Dignity, Inspiration

It’s About Giving Some Dignity

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Four years ago, I started this blog post. At the time, I was inspired by the story of the Canadian coach coming to the aid of a Russian athlete with a broken ski, unable to finish his race. When asked about the incident, the coach, Justin Wadsworth, said:

“I went over and gave him one of Alex’s spare skis. It was about giving Gafarov some dignity so he didn’t have to walk to the finish area.”

-Justin Wadsworth

Dignity.

How much is in your classroom? How much do you give your kids? How often do you go out of your way to reach a student where they’re at and support them in a way that dignifies them as people?

Treating people with dignity implies being sensitive to people’s needs and doing one’s best for them, but it also means:
  1. Involving them in decision-making.
  2. Respecting their individuality.
  3. Allowing them to do what they can for themselves.
  4. Giving them space to learn.

Broken down into these areas, it becomes easy to see how you could cultivate a dignified learning space for students. Easy to see, but not always easy to do. It is hard (and messy) to have kids make decisions. It is hard to plan for the different needs of all the kids (much easier to pitch to the middle!). It is hard to step back and let them have at it. It is hard to remember that they need their own space to think, to process, to reflect.

So how do we convey these ideas to our students? The idea that we need to build a culture of dignity amongst our students and teachers and community? One option might be to invite David Flood to your school. (Disclaimer: I don’t know David Flood nor have I seen him in real life but this video is great and his message, inspired).

David takes the concept of dignity and distills it into three points that students can connect with:

Challenge 1: Look on the inside

Everyone is the same on the inside regardless of how they might look on the outside. We all have a heart, feelings, needs.

Challenge 2: Reach out and give thanks

Look people in the eye and let them know why you appreciate them. Look for ways to help others and let other people see you being helpful.

Challenge 3: No one eats alone

Compassion and kindness = dignity.

David shares the idea with students that “your life is not about you: your life is about what you can do for others”. When we all live in this way, we build a culture of dignity in our classrooms and communities. The more our students see this in us, the more we will see it in them.

That’s what Coach Wadsworth was thinking that day on the snow: WHAT CAN I DO?

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT WILL YOU DO?

As for me, I want to look into my use of grouping and how I group kids in the Design Pit. I want to see how I can change what I do to the best effect for the kids I teach. I want to be guided by the concept of dignity when I start to change things up. I don’t know how this will look (yet!) but it will include or at least be inspired by, these ideas:

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Creativity, Digital Life, iPad, Technology, Visible Thinking

Sketchnotes 101

A number of people have asked about my sketch notes. I have given a few workshops at school for teachers and for students and now, am putting a few thoughts down here for those who are interested.

So, here we go! My top five tips for sketch notes!

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  1. Steal Everything – Be on the lookout for ideas. They are everywhere. Specifically: take a look at Pinterest. I have a board dedicated to Sketchnotes and I am not the only one! There are loads of examples of excellent work to get you started and keep you motivated. Search for: sketchnotes, visual notes, sketch noting, visual language.
  2. Go Digital – I would have never said this until I started exclusively taking notes with my Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro. Game changer. What I love about digital notes is the ease with which you can add color, erase mistakes, re-order content. I have done notes in notebooks with pen and while I love that, I love digital even more. Apple pencil is outstanding.
  3. Get ‘Appy – All who sketch note will likely have an app that they LOVE above all other apps. For me, my app of choice is Paper by Fifty Three. Now, they have upgraded the (Free!) app recently and I am not in love with some of the changes, but I am learning to adjust and it is still, by far, my favourite. If you prefer the idea of layers, Adobe Photoshop Sketch would be a good choice, and if you are also arty or like to dabble in the artistic realm (and want to pay for your app), Procreate would be another good choice.
  4. Practice – Yep, all the Apple Pencils in the world won’t mean much if you don’t practice. Visual dictionaries are a good idea. But it is also a good idea to sketch in all your meetings. Being able to listen, process, and translate words into pictures in a short amount of time is something that you need to practice. Choose ‘low stakes’ opportunities to practice like your faculty meeting before heading off to sketchnote a live TED talk or international keynote speaker.
  5. Think Visually – A great place to do this is with the Noun Project. It is one of my favorite websites. With over a million icons, NP is a great way to get your brain thinking visually. A quick search of any word will bring up suggested icons that you can be inspired by or spin your own sketch from. If you are taking a break from sketching, you can use all icons (royalty free) in your presentations (including Google add-ons for Docs and Slides). In our last PD, I had my laptop open to the site and would frequently type in words to get ideas for ways to represent words visually.

 

Like everything, sketchnoting is a journey. If you click on my blog header, you can scroll through my posts and many will have a sketch note or two attached. Some I put together on the fly and others are a result of trying to visually represent an idea (so I had more time). Everything is a progression. Some ideas are easier to represent than others.

One of my colleagues asked me, “What do you do with these (sketchnotes) once you are done?” Great question. I keep them here. I flick through them on my iPad to remind myself of ideas I deemed important enough to draw. They are my notes and the ideas represented by pictures help me recall what I listened to or read. More recently, I have started drawing them ‘live’ during lessons. They aren’t as perfect as something I have prepared prior to the lesson but they let the kids in the room ‘see behind the curtain’ at how I can put things from ideas and words into pictures.

Mostly, I just have fun! I like the challenge of distilling information into a visual format without diluting the message.

HOW DO YOU REFLECT ON THE THINGS YOU ARE LEARNING ABOUT?

Action, Agency, PYP

Action and Agency

I was going through my digital sketch book and came across two graphics on Agency that I created a few weeks ago. The first looks at the relationship between agency and action. The second asks you to look at how your decisions support agency in the PYP.

Agency isn’t a new concept. It is linked to choice and to self-efficacy – the belief in one’s effectiveness in performing specific tasks. And it isn’t something we as teachers need to give but rather, create room for.

These graphics illustrate WHAT a dynamic outcome of agency could look like and offer reflective questions for educators on the path to creating opportunity for learner agency, but HOW do we put it all into practice? Cue #studio5 at ISHCMC and a very thorough post on how agency is approached with students, thanks to Taryn BondClegg : Student-Planned UOIs.  Regardless of where you are in your journey toward agency, this blog post will give you an idea of how one school are putting into practice what they believe about student agency.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON STUDENT AGENCY?

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Innovation

We Need More X Students

At the end of last year I read “Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passions, Peers, and Play” by Mitchel Resnick. It is a brilliant read and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A few pages in, the author, a professor at MIT, meets with the President of Tsinghua University in China – known at “the Chinese MIT”. Chen Jinging describes his students as “A” Students – good grades, compliant, smart. But when he visits MIT and sees the playful way in which these students grapple with ideas, seek solutions, and create innovative pathways in their learning. He calls these students “X” students. And he wants to change the way learning happens at Tsinghua to cultivate more of them.

This is what an X student does:

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What are we doing to cultivate X students in our schools?

At Nanjing International School, we offer CNU (Creative New Undertakings) and X-Block to our grade 4 and grade 6-8 students. Both of these are derivatives of a “genius hour’ type mindset in which students are guided to learn through contexts of their own choosing. Having read the description of the X student and how this was the creation of a Chinese university president, I wonder if the ‘placeholder’ name of X-Block wasn’t meant to be, for our students, in China? Perhaps this is our way of responding to this need for more creative, innovative, X-learners? We have to do more than just call them X students though. We have to be like Jining and seek to change the way we learn.

Take a look at this video and then think about what it would look like to video your students as they LEARN. What can we do to embed authentic experiences in order to develop the creative innovators the world needs – and our kids deserve to be?

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

 

Innovation

Project Planning Paralysis

I have a love/hate affair with projects.

I love them because students get to choose what they do.

I hate them because students get to choose what they do.

 

It boils down to three things for me: judgement, control, and fear.

I find myself checking if I think this project choice is worthy of our class time. I wonder if the project they choose is going to be something I know anything about. I am fearful that even if I overcome both these hurdles, there is still the judgement of teachers or parents who may not see the value in the project choice.

I have a long history with student choice. I won’t call it agency because, for much of the time, I found myself setting the parameters for the choices. Ultimately, I want kids to have a voice, I want them to learn through something they love to do.

My fifth grade Design students have been eager to have more say in what we do. I wanted to respect that so we started looking at what “Design” was and I opened up the floor for them to choose their next design project. But I couldn’t help myself and I started throwing in “rules” to hamper their freedom of choice. Before I knew it, I had created a framework for their projects of my making. It looks like this (and I still am not sure if I like it or not):

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I created this, if I am to be honest, out of fear that should my kids stop at step one, “PLAY”, other people may judge the worthiness of them doing so. Who are these “others” that have so much control over my instinct to let my kids play, that I would go and create four more hoops for them to jump through?

This is where I am struggling at the moment in my quest for agency. Where do scaffolds come in? How can we help our students with things like authentic empathy or exposure to the Global Goals as a springboard for design? Who is to say what is purposeful and what is not?

Here is an example from one student:

After doing a “tournament of champions” with all the ideas of things that could be done in Design (similar to this one below) a student chose: Minecraft. 

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Example of how the kids each chose the thing they wanted to “Play” with in Design.

Students were then re-introduced to the Sustainable Development Goals (something they were already familiar with). This is where they would connect “Play” with “Problem”.

They then needed to “Pitch” an idea: what were they going to make? Do? Create? And then I wanted them to think about why? What was their “Purpose”?

Here’s one example:

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“Plan” made it’s way in when I saw that many kids didn’t quite know where to get started. Or, to be fair, they did know (they started to Play!) but I wanted something more concrete.

Even as I write this I am questioning the whole thing. How much interference is too much? How much freedom is too much?

How do you make this work in your school?

Innovation

Do You Know My Name?

Just before I went to our faculty meeting yesterday, I saw this graphic in my Twitter feed:

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Image by: Trevor MacKenzieBlog Post with more ideas about data collecting we should do.

 

I went off to our meeting to find we were about to engage in a grade level protocol based on an Edutopia post titled “The Power of Being Seen”.  As a team, we were given a page with three photos of our kids down the left side. The rest of the page was blank. We were to start writing and write everything you knew about that child.

Do you know their face?

Do you know their name?

Do you know something personal about them?

Do you know their family story?

Do you know their academic standing?

 

It was really interesting to see who we had lots to write about and who the 8-10 teachers had very little to write about. It also made me think about the data we collect about students. So often we talk about how learning is about connecting with other people and that kids will learn from people they trust and like. I was reminded of this TED Talk by Rita Pierson: Every Kid Needs A Champion:

 

I was reminded that developing relationships with our students are key to moving them forward in their learning. And I sat asking myself, “Who am I championing?” But, so what?  So what do we do with the data we have now gathered? Now what? Where to from here?

These questions will be up to each grade level to respond to but I know for me, it was a call to action to get to know the kids I teach a lot better than I do now. I teach all Grade 1 – 5 students or about 45 kids per grade level so that is a lot of information to know. But aren’t they worth it? As grade level teams respond to this data, my hope is that we are supported to move forward in our understanding and connection with students. We are really lucky to have a very permissive and open culture in which “grassroots” uprisings of ideas are encouraged, if not expected. What can we do to truly connect with our kids?

What would your next steps be?

My TA and I are doing a couple of things. Firstly, we have created similar photo pages and I have put these in my iPad to make notes on during or straight after class. We spend a very short time of each design lesson talking to the whole group and the rest of the time working with individuals or small groups. Often there is time to talk about things other than the project we are working on. We know that we don’t get to talk to everyone and that we also tend to gravitate toward those kids who are perhaps louder or more assertive. We want to collect some data to see who we are missing.

As I was thinking over this protocol, I was reminded of a similar protocol suggested by the Responsive Classroom.  This one is a little more simple but equally powerful. In summary, you need a piece of paper folded into three columns. In the first column, write the names of your students – any order. (That in itself may lead to some understandings about your relationships in the classroom.) In the second column write one thing that you think is cool about that child, the child is passionate about, or something they really care about.  And in the third column, make a star if you are sure that the child knows that you know this about them.

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What would you do next after one of these protocols?

 

Innovation

UPDATED: Related Concepts on Concept-Question Cards

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The IB recently sent out this tweet which has sparked renewed interest in the Concept-Question cards that I first put together when working as the Grade 3-5 Coordinator and Grade 3 teacher at Yokohama International School in 2008.

I have used them for teacher workshops, PYP Exhibition, parent workshops, and most planning meetings I go to.

Recently, Sam Sherratt wrote a blog post: Being A PYP Teacher Part 1: Carry the Book. The “book” he referred to is Making the PYP Happen.  All of the concepts, descriptors, questions and now related concepts that are on the cards, are from this book.  I am in agreement with Sam that we need to be so familiar with “the book”.  There is a wealth of information about the PYP in there that I think often gets overlooked in favor of other things from other sources. I am all for diversity in ideas but as PYP educators, we do need to make sure we are not passing over some really great ideas in our own program guide.

In the comments that followed on Twitter, the suggestion to add related concepts came up. These are also in the book and some users said that they have added these to the cards themselves.  I have now made a quick edit and added them too. Please download and use for good!

Happy conceptual thinking and questioning!

Concept-Question Cards with Related Concepts

 

Agency, Change, Design, Inspiration, Leadership

If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit…?

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Bringing about choice in the classroom via John Spencer. 

If you had a pair of shoes that didn’t fit – too small, too tight, too loose, too high – what would you do with them? Put a bow on them and a row of sparkles and wear them anyway? Cram your feet in and mash up your toes, bloody your heels, and suffer?

No. You would put them in a recycle box, trash bin, or donate them and move on to something that worked.

Why don’t we apply this analogy to school? So many of the embellishments we are slapping on: iTime, differentiation, personalized learning, flexible seating, choice boards, passion projects – are the bows and sequins that don’t make the shoe any more comfortable or any closer to fitting.

What if instead of focusing on building agency, we focused on building a school that is radically different to the production-line-based factory model we are currently saddled with? Agency already exists. We are born with it. It is not something you give someone. But schools and the structures we have created, do a great job of taking that agency away and out of the hands of the learner.

So, what do we do? 

While we work on the audacious goal of revolutionizing school as we know it, there are small things we can do now, to make a shift. Here are five things every teacher could do to start the journey of change:

  1. Stop making decisions 
    • Take a tally of all the decisions you make for your students. Better yet, write them all down – you’ll be exhausted. How can you switch so that more decisions are made by each child for themselves?
  2. Unplug the photocopier
    • Kids don’t think in A4 or legal shaped boxes of paper! And they don’t need us to pre-think on this paper for them. Try ditching the grids and templates and cookie-cutter forms and see what your kids come up with.
  3. Teach like a designer
    • I just retweeted this image. How can you use your observational powers to see where the paths need to be laid instead of rolling out the concrete where it fits best? Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 5.06.22 PM
  4. Go behind the curtain
    • This one stems from a phrase we used a lot at the Learning2Asia conference this past week. Think of freeing kids from the checklists and criteria and just let them play, create, explore, make, do! YOUR job (behind the metaphorical curtain) is to be tracking their learning and watching for what they can do independently, with support, or haven’t gotten to just yet. Guide. Observe. Ask. Or even just say nothing and keep quiet while they get on with the real work!
  5. Bring back boredom
    • You don’t need to entertain your students. That doesn’t mean you can’t be entertaining, but it does mean your job isn’t to ensure that every second is packed with – wait for it – ACTIVITIES! Let them play, them them iterate, let them be bored. They’ll soon find something to do.

As John Spencer has pointed out, we need to move from entertaining our students (“The kids love this activity!”) to engaging them by connecting them with real ideas that matter, and then go further to empowering them to seek out the learning for themselves instead of waiting for it to be delivered.

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These ideas have been percolating for a while and the perfect place for them to synthesize a little more clearly in my mind was over the last three days in Shanghai at the Learning2 Asia Conference.

In addition to some excellent practical tips and ideas from Jamie Stevens and Nici Foote in the realm of Makerspaces, Tinkering, Playing, and STEAM, I was incredibly inspired by what I am calling my “Unconference Fung-Kee-Fung” Sandwich.

First layer: Unconference Session #1 in which a group of 20+ passionate educators discussed the idea of student agency and in which I got to meet (in real life!) Taryn Bond-Clegg, the educator extraordinaire behind the blog Making Good Humans.

Sandwich Filling: Lisa Fung-Kee-Fung (Best. Name. Ever) and an extended session on Launching Student Learning with a focus on who we are really here for – the students. Coupled with a really interesting discussion with the Deputy Director of WAB, John D’Arcy on the concept of Flow21 and WAB’s 2021 vision for the future of learning.

Top it all off: Unconference Session #2 in which 20+ shrinks to 7 and we have yet another focused, inspiring, and fast-paced discussion on agency and beyond.

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“Nothing’s more powerful than a group of committed educators who believe they can solve any problem together.” –

In sketchnotes, the Unconference Fung-Kee-Fung sandwich looks like this:

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This is a huge thing to think about and it can seem overwhelming to know where to start. In addition the ideas mentioned above, I would recommend exploring the Global Goals and seeing where these might take you and your students. These goals encompass a wealth of understanding and knowledge – and “it’s hard to change the world if you don’t know much about it.” –.

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Agency, Design, Inquiry

Agency by Design

I have been re-visiting the Agency by Design website over the past few days. One of the things I was reading about was a “Big Rocks/Little Rocks” task which was designed as a way to have teachers  prioritize their values related to teaching and learning. The idea is to think about what you want your kids to be like when they leave your classroom. What is important to you as a teacher? What do you value? The premise is, that articulating what we value will shape what we assess. I would add that it will likely also change the way we teach.

Here are my rocks:

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My big rocks are things I value AND things I really want kids to experience in our learning space. I notice that “listen to me talk” is not one of my big rocks. I am working on cutting down on talk time in place of having conversations that simply start with “What are you learning?” or “Do you need anything?”.

I am trying to build in time for “fix or make better” – the IMPROVE part of our design cycle, so children have a chance to make iterations of their initial ideas. Ideas - 12

I want my kids to have to learn to share and engage and interact. For me, learning is a social activity. I also notice that I haven’t put ‘reflect’ or ‘process’ or ‘work on my own’ as my rocks. These are valuable too and are things I need to consider for those students who shine in the quiet spaces of our classrooms.

I look at all these and then I think about how I plan my lessons. And I think about Agency. It doesn’t appear on a rock. Not because I don’t value it, but for me, the entire bowl holding ALL the rocks is learner agency. But do I teach in a way that reflects that?

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Who makes the decisions in my room? How are the choices made? Do the kids really get a say in what they are doing or have the parameters for their choices been so narrowly focused that the choice they have is really just a token one?

My last post on Agency and the questions I have regarding it are very much on my mind. If I want to show that I value agency, what am I doing on a daily basis that reflects that? And what does agency in the grade 1-5 Design classroom actually look like?

In order for agency to authentically exist, do we need to rethink the way we do school in its entirety? 

#grapplingwiththeconcept #agencyadvocates #help

Agency, Change, Diversity

Don’t Say “Agency” Unless You Really Mean It

The IBO recently shared a graphic as part of it’s work in revamping the Primary Years Programme. To be clear: This is their communications graphic illustrating the new organizing structure; not the new programme model. Agency (Voice, Choice, and Ownership) feature heavily. As I looked at this and thought about each of these components of agency, I imagined what I might look for in a classroom in which this existed. I thought in questions:

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And then I read this. An amazing post by Will Richardson. I started to highlight the parts that resonated and then found the whole article highlighted. Seriously. Here is one of my favorites:

So, don’t say “agency” unless you really mean it, unless you truly intend to create classrooms where kids “have mastery over themselves” and the freedom to employ that mastery with other learners.

-Will Richardson

I watched a second webinar today on Inclusion. A lot of what was said came down to respecting all students as individuals – and in doing so, creating the type of classrooms that Will Richardson mentions above.  And not just for some kids, but for all kids.

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It made me think …if our classrooms really were places in which kids “have mastery over themselves” wouldn’t they also be inclusive? If an inclusive classroom is one in which all students are supported where they are at right now, it seems that the two are mutually co-dependent.

So, what needs to change? Lots!  Change is one of my favorite topics. For someone who has moved around a lot in the last 18 years, you would expect as much. But there is a lot that needs to be in place for change to be effective. Some of the challenges are outlined above and there isn’t a one-stop solution or a prescription for how an inclusive, agency-based classroom can be created. But there are some steps that can  be considered in order to make any attempt at change more successful.

Change researcher, Anthony Ambrose, theorized that five elements must be present in order for change to occur and that if one or more of them is missing, there is a specific emotional response. The change equation will allow leaders to plan the change strategies and also analyze where previous change efforts may have gone wrong.  They need only ask the question: “Why is this person reacting this way?”  The equation looks like this:

Because We Believe in Change (4)

And here’s what happens when we don’t plan for change:

Because We Believe in ChangeBecause We Believe in Change (1)Because We Believe in Change (2)Because We Believe in Change (5)Because We Believe in Change (6)

You can read more about this process here.

As the changes to the PYP come about and as people start to change their classrooms to be more inclusive and agency-driven, it is going to get messy. Schools who have not started this conversation are going to find themselves falling behind as more change-focused schools work to reimagine education. I feel very fortunate to be at a school who has been having these conversations for years already and is actively seeking ways to ensure we are a truly inclusive learning environment.

Here’s to building something gorgeous!

Because We Believe in Change (3)