I realise that I always tried to be a couple of steps ahead of my cohort. This was initiated by my mum, who started teaching me at home before I went to school. As she tells it, I was a willing learner, so this was not a great challenge for her. Because of the head start I had, I was always a little ahead of my cohort when it came to academic subjects. I liked being at the top of my class and worked to stay there. At times I was competitive, and I would say that even though I put effort into my learning, at that time I felt that some people were born smart, others pretty, others sporty etc. (This is fixed mindset thinking.)

Entering High School
This general mindset didn't actually change in high school and I received high grades and recognition for my achievement. That said, I also enjoyed the learning experience and tried to select assignments that fit with my interests. I was happy to take on an element of challenge in an area that I was interested in, and willing to put in extra effort to demonstrate my learning in unique ways. (This is growth mindset thinking.) For subjects I was less interested in, I still got the assignments done, but more as a rush job to hand something in on time. I remember a particularly poor attempt at a science assignment that I left until the last minute.

At the end of year awards one year I was given an award for excellence in PE, and to this day I have felt that there was some mistake there. I was one of the smart kids, not one of the sporty ones. Why should I get an award for PE when there were other far more sporty kids than me! Interestingly though, it has helped me to realise that I don't have to be exclusively "smart"!

And on to University
When I was choosing subjects for Years 11 and 12 I chose subjects that would help me with teaching, in particular - psychology and sociology. As a result I got a high distinction in Human Development at University, which was really an extension of what I had learnt in Year 11. Another easy grade to get was a high distinction in Educational Futures and ICT as part of my Graduate Certificate, due to the amount of background experience and prior learning I had in the area. I also felt passionate about these subjects and loved being able to explore them more. The hardest grades I earned were credits for Global Development Education and Data Communications. They were hard because they were so foreign to me and I had so much catching up to do in order to get into the right frame of mind for them.

When I was in my early twenties I tried to write children's books and completed a Diploma in Children's Writing via correspondence. I gave up before I had anything published, and tonight as I read some of the stories I wrote all those years ago, I wondered what would have happened if I hadn't given up on this challenge. At the time I gave up because I felt I should be pouring my time into building my teaching capacity as that would lead to consistent pay. I think that in terms of my writing - I had strong writing skills, but boring plots! Maybe this is something I will return to, or maybe I've found my outlet through blogging and modelling writing for students.

I'm now on the verge of starting my Masters degree, and I've been contemplating my intentions. Why do we get degrees? Is it to prove we are qualified for a job? To suggest that we are superior? For recognition? Or to learn? Initially I was taking on this Masters course with the thought that I would smash it out and get it finished so that I had the bit of paper to say that I was done. But then, when I started looking at the degree more closely, I realised that some of the units include really helpful content that should prepare me for leadership in the future. How did I lose sight of the real reason for studying?! I love learning, so how did it become more about a piece of paper than what I would learn from the experience?

The Next Generation
My (kindergarten) son recently got his school report, with above average for reading/viewing and number/algebra. Like my mother before me, I started my son early with his academic skills through play at home. He seemed ready and interested. I wanted to make it easy for him to get As later, when grading kicks in. He is proud of his efforts with reading, and he loves puzzling over numbers. He wants to be the best reader in his class.

And so I find myself asking, where the growth mindset sits in terms of the ambition to be the best. I feel that there is a fine line between wanting to be THE best and working to do YOUR best. I don't want for my son to work at something only to be THE best at it. I want him to enjoy the journey and learn from the experiences. And when he is THE best, I want for him to keep striving. Or to complement it with developing another skill.

As you can see, my thoughts at this stage are just that - random ponderings as I grapple with a new way of seeing things and try to revisit how I have seen things in the past. I still have much to learn as I apply what I've read to my own life, to the way I guide my son, and to the classes that I teach. What an exciting journey!

Friday, December 2, 2016

My Journey with ISTAA Experienced Teacher Accreditation #3

Preparing the Project Proposal and Literature Review

I thought I had been going along so well, but these tasks hit me hard. I had been watching/listening to Dylan Wiliam's webinars, reading bits and pieces I had sourced and trying so many new things in the classroom. All these things were good, but I needed to do so much more to actually pull everything together. It was due today, and (spoiler alert) I managed to upload it to my collection in time.

I think part of the struggle lies in the fact that the due date falls right near the end of term, while reports are still being proof read and prepared to send home. I thought my time-management was on track, but it has been very tight to get reports completed and then flow straight into the ETA requirements.

I started with the Project Proposal because I knew it had to be finished about a week in advance in order to get it to my Head of School for signing. My first attempt at this was a bit of a brainstorm event, where I just jotted down my thoughts about what would go in each section. When I returned to it, I padded out the initial ideas. I was very pleased to see that I could have a main question with sub-questions, as I had been really struggling with how I could cover all the things I wanted to explore with just one question. This is what I came up with as the main idea for my project.

Growing our Minds through Formative Assessment and Feedback

What is an effective process to enrich student learning through formative assessment and feedback?
What actions can a teacher take to help students develop a growth mindset?
How can formative assessment be used more effectively to inform teaching and provide students with relevant feedback?
How can peer and teacher feedback (aligned with a growth mindset) be used to progress student learning?

Something I really struggled with when completing the proposal was the section on the collection of data. I feel that there are two purposes at play with the Action Research Pathway. One is to provide evidence of the achievement of Experienced Teacher Standards and Descriptors. The other is to collect data for analysis in relation to the questions of the Action Research project. And, while action research provides an opportunity for a teacher to demonstrate the descriptors, the data collected for the purposes of the project will be quite different to the evidence collected to demonstrate competency. I felt that these two forms of data needed to be separated for the purposes of the proposal, so ended up creating a table with data for the descriptors split under the headings: "Evidence of Standard" and "Data for Analysis". I'm hoping that this will help me to keep track of what I'm collecting and the real purpose for the collection.

Something else that I struggled with, just a little, was considering the difference between "expected benefits" and "expected changes". I'm hoping that my responses were different enough to meet expectations.

Given the nature of my project, I sent my proposal to the Staff Development Coordinator at my school for some feedback. She saw things that I didn't see, and struggled to understand what I meant in some of the sections. She made time to sit down with me to discuss things and I was able to make some changes. I feel that I could have continued to make more changes, but given the time restraints, I needed to get the document into internal mail so that my Head of School could sign it, and turn my attention to the Literature Review.

In the lead up to writing the Literature Review I found myself really loving all the reading, but terrified about putting the first words on a Google Doc. The blank page taunted me so much that I avoided it for quite some time, opting instead to mind-mapping and note-taking. In hindsight, I believe these were important for helping me to gather my thoughts, I just wish I'd started the whole process even earlier! For me, I was concerned about understanding the topic fully and making the connections.

Eventually I sat down and forced myself to begin writing, but even in that moment I was hesitant. I wanted a "sizzling start" that I push so hard for from my students. How do you write a sizzling start for a literature review? And then I re-read Inside the Black Box, by Black and Wiliam, and realised that people don't want to read something dry and academic. We all want to be drawn into what we read. I had a false start that went for three paragraphs, and then, finally I got my idea:

Oliver goes back to his desk and opens his English book. He knows the teacher will be doing the rounds in a minute, but he wants to take a moment to flick through to the next blank page. As he does, he smiles to himself, reading a sentence here and there as he sees the work he has done throughout the year. Wow! I remember writing this, he thinks to himself. I’ve come so far this year. He glances at the feedback at the bottom of the page…

And that's where I left Oliver's story. Full of questions about that feedback.

It probably took about 15 hours of writing and reviewing to finally get the review finished. I got sick toward the end with a cold, and was pleased when I finally got to the end. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to have my peers read over it and offer their feedback. We are all so busy trying to get our reports finalised and everything prepared for the end of school, so I just didn't feel right asking anyone else to read my writing. I also didn't have time to make adaptations based on any feedback they might have given me. I struggled with this since I have been seeing the power of feedback in my classroom, and learnt a lot from the feedback I received on my Project Proposal.

For both of these documents I had a guide for what to do, but no real guidance in terms of what is counted as a pass or fail. I feel I used a little poetic license on the literature review, but am not too sure whether it was too much. It's either my first literature review, or my first in quite some time, and I'm not entirely sure what was needed!

This experience helps me to understand some things about my own learning that can be generalised to my students and how they learn:
  1. Students need to have a clear idea of what is expected and to what level
  2. Feedback is definitely helpful, but not always practical when tight for time
  3. While deadlines are important motivators for completing a task, some students may not produce their greatest work within this timeframe. Some may be interested in polishing their work further after the due date.
  4. What ends up on the page is not necessarily all the writer knows about the topic. A lot of information is filtered along the way.
I'm really excited about what I've been learning through my reading and experiences in the classroom, but will save those for another blog. For today I really just wanted to share my journey with the Experienced Teacher Accreditation in terms of completing the necessary documentation by the deadline.

I am a lone ranger in my school as far as the Action Research Pathway goes... Is anyone else doing it??? Please leave a comment if you are.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

Getting Started with Seesaw

This week I started using Seesaw with my class as part of my exploration into digital portfolios and the power of feedback. I have been searching for something that I can use to collate my students digital work when using shared iPads. I wanted something that allowed for feedback from peers, students and even parents. I got the go-ahead from our ICT department to trial it this term and they loaded the app onto all the iPads.

During the last holidays I set up a login with Seesaw and added my classes. I made a test class to use to experiment with my son and get a sense of some of the issues that might come up with my class. It also gave us a chance to see what can be done and test out one of the Seesaw tutorials.

Prior to starting I wanted my students to understand the purpose of feedback, so we completed a couple of tasks last week that involved students seeking feedback, giving each other feedback and applying this information to their work. I printed out the appropriate signage for my class and set up management for the class such that student work posted immediately, they could "like" one another's work, but could not post comments.

My introductory lesson was just to show students the app and let them know that we would be using it. I demonstrated how they would log in using the QR code and the basics of how to create something and save it in their name. At this point I did not let students have a turn. Seesaw offers introductory lesson ideas to familiarise students, however I just wanted to get started with using it with our content and learning outcomes. I wanted for the task to be familiar enough for students to work with in a new format.

The next day we started Seesaw in our English lesson. I made a page for students to use as a digital worksheet. The task was the Circle of Viewpoints thinking routine, considering the perspective of different characters from the first chapter of Charlotte's Web. We re-read the chapter first, then students recorded their responses in Seesaw. They enjoyed having the opportunity to read each other's work and "like" it. The work itself showed that students were thinking about different perspectives. Some students got to more than one perspective. Others only saw through one lens. It helped students to realise that there is more than one way of viewing a situation.

One of my students quickly figured out how to give himself a like from every other student in the class, so we had to have a discussion about only selecting your own name when saving your work or liking people's work. We also discussed the point of "likes" and how the value is diminished if you just "like" everything you see.

In our Literacy Group time, students completed another digital worksheet to show an understanding of synonyms. They rewrote the sentence I had used and changed the word in brackets into one of its synonyms. Once finished students used the draw feature to make a page about a word eg. Cold, hot, large, etc. (their choice) and make an audio recording to go with this. They enjoyed this process and were prompted to get out thesauruses to add to their list. The technical side of things was working really well. It was great to see them looking at one another's work.

That night I reviewed students' work and left them comments using the feedback feature. We then reviewed the work on the IWB and I taught students how they could make changes based on the feedback by using copy/edit and making a revised work sample. Students were keen to revisit their work and those who didn't get the opportunity expressed their disappointment!

Every time I sat down with my students I found they were asking if we were about to do something with Seesaw. They were obviously hooked! On Friday I threw something together for them quickly, following on from our work on Charlotte's Web. I gave students the writing prompt "If I had a pet pig..." and they were off! They loved it. Some named their pig, others thought about playing rugby with it! Some students loved this task so much, and the ability to like one another's work, that they started to look for ways to give each other written feedback by Copy/Edit and then writing at the bottom of the page.

As soon as I clued on to this, I realised that I needed to introduce the feedback aspect properly and give them that freedom. We discussed the sort of feedback that we are wanting - feedback that is respectful of the other person's feelings and helps them to improve their work. And then they went to it. This is an area I would like to fine-tune with them some more, probably making some class charts with examples that they could use.

From a technical perspective, my students have definitely worked out how to get started, create, save and edit files, and how to logout. They are working extra things out for themselves and teaching one another. I look forward to seeing how their use of this develops in the weeks to come. I also look forward to being more creative with how we use it, drawing on photos and files as well.

From a skills basis, my students are learning how to use the iPad keyboard for typing, and they are learning where the keys are. They are also learning how to use the predictive text feature to help them when they are unsure of spelling. I was amazed how quickly they got their ideas down in text compared with how long it usually takes to write by hand. This may have been more about the motivation to get started than anything else! 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

My Journey with ISTAA Experienced Teacher Accreditation #2

Researching and Testing Ideas

Since I last wrote about my journey I have been working at refining my ideas. I'm not one to focus completely on book research first and then shift to classroom research second. I tend to mix the two together and get everyone involved in the journey!

Connecting with other Educators
I've been chatting to people about what I am puzzling over. Having people to listen to my thoughts has helped me to work through what I am reading about and what I am seeing in the classroom. My colleagues are being very encouraging (even though I'm sure they're getting tired of listening to my ramblings). I've made new connections at work in my quest to find other people with an interest, knowledge and experience in the realms of assessment and feedback. I've also found some who may be able to help me work through developing the action research side of things. My colleagues have given me ideas and suggestions for other things I could try.

Using Twitter
Over the years I have developed my Twitter profile to include an extensive list of educators around the world. This is my professional learning network. If I'm to be really honest, I haven't been consistently great with this over the years. While I'd love to do it more, in reality, it does end up being both addictive and time consuming. I also find that I hit information overload quite quickly once I get started. Everyone is sharing great resources that I grab to read later, or feel inspired by in the moment. But I find that I end up with my brain buzzing in too many directions, trying to do too many things, and just can't keep up that sort of momentum. I have to try to find a workable balance. I'm trying to connect more effectively with people in this arena by popping along to Twitter discussions and getting involved with the conversations. By looking at my Twitter feed it's easy enough to pick up on whether there is a discussion happening and to get involved.

After reading a tweet where someone asked for resources on peer feedback, I realised that I should be using hashtags to find resources about feedback. I did a search on #feedback and found a tweet about the work of Ben Newmark (@bennewmark). His school is trying new things in terms of feedback to students, and while I don’t want to take on board the whole kit and caboodle of what he is doing (particularly as it is designed for high school history), I really do like where he is headed in terms of making feedback meaningful. 

Ben’s school has stopped marking books and is now completing a Feedback form when students have submitted their books. He reads through the books (not worrying about marking spelling errors or leaving a comment) and jots down the things about the class’ response using a feedback form. He then makes a PowerPoint presentation that goes through the things that came up on the feedback form. He highlights the things students do well and shares these with the class as examples of exemplary work.

I liked reading about this system and am going to try a modified version of the idea, initially with my Maths class. I wondered what happens in Ben's class in terms of self-reflection to help them to make use of the feedback. Do students jot down takeaways that they will work on?

Another victory with the #feedback hashtag came another day when I discovered this tweet:

This research, while difficult to digest, was exactly what I have been looking for. It looks beyond what makes good feedback, to instead explore what is required for students to engage with feedback and use it. After reading this, I was able to draft out a bit of a plan to use in the classroom. The researchers also outlined some gaps in current research - namely education prior to Higher Ed, and studies that look at the resulting behaviours of students rather than merely the reported behaviours. I'm excited to explore this further.

Dylan Wiliam's Webinars
I found some of Dylan Wiliam's previously recorded webinars online at The Dylan Wiliam Center. I watched these and took some notes as I did so. It was good to hear his view on feedback. The results from studies have shown that feedback can also have a negative impact, thus the reaction of the student should be the focus rather than the feedback itself. I feel this is tied in with my ideas about encouraging student self-reflection in order to apply the feedback, and also providing time for the feedback to be used not just stashed away. Dylan said that the success of the feedback is about the relationship the teacher has with the student and knowing when to push and when to back off. One suggestion Dylan gave for activating students as resources for one another was to use two stars and a wish for peer feedback.

I feel that the challenge lies in learning more about how to provide the right sort of feedback (which may mean different things to different students), and how to help students to react positively to what they are told and use it to improve their learning further. This all ties together with the growth mindset, and a willingness to see failure as an opportunity for further growth. More of Dylan Wiliam's webinars can be found here and he is about to run another webinar about Assessment Literacy on Wednesday 19 October 2016.

Trying things out
Term 4 started this week and I had my students back for the last two days of the week. Why wait, I say! We got straight into exploring some ideas with feedback. Very soon we are going to begin trialling Seesaw to submit and share classwork and gain feedback from each other. In the lead up to this, I wanted my students to get a sense of why feedback is useful, how we can request feedback from others, how we can give feedback and how we can use feedback.

I wanted to introduce my class to the concept of feedback. I wanted them to get a sense of the power of feedback for helping you to learn and progress forward. In our first lesson of the day students were working on a writing task and I found that students were asking me and one another for help with spelling words. I helped them at the time and then used them as examples for the next lesson.

I referred to this as an example of "seeking feedback" and pointed out how it helped them to be more accurate with their work. I then showed students the video of Austin's Butterfly as an example of how feedback leads to improvement. Students were amazed by how Austin's work progressed. 

Austin's Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work from EL Education on Vimeo.

I then explained that students would create a drawing of their holiday and that at any point when they wanted feedback they could take a strip of paper to someone they trust and get them to write down something good about their work and something for them to improve. They could then take the feedback and use it to improve their work. They could repeat this as much as they desired.

What I found was that initially students wanted to get their work just right. It was almost as if the idea of peer feedback was making them think more critically about their own work. To begin with, I felt that the feedback that students gave one another was fairly shallow and opinion based. eg. "Please colour the white and the background." However when I paused to think of what I might have written, I didn't come up with anything better! This helped me to realise that part of the strength of feedback comes from having some sort of a goal to work toward and markers of what constitutes quality work.

We continued this work intermittently over the two days, with students continuing to seek feedback from one another and re-drafting as desired. A lot of verbal feedback was being given by students and not being recorded on the paper strips. This suggested to me that students may prefer to give and receive feedback informally and verbally. This may be happening already in the classroom without me realising that it is taking place. 

As would be expected, I found a variety of responses to this task. Some preferred to begin a new draft, while others made modifications to the original. Some were popular choices for students to go to feedback, while others weren't approached at all. Some students seemed more focused on self-review of work including one who did not get any written feedback.

Nothing Official Yet!
Of course, I am yet to write up my literature review, and none of my trying things out is part of my proposal at this point. For me, these steps are necessary for me to get a proper understanding of what I am reading and to keep a check on whether it is based in reality. It's also about me finding what works, and seeing how things can be improved. I guess my next step is to get serious about the literature review and speak to someone about action research.

If you have tried things out with formative assessment, feedback and/or growth mindset please leave a comment with link so that I can check it out. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

How much screen time?

We have just finished having a two-week break from school and are heading back into our normal
routines. By the end of the holidays, however, we'd fallen into some pretty bad habits. Daylight savings has meant that we have been more relaxed over bedtime for our son. And, as for screen time? Our son's use of screen time has allowed us to have more of a sleep in the next day! We've really had to work at getting out of the house - taking the dog for a walk, going for a bike ride, seeing the city and participating in the real world. These are all good things, but take effort!

In the past week I took part in a survey about children and video games. It really got me thinking about what is good and beneficial in terms of screen time.
My son just got a 2DS for his birthday, so along with the iPhone he had handed down and the iPad he bought second hand, he is getting more than the desired screen time for a six-year-old. And it doesn't help that he is growing up in a home where Mummy is always testing out new apps and resources with him, and Daddy is an absolute whiz when it comes to working out the logistical side of things.

So, this week we tried to come up with a solution in terms of screen time. My husband had heard of people instigating a daily limit for their children, so we decided on 30 minutes (not guaranteed - but dependent on what's happening and what will work for the family). We decided to add an opportunity for our son to "earn" more screen time by engaging in outdoor play, such that for every two minutes of outdoor play he banks an additional one minute of screen time. This banked time can be used on the day it is earned or rolled over (unused normal daily limit is not rolled over).

Sound like all those terms and conditions you usually skim over? Wait... there's more! The walk to and from school does not count toward the extra time, nor does outside play as part of the usual school day. Television counts as screen time only when it is chosen as an individual activity. And Pokemon Go doesn't count as either screen time or outdoor play - the two cancel each other out!

As you are probably beginning to understand, we have a six-year-old who needs to know all the ins and outs so that he can make the most of all these minutes! It's early days and we are just trying to find a way to keep better track of how he is using his time.

That said, it does make me pause for a moment to think about my personal response to screen time. I probably spend far too much time looking at a screen and far too little engaging in outdoor play. Particularly in the holidays when I want to dibble and dabble and learn new things online.

And then I could also play the devil's advocate and go against all that I fight so hard for and ask the question: Should we be limiting the amount of screen time used in the classroom? And if so, what is the "right" amount?

Is screen time something that we should be putting limits on, or is it something that people should engage in freely and monitor for themselves? When is screen time a problem, and when does it become just a part of how we live our lives these days? And is that a problem in and of itself?

What are your thoughts?