Time to turn the page? February 22, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, Reading.
Tags: digital textbook, ebooks, textbooks
Just had my interest piqued by a post from Dai Barnes (Digital Textbooks – Yes or No?) and having initiated a reply, once I reached 500 words, thought it only polite to retreat to this blog. I have to confess to several similar conversations with students as the one Dai had with his daughter; even the most tech-savvy. In some ways I am perplexed – why on Earth *wouldn’t* someone want to swap lugging several kilos of paper around for a few hundred grams of tablet?!
There are (at least) two things to consider I’d suggest:
1. Workflow. What textbook publishers have done is replicate a paper book, add some extra features that paper books don’t have (interactive content, rich media, links etc) and add the things they think a reader would need (notes, bookmarks, highlighting etc). What it appears they failed to do was observe the workflow of the average teen … or any textbook user for that matter. How do they use a paper textbook? A ‘Go to page’ feature for example will never work the same as riffling through pages and perhaps happening on something useful. Being able to add bookmarks or highlights which you can index, filter and search just isn’t the same as adding Post-Its which stick out so you can quickly return to significant sections. It’s not that these features are worse than their original counterparts; quite the contrary. It’s that they’re different and require a rather different workflow, which brings me to…
2. Expectations. The way we use a book is set at an early age when we begin to teach our youngest how to read, at home and in school. Most current teens began their reading in paper books. The skills they were taught as they moved through school were all paper book oriented: browsing, using an index or table of contents, not allowing them to make notes in the books (for the most part). When they meet digital books for the first time, they become frustrated because they simply don’t work in the same way they’ve come to learn and expect. They can’t deal with them and don’t have the time or see the need to relearn. It’s not just teens; I see the same behaviours in adults. Many love having an ebook reader for fiction or extended reading, but would be horrified at having to use one as a textbook. I remember when I started studying seriously again a few years ago and it became necessary to read vast numbers of academic papers, my first response was to print out the pdfs for later reading and annotation. It was all I knew. It didn’t take too long however before I forced myself to learn to read and work on screen, even in pre-tablet days because in the end it was so much more efficient.
Now what if our youngest were introduced to reading using digital books? What if they weren’t exposed to paper books? What if, as they became older, they were taught the skills to manage their reading digitally and to exploit the features that digital books provide. What would their reaction be when if, as a teen, they were presented with a paper textbook? We’ve all seen surely the videos of cute toddlers trying to pinch-zoom a magazine?
On the other hand what if publishers or authors revisited what a learner needs from a textbook, then threw the notion of a book out of the window and started from scratch. What would the product look like? Perhaps authors brought up in the traditional world struggle to envision anything other than the traditional page-turning format. I’m not sure what the next-generation textbook should look like, but I do know that whatever it is will probably be designed/assembled/crowd-sourced by a young person.
James Clay and Zak Mensah had quite a thorough discussion around some these issues in one of James’ e-Learning Stuff podcasts, as indeed did Fraser Speirs and Bradley Chambers in Episode 5 of Out of School.
The Art of Explanation … or is there some Science in there? January 1, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Inspiration, Reading, Teaching Idea.
Tags: book, commoncraft, teaching
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As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently acquired the book “The Art of Explanation” by Lee LeFever. Impressed by the clarity and economy of explanation in CommonCraft videos, I wondered what lessons there might be for those of us who work in the classroom. I guess the first step is to isolate that part of our teaching and learning environments to which ‘The Art …’ applies and here the early chapters provide a signpost. Specifically the book is about explanations, so defining the term makes sense and for Lee explanation is about making facts more understandable; about ‘lowering the cost of figuring out an idea and inviting people to become customers of it in the future.’ Explanations help people beyond the ‘how’ questions through to the ‘why’ to the point where they are sufficiently confident and care enough to want to find out more for themselves. With teachers I’m sure that will have a certain resonance.
And some fell on stony ground
We’ve all at some time or another looked out over a sea of blank stares, a time when our attempt at explanation was … less than optimal! Lee provides some pointers here and argues that it all begins with confidence; when someone loses confidence that they can grasp the idea that you’re communicating, you’ve lost them. One problem which might lead to this is making assumptions about that level of confidence when working with a group. One-on-one, it’s easier to spot the tell-tale signs when you’re losing someone; with thirty (or more), that’s much tougher and can lead to false assumptions. One cause is the curse of knowledge, that we as ‘experts’ in our fields sometimes suffer from, where we misplace our ability to see the world from another person’s perspective. Again as experts, we’re sometimes guilty of using terminology to which our audience (or some within it) may not be party and as a consequence they lose confidence. One more factor of crucial importance in helping someone to understanding is in setting a context with which they can relate; if an explanation is provided in splendid isolation, people are far less likely to care.
Put a bow on it
To make your ideas easier for other people to understand, they need to be packaged in such a way that they address the audience’s needs. There are six important elements:
- Agreement – build confidence from the outset by using big-picture statements which will have resonance for all.
- Context – takes the points on which we can agree, to a new place; one which also lets the audience know why it should matter to them.
- Story – a narrative woven around a character which experiences the aforementioned journey and resulting benefits.
- Connections – analogies and metaphors used to support the story by connecting new ideas with something people already understand. The spices added to accentuate the flavour of a dish!
- Descriptions – provide concrete examples of the desirable outcomes for the character and how they have been achieved
- Conclusion – summarises what has been learned and provides a ‘call to action’ for the audience to put that into practice.
But at the moment, much of that is abstract. In order to better understand the degree to which ‘The Art…’ can inform our teaching, I perhaps need to consider a more concrete example. Can I apply these observations to a teaching/learning situation? And that’s for the next post …
Tags: classroom management, classroom tips, lessons, teacher
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A number of years ago (unfortunately where n>30) as I was awaiting the start of my PGCE, I opted to read one of the pre-course texts. It left a lasting impression on me and despite being a slim volume, became my touchstone as I worked through teacher training and the first few years as a newly qualified teacher. Michael Marland’s “The Craft of the Classroom” provides advice on strategies, techniques and resources for managing a classroom. In some ways dated (e.g. use of the overhead projector), even in the 1993 reprint, the advice nevertheless remains in many ways timeless. The book isn’t about learning theories and pedagogy, progression and performance, assessment and reporting; it’s about how to manage delicate balance of interactions between the teacher, students, resources and the classroom environment itself.
I revisited the book recently following a tweet asking for educational books which made an impact on us. Unable to track down my original, for a few pence on Amazon I picked up a used copy and pulled out forty points, each of which is expanded in greater detail in the book – you could do worse than to pick up a copy for the teachers’ reading shelf in school … which is where mine will now reside.
- Be yourself
- Learn your students’ names … quickly!
- Use ‘duty’ time positively and proactively.
- Aim to develop relationships with your students over the course of weeks, not minutes
- Get involved in extra-curricular activities
- Be consistent in all you do.
- Praise publicly (when appropriate), privately (when appropriate) and via significant others (form tutor, pastoral leader, parents)
- Avoid confrontations
- Use humour when opportunities arise naturally.
- Ensure your classroom (or the one you have just used) is left clean and tidy.
- Report (and follow up) maintenance issues early.
- Use display areas imaginatively and keep them fresh.
- Think carefully about the position of the teachers desk to maximse your ability to orchestrate the classroom.
- Consider how students’ desks should be arranged (but be aware that others may use the room after you)
- Where students sit should be decided by you … though different groups may require different approaches
- Make a seating plan … and use it proactively.
Records & registers
Your markbook (which might be digital) should record:
- The students for whom you are responsible
- Their attendance and punctuality
- The work they undertook
- Comments/notes about your students
and will help you in many ways including:
- keeping track of student progress
- writing interim and summative reports
- communicating with parents
Conventions and routines
- Whenever possible, be in the room first and receive the class proactively
- Use your greeting to set the tone of the lesson
- Consider carefully how you will accommodate late arrivals
- Have a starter activity that students can undertake to start the lesson meaningfully, whilst initial business is completed (register etc)
- Develop an ‘oversight’ through which you maintain a general awareness of everything taking place, especially when you are notionally involved in a 1-2-1.
- Plan the last five minutes of the lesson meticulously to ensure a businesslike and timely close.
- Develop an efficient system for collecting in and handing out work. Use other students where possible. (Seating plans can be very useful here)
- Be systematic in the issuing and collecting of resources.
- Follow school procedures for allowing students out of the room during lesson time
- If the noise level becomes inappropriate for the task, address it through individual students rather than general exhortations to the class.
- As you circulate around the room talking with students/groups, be aware of your position and field of view.
- Where group work is called for consider carefully the composition of the groups – different curriculum aims and different students will require different arrangements.
The teacher’s performance
- Consider your appearance and image you portray.
- If you need to speak to the whole class, ensure everyone listens and hears. If the everyone doesn’t need to hear, don’t say it.
- Position yourself in the room wisely.
- Don’t speak until you have everyone’s complete attention.
- The old adage ‘Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them’ still has much merit.
- When delivering instructions, be clear and firm, but pleasant, ensuring the instructions are slanted positively i.e. ‘Do’ rather than ‘Don’t.’
- Using a board (white, black or interactive) requires forethought – why, what, when and how and where you are in relation to it.
There are also sections on Questioning techniques and lesson planning, neither of which I could adequately do justice to in a short phrase … another reason to acquire your own copy perhaps?
Though Michael left us in 2008, he also left behind a ‘bible’ or as he describes it, a ‘Survival Guide.’
No, I’ve not had a good Xmas … and it’s John McLear’s fault! December 29, 2011Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, Reading, research.
Tags: alfie kohn, book, ict quests, Punished by rewards, rewards
It’s John McLear’s fault for unsettling me over the Christmas break. It was he who suggested I ought to read Alfie Kohn’s book “Punished by Rewards” as he felt it might inform the work I was doing towards ICT Quests. The subtitle gives you a clue as to the basic premise of Kohn’s thesis – “The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes.” In essence that much of what we do to reward, incentivise, celebrate and acknowledge the achievements of our students, actually has a detrimental effect in terms of student learning and their commitment to good values. A rewards-based system promotes extrinsic motivation or ‘Do this and you’ll get that’, the result being that much of what students do is geared towards and directed by those rewards. The question then arises’ what happens when those rewards are no longer available for whatever reason? Maybe they move into a higher year group where gold stickers are no longer appropriate, maybe they have a new teacher from whom praise is less forthcoming or they leave formal education and no longer have grade’s to strive for. Furthermore, that providing rewards has been shown to stifle creativity and problem solving capacity and discourage risk-taking.
The key is doing all we can to nurture intrinsic motivation where students have a genuine interest in their endeavours, relish challenges and display greater innovativeness. We want students to want to learn, rather than wanting to be rewarded for their learning. A student choosing to produce a piece of artwork and work at it out of class of his own volition or solving a maths problem she read in a newspaper because it’s challenged her thinking, is far more important than a student aiming to get an ‘A’ for a piece of coursework … or avoid getting an ‘F.’ When the grade becomes the significant element, then shortcuts are taken to achieve that grade, paths of least resistance (and lower challenge) become preferable and interesting diversions will be ignored – “Will this be on the test miss?” To get students engrossed in their learning, it is far more effective to encourage them to think about what they are doing, rather than how wellthey are doing compared with everyone else.
Oh dear! Not only have several of the behaviours I exhibited as a teacher been shown to be rather less than beneficial, but the ICT Quests model I’m working on might be fatally flawed, linked as it is to a badge-based ‘rewards’ system (Thanks for pointing that out John!). So have I dropped a clanger by devising a system in which completing each step in a sequence of tasks results in the ‘reward’ of a badge. Well, maybe; I’d certainly be interested to hear what Alfie thinks! But I’m going to say no for four reasons:
- Students will be undertaking the ICT Quests as a result of their own interest or desire, not through any element of compulsion. They will be in control; they will make the choice to opt in.
- They will also have choice of the level to which they wish to progress and to some degree, choice in what they produce for the output from the tasks.
- The intention is that the badges needn’t be perceived as rewards. They are more correctly seen as markers; indicators to other people of the range of skills possessed by the student displaying those badges – a ‘can-do profile’ if you will.
- Badges won’t be awarded with a ‘well done’ pat on the back. They are merely indicators showing that a set of criteria have been met.
Well they’re the intentions at any rate, though there will clearly need to be some work done as the project is rolled out to achieve a common understanding with participants … given the rewards and achievement based culture within which we come together. (And I’m now going to be looking in far more detail at the positive AND negative effects of leaderboards before I include them)
I think Mark Twain pretty much had it nailed when he had Tom whitewashing the fence.
[If you want a brief overview, here's a PDF of an interview in which Alfie Kohn discusses the underlying themes in 'Punished...']