Tuesday, 30 September 2014

How to Foster Collaborative Discussion (and the tools to do it!)

(EAL Seventh Grade Collaborative Discussion-Video Courtesy of Danielle Richert)

The above video is a pedagogical model of how a number of teachers are using collaborative discussion in our school. This can be used many ways, such as:

  • Discussion of a section of a book or assignment
  • Sharing of ideas and debating about essential or guiding questions in a unit
  • To reinforce understanding of a homework assignment

What I love about the above video is that students are so engaged in discussing the assignment and although you don't see all students in the round-table discussion, there are other skills at play behind the discussions. The jobs are:

Discussors- (About 8-10 students)
Their job is to talk about the task and respond to other's ideas, which are the main talkers in the video.

Microbloggers- (8-9 students)
Their job is to respond to what other's say and communicate in writing. In the above video, you can see a "Today's Meet" in the background that serves as evidence of listening and communication skills. Padlet or Google Docs are also great ways to visualize thinking. Their job is to agree or disagree with what the "discussors" say.

Assessors- (2-3 students)
The job of the assessor is to document how the group is communicating. Using a Harkness Graph, (Feel free to make a copy!) they monitor who is responding to whom by using "arrows" to record how responses flow among the group. The "blue arrows" are when a question or statement is posed to the group as a whole. See example below:

The Flow of Communication Using a Harkness Graph (Image Courtesy of Andrea Coffee)

Pedagogical Implications

We often tell students to communicate on issues, and we tell ourselves that we want our students to be better communicators. We often tell them things like "mind your air time" or "speak up" but usually, we don't have a record over how much someone spoke up or didn't. From the example above, it's very apparent that Sophie and Forrest were the main talkers in this group and that Greg was practically silent. This diagram serves as a good lesson from a cooperative learning perspective and can visually inform students about their contributions. Other implications:
  1. Having 3 assessors gives three pieces of evidence of the discussion. If someone thinks they were minding their airtime (like Sophie) having not 1, but 3 pieces of evidence to rebut this can make students more self-aware and garner more evidence about their amount of collaboration and listening skills. 
  2. Mix and match groups to help communication opportunities. If for example someone like Greg is very quiet, putting him with a group of other quiet students may give him more of an opportunity to "speak up" in the absence of alpha discussors. 
  3. Rotate jobs. Give students the chance to be a discussor, micro blogger and assessor. They'll develop a better awareness of how groups cooperate and listen to others. 
  4. ALWAYS have time to debrief the experience. Although this is a means to a greater understanding, ask students to share what they read, wrote and heard to help them build a better understanding of the question or task at hand. 
To Educators
If you have a moment to try this model of "Collaborative Discussion" in your class within the coming weeks, I'd love to hear about your perspectives following this activity. Feel free to respond to any of the following questions:

  • How did you use this activity in your class?
  • How did the activity "work"?
  • Did you notice any patterns with your students?
  • Golden Ticket Question: Did this help your students collaborate? How?

About the Teachers
The harkness chart was developed by Paula Ginto, who is an Educator at United World College. You can follow her blog at "Negotiating Meaning". Andrea Coffee is a MS Language Arts teacher at Saigon South International School who writes about her experience using collaborative discussion at her blog "Realistic Non-Fiction". Danielle Rickert is a MS Language Arts teacher and Literacy Coach at Saigon South International School and you can follow her educational portfolio here

Monday, 22 September 2014

What Kind of Presenter Are You?

I attended my first rockin Google Summit last weekend which was hosted at Concordia International School in Hanoi. I got Google Certified last December in Sweden and it's been a wild ride. So many of these tools have transformed my classroom in ways that have been inspiring, frightening and humbling. I gave two sessions: one on how to build your PLN with Twitter and utilizing the Super Quiz add on as seen below:

I took away so many great things. Fusion tables are some tools to explore analytics which I'm really jazzed to explore as well as taking steps to get my Certified Trainer Status. Still, I felt some of the workshops were top heavy in "tools" and not enough "pedagogy".

Too many times have I seen a differentiated monstrosity of a project that a student tried to pass off as "learning" when it was actually a product more of their own interests than targeted learning outcomes.

The Intersection
Awhile back, I wrote how good technology integration is coupled with content knowledge, and pedagogical understanding to be effective. Tools alone are useless without practicality, and knowledge of one's students and their learning outcomes. Too many times have I seen a differentiated monstrosity of a project that a student tried to pass off as "learning" when it was actually a product more of their own interests than targeted learning outcomes.

As I'm starting to present more and more outside my school, this is getting me thinking about what type of presenter that I want to be. I've met presenters over the years, some good, some bad, but the best ones had the following characteristics:
  • They showed student learning. These people shared testimonials of students, interviews, data and samples of student work rather than sharing what could be possible. They shared what is possible. 
  • They engaged participants. They asked provocative questions, gave people time to chat and share and were not the "sage on the stage". Often, workshop participants were able to "do" the activities that were being espoused.
  • They're exciting. They're upbeat, talk as if this is their favorite hobby and their ebullient nature could not be denied!
  • They came back to good pedagogy. They talk about good assessment practices, theories of education and encourage people to share these in their disciplines to order to make everyone better. 
  • They make you think. Some of the best presentations have been revolutionary. Attempting a paradigm shift for educators on any topics can be a monumental task and they were careful about how they delivered their message. 
A reminder of where I was back in 2014.
I hope all this serves as a reminder of my growth as an educator. Dan Taylor had some interesting things to say about some of the educators in the Google network: one being Allison Mollica who he thought was the most engaging presenter and was denied her first few attempts to get into the academy. I too was denied on my first application to Google teacher academy. Persistence counts for a lot in this world.

For now, I'll take my own advise. Rethink. Tinker. For my next presentation, I hope to incorporate all of these into my message which I'm going to start working on right now. 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Google Forms Never Looked so Good with "Super Quiz"

Christmas came early this year. Finally, there is an add on that allows me to do the following with google forms:
  • Grade responses as they come in. This was done before with "Flubaroo" which was great, but you had to run the add on after all the responses came in. Super quiz does it in real time with enhanced efficiency and patterns of sub-topics. 
  • Send personalized quiz reports. Before, I used "Autocrat" to merge fields from spreadsheets in google docs, but I had to make the docs, make sure the fields were mapped correctly with merge tags, and it was a little clunky at times. 
  • Assign review activities which students received via email. On the old version of sheets, "Formmule" did this task but one had to write the formula, copy the code and install form mule. 
This does it all; and the best part, it's so easy. Here's a little tutorial to get you started!

This is how the tool looks like as an "entry interview" with my sixth graders.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Academic Literacy-Part 3: Collaborative Literacies

Our school started the year strongly with our ESL teachers leading an entire morning of strategies to help EAL learners, but many of their tools were helpful to foster collaborative literacies in the classroom. This is the 3rd part in a 5 part series of "Academic Literacies". So what is collaborative literacy?

Image courtesy of Creative Commons
Collaborative Literacy Defined
These are defined as a "joint interpretation of a text" (Coiro, Castek, & Guzniczak). The key point of collaboration is making meaning through interaction. This can be deceptive from the lens of a classroom teacher, as if a group is asked to share their thoughts one alpha student may be only sharing only their point of view and be dismissive of others at their table. This literacy is made richer from the multitude of perspectives and opinions and being able to practice and discuss these in a non-threatening way is a good way to foster argumentative literacies which are essential to becoming an active and informed citizen. Unfortunately, main stream collaborative literacies are often limited to individually orientated literacy activities such as graphic organizers.

Pedagogical Approaches
  • Think Pair Share-This is a very easy and informal way to each share ideas and come to a consensus on an issue. The teacher poses a question or statement and asks students to:
    • Think about it for 10-20 seconds
    • Share their thoughts in pairs for about 1 minute
    • Share their pairs thought's on the matter to the whole class
  • Tell a Friend-In this activity, the teacher provides a passage with 1 or 2 underlined parts and students "translate" from academic language to social language by replacing the underlined words with everyday words that are easy to understand. 
  • Expert Groups-This is a summarizing activity done in three parts:
    • Summarizing-"Basically, the article says.." or "The main points are..." and "The authors point is..."
    • Analyzing-"Given the evidence, some conclusions we can make are..." and "After examination, this suggests..."
    • Interpreting-"This article teaches us that..." or "One way to interpret this is..." and "This part means that..."
  • Respond to Another's Idea-I use this quite often and ask students to "Acknowledge and build on a class-mates comment to extend the discussion. Some prompts are:
    • I've had an experience (similar to or differing from) ___________'s because...
    • ________'s idea made me think about/wonder.....
    • In response to __________, I think.....
  • Credit Another's Idea-Students are usually asked to share what they think, but with this activity, they share a classmates point of view. Some stems/prompt to help them with the process are: 
    • _______________ feels that....
    • According to _________________, ....
    • One (idea/opinion/experience) that ______________ shared is....
  • Restating Ideas-In this activity, students listen carefully and repeat a classmates point of view in their own words. Some stems/prompt to help them with the process are: 
    • So if I understand you correctly....
    • In other words, you (feel/believe/think)....
    • So what you're (saying/suggesting) is ....
  • Meta cognitive Coaching-This is a great activity wherein a statement, problem or issue is posed and then one student plays the role of the "student" who walks the other student through their mental processes, verbalizing their thinking. The other student, the "teacher" coaches them through their thinking asking them reflective questions.  

Blended Learning environments can improve ease of access and
give students two platforms to share their thoughts. Image courtesy of CC. 

Technology Integration

  • Today's Meet-This online discussion tool is free and a room is created where pairs can share their thoughts and post a strand to the rest of the other participants in the room. Today's Meet is a great back channel to learning in the classroom. 
  • Quotes from Google Research-This is a great tool for finding a quote relevant to your subject matter and then amending it to any of the activities above. I use this for "tell a friend" and "think pair share" very often. Here is an example for a short 15 minute warm up with my sixth graders. 
  • Online Bulletin Boards-Wallwisher is great, but another one that I haven't used yet is Padlet

Coiro, J., Castek, J., & Guzniczak, L. (2011) Uncovering online reading comprehension process: Two adolescents reading independently and collaboratively on the Internet. 60th yearbook of the Literacy Research Association 354-369

Related Posts
Academic Literacy-Part 1: Disciplinary Literacy
Academic Literacy-Part 2: Argumentative Literacy