Monthly Archives: January 2016

Short or Long Form Writing?

There is a lot of enthusiasm today about the potential of short form communication – SocialMediatweets, blogs, etc. – to facilitate inquiry and professional development. At the same time, books and long articles continue to be published in huge numbers. Which medium is likely to have greater impact? An obvious response is that we should use both; but when forced to choose (either as reader or writer), which should we opt for? In my (Clive’s) view it depends on the context and how we go about it.

Teaching is such a complex process that individual tweets or blogs about it may be of little use. However, if they are part of an ongoing conversation (literal or metaphoric) they can be very valuable. It is the same with articles and books: they must respond to the concerns and thinking in the field if they are to be helpful.

Wittgenstein once said (according to Iris Murdoch – NYT, January 24, 2016): “One conversation with a philosopher is as pointless as one piano lesson.” So much for short form communication! But it depends on the context. For a serious pianist, a single interaction with another pianist can have a big impact. And equally, if an academic is willing to dialogue rather than just lecture endlessly about their theory, one conversation can be very helpful.

Whether short or long, communication should as far as possible “keep the conversation going” (to use Rorty’s phrase) so people learn from each other and there is a cumulative effect. We cannot always have an actual conversation, but if we listen to what others are asking and thinking we can make a contribution.

 

 

 

 

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Professional Learning in Top Performing Systems, part 2

I (Clare) thought you might find this blog interesting about high performing schools. Not sure I agree with all of it but food for thought

International Education News

PDinfographicv2The National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) Center on International Education Benchmarking has released two reports on professional learning environments in top performing systems: Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems and Developing Shanghai’s TeachersTo explore and share the findings of these reports, the NCEE held a conference last week featuring presentations and panel conversations with the leading voices in education from around the world. This conference was also streamed live and can be viewed online. Moderated by Marc Tucker, president and CEO of NCEE, speakers included Ben Jensen (author of Beyond PD) and Minxuan Zhang (author of Developing Shanghai’s Teachers).

Ben Jensen began his presentation with the questions, “What is at the core of high performing professional learning systems? What is the strategy to ensure effectiveness?”

Jensen argued that we need to move past the idea that there is a single answer…

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You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong.

I (Clare) was sent this article from a friend and it truly captures the complexity of teaching and the misconceptions about teaching. All parent, politicians, and journalists should have to read it. A shout out to all teachers! Here is the link to the article from the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/22/you-think-you-know-what-teachers-do-right-wrong/

By Valerie Strauss February 22, 2014

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You went to school so you think you know what teachers do, right? You are wrong. Here’s a piece explaining all of this from Sarah Blaine, a mom, former teacher and full-time practicing attorney in New Jersey who writes at her parentingthecore blog, where this first appeared.

By Sarah Blaine

We all know what teachers do, right? After all, we were all students. Each one of us, each product of public education, we each sat through class after class for thirteen years. We encountered dozens of teachers. We had our kindergarten teachers and our first grade teachers and our fifth grade teachers and our gym teachers and our art teachers and our music teachers. We had our science teachers and our social studies teachers and our English teachers and our math teachers. If we were lucky, we might even have had our Latin teachers or our Spanish teachers or our physics teachers or our psychology teachers. Heck, I even had a seventh grade “Communications Skills” teacher. We had our guidance counselors and our principals and some of us had our special education teachers and our study hall monitors.

So we know teachers. We get teachers. We know what happens in classrooms, and we know what teachers do. We know which teachers are effective, we know which teachers left lasting impressions, we know which teachers changed our lives, and we know which teachers sucked.

We know. We know which teachers changed lives for the better. We know which teachers changed lives for the worse.

Teaching as a profession has no mystery. It has no mystique. It has no respect.

We were students, and therefore we know teachers. We denigrate teachers. We criticize teachers. We can do better than teachers. After all: We do. They teach.

We are wrong.

We need to honor teachers. We need to respect teachers. We need to listen to teachers. We need to stop reducing teachers to arbitrary measurements of student growth on so-called objective exams.

Most of all, we need to stop thinking that we know anything about teaching merely by virtue of having once been students.

We don’t know.

I spent a little over a year earning a master of arts in teaching degree. Then I spent two years teaching English Language Arts in a rural public high school. And I learned that my 13 years as a public school student, my 4 years as a college student at a highly selective college, and even a great deal of my year as a master’s degree student in the education school of a flagship public university hadn’t taught me how to manage a classroom, how to reach students, how to inspire a love of learning, how to teach. Eighteen years as a student (and a year of preschool before that), and I didn’t know anything about teaching. Only years of practicing my skills and honing my skills would have rendered me a true professional. An expert. Someone who knows about the business of inspiring children. Of reaching students. Of making a difference. Of teaching.

I didn’t stay. I copped out. I left. I went home to suburban New Jersey, and a year later I enrolled in law school.

I passed the bar. I began to practice law at a prestigious large law firm. Three years as a law student had no more prepared me for the practice of law than 18 years of experience as a student had previously prepared me to teach. But even in my first year as a practicing attorney, I earned five times what a first-year teacher made in the district where I’d taught.

I worked hard in my first year of practicing law. But I didn’t work five times harder than I’d worked in my first year of teaching. In fact, I didn’t work any harder. Maybe I worked a little less.

But I continued to practice. I continued to learn. Nine years after my law school graduation, I think I have some idea of how to litigate a case. But I am not a perfect lawyer. There is still more I could learn, more I could do, better legal instincts I could develop over time. I could hone my strategic sense. I could do better, be better. Learn more law. Learn more procedure. But law is a practice, law is a profession. Lawyers are expected to evolve over the course of their careers. Lawyers are given more responsibility as they earn it.

New teachers take on full responsibility the day they set foot in their first classrooms.

The people I encounter out in the world now respect me as a lawyer, as a professional, in part because the vast majority of them have absolutely no idea what I really do.

All of you former students who are not teachers and not lawyers, you have no more idea of what it is to teach than you do of what it is to practice law.

All of you former students: you did not design curricula, plan lessons, attend faculty meetings, assess papers, design rubrics, create exams, prepare report cards, and monitor attendance. You did not tutor students, review rough drafts, and create study questions. You did not assign homework. You did not write daily lesson objectives on the white board. You did not write poems of the week on the white board. You did not write homework on the white board. You did not learn to write legibly on the white board while simultaneously making sure that none of your students threw a chair out a window.

You did not design lessons that succeeded. You did not design lessons that failed.

You did not learn to keep your students quiet during lock down drills.

You did not learn that your 15-year-old students were pregnant from their answers to vocabulary quizzes. You did not learn how to teach functionally illiterate high school students to appreciate Shakespeare. You did not design lessons to teach students close reading skills by starting with the lyrics to pop songs. You did not miserably fail your honors level students at least in part because you had no books to give them. You did not struggle to teach your students how to develop a thesis for their essays, and bask in the joy of having taught a successful lesson, of having gotten through to them, even for five minutes. You did not struggle with trying to make SAT-level vocabulary relevant to students who did not have a single college in their county. You did not laugh — because you so desperately wanted to cry — when you read some of the absurdities on their final exams. You did not struggle to reach students who proudly announced that they only came to school so that their mom’s food stamps didn’t get reduced.

You did not spend all of New Years’ Day crying five years after you’d left the classroom because you reviewed The New York Times’ graphic of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and learned that one of your very favorite students had been killed in Iraq two years before. And you didn’t know. Because you copped out and left. So you cried, helplessly, and the next day you returned to the practice of law.

You did not. And you don’t know. You observed. Maybe you learned. But you didn’t teach.

The problem with teaching as a profession is that every single adult citizen of this country thinks that they know what teachers do. And they don’t. So they prescribe solutions, and they develop public policy, and they editorialize, and they politicize. And they don’t listen to those who do know. Those who could teach. The teachers.

 

Parents versus Friends

In the Toronto Globe & Mail on January 15th I (Clive) read an interesting excerpt from a book by Leonard Sax called The Collapse of Parenting. According to Sax, young people are IMG_3128increasingly looking to friends for support rather than their parents; and the problem with that is whereas parents tend to stick by their children through thick and thin, many young people just drop their friends after a dispute or perceived minor infraction. As a result, children are becoming more vulnerable and anxious (a phenomenon others have noticed).

I think teachers should discuss this set of issues with their students as part of ongoing way of life education (and also introduce them to children’s books or young adult novels that deal with friendship, family life, etc.). Why do young people turn to friends rather than parents? Are they taking this too far? Do they realize the dangers (whatever they are)? Are friends less supportive than family? Support from friends often comes at a price (loyalty, obedience, etc.), but does family support also have a price? Should we go to friends for some things and parents for others? These are tricky questions, but I think exploring issues in a safe environment is always better than leaving young people to grapple with them on their own. And we will learn a lot through the discussions too!

 

Promoting creativity in teacher education

I (Yiola) have been building in how to embed creativity in classroom practice in my Teacher Education course for a number of years. This year I invited Lina Pugsley, a graduate of the Creativity and Change Leadership Program and Masters of Science in Creativity student from SUNY Buffalo  State,  to share with us what creativity means and how to teach creatively and teach for creativity through weaving creativity skills into our classroom lessons.

Our class consisted of information sharing about what creativity is and its complexity. I appreciated that we took time to unpack some of the misconceptions (a major one being creativity equals the visual arts) and to solidify some of its characteristics (creativity is problem solving, its innovation, its incubation, its idea generating, its colourful, etc.)

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Lina presented us with a number of models and frameworks to think about ways of thinking about, teaching, and embedding creativity into our classroom practice.

Several great resources were shared and a number or creativity scholars introduced. From E. Paul Torrance to Ronald Beghetto, we were inspired!

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Once the theoretical and conceptual foundations were laid students in the class began to think more practically about what skills and strategies nurture creativity. This video set our curiosity in motion:

And, in creative fashion students explored, talked about and shared ways of bringing creativity skills into their teaching and lessons. We examined E. Paul Torrance’s 18 thinking skills from his book “Making the Creative Leap Beyond”

Some of the skills:
Be Original
Be Open
Visualize it Rich and Colourfully
Combine and Synthesize
Look at it Another Way
Produce and Consider Many Alternatives
Playfulness and Humour
Highlight the Essence
Make it Swing! Make it Ring!
Be Aware of Emotions
Be Flexible

 

The energy in the room was high. Students were interested and engaged.  They were encouraged to consider their personal teaching philosophy and to make creative thinking a priority in their teaching. It was an  inspiring experience. This particular teacher education course looks at methods in education. We explore planning, the learning environment, pedagogies and practices. Creativity, now in the 21st century, is a skill that students must acquire. It is not an innate skill that some are born with while others are not. Everyone has the capacity to develop their creativity skills and as teachers we need to learn how to create classrooms that foster, encourage, and celebrate creative thinking.in I believe the MA students gained a solid sense of what this is about.

For more information on Lina’s focus and work check out here website at:

http://www.keepingcreativityalive.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delightful Listening

I (Cathy) finished an audio book the other day. New author for me; Kate Morton. The book was The Lake House.

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I dreaded the conclusion because I was really enjoying listening to the book. But it finally dawned on me, it wasn’t just the story I was enamored with, it was the voice. The narrator was superb. Her accent was clearly British, which of course was perfect for the book , a Victorian tragedy, but I loved how she could capture the differences between the ‘old British class system’ by changing her dialect. Her pacing, tone and characterizations  were also quite wonderful. I enjoyed her performance so much, I Googled her:

Caroline Lee

Caroline Lee is a gifted actor and narrator who has worked extensively in theatre, film and television. She has performed for various theatre companies including the Melbourne Theatre Company, Hildegard and Playbox, and she received the Green Room Award for Best Actress in Fringe/Independent Theatre for her roles in Alias Grace and Ordinary Misery. Caroline’s film and television credits include the internationally popular drama Neighbours, as well as Blue Heelers, Halifax FP and Dogs in Space. In 1998 she won the Sanderson Young Narrator of the Year award.

caroline lee

 

I have listened to dozens of audio books, but this was the first time I felt the narrator added tremendously to the storyline. A perfect marriage between author and actor. As a result, I am already listening to another Kate Morton book, The Shifting Fog, but for the first time, I checked the name of the narrator first.

Only on chapter two and already delighted!

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Parent Research Night

This week I (Clare) attended the Parent Research Night at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Studies (where I am the Director). It was a truly amazing evening because the two presentations demonstrated research that was for teachers and parents, done by teachers, and inspired by teachers. It was such a beautiful form of dissemination of research. The findings are not confined to a peer-reviewed article but were shared with the public.

IMG_1147Dr. Patricia Ganea talked about the importance of shared reading with children. And she shared data on how children respond to images in children’s books – realistic (photos) vs fantastical (comic-like). Interestingly they relate much more to the latter.

Then Dr. Yiola Cleovoulou and 3 teachers (Zoe Honahue, Cindy Halewood, and Chriss Bogert – who is now the VP) from the Lab School IMG_1153presented on their work with the children that was framed by critical literacy with an inquiry focus. They shared student work, read transcripts of actual conversations, and described activism work.

JICS has a tripartite mission: Lab school, teacher education program, and a research centre. Parent Research night truly brought all three together. http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/ics/index.html

The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About

I (Clare) read this really interesting article on Edutopia

I believe it has relevance for both teachers and teacher educators. Having to unpack and remember how we learned a topic/skill is hard. How do you break down the steps to learning so that our students can acquire the knowledge and skills.  This article has some highly useful examples and suggestions.  As a teacher educator I often make assumptions about my student teachers. They all have university degrees so they should be able to master the content easily. Wrong assumption! It takes time and good teaching. Here is the link to the full article. The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About 

 

Knowledge is a curse.
 Knowing things isn’t bad itself, but it causes unhealthy assumptions — such as forgetting how hard it was to learn those things in the first place. It’s called the Curse of Knowledge.

In this post, we’ll identify how the Curse of Knowledge affects educators. Then we’ll outline seven ways to alleviate the curse. The ultimate goal is to improve instruction.

The Curse of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge has been variously described in articles by Chip and Dan Heath, Carmen Nobel, and Steven Pinker, and also in books such as The Sense of Style and Made to Stick. It has been applied to a variety of domains: child development, economics, and technology are just a few.

All of the resources describe the same phenomena — that a strong base of content knowledge makes us blind to the lengthy process of acquiring it. This curse has implications for all teachers:

  • We do not remember what it is like to not know what we are trying to teach.
  • We cannot relive the difficult and lengthy process that learning our content originally took.

As a result, we end up assuming that our lesson’s content is easy, clear, and straightforward. We assume that connections are apparent and will be made effortlessly. Assumptions are the root cause of poor instruction. And acknowledgment is the first step to recovery.

Lifting the Curse

Here are seven ways to make learning easier for your students.

1. Emotion

Barbara Fredrickson, a champion in the field of positive psychology, has studied the effects of mild positive emotions on desired cognitive traits like attentiveness and ability to creatively solve problems. In what she coined the broaden-and-build theory, Fredrickson found that pleasant and mild emotional arousal before experiencing content leads to greater retention. A quick joke or humorous movie can serve as the positive emotional stimulant. So learning is easier and the Curse of Knowledge is potentially circumnavigated when injecting a bit of emotion into your lesson.

2. Multi-Sensory Lessons

Though Howard Gardner’s influential work states that we each have a preferred learning modality, new research highlights the fact that effective lessons need not be unisensory (only kinesthetic, only auditory, etc.) but multi-sensory. Multi-sensory experiences activate and ignite more of the brain, leading to greater retention. So use a multisensory approach in your lessons to make learning easier.

3. Spacing

Blocked practice is ancient and is no longer considered best practice. An example of blocked practice is cramming. Though it feels like learning, blocked practice results in learning that is shallow, and the connections quickly fade. The preferred alternative is the opposite of blocked practice: spaced practice.

Exposing yourself to content and requiring your brain to recall previously learned concepts at spaced intervals (hours, days, weeks, or months) makes the content sticky and results in deeper retention with solid neural connections. As spaced practice is the way that you learned the content you teach, it makes sense to employ the same technique with your students. So thinking of your content as a cycle that is frequently revisited makes learning easier for your students while helping alleviate the curse.

For more information on spacing content, check out Make It Stick or 3 Things Experts Say Make A Perfect Study Session.

4. Narratives

Everyone loves a great story because our ancestral past was full of them. Stories were the dominant medium to transmit information. They rely on our innate narcissistic self to be effective learning tools — we enjoy stories because we immediately inject ourselves into the story, considering our own actions and behavior when placed in the situations being described. This is how we mentally make connections, and if students are listening to a story interlaced with content, they’re more likely to connect with the ideas. So connecting with content through a story is at the heart of learning and can help alleviate the stress associated with the Curse of Knowledge.

5. Analogies and Examples

An analogy is a comparison of different things that are governed by the same underlying principles. If understanding a process is what we’re after, looking at the result of the process proves informative. An analogy compares two unlike things by investigating a similar process that produces both. Said differently, an analogy highlights a connection, and forming connections is at the core of learning.

Whereas an analogy compares similar processes that result in different products, an example highlights different processes that result in similar products. Copious use of examples forces the brain to scan its knowledge inventory, making desirable connections as it scans. So learning is easier when analogies and examples are used to facilitate mental connections.

6. Novelty

New challenges ignite the risk-reward dopamine system in our brains. Novel activities are interesting because dopamine makes us feel accomplished after succeeding. Something that is novel is interesting, and something interesting is learned more easily because it is attended to. So emphasis on the new and exciting aspects of your content could trip the risk-reward system and facilitate learning.

7. Teach Facts

Conceptual knowledge in the form of facts is the scaffolding for the synthesis of new ideas. In other words, you cannot make new ideas with out having old ideas. Disseminating facts as the only means to educate your students is wrong and not encouraged. However, awareness that background knowledge is important to the creation of new ideas is vital for improving instruction. Prior knowledge acts as anchors for new incoming stimuli. When reflecting on the ability of analogies and examples to facilitate connections, it is important to remember that the connections need to be made to already existing knowledge. So providing your students with background knowledge is a prerequisite in forming connections and can make their learning easier.

Making It Easier

The Curse of Knowledge places all of our students at a disadvantage. As educators, it’s not enough to simply recognize that we are unable to remember the struggle of learning. We need to act. By incorporating facts, highlighting novelty, liberally utilizing examples and analogies, cycling our content, telling content-related stories, making our lesson multi-sensory, and harnessing the power of emotion, we can make learning easier for our students.

 

By incorporating facts, novelty, examples, analogies, and emotion; and cycling content, telling content-related stories, and making lessons multisensory, we can make learning easier for our students.

Source: The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About