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Posts Tagged ‘professional development

Educators as Active Listeners

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I have a few sayings I often use in my teacher education courses and PD workshops for teachers related to active listening. They include:

  • If the teacher is doing more talking than the students, then this is a problem.
  • One of the biggest gifts we, as educators, can give to our learners is to be truly present for them; to deeply listen to what they have to say.

What this boils down to, for me, is the teacher being an active listener. I get to practice what I preach on a regular basis as I teach gifted elementary students three days a week. For this academic year, I decided to become even more intentional in practicing active listening with the students. I hope my intention has benefitted them. I know there have been benefits for me. I get to really relish in how they see the world. Their stories, ideas, jokes, and wit are often amazing; and I get great joy in hearing them. I also get to witness the joy and excitement through their faces and body language when I respond in awe with what they shared with me.

Active Listening Defined

Active listening‘ means, as its name suggests, actively listening. That is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker. Active listening involves listening with all senses.  As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening – otherwise the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener. Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue.  By providing this ‘feedback’ the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly. (https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/active-listening.html)

Benefits of Active Listening

The benefits of active listening include:

  • Positive classroom culture which can lead to a positive school culture,
  • Improved teaching and learning,
  • Better teacher-student relationships,
  • Learners see themselves as active partners in their own education; they become more invested in their learning,
  • Learners feeling that they are in a safe environment where they are willing and able to express concerns, ask questions, ask for help, take risks.

Research shows that it is listening–really listening–to students that is critical to the student/teacher relationship. Knowing their teacher is interested in what they are saying, makes students feel cared about and emotionally connected to a school. Since research shows that feeling connected is requisite to students’ motivation to learn, showing that we listen is important not only as a matter of kindness but also as a motivational strategy. (https://www.thoughtco.com/active-listening-for-the-classroom-6385)

Peter Hudson believes there are several reasons why listening is important for teachers:

To show respect for and motivate your students.

When someone is listened to, they feel more respected than if they are spoken over or talked at.  When you listen to your students, they feel that much more valued and if they feel more valued, they feel good about themselves which in turn makes them want to do more.  In other words, they feel more motivated.  Increased motivation makes the students much more likely to work harder and if they work harder, they achieve more and will receive yet more respect.  So a virtuous circle has been started that can do nothing but good for your students – just by listening to them.

To find out what’s really going on with your students

If you are to support your students, you need to know what’s going on in their lives.  Some students will be open and informative but others won’t.  Active listening is a really good way to get kids to open up.  You need to know about difficulties in their academic life as well as their lives outside school if you are to be able to point them in the best direction for appropriate help and support or to give it yourself.  Active listening can help in both these areas.  A skilled active listener can help students to find their own way out of difficulties which is even better as it increases their self-motivation.

To be an effective role model

Whether you notice or whether you don’t, as a teacher you have a significant influence on students:  you are a role model for them. So you need to decide how best to play out this role. Setting an example as a listening caring person will rub off and you will be helping students to develop as listeners too. (http://consiliumeducation.com/itm/2016/09/28/five-reasons-why-listening-is-important-for-teachers/)

Listening Skills for Educators

The following are some easy-to-implement skills the educator can use to develop and enhance their active listening skills:

  • Attend to the speaking learner with an open mind; without any agenda except to just listen.
  • Use body language and nonverbal cues that demonstrate a focus on the speaking learner.
  • Practice empathy skills with both verbal and nonverbal responses.
  • Engage in informal conversations encouraging learners to talk about non-school related topics.
  • Summarize what you heard the learner saying.
  • Reflect back to the learner what you believe to be the thoughts and feelings behind the stated message.
  • Ask open-ended questions if and when you don’t understand what the learner is saying and/or if you need further information.
  • Inquire about how learners connect to their learning; about their metacognitive strategies.

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Additional Resources

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 15, 2018 at 12:17 am

The Magic of Making: The Human Need to Create

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Recently I had the privilege of facilitating two half day workshops entitled, A Framework for Maker Education. The workshop including several mini-sessions of participants creating their own maker projects (Paper Circuits, Squishy Circuits, Gami-Bots, Brush bots, and micro:bit projects). What struck me most during these creating sessions was the high degree of energy, excitement, and joy in the room – it was palatable – with 100% participant engagement. As evidence, see the photos below:

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The conclusion I came up with for this energy and engagement was that the human need to create is innate; and that too many people, starting during their childhood public education, stop creating. When they were given the opportunity, permission/invitation, materials, and methods, they fully embraced making and creating.

I believe that educators can be intentional in setting up environments where learners’ propensity to create flourishes. Some elements that can assist with this kind of unbridled making and creating include:

  • Open ended projects that promote self-directed differentiation and personalization.
  • Choice of projects, methods, materials.
  • Some structure but lots of room for a personal touch; lots of room for creativity.
  • Educators letting go of expectations what the final project should look like.
  • Focus on the processes of learning.
  • Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning – collaboration, persistence, acceptance of failure.
  • Acceptance of a learner’s projects based on their own criteria of excellence rather than of the educator’s.
  • Reflection is built into the process so learners can revisit their projects with a critical eye.

Conditions for Creating

Open ended projects that promote self-directed differentiation and personalization

Open ended projects equal lots of options for what the learners can make. So given similar materials and methods, each learner is able to create a project based on his or her own interests and skills. For example, during the workshop, learners were instructed how to make a simple paper circuit but then transformed that paper circuit into a personalized art piece as can be seem in the images above.

Open ended projects permit each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning. Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning.  Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized. (Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities)

Choice matters

Choice in the maker education environment can include a choice of projects; a choice of materials; and a choice of methods. During the maker education workshop, learning stations were set up from which the learners could choose: more advanced paper circuits, Gami-bots, bristlebots, Squishy Circuits, and micro:bit projects. Not only were the learners able to choose which projects they wanted to create, but these projects offered them the option to add their own personal touches.

Learning that incorporates student choice provides a pathway for students to fully, genuinely invest themselves in quality work that matters. Participating in learning design allows students to make meaning of content on their own terms. Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lorde poignantly describes this “transformation of silence into language and action [as] an act of self-revelation.” Opportunities for flexibility and choice assist learners in finding passion, voice, and revelation through their work. (Student Choice Leads to Student Voice)

Some structure but lots of room for a personal touch; lots of room for creativity.

Learners, during these workshops, were provided with foundational skills for making the projects through direct instruction, videos, handouts that could then be used as springboards for their own creativity. Maker activities such as these were new to these learners; scaffolding was needed in order for them to develop the foundational skills which in turn increased their creativity.

Direct instruction is provided through structured and prescribed activities with the goal of learners then being able to eventually go into self-determined directions. There has been some criticism leveraged against out-of-the-box maker education kits, programmable robots, and step-by-step maker activities. My contention is that learners often don’t know what they don’t know; and that giving them the basic skills frees them to then use their creativity and innovation to take these tools into self-determined directions. (Scaffolding Maker Education Learning Experiences)

Educators letting go of expectations what the final project should look like.

In Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations , I discussed the following:

To truly focus on the process rather than products of learning, the educator needs to let go of expectations about the specific products that should be produced by the students. There are expectations regarding some of the processes in which learners should engage (e.g., divergent thinking, questioning, researching, creating, innovating) but the educator lets go of the pictures in her or his mind about what the products should look like.

The benefits for learners when the educator lets go of final product expections include:

  • They are not limited by my expectations nor the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an outside entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Their engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • They learn to tolerate and then embrace ambiguity.
  • They learn skills such as self-directed learning, taking initiative, locating resources, asking for help that can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • There is an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • They develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

Focus on the processes of learning.

When educators let go of expectations of what the products should be, which I believe is especially important in a maker education environment, the focus becomes on the processes of learning.

Focusing on the learning process emphasizes the students’ responsibility in the learning-teaching interaction. It both enables and encourages students to engage in their own learning. This engagement helps both students and teachers to build learning up from standards and to achieve competencies needed in our modern world. (Is Learning a Product or Process – part 2 )

Accept a learners’ projects based on their own criteria of excellence rather than of the educator’s criteria.

When the educator lets go of expectations of the final product, the learner develops his or his criteria of success.2018-03-05_0657 During one of my maker education workshops, one of the participants finished the basics of the introductory LED paper circuit activity. While the other participants were adding their artistic slants, J. sat there with her simple paper projectseemingly satisfied with her project. I went over to talk to her. She said that she was finished, and I said back to her, “That’s fine. You don’t have to do any embellishments if you choose not to.” She later told me of a second grade teacher who criticized her art (yikes – that teacher should have been fired). J. told me later that this acceptance of where she was at actually became encouragement for her to take some risks for later projects in the workshop. Her reflective piece included the following:

I learned a lot about myself about how I actually had been discouraged till now to try any kind of artsy or crafty projects, however, with encouragements from partners and Jackie, I was encouraged to go further and do/attempt additional Maker projects/products.

Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning – collaboration, persistence, acceptance of failure.

When the maker activities are open ended and process-oriented, social-emotional skills such as collaboration, acceptance of failure, and persistence naturally emerge.

Self-Awareness: Making in all its forms requires a full range of skills including cognitive, physical, and affective skills. Given this need for multiple and diverse skill set, effective and successful making comes from an accurate assessment of one’s strengths and limitations as well as having optimism and confidence that challenges can be overcome within the making process.

Self-Management: Making, especially making something new, often includes developing goals on the fly, revising those goals, and managing frustrations as the maker works through and learns new skills, processes, and knowledge related to that make.

Relationship skills: The power of being a maker is amplified when one works collaboratively on projects, gets help from others, and shares findings with others. (Maker Education and Social-Emotional Development)

The educator in this context plants the seeds of social emotional learning (SEL) through the use of language of SEL and strategic questioning such as:

  • What processes are you using to develop, assess, and revise your goals while making?
  • What strategies are you using to manage any frustrations or failures that are occurring during making your project?
  • How your using others to help you with your project?
  • How are you collaborating with your peers?
  • Are you asking for help if and when you get stuck making your project?
  • How are you sharing my ideas with others?

Here are some of the reflective comments by my workshop participants related to their social emotional learning:

This was the first time I had experimented with making electrical circuits and we tried some fun activities that I hope to apply in my classroom. In the first activity I learned that having a creative context or backstory to the work was motivating and helped me to extend myself beyond the basic task. In the final activity I found I was able to respond to a problem, persevere and create an original solution while maintaining the integrity of my design.

We were able to learn that in order to succeed we must try and try again. At times it was frustrating but we were able to collaborate between the team and find solutions and were able to solve the problems we faced.

Today I was reminded of the power of learning environments which invite creative, collaborative thinking  – curated with a variety of flexible materials which offer endless possibilities and room for all people to enter into play.

Reflection is built into the process so learners can revisit their projects with a critical eye.

Insuring that a reflective piece is included in the maker education process assists learners in developing their own criteria of excellence and evaluating their performance based on this criteria. The reflection process is as or even more important as the making itself. John Dewey famously stated, “We don’t learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflection can be a form of making in itself. Participants, during my workshops, were given the option to reflect on their learning using online tools such as word clouds, video creators, audio pieces, photo essays, online storybooks. What follows is a sampling of reflections from my maker education workshops. I used Google Slides so all reflections are aggregated in one location for access by all participants to later review and examine them:

 

Educators as Purveyors of Hope

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My advanced degree is in counseling. I sought this degree due to my affinity towards at-risk and adjudicated youth. One of the most powerful learnings from my training as a counselor was a comment I heard at a conference, Counselors need to be purveyors of hope since many clients get in trouble and/or seek counseling due to a lack of hope.

I have since become a teacher educator (with some teaching of elementary gifted students at a few Title 1 schools thrown in). I believe that educators do more counseling of children and young people than any other profession. Teachers, then, should be purveyors of hope especially for those students who lack the belief in their own capabilities and potential  This includes students who lack hope that they can do well in certain subjects; students who lack hope that they can do well in school-as-a-whole; and saddest of all, students who lack hope for their futures. The educator, as a purveyor of hope, gives these types of learners the overt message, “I will hold hope for you because I believe in you. The goal, though, is for you to develop your own sense of hope.”

Hope often gets a bad rap. For some, it conjures up images of a blissfully naïve chump pushing up against a wall with a big smile. That’s a shame. Cutting-edge science shows that hope, at least as defined by psychologists, matters a lot.

Hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system. Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way round. Hope-related cognitions are important. Hope leads to learning goals, which are conducive to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track. A bulk of research shows that learning goals are positively related to success across a wide swatch of human life—from academic achievement to sports to arts to science to business. In contrast to both self-efficacy and optimism, people with hope have the will and the pathways and strategies necessary to achieve their goals (The Will and Ways of Hope).

Over the last 20 years, researchers have gained a clearer understanding of the relationships between hope and important aspects of students’ lives. Put simply, research demonstrates that more hopeful students do better in school and life than less hopeful students.

  • Hope is positively associated with perceived competence and self-worth (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2009) and negatively associated with symptoms of depression (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • High-hope students typically are more optimistic (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), develop many life goals, and perceive themselves as being capable of solving problems that may arise (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • Accumulating evidence suggests that hope is related to life satisfaction and wellbeing (e.g., Gilman, Dooley, & Florell, 2006).
  • Hope is linked consistently to attendance and credits earned (Gallup, 2009a).
  • Hopeful middle school students have better grades in core subjects (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2011) and on achievement tests (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • Hopeful high school students (Gallup, 2009b; Snyder et al., 1991) and beginning college students (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002) have higher overall grade point averages.
  • Hope predicts academic achievement, and the predictive power of hope remains significant even when controlling for intelligence (e.g., Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997), prior grades (e.g., Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 1991; Snyder et al., 2002), self-esteem (Snyder et al., 2002), personality (Day, Hanson, Maltby, Proctor, & Wood, 2010), and college entrance examination scores such as high school GPA and ACT/SAT (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002).
  • Higher hope has been correlated positively with social competence (Barnum, Snyder, Rapoff, Mani, & Thompson, 1998), pleasure in getting to know others, enjoyment in frequent interpersonal interactions (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), and interest in the goal pursuits of others (Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997). (Measuring and Promoting Help in Schoolchildren)

Some of the characteristics or skills sets of hope include:

  • Positive View About the Future
  • Can Do Attitude
  • Personal Agency
  • Engage in Positive Self Talk
  • Belief in Ability to Solve Problems
  • Belief in One’s Ability to Impact Positively on One’s Situation.
  • Maintaining Perspective
  • Sense of Efficacy

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For educators who want to help their students build these skills of hope, here are five research-based guidelines. From How to Help Students Develop Hope:

  1. Identify and prioritize their top goals, from macro to micro. Start by having students create a “big picture” list of what’s important to them—such as their academics, friends, family, sports, or career—and then have them reflect on which areas are most important to them and how satisfied they are with each.
  2. Breakdown the goals—especially long-term ones—into steps. Research has suggested that students with low hope frequently think goals have to be accomplished all-at-once, possibly because they haven’t had the parental guidance on how to achieve goals in steps. Teaching them how to see their goals as a series of steps will also give students reasons to celebrate their successes along the way—a great way to keep motivation high!
  3. Teach students that there’s more than one way to reach a goal. Studies show that one of the greatest challenges for students with low hope is their inability to move past obstacles. They often lack key problem-solving skills, causing them to abandon the quest for their goals.
  4. Tell stories of success.  Scientists have found that hopeful students draw on memories of other successes when they face an obstacle; however, students with low hope often don’t have these kinds of memories. That’s why it’s vital for teachers to read books or share stories of other people—especially kids—who have overcome adversity to reach their goals.
  5. Keep it light and positive. It’s important to teach students to enjoy the process of attaining their goals, even to laugh at themselves when they face obstacles and make mistakes. Above all, no self-pity! Research has found that students who use positive self-talk, rather than beating themselves up for mistakes, are more likely to reach their goals.

Parting Shot: I recently watched the documentary STEP, which provides a great example of administrators and teachers instilling hope into a high risk population.

STEP documents the senior year of a girls’ high-school step dance team against the background of inner-city Baltimore. These young women learn to laugh, love and thrive – on and off the stage – even when the world seems to work against them. Empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches and families, they chase their ultimate dreams: to win a step championship and to be accepted into college.  This all female school is reshaping the futures of its students’ lives by making it their goal to have every member of their senior class accepted to and graduate from college, many of whom will be the first in their family to do so (http://www.foxsearchlight.com/stepmovie/).

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 5, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Introduction to Design Thinking for Educators Workshop

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I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on design thinking for educators at the New Mexico Association for the Gifted Fall Institute. Here is a round-up of what we did.

Warm Up: Instant Challenge

Participants were asked to warm-up for the session with a challenge from the Destination Imagination Instant Challenge App.

Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless! https://www.destinationimagination.org/blog/new-instant-challenge-app/

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Introduction to the Squishy Circuits: The Medium for the Design Challenge

I then had the participating educators familiarize themselves with Squishy Circuits to prepare them for the upcoming design challenge and to deepen their engagement with the workshop content.

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An Overview of Design Thinking

The following videos and graphics about design thinking were introduced and discussed with participants.

John Spencer’s Video on the Launch Cycle

Design thinking was introduced to the participating educators through showing them John Spencer‘s video.

The Characteristics of Design Thinking

The following graphic, which I created for this workshop, was discussed.

characteristics of design thinking

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education developed by Barbara Bray and me was then introduced to the participants.

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The Design Challenge

The major challenge or task was to create a design using Squishy circuits based on a partner’s specifications. Only the designer could touch the materials not the “client” who verbally described her desired design. To further explain this challenge, I showed a video of my gifted elementary students engaged in the challenge.

. . .  and some photos of the participating educators doing this challenge.

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Sidenote

One of the partner teams was one of my colleagues, Anna, an amazing art teacher, who was the client paired with a gifted ed teacher, the designer. Anna provided the verbal directions for her partner to make an elephant drinking water. We were reaching the end of the session without its completion. I told them to just let it go – the elephant was complete but the lighting was not. During the time that the workshop participants were walking around looking at one another’s creations, Anna and her partner completed the elephant using the LEDs to light up his eyes. The look of pride and empowerment in both Anna and her partner, who obviously has never completed such a project and was glowing with well-deserved pride, was priceless – touching me quite deeply. The moral of the story for me: Teachers should be provided with PD opportunities to deeply engage in learning to the point where they feel empowered. I believe this will help increase the transfer of learning to their own classrooms as they will want their own learners to feel that same sense of empowerment.

Here is the slide deck from my presentation:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Qualities of Effective Educator Professional Development

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Most administrators and teachers believe in the importance and value of professional development.  Sadly, though, too many teachers believe that those mandatory, one-size-fits-all professional development sessions offered by their schools are a waste of time and money.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement, “Even high quality professional development must be directly relevant to the needs of teachers and genuinely improve teaching and learning.” Weingarten said. “And low-quality professional development, frankly, feels like detention.” (New Report Reveals That Teacher Professional Development Is Costly And Ineffective)

Teacher professional learning is of increasing interest as a critical way to support the increasingly complex skills students need to learn in order to succeed in the 21st century. Sophisticated forms of teaching are needed to develop student competencies such as deep mastery of challenging content, critical thinking, complex problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, and self-direction. In turn, effective professional development (PD) is needed to help teachers learn and refine the instructional strategies required to teach these skills. However, research has noted that many professional development initiatives appear ineffective in supporting changes in teachers’ practices and student learning.(Effective Teacher Professional Development)

What follows are the general guidelines I use to plan and structure my professional development workshops. Recently, I facilitated two weekends of math instruction for elementary teachers. I use these workshops as a reference in this discussion.

  • Voluntary
  • Models Best Classroom Practices
  • Active and Hands-On
  • Fun and Engaging
  • Engages the Mind, Body, Emotions
  • Time to Tinker and Play
  • Collaboration
  • Ability to Tailor to Own Needs
  • Natural Integration of Technology
  • Reflection Built In

qualities of effective PD

Voluntary

Teacher PD needs to be voluntary.

The fact that adults are voluntary participants in the learning situation has profound implications for how learning occurs. They are generally highly motivated and primed to get the most out of the situation as possible. They will tackle tasks with enthusiasm, provided they are seen as relevant. This means that they are more likely to embrace participatory learning techniques such as discussion, role playing, small group work and the analysis of personal experiences.

The reverse side of voluntary participation by adults is that they can just as easily withdraw. Unlike the disruption that occurs when participation is mandatory, adults are likely to do one of two things. They will either quietly withdraw altogether or, if that is not really an option, they will continue to show up and do what is minimally expected of them, but will essentially become passive participants. (Principles underlying Effective Practices in Adult Education)

My weekend math workshops were offered to elementary teachers in a specific school district as a voluntary opportunity. A grant did provide them with a stipend for attending but as one of the attending teachers noted, “Even with a stipend, I wouldn’t volunteer for a weekend workshop unless I was interested in learning how to be a better teacher of math” (in this case).

Models Best Classroom Practices

First and foremost, teacher PD needs to model best classroom practices. “Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like” (Effective Teacher Professional Development). If the desire is to have educators create and implement engaging, interactive, and fun learning activities, then PD needs to be a mirror of these practices. I always believed that is is hypocritical to lecture about these best practices. It should be a process of modeling.

In order to model best classroom practices during my math workshops:

  1. I used videos, mostly from The Teaching Channel, to show elementary teachers modeling best practices in math within their own elementary classrooms.
  2. I did math activities with the teacher participants as if they were students in my elementary classroom.

Active and Hands-On

Active learning engages teachers directly in designing and trying out teaching strategies, providing them an opportunity to engage in the same style of learning they are designing for their students. Such PD uses authentic artifacts, interactive activities, and other strategies to provide deeply embedded, highly contextualized professional learning. This approach moves away from traditional learning models and environments that are lecture based and have no direct connection to teachers’ classrooms and students. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

Other than explaining activities, showing videos and presenting some technology options, all of learning activities during the weekend workshop were hands-on and active.

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Fun and Engaging

Somewhere along the line of professional development, it became a way too serious endeavor. I believe this is a major reason why teachers don’t enjoy their professional development opportunities.

Fun has a positive effect on motivation levels, determining what we learn and how much we retain. If the learning isn’t fun, it won’t be effective. That’s not just a sneaking suspicion – it’s cold, hard, scientific fact.

  • study in the journal, College Teaching, found that students could recall a statistics lecture more easily when the lecturer added jokes about relevant topics.
  • In her book, Neurologist, Judy Willis showed how fun experiences increase levels of dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen – all things that promote learning.
  • In a study for the Journal of Vocational Behaviour, Michael Tews found that employees are more likely to try new things if their work environment is fun. (Why Fun in Learning is Important)

Regardless of age, grade, content area, one measure of success I use is the quantity of laughter and squeals of joy. I heard lots of laughter during my workshops.

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Engages the Mind, Body, Emotions

As an experiential educator and regardless of the age level I am teaching, I emphasize multi-sensory, whole person learning.

We learn best when we think, feel and do.  That’s the message of Dr. Adele Diamond, a cognitive developmental neuroscientist who currently teaches at the University of British Columbia in Canada.  We might refer to this as “whole body learning.”  According to Dr. Diamond, the executive function of the brain — the prefrontal cortex — works best when we go beyond the rational mind by also involving emotions and physical behaviors.  That makes sense since the more we involve other parts of the brain, the more neural connections we make that reinforce learning. (Brain Research: To Improve Learning, Use Whole Body)

My math workshop was not exception as activities that use the body, mind, and emotions were introduced to the participating teachers.

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Time to Tinker and Play

Teachers and librarians, like their students, need hands-on experience with tools and with playing to learn as that helps them build creative confidence. (Crafting Professional Development for Maker Educators)

Teachers, during PD, should be provided with time, resources, and materials with which to play. It sets the expectation that they will be active agents of their own learning. It gives them the message it is okay to play and experiment with the materials; that tinkering is often needed as a part of learning new skills.

Given that the nature of the workshop was hands-on and active, workshop participants were time to tinker with the resources and materials provided.

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Ability to Tailor to Own Needs

One of the justified complaints of teachers regarding their schools’ professional development is that it is often of the too generic, one-size-fits all variety. To be effective, professional develop should help teachers address their own classroom needs. Participating teachers were given lots of resources and opportunities to develop math activities specific for their grade level and students.

Integrates Collaboration

High-quality PD creates space for teachers to share ideas and collaborate in their learning, often in job-embedded contexts. By working collaboratively, teachers can create communities that positively change the culture and instruction of their entire grade level, department, school and/or district. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

At the beginning of the workshop, participants were asked to form groups with same grade level teachers forming what I called mini-PLNs. Part of the workshop time was devoted to teachers developing materials for their own classrooms and students. During the time, the teachers could work with their mini-PLNs. They were also asked to share, throughout the weekend, the activities they discovered and developed. These sharing sessions often led to feedback and ways the activities could be modified for a variety of student populations.

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Naturally Integrates Technology

Technology use within all learning and teaching environments including professional development should be ubiquitous; it’s use should be determine by its potential to enhance and increase learning.

During my math workshop, participants used technology to:

  • Access the workshop slides.
  • Explore learning activities for the manipulatives I provided: dice, pool noodles, Legos. playing cards, beach balls.
  • Try out online math games: ABCya, Toy Theater Math, Prodigy, and Code.org.
  • Take photos of math examples in school building.

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Builds in Reflection

High-quality professional learning frequently provides built-in time for teachers to intentionally think about, receive input on, and make changes to their practice by facilitating reflection and soliciting feedback. Feedback and reflection both help teachers to thoughtfully move toward the expert visions of practice. (Effective Teacher Professional Development)

As a final reflection for the weekend, I asked participating teachers to use the following prompt to create a mini-poster of their learning. It also modeled how to use such a reflection process with their students.

. . . and here is a video recording of one of the participating teacher’s reflections:

As a parting shot, here are the slides I used during the workshop:

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 8, 2017 at 12:34 am

Beginning the School Year: It’s About the Learners Not the Content

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Too many classes, all grade levels, begin the school year with getting down to academic business – starting to cover content, discussing expectations regarding academic requirements, giving tests, and other academic information provided by the teacher to the students in a mostly one-way communication.  The human or social element is often disregarded.

I believe that all classes should begin with focusing on having the students make connections between themselves and the educator; and between one another.  I want students to learn about one another in a personal way.  I want to learn about my students so my instructional strategies can be more personalized and tailored to their needs and interests.  Beginning class with a focus on connections rather than content gives learners the following messages:

  • You are the focus of the class not me.
  • You are important as a learner in this class.
  • You will be expected to engage in the learning activities during class time.  You will be an active learner.
  • You will be expected to do collaborative learning during the class time.
  • I, as the class facilitator, will be just that – a facilitator.  I will introduce the learning activities, but you will be responsible for the actual learning.
  • I will get to know you as a learner and try to help you find learning activities that are of interest to you. (From my post: Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content)

Two things that I believe needs to occur at the beginning of the schools year:

  1. Get to know the learners – as individuals with unique backgrounds, interests, strengths, weaknesses.
  2. Establish a learning community where all learners are seen as having value in our classroom

Getting to Know Learners

One of our primary goals at the beginning of the school year is to get to know our students. This is important for several reasons. First, the better we know our students, and the more they know we know them, the more invested they become in school. Also, a dynamic and vigorous learning environment is built on relationships. When we create strong connections with our students, we create a learning environment where risk-taking and collaborative learning can take place. Finally, the better we know our students, the better we can help craft learning experiences that match who they are. Knowing our students is fundamental to real differentiation. (6 Strategies For Getting To Know Your Students)

This coming school year I am working with gifted elementary students. To support those messages I discussed above, I am going to have them do the following Hyperdoc starting with our first meeting together.

Using a Hyperdoc such as this has the additional benefits:

  • It leverages the use of technology which consistently is of high interest, high engagement for my learners.
  • It is a Choice Board.  Choice Boards:
  • It supports several of the new ISTE NETS for Students:
    • Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
    • Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
    • Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
    • Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals. (https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/for-students)

Building a Learning Community

Community building activities are important in my classroom. It begins the first week of school and continues throughout the entire school year.

The intentional building and supporting of friendships is a cornerstone of a caring school community. Providing frequent opportunities for students to be in close proximity to others is not always enough to enable them to build a net­work of friends and feel connected to the classroom and the wider school com­munity. Careful classroom management and planning of student-student and student-teacher interactions, together with appropriate instructional strategies, can have a positive impact on social relationships and lead to the development of a support system that will enhance students’ learning in all curriculum areas. (Why create positive classroom communities?)

A growing body of research confirms the benefits of building a sense of community in school. Students in schools with a strong sense of community are more likely to be academically motivated (Solomon, Battistich, Watson, Schaps, & Lewis, 2000); to act ethically and altruistically (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997); to develop social and emotional competencies (Solomon et al., 2000); and to avoid a number of problem behaviors, including drug use and violence (Resnick et al., 1997). (Creating a School Community)

I’ve written several blog posts about team building activities I’ve used with my elementary students and will use again with them as (1) they really like the activities, and (2) there is almost always more to learn even in repeat activities.

STEM Activities That Support

Since my gifted classes have a strong focus on STEM, STEAM, and Maker Education, my learners will be asked to do several of the following team building activities:

Team Building Activities That Support Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM 

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Team Building Activities

Other team building activities can be found within the following resources:

As a parting shot, I’d like to mention that some teachers believe they do not have the time to do activities such as these. To that, I counter with several arguments for their use:

  • Getting to know the students and building a community often act as a form of prevention for behavioral management problems. When learners have trust in their teacher, their peers, and the environment, they become more engaged and less likely to “act up.” This form of prevention actually saves time in that the educator doesn’t have to deal with misbehavior.
  • School should be lots more than just the transmittance of content. It should include social emotional life skills that will assist learners in navigating in their worlds outside of school now and in their futures.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2017 at 12:38 am

Teacher PD: Purposeful Tinkering and Application

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As a preface to this post, my belief is that deep learning does not occur through sit and get. Deep learning occurs through experiential, authentic, interactive, collaborative instructional processes.  If deep learning is desired for teacher professional development, then it should reflect best practices for teaching and learning.

Professional learning must focus on creating safe and productive spaces for teachers to begin planning and experimenting with the concepts that have been shared. Too often, facilitation centers on giving strategies to teachers rather than coaching them on how to deliver the strategies to students. As a result, teachers leave the session with a toolbox of ideas that are never implemented. Instead, more professional learning time should be spent helping teachers plan, develop materials, and practice delivering the strategies with colleague support. (http://inservice.ascd.org/personalized-professional-development-moving-from-sit-and-get-to-stand-and-deliver/)

When I design teacher PD-related workshops, I am guided by the following principles:

  1. Teachers need time to tinker, play, and experiment with instructional materials and resources especially with new forms of teaching/learning technologies.
  2. For skills development, such as using new technologies, scaffolding and increasing complexity should be a strong component of the PD process.
  3. Teachers need to be offered lots of instructional suggestions and resources so they can tailor their PD learning to their own teaching environments.
  4. Intentional and active reflection and goal setting should be included to increase the chances of transfer of learning.

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Tinkering With Instructional Materials

Teachers and librarians, like their students, need hands-on experience with tools and with playing to learn as that helps them build creative confidence. (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/crafting-professional-development-maker-educators-colleen-graves)

Teachers, during PD, should be provided with time, resources, and materials with which to play. It sets the expectation that they will be active agents of their own learning. It gives them the message it is okay to play and experiment with the materials; that tinkering is often needed as a part of learning new skills.

Scaffolding and Introducing Complexity

As teachers, we have come to learn over the years that we should never expect our students to fully understand a new idea without some form of structured support framework, or scaffolding as the current buzzword defines it.  The same, of course, should be the case in supporting learning for our fellow teachers. (http://mgleeson.edublogs.org/2012/03/10/when-it-comes-to-technology-teachers-need-as-much-scaffolding-as-students/)

Once teachers get familiar with instructional materials and resources through tinkering, they should be guided through a series of skills that are increasingly complex; that honor the process of scaffolding.  As with tinkering, this should be a hands-on process where teachers can try out these skills with facilitator and colleague support and guidance. As confidence is built through success with basic skills and strategies, more complex skills and strategies will be more welcomed by teachers.

Lots of Instructional Strategies and Resources

Even with fairly homogeneous groups of teachers, their teaching and learning needs can be vastly different. They often teach different groups of students, different grades, different content areas. They often have different backgrounds, years of experience, and personal and professional interests. As such, they should be provided with lots of instructional strategies and resources to help them make direct connections to their own teaching environments. Given the plethora and free resources that can be found online, curated aggregates of resources can be provided to the teachers. Time should be allotted during the PD training for them to examine and discuss these resources with their colleagues.

Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting

Reflection is essential for learning. In order to “make meaning” of an experience, the learner must have an opportunity to reflect on or process the experience. To help ensure that program participants transfer learning and training experiences into real-world applications, we must be intentional about both engaging the learners and creating opportunity for meaningful reflection. (https://www.e-volunteerism.com/volume-xvi-issue-1-october-january-2016/training-designs/enhance_learning)

Facilitators of teacher professional development need to be more intentional to include specific strategies to help insure that learning is transferred in teachers’ educational environments. Reflection and goal setting, two powerful transfer of learning strategies, should be built into teacher professional development.

A Recent Example

Because of on my request, my district gifted education supervisor purchased 3 sets/3 dozen Spheros. As a follow-up, he asked me to facilitate a teacher professional development workshop on their use.

The schedule for this afternoon workshop was:

  1. Short Introductory video about Sphero in schools: Gain Attention and Provide a Context
  2. Orienting and Simple Driving the Sphero: Tinkering
  3. Using the Draw Program: Tinkering
  4. Video Tutorial and Practice of Simple Block Programming: Increasing Complexity
  5. Build a Project-Chariot or Tug Boat: Increasing Complexity and Instructional Resources
  6. Review Curricula for Use in the Classroom: Instructional Resources and Transfer of Learning
  7. Final Reflections – Sharing about one’s own processes and possible applications in one’s own classroom: Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting
  8. Email Exchange – for sharing how the use of Spheros are being implemented in the classroom: Transfer of Learning

The slide presentation used and shared with this group of teachers:


Workshop photos showing teacher engagement:

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