Whats in language?

During the last week the issue of how simple changes in the words we use can have a large impact on perceived meaning has arisen on repeated occasions.

crossword

The first instance of this was in reading Drive by Daniel Pink in which he mentioned the long established practice of issuing students home work.    Daniels book discusses the impact of motivation on the things we do and on the point of home work he raises the issue that generally the term work doesn’t inspire a large amount of intrinsic motivation.    The task is “work” and therefore is perceived to involve no pleasure or enjoyment.   As such the term home work turns students off the activity even before we have begun.   He suggests that we might rename it as home learning as our urge to explore and to learn brings with it intrinsic motivation which is not associated with work tasks.   A simple change.

Later in the week in a meeting discussing appraisal or performance management depending on which term you prefer, the issue of the use of the terms, reviewer and reviewee was raised.   A focus on looking forward and improvement was indicated within the policy and by the appropriate senior managers however the terms reviewer and reviewee seemed to indicate a post event reflection as opposed to looking forwards.   One suggestion as to a possible change in relation to the language was to use facilitator, rather than reviewer; so the facilitator of performance management or appraisal.

As an EdTech advocate I am often aware of the use of “enhance” as a term using in relation to technology use in the classroom.    Again this week I saw the term used.    To me the term implies a bolt on, a bit like tomato sauce enhancing chips; it isn’t required by the chips but adds to it.   At its basic level, and as indicated in the first level of the SAMR model, EdTech is a bolt on however its potential doesn’t lie here.    Its potential lies in its potential to redefine how we learn as well as what we learn.   Again another example of a simple change in language betraying a massive difference in meaning.

Recent news has had a lot of discussion on the SATs or Standard Assessment Tests, with the term tests or testing being used almost on every occasion.   This has led to lots of discussion with regards the pressure being put on students as a result of such testing.    Those teachers who are trying to make the best of this prescribed activity however refer to the SATs as an assessment.   They refer to them as just another tool they use in the day to day act of teaching and learning, and of assessing students to check that they are understanding, making progress and are engaged, etc.

How often do we stop and consider the words we use regularly?   As I type this I notice my use of “We” as opposed to “I”.    What difference does this slight change in language convey and what difference in perception of me does it encourage?

Maybe we need to find the time to stop and look at the big picture but in doing so look at the little things like the language we use as it rhough language which we communicate and are understood and it is through language that a significant part of how others perception of us is developed.

 

 

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Connected Educator Month

It was 2012 when I first created my twitter account however at the time I wasn’t sure why I had created an account or how I might use the account.    Some months later it was a colleague who planted the idea of using twitter for professional development.   This resulted in my logging back in to my, at that stage, dormant account and beginning to search for people discussing education and edtech in particular.   It wasn’t long before I was hooked on the access to a multitude of new ideas, opinions and resources.     Twitter proved to be a quick an easy way for me to dip in and out of professional development as and when I had the time and felt like it.    I found myself stealing 5 or 10, or if very lucky 30, minutes of time during which I could quickly scan through twitter on my phone for interesting posts regarding educational research, edtech apps and software and other educational resources.

I quickly found that I was finding more articles than I had time to read in the limited time I had managed to put aside to access twitter.   At this point I came across a number of twitter posts and through them blogs discussing how Evernote could be used.   So I started filing the tweets and blogs I found in the few minutes I managed to steal using Evernote so that I could then access them at a later stage when I had more time.

I have grown to be an avid fan of twitter and its potential to help teachers grow as professionals.    Personally twitter has allowed me to communicate with people I wouldn’t normally have been able to communicate with.   It has allowed me to access new creative ideas, which in turn has helped and encouraged me to be creative in my work.    Twitter has led me to work with others in sharing ideas, in discussing topics and in solving problems;  I have worked collaboratively.    It has also allowed me to see and discuss other viewpoints and ideas, often requiring a critical response.     Basically twitter has helped and encouraged me to use the 21st century skills we often talk about in terms of students.

Twitter has supported me to develop my 21st century skills and in doing so model for students the traits we wish them to develop.   It has also allowed me to access resources and ideas.

Tomorrow begins Connected Educator Month 2015 so I hope you will join me in sharing and in developing the teaching profession as a whole.     I also hope you will share and promote Connected Educator Month with those colleagues who have yet to experience the potential of twitter so that we can increase the number of educators sharing and collaborating to ensure  our students receive the best learning opportunities possible.

I look forward to connecting!

 

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.

 

21st Century Skills Development and IT

21stcenturyI am due to present at a conference during 2014 and will be presenting under the theme of how educators can help develop 21st Century Skills with the aid of technology.     This seems to fit with a lot of discussion occurring in schools around how teachers can develop 21st century skills in their students and how ICT can be used to enhance learning.    As such it seemed like a good topic for discussion here ahead of at the conference.

So where to begin:  Well I think the best place to start is to look at what the 21 century skills are.   The Partnership for 21st Century skills identified 6 key areas:

  1. Thinking critically and making judgements
  2. Solving complex, multidisciplinary, open ended problems
  3. Creativity and entrepreneurial thinking
  4. Communicating and collaborating
  5. Making innovative use knowledge, information and opportunities
  6. Taking charge of financial, civic and health responsibilities

The question then becomes how can IT help in develop these skills required for the 21st century, or is that the right question?    Consider the world we now live in and the 6 areas listed above; which of the areas could or maybe more accurately, would be, done without IT?

Points 2, 4 and 5, I would argue, would not normally be undertaken without IT.   To solve complex, multidisciplinary problems requires collaboration, communication, research and analysis.   Communication and collaboration in the current world involves the likes of skype, twitter, google drive, pinterest and a whole manner of other software and apps, to bring people together such that geography is no longer an issue, and sharing ideas, thoughts and questions is easy.    As to knowledge and information, and also research I do not think we can discuss these areas, in the current world we live in without the word “Google” popping to mind.   Now that covers 50% of the points, so 50% of the 21st century skills would normally involve IT so why isn’t  IT more embedded in education?   Why are we still looking to use IT as an “aid” to develop skills which actually necessitate the use of IT?

Now I could also argue that IT has its part to play in critical thinking and in creativity however I am not going to do so, as I think another problem lies here.      In what way do we teach students to be critical and creative thinkers, to question to norms, to be innovative?      I don’t think we do quite enough of this, mainly because we are busy teaching students the “right” answers, so they can pass the tests, get good marks, improve league tables and help to make the country look better in the all important standardised tests.   As such students’ critical judgements are only valid as long as they are in the domain of the teaching they have received, but outside this domain who is to say they will fare as well?   As to their ability to be creative thinkers, I think almost no time is set aside in schools to help develop this area.   Please note I am talking creative thinking here, and not Art, Music or Drama, as I am sure I can hear some people reading this, in the far corners of the web, muttering regarding the fact students receive lessons in these subject areas to provide them an opportunity to be creative.

All in all education has a way to go in terms of helping students develop the skills required of the 21st century.   Let’s just hope we get it right before the 22nd century is upon us!


References


21st Century Skills, Education and Competitiveness (2008),The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net : “Technology In The Hands Of Businessmen” by KROMKRATHOG

 

Leadership Discussions

The other day I was lucky enough to have time to sit and discuss the important issues of school improvement with Vice Principals of a number of schools.

A number of issues were discussed however 3 key points came out of the discussions:

  • School Culture and Climate
  • School Communication Systems
  • Vision

Now the issues are written down in the order them arose in the discussion so no priority should be read into the order above.   Let’s take each of the issues in turn:

School Culture and Climate

We discussed the need to improve the quality of teaching and learning and how those teachers currently delivering high quality learning experiences could be utilised to encourage this however this doesn’t happen unless a culture exists where staff feel safe in sharing ideas and where ideas are openly discussed and questioned.     Ideas and thoughts regarding how to improve a school often already exist within the school itself although unless a safe, sharing culture exists, these often go without being verbalized.

In addition to this a sharing, safe culture, encourages and supports staff in peer observation, collaboration and team working.    It also serves to support distributed leadership, where teachers are encouraged to take on leadership roles.

School Communication Systems

Now we are not just talking about a weekly briefing here; we are considering the communication system of the school in its most holistic terms.   How do staff and students within the school find out what is going on in the school, its priorities, its mission and its progress towards realising this mission?    Equally how does the school find out about how students and staff feel about the school, its systems and, in general terms, how things are going?     Consideration needs to be given to processes and systems but also to more humanistic issues like how do managers find out about their staff as people with lives outside school.    Communication is about ensuring that the right messages are heard and that all staff feel as if they too are heard, and that their contributions are valued.

Vision

How is the schools vision arrived at and who is involved in this process?    How do we turn the written vision into an espoused vision acted and believed by all staff within the school, independent of role or position?   Some discussion was had regarding whether or not all school vision statements were essentially the same, however I do not believe that this is the case as even although the words used may be similar and the general aim may be education, what this actually means within a given staff body in a specific school in a specific area, at a specific time may differ significantly.

Now overall the discussions were very interesting and identified three important strategic areas in need of consideration however one very important question remained:

How do we go about building on these 3 areas within your school?