‘Look Who’s Talking’ December 7, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Teaching Idea.
Tags: achievement, assessment, badges, podcast
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This academic year an idea I had was introduced into our Enrichment programme. It’s an additional slot in our Y12 curriculum which provides an opportunity to explore an optional area of interest beyond the formal curriculum and extend your skills and expertise. At the core of my project, students produce podcasts centred on interviews with other people; their peers, other members of the school community, visitors to school and hopefully people from the wider world. There are two sides to this, the intention being that the students will develop technical skills in the creation of the podcasts and the blog posts through which they’re published, and soft skills surrounding the art of interviewing. As we near the end of the first term, we’ve explored different areas and created several podcasts under the name the group chose – ‘Look Who’s Talking‘ (perhaps I should be blogging our progress?). During a recent session however, I turned the microphone around and asked them a few questions.
I was interested in how we measure and record progress and achievement and how individuals publish that to the outside world. At age 16, is a bunch of categoric grades on a limited scale a good enough reflection of what we’re worth? Here are the slides which acted as prompts during the discussion, and here’s what the students thought:
It was my hope that we’d cover areas in which technology can provide a lead like Open Badges and e-portfolios, two areas in which I have an interest, but although we didn’t get that far, we did cover:
- Critiquing the progress tracking sheet I used to record the activities they’d undertaken.
- Monitoring sheets which provide a snapshot of current performance, but lack depth
- Annual reports which provide deeper comment, although they have flaws and still fail to provide a full picture and constructive criticism
- Audiences beyond school like potential employers, wider family circle, admissions tutors.
- The three elements which make up the information provided: grades (and how the tests that produce them have limitations), effort and progress.
- We need to be able to provide evidence of our experiences and skills.
- Other mechanisms for recognising achievement or capability (in music, sport etc), Which also come with their advantages and disadvantages. Credibility, currency, validity and the capability to discriminate.
I guess where I wanted to go was, would Open Badges be seen as a useful way of credentialing their participation in the Enrichment programme. Would they have value for them in this programme or other areas which have no formal mechanism through which participation and achievements are recorded and published. But in trying to set the scene by talking about the systems we currently have, unfortunately I clearly tried to cover too much ground. So to move us forward, rather than me outlining what these systems might offer, perhaps the team could interview someone else and find out for themselves? Hmmmm….
The Fixed Mindset – Catch 22? November 24, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in CPD, Musings, research.
Tags: mindset, teacher
When Jo Baker asked:
has anyone looked at the Growth or Fixed mindset of teachers? Everything I have found is based on students in the classroom.Please RT thanks
— Jo Baker (@Jobaker9) November 18, 2013
my interest was immediately piqued. Carole Dweck’s work on Mindsets1 and the implications for learners has been around for a while now and seems to be gaining some traction, however most discussions seem to explore the issues (understandably) in the context of our students. But what about us? With what mindset do we come to work in the morning?
After punting through the backwaters of the Interwebs, it’s clear that this is a much less discussed area. If you want to explore what people are posting about how an awareness of mindsets is working with their students or reflecting on how mindset initiatives are influencing their schools, then you’ve more than enough to shake a couple of sticks at. On the other hand, articles, let alone research, on the effects of teachers employing a particular mindset with respect to their own learning, are much more rare. The most common topics explore the detrimental effects a teacher with a fixed mindset can have on the learning of their students
People with a growth mind-set don’t put people in categories and expect them to stay there, but people with a fixed mind-set do. … For the educator with a fixed mind-set, learning is the students’ responsibility. If students don’t have what it takes, so be it. (Carole Dweck)
I’ve heard so many teachers over the years categorise students in this way, but wonder whether they’re stuck in a fixed mindset themselves, or are simply conferring that misfortune on their students? I’d have to disagree with Carole to some extent and say that surely learning is indeed to some degree the students’ responsibility? However it is of course incumbent on us to ensure that we provide conditions within which learning is valued and enjoyable; we need to support, guide, stimulate and encourage that learning. I wonder if that’s not possible if you have a fixed mindset?
Mike Goldstein spotted another area where teacher mindset often becomes manifest; that of performance management and the review process:
… faced with critical feedback, we all sometimes become defensive, and revert to fixed mindset. … Our teacher residency half-jokingly describes these defensive reactions as “The Four Horsemen of Fixed Mindset.” These are “types of reactions” that the skilled teachers (coaches) sometimes get from trainees (on the receiving end of feedback).
It’s tough listening to feedback, especially where that feedback, however well-phrased, is critical … at least it is when you have a fixed mindset. Approaching a review with a growth mindset is a much less intimidating prospect since you will be viewing it as an opportunity to learn about your performance with a view to improving. As ‘The Contextual Curriculum‘ puts it:
People with fixed minds don’t react well to failure and don’t see the point of practice, studying, or attempts at self-improvement.
Here we begin to see a richer seam on which a mindset view can shed some light; that of professional development. Jackie Gerstein outlined some of the typical responses from teachers asked to engage in a process of growth: “not enough time, insufficient resources, need training, have a curriculum to deliver,” and recognised:
But these are external obstacles whereby the educator places blame for resisting change or engaging in a growth mindset outside of one’s own responsibility. The result is a fixed mindset of learned helplessness, “I cannot change because the system won’t let me change.” (Jackie Gerstein)
And Jackie goes on to explore this further as arising from a sense in which teachers feel a loss of agency and autonomy, but that adopting a growth mindset can begin the process of renewal.
Given my role in school, it will come as no surprise to learn that I share Ewan McIntosh’s view:
This fixed mindset mentality is, I believe, probably at its most unashamedly visible in the teaching population in one specific area: understanding technology, both in terms of the clicks (how to) and the smarts (why to).
When we begin to dig a little deeper in people’s attitudes to the use of technology, perhaps their mindset reveals itself. Are those who we would traditionally label as ‘resistant to change,’ simply encumbered with a fixed mindset, whereas those who are continually seeking new approaches doing so from a growth standpoint? Are those who claim to be ‘no good with computers’ stuck in a fixed mindset which prevents them taking responsibility for their own progress? It’s out of their hands; they just don’t have that aptitude. Contrast that with someone with a growth mindset who is constantly ferreting around for new ways to do things, resilient in the face of setbacks and adept at finding solutions to the problems they face. That said, perhaps we who work with teachers don’t always help, especially if there are people with a fixed mindset in the room. I’m grateful to Kelly Etheridge for bringing one of my shortcomings to the surface:
I was the “Pollyanna cheerleader” who often began sessions by saying, “This is going to be super easy, and you are going to get the hang of this in no time!” While I was trying to be encouraging, the fixed mindset teacher heard, “If you don’t get this quickly, you aren’t smart and you’ll never be able to do things like this.” … My words of encouragement were actually disheartening to anyone in the room with a fixed mindset. Thanks to Mindset, I reframed my discussions when I work with teachers. Now, when introducing a new concept, skill, or program, I explain, “The more we practice this skill (concept, program) the better we will get at it. Trying and messing up is part of the process, …
Guilty as charged your honour, but hopefully I can bring a growth mindset to bear, accept that I have some improving to do and ensure that I don’t make that mistake next time. I wonder how often in trying to encourage a student who had come for help with their Physics, I said something along the lines of “Don’t worry, this is easy …?” Hopefully the damage wasn’t too severe; if they had made the decision to come and seek help, their growth mindset might have shielded them from my ignorance (I hope!).
In conclusion and to return to teacher mindsets rather than students, I have a worry about those with fixed mindsets, especially where their personal development is concerned. When confronted by some of the fixed mindset traits outlined in the blog posts and articles referenced here, would a fixed mindset teacher be in a position to recognise any shortcomings and set about rectifying them, or does their fixed mindset constitute a self-fulfilling prophecy?
1Dweck, C.S., 2006. Mindset: the new psychology of success. Random House, New York
Anyone have a Web elf to spare? November 17, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings.
Tags: blogging, commenting, writing
I’m not sure precisely when I responded to Julia’s (Julia Skinner, @TheHeadsOffice) request for volunteers for Team 100WC; I guess it’ll soon be a year? Which means that I’ll have posted in excess of five hundred comments on blog posts made by pupils undertaking the 100 Word Challenge. But in turn, that got me thinking about the comments I’ve added to posts and articles from other educators; how many of them have I made … and where are they?
As a blogger, all my words are right here (or in one of my other blogs) which means that at any time I can refer back to them, either to use the information to illustrate a point I’m currently making, or to reflect on what I wrote a while ago. Is the opinion I held then still valid? Have things moved on since that previous reflection and if so how? But the comments I’ve made on other blogs have all gone … or to be more accurate, I have no idea where they are. Now that seems like an awful shame.
When I feel moved to reply to a blog post, it’s because I’ve been prompted to think; to consider a point someone’s made and respond, either to extend their assertion, or to disagree and offer an alternative view. The evidence of the personal learning and potential readjustment of my beliefs or standpoint, important though they may be, unfortunately become lost in the ether. Now I’m sure it wouldn’t take a great deal of effort for me to bookmark those contributions, but wouldn’t it be so much better if there was an automagic way of doing it? (If Tony and Darrel (The Edtech Crew) are reading, guys this is what I think we need1.) Not so much for trawling the Web for my meagre offerings, but for those of others … in particular our students. Many of the pupils who contribute to 100WC also provide feedback to each other by commenting on posts. Although they’re for the most part early in their development of this particular skill, as they get older and more sophisticated in what they post, how do we/they track and reveal their progression? How do we find their contributions so we can offer feedback and guidance on what they’re writing? How can they add the comments or observations of which they’re particularly proud into their eportfolio? Well they can I suppose, but like me, it would take more effort than we would perhaps prefer.
So what I think we need is an application capable of trawling the Web for posts made from a particular profile and aggregating those contributions into a readable form. Or maybe you know of one already?
1When the guys have a guest on their podcast, one of the regular questions they close with is to ask “what tool or application that’s not currently available would you like to have built and why?”
Let’s Git Goin’ November 1, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, Resources, Teaching Idea.
Tags: github, lesson planning, planning, writing
I’ve known about GitHub for some while, but little more than it was a place ‘coders’ seemed to use to conduct the black arts. Then whilst at the 2013 eAssessment Conference in Dundee, I attended a session on interactive fiction as mechanism for assessment. Intrigued, I investigated further and unearthed a bunch of tools to support the writing of interactive fiction. During these explorations however, I also came across a number of blog posts by writers who saw potential in using GitHub for the writing process, especially where that writing might be collaborative in nature. Just try a search for ‘writing using github’ and see what interest there is. One post by Loren extolling the virtues of GitHub, but bemoaning how off-putting it is for non-techies, described a tool she was designing to make the whole process easier – Penflip, a collaborative writing platform. At that point (having wrestled with writing using Choicescript connected with GitHub) I began to sit up and take notice, because we were now into the realm of something manageable by most people. But, to return to the opening line, why the interest in GitHub?
GitHub: The Basics
Together this TechCrunch article and Loren’s post provide a useful summary and overview, but the principle of GitHub hangs on four basic principles:
- A repository where projects are held. A coder/writer works on their project, saving the various iterations as they go, allowing them at any point to return to a previous version should they have pursued a dead end.
- Forking or branching which allows another person to break off from the main project and develop a separate branch, building on what has gone before. When satisfied that their new branch has something to offer, they can submit a
- Pull request. Now the originator of the project can consider this new branch and if s/he feels it adds to the project, they can approve the request which
- Merges that into the master, thereby improving or extending the original.
Clearly this is incredibly powerful for writing complex computer applications, drawing on the principle of many hands making light work, but also guarding against too many cooks spoiling the broth. The forking allows different people to work on different aspects, or different ways of addressing the same aspect, yet their alterations/additions needn’t contaminate the original until approved and merged. If on the other hand, their fork leads into a completely new area, but away from the original, the open nature of the platform and the principles which underpin it allow them to pursue that new avenue.
GitHub For Teachers
Marc wrote at length about how to use GitHub, particularly within the context of developing resources as a member of a team within school, though with a background in computing, he’s not perhaps the average teacher. As Loren also recognised, the technical jargon which surrounds GitHub presents a considerable barrier to non-techies, which is why she was prompted to develop Penflip. Perhaps then this might offer an easier entry point to teams wishing to collaborate to build resources together. But why stop at individual resources? There are other tools which have recently surfaced like Activate, OpenCurriculum and others which allow teachers to build upon the work peers have already undertaken, enabling resources to be gathered, marshaled, re-purposed, distributed and deployed to students. However these don’t specifically address the development and writing of the schemes of work which provide the structures within which those resources need to be organised.
The next level
You don’t have to have been in school long to hear the phrase “I’d really like to do that, but I just don’t have the time.” Now whilst there’s a whole other discussion to be had around that, perhaps one of the contributory factors is that we rarely work ‘smart.’ The new National Curriculum is almost upon us here in the UK, so once more we rewrite our schemes of work. We do that in response to changes in the curricula that exam boards provide or to address new initiatives that our schools are exploring, but most of all we do it to make the learning we lead our students through more enriching, more effective and more enjoyable. But it’s incredibly time consuming! Time consuming for an individual yes, but collectively across the profession ….!
The question has to be asked why we don’t work in a more unified or concerted way to undertake that development work? I posed a similar question when thinking about the text books which we use to support our students’ studies. Why then shouldn’t we crowd-source curriculum development? And why shouldn’t a GitHub-like tool enable that to happen? I’m not the first to ask the question; Peps McCrea already has, and has even gone a stage further in building OpenPlan, a more friendly and appropriate tool specifically for curriculum planning and to build on the gains that will unquestionably come from teachers planning together, rather than in isolation.
It’s not just about the time-saving and increase in efficiency, but also about the improvements in quality as more minds and experience can be bent to the task. The principle of forking allows you branch off from the main stem and develop the core project to suit your circumstances and students more closely. You’ve saved time in that the foundations were already laid; you just had to tweak things, but in doing that you might also have saved time for someone else down the line with similar needs. Win-win. You might instead have an interest in contributing to the main stem, feel you have ideas to offer, and subsequently offer a pull request for your fork to contribute to the main flow. You made a difference and contributed to your peers’ community and we all know how fulfilling that can be.
I hope OpenPlan gets to fruition and enjoys a wide usership. I’m sure there are technical hurdles yet to overcome, but suspect they will be as nothing in comparison with encouraging people to adopt an entirely new, GitHub-style workflow. It makes perfect sense to me, but as I’m often reminded, I’m not ‘normal.’
Composing or Coding … same and different? October 22, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in CPD, Musings.
Tags: coding, computing
I suspect like many schools across the country, we’ve been discussing how best to address and accommodate the changes in ICT in the National Curriculum. More specifically, given the shift of emphasis to Computing, how we might implement the computer science aspects of computation, programming and coding. In many schools this may prove a real challenge, not least for the teachers charged with that implementation. It was clear from the outset that there is
a critical shortage of teachers with the right subject matter expertise.1
ICT teachers often came into the subject from a variety of other disciplines to fill a need in their school and because of the skills, knowledge and expertise they had personally developed. It is less common I suspect, to find ICT teachers like this one who come with a computing background.
So either we wait until there are enough people coming out of university with the skills needed to deliver the new aspects of the curriculum, or we expect a good proportion of our workforce to retrain. But is that fair I wonder? How easy will it be for someone with facility in the use of ICT to reskill and become adept with computer science and programming? I’m not at all sure; how would I cope for example. Bear with me a while so I can prepare the ground …
Running through my mind recently has been the notion that music and computer code have quite a lot in common. They both have specific characters and notation which, to the untutored eye, have little meaning. Stringing them together creates a music score on the one hand and a computer program on the other. Yet you can’t just throw one character after the other in a haphazard fashion and expect to generate anything meaningful. No, it takes a skilled, experienced, talented individual to bring forth order, structure and beauty from those basic building blocks; a composer for one and coder for the other. Code snippets are combined and arranged in sequences and inter-connected with loops; notes are arranged on a stave, grouped in bars, guided by time signatures and also have repeat instructions. The different programming languages have different underlying principles, as do different musical genres. Musical instruments for which music is composed are like the different platforms for which programs are written. A computer user running an application resembles someone listening to a piece of music.
I’m sure there are further and better comparisons, but to return from our metaphorical sojourn then, it’s hardly surprising that
“A large number of ICT teachers feel exceptionally vulnerable after the rapid speed of change that has affected their subject…2”
So before we ask a ‘vulnerable’ ICT teacher to consider teaching programming, perhaps we ought to ask whether we would expect the same person to learn to teach musical composition … on little more than a scant few twilight professional development sessions? Is that feasible … or fair?