GESS/GEF, Dubai, 2014

IWB_smallOK so a year has passed and once again I find myself back at the GESS/GEF Conference in Dubai.    Again I have taken a wander around the event and the various hardware, software and service vendors with stands at the event.   My hope was that something would stand out or at least I would see progression from the stands available last year (You can see my post resulting from last years GESS/GEF conference here).

Walking around I saw some very interesting stands providing quite specialist engineering equipment such as pneumatics equipment for students studying technology, or robotics equipment.    There were also specialist stands for those seeking furniture, uniform or manipulatives for use with younger children.   Now I suspect last year these stands were at the conference however I myself failed to notice or pay much attention to them.    This year I paid a little more attention.

So, to the more common stands……..and yes, once again Interactive Whiteboards were very predominant.     There were a mixture of fixed boards and datashows, datashows with integrated IWB capabilities, as well as touch screen displays.      Vendors demonstrated the various “unique” features of their software;  One vendor showed how the display could be split into 4, so that 4 students could interact with the display at once, with each students contributions individually coloured.   Despite all the “unique” features of each vendors offering I could not help but see an IWB as being nothing more than an IWB; a technology created over 20 years ago, which is fixed in place almost always at the “front” (Why does a learning space have to have a front?    Does the teacher really need a desk as the centre of classroom attention?   Should an IWB be the focus of attention?   Or should the space be about learners and learning, changing as required?)  of the class and can be interacted with by only a small number of students at a time.   Also, after over 20 years, these devices still remain relatively expensive.    Why is this technology still so popular and why isn’t it seen as old technology?

The other thing that was quite common at the conference was media rich content.    A number of companies were providing their answer to where schools can find content to engage learners.   Now some of this seemed ok especially where the content was designed for younger students and as such was very graphical and simple in nature in order to appeal to younger children.    I could see this content working across most schools assuming it is multilingual or in the language of the school it is aimed at.   However I questioned the materials available for older age students;  Why would I pay for content when I can easily find content on the web through YouTube and a multitude of other websites.   I can have students develop their own content using a number of applications or can even develop my own materials as the teacher, such as where I intend to use the flipped classroom model.       How often am I going to use the content I purchase and is it worth the cost given this?

Now you may be reading this and thinking I have a very negative view of GESS/GEF; I don’t.    The conference had some very good presentations, and I only visited on day 1.    I am sure this will continue to be the case of days 2 and 3.   The fact that vendors at the show seem to focus on IWBs and also generic content meant to fit all schools, is a concern.     So what is the solution…….I am not sure at this point, although I suspect it will be different for each school.   I think it relies on dynamic content created by teachers and students to match the needs of students and learning, as they/it changes from day to day, week to week and year to year.

Maybe GESS/GEF 2015 will include a vendor with a solution.   We will need to wait and see!

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Not the definition for Differentiation

Education is littered with technical terms and jargon with a few acronyms thrown in for good measure; differentiation, AfL, SEN, G & T, inclusion, PBL, personalization, EFL or ESL or EAL, to name but a few.   Most of these terms and their associated definitions come from the western educational world.   As such they rely on certain assumed background knowledge and experience plus on a certain cultural background.     What are the implications where these terms and their definitions are applied in other parts of the world?     Remember, in a different part of the world we have differing cultural and contextual backgrounds plus the added issue of translation.

Our understanding of something new is grounded in what we know already, in our experiences, etc.   As such explanation of something new requires concrete examples, so in the case of differentiation the concrete examples might include providing challenging extension tasks for the more able, or providing additional teacher or other staff support for students who are less able.    So to the teacher experiencing the term of differentiation for the first time, they might come to think of differentiation as meaning they should provide extension tasks to the more able and additional time and support to the less able, as these were the concrete examples provided.    Now I know this is quite a simplistic view, and that if we were introducing differentiation to teachers we would include a variety of techniques for challenging the more able and supporting the less able, however does this truly get to the heart of what differentiation or any other term for that matter, truly is?

Another approach is to look at what a term is not.    Here we can ground the ‘NOT’ version of a new term in things teachers already know and have experience of.    So continuing the differentiation example we might discuss teaching all students the same content at the same pace and at the same time.    We can then ask “why is this not appropriate?”.     The answer which teachers, and even those who have never encountered differentiation, should reply with will be the fact that students have differing needs, abilities, interests, etc.     So differentiation is the opposite of teaching students the same content at the same pace and at the same time.    From this, discussion can be generated into how this can be done practically in the classrooms of a particular school, with particular students within a particular context.   I would suggest that this approach would generate a “better” understanding of what differentiation or any other term is, as opposed to the explain and model approach.

So next time you need to explain something new, to teachers or students, give some consideration to NOT explaining it.

 

Simply assessment….

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Yesterday I introduced some teachers to the five minute lesson plan (http://teachertoolkit.me/the-5-minute-lesson-plan) while discussing lesson planning and it got me thinking about my earlier post on simplicity (http://educationandtechnology.me/?p=97 ).   This time however rather than thinking about lesson planning, it got me thinking about assessment or the different types of assessment; formative assessment, summative assessment and assessment for learning, baseline assessment (You may normally refer to it as baseline testing however testing, in my eyes, is just another word for assessment) or standardised assessment.  I suspect there are others although as I write this they do not immediately jump to mind.  

As De Bono (1998) points out, “things evolve to become ever more complex – not more simple.”    He goes on to say that “those who have got used to the complexity no longer notice it and even add more elements, so increasing the complexity even further.”     So are these different types of assessment the product of this evolution and does this added complexity actually help us as teachers or the students we teach?   Can we truly differentiate between each different type of assessment?   Do the supposed distinctions between each actually exist?   Do we really need to have these different types of assessment?

Thinking about it, the first question which I find myself asking is: What is the purpose of assessment or what is assessment as a whole?  A quick look at the definition via Google gives use the following

assessmentthe action of assessing someone or something.(https://www.google.ae/#q=definition+assessment)

 assess; evaluate or estimate the nature, ability, or quality of.(https://www.google.ae/#q=definition+assessing)

 So assessment in educational terms could be considered as evaluating or estimating a students ability, nature, skills, knowledge, etc.    This definition sounds very much in line with the concept of teachers “knowing” their individual students.    As such I think it might be fair to say that assessment is a process which allows teachers to “know” their students whether it be to find out about students at the start of their time in a school, at the start of the year, as they make progress during the year or during a lesson, or to find out where they are at the end of a topic or at the end of the year.    Basically a good teacher needs to “know” their students in order to best facilitate them with the most appropriate learning opportunities.    Assessment is the process for doing this and regular assessment is needed to cope with the fact that students are constantly developing and changing as they progress through their time within education.

So do the distinctions of formative, summative and assessment for learning, which are designed to make the concept easier to understand, actually help.   Personally I would say, no.   It doesn’t matter whether your assessment is formative, summative or AfL.   All that truly matters is do you as a teacher “know” your students and are you using assessment to inform you about them, and the progress they make as they change and develop during their time within education.   We need to look at assessment in a broader sense in order to “free ourselves from the constraints of what is being done” and find a simpler and possibly better way.

 

References:

De Bono. E. – 1998, Simplicity, Penguin Books

Image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net : “Answer Sheet” by nongpimmy

Integrating ICT…..

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Daily I read about ideas for the use of ICT within learning and teaching.    A large number of the ideas presented often rely on the availability of a laptop, desktop or tablet per student or small groups of students.   Some of the ideas rely on a 1:1 laptop or tablet scheme, a BYOD/BYOD implementation or a school which invests heavily in mobile technologies for use in its classrooms.   All of this is excellent for those schools which have this equipment.  ( I suspect these schools are still in the minority within the world as a whole however the number is growing, although I have no real evidence to support this belief )

But what about those schools which do not have this kind of equipment.    I think it is safe to say that the common IT equipment found in schools, is likely to be IT hardware centralised in IT Labs plus maybe a data projector and desktop in classrooms.    So how best can classroom teachers across subjects make use of limited equipment, where only limited equipment is available, to integrate ICT into their lessons?    What websites, simple peripherals, applications, etc. have you used?

1000th Tweet

twitter-bird-calloutIt wasn’t so long ago when the thought of me using Twitter on a regular basis was something I wouldn’t have considered as likely.   At that point I considered Twitter as just another social media application, like Facebook, designed to allow people to post about what they had eaten last night (and I have a friend who does just that, insisting on photographing and posting any meal she has when at a restaurant, etc, prior to starting to eat), or for celebrities to show off, or in a number of cases embarrass themselves for the worlds media.

Then a colleague introduced me to the use of Twitter as a tool for professional learning and sharing teaching or other ideas around education with practitioners from around the world.    That was around 6 month ago and I haven’t looked back since then.   I have found myself regularly, and at stages daily, visiting twitter looking to see what ideas and discussions were out there.    That said, most of my contributions to Twitter thus far have been in the form of retweets of tweets which I have considered useful, interesting, insightful or worth sharing.

So this blog entry marks my 1000th tweet.   Not much when compared with veterans of twitter however for me it marks almost 1000 ideas, discussions or thoughts which, without twitter, I may not have had access to.

Thank you to all who have I have followed for the ideas you have provided and I look forward to further interactions with you.    I intend to do as my colleague did for me, and encourage others to engage in using twitter for professional learning purposes.    I also intend to contribute more of my own thoughts rather than just retweeting.    If you are reading this, do you know of educators not using twitter and if so have you introduced them to the possibilities?    How many professional development programmes can boast that they can provide as many, or as broad a range of, ideas as twitter can?

Keep tweeting, as I certainly will.

Learning styles……yes please.

vak2Learning styles has become a little bit of a discussion area as of late, including on twitter, with research showing that the assessment of students to identify their learning styles and then the use of this data to inform teaching has little or no value.   Meanwhile a number of trainers and training organisations still seem to be providing training and professional development either on learning styles or at least including reference to it.

So here I am wading into the discussion.

Firstly let me be clear that I am not about to enter into the discussion in terms of which of the two viewpoints mentioned above is correct and which is incorrect as I believe another option is possible.   I also see little value in an “I’m right, you’re wrong”  discussion (This is the title of a De Bono book looking into the tendency for discussions to be grounded in black and white or right and wrong as opposed to considering alternative viewpoints and ideas, in case you haven’t read it.   It is a personal favourite of mine).   This is about my viewpoint, based on my experience and the context within which I work and have worked.

For me the key question is what is the purpose of learning styles as a concept?   My answer to this is that the concept of learning styles is to highlight the fact that students learn in different ways such as through visual, auditory and kinaesthetic stimuli (I am using the VAK model of learning styles as this is the one which was originally introduced to me some many years ago as opposed to the later VARK model which I never really identified with).      An aspect of this may be the use of a questionnaire which shows students that they have differing tendencies, as part of a programme of developing students understanding of how they learn.    So for a teacher, and a student, it is about the fact we learn in different ways, and I would also add that these ways change depending on what we are learning and the context within which we are learning.

Just to be clear, I believe the use of a questionnaire to develop data on learning styles, which is then used to inform teaching is of little value as the learning style preferred by students will be affected by the intended learning, the activities designed to promote this learning and also other contextual variables.   In addition to this the divisions of VAK are artificial and only put in place in order to help or ease our understanding of the concept.   It amounts to classification of students into either 3, for VAK, or 4 if using VARK, arbitrary groups.   The use of this kind of approach at a time when there is continual discussion about students’ individual needs is very poor in my opinion.   It reminds me of a scene from a Monty Python movie where a man addresses a gathered crowd telling them that they should not follow him as they are all individuals to which the crowd chants back, “We are all individuals”.

That said learning Styles, as a concept, is useful in that it serves to identify that we all have styles of learning.    As such a teacher that uses a single approach is unlikely to cater for the needs of all students within their class and as such they must look to a variety of approaches and, increasingly, to making learning student centred where the students decide their approach to the learning, such that it suits their style in the given learning situation.   So learning styles is of value, as a concept, however learning styles, in terms of VAK and questionnaires to identify which students are visual learners, etc. is not.   Not sure where that puts me in the discussion I mentioned at the start, however that’s for you to determine.

One size fits all.

answers_smI recently worked with some teachers looking at how ICT could be integrated into lessons and how they might support this process.   During the course of the session I made the point that the approaches which work best are likely to be different for different teachers.   I also raised the fact that the context within which they operate may also impact on which techniques and approaches work.      An approach that might work in an inner city boys primary school may not work in a rural girls secondary school.    As such teachers need to be searching for ideas, experimenting and generally being proactive in their approach.   They cannot afford to wait for a professional development session to deliver all the answers.

This got me thinking about the theories and models which we use in education, as well as about some posts I have read recently.     I previously blogged about how a few people had raised issues with De Bonos thinking hats (http://educationandtechnology.me/?p=93) .    Now personally I like De Bonos thinking hats in terms of a teaching tool which, in certain situations, can be very useful, however equally I can see that in other situations it may be inappropriate.    I can also see that for some teachers it may not suit their teaching style however this does not mean that the tool is lacking in value.     Equally where De Bonos thinking hats is useful, I do not see this is adding to its value.    It is a tool and its usefulness or lack thereof depends on the context within which it is used and the purpose for which it is used.

Thinking about this further, I considered Blooms taxonomy which generally I have found to be treated as fact.    An earlier discussion with a colleague, who introduced me to the SOLO taxonomy (http://classteaching.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/using-solo-taxonomy-to-develop-student-thinking-learning/) , led me to question this.    Both Blooms and SOLO are just 2 of a number of models or tools which we can use to help us in our teaching.    They may be appropriate in certain circumstances and inappropriate in others.

So to my point: We as teachers need to be open to new ideas and to listen to others suggestions.    It may be that we disregard these new ideas as inappropriate however we need to remember that this is based on our personal preferences and on the context within which we operate.    The idea itself cannot be considered as appropriate or inappropriate when devoid of context.    Equally we need to apply different models at different times rather than relying on a single “correct” model.    Teaching is a complex task, so the more tools and ideas we have available to us, the more effective our teaching is likely to be.   Personal Learning Networks are a key part of this.