Friday, 30 September 2011

Power of Video

Had two "learning" tasks yesterday and it was interesting to compare them.
Firstly, I had registered on the webinar "Delivering Your Message Online with the Power of Video and the Ease of EduVision", which was due live at mid-day Central American time. I waited and waited, with the window for GoToMeeting stating "waiting for organizer". I Skyped the telephone number directly in case there were internet problems but got the recorded voice telling me that the webinar will start shortly. Eventually, half an hour later, its started.
It seemed a little disorganised and clearly they had had some "technical difficulties". It continued, with the presenters not being able to move on their slides.
Chris Bartch did a competent job on how to upload a video to EduVision and how to use its features, and Aric Harrier, a teacher showed how he uses video. I saw impressive use of student videos here. And finally, Alan November gave a good account of the power of video.
Secondly, I looked at the VIDEO of the presentation of the week for Change11 MOOC I am participating in. Martin Weller gave a very competent and understandable presentation on Digital Scholarship. This was a video of the webinar. The "Power of Video" was evident since I was able to stop, take notes, go back, etc, very easily using YouTube controls. I felt in control of my learning.
Using the webinar was slow, I did not concentrate, there were too many technical hitches to make it worthwhile. Ironically, if they had made three video presentations instead of the live webinar (bearing in mind the title of the webinar!), it would have been a much better experience. Discussions? There was nothing worthwhile on the webinar because it over-ran. But the three videos could have been on a blog and comments used to carry out the discussion.
It showed me the Power of Video as visual and audio media under your control.
Later note: have a look at a video produced involving 1st grade students on how to achieve peace (Peace One Day assembly). A good example of a teaching video.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Digital Scholarship - the coming of age of open sources and resources #change11

(My notes from Week 3 of the Change11 MOOC)
Martin Weller's talk on Change11 defined the four areas of digital scholarship that he considers in his book:
  • Discovery
  • Integration
  • Application
  • Teaching
(as the Boyer view of scholarship).
He concentrates on one ( Discovery/Research ) in this Change11 presentation, very much geared to university level, of course. Nevertheless there is much that applies to all learning/teaching and to schools as well. In his book (The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Changing Academic Practice) he covers all four areas.
He makes a very strong case for digital scholarship as opposed to the traditional ways (peer reviewed research papers) and goes into the main tensions/obstacles (some of these related to university tenure and status issues).
Weller lists how to recognise and develop digital scholarship:
  • Finding digital equivalents
  • Generating guidelines that include digital scholarship
  • Using metrics (say, hits on Youtube)
  • Peer-assessment
  • Micro-credit
  • Developing alternative methods
Great quote from Heppell (2001): "we continually make the error of subjugating technology to our present practice rather than allowing it to free us from the tyranny of past mistakes".
Metaphor of network weather (from Adam Greenfield) - keep an eye on it because "it may toss you this way and that by the gusts and squalls". So not the digital native non-issue but the immediacy of what is happening in the digital world.
He jumped to learning in giving an example of the lecture that you might be giving, with a student at the back preferring to watch the definitive video instead, perhaps involving the world leader in that area, and the student then choosing to ask you a very difficult question.
Weller describes how technology is changing conferences with backchannels and audience opinion developing and perhaps hardening (have been there). Technology enables a much richer archive of the conference. However, there is a strong resistance to changing the normal conference structure and pricing.
  • A failure of ownership (university presses sold off, but need to own the digital scholarship produced)
  • Technology engagement is the key (do not dismiss it, embrace it, do not let commercial interests take this over)
  • Potential to radically change practice (possibilities for collaboration enormous)
  • These are exciting times! (we should determine what goes, what stays and what comes)
Good presentation by Weller, which I picked up aas a Youtube video from Jeff Lebow

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Update on Bandwidth - a "normal" day

Since updating to a 30 Mbits connection last academic year, the user experience has been very much better. We have a 1 to 3 compression which is another way of saying that we share the service with 2 others. The image shows the usage at a peak time - notice hitting but not flatlining on the maximum.

Assessment - last but not least, Principle Five

Finally, assessment. The policy was written when Assessment FOR Learning was the major issue - formative assessment being the goal. The part that assessment plays in learning and as a tool for feedback and course planning is important.

Principle Five: Effective assessment plays a significant role in the learning process and is an important tool for feedback, learning and curriculum planning.
Supporting Statements
a.     The ABC Assessment Principles (see separate document) distinguishes
-        assessment for learning, which is used to inform teaching and learning and
-        assessment of learning, which is used to monitor achievement and development.
It is recognised that many assessments can be used and interpreted for both purposes but some assessment for learning will be a feature of all teachers’ assessments.
b.     At a whole school and at Departmental level a thorough analysis of internal and external assessment results, along with all relevant feedback from examination boards takes place annually. The results of these analyses inform teaching and learning as adjustments are made to methodologies, curriculum planning and documentation, assessment and grading policies and practices.
c.     All teaching staff recognise the importance of analysing assessment results and responding individually to assessments in order to improve learning and teaching in terms of adapting schemes of work, classroom activities and lesson plans.

The Assessment Principles, referred to in statement a. above, are reproduced below. These do give a very complete picture of what is important in assessment.

Key Assessment Principles:
The focus of the principles outlined below is on assessment for learning, used to inform teaching and learning, in addition to assessment of learning, used to measure achievement and development.  If assessment is constructed and delivered effectively it can add tremendous value to the learning process.
Key Principles 
1. Effective Assessment reflects an individual’s strengths and identifies areas for improvement. 

  • Strengths: areas where the student is capable. Such areas need to be identified to help motivate students, to develop self-esteem and to generate a belief that they can improve.
  • Areas for improvement: skills, concept or knowledge gaps  This must be based on well understood criteria by both teacher and student, between actual and optimal capability with clear next steps determined by clear learning objectives.
2. Effective Assessment provides ample opportunity for meaningful feedback to students with teacher, self and/or peer involvement.
  • Feedback: focuses on the task, is closely related to criteria and linked to next steps. Needs to be applied regularly, focusing on individual pieces of work as well as units of work.  Feedback can be provided in  written or oral form by the teacher, a peer or the student.
  • Involvement: involves sharing assessment criteria with students and showing them how to interpret the criteria to provide meaningful feedback that promotes development.
3. Effective assessment uses a range of methods, both formative and summative, to help identify success and monitor progress
  • Formative methods: emphasise feedback, student involvement, modeling quality, criteria, next steps, clear learning goals, self esteem, communication, ownership/responsibility of and for learning process, self-assessment/self-correcting and self-referencing. These are very valuable in that they contribute to learning itself whereas summative methods alone do not.
  • Summative methods: emphasise objectivity, exams, tests and group referencing.  They provide a useful measure of progress and attainment in both teaching and learning, provided reliable and valid tools are used.
4.  Effective assessment equips students with the skills to self-correct and self-assess and with the strategies to improve via realistic achievable goals. 
  • Equips: involves teachers sharing criteria and clear learning objectives with students and providing well designed tasks to develop the skills indicated by the criteria.
  • Skills: the ability of students to understand and apply criteria, including the ability to analyse, evaluate and make informed judgements.
  • Self assessment/self-correction: modeling quality (ie using samples of work enabling students to explore criteria).  Detailing how work meets criteria along with tasks that enable and develop students’ ability to examine their own work in a critical, meaningful way and to appreciate the importance of being open minded to constructive criticism.
  • Strategies/goals: includes next steps and clear targets which are attainable and understandable.  These strategies and goals need to be reviewed on a regular basis to give them validity. This allows progress to be identified and for next steps and targets to be set in order to achieve further progress.
  • Realistic goals: needs a sensible time frame where students and teachers can monitor progress easily. Regular reviewing is an important part of the process to maintain awareness and to generate purpose and confidence in the ability to achieve goals.
5. Effective assessment creates an atmosphere which motivates all participants and provides the opportunity for self-improvement and academic progress
  • Atmosphere: should be set to positively reinforce students’ learning by praising, rewarding and motivating them in their work as well as ensuring that students recognize and relate to the goals of assessment for and of learning. This requires high quality classroom management, well designed working tasks and regular feedback with constructive criticism.
  • Motivates: students who see, understand and embrace their own intrinsic role and responsibility in the learning process enabling them to be true life long learners and therefore to always aim to improve and achieve more.
  • Self-improvement: is based on self referencing, not peer to peer or year based referencing and there need to be opportunities to review and determine progress through portfolios, targets, modeling of quality, to have conferences between teachers students and parents with feedback and to have opportunities to improve. All this needs to be based on a clear understanding of the criteria for progress.
6.  Effective assessment educates parents, teachers and students in the principles of assessment and involves them all in the process of assessment
  • Educates/involves: this refers to the involvement of all relevant parties in understanding what the principles of assessment are at the ABC, why they exist, what responsibilities each party has and what is expected from the assessment process. This involves effective lines of communication in all areas and at all levels.
  • Principles of assessment: this document needs to be explained to all parties involved in the process
  • Process of assessment: this focuses on processes as well as outcomes and has a clear planned structure and purpose.
7.    Effective assessment for learning needs to have its principles embedded in all areas of the school. This requires that staff and students be equally engaged in the process as part of their own individual development as teachers and students  

Effective Learning in a Bilingual School - Principle Four

For a bilingual school, language is an important issue both in terms of communicating learning and also in the development and promotion of fluency.
Here is Principle Four, related to this:

Principle Four: Teaching and Learning activities are planned and delivered in a way that reflects the importance of language in facilitating effective learning across and within each curriculum area. 
Supporting Statements
a.  In our bilingual context there is a clear understanding of the importance of developing listening, writing and speaking skills in English and Spanish and their key role in providing a framework for developing understanding and thinking skills across the curriculum in line with our Language Policies.
b.     Language fluency plays a key role in providing a framework for developing understanding and thinking skills across the curriculum, and, as such, all teachers are aware of the need to provide strategies to develop students' fluency in the language of instruction.
c.     Teachers understand the important of building academic vocabulary to support learning within their curriculum area and have in place effective strategies to teach this vocabulary.  Students will have access to the critical vocabulary in Spanish as well as English.        
See Language Policy for more details

Monday, 19 September 2011

The actual learning and teaching - Principle Three

The third principle covers the planning and delivering of the curriculum. Here is the description for actual learning and teaching. What educational paradigm reigns here? There is an assumption of learning process - do you agree with it?

Principle Three: The curriculum is planned and delivered effectively through a variety of classroom activities. 
Supporting Statements
a.     Schemes of Work include agreed formats and are regularly updated to reflect current needs and objectives, accepted good practice and ideas from departmental reviews and discussions
b.     Each teaching unit of the curriculum is clearly linked to the relevant scheme of work with clearly stated learning outcomes and associated assessments.
c.     Students are aware of the learning outcomes of each teaching unit and the assessment methods to be used.
d.     Students are given opportunities to demonstrate their understandings in a variety of ways in as authentic a manner as possible.
e.     New information and understandings are linked to previous knowledge, within the subject and across the subject disciplines and, where appropriate, to the students’ wider world
f.      Teachers create opportunities for review and reflection
g.     Activities allow for timely and appropriate feedback.
h.     Teachers are aware of the three part lesson which has a starter activity, a main activity and a plenary although in some 45 minute lessons these may not be distinct features of all lessons.
i.      Teaching activities are sufficiently varied to enable students to learn in ways that are appropriate to their individual learning styles (VARK, gender, left/right brain, multiple intelligences, abstract/concrete, sequential/random learning preferences).
j.      Students are aware of their preferred learning style(s) and intelligence(s) and encouraged to develop their weaker style(s) and intelligence(s).
k.      Teachers are aware of current educational understanding on how students learn and theories of learning (including Constructivism, the Learning Pyramid and Bloom’s Taxonomy).
l.      Learning activities are designed to develop the processes demonstrated in Bloom’s Taxonomy (from recall through to evaluation), according to the age, maturity and readiness of the student.
m.   Teachers provide differentiated activities to support or challenge all students in their class.
n.     Teachers seek to develop students' self esteem and self confidence.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Learning and Teaching Principles - developing critical thinking skills and life long learner attitudes

The second of five learning and teaching principles addresses the skills for critical thinking and the development of the attitudes for global citizenship and being life-long learners.
We have tried to simplify many principles into a manageable number. Have we gone too far? Should this one have been two? Or three even?

Principle Two: Students are given the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and the attitudes to become globally aware, life long learners.
Supporting Statements
a.     Students develop confident thinking, learning and study skills as part of their progression into a modern independent self reliant learner.
b.     Students understand and develop the skills and attitudes they need to be a lifelong learner and are encouraged to develop a thirst for knowledge and understanding.
c.     Teachers engage in regular professional development at a whole school, department and individual level. As learners, teachers model the behaviour of a “life-long learner” and encourage a culture of learning.
d.     Students are provided with opportunities to develop and understand different types of critical thinking and problem solving skills across the curriculum
e.     Students and teachers recognise the connections between different types and different areas of knowledge within subjects and across subjects.
f.      There are clear cross curricular policies on numeracy, literacy, thinking skills and ICT
g.     Students are aware of global issues and are able to appreciate the views and cultures of others. They are developing as open minded global citizens.
h.     The school actively includes parents in the education of their children with information and support on how to help.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Defining learning and teaching to promote teacher effectiveness

What are the characteristics of an effective teacher in terms of student learning and teaching? In the previous post I defined the general characteristics of an effective teacher in an effort to move away from an evaluation made purely on student test results. 
Teaching is the central teacher activity, so what constitutes good teaching and learning?
At this school we defined it as a set of Learning and Teaching Principles. We had help - trainer Ruth Sutton helped us think about this and eventually we came up with five principles. It is interesting to note that our starting list was very different to the one we ended up with and it is likely that another school would emphasise different ideas. Here is the first of our final version: 
Principle One: The learning environment is prepared and organised so as to support effective learning and teaching and be conducive to different learning and teaching styles.
In order to be clearer about what this means, several supporting statements are added. We used the term indicators to start with but some were clearly not so we ended up with the term supporting statements. What is missing? If you were to do this exercise in your school, what would you have added, or indeed, taken out?

Supporting Statements
a.     The school recognises the importance of providing classrooms with acceptable temperature, humidity and noise levels so as to allow effective teaching and learning to take place.
b.     Emergency exits and evacuation details are clearly displayed and necessary safety equipment used and / or be available for use in the event of an emergency
c.     The physical environment of the classroom is well organised and appropriate to the age of the students, so that students feel welcome, safe and comfortable.
d.     Classroom furniture, space and resources is arranged so as to optimise learning and allow for a range of learning activities
e.     Teachers use wall space creatively, inside and outside the classroom, as a learning tool to display student work and other materials so as to celebrate achievement and motivate students. (See Display Policy).
f.      Expectations of behaviour, understanding of rights and responsibilities, routines and acceptable ways of working are clear and applied consistently by all throughout the school and not just in classrooms (See Behaviour Management Policy)
g.     Teachers recognise the importance of having high expectations, using positive feedback to reward appropriate behaviour and establishing a classroom environment based on mutual respect.
h.     Students show respect for the school environment, leaving classrooms tidy, not dropping litter, using recycling bins whenever possible, keeping their notice boards up to date and their personal spaces clean and tidy.
i.      The wider school environment fosters in students the sense of self-worth and the sense of belonging to a learning community, through academic, cultural, sporting and other events.
j.      Participation in Student Council, intertribal events, Team Sports and extra curricular activities are encouraged and opportunities are provided for students to participate in activities which help them develop their self esteem and their full potential in a wide range of areas.
k.      Parents are well informed on ways of supporting their children’s learning through, information, newsletters, community activities, workshops, formal school reports and information on any issues relevant to their individual child.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Teacher Effectiveness is more than test results.

Malcolm Bellamy defines "performance" in answering his question "What is teacher performance?".
He is right to question the use of performance as a term and the use of student test results to determine how effective that performance was. 
A group of teachers tackled the question of teacher effectiveness some time ago and we came up with a different slant to the question. We asked "What are the characteristics of an effective teacher?" and listed these - for the purpose of making clear what the expectations were. Additionally, we defined a Learning and Teaching policy which should be followed as part of these characteristics.
The point is that these are behaviours, explicit behaviours, which we can identify, learn about and improve. Not global test results which can be so misleading (as Bellamy correctly points out).
Here is the list, bowdlerised:
An Effective Teacher at this school is CHARACTERISED by the following description:
  1. Preparation,  Classroom, and Teaching: the classroom space and resources are appropriately organised to facilitate learning.  Work is planned which follows the established school curriculum.  Lessons have structure and purpose, a variety of appropriate modes of teaching is used (in line with the school Learning and Teaching principles) showing awareness of individual student needs. The teacher is knowledgeable in the subject area.  S/he understands and is responsive to the school expectations vis-a-vis student language learning and development (in line with the school Language Policy).
  2. Pupil Assessment and Records: the teacher assesses regularly, uses results formatively and keeps an up-to-date record of achievement and progress.  The teacher provides an appropriate response to all student work and completes reporting processes accurately and punctually.
  3. Enthusiasm and Relationships: the teacher treats children with respect as individuals and conveys enthusiasm to the students.  The teacher provides variety and interest in lessons and motivates and encourages the students to learn.
  4. Class Discipline: the teacher shows control of class, knows and supports school policy and implements general school routine.  The teacher gives importance to punctuality and can judge when and how to use rewards and sanctions effectively.
  5. Pastoral Work: the teacher emits an open and caring attitude that makes him/her approachable to children.  The teacher is willing to give time to listen to children’s problems and offers individual children support in dealing with them.
  6. Communication and Working Relationships: the teacher has good communication skills and is able to maintain a good working relationship with all members of the school community, especially when giving or receiving constructive criticism. The teacher is a reliable colleague and team member who carries out section and departmental responsibilities when required.  There is a tolerance towards ideas different from their own and a determination to assist in the smooth running of the whole school.  The teacher communicates with parents and participates in parent conferences meeting reasonable demands for further individual parent appointments.
  7. Change and improvement: the teacher contributes to and supports school initiatives, is receptive to new ideas and willing to provide some of their own when possible.  The teacher works towards keeping up to date and participates willingly in the professional improvement management system.  The teacher works towards functioning in both English and Spanish, as well as becoming IT literate.
  8. School and Community Support: the teacher participates in the extra curricular programme, is supportive of school community events, and presents a positive image of the school.

Part 1 above refers to Learning and Teaching principles - and these are the principles (each is described much more fully by supporting statements which can be used as indicators, but not published here):
Principle One: The learning environment is prepared and organised so as to support effective learning and teaching and be conducive to different learning and teaching styles.
Principle Two: Students are given the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and the attitudes to become globally aware, life long learners.
Principle Three: The curriculum is planned and delivered effectively through a variety of classroom activities.
Principle Four: Teaching and Learning activities are planned and delivered in a way that reflects the importance of language in facilitating effective learning across and within each curriculum area. 
Principle Five: Effective assessment plays a significant role in the learning process and is an important tool for feedback, learning and curriculum planning.

An important point is that these characteristics of an effective teacher and learning and teaching principles were home-grown. Each school has to go through that process so as to represent the local situation and, even more importantly, to have credibility and currency within the institution. 
Better than just test score use? I think so.... 

Monday, 5 September 2011

If Web 3.0 (the Semantic Web) is the destination, how are we going to get there?

Google has done a great job of helping us find information. However, we have to use judgement as to what bits are useful. And as the amount of information on web pages that is indexed increases to unthinkable and unreachable proportions, we have diminishing returns.
The Semantic Web is given as the next x.0, in this case 3.0. Can it be so? What is the Semantic Web?
This is a Kate Ray documentary on the Semantic Web: 

Web 3.0 from Kate Ray on Vimeo.
But how do we get there? What are the pitfalls? Are we in the midst of marketting hype which will get in the way of this utopian ideal? And how is Google+ tuned into this? How is it going to get us there?

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Google conversion - where are they taking us?

Google Inc is discontinuing old services.
Google Notebook was an early casualty and quite a shock to avid users - at school we used shared notebooks for minutes and other records, and we wondered, at the time, how we would do without it.
Then a much better Google Docs came along and we now use this, with features such as concurrent editing in real time, and think no more of Google Notebook.
Google Desktop is another one that now bites the dust. This may not be any great loss since cloud search devices are available and cloud storage is the way to go. But I am sure there must be those who will wonder how they will manage without it.
The Google Operating System blog lists other casualties: Aardvark, Fast Flip, Google Pack, Image Labeler, Sidewiki, and Subscribed link. This is fine, but note that they have been dropped whilst all is still in Beta. We are, by the way Google operates, considered permanent Beta-testers.
So, where is Google taking us? It all seems to be centred on Google+, an identity service. But it is hugely Beta, being developed quickly and has already soaked up Picasa. Are we sure that where Google is taking us is where we want to go?