Auditory, kinesthetic, visual. Why is it that when we talk about differentiated learning, we so often focus on just the sensory aspect of communicating how we learn best? Applying Dr. Howard Gardner’s inventory of multiple intelligences towards differentiated learning and instruction adds another layer through manipulating interest-driven categories for the sake of engagement and identifying strengths and skills. This is all good stuff and we could all put our heads together and write a huge list of technological tools that would aid us in meeting goals of differentiated instruction on this basis. Heck, we could even Google it. But how else can technology be used to aid our various learners?
We talk about the engagement and input/output communication pieces in differentiated learning. But, we don’t always talk about differentiating the “processing” piece on the road to cognition. We see the words, “more time needed” under accommodations on IEPs, but this really just addresses the issue of speed and has little to do with key entry points of time during the learning process. This is where technology’s strength comes in. Besides holding various forms of communication (sensory included), technology’s brawniness is in it’s access, and access allows us to play with time. Instead of focusing on just the speed of processing, we could be thinking about how technology can help us manipulate “when” in the learning the differentiated aids for processing can step in.
The processing entry points we’re all most familiar with take place during and after the lesson, a carry-over practice from the late 20th century. I believe part of the reason why “flipped learning” has become so popular is because it addresses an earlier point of entry by allowing learners to “play” with the content first and make their own meaning and connections with it. Technology allows us to post content in an effort to initiate learning before that content is addressed in a face-to-face location. It also serves to lengthen the time of processing between learning stages by adding reflection time. This is a key strategy for some learners who may rely heavily on this early stage in the learning process for fuller comprehension. It’s also worth noting that flipped learning could employ more than just posting videos before class. Remember, teachers are working to address all types of learners at various stages in the learning process.
How are you using technology to aid differentiated learners through these stages of process and reflection? If you use the flipped learning model, do you continue to use technology in differentiated ways through these stages to reach all learners? Would love to hear some of your stories.
Thanks to Carlo Fusco, Christy Wood, and Elaine McKenzie for challenging me to think more about technology’s role in differentiated learning while at the very recent Eduhop event in Kitchener.
For the last couple of years, a group of secondary school teachers has been meeting regularly for breakfast at a local diner to talk about tech and education. People come and go as their schedules allow amidst plates of bacon and pancakes and cups of steaming coffee while we share ideas about instruction, implementation, cross-curricular connections, and new and evolving tech.
On one sunny Spring day, as the group exited the diner, a group of elementary school teachers were gathering just a block away for mid-day snacks and discussion at a local restaurant. We connected through Twitter and after leaving the breakfast diner, I found myself heading over to meet with this group. After great discussion, we decided we should bring the two groups together. Jeff Pelich suggested an extension of the two meetings into a full day affair of “eduhopping”. Breakfast, lunch, and supper venues were planned and invites sent out via Twitter for all to attend.
You know how people are always saying that the learning and connections they get most excited about take place over lunch at conferences? Even Owen Harrison, father of the open space meeting was told by participants the coffee breaks were the best part of his events. And that’s how this whole day is framed. Whoever comes are the right people, whenever it starts is the right time, wherever it take place is the right place, whatever happens is the only thing that could have, and when it’s over, it’s over. Except, in this case, Harrison’s framework is applied to the coffee break.
I can’t begin to write down what we collectively learned at Eduhop. It was different for everyone who attended. But, I can tell you that it was a rich opportunity to dialogue, form relationships, and make partnerships with people from various divisions and subject areas, all with a keen interest to move education forward in the best interest of our students. Much the same as anyone attending and enjoying the coffee breaks at any conference. One discussion in particular was bouncing around inside my head all day to the point that I need to write a full separate blogpost on tech’s pedagogical role in differentiated learning. Stay tuned.
Jane working the early morning hours at 570News (circa 2009)
This morning I am struck by a strong sense of time and narrative. Triggered by what, I’m not yet sure. Whether it’s because just this week I noticed a few grey hairs on my head, (for who knows how long; it just snuck up on me). Or whether it’s because my teenage daughter is now starting to fight with me the same way I used to fight with my mother, with a hint of condescension as if to say, “what the heck do you know anyway?-you’re out of touch”. Or, whether it’s the 1993 video veteran newscaster Dick Smyth shared this week of our 680News team in the early days of the first 24/7 news wheel format in Canada. I sense that it’s this latter scenario drawing me in, provoking a strong need to reflect on the perception of time, narrative, and what it does to the psyche. But first, a little background story.
In March of 1988 I was a high school senior partying in Cuba over Spring Break, living in the moment, not thinking too hard about what I really wanted to do after graduation. There were close to fifty other teens who came together from various regions in Ontario, all feeling the same way. We were escaping our futures, holding on to the moment, and to our youth. One of the teens from our small 10-member Niagara group would go on to embrace the future the following year, marrying a co-worker at her part-time student workplace. Still another would go on to serve in the Canadian military, dying 15 years later in Afghanistan from an improvised explosive device going off underneath the Armed forces’ light armoured vehicle he was traveling in. But these were not the potential realities we were thinking about in Cuba. Excited by our new-found independence and celebration of youth as a collective group, we spent the nights drinking and talking, and the days sleeping on the beach.
One late night we let “living in the moment” slip. A boy from Cambridge talked about his plans to go to college for Radio Broadcasting. It was all I could think about for the rest of the trip. What was I going to do with my life? Shortly after I returned home, the sun melted the Spring ice and a TV crew showed up on our door to film my mother for a gardening episode on TVO. I got some advice from a young crew member and set my sights on applying to Ryerson and getting a co-op placement at the local radio station.
At CHSC, the afternoon news anchor and later, my friend Ed Eldred took a chance on me and sent me out to do a story on the tall ships that had sailed into the Welland locks. I found a young sailor who invited me to sit and listen to stories of his travels and description of what a typical day was like living on the ship. It is this first interview that remains ingrained in my memory, succeeded only by a handful of others including an interview with the sister of NHL hockey player Brian Bellows. A strong spirited survivor, Sandy wanted to reach out to other young women after she was raped and savagely beaten in the snowy woods by serial rapist and murderer Peter John Peters. She had lived because a retired police officer overheard her screams of terror and rescued her, and she now had a strong desire to tell her story. I held two pieces of ID up to the window while two dobermans sniffed enthusiastically at the cracks of the door before being let in for a 2 ½ hour interview.
I joined the 680 News team right after graduation. In fact, Dick’s video was taken on the day Jamie Munroe and I had to leave work early to attend convocation. With the fresh 24/7 news wheel format, we were now responsible for getting news out around the clock and by the second. I often think back on this time as the moment radio reporting died for me (though I continued to anchor off and on). Instead of meeting with people and really hearing their narrative, the immediacy of the new format largely forced us into gathering sound bytes with man-on-the-street and over-the-phone interviews. Since that time, other shifts have worked to reinforce its death. Our evolving technology has combined with our post 20th century desire to live in the moment, acting like a hammer hitting the final nail on the coffin of the style of radio reporting I fell in love with almost 25 years ago.
I do not mourn the passing of the radio medium as a major news source sent into the back corners, but rather the passing of a public’s narrative and with it the echoes of empathy heard through the recounted stories of those we connected with; those we took the time to hear. Much the same demise has played out on our 24/7 news television screens, turned by audience desire for immediacy and entertainment. Many of you may argue with me, citing the unusual full-length playing of Charles Ramsey’s step-by-step account of how he saved three kidnapped women and a child from confinement. You may say, “the narrative isn’t dead. They even played the full 2 ½ minutes of Ramsey’s interview this week during a radio newscast”. I can’t help but hope there is a fraction of the public seeking to revive the narrative, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s entertainment they’re after.
Sunday May 12, 2013 Update
More evidence that the narrative is taking a hit for the sake of its audience comes in the Toronto Star today with media analyst Robert Thompson saying, “Basic rules need to be taught, not only on consuming media but how people themselves use media in these completely democratized ways. And that would include a sense of ethics, even if you are not a professional journalist.”
The article is largely about how news outlets keep getting the big news wrong time after time with the pressure to publish first. Coincidentally, the Toronto Star obviously failed to re-read before publishing. Reporter Mitch Potter used direct quotations for a person named Bleier twice. However, Robert Thompson is the man who should have been quoted throughout. He is the director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Centre for Television and Popular Culture. The use of “Bleier calls the rush of…” and “said Bleier” shows that even the Toronto Star can’t seem to write an article on journalistic mistakes without making mistakes of their own.
What a fantastic end to a rough week. I had the opportunity to attend EdCamp Hamilton, coming off the back end of several heated discussions around the organization and attendance of a focus group held by Pearson last weekend. I had taken issue with the fact that some were unable to distinguish the difference between a conference and a focus group. Today, I stand somewhere in the middle.
My colleagues were at the Pearson session to share opinions about social media. They weren’t told exactly what Pearson was looking to gain from the meeting but I’m told by several attendees that it didn’t really matter since anytime Tweeps come together face to face, PD is happening. Fair enough. Members of this group have a high interest in advancing education into the 21st century and are well-meaning and forward-thinking people. Though I still take issue with the misguided use of the ontsm hashtag. It suggested that 50 educators were representing all Ontario teachers on the topic of social media. It also didn’t include Pearson’s company name in the hashtag. This led to the embarrassment of at least one colleague doing her best to smooth over the recent political turbulence with the public over education, tweeting how proud she was that Ontario educators were getting together over a weekend on their own time for PD. She did not know that this time, these teachers were being paid. Though I can’t go without mentioning that several of the same attendees of the focus group had paid for PD at the Google summit the week previously and showed up to the free edcamp event in Hamilton this weekend. Afterall, these are highly engaged teachers.
Edcamp felt like neutral ground. The uninhibited chance for everyone to freely post and select topics keeps current practice just that-CURRENT-with a capital “C”, and I thoroughly enjoy edcamp for that. The topics were also uninhibited by companies hawking their wares through sessions and trade show-like activities. Yes, there was some corporate sponsorship, but we’d be remiss if we failed to acknowledge that at least some money has to come from somewhere for an event like this. However, towards the end of the day, I overheard a publishing representative approach a colleague of mine asking for a meeting. It proves just how desperate these companies are to infiltrate the good things we have going on in education. Whether you view it as a goal to exploit teachers for profits or whether you chalk it up to simple recognition that we’re on to something big here, we’ll have to examine our relationships with publishers and educators. The line has become blurred between our meeting spaces.
I suggest that we need to take into account all the relationships that we have-with our employer, the college of teachers, our union, and our corporate suppliers. It’s time to revisit our contracts around ownership of our content in all arenas. Consider also whether you will take an open approach and use Creative Commons or whether you will go privately; corporate or as sole owner. So, the next time a company approaches you with a media release or some other sort of contract, what would it hurt to ask for it in advance and have it checked over by a board or union lawyer? Sometimes in our effort to be shift disturbers we push too hard, too fast without considering the agency of all parties. And above all, keep a critical eye open and remember that all media have commercial interests.
Members of the Jeddah Kings United all-female team attend football exercise in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. AP Images
A group of grade 11 girls were showing the music video they had just finished producing for my Communications Technology class, when it occurred to me how differently the video would be perceived in some parts of the world. It was a video about three girls all doing different sporting activities but coming together at the end to high-five and yes, even chest bump each other.
I asked them to explain the main message of their video. They looked surprised, as we had conferenced over the video several times through the production stages and they knew that I knew full-well what their intentions were. I asked them again, adding “for the sake of the class”. The girls explained that the message was about the fact that even though these girls enjoyed different sporting interests, they could still be good friends. Can you read the message laying beneath their statement? The realization just about knocked my socks off, especially after reading about the recent bus rapes in India and viewing pictures on the Internet of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was sent to a U-K hospital to be treated for a Taliban gun attack she endured for promoting education of females in her homeland. I thought about my students. We enjoy so many freedoms in Canada. Without a global perspective who can be blamed for taking these freedoms for granted?
I asked my students to consider if and how the message in the student music video might be received differently elsewhere in the world. After some silence I prompted them with, “how about, for example, in the middle east”? They were still very quiet. After this even lengthier moment of silence I mentioned there were some countries in the middle east where girls are not allowed to go out of the home without the accompaniment of a male family member, let alone play sports. This led into a discussion about culture and the importance of becoming acquainted with various global perspectives. In the end, the girls who produced the video said they wished they had been able to make the connection earlier, but were now even more proud of their project outcome, high-lighting just how lucky they felt they were to be living in Canada and empathising with those women who will never know the joy of sport.
It’s a topic worth re-visiting and requires digging deeper, as it’s really not so black and white. Women of privilege in Saudi Arabia are training for sports amidst constant criticism, while state run schools neither have the facilities nor the approval for physical education classes. The Human Rights Watch was quoted, “Millions of (Saudi) girls are banned from playing sports in schools, and women are prohibited from playing team sports and denied access to sports facilities, including gyms and swimming pools.” The division of rights based on class is worth a discussion.
Ohio-born and Saudi-raised Equestrian Dalma Malhas was to have been the first Saudi female to compete at this past summer’s Olympics, but the International Equestrian Federation reported she was disqualified from the Games in late June for failing to meet minimum eligibility standards. Two other women did end up qualifying in their sports for the Olympics. Wujdan Shahrkhani and Sarah Attar became the first women ever to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics; Shahrkhani in judo and Attar in track and field. Shahrkhani had to jump many hurdles in meeting both the dress code demands of her country and the Olympic rule-book. Still, one North American news outlet viewed Saudi Arabia’s allowance of the women to compete as a “sham“. Perspectives of cultures holding deeply polarized oppositional and dominant readings is certainly worth a look with students.
Saudi Arabia may be the only country still banning women from sport in government schools, but that doesn’t mean women in other countries are completely free of barriers to play. Obstacles such as war, gender-bias, and violence against women put survival first and foremost on women and girls’ lists, leaving very little consideration about sport. One only need look to the situation in the Congo where a Refugees International report says women are choosing between rape and hunger. While it’s important to consider the various barriers to women playing sports in the world, we also have to take care not to place the issue in very geo-specific areas such as the middle east.
Extensions of the topic may include a look at American perspectives of how sport enhances female power. I recommend using a Forbes article titled, “The Secret to Being a Power Woman: Play Team Sports“. How might this perspective be viewed by other cultures?
Lastly, shifting the topic from sports to the Saudi ban on women driving is worth a look as the release of MIA’s music video, “Bad Girls” is sure to get students’ attention (my personal favourite music video from 2012). At the beginning of our Music Video unit, I showed this video to students first without any explanation of the laws in Saudi Arabia, then after explaining the situation, I played the video again. At first, students had no idea what message MIA was presenting, but felt the pimped out cars being rolled on the edge was kind of cool and then a bit overdone by the end of the video. However, on second viewing and with their new learning, they were able to point out so many details of subversion including the men cheering on the women driving, women toting guns, and exposed female skin and fashions. They also pointed out that the desert was likely a whole lot closer to Hollywood than Riyadh (actually, it was Morocco).
I can’t stress how important it is to present these opportunities for critical reflection of pop culture and global perspectives, even for a Communications Technology teacher. Our students are producing cultural artefacts; snapshots of current perspective, trends, and interests of North American youth. It only makes sense that we do them the courtesy of validating their work by offering opportunities to consider the relationship of these cultural artefacts to oppositional readings, global and even generational perspectives.
As I skim educational resources and discussions on the web, I like that many of the conversations are changing towards thinking about purpose and ownership when planning tech integration. It helps us avoid implementing “novelty tech”, which I akin to clowns jumping around in the front of the classroom grabbing students’ attention. A checklist by Sue Lyon-Jones helps get teachers started.
But, after reading the chart, I still think we need to go further in our questioning when thinking about the purpose of technology in the classroom. We need to ask a whole other list of questions. I presented these at ECCO last year in my presentation about Google Docs. When thinking about integrating any tech, ask yourself:
How will the technology support…
social learning and communication?
differentiation for learners who learn best textually, auditorily, kinesthetically?
assessment and marking (teacher, self, and peer)?
We also need to think about some of the inherent changes online tech brings to the classroom. Anything posted in a learning environment with 24/7 access helps students have access to reviewing and continuing work; it also ramps up transparency, which most certainly increases accountability for both student and teacher (think time stamping and the permanency of text in public spaces).
There are some subtler differences to pedagogy that are all wrapped up in the choice and use of a particular tech. Some of these may be hard to spot until you’ve actually tried out the technology or poured through someone else’s action research. These may include significant shifts in pedagogical teaching/learning methods. I really noticed this while using Google Docs. After asking permission from the 18 years olds in my classes, here are some of my findings.
Walking into the Grand River Hospital this morning, I was struck by the large number of volunteers working. While waiting for my husband, one high-school aged volunteer noticed I was shivering from the air conditioning and brought me a warm blanket. I was so appreciative of this gesture of kindness. It brought me back to my days of volunteering at a downtown school in Woodstock. That story is actually tied into how I got my self-esteem back and how I got into teaching.
I was just 23 and had left a bad work experience in Toronto where I worked in radio. A station in Woodstock had an early-morning opening and I decided to take it, leaving behind my poisoned work environment amidst warnings that it would be career suicide. Shortly after moving, I noticed a small school at the end of the street where I lived. Intuitively, I went in and asked the principal if I could volunteer in the afternoons a few times a week. Each day, students and staff were pleased to see me, genuinely valuing my assistance and I quickly fell in love with the school environment. I believe that I got more out of volunteering than those I was helping ever got from me. They saved my self-worth and pointed me in the direction of my next career. After a few months I was encouraged to apply for the position of Educational Assistant and while in that position I applied to Teacher’s college. Teaching had never been on my career list. My father, although well liked by students, had been my high school principal and so I was determined to chart my own path in media. Years later, it would be my mother who pointed out that as a child I had regularly lined up my stuffed teddy bears and gave them my dad’s old ditto sheets from when he taught History. Yet I am so glad that it took volunteering to show me my true path.
My daughter starts her first volunteering job tomorrow and I am so excited for her. She will be working for the Niagara Conservation Authority in the summer camp program at Ball’s Falls. The program co-ordinator is a wonderful lady who welcomes Kaitlyn back as a volunteer after many years as a camper. It’s Kaitlyn’s turn to give back, but I’m willing to bet the experience is going to benefit her the most.
In looking for ways to help students improve their ownership for learning, I made a 360 at assessment time and tried something very unique with my grade 12 Communications Technology students. I allowed them to design their own summative projects based on their own interests and what they felt were their best strengths. By grade 12, I’ve had them for 3 to 5 years, and those areas of strength really become apparent to me. But, I wanted students to recognize both their strengths and weaknesses in themselves in order to recognize what areas they need to work on if they decide to move forward in a media production career, as well as those areas they could capitalize on with their talents. I also wanted them to recognize strengths of others in the classroom, so they could draw on each other for help and support. Before, you think I’ve gone over the edge, consider that my University Masters thesis/project followed many of these very same guidelines. For the production part of my Masters of Media Production program at Ryerson I produced my own documentary, learning just as much about production techniques as I learned about my own skill strengths, weaknesses, and who and how to ask for support and help.
Students were asked to create their own project sheets, summarizing what they hoped to accomplish with their production. Many chose projects with unique authentic audiences, from a school Athletic Banquet video to an Alternative Christian song for a local church. Then they were asked to create their own marking schemes using rating scales and rubrics with very specific criteria. They were able to weight these categories based on their strengths and weaknesses. All forms of assessment were required to contain a project management component (designing own schedule in Google calendar), and a project planning stage (selecting and using various forms of pre-production paperwork). One student complained at first, not fully understanding the benefits to her, saying, “That’s so easy for you as the teacher. We do all the work creating the assessment for you”. She changed her tune when she realized it would have been so much easier for me to just hand them my own assessment sheet, requiring them all to complete the same project. Instead, I dug through several assessment sheets they could draw on for examples and reviewed each individual assessment to ensure that it fit each student by both allowing them to shine in their skill strengths and talents, but also not neglecting the necessaries of the project as well. During this process, students were able to review where the “holes” were in their learning and request additional tutorial help and assistance from others in the classroom. It was fascinating to see them work like this. Initially, some were very flustered and had difficulty calling on others for help with their individual project, while others forged teams and created different sub-projects around the same project. Three students in particular came together as a team and designed a video with one student doing the planning and shooting, another focusing on the editing and graphics, and still another in charge of a photo shoot, DVD design and promotional posters. What they have learned in teamwork is something they will take with them into the working world.
So, to summarize, here’s a generalized list of benefits students got out of designing their own summative and assessment. They were able to prove an understanding of audiences, work together as a team, negotiate, research people and resources to help fill in their own missing links of skill and knowledge, thoroughly understand and utilize project management, and demonstrate a true understanding of the assessment criteria and where they fit into it. Lastly, they were to turn a critical eye on themselves as learners and take ownership and action.
Have you seen that comic that compares a parent teacher interview in 1960 to one in the year 2010? It’s the one that shows the 1960’s parents screaming at the kid over a failing mark while in recent times, both the parents and the kid are screaming at the teacher. Regardless of what message the comic sends, it raises the issue of the imbalance in accountability that seems to have always existed in education. How do we deal with that imbalance? What should the responsibility/accountability framework look like?
In a recent discussion with a fellow colleague and friend, we, like all teachers, envision for the future, a balanced triangle with student, teacher, and parent clustered around the goal of accountability/responsibility. Carlo Fusco and I are part of a team of educators who come together to discuss issues in podcast form on our site Educast.me. Since integrating various web 2.0 tools in the classroom, we are noticing a recurring theme of potential for accountability in the future of education through transparency. The idealist in me says “keep things open” so that all parties may be placed in a perpetual ring of open communication. I say “idealist” because I know this concept does not come without its own issues, but I think it’s best to focus on the benefits first.
Social media tools, class websites and wikis can all be used to share information and course content with all interested parties. A parent can check a Twitter feed or a Google calendar to help support a student schedule for completion of a project or test preparation. In addition to posting marks and course content, Carlo posts attendance on his password-protected class site for parents to view.
Parents of my students can also monitor their child’s progress through a parent account in Edmodo. They can track assignment marks, completion, and even a news-feed generated separately for parents. A student has to log in to show the assignments to a parent, but this separation between public and private allows some control over transparency, which is not a bad thing when we are trying to teach youth some autonomy.
A student who is sick from school can check online and get caught up or even participate from home, taking ownership for learning. I recently had a student show up in a Google Doc to collaborate with her group while she recovered from an injury at home. Students were able to use the comment stream to chat while co-creating a script. At the beginning of the year, I had a student and his parent come visit me at parent-teacher night. This student used the excuse of being sick as a reason why an assignment was not complete. I was able to show the parent multiple date-stamped postings that appeared over a week and a half in my news-feed on the educational social media site, Edmodo. The news feed was very clear in setting timelines, expectations, and instructions for the assignment.
Open communication through online environments makes teachers accountable too. Because of the date-stamping of assignments, I find that I keep up with my marking. I’m not worried about being held accountable to what I say on-line as I am always professional. Although the textual evidence could work against me if a parent were to take issue with anything I post, it is much more likely to work as supportive evidence for assisting me in my job as a teacher and for helping me meet the demands for a shared accountability.
Now, the heavy. I can speak from both a teacher’s and a parent’s perspective. In this busy fast-paced society, I’ve found that parents just don’t have the time to be engaged in their children’s lives as much as they would like to be. Canadians are still chasing the North American dream, working long hours and putting their kids in countless organized activities. We are spending less time at home and less quality time with our children. This most definitely has an impact on the balance of accountability. Parents are a necessary party in making it work. How do we increase parental engagement? There’s been a fascinating discussion led by Sheila Stewart on this topic.
We’ve always had a rule that cell phones and ipods are to be turned off in the night, but I’ve found my kids sneaking my charger, their phones, and ipods away into their rooms on occasion. It can be tough helping them buy into the notion that there’s a time to “un-tether” themselves from their devices. To help them detach, I’ve thrown away our yellow basket of jumbled up cords and chargers and replaced it with the family charging station, located in one central location-our kitchen. I’m teaching my kids that undisturbed sleep is important to stay healthy in both mind and body. My husband and I are modelling this behaviour by using the station ourselves and turning off our devices at night as well.
It turns out that setting up a family charging station isn’t as pricey as you would think. This particular charging station cost 40 dollars. And did I mention that it’s also eco-friendly? Instead of continuing to suck power like most other chargers, this one shuts off entirely when finished charging. Not a bad price for all the benefits it has to offer.
For more information on teens and texting, check out my research findings on the teens and texting page.