Sunday, December 4, 2016

PYP (Inquiry) and Readers/Writers Workshop: Who's Out There?

It's been awhile since our last post; I guess that's what a new job and a new country will do. Since my last post, I made a move in July from Budapest, Hungary to my new position as Head of School in Shanghai, China at the Shanghai Community International School (SCIS), Pudong Campus.

As you can imagine the transition is keeping me busy.

SCIS is a few months away from (hopefully) becoming an IB World School - implementing the Primary Years Program (PYP) and Middle Years (MYP) to join the already established Diploma Program (DP). These programs are grounded in inquiry and conceptual-based learning. Unit plans and programs are in need of review and revision to align to this philosophy. It's a transition that is worthwhile, but now without its bumps.

One interesting element of our transition is being led by by our elementary faculty as they are implementing Columbia Teachers College, Reading & Writing Workshop program in tandem with the PYP.

We're excited to putting these programs in action, and we're seeking out other schools who are implementing both.  If you're interested in connecting, reach out via Twitter to @dluebbe  .

Like any transition, these will come with some celebrations and struggles. What better place to share them than here?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Students as Evaluators in the Inquiry Based Classroom

Students as Evaluators in the Inquiry Based Classroom
This post was originally written for (and first appeared in) an Education SmartBrief. 

In the earlier post Who Do Our Students Consider The Audience For Their Work?  (originally posted in Smartblog for Education), I advocated that by providing rich, complex, authentic classroom tasks, we open the door to expanding the role of students. They move from producers to evaluators of their classmate’s solutions. I shared that we need more environments like this because they enable students to be engaged in creating with content and the resulting products are far more meaningful in fostering learning that will stick.

I’d like to add a Part 2: These environments are far more powerful and effective in fostering reflection and growth about each child’s learning process.

To be clear, students can and should be reflective learners in any environment. Many would agree that the most important skill we can teach is that of learning how to learn. But when we transform traditional units of study into truly rich, PBL, inquiry-based environments, we provide an environment where high-level cognitive activities have greater potential to surface.

1. Students As Evaluators

Traditional environments ask students to turn in work to the teacher for evaluation; students are seldom placed in the role of evaluating quality of their own work let alone another classmate. Because traditional assessments rely heavily on the recall of knowledge or demonstrating longer forms of recall through the ‘synthesis’ of producing essay responses “The three main causes of World War II were…”, it is likely safe to say that there is actually minimal benefit from having students be evaluators in these types of tasks. It can be argued that students might learn how to write a better essay, but it’s highly doubtful they will learn much more about World War II by peer reading essays.
However, when we provide open-ended authentic tasks, students are placed in the role of evaluators, thus allowing them to see the many varied ways that these problems can be solved. What resources did this student consider? Which parts of her solution were effective? Which parts have not been addressed? Inevitably, students who are placed in this role are asking themselves , How is this student’s solution and rationale different than my own? Assessments - and the diversity of solutions that they bring about - enable students to learn as they evaluate. To be clear, I am not saying that the idea of students as evaluators has to play a role in the actual grading. It could. But if we are truly leveraging authentic learning tasks, then we need to recognize that empowering students as evaluators we create a powerful learning tool.

2. Students Reflect On Their Learning Process More Meaningfully

Again, within a traditional classroom, we can and should ask students to reflect on their process.
However, these reflections can lack depth because the student was seldom in control of the product itself. Asking students to reflect on their learning in a traditional assessment usually garners answers such as:
  • “I should have worked harder / started earlier.
  • “I should have focused more on Chapter 2.” (Usually, this is because the assessment had more Chapter 2 questions than the student envisioned.)
  • “I should have taken better notes along the way.”

None of these responses are bad. But they are limited because the tasks tend to be limited. Students are missing out on the chance to create a solution by using content. When these type of PBL tasks are used in the classroom, student reflections can include the statements above, but they will also open up deeper reflections including:
  • I should have considered more viewpoints before I came to my conclusion.
  • I knew my research / facts well, but I wasn’t very effective at communicating my plan to my audience. I forgot that my audience is more concerned about ____,  ____, and ____ .
  • I would have been more effective by acknowledging the weaker aspects of my plan in advance.
  • I had a strong, well-thought out message, but I chose the wrong medium for how to present it to my audience.

3.Students Tap Into The Power Of Social Learning

If our learning tasks are asking students to (hopefully) produce the same type of answers, there is little incentive for students to want to learn from each other than trying to ensure that each of them has the “right” answer. When we open up problems with multiple pathways toward different solutions, we not only can see the pathways they take; we provide an environment where they seek out and learn from one another along the way.

When student work has an authentic audience (and especially if that audience can be students themselves) within our inquiry based, PBL classrooms, we not only end up with student work at a higher quality. We open up avenues for learning and reflection that simply aren’t possible if the teacher monopolizes the role.

All of this is (slowly) coming together in my mind on the heels of reading Kath Murdoch’s The Power of Inquiry - highly recommended - and my attendance at a 3-day workshop on the International Bacculareate’s (IB) MYP & PYP Programs. I’m excited for my next position as the Head of School for the Shanghai Community International School where we will be starting the PYP and MYP programs which advocate these authentic, complex, inquiry-based environments.

I’m sure there will be some joys, challenges and more than few “a-ha” moments along the way.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

What Teacher Survey Says About Our Tech Goals

A recent survey of teachers by Education Week pointed to some disappointing results.
The title says it all:
Teachers Still Struggling to Use Tech to Transform Instruction, Survey Finds

What is encouraging is that the title acknowledges a worthwhile goal - going beyond technology integration and aims at transforming practice.

The survey found that the strongest area of integration occurred in drill, review, practice problems. While that area shows promise in using personalized learning data to customize student pathways (identifying strengths, weaknesses, and pacing), at it’s core it is usually serving a very traditional goal. It transforms instruction in helping students get to the traditional “goal” faster, but it does little to transform education.
This more lofty goal - using technology to transform education - is an area where we are just getting started. Are we utilizing technology to transform the type of learning that is possible? Are we moving beyond recall and asking students to...
… critically think?
… collaborate?
… communicate with clarity?
… create solutions while using content?
… play a part in evaluating the quality of the solutions?
This is a topic I’ve explored in more detail in an earlier post.
The other areas from the survey (games, collaboration, projects) represent integration goals which have greater potential to transform instruction and education to better target the skills we  need for students in the 21st Century. We should continue to explore, research, and create in these domains.
Unless we ask the larger question, we will be limited by focusing our technology goals on helping us meet yesterday’s education goals. Our students (and teachers!) need us to think bigger.