Picking your battles (aka – stick to the things that matter)

Out of all of the issues that come up in classrooms as I’m coaching, it is amazing how many of them are procedural and completely not linked in any way to the actual intended learning and teaching going on. It’s very easy to get sidetracked by things that, in the long run, don’t matter.

An example of this is pencils and their management, a familiar set of issues which raised my own stress levels as a classroom teacher on a number of occasions. Students lose them. They need sharpening. “She’s using a Grade 2 pencil and she’s only a Grade 1”. Students spend entire lessons rubbing out their work and then have nothing to show for their efforts at the end of the session (other than the lines still clearly visible on the paper). “He’s using a pen and doesn’t have a pen licence”. Reading through some of my favourite blogs recently, it was clear that this is not an issue just in the classrooms I hang out in but seems to be universal.

My take on this is quite simple – does it matter? Does a student’s choice of writing implement affect whether or not they’re able to achieve the intended outcome for the lesson? If they can’t find a grey lead pencil, would you prefer they spend the lesson trying to find one, stop you from conferring with other students while you find them one or write with something (anything!) else? Is writing in a green pencil, a pink marker or a purple biro going to affect the quality of their ideas? No – so let it go. Let them write with whatever they want to, as long as it is legible. There will be times when particular writing implements match the task better – teach them when that’s the case and how to make that decision.

While we’re on the topic, the same applies to using technology in the writing process. When I suggest to some teachers that allowing students to draft on a laptop or tablet is perfectly ok, I get responses ranging from ‘I’d never thought of that’ to ‘Oh no, that’s only for publishing’. As an adult, I rarely draft on paper and value the tools at my disposal when drafting straight onto the screen. I can have some of my spelling and grammatical errors corrected as I go and can move things around or add and remove text easily and quickly. If my text is going to be long, I find it quicker to draft that way and it saves me having to re-write things to get a ‘clean copy’ to edit later. Reluctant student writers may write more using technology, making the most of the supports it provides. And again, does it matter? If your learning objective is around handwriting practise, then yes, it does matter and no, it’s not the right tool. But if your aim for the piece of writing is more around content, structure and catering to the needs of an audience, let the writer decide what implements, tools and supports they want to use. Ultimately, it’s another way of providing students with some choice and responsibility for decision making in their learning, however small and insignificant that may seem.

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Essential tools for 2014

Teaching has always involved a steep learning curve and last year was no exception. I became a Leading Teacher, stepped away from my own classroom and into those of other teachers who I was responsible for mentoring and coaching. It was a great year – hectic and demanding but rewarding in new ways. I haven’t done it on my own. I’ve been lucky to have a supportive leadership team and fantastic, enthusiastic and dedicated teachers who I coach which have all made it easier.

I’ve also found myself relying on some tools that have made it easier to organise myself, my time and the myriad of resources that I draw on to do my job. So, rather than a reflective post, I want to share those tools with you. Most of them aren’t new but last year was the first time I’d really found the purpose for using them and did so effectively. So, in no particular order, here they are:

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Evernote – It definitely wasn’t my first year of using Evernote however I did use it differently. Previously, I’d used it for assessment in my classroom whereas last year it became my main repository of information, helped greatly by its searching capabilities. For 2014, I’m intending to use more of the sharing options to collaborate with those I work with. Definitely a powerful tool. Check it out for yourself – Bec Spink blogs regularly about fabulous ways to use it; Doug Belshaw has also recently given another perspective, just so you’re aware of the other side of the user spectrum.

goodreads_logo_140-5b3e47356388131c1699f0baca28a234  Goodreads – This website allows you to add books that you’ve read or want to read, categorise them and share those lists with others. More importantly, it connects you with others so that you can check out their lists and find new material for your own. Of particular value is the associated app for your mobile device which allows you to scan barcodes of books to add to your list. I started using this throughout the copious amounts of PD I did last year where new books would be recommended – I now have a long ‘To read’ list of books to go to when I have a spare moment. It also has been helpful to categorise books I find useful in my teaching and share them with colleagues. If you want to see my profile and check out my books, visit Goodreads.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 12.26.55 PM  Things – I’m a list person. I’ve always made copious amounts of lists although aren’t so good at using them or crossing things off, just constantly adding to them. I use Things on my iPad and on my Mac (all synced through the cloud) to help me keep track, to keep the things I need in my face and those I don’t need to worry about yet out of it. It does cost a bit initially but I’ve found it to be invaluable in helping me monitor and get through the multitude of little steps required to keep all the projects I’m responsible for ticking along.

Google drive – I’ve used it to store things for a long time but, in 2013, we rolled out Google apps to staff at our school and started to use it as a more powerful collaboration tool. We now have shared documents and folders with a lot more professional interaction occurring as a result. Next step – encouraging more use with students so that they can get the benefits of collaboration through this powerful tool as well.

What I love about all of these tools is that the more I learn about them, the more useful they become. Here’s to being more organised in 2014 – bring it on!

Leading and learning from the edge – VITTA conference 2011

Another conference, another blog post. This time it’s the VITTA conference with 2 days of ICT bliss at Caulfield Racecourse.

Managing in a constantly changing world – Roger Larson
The keynote by Roger Larson (Senior Vice President, Strategy and Market development, Pearson Platforms) was actually interesting and not the blatant pushing of product that I was expecting. It resonated as a lot of the points he was making are ones I’m grappling with as part of my PhD literature review – the nature of education, the fact we haven’t moved on much in the last century of schooling and the role ICT can play in personalising and evolving what it means to be a learner (or a teacher, for that matter).

Roger referred to some of the work being done in different places on 21st Century skills including those of the Partnership for 21st century skills, The New Learning Institute and Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century skills. In probably my favourite point of the session, he noted the power of technology – it can provide higher quality and personalised learning for all, if used effectively. He then gave an example of schools in London who were now connected to a Managed Learning Environment, bringing together a number of services, learning tools and resources and providing an array of options for learning.

The next part of the keynote was a promising but, as it turned out, over ambitious attempt at using technology to bring together legendary ICT thinkers from around the planet. Yong Zhao and Stephen Heppell were to be hooked up with questions fed to them from participants via the twitter feed however the technology was not up to the task on this occasion. The brief insights we managed to get from Zhao were definitely worth the wait and it would have been a great session had the technology worked.

Copyright in the digital world – Sylvie Saab

Sylvie Saab of the National Copyright Unit ran a very informative session on copyright as it applies to schools – not an easy or straightforward topic to deliver but she achieved a level of clarity that was refreshing. Copyright is definitely an area that many teachers shy away from due to its complicated requirements. However it is both a topic important for us to consider and vital to pass on an awareness of it to our students.

The most important resource is the Smartcopying website with a plethora of information about how the regulations apply to different types of media. There’s not much more I can say on the topic other than to urge you to take a look and be informed – ignorance is no excuse!

Are we there yet? – Lynn Davie & Christian Enkelmann

Another thought provoking session showcasing some of the work that schools are doing around the state to use technology to enhance student learning and provide a range of options for students and teachers. The work of Ringwood North Primary School in using technology to help students connect and contribute to their community and Silverton Primary School integrating technology across their school were both great examples.

The presentation finished with a list of challenges to using technology which would have actually made a good starting point for a ‘think tank’ type segment (had time allowed!). Challenges such as defining what we mean by digital literacy, balancing the need for a standard operating environment with room for individual school innovation and how curriculum and assessment fits in with opportunities for innovation all added extra ‘food for thought’ and are deserving of a discussion in their own right. Save that one for another day!

Education first: Using technology to accelerate learning – Nathan Bailey

This keynote stressed the overriding theme of not just the conference but of any time when ‘technology’ and ‘education’ are used in the same sentence – pedagogy first. Nathan spoke of the changing nature of society from a factory model back to a ‘global village’ and how this is being explored through social classrooms at Monash University. He presented interesting research including a great finding that students prefer lecture style presentations when delivered with PowerPoint, despite further findings that these were actually less effective in terms of student learning! Nathan noted that content was ‘no longer king’ and that community had usurped it’s place and that, if teachers were still focused on content, they needed to prepare to compete with the internet….and lose.

Multimedia making learning real – Lois Smethurst

My final session was a hands on exploration, ably guided by Lois Smethurst of Berwick Lodge Primary. An inspiring session full of practical ideas and different ways to use a range of tools – voki, voicethread, blabberize and tux paint to name a few. They’re all tools that I’ve come across before but Lois gave lots of examples for their use that I just hadn’t thought of and I’m now eager to get back into the classroom to try them out. If you need some inspiration, check out her blog.

Sorry for the long post, particularly after such an absence. Obviously an inspiring day and I’m looking forward to seeing what Day 2 has to offer!