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Posts Tagged ‘reflection

I am on vacation with my family. However, I am keeping up my blog-reflection-a-day habit by scheduling a thought a day. I hope this shows that reflections do not have to be arduous to provoke thought or seed learning.

I am recreating some of my favourite image quotes I created some time ago. This time I use Pablo by Buffer and indicate attribution and CC license.

We do not learn from experiences. We learn from reflecting on experiences. -- John Dewey.

Dewey did not mean that experiences do not lead to any learning. Instead he probably meant that we often get caught up in the processes or the moment or the excitement, and forget to ask ourselves what the takeaways are.

Slowing down and rising above the blooming, buzzing mess is what leads to meaningful and deep learning.

Here is a tweeted headline that could have been relevant ten years ago.

The Yellow Pages were irrelevant even then. It seems to have taken a newspaper a decade to realise or admit it.

It sometimes takes teachers in schools just as long, if not longer, to realise and admit that some of their practices are losing relevance.

The aptly named Yellow Pages can also mean that the medium is showing their age. The problem with irrelevant practices is that the signs are not as obvious. It takes critical reflection to spot the yellowing edges of bad habits and pages of unquestioned tradition.

I LOL’d when I saw this tweet. It was a moment of truth and connection. Ask adults around you and you might get similar anecdotes of this shared experience.

But however humorous, the observation is superficial. It is probably what drove people like Prensky to create the concept of the digital native, i.e., kids born with technology are savvy with it because they are wired differently.

What proponents of the digital native narrative ignore is that we are first wired to play and explore. Our instinct is to learn.

If the available technology was a stick and mud, a child as a curious learning machine would use it. Some mud and even the stick might end up in their face or mouth.

Today the technology might be the computer or phone. A child is the same curious learning machine and the computers or phones stick as well. That child is no more a digital native than the previous one was an analogue native.

I often tell adult participants of my seminars or workshops that they are sometimes more native with some technologies than their students and children.

Take the use of Facebook for instance. Most adults and parents my age started using Facebook before they had kids or before their kids started using it. The adults are more aware of the usage, nuances, and changes in Facebook than younger learners. They might also be wiser about what to share and what not to. The adults are the digital natives in that context.

That is one of the key weaknesses in the false dichotomy that is the digital native-immigrant divide. It does not take into account context of use. A better but less well known theory is the digital visitor and resident continuum by David White.

Whether it takes a comic or some critical reflection, I hope more people read about how the concept of digital natives does more harm than good. After all, we learn not when we reinforce something we already believe in; we learn when we experience dissonance as we play and explore.

Last week, my wife and I visited my son’s school for a series of parent-teacher meetings.

I liked how the school had an online booking system to schedule meetings with teachers. This prevented a chaotic free-for-all.

I also liked how my son had to accompany us to take an active part in the meetings. The was an excellent way for him to take ownership of his learning.

It is not enough to tell students how to make improvements; it is just as important to listen to what they have to say. Listening allows us to determine how they have processed the discussion and if they have thoughts of their own.
 
Quantitative grading ends learning. Quality feedback sustains learning.
 
But I am concerned about the state of teacher assessment literacy of a few of my son’s teachers. To be clear, these are just anecdotes from a convenience sample of teachers I had discussions with.

The issues were:

  1. Irregular use of rubrics for formative feedback.
  2. Placing the curricular race before remediation.
  3. Testing what was not taught or modelled explicitly.
  4. Not aligning the quantitative with the qualitative.

 

 
Irregular use of rubrics for formative feedback
I liked how one teacher used an essay rubric as a feedback tool.

Students should be given a rubric not as a crutch or checklist, but for them to rise above the noise. My son’s essay was marked up so that it was impossible to tell that he had one main area to improve on. The rubric was a way to not miss the forest for the trees.

I asked the teacher if rubric-based feedback was a regular practice. She replied that it was a rare occurrence. Its use seemed tied to the mid-year exam, but it could have been part of weekly, fortnightly, or monthly exercises before the exam.

Think of this another way: No one throws a novice into a tennis tournament to provide feedback on how to improve a serve or footwork. Such feedback happens during regular practice.

Rubric use must be regular and strategic. Its use was rare and the feedback came after an exam and right before a month-long school vacation. There was no room for remediation and corrective action.

The rubric was used in summative assessment (the mid-year exam). It could have been better employed in formative assessment during the learning, not after it.
 

 
Placing the curricular race before remediation
I learnt that another teacher’s strategy was to teach difficult topics in the first half of the year followed by easier ones. This might be a good strategy if the goal was to provide time for learners to catch up with the difficult topics later in the year.

After being shown the curriculum topics for the year, I asked if there was a way for students to revisit the difficult topics. The teacher gave a standard reply: Curricular time was tight and they moved on to the next flavour of the week.

I wonder if teachers realise this is one reason why parents and students resort to remedial tuition. If the school and their teachers barrel along, parents and students will find alternatives for remediation. Ask enough good tuition teachers why they are passionate about what they do and they will probably say that it is to help kids who fall through the cracks.

Now this is not to say that my son’s teacher was uncaring. Like most teachers, he made it clear that my son could make an appointment to consult him.

One purpose of assessment is to provide feedback. What should immediately follow is remediation. What should not happen is ignoring the problem by moving on to the next topic.

If a group of runners falls down and get injured during a race, the coach should not insist they keep running. The coach and able runners around them should stop to help the injured. It is important to finish the race, but it is more important to take care of the runners first.

The wellbeing of the racers is more important than the race itself.
 

 
Testing what was not taught or modelled explicitly
Weeks before the parent-teacher meeting, my son told me about a test question he could not answer. I asked him if the teacher had taught the topic and he replied that the teacher had not.

At the parent-teacher meeting, I found out that the teacher actually left clues like a scavenger hunt over a series of separate events. His rationale was that students needed to make the connections.

While I applaud his attempt to promote higher order thinking, I wonder if he made this expectation clear and if he modelled this strategy explicitly for his students.

Cognition and metacognition are related but separated. Much of everyday teaching and learning is about cognition: I tell you, I find out if you understand.

The ability to make connections between seemingly separate events is about metacognition. It is about choosing different thinking strategies to make those connections. If students do not see a model of metacognition and do not practice those skills, they cannot be expected to operate this way.

I do not mean that students need to be spoon-fed and hand-held all the way. Metacognition is thinking about thinking and it is supposed to be challenging. But when a teacher is transitioning kids to be metacognitively aware, it helps to be methodical and to provide scaffolds.

The purpose of a test should not be to scare students. It should be about showing you care about their cognition and metacognition. So you should not test was what not taught or modelled explicitly.
 

 
Not aligning the quantitative with the qualitative
As we received a qualitative progress report before quantitative scores were released, we made appointments with teachers based on the former.

We found out only after the scores were released that the qualitative and the quantitative were not always aligned. By then, it was too late to make changes to the online system because the appointments were locked.

One might argue that the qualitative comments were more about teachers’ impressions and feedback that was is not captured by a test. One example is everyday behaviour and general attitude during lessons.

However, given that the comments focused largely on academics, there should be some alignment between a teacher’s observations and actual performance. If not, one might doubt the teacher’s attention to each learner and their evaluations of them.

This just boils down to numbers and statements making sense. If a student is doing well (or not) test-wise and the comments are aligned, the quantitative and the qualitative match up. If they do not, they confuse both child and parent.

Closing thoughts
I might come across as being overly critical of the teachers I had discussions with. Know this: Both my wife and I are educators, so we not only intuitively understand my son’s teachers, we also have insights that other parents might not.

As a teacher educator, I have additional insights that I share because I care for the teaching profession. Some of the things I write about may be difficult to read, but they come from an honest and informed place.

If you asked me what the most important trait is for teachers, I would say: Being a reflective practitioner. Nipping on the heels of that is the ability to provide clear and actionable feedback to learners.

All four of my critiques are linked to feedback for learning. This, in turn, is a function of a teacher’s assessment literacy. My feedback to teachers is this: Keep on learning about assessment, evaluation, and feedback. These are core to effective teaching and meaningful learning.

Talks are the least effectiveness way to effect change, but they are a necessary evil because people still organise them and the talks can have extensive reach.

But when I conduct talks, seminars, or keynotes, I ensure that I interact with my audience richly in a few ways.

Why do this? Most speakers will use an “e” word like engagement or even entertainment. I do not play these games because I know my participants are smarter than to fall for that.

I use tools to interact so that my audience (listeners) become participants (thinkers, doers). I do not wish to merely engage, I want to participants to take ownership of learning and responsibility of action.

Beth Kanter shared some ideas last week. I am weighing in on my own and I suggest free tools combined with basic principles of educational psychology.

BACKCHANNEL
A backchannel is an online space for participants to comment, discuss, and ask questions while I am speaking or after I have asked them to consider an issue.

My favourite backchannel tools are Twitter and TodaysMeet.

Twitter is great when an organiser already has one or more event #hashtags that participants can use. This presumes that a sizeable number of participants already use Twitter or are willing to get on it quickly.

Twitter backchannel.

TodaysMeet is better when participants have not committed to any particular platform. If they can text or SMS, then can use TodaysMeet.

With my own free TodaysMeet account, I can create an online text-based interaction space and define how long it will be open for. I then invite participants to it by sharing the access URL. (Pro tip: Create a custom URL with bit.ly and a QR code with this generator.)

One of the most recent versions of Google Slides lets you invite questions from the audience. The URL for participants to submit questions appears at the top of your slides and they can vote up the best questions. (Read my review of Google Slides audience tool.)

Audience Tool URL as overlay.

This is not quite a backchannel because it is not designed for chatter. It favours focused queries. This tool might be better for less adventurous participants who are not used to switching quickly between tasks.

Whatever the backchannel tool, its use must be guided by sound educational principles. You might want to provide participants with a space to be heard immediately instead of waiting till the end, or you want to monitor their thoughts, sense their doubts, or get feedback.

VISUALISATIONS
The visualisations I am referring to are not images and videos. These are show-and-tell elements which are attempts to engage, but have little to do with interacting with participants.

My most common strategy of participative visualisation is to incorporate data collecting and collating tools like Google Forms and AnswerGarden.

Both these tools require user inputs that can be visualised. For example, I could ask the room which major phone platform they are on: Android, iOS, other in a Google Form.

The data they provide is collated in a Google Sheet and can be visualised in a pie chart or bar graph. The relative proportions are more obvious to see than asking the participants to raise their hands.

There are many tools that do what Google Forms and Sheets do, possibly a bit quicker and slicker. But these normally come at a premium. The GSuite is free.

One way to visualise a group’s grasp of concepts is to use a word cloud. For example, I am fond of asking participants what they consider the most important 21st century competencies.

AnswerGarden word cloud.

I invite them to share words or short phrases in an AnswerGarden in brainstorming mode. The most commonly cited concepts appear large while the less common ones become small.

The purpose of such illustrations is not just to leverage on the fact that we are visual creatures and the visuals make an immediate impact. I want participants to get involved in real time and this helps also me illustrate how the technology enables more current forms of learning and work.

TOPIC CHOICE AND FOCUS
One of the worst things I could do as a speaker is talk about something that the audience has no interest in. As it is, some or most of the people there might be present as an obligation and not by choice. So I try to find out what they might want to learn.

I often use Google Forms to find out beforehand and present the popular suggested topics in the form of a chart.

With smaller seminars, I might use Dotstorming to determine which direction to take midway through the event. I ask participants to suggest areas to explore and they vote on topics each others topics.

Dotstorming is similar to Padlet in that users input ideas on online stickies. However, Dotstorming allows me to let them vote on the best ideas and arrange the notes by popularity.

Dotstorming example.

The idea here is to give the participant a say in what gets covered or uncovered. It is about providing and fulfilling user choice instead of focusing on a potentially irrelevant curriculum or plan.

QUIZZING
My perennial favourite for quick-quizzing participants is Flubaroo, an add-on to Google Forms for auto-grading quizzes as well as providing feedback and answers to my learners.

Google Forms has since upped its game to offer quiz-like functions, but it still lags behind the leader, Flubaroo in some ways. This site provides a detailed breakdown of a Forms quiz vs a Flubaroo one.

Quiz is coming!

The point of quizzing is not just to keep participants on their toes. Some might be driven by such a challenge, but all benefit from evaluating themselves in terms of learning. The results can also be an indicator of how much my talk was understood.

REFLECTION AND TAKEAWAYS
I am fond of using Padlet and Google Forms for pitstops and one-minute papers.

Pitstops are pauses in my sessions for participants to collect their thoughts and think of questions. They are an opportunity for them to see if they can link the negotiated outcomes with their current state of learning, and to see where they still need to go.
 

 
A takeaway or “dabao” (in local vernacular) is a terminal activity in which I ask participants to tell me their biggest learning outcome from the session.

In both I find that there is an even mix of planned and unplanned learning outcomes. This is a good thing because the internalisation and ownership of learning is important, not just the blind reception of information.

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
I do not only like to connect with participants before and during a talk, but also after it. I do so a few ways.

I leave my social media information in one of the final slides.

Contact me.

If I use a backchannel, participants can contact me indefinitely on Twitter and up to several days or weeks after on TodaysMeet.

I also use my blog to reflect on the events and to answer questions I might not have been able to address during the session.

It would be an understatement if I said my last week was a tiring one. I balanced classes in the evening and evaluations of novice facilitators in the day.

I was glad that I had the flexibility to arrange the evening classes early in the week and negotiate evaluations later the same week.

When I was a young faculty member, I was treated like a number on a schedule. I recall having to leave home at 6am to get from one end of the island to the other to set up for early morning classes. Sometimes this was on the back of a class the evening before or I had a string of tutorials throughout the day. It was not that much better with seniority because the timetable was king.

Now I get to choose what to be involved in as a consultant and only because I relate to the causes of those I collaborate with. But this does not mean that the work is any less strenuous.

My evening classes are typically from 6.30-9.30pm in a central location. I leave home at 4.30pm to take into account time for travel, an early dinner, and setting up the classroom. After clearing up and chatting with people who stay behind, I might leave the venue at around 10pm and am lucky if I am home at 11pm.

This is a sacrifice that no amount of renumeration compensates for: This takes away from family time. This week was exceptionally painful because it coincided with a week-long school vacation that I could not enjoy with my wife and son.

I make sure that the sacrifice is worth it. I keep the sessions as lively as possible and refrain from lecturing. The entire three hours of each class is driven by learner-centred activities, technology-mediated strategies, and individual reflection.

Jigsaw method of peer learning and instruction.

The photo above might look static, but it is actually a snapshot of groups hard at work during a jigsaw of peer instruction. It is a joy to see energy levels high and questioning minds active even at the end of the session. Sometimes I feel bad that we cannot do more or because I have to stop discussions in order to move on to other important activities and topics.

The evening classes are particularly draining because the body and mind want rest after a day of work. But my learners and I keep our energies up and I employ active learning strategies to help in this regard.

An equally draining activity is evaluating novice facilitators. I do this as part of a cumulative assignment that future faculty develop over approximately two months. They plan and implement a self-contained 10-minute lesson that showcases their ability to be learner-centred.

Evaluating microteaching at NTU.

I am always encouraged by those who make the effort to teach in ways that they were not taught when they were undergraduates.

The other facilitators and I have the unenviable task of changing or shifting mindsets over a very short period. The reception and abilities of our learners spans the spectrum of the militantly resistant to the devoutly willing. Yet we have to help all of them manage their expectations and coax performances that meet the high standards we set for them.

All this makes for taxing, but fulfilling work. Even though I am technically paid to be with these learners three hours at a time, I do my usual early start and late end. The latter is often a result of staying back to discuss ideas, overcome stumbling blocks, or debate philosophical differences.

A while ago, a contact of mine asked me what I did. I described my teaching and facilitating work in less detail than I did above. However, he was sharp enough to label what I did “unbundling”. I understood what he meant immediately.

I had dropped the unnecessary meetings and the regular interruptions. I was able to offer specific services to my clients and collaborators that I was well-versed in as a professor and was also able to focus on these tasks exclusively instead of being torn in different directions.

I have always made time to read and write (I started this blog when I had less bandwidth than I have now) and the unbundling now affords me more. In hindsight, I wish I knew then what I know now about unbundling. It would have given me something to look forward to.

Gathering around an iPad to edit a Popplet.

Whenever I facilitate learning at workshops or course modules, I try something new or tweak a time-tested process.

Here is some context first.

Last year, I facilitated ICT-focused classes for special needs/inclusive education teachers. The sessions were conducted in the evening and I did not change the active learning design this year. However, I made the effort to jump at the deep end, tried a different swim stroke, and dealt with an unexpected current.

Chrome Incognito
What was the deep end jump?

I opted not to bring my Chromebook or Macbook Pro to the first session, and used the ageing desktop at the venue instead.

I used Chrome in Incognito mode to sign into various accounts, and with two-factor authentication via the Google app on my iPhone, was able to verify the log-in. When I was done with the session, I cleared the browser cache.

In between, I rediscovered the bane of YouTube ads because the Chrome browser on the desktop was not protected like my extension-enabled ones on my laptops. I wanted to show a small segment of a video but had to click away layered ads and two video ads that played before the actual video.

On hindsight, I could have relied on one of the many online services that let me download offline versions of entire videos or video segments.

As I neared the end of the session, the browser crashed. Ordinarily, this would mean having to log in to various services all over again. Thankfully, we were almost done and I did not have to do this. I also had my iPad on standby, but did not have to use it.

The interruptions due to the ads and crash were a reminder why facilitators should always bring their own devices. If you prepare and practice on that device, it is best to bring it along unless you like living dangerously.
 
Panoramic shot of 32 learners in five focus groups.

Google Forms to form groups
What did I do a bit differently with folks that I had not met before?

I usually ask participants to complete a Google Form questionnaire before we meet. In one question, I ask participants to choose a focus area or issue. Instead of trying to deliver a one-size-fits-all experience, I want to shape a custom one.

I normally follow this up by showing the results of the questionnaire at the start of our meeting to remind them of their selections. This time round, I predefined groups based on their responses and indicated what these were in a Google Site page.

About a quarter of the class did not respond by the deadline, so I met these learners during a break to sort them out before the group-based activities. This was a necessary step since it is rare for everyone to complete tasks beforehand. I also had two last-minute additions who probably did not get the instructions.

Such a preemptive design prevents groups from self-selecting. In this context, however, I wanted groups to be as diverse but as focused as possible. Knowing how people tend to stay in their comfort zones both social and cognitive, my decision to do this turned out to be a good one. The discussions were rich and there was a lot of productive noise in the room.

Jumping Padlet notes
I like getting participants to use Padlets for reflective pitstops and exit tickets.

However, a recent change to the platform seems to have made the online stickies refresh and rearrange themselves more often. This meant that some of my learners could not compose their thoughts because the notes kept “jumping away” from them.

This did not seem to affect all of them equally. Anecdotally, I have found that this happens to owners of small screens and slower devices with older Android builds.

One alternative might be to provide Google Forms and share the resulting Google Sheet with my learners. However, this limits my participants to text instead of other media like audio, photos, or video in Padlet.

I also like my participants to take ownership of their notes and to revisit them at different stages of learning. They could co-edit the Google Sheet resulting from Forms, but this is not as natural as the simulated writing or drawing on an online sticky note.

No space for Google Space
Last year I used the then brand new Google Spaces and reflected on the pros and cons of using it versus Google Sites [1] [2]. This year, Spaces will be shut down on 17 April in a failed Google experiment, whiles Sites, a mainstay for about a decade, lives on.

This meant transferring many resources, instructions, and activities to Sites from Spaces. This was no mean task as the two are not interoperable.

I also had to restructure the Site and this meant URLs changed. This affected the shortened URLs and QR codes I had created, so I had to make new ones, print them out as cards, and laminate them myself.
 
Scanning a QR code in class.

Bonus experiment
I was about to end this reflection when I remembered another step I took.

I normally send participants instructions to download and install a QR code reader. This makes it easy for them to access online resources instead of having to type URLs.

This time round I left this instruction out to see how adept my participants would be.

I was pleased to notes how several were game to use the QR codes on their own. Those that did not still had the benefit of using my shortened bit.ly URLs.

Overall takeaway
It is easy to be complacent and to coast with strategies that seem to work over different contexts and content. I choose not to do this.

I tell my learners that one of the best ways to learn is by cognitive dissonance. Better to live by this mantra than to come across as a hypocrite. If the situation does not provide these challenges, I create my own.


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