Tuesday, August 21, 2012

3 Pick This/Not That Ways To Create the Differentiated PD Menu

There is no need to explain why teachers should have the same benefit of differentiated learning as students do. Fundamentally, most people agree with the idea, but for some reason the differentiated professional development experience seems more the exception than the rule. Here’s are three juicy options to give teachers what they’re craving.

Appetizer: Pick Strategically, Not Randomly
Pre-assessments and formative assessments are critical to the DI experience. How would we know where to begin if we do not assess prior knowledge, student interest, and learning style? Before we start the PD experience for the year, perhaps we should find out a) what teachers know, b) what they are really interested in learning, and c) how they learn. This can all be done prior to the first in-service of the year with the right surveys. Sure, if you have the spare five minutes to set up a Google form or quick survey on Survey Monkey, that’s a fast way to gather information on what teachers know and need to know, but even if you are crunched for seconds, asking teachers to simply email the information or list it on a shared document is sufficient. There are so many sufficient learning style inventories online, like this one which even allows for group analysis and sharing: http://www.learning-styles-online.com/inventory/. By having teachers complete this as a warm up to the year, we can not only design experiences which match or at least allow for some experience in the dominant style, but we can also strategically form learning groups based on individual strengths.

Main Dish: Pick Doing, Not Talking
This is especially true for tech training. Rule number one of any tech training should be Bring Your Device! I recently attended a training on a new software and the ratio of listening/watching to time allocated to working within the program was roughly 99/1. Teachers conferences, at least the most enriching ones, are now comprised of at least three pathways of learning which exist concurrently: listening/watching presentations, tweeting exchanges to share gems of the experience, and engaging in either the active usage or documentation of the material. Allowing for these paths, or like variations, within every tech training is essential because it allows for learners to engage in the way best suited for them. Some may only listen and take notes on a notepad, but others might form a Pinterest Board such as this one on DI as the presenter talks, and others might just start constructing within the new tech platform, learning as they go.  

Dessert: Pick Options, Not Mandates
Just as some people will always say yes to dessert, so too will some teachers always say yes to traditional group training. However, a differentiated approach to learning allows for some level of choice. This can be accomplished by a menu of options which provides both traditional and “flipped” experiences, online and face-to-face ones.

And finally, even if we cannot muster the energy to design differentiated experiences for all PD, let’s try to agree that we will at least practice what we are preaching when it comes to professional development sessions on Differentiated Instruction. Nothing is more frustrating than sitting through a presentation on DI with one mode of learning...listening. Here’s a DI-inspired DI Experience for teachers wanting that path.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

5 Ways You (yes YOU!) Should Be Integrating Digital Citizenship Into Your Classes

Recently, I read an email post to a listserv by a teacher who wrote she doesn’t have time to teach digital citizenship because she has to cover too many other content-specific standards. I get it... the Common Core-state tests-AP/IB/SAT/ACT Madness eats up so much of our time. Still, there is no excuse for allowing students to enter into the digital world without a toolkit for not only safety but also success. Beyond that, there is such a wide range of options for truly integrating digital citizenship objectives that the argument given by teachers who claim a lack of time is simply unfounded. Here are a few ways we all can bring digital citizenship to our classrooms and seamlessly enrich the subjects we teach.

1) Use an LMS: Edmodo and Schoology are free learning management systems which provide teachers with platforms for discussions, resource sharing, grading, messaging and networking. More to point, however, they offer a school-oriented, safe, and age-appropriate space where students can learn how to connect through social media. When should we begin using these? While they are young! If students learn how to interact online from a strictly social platform first, say through their personal Facebook accounts in middle school (or scarier, in elementary school), they have an established disconnect between this type of interaction and their learning experience, and thus have to be reconditioned later to understand the learning value. Furthermore, they fail to understand that who we are online should be who we are in person. If we introduce a LMS early on, we seize the opportunity to teach social interaction through the learning and identity lens first. If students are already old enough to meet the requirements for using social media platforms such as Facebook, use that! It’s where they live, so it's hard to escape that notification that Mrs. D just posted something in the English IV page. If we show them how to use the same technology to learn through a class group, they can see how their online and offline lives and selves are interconnected in a multidimensional way. Not sure about Facebook's value in a learning setting? Check out my first post on this topic: Let There Be Facebook! 

2) Model Good Citizenship by Setting Age-Appropriate Expectations: Students under the Facebook age requirement of 13 should not be on Facebook, and there is a good reason for that beyond the fact that they would be breaking the rules. Therefore, teachers should not encourage a class group to form on Facebook if students are under that age--yes, even if they already have an account. If we do so, we dismiss the rule and encourage a lack of respect and accountability to the community guidelines...the very opposite of encouraging citizenship.

3) Connect and Collaborate: We all have networks outside of our geographic area, and chances are, we know someone who may have a class or know of a class that wants to connect. There are other options, however, such as using ePals or Skype in the Classroom to find partnerships. Collaborating on language learning, historical perspective sharing, or service projects further the objective of broadening the definition of citizenship to include both global and digital awareness.

4) Use Google Apps: I do not remember a time when such a wealth of resources was made available to teachers for FREE as we have today. Google Apps is another great example. Students can create, share, publish, collaborate, and connect through the use of Google Apps for Education. Both Edmodo and Schoology are Google Apps integrated now, allowing for students and teachers to pull resources from their folders in Google Docs into the LMS platform to either create or submit work for grading. Through the use of Google Apps, students learn how to collaborate with people online towards a shared goal, whether it’s collaboration with others in a group or with a teacher for feedback. With people connecting and working with others they have never even met from all over the globe, teaching students how to do this is critical. Another bonus is the ability to go paperless as students are easily able to receive, create, and submit work without ever opening a half-broken binder. Even if a school has not integrated Google Apps at the school level, teachers can still use the platform by helping students set up Gmail accounts if they don’t already have them. It’s absolutely amazing that this is available!

5) Model Balance: Technology is so ubiquitous; we can hardly escape. As a result many teachers have become frustrated and taken the stance of banning it completely to preserve their space as a sort of sanctuary. On the other hand we have teachers who have become so dedicated to using technology that they rarely offer students a chance to disconnect. Both are the wrong approach. Just as students must learn how to interact safely and respectfully by watching us model such interaction, so too must they learn how to balance. Balance is a skill innate to a few but not to most; I believe it is mostly learned. By showing our students when to be connected and when to be unplugged based on purpose, we model how this can look in their lives. Part of digital citizenship is understanding how to contribute to the online communities to which we belong while still contributing to our offline communities.

The very first thing we talk about when we discuss citizenship is the balance of rights and responsibilities. These rights and responsibilities are dictated by the communities we are a part of, including online communities. Expecting students to learn the nuances of online communities and the balance of rights and responsibilities within them solely by happenstance in their own social lives is tantamount to expecting children to learn how to serve, lead, and be nice without ever giving them a chance to be a door-holder, class rep, or friend in school. Of course, that sounds absurd...and so it is.