Friday, December 23, 2011

Pay attention!

I think that one of the hardest tasks, with a device in front of me during a meeting, presentation, or table discussion is the ability to stay focused on what is going on in the room. I need to focus on what is being said or done in order to fully absorb the content.

With that said, I need the device. Although I like the flexibility of easily pointing to text and making notes about my notes on paper, I now have a very difficult time writing with pen and paper. One reason is that my hand-writing no longer reflects the Palmer Method I learned in school.  Plus my hand and wrist cramp up! Another reason is that when I take notes on paper, they somehow disappear. So, when I want to refer to my notes at a later date, they are nowhere to be found or hard to decipher. When I type up my notes, with today’s built-in computer searches, I can type in a key word and find it on my computer in no time. I can add to the notes as well – hyperlinks, additional information, thoughts on the topic.

PLN preaches that reading, writing, talking, and listening go together. So, as I read, I write. As I listen, I write. The question for today is – where do I write? For some of us it’s a bound paper notebook. For others, it’s a word processor. There are some of us that take notes directly into Google Docs, even sharing the note-taking responsibility during a conference. During professional development, and in the classroom, I think we should encourage choice.

Now, back to the question of multi-tasking… If WE are having difficulty with this, imagine what kids are experiencing, especially as the content they are learning gets more complex. As educators, I believe that we are responsible for creating life-long learners. If “kids today” are multi-tasking, is it in their best interest to have them turn it off at the door? Maybe, or, perhaps, they need to learn skills appropriate for the tools available to them. Maybe, note-taking on a device that does not provide easy task-switching is the answer. It works for me. Or maybe we encourage them to use the device, if that’s their chosen form of note-taking, and gently recommend that they turn off their email and browser. 

I am a proponent of including a back channel during what are typically passive events, e.g. keynotes and in-class movies, whenever someone is talking at me. It allows me to engage with others in the audience – to make comments without interrupting, to ask questions of the audience, to clarify my thinking, to get  questions out of my head, while the speaker is speaking, to allow me to continue to absorb what is being said, and to gain expertise from the audience. Are there times when I have to put the back channel aside? Absolutely! But, lucky for me, the back channel or a transcription of it, is usually available after the session.

In order to understand if multi-tasking is possible, we need to experiment with it in PD experiences. That will give us the knowledge and wisdom we need to teach our students the appropriate use of the tools that are available to them. We need to set guidelines before their use, monitor how they are being used during the session, and re-visit the use of the tool after it is used.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Worlds Collide

I'm referring to my worlds, when I say worlds collide. After five years of being part of a state-wide initiative that relied heavily on Instructional Technology Coaches for its success, I now spend much of my time thinking about how Instructional Coaches recommend the use of technology in a literacy-based model. I keep coming back to the question, "Why wouldn't they?" However, that's easier said than done.

As I work with teachers and students who do not have easy access to equipment, nor, in some cases, access to an instructional coach with digital tools on their toolbelt, I am experiencing a reality check. These experiences force me to analyze any recommendations I make, because I'm not always preaching to the choir. In fact, I think it's good to be down in the congregation. I think it's making me a better mentor. It, once again, reminds me that up-front planning (the Before), being present for the actual experience (the During), and the all-important debrief and feedback at the end (the After) are all needed to transform what is happening in education.

Recently, I've been analyzing tools for their use in and as follow-up to professional development experiences. As I looked at one today, I really questioned why it is being used in classrooms around the world. So, I reached out to my coach friends and asked them to convince me. They tried, and, to an extent, succeeded. However, the most important response came from a coach who valued the process more than the end product. She talked about all of the decision-making and real-world skills that a student uses when creating with a digital tool with the intent of publishing online. There were issues to contend with, such as: copyright, layout, and compatibility. When working in a digital world, these are authentic skills to practice. So, this reminded me to look at student work and ask: "What did it take to get to this point?"

Prior to recommending a tool to be used by students or as part of a professional development experience, I have to ask myself:

  • Does this tool stretch their higher order thinking muscles?
  • Does using this tool make the experience more authentic?
  • Are those using the tool going home more tired than I am, as their teacher/facilitator, because they are thinking hard about the content and working with the content?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reading and Writing Re-defined

Reading and writing are being re-defined today.

Our students, indeed all readers, are reading for different purposes than we were. They have a different level of access than we did. When I was a kid and a topic came up at the dining room table, I was always encouraged to look it up. We were lucky. We had a set of encyclopedias. So, I walked away from the table and into the back room to find volume 17. When my own children ask a question, one of us can reach into a pocket and find the answer on our phone! It does not matter if we are passengers in a car, sitting in a restaurant or at home. Kids are gathering information on topics of interest to them -- as soon as they think of it.They are are looking for instructions for projects that are authentic and engaging - just because they want to do it. They are not limited to the books on the shelf nor newspaper subscriptions. They can read a book, an article, an opinion, or watch a video, all without getting out of a chair. There are some that believe that the type of reading our kids do online is less than rigorous. There are those who think that the great thinkers were only those who wrote before us.

We write regularly and often in response to what we read. Writing is often done on keyboards, and kids regularly write with their thumbs! Today's writers, whether they are best sellers or student writers, must be prepared to be challenged by other writers. For example, wikis, and yes, Wikipedia, allow the everyday person to add to the wisdom of the ages. Wikipedia also provides everyday people with the opportunity to question and correct what it is written. Readers can even flag incorrect or misleading information. Most blogs encourage others to respond to another person's writing. (In fact, I hope you'll comment on this blog below!) Email addresses give readers the chance to tell an author whether or not we liked the book's ending. And, if an article in the newspaper raises your blood pressure, the comment section at the end of the online newspaper article lets you speak your piece.

So, are children choosing to read Socrates? Probably not. But, did they choose to read Socrates in the past? Are children reading on their own? Those that I know are making that choice. They are reading news articles, current events, movie reviews, book reviews, manuals, and reviews for the latest gadget.

Are children writing? I know one 9th grader who has written 2 novels. Both have been peer-reviewed via a blog. Her peers read on their phones and computers. Prior to the blog, she shared her writing via email and asked for feedback. Two kids I know are practicing their Spanish vocabulary by texting (and correcting each other) in Spanish! Another child and his peers wrote a 12 page play script in the schoolyard. Then this child came home and typed it up - to be performed and recorded with his digital camera.

Today is the day! The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Teacher and Learner

I saw a picture on a cell phone this morning that took me off guard. It shows that the mirror image of the word Teach is the word Learn. Hmmm. I’m sure I’ve seen this before, but it’s worth a reminder.

So, in response to that, I reflect on the following question I have heard posed several times recently: “Who should be more tired at the end of the school day – the teacher or the student?” Linking that to the image I saw this morning, who should be more tired – the teacher or the learner?

If you ask kids: "Does learning with technology make you think harder," how will they respond? If the answer is no, then why are we using it? If the teacher is still in front of the room sharing everything THEY know about the subject, then why are we using the technology? What sticks with you from your education? The discoveries that you made, the learning you uncovered, the content you made sense of on your own.

In a traditional classroom, the teacher goes home exhausted. If we are teaching our students 21st century skills, such as problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, innovation, literacy skills, and a healthy dose of critical thinking, then it is the learner who should come home more tired at the end of the day. And homework should prepare them for the hard work of the next day.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I ran into the Principal of a local private school today. Several years ago, I had worked with a class of her 6th graders to teach them how to use PowerPoint. So, I mentioned to her that I would love to come in and work with her teachers this year in a coaching type relationship. She then told me all that this tiny school had accomplished in a relatively short period of time. They regularly use video conferencing with a global partner. Labs are no longer used; instead, there are laptop carts.

Each classroom has a Smart Board. They use them to differentiate instruction and to encourage students who are tactile/kinesthetic learners to get up and interact with the content. My comment was that it was good to see them using the boards interactively. Her response was, "Of course! Otherwise, we may as well just use the LCD projector."

So, tell me, why does she get it and others don't? Why are schools buying tremendous numbers of interactive white boards and forgetting about the interactive piece? Instead, they are being used as very expensive walls or chalk boards. Teaching and learning is not being impacted. Teachers are still up in front of the room, and they are more tired at the end of the day than the students are. Unfortunately, it seems that too often we make the purchase before thinking through how we are going to use it. Professional development and a well thought out plan are the key to transformation.

Friday, August 12, 2011

PA Got it Right!

Yes PA got it right by requiring (and funding) Coaches and Professional Development as part of CFF (and in most cases EETT). However, what the success of the program really comes down to is the Coaches themselves. This CFF Coaching community, and I do not use that word lightly, is amazing. The commitment level from most Coaches is outstanding. As the years progressed, each of them grew. Some of you came into this program with no idea of what the job was all about it. Those coaches in the first year were the bricklayers. With each coaching activity, collaboration day, email on the listserv, networking meeting, and webinar, each of them built the foundation. As new groups of coaches joined the ranks, it became easier to define the role of coach, because there was someone else who came before them – modeling for them through webinars, breakout sessions, birds of a feather, listserv questions, responses, and discussions, social bookmarking, informal conversations at Boot Camp and PETE&C, and IU Meetings.

It is because of the PEOPLE who were named as Coaches that PA got it right. In many cases, administrators understood that and continued the position with local funding – at least until it wasn’t possible anymore. And, there are still some who will continue coaching this year.

I hope this blog will be a place to showcase what PA is accomplishing, as I interview coaches on their experiences as they move FORWARD into the classroom.