I will be starting a new job in a few months! In preparation for moving to the admin side of education, I've been doing a lot of reading on change management and leadership. And since I'm a graphic designer at heart, the best way for me to learn something is to design an infographic that displays the information. So here is the first of many to come!
There is a fine line that we walk in language classrooms when it comes to pronunciation- overcorrecting errors impedes a student's communicative flow and can dim his or her enthusiasm to contribute, but allowing errors to fossilize is counterproductive. In the best case scenario, teachers should help students develop a sense of autonomy in their language career and to create systems by which they can auto-evaluate and fine-tune their pronunciation on their own, instead of relying on us to point out areas of needed improvement.
Using speech-to-text or dictation software is an easy and effective way for students to get instantaneous and objective feedback on their pronunciation without the intervention of a teacher. For those who use Google Chrome, Simple Dictation is a free and effective extension that students can access within their web browser.
To get Simple Dictation, go to the Google Chrome Webstore and input "dictation" into the search box. Adding the extension is then a simple click away. To activate the extension, follow the instructions in the video below.
To try the system out, give your students a few sentences that highlight common difficulties in pronunciation, such as accented vowels. Does the transcription match with what they were supposed to have said?
What I like best about this method is that it takes the teacher totally out of the equation. Students can visually see their pronunciation errors, allowing them to troubleshoot on their own. Sugata Mitra, an educational technology professor from Newcastle University, showed the effectiveness of using a speech-to-text program to improve second-language pronunciation in a fascinating experiment with children in Indian slums, which he discusses in his Ted talk on "A Child-driven Education".
An alternative to individual practice would be to pair students up, where one partner speaks and the other monitors the pronunciation and the transcription. When the monitor hears and/or sees a pronunciation error, he or she can alert the speaker and, using the target language, explain the problem and help him or her improve.
Thinglink is a fantastic image annotation site that I've used many times in my classes. The software is simple and easy to use, and it's a great way to visually curate information for classroom use. Simply upload or import your own images, or link to ones found on the web, and then tag the images with links, text, videos, and even other images.
A Thinglink image is a great platform through which a teacher can organize and visually contextualize related vodcasts, readings, diagrams, and notes in a flipped classroom. Conversely, students can easily use this tool to curate information on their own. For example, in my AP European History course, my students annotated Renaissance Art images with short texts and links to Youtube videos in which they analyzed the impact of Humanism on the works of art.
In my AP French Language & Culture course, I've been using Thinglink to aggregate various target-language sources and couple them with practice cultural comparison questions. In the examples below, I've linked radio broadcasts, short videos, graphs, and written articles to a thematic picture. My students have found these very helpful when it comes to preparing for the AP exam, and they are in the process of creating their own Thinglink images complete with practice exposé questions to help the class review.
Image source: http://maasd.edublogs.org/2012/04/26/linking-ipads-blooms-taxonomy/
As final and/or Advanced Placement exams begin to loom large, both teachers and students increasingly turn to the task of reviewing the year's material. Many review activities, however, focus on remembering and understanding past information, thinking skills which according to Bloom's Taxonomy occupy the two lowest order rungs.
As I filled out my NCAA bracket this year, I was struck by its potential for impact in the classroom. In order to make my decisions, I was relying heavily on higher order thinking skills, such as analysis and evaluation. For each bracket, I had to learn a bit about the two teams, compare and contrast the teams' strengths and weaknesses, and then decide which was the stronger contender. The very next day, I began a bracket competition in my AP European History class in which my students review by naming the most influential figure in European History.
To begin the activity, my students brainstormed figures from European History whom they considered to be important. I added a few from future lessons and then together we whittled the list down to sixty-four. To create the brackets, I typed all of the names into a flipchart on my interactive whiteboard and covered each individual name with a thick stroke of the pen tool. Then at the board, I erased the pen strokes one by one in a random order, revealing the hidden name below. Each student filled out an empty bracket that I had printed off from the internet, and I created an official bracket on a large piece of butcher paper that I hung in the hall.
I gave my students Spring Break to complete their brackets and for motivation, I offered one extra credit point for every bracket win. On our first day back from break, I heard about multiple intense Facebook discussions over especially contentious first round showdowns, such as Martin Luther vs. Karl Marx.
I broke up the bracket so that each day a manageable amount of "games" are played. Before class, I take a look at the brackets and make a cursory decision as to which figure I think would win, but make no final choice. For roughly the first twenty minutes of class, we go through the day's match ups. The class announces their pick, and if it coincides with mine, the decision is easy. If one student dissents, however, the floor opens to debate and my students' job is to convince me their choice is the best. The heated exchange pitting Jean-Jacques Rousseau against his real-life nemesis Voltaire was epic and entertaining! The nature vs. nurture debate, their ideas on the role of women in society, religious toleration, slavery, education, democracy vs. Enlightened Absolutism, the French Revolution, and the origins of socialism were all being argued back and forth to support the two cases. As the final arbiter, I choose a winner based on my own evaluation of the match up combined with the points made in the class debate. I have on several occasions reversed my preliminary decision due to a weak defense of my initial candidate and a strong argument in favor of the opponent. This situation, however, alerts me to a gap in the students' knowledge and presents an excellent opportunity for some on the spot reteaching.
I found that even if students don't have any "skin in the game" for a particular bracket, they are still active participants in the debate. Since there are lots of extra credit points at stake, they enthusiastically help develop the arguments to support or thwart classmates whose bracket choices are still in play. The conversations continue in the hall, where I overhear discussions of the day's results. My former students have even come up to me to protest what they consider to be an upset.
The Elite Eight begins tomorrow, followed by the Final Four, and the Championship on April 11th. As the decisions become more difficult, the discussions are deepening and the learning intensifies. My students have unanimously agreed that this has been an enriching, productive, and fun learning experience, and a fantastic review for the AP Exam.
In preparing this blog post, I searched for other examples of bracketology in the classroom, and here are some finds:
You've got a solid grasp on Google Drive's Documents, Spreadsheets, Forms, and Presentations features, but what on earth is Drawing for?
Google's Drawing program is the perfect platform to practice orthography- the skill of writing characters and symbols to create words- in language classrooms with non-Roman alphabets, such as Arabic or Chinese. Students of these languages need lots of practice handwriting the new alphabet or pictographic symbols, which is difficult to do in a digital environment. In traditional word processing programs, typing pictographic languages, such as Chinese, requires the student to change the keyboard language and then phonetically type the syllables. Characters will pop out fully formed, which is efficient and useful, but bypasses the important orthographic practice!
Google Drawing presents teachers with an opportunity to digitally collect and monitor their students’ orthography without having to scan in and email worksheets. The Scribble Tool in Google Drawing allows the user to create free form lines and by extension hand-drawn language characters. Couple Google Drawing with a pen mouse and Chinese language students are fully prepared to complete short answer or extended writing assignments online.
As with all Google documents, Google Drawings can be shared, edited, and commented on. An added bonus with Google Drawing is that comments can be attached to individual strokes, so that feedback can be specifically targeted. When the student hovers their mouse over the comment, the stroke to which the comment is attached is highlighted in yellow, as in my example below!
This tweet from Grant Lichtman reflects a trend that I believe is LONG coming in the field of professional development. Who has not been forced to sit through a PD day led by an out of touch hired gun whose designer shoes hinted at the outrageous fees s/he was charging? Without tailoring the approach to your school's unique culture, this "expert" talks at the faculty for hours, implying that everything that is presently happening at the school is not good enough. Whew- I guess I have a little bitterness to work through! On the other end of that range, a fantastic, responsive outside expert comes and recharges your faculty with new ideas and energy, and then... leaves. Without that guiding force and expertise, the initiative falters, then slowly dies, then contributes to future faculty resistance to the next initiative.
So what is the alternative? There have been some great examples of innovative professional development explored at the conference, such as faculty-led unconferences, mentoring programs that focus on reciprocal mentorships between faculties members from different departments and with complementary areas of expertise, and even an experiential on-campus "Mastership" program. But the one idea that has united all of the different in-house models that I have seen is that professional development needs to be mission-centered and individualized to fit school culture. Rooting change and development programs into the mission makes it less daunting, because the change can be rebranded as just the next step on a path the school has already been traveling for a long time.
So is this the end of the educational consultant? I don't think so. However, like all things, I think their role needs to evolve to fit a changing market. Consultants, like teachers, cannot position themselves as the gatekeepers of knowledge, as experts who will impart their wisdom onto a captive audience. Instead, I see consultants moving into a facilitator role, providing intense training to a few selected campus individuals, who then return and provide internal momentum and stability for the rest of the faculty. Consultants can provide continued support and differentiated training to the campus leaders or small groups of dedicated first followers through online or blended means.
In Cathy Davidson's closing session, she asked the audience the following question:
What are the 3 most important things we can do now to help prepare students for their future?
I crowdsourced answers from my audience neighbors. Here are their answers:
Interesting that two out of three of my neighbors mentioned ethics/character. After attending a great session yesterday on the importance of ethics education, I agree. If we don't know what the future challenges will be for our students, we need to give them the tools to make their own choices based on strong core values.
What else is important? I think that students need to be able to evaluate information. In my future world, barriers to entry for creating your own media have been demolished. Society experiences a surge of creativity, but with mashs-ups as both entertainment, social commentary, and education, students must have the ability to judge whether a source is opinion or fact and furthermore to analyze how point of view and bias colors the message.
Lastly, I think that we need to instill in our kids the realization that the world is changing and will continue to change. Therefore, in order to be prepared for this dynamic world, students themselves need to be constantly evolving and searching our new information and new ways to interact with their future world.
So my three would be:
Sloan Consortium's "Going the Distance- Online Education in the US" 2011
Over 6 million college students took at least one online course in 2010, which equates to roughly 1/3 of the population. And this number will only continue to rise. The Sloan Consortium's "Going the Distance" study calculated a 10% growth rate for online courses and noted that 65% of higher ed institutions say that "online learning is a critical part of their long-term strategy."
As independent schools continually reflect on and revise our "ideal graduate" descriptive statements, will this trend in online higher education cause us to rethink our assumptions? Should taking an online course become a new graduation requirement?
A new statement from Online School for Girls says yes:
Over the last year, we have come to a different and more intentional understanding of the role of online and blended
I was a bit surprised when I was briefed on the Heads of School statement at the Wednesday evening gathering for consortium member schools (of which mine is a part). But the more I think about the idea, the more I think OSG is on to something. Taking online courses requires students to exercise self-discipline and a good deal of maturity to cope with the more autonomous learning format. It requires students to engage in different methods of communication and time-management. Should we not help students prepare for these challenges at a high school level, where they can dip their toes into the pool of online learning with ample support and individualized attention to encourage success?
Additionally, a student reaching beyond the existing course curriculum to enroll in an online course is exactly the initiative and positive risk-taking behaviors that we try to encourage in our students. And being able to connect and collaborate with other students across the nation and even the world through the online platform enriches the educational experience that we can offer to our kids.
So perhaps it is not such a crazy idea after all...
I am finally getting this post live! I apologize for the delay, I needed some process time to let all the information from the three hours sink in!
Yesterday, I attended a great workshop on redesigning the physical school environment to better reflect 21st century learning goals. This session was centered around a very provocative question: What types of spaces support 21st century skills and aptitudes and which ones hinder them?
The 21st century aptitudes that the presenters defined were pulled from NAIS, Guide to Future Schools, with overlap with the aptitudes defined by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
The presenters challenged us to consider the message that the arrangement of desks and/or tables, as well as fixed elements such as interactive whiteboards and even walls sends to students about the learning that takes place within a space.
In redesigning many buildings on their upper/middle school campus, the Barrie School focused on several elements to support 21st century learning. The first is the need for new learning spaces to be flexible. Space was defined as either static, where educators adjust the use to a fixed space, (think holding an all-school assembly, play, parent meeting, and orchestra rehearsal in the same space) or kinetic, where the space itself can be adjusted to better fit the use. Objects that have multiple uses should be privileged over those with a fixed nature, for example Charlie Abelmann's beloved "Barrie Benches". Barrie Benches are moveable custom benches with a whiteboard instead of a back cushion, so that students can use them to collaborate and work out problems. The benches can be moved and configured in all different ways, and they can even be used as room dividers. With cubbies built into the reverse side of the whiteboard back, students can store items in the portable Barrie Bench and transport their collaboration anywhere in the school. Confused yet? Perhaps overwhelmed, but that is the point of a Barrie Bench and other multi-use objects. Their flexibility leaves room for improvisation and innovation, and directly invites kids to flex their "adaptability, initiative, and risk-taking" muscles.
Another element discussed was the importance of transparency in the design of new spaces, in both a figurative and literal sense. When designing new spaces, the presenters counseled transparency with regard to the principle stakeholders: the students and teachers that will inhabit these new environments, as well as the parents who will be relied upon to financially support the process. The Barrie School posted design schematics on butcher paper along the hallways of the school and invited these constituencies to comment on the images, each group using a different colored marker. The feedback received ultimately led to some significant design changes, as well as the introduction of new elements, such as a fully functional outdoor classroom.
In terms of physical transparency, the Barrie School used glass where ever possible to unite the interior and exterior spaces, and also nanawalls (folding glass walls and folding walls with whiteboard surfaces) that can be easily opened, closed, rearranged and manipulated. They also chose to use desks on wheels so that room configurations could be easily changed.
What were some drawbacks and challenges that they encountered along the way? The presenters cited that moveable walls introduced acoustic problems where sound from one space would penetrate to another. Some children and adults, especially those with ADD or focus issues were very distracted by the ambient noise. But, they countered, isn't this the situation to which students need to acclimate as work environments grow increasingly open? Another challenge they encountered was that they considered technology integration into their plan too late. They counseled technology needs to be discussed from the earliest stages. Seemingly insignificant details, such as where to locate electric plugs in a flexible space so that power cords do not hinder the movement of the desks, need to inform design choices from their infancy. Finally, we discussed the issue of security in a transparent building with lots of entry points. Charlie Abelmann admitted that this has been a challenge, and that it is important to create refuge areas that have no lines of sight in every space.
A major theme of the workshop which I consider extremely pertinent to the independent school audience is that when designing a new space, whether it is a simple classroom or an entire new campus, the design should tie into the mission, or as Charlie Abelmann put it, "curate the core values of the school". In the planning stages, the leadership team at Barrie School got together and wrote a fictitious press release that highlighted the design elements of the school and how the new buildings would be used, what type of learning would go on in these spaces, and how it reinforced the school's mission and purpose. This was essentially a backwards design plan for the building. The fictitious press release helped guide the architects and the school when they were faced with difficult choices and it created a vision that informed the professional development program for teachers in the new space.
All in all this was a fantastic workshop that provide some great thought candy and some practical examples of innovative design.
I am in Nadira Hira's featured workshop on Crossing the (Generational) Line. This is very much my Achilles heel, in that intergenerational management is a passionate interest of mine. After only a few hours at the NAIS conference, I am more convinced than ever that independent schools actively cultivate the qualities in Millennial students that are then viewed as so onerous and grating in Millennial workers! At the President's breakfast this morning, I sat with educators who were discussing how their curricula are explicitly designed to create agency within students, to connect them with global issues, and to support student actions to solve problems on a local level and beyond. Let's imagine what type of young adults these fortunate kids will grow up to be. I predict someone who believes intensely in their own worth and who doesn't want to get bogged down in insignificant tasks, who views passion as more important than experience, and who desperately needs to feel that they are moving towards a lofty goal. I rest my case.
Ms. Hira identifies certain challenges that crop up with Millennials. The first is hovering parents and how boundaries and codes of acceptable behavior need to be established. Next, face to face communication and conflict resolution skills are being replaced by electronic means, to sometimes detrimental results. She claims (to which I have certain reservations) that Millennials lack initiative and are paralyzed by a group-think mentality. Then, Millennials need fulfillment in their work, and will noticeably slack off when confronted with routine drudgery. Finally, diversity is taken for granted, while inclusivity is still a skill that Millennials need to explicitly confront.
So what do I think independent schools do to mitigate these challenges and encourage the positive tendencies in this generation (which were noticeably absent from this presentation!?!)? First and foremost, stop blaming the parents! In order to move forward with constructive solutions, independent schools need to recognize their part in the creation of Millennials mindsets. This is not just an external problem that needs to be fixed. We are now facing the results of the conscious student empowerment that we ourselves champion. Sure, parents need help establishing boundaries in a world where expectations of privacy are radically different. But our students also need help establishing emotional resiliency in a school culture where success is strictly quantified on every exam, report card, honor roll, and SAT score.
One of the points I loved about Ms. Hira's presentation was her discussion of dress code, all the more pertinant for the NAIS suit and tie/power suit crowd. The visual language of professionalism has changed for my generation. Who said that a teacher is less serious or less dedicated to his/her craft when wearing jeans? You'll recognize me at this conference as one of the only people in jeans. I've got on a nice blazer, but nevertheless jeans.
Addendum: A great question was asked: how does socio-economic class affect this generational paradigm? According to Hira, technology is the great unifier. With access to shared communities such as Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram, Millennials share culture to an extent that was previously impossible.