Each year that I teach pre-service teachers as part of their undergraduate teaching degree at Flinders University, I am both inspired and filled with hope and pained by some of their confessions.
The final assessment piece for the course I teach requires students to evaluate the teaching they observed in their placement schools, remark on their conversations with staff and mentors and reflect upon their own teaching experiences. I believe this is the most beneficial of all the assessments required of our students as I am of the belief that the most valuable skill we can develop to transform our practice is the ability to discuss and reflect upon our own teaching and that of others and develop intentions based on this as to how to improve.
For each reflection I read, I am encouraged by the aspirations of these young people to continue to grow and it is encouraging to read about so many learning environments instilling the importance of a growth mindset in both students and teachers.
Amongst the wonderful inspiring reflections are also moments of disappointment. Over a semester, I get to know these students quite well, their honesty and enthusiasm for learning and their thirst for any guidance from teachers and mentors is heartening. However, when I read that “mentor” teachers tell their pre-service teachers that their lessons and courses cannot be differentiated, or is too hard to adjust for students, a little part of me aches.
I have no delusion that each and every one of these student teachers will have a practicum experience with perfect expertise (no such thing) but still, without fail, each year I read a few statements that make me want to scratch my eyes out.
Throughout our course I remind them that that ultimately they will develop their own beliefs, their own values and should surround themselves with people that will support and encourage them to achieve these. I can only hope that “too hard” doesn’t stick and that they see the inherent value in the things that will ultimately impact on their students growth.
Oh and P.S EVERY course, at ANY year level can be differentiated. Just like EVERY child and how they experience learning is personal and different. Differentiation is not about providing individual programs, it is about knowing your students needs and responding and planning to meet them.
As part of the #SAVMP George Couros has asked that we share how we ensure the learning we do goes viral. I believe through sharing our skills, our learning and our experiences we grow ourselves and those around us. I am always willing to give my time to share my own experiences and I truly value those that invest their time in me, whether that be one to one, a small or a larger group or even via the connected web and social media.
This term, in my own attempt to meet the diverse needs of our 70 odd staff, I facilitated two whole school PD sessions as part of a team working towards building strategies for better classroom practice and utilising technology. I chose to target Formative Assessment, as this follows from previous work we have been doing as part of our Differentiation Project, is something we know we can definitely improve and will impact student success and the promotion of growth mindset.
I began each session with a short introduction to the concept and provided staff with several options to choose from, each focussed on simple takeaways that teachers could implement in their classrooms. Fortunately I had a great group of people willing to give their time and expertise to lead workshops and share their examples and resources.
The first session included these workshops:
Peer critique: Staff gave examples how they promote useful peer critique based on the idea that feedback must be kind, useful and specific. Staff shared how they using GoogleDoc comments and Blog comments can facilitate and model peer critique for students.
Journals and portfolios as reflection tools: Staff shared how blogging can be used as journals, port folios and reflective spaces. Examples were also showcased for how to develop portfolios for the Arts.
Quizzes and surveys: Staff showcased PPTs for Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Jeopardy and explored how simple fun quizzes and games can provide valuable insight into student understanding and misconceptions that can be corrected in “Just in Time” lessons. Plenaries were also exampled as ways of revealing student attitudes, reflections and understanding.
Each workshop was led by at least two teachers who utilise these strategies in their own classes. They provided examples and templates for staff to develop right there and then to use in their classrooms.
Staff feedback from the session was overwhelmingly positive. The only criticism was that they wanted an opportunity to access the alternative workshops as well. As a result, we facilitated a similar session 3 weeks later, giving the same options but also adding a few differentiated strategies to include for their planning (RAFTs and Choice Boards).
Some workshops catered for up to 15 participants whilst others only had 5 or so. What was most appreciated by staff was that they had choice, they were not being dictated to but instead shared with.
I know I learn better when I figure things out for myself. I could easily copy a template from someone, or have them set up my blog. I could ask someone to develop HTML for me so I can embed the things I want. Truth is, I value these things so I want to figure it out for myself, then I know I will “get it”.
It’s all about what I value. I’m a fairly practical person, I like getting hands on and my mother always expected my sister and I to partake in all activities that my brother did, not based on gender. I mow my lawns (though I despise it), I’ve renovated bathrooms, laid floors both tiled and timber, plaster boarded walls, hung doors, knocked down structures, paved and done many other physical jobs. I am motivated by the challenge, trying something new and of course seeing the end result.
Now tell me anything about a car, and you lose me. I am extremely capable of changing a tyre, oil, coolant etc. but never have I learnt to do any of these tasks and to tell you the truth, I have no intention of learning. These tasks do not interest me one little bit. I could watch someone show me a dozen times and I still don’t think it would sink in, because I have no wish to develop these skills at all!
This brings me to student learning and staff PD. If we are asking students and staff to learn skills they see no purpose in, how do we expect them to engage and persevere when it gets hard? We can develop grit in our students and it may already exist in staff, but if we are asking them to learn or engage in something they never intend to use, aren’t we just wasting our time?
So this is my challenge, just as I work hard at meeting the needs of my students and finding ways to connect their learning to make it meaningful. I want to ensure that I provide opportunities for staff to see the “why” we need to develop certain skills and allow them to take ownership by choosing their own ways of improving their classroom practice.
I am completely guilty of having different expectations of adult learners than I do for my students. I would never expect my students to sit through a presentation with me standing and talking for 20, 30, even 40 minutes! Why is it that I am surprised when adults zone out, check their phones, emails or chat to the person next to them? I differentiate my classroom, I lead a differentiation project, yet I’ve at times treated staff like they chose to come hear me speak, when in actual fact they were forced to!