In my role as Head of Innovations in Teaching and Learning, I have worked on action research projects at Lower Canada College in Montreal. Through these projects, I have seen tremendous potential for this kind of work with regards to professional growth and pedagogical innovations.
In the past year, I have reflected upon four great challenges recurring for educators and administrators in Canada and the US. I will present these four challenges and engage colleagues in discussions about possible solutions. This post evokes reflections begun in a French blog post I wrote in April.
Challenge #1 – Student engagement
If you are a classroom teacher in 2014, you are bound to have a variety of learners in your class. From ADHD, to dyslexia, including average students as well as high achievers. The reality is, we can no longer streamline our teaching to the middle. It is no longer acceptable because we know better.
Technology becomes a great tool to differentiate learning and instruction. Many teachers at Lower Canada College have taken steps to modify their pedagogy to use technology to help all their students learn better.
Caroline Hétu, a French as a Second Language high school teacher, has innovated with blended pedagogy. Caroline uses a combination of the “Three before me” approach and “comprehension pods”. The “Three before me” approach is known to foster independent learning, increase perseverance, resilience, creativity and research skills. Students are thus encouraged to use 1) course notes and textbooks 2) internet and videos produced by teacher 3) peers (could be from a different pod as discussed below) and finally only if needed – ask the teacher. The “Comprehension pods” are based on the premise that all students will learn, just not at the same speed. Therefore, Caroline has created three pods that are called: Google Chrome (autonomous learners), Mozilla Firefox (semi-autonomous learners who sometimes needs a guide), and Internet Explorer (learners who display constant difficulty). Caroline feels confident that using this approach in her class has enabled her to help all of her students achieve their full potential.
Furthermore, shifting the locus of control from teacher to student is not easy but is necessary to develop those 21st century skills, we are redefining the teacher’s role. In Nathalie Simard’s grade three class, the teacher is at the center of learning more than ever. On a daily basis, her students are involved in “the 4Cs”; they collaborate, they communicate, are engaged in critical thinking and are encouraged to use creativity to solve problems. Nathalie says, “I feel as though I am the one who has to adapt to the technology I have in my class, not the opposite.” Through our action research project, Nathalie has decided to modify her pedagogy and move toward a project-based learning approach, which facilitated her own goals to include technology in her teaching. This links up to the various models discussed in the next section.
Following the ACT 2008 study, “The Forgotten Middle” which stated that executive functioning skills developed during the middle school years were key indicators of university success, our school set out to develop these skills in every student. This serves two roles: one, it is a way to empower students and allow them to take ownership of their learning, and two, we hope that this indeed will contribute to them being better prepared for higher education. At Lower Canada College, we have developed a program for grade 7 students to help develop these skills. We hold an orientation week after Labour Day where we explicitly teach Carol Dweck’s notion of Fixed versus Growth mindset, organization and note taking as well as elements of digital citizenship; digital literacy as well as health and awareness. We then keep track of how our students fair in terms of these executive functioning skills and report to parents twice a year. In the spring, we also offer a bootcamp for those who still need the help in developing some of those skills. During that same week, we have sessions on iPad set up, the device students use in the middle school.
These are some concrete initiatives by our school to engage and empower students. What do you do? What are some of the initiatives taken by your school?
Challenge #2 – Classroom innovations at what cost?
In the past couple of years, most of us in educational technology all have been exposed to a variety of models for technology integration.
The TPACK model stands for Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowldege developed by Mishra and Kohler in 2006. As you likely know, the TPACK model was developed by Mishra and Koehler and it is a framework that identifies the knowledge that teachers need to teach effectively with technology. It extends on Shulman’s (1998) idea of PCK of teachers developing knowledge about their profession discussed in a previous post.
As stipulated by Mishra and Koehler, effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject-matter requires being in tune with these various components, yet we must keep in mind that every teacher’s situation is different and unique and no combination of content, technology and pedagogy will apply for every teacher.
The SAMR model developed by Ruben Puentedera in 2009. “The Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition Model offers a method of seeing how computer technology might impact teaching and learning. It also shows a progression that adopters of educational technology often follow as they progress through teaching and learning with technology.” This model encourages teachers to move beyond substitution and augmentation to more student-directed open-ended initiatives in the classroom.
The ASPID model recently devised by Thierry Karsenti (2013), a professor at the University of Montreal, “offers two potential pathways for adopting technologies and integrating them to education”. According to Karsenti, “The model posits a sequence of phases in the technology adoption and integration process. The first is ADOPTION, in which teachers usually need more time, at least in the beginning, to familiarize themselves with the technologies so they can integrate them properly into their teaching practice. At this point, teachers may embark on two very different pathways. One leads to a DETERIORATION of their teaching practice, because poor use of technologies only aggravates the teachers’ own shortcomings. The alternate pathway is the SUBSTITUTION phase, where technologies act as a direct tool substitute to the teachers usual teaching methods, but with no functional change and with about similar efficiency. This is followed by the PROGRESS phase, where teachers begin to apply the technologies in truly efficient ways. In this phase, teachers show marked improvement in their teaching methods, with positive repercussions for their students. Finally, they reach the INNOVATION phase, in which their teaching practices evolve in the Darwinian sense. At this point, teachers can use technologies to prepare learning tasks in ways that were never before open to them. All the phases in the model are related to the teacher’s collaborative engagement in technopedagogy. However, it is important to understand that higher commitment does not necessarily bring teachers to the next phase. For a truly evolved teaching practice, teachers need to commit to the process in a reflective manner and in collaboration with their peers (i.e., train and be trained), while listening to their students and keeping abreast of new developments in educational technologies.” (p.77).
In looking at these models for understanding and transforming our pedagogy, as teachers we must remind ourselves that change involves a willingness to take risks. And we, ourselves, need to tackle the 4Cs in our profession. We are preparing our students for a future that we are uncertain about. We often hear about the fact that the jobs our students will hold in the future do not yet exist, but these are the skills they will need. We need to be role models to our students and begin our own transformation as educators.
Challenge #3 – The art and science of classroom teaching.
Donald Schön (1983) suggested that practitioners in various fields reflect-in-action. He held that professional practice includes an element of repetition. Thus, a professional practitioner is a specialist who encounters certain types of situations over and over again. Schön further stated that when a professional “reflects-in-action he [sic] becomes a researcher in the practice context. He [sic] is not dependent on the categories of established theory, but constructs a new theory of the unique case” (p.68).
I believe this is the type of case research that is needed in the field of educational technology and the current study exemplifies how practitioners themselves can undertake such research efforts.
Action Research is a qualitative form of research that puts the practitioner at center of the research process. The practitioner researcher, in this case the teacher, takes control of the research questions and reflects on her own practice. In our school, it is also participatory and collaborative. I will return to this idea later.
I have been doing action research with educators for over 10 years and one thing that I like about it is that it brings out the professional with a capital P in teaching. It leads teachers to develop and demonstrate a profound mastery of their craft (Sagor, 2010) And I believe this is what Tony Wagner means when he says:
Nearly every profession has reinvented itself to create forms of collaborative problem-solving – except education. How might groups of educators be organized to go beyond mere “learning communities”—a current catchphrase—to work on ongoing problems of practice in schools and districts? What might communities of practice look like in education?
Action research also leads to, informed, committed action that gives rise to knowledge rather than just successful action, which in turn contributes to growth of knowledge bases in the profession (Shulman, 1998). Shulman, as mentioned above is the father of PCK (Pedagogical Content Knowledge) which served as inspiration to the TPACK model discussed.
Action research is said to have evolved from the work of social psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), who was concerned with social issues and with the process of studying theoretical and practical problems together. His model includes a process in spiral steps, each comprising of planning, action, observation and the evaluation of the result of the action (Kemmis, 1988, McTaggart, 1994). His primary emphasis was on action research as a form of professional problem solving (Noffke, 1997). Lewin’s version of action research emphasized a collaborative process, i.e., a group of people addressing a social issue. “It was cyclical, with each cycle of research affecting subsequent versions of planning, acting, observation, and reflecting” (Kemmis, 1988). This resulted in dynamic research constantly evolving in response to the reflections of each phase (Noffke, 1997). Although Lewin is widely recognized as the grandfather of action research, and clearly his motives were laudable, one criticism of his type of inquiry is that there was a distinction between the researcher and the researched, which can create power inequity.
What I have described up to this point relates to conducting research as an outsider. Because action research can often be conducted by outside consultants whose task may be to inform management decisions.
An alternative method of inquiry has surfaced in recent years whereby the researcher takes part in the action research process as an insider. This method is called Participatory Action Research (PAR) and, while it holds the same fundamental tenets as action research, participatory action research is a form of “insider research” (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2000), in which participants move between two positions. On the one hand, they see themselves, their understandings, their practices and their settings from the perspective of insiders who see these in an intimate way.
Conversely, they also see themselves, their understandings, their practices and their settings from the perspective of outsiders who do not share the partiality of the inside view but also who do not have the benefit of insider knowledge. Alternating between these two perspectives helps the researchers achieve the critical distance necessary to transform educational theory and practice (Noffke, 1997).
As a professional engaging in reflective practice and action research, one must keep up with literature and current initiatives in the field. Ways in which our team has been successful with this is by following key educators on Twitter and becoming part of various PLNs.
Personal or Professional Learning Networks have grown in many sectors including education. A personal learning network is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.
An important part of this concept is the theory of connectivism developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, i.e., where learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge. The learner does not however have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person.
A recent article published in TeachThought discusses this widely: http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/20-ways-to-improve-your-professional-learning-network/
Also, Thomas Whitby created the Educator’s PLN, a Ning on which teachers can request membership and exchange with peers from around the globe. Whitby also organizes weekly edchats on Twitter.
Challenge #4 – Changing school culture
Over the last decade in North America, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on preparing our students for standardized tests. However, experts tell us that there are a number of skills needed for the future such as Leadership, Digital Literacy, Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Entrepreneurship, Global Citizenship, Problem Solving and Team-Working (http://www.edudemic.com/new-skills-world-looking).
We have a responsibility as teachers and administrators to prepare students for their future. Thus, we must reclaim time in our schedules to reflect and innovate, give our students opportunities to develop these skills.
We must also focus on our professional growth and make it part of our schools’ ethos. As one of my colleague, John Vlahogiannis always says, professional growth, unlike professional development, is on-going and it is each teacher’s responsibility. At our school, John and I are responsible to lead faculty in professional growth each year. This program simply requires teachers to set out one or two professional goal for the year, work on them during the school (this may involve some professional development such as courses, workshops or conferences) and the submit an end of year reflection and meet with the respective department head to discuss growth on objectives and the following year’s goals. Some innovative teaching practices have emerged from this initiative; the executive functioning project discussed above, several flipped or blended classrooms, robotics, digital citizenship, etc.
These are some concrete initiatives by our school to engage and empower our teachers. What do you do? What are some of the initiatives taken by your school?
ACT (2008) The Forgotten Middle; Ensuring that all students are on target for college and career readiness before high school. http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/pdf/ForgottenMiddle.pdf
Dweck, C.S. (2007) Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books
Dweck, C.S. (2010) Mind-sets and Equitable Education, Principal Leadership, January pp. 26-29
Karsenti. T. (2013) ASPID model: two potential pathways for adopting technologies and integrating them into education, Teachers and Teaching (21) 1, http://formation-profession.org/fr/files/numeros/4/v21_n01_266.pdf
Kemmis, S. & McTaggart, R. (2000). “Participatory action research” in Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S. (Eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research, Second Edition, Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp.567-606
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054
Noffke, S.E. (1997). “Professional, personal, and political dimensions of action research” in M. Apple (Ed.) Review of Research in Education, Vol. 22, Washington D.C.: American Educational Research Association, pp. 305-343
Noffke, S.E. (2009). “Revisiting the Professional, Personal and Political Dimension of Action Research” in Noffke, S.E. and Somekh, B. (Eds) The SAGE Handbook of Educational Action Research, Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 6-23
Puentedura, R. (2013) The SAMR Model, http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/
Sagor, R. (2010). Collaborative Action Research for Professional Learning Communities, Solution Tree Press
Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, Basic Books
Shulman, L.S. (1998). “Theory, practice, and the education of professionals” The Elementary School Journal, Vol. 98, No.5, pp.511-527
Siemens, G. (2005) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/article01.htm
Wagner, T. (2004) The Challenge of Change Leadership: Transforming Education Through ‘Communities of Practice’, October http://www.tonywagner.com/resources/the-challenge-of-change-leadership