Recently, I attended a PD session run by my board for new teachers called the NTIP Learning Tour. During the workshop I got to observe two teachers team-teaching a class and learn more about modern learning and education technology.
One of our board’s initiatives this year is modern learning. The school I went to visit had a modern learning classroom, with whiteboard surfaces on large shared desks and a wall between the two classrooms that could be opened for team teaching. One thing I took away from the experience was that you don’t need to have any specific furniture or materials in order to make learning relevant and skills-driven (as opposed to content-driven).
The lesson I got to observe was a Grade 11 university prep English class (ENG3U). Before the workshop I was a bit skeptical about how I would apply what I learned from an English class to my teaching as a math and computer science teacher, but the ideas were very applicable and transferable to other subjects. As teachers, it’s rare that we get to sit and observe a colleague teaching, and I think this is something that needs to be done more often because we can really learn a lot from each other. In this post I’m going to share some of the things I learned.
Know your students
The session started out with me and the other new teachers learning about the background of the class we were going to see: who the students are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what their needs are, the prior knowledge they had coming into the lesson. I think most of us do this without realizing it, but when we plan lessons, we always have to think about whether this lesson idea would work for this particular group of students. Jon Orr once mentioned somewhere that he’s never taught the same course the same way twice – how can you, when you don’t have the same students?
Whiteboard surfaces for better problem solving
I’ve said this before and many others have too, but having students work on erasable surfaces – whether it’s jotting down ideas in an English class, problem solving, or writing code – opens up student thinking in a way that writing on paper doesn’t. Students are much more willing to try new things and write down whatever ideas they have when it can easily be erased, modified, changed in one swipe. In my computer science class we don’t have any whiteboard surfaces or markers, so my students do rough problem solving on scrap paper, and I’m finding that the students don’t get the same value or deep thinking out of problem solving as I’ve seen in my math classes where we had whiteboards. (In Ms. Folino’s tweet here we had a chat about DIY whiteboards.)
Bad Idea Factory
The teachers I observed had a policy that no idea is a bad idea. They encouraged students to write down whatever they were thinking or feeling, even if they weren’t sure if it was “right”. As I observed the class, I found that the students were very open about sharing their ideas – even in front of a group twice the size of a regular class! The kind of openness that this class had is what I aspire to do in my math and computer science classes: whenever I can, I’ll do a warm up from Would You Rather Math, Which One Doesn’t Belong, or another source where there’s no single correct answer: it gets students to think about things in different ways and to think critically and creatively.
Student reflections on feedback to improve
One of the ideas we talked about after the lesson observation was how to get students to use feedback to inform their learning. I sometimes have students fill out a reflection about an assignment, test or ticket out of class answering the questions:
- What did I do well?
- What do I need to improve?
- What did I learn?
In the PD session, one of the teachers leading suggested incorporating the reflection into the assessment: after the assessment has been returned with feedback, students use teacher feedback to answer these questions and hand these in as part of their mark for the assignment. I love this idea because it motivates students to take reflection seriously and really think about where they can improve and what they learned. This is kind of similar to Jon Orr’s take on tests. I used this strategy in my data management classes last year and my students loved it. One told me that if it weren’t for the mark upgrading, he never would have understood a certain concept. Sometimes the learning happens after the test, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Since attending the workshop, I had a chance to try the post-assignment reflection with my Grade 10 and 11 computer science classes. I was impressed with their insightful reflections! Here are some examples of the comments they made (each from a different student):
Ed Tech Stuff
At the end of the Learning Tour, the teachers showed us some tech resources we can use in our classes. Here are some of the ones I haven’t heard of and am looking forward to trying:
Screencastify: an extension to Chrome that allows you to record yourself speaking along with a video of your screen. Great for anything from giving video feedback on student work to flipping the classroom to anything else.
Hyperdocs: free resources for all subjects that open as a Google Drive folder that you can copy to your own drive. They only thing they ask is that when you make a copy, each resource says “Copyright _______” in the footer. When you use it, add “adapted by ________” to the footer.
4C’s for Ted-Talks: works with any Ted-Talk as a way for students to analyze the message. You can split up students into 4 different groups, one for each “C” to focus on in this Ted-Talk, and then share thoughts as a class.
DocAppender: an add-on to Google Forms that allows you to grab all the information from all the Google Forms assessments that you’ve done and create one Google Doc per student with all of the information about that student stored in the same place.
Have feedback for me? Post it in the comments!