Friday, November 25, 2016

Digital Distractions Just Another Kind of Distraction
*Reflections from 'Digital distraction in the modern classroom' By Paul Barnwell.

Articles such as this are always a welcome reminder of issues related to classroom management, but I can't help come back to the same conclusion: young people (and often adults at faculty meetings) will find ways to distract themselves when they are not engaged, or downright bored. Certainly, we have to learn to deal with boredom and disinterest from a young age, but I can't help but feel that devices in the classroom are just another potential distraction. We used to write and pass notes around the class, or put a comic inside a textbook. You get the idea. According to a study in the article, 66-86% of college students were doing some kind of social engagement with their phones during class. Now we remember passing those notes on paper.

I appreciate comments on multi-tasking. My view comes from something I read a while ago. Multi-tasking is essentially dividing up your time, thus spending less attention on each task. When I write a song or play soccer I am completely focused on the tasks. They require it, but I'm also completely engaged. Can school work be the same? Perhaps not, as we can't expect every individual to be completely interested in every subject or activity in school. I appreciate Barnwell's frustration - do we limit screen / device time in order to maximize concentration, which suggests maximizing learning? I wonder. Perhaps we need to be very focused and vigilant while we use tools, and be cognizant of the usefulness or appropriateness of the tools we use for a task or learning outcome. Perhaps we need to be much more focused on device-based tasks, designing lessons more carefully, not to mention clearly demonstrating the value and relevance of tasks to students. Learning outcomes have to be the driving force behind the technology. Maybe we're shifting gears too quickly during a lesson. I do find that if a school has short, blocked periods there is a tendency to rush to cover the planned material and the point is often missed. This is because there is little time to absorb what's happening before the bell suddenly rings.

Getting back to the smartphone part of the discussion, one concern in my school is that, being in an earthquake-prone country, our students need to have their phones close by in the event of an earthquake. (as we witnessed in 2011 in Japan - phone lines were down, but social networking sites proved invaluable to reach loved ones and confirm safety) Smartphones are certainly a great tool for managing learning. (using calendars for scheduling and reminders for instance, not to mention Google Drive's smartphone apps such as Google Classroom) Don't forget the photo/video features and the plethora of quiz and other kinds of learning apps. Quizlet has activities for the student trying to squeeze in a little review on the bus or train. Regardless, phones are here to stay in the hands of our school's students, and most likely in the classrooms.

Like Barnwell, I'm sure to have technology-free lessons. Or will I? Since we use iPads and laptop devices, and Google as platforms (and I'll mention that some schools use Edmodo and Moodle), these tools are used effectively when used to facilitate learning rather than drive "content". Educators need to monitor the use of devices in class as they would have paper passing. Not as easy perhaps, but it's a necessary part of a 21st century teacher's skill set.

*reposted from a previous blog post, but updated on date of post.

Paul Barnwell. "Digital distraction in the modern classroom | SmartBrief." Web. 25 Nov. 2016. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Classroom Management in the Digital Age: Effective Practices for Technology-Rich Learning Spaces (2016)

Classroom Management in the Digital Age: Effective Practices for Technology-Rich Learning Spaces (2016)

by Heather Dowd and Patrick Green (purchase from the EdTechTeam Press)

51wR9jwnfML.jpgSomething I really enjoyed about this book is the emphasis that it’s not about classroom discipline, and acknowledges that student behaviour hasn’t really changed all that much. The nature of classrooms has. The focus is teaching in the 1:1 environment, or in environments where kids are connected. The book is broken down into four general parts: Classroom Procedures, Classroom Rules and Expectations, Teaching Tips & Strategies, and Partnering with Parents - and it tends to lend itself as a reference. The authors do suggest it be placed on the shelf and pulled out from time to time. The table of contents is thoughtfully written in clear topics. I’m not going to repeat all of these, but rather highlight some of what I feel are interesting points from each. My personal thoughts are in italics.

I. Classroom Procedures
Students juggle a variety of procedures. (in my mind, we tend to forget that as adults - our students see several of us in one day, and we all have varying expectations and approaches to teaching)

  • Well defined procedures use time efficiently = more learning time
  • Teach the procedure, practice it, monitor / correct / reinforce, and review when necessary

Calling students to attention is something done with or without devices.

  • Begin when eye contact with everyone has been made
  • Students have their hands off devices, not visible to the student (or as I do, they are closed or faced down)
  • No earbuds
  • Adopt a signal, practice it, use it consistently. I tend to use the same expression, such as “Alright, let’s go for it”, which means “begin the task”. (see p.5 of the book for ideas)

Collecting student work is also a constant, but now there are a variety of methods and formats when doing it online. This makes it tricky at times.

  • Blogs or Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Google Classroom allow submissions to be timestamped, which helps (p.lists several of the more common LMS)
  • Submissions can be electronic through Google Forms or shared spreadsheets, for example, or the more cumbersome email

Communicating the day’s agenda and homework was a nice topic to see, as I do this each day. I post what we are “learning, doing, and homework” - a Visible Learning approach. I don’t post it in classroom but rather project it on the board. I’m thinking I should do both. (homework is posted, but not the activity / lesson objectives, however)

What students do when they walk in the room also sets the tone. (if you have your own room; teachers move in my current school) A well-managed class has students who know what to do and are ready. This could be sitting with books or devices out, or even a regular activity to warm up. This can be done digitally with an accessible slideshow or clear instructions for students to begin working straight away. (freeing up the teacher to take attendance, do housekeeping) See p.12 for an example. The authors suggest a warm up activity as a method for taking attendance. (ie) an online quizzing tool, such as a review of a homework reading. Work not done can also be proof of being absent. (though in my class sometimes students neglect to “submit” a digital worksheet)

Shared devices in a school can be an issue, in terms of teaching students to protect their account login, determining where work is to be saved, and accounts that may also require a login. (as with iPad apps) Chromebooks and iPads are making this easier. I’d suggest that developing a responsible culture is necessary.

Extension activities would be something I think are easily done digitally - there’s so much out there. The extension activity would have to be engaging and relevant. Let’s face it, students have other work they want to be doing if they “finish early” - an unfortunate truth. The authors note activities such as writing, composing, gaming, artwork, and they note giving some options that won’t lead to sloppy work and time wasting. See a list of suggestions on p.17.

Another area the authors touch on are file naming conventions. This can save or waste a lot of your time. They correctly point out that file naming conventions are more and more being generated for the teacher and student through the LMS. (ie) Google Classroom copies of docs for all students. However, sometimes it is the case that there needs to be a file-naming system. This also teaches organizational skills to students.

Although I have by accident, not design, developed paperless classrooms, printing needs have to be addressed, though I feel this depends on the school. I would argue more paper is used with 1:1 environments, but believe it will change as more and more teachers learn to assess in the cloud. Schools need to develop a when, where and how to protocol for printing. And I’ll add, a protocol that strengthens environmental stewardship.

II. Classroom Rules and Expectations
This section begin with a school culture discussion related to acceptable use / digital citizenship policies. These can be the basis for your school and classroom. Some thoughts I appreciate:

  • Only set the rules you intend to enforce
  • Don’t let techno panic set in (ie) don’t freak out and ban devices when a couple of students are off task - we used to pass notes 30 years ago, so deal with it more rationally) I’d suggest setting the rules and enforcing positive work habits in the classroom
  • Battery life management is another issue discussed, so schools must decide whether (1) there is there charging allowed, (2) no school charging, or (3) a device sign out system. My current school has the sign out system, and it is at times a burden on human resources. Shared device classrooms certainly need charging stations.

Caring for one’s device is also a major issue. Some students do, and some don’t. (not to mention teachers. This has to be taught, and part of the school culture. I’ve thought of doing a “Be Nice to Your Device” campaign at my school. See a list of suggestions on p.25, along with the Be Prepared To Learn school habit noted on p.26.

No audio spaces may be necessary when students are doing homework when in quiet areas, or areas in which others may be distracted. (so get them in the habit of carrying earbuds in their schoolbags)

Poster campaigns are a good way to promote the rules and expectations, and if enforced, should lead to good overall habits in the school culture of device care and digital citizenship. (see p.27-30 or download some ideas here from the EdTechTeam)

Digital citizenship is certainly an ongoing topic of discussion and discourse in schools and hopefully at home and the authors make the all-important point that we were doing this before we had devices in classrooms. It has to be integrated across the curriculum. Resources are abundant. (see Common Sense Education for grade appropriate lesson places and resources)

I used to do a kind of Boot Camp at the American School in Japan for Grade 9 students (paired with a learning habits session) in which we discussed digital footprints, security, privacy, and acceptable use policies. These can include handling of devices, care for devices, etc. (see p.32-34) A great suggestion (which we did not do) is to include parents in the process.

My students often say they can multi-task, but we know any time we do more than one thing at once our attention is divided. Distraction is always going to be an issue in managing a classroom - digital tools are simply another distraction. The authors discuss research behind music and that if it is to be played instrumentals are best, and more likely classical music will provide the mood students claim they want to be in. I need to have a clear discussion with my students with regard to distractions and managing distraction as independent learners. This would be a good collaborative, reflective and community activity, one in which they can develop strategies to deal with distraction. (we do discuss this, but only in clips and phrases) The authors describe strategies such as closing apps and tbs, disconnecting from wifi, locking students to an app (this would be in a controlled device environment), and thankfully mention developing engaging lessons. Imagine that!

III. Teaching Tips & Strategies
This is a section that I feel can apply in the connected or “disconnected” class. They include personalized learning approaches and engaging lesosns, but here is a list of strategies / considerations that may be applied to a unit, lesson, or activity.

  • Room arrangement
  • When the teacher should be at the front back or center (as in the middle of the room - I’d love this mobility if we had the space)
  • Pods, pairs and groups along with a limit to the number of devices to be used (I made this mistake today by forgetting to tell groups of four to use only one device, I myself distracted momentarily, and only later noticed there was less discussion and more non-verbal collaboration on a shared document - which was not my intended approach)
  • Seating assignments (see p.43)
  • Page 46 highlights activities for higher-order thinking (webquests), tech for creation (art, film, music), deeper learning of “how things work”, choice, personal connections

Dealing with tech questions is inevitably going to be an issue in schools. Some have tech coaches, IT experts, student tech teams. They point out that teachers need to know their primary role is to help students learn, and point to the tech support or opportunities to develop tech support in schools. (ie) student tech teams, technology coaches, IT support, technology “hubs” in a school. Teacher can scan the room and ask students for help. I am quite surprised how often a teacher will not know how to do something, that has often been taught or put in a tutorial, but will not ask a student in the room and instantly call “tech support”. (I teach as well and often am in class or a meeting) I do sometimes give students a tech challenge and require them to figure it out together. Usually someone in the class figures it out. However, I do make sure I know what to do, so this may not be the best example!

Managing projects is a topic that comes up, suggesting that there be multiple technology roles, especially when working in groups. (this is if technology is needed in the project) Pages 52-55 discuss how to manage tech-dependent projects, including research skills and questioning techniques, which are very important. See p.55 for “Guidelines for Online Sharing”.

Pages 56-60 discuss choosing the appropriate tools, as well as note-taking.

IV. Partnering with Parents
At the moment it’s safe to safe most parents today in 2016 haven’t grown up in a digital classroom environment, nor grew up with social media, and thus have a difficult time understanding the current classroom environment. Unsurprisingly, the Dowd and Green suggest strong communication is a key to a successful partnership. They suggest communication tools such as (and I see this in our elementary school frequently):

  • Newsletters
  • Social media posts
  • Open house days

In terms of communication strategies, discussions on:

  • Why digital devices and why the ones that are being chosen
  • Sharing classroom expectations with parents
  • Sharing access to assessment data (via tools such as Net Classroom, Power School, etc)
  • Share classroom activities with parents explaining how the devices are being used (this has me thinking it would be good to have parents be given the opportunity to do a device-based activity with their children, for fun, on the weekend, but one that is related to the subject being studied)
  • Discuss with parents strategies for working with their children at home: when can the device be used for school, and when used for play, when to charge it, etc

Further resources are near the back. (websites, books, ISTE standards)

Book Review of "Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter"

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (2010)
by Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown (Amazon link)

51hAz9Pw0LL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgMultipliers is the culmination of two years of research by the researcher-authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown. The introductory chapter summarizes their main idea: “multiplier” leaders raise confidence, drive and effort and get much more from people, while “diminisher” leaders create climates of fear, feelings of inadequacy, and get much less from people. They emphasize that leadership crosses many areas of our economy - government, education, business, non-profits - any place we have leadership. “Multipliers” see the potential and capabilities in people. They nurture ideas and debate, and tend to use a “logic of multiplication”, that is to better leverage existing resources and group knowledge. This is in contrast to “diminishers”, who tend to throw more resources at a problem, and micromanage. They point out that their book is not a guide to ‘feel good leadership’, but rather how to identify our own “diminisher” tendencies when we lead, and steps to take to become a multiplier.

*I myself would suggest that a leader has elements of both. The authors do note that these are extremes, but don’t suggest that a leader can have qualities from both leadership styles, which in my experience is usually the case. The authors discuss two cycles. The first is one of the “talent magnet”. They draw in skilled people to their team and utilize their talents to maximum capacity (and beyond) so that they grow > they recognize the achievements of groups and individuals > “market value” increases and along with it comes opportunities for individuals > the organization gains a reputation as a “place to grow” > individuals are supported when they move on, but new talent is attracted by the reputation of the organization. Conversely, a cycle of decline with weak “diminisher” leadership begins with skilled individuals coming along but are boxed in and limited in their ability to contribute and solve problems > they lose confidence and recede > “market value” decreases as individuals (who stay) stay and wait > the organization’s reputation becomes that of a “place to wait and end your career” > the organization attracts lesser and lesser skilled individuals as time goes on in a cycle that spirals downward. “Diminishers” acquire resources, let people “languish”, and put people in boxes. Wiseman and McKeown identify four ways to become a “talent magnet”.

I. Appreciate all types of genius. (not just your own) Identify abilities and strengths; ignore “title” boundaries and allow people to work in different areas if they are suited to them.

II. Identify native genius - question why they are good at something you’ve identified. Ask others; ask the individual.

III. Utilize people at their fullest. Connect people with appropriate opportunities, and follow up by recognizing their achievements.

IV. Remove “blockers” by getting rid of prima donnas, and foster an environment that allows people to test, fail, test, succeed.

(Identify it. Test it. Work it. Get rid of blockers.)

A comparison that I like is the tense vs intense environment. Liberating leaders establish intense environments in which members have the space to contribute, work and make mistakes. The “leader” steps back and listens, speaking not to push their ideas through but to get to the root of problems and advance problem solving. They restrain themselves from talking and forcing through an agenda. They ask deep questions and gain knowledge from the people around them. They create a level playing field so all have a voice and can make a contribution. Although it’s tough to know if someone is giving their absolute best, “multipliers” demand it. The nurturing of intellectual curiosity and the challenge to work at one’s best.

  • Ideas are generated with ease
  • People learn rapidly and adapt
  • People collaborate
  • Complex problems get solved
  • Difficult tasks get accomplished

I liked the anecdotes in Chapter 4 and the focus on helping others find their “mission impossible” - finding the challenges that face them and identifying what they will do to achieve success, and how to implement a plan. The authors extend the discussion on “diminishers” as potentially being “Know-It-Alls”, as opposed to “multipliers” as “Challengers”. To be a ‘challenger’ Wiseman says you need to develop “a serious case of intellectual curiosity” and an overactive imagination. I would agree that creative thinking leads to creative problem solving. She suggests leaders need to stop answer questions and start asking them; see what practices affect or impact people (find a need); and get the entire organization involved in a project. (starting small)

It’s not surprising that the authors note how an effective leader will encourage debate, rather than simply raise issues, dominate discussions, and make the decisions. A deliberate “multiplier” in fact plans for it. They lay out the challenge(s) and only jump into the debate when it begins to spiral out of control, and quickly steps out again. The process facilitates deeper thinking, avoiding solo decisions and understanding that the collective knowledge may be better than an individual’s. The leader knows what they know, and also tap into what others know that they don’t - with enough minds the problem can be figured out. The leader provides resources to succeed. The final decision may by a group or an individual, but the effort to achieve it is recognized. How is this done?

  • Frame the issue - define the question, determine the initial. challenges, find the existing facts, and get an appropriate team with the appropriate skills together.
  • Spark the debate - have an engaging question or challenge, with comprehensive data, and ignite a fact-based debate that leaves people thinking more deeply rather than about winning or losing.
    • This requires creating a safe environment for best thinking, deeper and harder thought
  • Drive a sound decision - keep the process clear throughout, asking questions: Do we need more information? Is it a team or leader decision in the end? How do we resolve issues if it’s a team decision? Has any new information arisen that changes things?

Rationale has to be explained when the decision is made. (I’d add that reflection is necessary, too, and any issues identified)

I’d say that becoming a debate maker takes some degree of self restraint for most of us. The leader only asks the questions, and jumps in only when things are spinning out of control or focus, and quietly slips out of the scene. They do have to be sure evidence is provided - not merely opinions, and find strategies to keep everyone involved in the discussion. They know how to ask the hard questions, get facts over opinions, and get high quality thinking.

Wiseman continues on to discuss multiplier leaders as “investors”, infusing others with the support needed to succeed, and support when there is the inevitable failure. They also require accountability. They:

  • Define ownership - a capable team is put in charge, a “head” is named, and roles are stretched rather than assigned
  • Invest resources - they teach and coach, helping the team know what they need to know, and provide mentorship when necessary
  • Hold people accountable - stepping in periodically expecting thorough work, creating a respect for consequences of actions and decisions, while letting people know where their strengths and weaknesses are

There is no maintenance of ownership by the leader. They don’t micromanage, and don’t take back leadership (particularly when a problem or roadblock arises). To become an “investor:

  • Let the team know in the end the leader is indeed in charge
  • Let things happen naturally, rather than forcing a project in a predetermined direction (I think this is also a suggestion that mistakes are to be learned from)
  • Ask people to fix problems: “What are potential solutions?” “How do you propose we solve this?” “What would you like to do to fix it?”
  • Step back after stepping in

The book’s final chapter discusses a plan for people to become “multipliers” in their leadership approaches. In a nutshell, Liz Wiseman summarizes with the following:
  • Overall, people who see leaders and / or huge workloads as the two main obstacles for being unable to develop and grow
    • Two get over this keep it simple: choose two things to focus on (1) weakest skill and (2) your best skill (take it to the next level)
  • Neutralize the weakness, make a strength stronger
  • Make new assumptions - everyone can contribute, so prepare them to contribute (before called upon in a meeting): the leader becomes the challenger
  • Identify talent within a group to get a project done - allow members to naturally determine what they can do, empowering them with tasks they are suited to
  • Debate as the process of a project evolves
  • Concentrate on building layer on layer of skills in the team
    • Give it time (a year, Wiseman says)
  • Build a community of positive peer inspiration