Facilitating a Digital Publishing Program in my new Education Commons Role

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Last year started out as an exciting year, where I had the opportunity to launch a Student Publishing Program in our Library.

Inspired by the SAMR and Technology Integration Matrix, and the TPACK models, I decided to design a Digital Publishing Program.

As I continue with this initiative in this new school year, I hope to inspire and motivate students to Publish the wonderful work that they are already doing in their classrooms. It will provide many new opportunities for, but not limited to, collaboration, differentiation, sharing, creating, and consolidation of learning. Work stations will be set up with iPads, netbooks, laptops, and other devices that students may have.

This program will also be linked with the Forest of Reading initiative through the OLA.  I will also be presenting this model at the BIT 2014 Conference in Niagara Falls in November. Don’t lose the forest for the trees!

This program will meet criteria from:

  • Board Improvement Plans
  • School Improvement Plans
  • School Effectiveness Frameworks
  • Essential Practices
  • Digital Citizenship & BYOD policies and Procedures
  • Curriculum Expectations
  • Community, Culture & Caring
  • FNMI knowledge and FNMI-friendly strategies can be infused

Students can come down to Publish their work!

This certainly is not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the suggestions of what students will be able to do:

    • Publish short Stories on iBooks
    • Blog your reflections instead of journal writing OR re-blog your journal writing
    • Create a ‘Fakebook’ page for a character in a book you are reading
    • Publish poetry into an eBook
    • Classroom Newsletters & website updating
    • When a class finishes for example, art work, send a student down with all of the pieces, and we can take pictures of them all and put them into a dynamic presentation
    • Explain Everything’ where students can explain what they are doing in math to teach another group of kids, or show to their parents.
    • Publish work anonymously to your website/blog
    • Take pictures of your work in class at various stages, then come back later with those pictures to put them into a slideshow presentation that demonstrates a continuum of learning
    • Record your findings of an experiment
    • Create oral or written ‘Book Reviews’ to share with others
    • Drama Presentations turned into iMovies and even use of Greenscreen
    • Create infographics, or other visual representations of data from your findings in math
    • Record music you have made
    • Discover new ways to demonstrate your knowledge from your readings to replace traditional  Book Reports

The benefits of Student Publishing can include:

  • Safe ways to publish student work
  • Motivation for students to get their work done knowing that they can work on it using technology
  • Feelings of Pride and accomplishment for seeing a Published piece of work
  • Something to share with parents
  • Opportunities for students to teach other students
  • Knowledge consolidation
  • Creativity and Imagination
  • Differentiation
  • Collaboration and support from other people in the school
  • Gives student work new purposes
  • Ideas can be shared and transferred into different classrooms with students teaching other students about new tools they learn about
  • Inspiring others to do new things with their work
  • Inspiring new types of learning
  • Feedback that Teachers can use for summative assessment and evaluation:
  • Assessment OF learning
  • Reinforces the learning process
  • Ability to share work ‘anonymously’ with other classrooms and students. Peer feedback from others.
  • Meeting different needs of students to provide motivation or enrichment to some, but not mandatory for those students who may be overwhelmed or be experiencing processing difficulties with the myriad of visuals and text, for example.

Please feel free to share some of your ideas based on what you have done or would love to do in your own classroom or Library! 

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

5 Ways to Foster Welcoming Environments for your Students

With so many Educators embarking on a new beginnings this time of year, it is a great time to reflect upon how we can create Welcoming Environments for our students and parents.

Creating classrooms and schools that are Welcoming for both students and parents, is absolutely essential to improving Student Learning and Engagement.

If we look at a Schools Paradigm only, schooling is about bells, standardized tests, inflexible schedules, and teacher/curriculum driven. This set up can be very unwelcoming to many students and their families. However, If we look at an Education Paradigm, school is holistic, and based upon the individual needs of our students, learning is flexible, and related to contexts that are meaningful for the students. A daunting task at best when Teachers are faced with large numbers of students in their classrooms. However, Teachers can help acknowledge students by representing their cultural diversity. This can be done by embedding cultural symbols, and practices into our buildings, classrooms, and creating online environments that serve to help make students and parents feel welcome and important.

However, it is a challenge to continually create Welcoming Environments in our schools. Especially since we are living in this 21st Century of growing Technology, that more and more people are using on a daily basis.

With increasing demands surrounding school report cards, test scores being linked to school funding, and demands for increased accountability for educators and students, Educators, parents, and students can feel overwhelmed, and forget that creating a Welcoming Environments can be the most powerful tool in our quest to improve student learning.

The following 5 Categories are important when considering how to create a Welcoming Environment within your classroom and school:

  • Ongoing, and Open communication
  • Physical Environment
  • Practices and Policies
  • Personal Interaction
  • Written Materials and Communications

 

1. Ongoing, and Open communication with Parents is crucial.

Parents and families of different cultures and special needs, warrant extra communication to foster a feeling of being Welcome in our schools and Classrooms. Whether parents are requesting this communication, or whether extra communication is warranted to further engage students and support their learning, Communication is perhaps the number 1 role of an educator. Though more personalized communication is best done in person, there are aspects of communication that can be met via 21st Century Technologies. For instance, email, blogs, webpages, wikis etc., are all useful tools to support the Communication that already exists, and can provide tools, links, and symbols to integrate and share valuable information.  But this should never replace place of person-to-person communication and real-life, real-time interactions that are absolutely necessary to engaging our students.

Parents, staff, community, and students will only become invested in their schools if they feel invited and welcome, and believe that the teacher is willing to reach out to communicate the families, and integrate culture into the process.

Welcoming environments can be created and improved upon by attending to the Physical Environment, School Practices and Policies, Personal Interaction, and Written Materials and Communications. Here are just a few ideas that can be used:

2. Physical Environment:

  • Embed Culturally significant symbols, ie., Medicine Wheel, 7 Grandfather Teachings, Dream Catchers, into hallways, classrooms, offices, libraries, websites & blogs, social media ie., School Twitter account.

3. Practices and Policies:

  • Promote strong sense of Community, Culture & Caring Policies. Co-create them and post them on school websites.
  • Continually refer to these co-created rules on blogs and other forms of social media.
  • Restorative Practices explained on social media and web-based platforms.
  • Character Education Models
  • 21st Century Technologies and Digital Citizenship Policies
  • Involving Parents in decision making perhaps through Google-Docs surveys or other assessment tools
  • Online Parent Groups

4. Personal Interaction:

  •  Calling parents, setting up regular meetings, and engaging in open communication with families, whether explicitly requested, or due to the necessity to engage all learners, cultures and special needs.
  • Catching parents after school to touch base. It doesn’t take much to make families of all Cultures and Special needs feel welcome and included.
  • Leaders in the school working on teambuilding with technologies to bring staff together & recognize accomplishments;
  • Co-create and share visions at Staff meetings by brainstorming key ingredients of a Welcoming Environment, include the ideas on a website or blog.
  • Do the same with Parent Groups;
  • Staff as friendly and inviting to students, staff, and parents, and then inviting them into this digital school community as well.
  • Call Parents!  Set up regular meetings, and engaging in open communication with families, whether explicitly requested, or due to the necessity to engage all learners, cultures and special needs.
  • Make it a general rule to talk positively at school about students, families, cultures, and special needs. There is nothing that will make a family feel more Unwelcome, and Disrespected, then to know that they and the students are being spoken of in negative ways. The world is a very small place. What is said usually does get back around, so make it positive and helpful!
  • Put yourself in the position of a Learner, and not always an ‘Expert’.  To help families and their children feel welcome, realise that they are in fact equal partners, and equal experts in the process of educating their children. Be open to learning new things with each new classroom and each new student that comes into your care!
  • Personally Research the Cultures and Special Needs that you are working with. One cannot assume that the learning that occurred in a University Degree will be applicable to the current situation. Teachers are wonderful and welcoming, because they are equals with the parents and community. They appreciate the diversity of all students, and are real champions of those who have historically experienced more prejudice, racism, bias, and un-preferential treatment.

5. Written Materials and Communications:

  • Regular Classroom & School Newsletters, Phone calls, meetings, in whatever format the parents and community wants or needs. Not all people have internet access! Not all parents check their email!
  • Classroom & School Websites
  • Recognize parent & community volunteers
  • Write articles about staff members, volunteers & students
  • Parent Handbooks
  • Twitter Feeds
  • School Facebook Page
  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • Ministry Learning Management Systems
  • Telephone answering machine messages
  • And always remembering to limit educational jargon, and write communications at a 6th to 8th grade reading level
  • Good Old Fashioned person-to-person communication with the families in need!

 

All parents and families need to feel welcome, and understood in order to increase engagement and Learning. Welcoming environments can be created by attending to the needs of different cultures and special needs, and keeping the lines of communication open. It is when these lines of communication and strategies to welcome all types of learners break down , that students and families lose trust and faith in the school system, and disengage from the education process.  We need to strive to create Welcoming Environments, and create school systems where families feel safe to learn and grow.

How do you create Welcoming Environments in your Classroom and School?

 

Deborah McCallum

 

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Resource:

Seeing your school as others see it.: Welcoming Environments.http://www.education.ky.gov/users/OTL/Beginning_of_School_Year/Seeing%20Your%20School%20As%20Others%20See%20It.pdf

5 Considerations for Welcoming Environments in our Schools

77665-Royalty-Free-RF-Clipart-Illustration-Of-A-Circle-Of-Diverse-Happy-Cartoon-Children-Holding-Hands-And-Looking-Up

Fostering welcoming environments in education is essential for improving learning and engagement. Schools can help acknowledge students by representing their cultural diversity. This can be done by embedding cultural symbols, and practices into our buildings, classrooms, and online environments that serve to help make students and parents feel welcome and important.

However, it is a challenge to continually create Welcoming Environments in our schools.

Educators are faced with increasing demands surrounding school report cards, test scores being linked to school funding, and demands for increased accountability for educators and students. Educators, parents, and students often feel overwhelmed, and forget that creating a welcoming environments can be the most powerful tool in our quest to improve student learning.

The following 5 categories are important when considering how to create welcoming environments within your education contexts:

  • Ongoing, and Open communication
  • Physical Environment
  • Practices and Policies
  • Personal Interaction
  • Written Materials and Communications

 

1. Ongoing, and open communication with parents is crucial.

Parents and families of different cultures and special needs, warrant extra communication to foster a feeling of being welcome in our schools and Classrooms. Whether parents are requesting this communication, or whether extra communication is warranted to further engage students and support their learning. Communication is perhaps the number 1 role of an educator. Though more personalized communication is best done in person, there are aspects of communication that can be met via 21st century technologies. For instance, email, blogs, webpages, wikis etc., are all useful tools to support the communication that already exists, and can provide tools, links, and symbols to integrate and share valuable information.  But this should never replace place of person-to-person communication and real-life, real-time interactions that are absolutely necessary to engaging our students.

Parents, staff, community, and students will only become invested in their schools if they feel invited and welcome, and believe that the teacher is willing to reach out to communicate the families, and integrate culture into the process.

Welcoming environments can be created and improved upon by attending to the P© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.hysical Environment, School Practices and Policies, Personal Interaction, and Written Materials and Communications. Here are just a few ideas that can be used:

2. Physical Environment:

  • Embed Culturally significant symbols, ie., Medicine Wheel, 7 Grandfather Teachings, Dream Catchers, into hallways, classrooms, offices, libraries, websites & blogs, social media ie., School Twitter account.

3. Practices and Policies:

  • Promote strong sense of Community, Culture & Caring Policies. Co-create them and post them on school websites.
  • Continually refer to these co-created rules on blogs and other forms of social media.
  • Restorative Practices explained on social media and web-based platforms.
  • Character education models
  • 21st Century Technologies and digital citizenship policies
  • Involving Parents in decision making perhaps through Google-Docs surveys or other assessment tools
  • Online Parent Groups

4. Personal Interaction:

Calling parents, setting up regular meetings, and engaging in open communication with families, whether explicitly requested, or due to the necessity to engage all learners, cultures and special needs.

  • Catching parents after school to touch base. It doesn’t take much to make families of all cultures and special needs feel welcome and included.
  • Leaders in the school working on teambuilding with technologies to bring staff together & recognize accomplishments;
  • Co-create and share visions at Staff meetings by brainstorming key ingredients of a Welcoming Environment, include the ideas on a website or blog.
  • Do the same with parent groups;
  • Staff as friendly and inviting to students, staff, and parents, and then inviting them into this digital school community as well.
  • Call parents!  Set up regular meetings, and engaging in open communication with families, whether explicitly requested, or due to the necessity to engage all learners, cultures and special needs.
  • Make it a general rule to talk positively at school about students, families, cultures, and special needs. There is nothing that will make a family feel more unwelcome, and disrespected, then to know that they and the students are being spoken of in negative ways. The world is a very small place. What is said usually does get back around, so make it positive and helpful!
  • Put yourself in the position of a learner, and not an ‘Expert’.  To help families and their children feel welcome, realise that they are in fact equal partners, and equal experts in the process of educating their children. Be open to learning new things with each new classroom and each new student that comes into your care!
  • Personally research the cultures and special needs that you are working with. One cannot assume that the learning that occurred in a University Degree will be applicable to the current situation. Teachers are wonderful and welcoming, because they are equals with the parents and community. They appreciate the diversity of all students, and are real champions of those who have historically experienced more prejudice, racism, bias, and un-preferential treatment.

5. Written Materials and Communications:

  • Regular Classroom & School Newsletters, Phone calls, meetings, in whatever format the parents and community wants or needs. Not all people have internet access! Not all parents check their email!
  • Classroom & School Websites
  • Recognize parent & community volunteers
  • Write articles about staff members, volunteers & students
  • Parent Handbooks
  • Twitter Feeds
  • School Facebook Page
  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • Ministry Learning Management Systems
  • Telephone answering machine messages
  • And always remembering to limit educational jargon, and write communications at a 6thto 8th grade reading level
  • Good Old Fashioned person-to-person communication with the families in need!

 

All parents and families need to feel welcome, and understood in order to increase engagement and Learning. Welcoming environments can be created by attending to the needs of different cultures and special needs, and keeping the lines of communication open. It is when these lines of communication and strategies to welcome all types of learners break down , that students and families lose trust and faith in the school system, and disengage from the education process.  For populations including First Nations, Metis & Inuit, the experiences of the Residential school system, and residual effects of this system still exist with our FNMI students today. The last Residential School shut down in the 1990’s.  We need to strive to create welcoming environments, and create school systems where families feel safe to learn and grow.

 

Deborah

Resource:

Seeing your school as others see it.: Welcoming Environments.http://www.education.ky.gov/users/OTL/Beginning_of_School_Year/Seeing%20Your%20School%20As%20Others%20See%20It.pdf

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

8 Considerations when Creating a 21st Century Learning Commons

Best-Books

There are important elements that need to be considered when trying to create a 21st Century Library Space. Libraries of the 21st Century truly need to be spaces that promote both physical and virtual senses of Safety, Inclusiveness, and Equity. Regardless of your situation, Safety, Inclusiveness, and Equity need to be at the forefront of your planning.

We all know that each school library is different depending upon its its own challenges and strengths. Variables that will inevitably impact your Library space can include: planning time, budget, furniture, in-library and extra-curricular activities, administrative support, collection, tech knowledge, and parent council, to name a few. Therefore, it takes a lot of critical thought to be able to effectively implement an effective 21st Century Library Space within your school.

8 Important Considerations when creating a 21st Century Learning Commons

  1. You want your Library space to be as flexible as possible! Create a flexible and responsive space in order to meet the changing needs of your school both now, and in the future. Therefore you may want to further consider furniture that is easily moveable, to enable flexible instructional spaces throughout the day, and the years to come. For instance, easily moveable tables that can easily be maneuvered easily throughout the day, whether for small group work, conferencing, or even placing them into a larger  ‘conference’ type table with a Smart Board at the end, or a big screen tv.
  2. Consider having 2 Smart Boards, One set ceiling mounted, and one moveable throughout the day. Enabling different groups to work at different times. This also promotes Assessment For Learning opportunities with our students.
  3. Make sure you have electrical outlets everywhere! Consider having up to 8 sockets in various places around your library! You never know when or where you may need to plug in a cluster of iPads for student research involving social networking!
  4. Consider iPads or tablets, and/or eReaders for your library. Consider purchasing a small bank of them for centers in your library for research, social media, Gaming, and eReading. Having these devices available for use on a daily basis within your library also promotes Equity and opportunities for students who may not have access at home. Important note: If you have iPads, get html cables to be able to hook them up to your Smart Boards, and also consider getting apple tv boxes for wireless usage with your iPads on the smart boards, and big screen tv’s!
  5. Create Great Learning Spaces within your library for students to engage with each other. Find ways to make the spaces feel special for the students, to enable them to co-construct meaning together from online experiences. This could include: iPad clusters (not computer labs!), Gaming centres, eReaders, Study Rooms, Research Center, and spaces for Social Media Connections. 
  6. Create a Strong Online Presence! And don’t limite yourself to just websites or blogs. Use Twitter, Edmodo, Kidmodo, and other Learning Management Systems to connect with your students, staff, and communities.
    1. Also, with your students, staff, and community, consider co-creating your own

    Personalized Digital Citizenship document and usage guidelines for your new 21st Century Library. This is an effective way to build a 21st Century Learning Community, and get your 21st Century Library space off to a great start.

  7. Keeping your sights set on a 21st Century Library also means attending to newest software, eBooks and Apps! Get involved with Professional Learning Networks and get to know the many software, eBooks and apps that can be used for all students.

Despite the myriad of variables that Libraries must juggle and maneuver, there are always positive steps that anyone can start to take to prepare your Library for the 21st Century.

What are some of the wonderful things that you have done to create a wonderful 21st Century Learning Commons?

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Early Identification and Consistency with Children on the Autism Spectrum

 

In this day in age, some circles definitely ‘push’ for early identification of children who are on the spectrum. This is warranted, because research does in fact demonstrate that early intervention equals higher levels of success for children as they grow and evolve in the world.

However, after early identification, the reality is that supports can be difficult to find, inconsistent, and watered-down so to speak due to a lack of knowledge and education about children with ASD.

There seems to be some common myths surrounding children who are identified early, especially those diagnosed with high-functioning levels of Autism. For educators who are unfamiliar with ASD and its signs and symptoms, it is easy to confuse them with common traits in young children who basically have neurotypical functioning. These include, but not limited to

  • Emotional maturity (very common for many children when it comes to early identification)
  • cognitive readiness to learn academic tasks
  • Developmental readiness
  • Emotional Readiness
For instance, children who may have high-functioning autism, may present well enough for daycare providers or educators, doctors and specialists to minimize the very real workings of the brain, and Theory of Mind of children on the spectrum.

With this in mind, we need to distinguish the differences between students who are experiencing any range of cognitive, developmental, and emotional readiness for new tasks. It is quite common for all professionals who work with children to minimize the effects of of ASD at times, and normalize the symptoms in comparison with other children who are experiencing other forms of cognitive, developmental, and emotional readiness issues. But what we need is real programming, knowledge, and education about ASD for all of our support systems for children with ASD, including our school system. The following are suggestions are what everyone who works with children should know about ASD:

Suggestions:

  • ABA/IBI Programming! This should be an early intervention strategy that is implemented within every facility that works directly with children. Research backs ABA/IBI interventions, and therefore they should be implemented, or at least available, in our schools for all children identified on the spectrum
  • Explicit Instruction Strategies! Rather than merely implementing sensory breaks and exercises prescribed by an OT, explicit instruction needs to be implemented, and is beneficial for many types of learners.
  • Visual Schedules! There is a science behind the use of visual schedules, and explicit training is warranted for all of our early childhood workers and educators. It involves much planning and preparation on behalf of the the teacher and special education team. This should not be overlooked or minimized.
  • Social Skills classes and Peer Play Groups! Social skills are a cornerstone area of need for individuals on the Spectrum. Research shows that many individuals with autism have difficulty holding down jobs, and making transitions within the school system, and from home to school. Those are just a ‘small’ part of the picture as to why specific classes and skills groupings are important for students on the Autism Spectrum.
  • Hands-on Learning! Minimize the abstract, and strive to make learning concrete.
  • Mandatory ASD training for ALL Workers and Educators of children! With some statistics showing that 1 out of every 65 students on the spectrum, and research showing that early intervention is of tantamount importance, there is no reason that early identified students on the spectrum should be in classrooms where educators are not trained or knowledgeable about ASD.
  • Strategies to help students understand emotions! This includes, and certainly not limited to using 3-point, and 5-point scales etc.,
  • Social Stories! This should be something readily available to help students on the spectrum navigate transitions and social situations.
  • 1:1 Support! There are times and places when students on the autism spectrum need to learn one on one, even if they are high-functioning or gifted. There should be programming provisions for this.
  • Strategies actually help ALL students! The wonderful thing is, that implementing any  of the above strategies globally in a classroom will be beneficial for all students!

Because we are still in the relatively early stages of implementing appropriate strategies to support young children with ASD, many educators and childhood workers have yet to receive the training, knowledge, or expertise to support students on the spectrum. If training has been undertaken, then we should not be waiting for opportunities to put the training to practice, the practice should be happening already with anyone working with our children and students, regardless of early identification.

Let’s start creating a balance of the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ between the organizations and individuals who want to promote early-identification of ASD, and the organizations and individuals who inadvertently minimize ASD, and don’t understand yet that our children with Autism need specialized supports and programming.

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Making the Shift to Inquiry Based Instruction

 

Currently I am re-examining my instructional practice, and trying to understand how I can effectively teach students to nurture a sense of wonder about the Natural world around us. With my current focus, on integrating FNMI strategies into the Science Curriculum, I have decided that Inquiry Based Learning is a strategy worthy of researching and implementing, to provide the most effective educational strategies for students.

However, Inquiry based Learning can be more difficult than it sounds. To give students a key role in directing their own personal learning experiences, often flies in the face of the more traditional teaching frameworks and personal schemata that we have been learned about teaching itself, and practiced for many years!

Some situations that I believe are wonderful opportunities to include Inquiry Based Learning include, but are not limited to:

  • The Learning Commons & conducting Research
  • Learning 21st Century Technologies
  • Science
  • Numeracy
  • Integrating First Nations, Metis & Inuit perspectives,
  • Special needs including working with students on the Autism Spectrum & ADD/ADHD
  • Virtually anything the Educator sees fit!

I also envision Inquiry based learning also as ‘Brain-Based Learning’, where new neural networks can be built within the brain from hands-on learning and experiential learning. It helps students to use our brains in different, creative, personal, and concrete ways! For instance, students could design their own scientific experiments based upon the ‘Big Ideas’, link it to their own cultural background, use the resources within the Learning Commons, and then test out their own experiments and sharing their findings. The lists can go on!

Barriers to Inquiry Based Learning: Perceived and Real

Often, in our instructional units and lesson planning, it is easy to think in a linear fashion, with each new concept or expectation building upon the other. Further, certain subjects, including Science, are often be deemed a subject to be handed off to a planning time teacher, thus increasing focus on Literacy and Numeracy. When this happens, teachers are often trying to ‘fit’ the science curriculum in to 1,2, or 3 Fifty minute blocks. With increasing pressures to fit in many expectations within limited time frames, it can feel that the very subjects that lend themselves well to Inquiry Based Learning are placed on the back burner in favour of strategies deemed necessary for literacy and numeracy. So, where can we begin as educators?

How to start making your classroom and Learning Commons ready for Inquiry-Based Learning

How do we take what we have, and start the process to making Inquiry Based Instruction happen with students? How can we meet curriculum expectations and still allow students to be directly involved in their learning and shaping their own personal understanding of the world around them?

You can start with baby-steps, or you can jump in with both feet and make it happen! Either way, it is a process that involved changing your schemas of how students should learn, and how teachers should teach.

It takes flexibility, thinking about the curriculum in a balanced way, and trusting your own professional judgement that you will be able to guide students effectively through the curriculum, without the pressure that you must cover each and every curriculum expectation. This is because you value the process of student learning more than ‘covering’ every single thing on your prescribed list.

A teacher in the Inquiry Based classroom will understand where students need to ‘go’ with their learning, so that they can ‘facilitate’ student learning, but not methodically planning out each lesson or experiment with a prescribed set of rules that must be followed. This will enable student learning to become more personalized and increase retention. It will also promote the building of important learning skills and strategies that will help students out when they are learning outside of the classroom.

I also believe it involves understanding the curriculum expectations yourself inside out and backwards, and understanding where students need to ‘go’ so that teachers can ‘facilitate’ student learning. However, on that note, teachers do not need to be methodically planning out each lesson or experiment to a prescribed set of rules. The process of student learning is more important than covering each and every curriculum expectation!

Strategies for implementing Inquiry Based Learning within your Classroom 

  • So far, I have found the use of Circles and ‘Talking Circles‘ to be very beneficial in terms of sharing knowledge and information on a regular basis.
  • Provide Hands-On experiences!
  • Allow students to ask questions!
  • Students can also work in ‘Groups’, and face each other.
  • Ensure that you help students connect the information and Curriculum directly to the students personal lives and cultural backgrounds.
  • Engage in Culturally Relevant Teaching Practices
  • Take the learning outside when possible!
  • Read Relevant Picture Books to the class!
  • Differentiate your Instruction!
  • Encourage Brainstorming opportunities with the students!
  • Reflect on Learning and ideas any opportunity you have!
  • Listen carefully to the students questions to inform the next potential learning experience!
  • Focus on the Big Ideas instead of specific curriculum expectations.
  • Enable students to use all of the ‘Senses’ to experience the world around us

Personal Reflections

When creating an Inquiry-Based Learning Experience, it is beneficial to really understand and know the curriculum you are teaching. Having this knowledge will help guide you toward the types of questions and learning experiences that you want to see from your students, so that you can work to be a leader and facilitator for the students to ensure they are learning the ‘Big Ideas’ and overarching concepts. You really need to trust in yourself as well, and be flexible! Finally, throw away any assumptions that you will cover the content in prescribed amounts of time. Most of the learning experiences that you will end up facilitating with your students will either take much longer, or shorter than you may have originally expected!

For me, this is a work in progress! I would love to hear from others about your personal experiences and learning curve with Inquiry Based Learning!

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Key Characteristics of Effective Educators

 

The relationship between Educator and student is so important, especially during the students formative years. To be able to engage students in the learning process effectively, the reality is that this relationship needs to be perceived of as strong, solid, and based on trust and respect. Effective Educators are those who have strong relationships with the students, and this is due to a myriad of characteristics, skills and talents that educators must embody with their students.

The following is a list of 17 Characteristics that an Effective Educator embodies:

  1. Expertise and skills within the curriculum areas they are planning, teaching, and assessing. These are all areas that can take years to perfect, and pre-service teacher education is just the beginning.
  2. Technological skills associated with the areas of expertise, and how to apply them to the curriculum and student needs. 21st Century Technology is so important to introduce and incorporate in our classrooms and curriculum. It is the way of the future, and students need to understand how to use it, plan with it, navigate, understand, and stay safe with 21st Century technologies!
  3. Enthusiasm and striving to increase a personal knowledge base, and practical skills through continuing education, training, supervision and consultation. This is especially true in this digital age where information technology has exploded and continues to change at rapid paces. The most effective educators stay abreast of new knowledge and updates!
  4. Demonstrates understanding and openness to the cultural influences within the classroom. Effective educators develop a keen understanding of how cultural backgrounds affect how knowledge will be interpreted and learned by the students. Some of this knowledge is transferable from classroom to classroom, but much of this knowledge needs to be learned and re-understood in new contexts and learning environments. It is imperative to understand the impact of multiple cultural environments on the students and their effects in the classroom. It is not static!
  5. Keen understanding of their own interpersonal issues and learning styles. This is an area that is often overlooked, but essential for educators to be the most effective in working with the whole student. We do not want educators to inadvertently prioritize their own needs in exchange for meeting the needs of the student. If educators have excellent instructional skills, but lack in insight about themselves, then educators are at higher risk of holding stereotypical beliefs, bias, and prejudice within the classroom. If educators have strong skills in addition to understanding personal strengths, weaknesses, values, and challenges, then that creates educators who are better able to learn, change, and adapt within the classroom, and creates greater awareness of how to create favourable learning environments.
  6. Adequate balance between listening skills, and lecturing as the classroom expert. This is where Inquiry Based Learning, and Project Based Learning are important, in order to enable students to ask the questions, make the plans, and explore and answer their questions through experiential learning.
  7. Facilitates collaboration and cooperation in Flexible ways. Effective Educators are able to assist students in their inquiry, and assist students learning together, rather than engaging in coercion of students with regards to what they must learn at prescribed times, and how they must learn.
  8. Many different types of Assessment are valued utilized when determining final grades. A variety of dynamic and fluid assessments done in real time, and in culturally appropriate ways that respects the individual, are important to understanding the whole student, and accurately assessing what they truly know.
  9. An Ability to handle complex situations & discomfort in appropriate ways. Let’s face it, when dealing with a classroom full of personalities, backgrounds, cultures, and learning styles and needs of not just students, but also parents, and all other stakeholders in a student’s education, situations are bound to be complex and uncomfortable situations are unavoidable. They will occur. Effective educators understand themselves, and understand how to effectively deal with difficult situations..
  10. Understanding of when it is okay to ask for help and support from colleagues and supervisors. Learning is not static, and is always evolving, especially in terms of Globalization and 21st Century technology skills. Further, we all develop our areas of knowledge at different rates, and some areas may be stronger than others. It is not a sign of weakness to understand what areas need help and improvement!
  11. Strong educators feel competent and valuable. When educators feel this way about themselves, they are more likely to continue to teach in ways that strengthens this view!
  12. Critical Thinkers and ability to engage in Metacognition. This involves an awareness of personal cognitive reasoning processes and how they affect own thinking abilities and reasoning of teaching practices and assessment procedures.
  13. Ability to manage power differential. Effective Educators do not misuse power by trying to steer students into the ‘right’ direction.
  14. Ability to work through ethical issues, and conflict  in careful ways that take into account the best interests of all students. Restorative practice may also be a valuable strategy to use because it values all parties.

In conclusion, the most effective educators have a strong sense of self-esteem, and strong skill sets and areas of knowledge. They respect students and seek out help whenever needed. They are culturally aware, and flexible with the needs of the student dynamics in each individual classroom. It is these characteristics and competencies that build positive working relationships and alliances within the classroom, and among all stakeholders in the education of our students!

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.