When I began this blog, almost two years ago, my goal was to post at least once a week. That didn’t last long. I was also starting a new job at the time and I overestimated my stamina. The job and the other commitments I have to various education organizations and to my family kept posting to this blog at the bottom of my to-do list. When I started this blog, I thought I would use it to reflect on my work, ponder new ideas, and occasionally share a resource or two. It’s time to get back to that.
Although I haven’t kept this blog up, I have been blogging. This year I began co-teaching a semester-long Digital Literacy class for high school freshmen. In this class we use blogs and blogging as a foundation for teaching reading, writing, and other forms of digital communication. I started a blog as a model for my students the first semester, and I’ve carried it over to the second semester‘s class. I’ve been writing, but for a different audience.
I’ve often said that the most effective teachers are also the most reflective teachers. I have not been modeling that well. I believe I have been reflecting on my work, and I’ve shared those reflections verbally with trusted colleagues, but I haven’t been committing it to writing. For me, writing actually aids my thinking, and I know I should do it more often.
I want to get back to writing for the audience this blog was intended for – teachers and other technology integrators. While my idea of posting once a week may have been overly ambitious, I think I can manage some regular posting.
I’m not ready to give up yet. It’s time to start again.
I recently attended a workshop for teachers where they learned how to flip their classrooms. I don’t like the term “flipped classroom” (a topic for a future post) but I do like the idea that teachers can create content in other media than print, and they can capture demonstrations and lectures for future reference. At the end of the workshop, one teacher said something that I’ve been pondering ever since. She said, “I won’t remember how to do this, but I’ll remember why, and when I’m ready to do it, I’ll ask for help.”
Too often we spend our precious technology professional development time walking teachers through a step-by-step tutorial for using a particular tool rather than talking about why to use it, and I’ll admit that I sometimes fall into that trap. Software “training” (another term I dislike) is effective only when the trainees are in a position to start using that software right away and for a particular purpose. In a business, when the company switches to a new accounting program, they send everyone who has to use it to a training session. The employees then return to the office and begin using that software immediately as a major part of their work. This does not happen in education. Teachers may attend a summer workshop where they learn how to use a piece of hardware or software, but it may be weeks or months before they can use that tool to teach a particular skill or concept. And too often they learn about the software in isolation, with no discussion or thought given to how it supports their curriculum or why they need to use it at all.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t demonstrate and give teachers time to explore hardware and software tools during our PD time, but it’s foolish to think that technology integrators or professional development providers can teach teachers all the technical skills they need in this ever-changing world. Software, hardware and web tools change too frequently and there are too many of them. I think the best we can do is inspire teachers to think about their curriculum and their practice, decide which tools will work for them, and then find a way to learn on their own.
I often return to the TPCK (or TPACK) framework developed by Mishra and Koehler to explain these ideas. This framework illustrates the types of knowledge teachers need to successfully integrate technology into their practice. While teachers need Technological Knowledge (TK), it’s only at the center of the model, where all three knowledge types intersect, that effective teaching and learning take place. Rather than helping teachers gain only TK (and assuming they will find the intersections on their own), I prefer to spend as much time as possible helping them see the possibilities for those intersections.
My husband once described a software training workshop for teachers that he attended. He said that teachers sat passively, followed the steps that they were shown, and created exactly the same product as the one being demonstrated. He said he learned a few tips and tricks about the software, but left with no idea how he would use it in his music classes. He didn’t learn anything that he couldn’t have learned from the help menu or through a simple Google search.
If we don’t spend our PD time in software training, how will teachers gain the technology knowledge they need? I’ve begun encouraging teachers to take responsibility for their own training. I suggest that when they realize they don’t know how to do something, they try one of these remedies:
Check the help menu of the application you are using.
Ask a colleague.
Ask a student.
Gaining Technological Knowledge (TK) is something teachers should start doing on their own, as they need it, not when a training session happens to be scheduled. This doesn’t mean I won’t continue to demonstrate tools and answer how-to questions, but I hope to base more of my work on those intersections with Pedagogical Knowledge (PK) and Content Knowledge (CK). The workshop I mentioned above had the right mix of TPACK. I hope to hear more teachers saying, “I may not remember how to do this, but I’ll remember why.”
This past week I attended the Middle Level Education Institute (MLEI) at Bowdoin College.This institute has a long history as a place where Maine’s middle level educators can meet to learn from consultants and each other as they work on team and individual projects. I’ve been involved with MLEI for several years as a consultant, but I decided to attend this year as a participant. This allowed me to work on my own project (this blog) and to observe the facilitators and other participants through my professional development lens. I left with the impression that everyone felt this was a highly effective PD experience and I’ve been pondering why ever since. What did they do right?
They took the time to build a learning community. So often, I feel pressured when I’m leading a workshop to jump right into the content and I never really get to know the people in the room. Even when I worked with a cohort at another 3-day institute, I didn’t take the time to do this well and I regret it. The four facilitators did this intentionally, starting well before the institute began. They created a wiki and asked each participant to create a personal page, so I felt I knew something about everyone before I even met them. During the institute there were opportunities for whole group discussion as well as partner and table talk, and there were activities that caused us to regroup often and talk with other people. There was a back channel for comments and questions that we were prompted to use for specific purposes but that was also available throughout the three days for sharing. We ate lunch together every day which led to informal discussions. I think the size of the group (around 35 or so) made this community building easier, but I believe it’s possible with larger groups too.
They modeled good practice.Chris Toy introduced his Mr. T model that’s an acronym for model, reflect, and transfer and throughout the three days that’s exactly what happened. The facilitators did not simply describe their practice, they modeled it. When Mark Springer and Nancy Doda introduced how students can have a voice in curriculum decisions, they let us experience it as we negotiated our curriculum for the institute. Jill Spencer didn’t merely describe active strategies for engaging students but modeled them too.
They provided ample opportunities for reflection. Throughout the three days we were introduced to a variety of tools and strategies for reflection and the facilitators built many reflection pauses into the schedule. Again, this was part of Chris’ Mr. T model and I appreciated the time to think about what I had just experience and to ask myself, “What does this mean for my practice?”
Perhaps the most significant outcome of this institute for me, as a professional development provider, was a reminder of the power of team teaching. Some of the most satisfying experiences I have had as a teacher of teachers have been when I worked with a partner or a team of facilitators. There’s something about teaching collaboratively with people who trust each other and share a passion for their content. Everyone in the room senses that trust and passion and wants to be a part of it. That’s how I felt at this year’s MLEI.