A Digital Learning Unit Overview: Course 4 Final Project

This is a unit that I plan on teaching in the upcoming 5-6 weeks. This unit caters to the use of a variety of digital literacies and skills taught throughout it. It is admittedly heavy in digital learning, but can be managed by keeping the length of the engagements short and starting on them early in the unit.

COETAIL: It’s More Than a Course–It’s a Way of Life

This graphic, which was modified from the original Profile of a Modern Teacher graphic, examines what it means to be a COETAILer. Whether you are a past or present member of the COETAIL community, someone who is considering enrolling in the future, or someone who already identifies and practices many of the beliefs included below, it is our hope that together we can bring about an inner and outer transformation in the world of education.

COETAIL A Community Approach to Learning

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Kill The Report Card

Created by Reid Wilson via someecards.com
Created by Reid Wilson via someecards.com

Report cards drive my teaching.

There, I said it. I know it’s the last thing we are supposed to say, because we strive so hard in international schools not to teach to the test. But, the truth is, it’s the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about for fear of being judged.

It doesn’t really matter whether I’m teaching to a standardized test or a report card based on unrealistic curriculum frameworks, I’m still teaching to something. And for many months out of the academic year, it sucks all the life, fun and passion out of education.

In all likelihood, 75% of these report cards are going to be looked at once by parents and never seen again. Some of them won’t even read the words. They’ll just skim over the columns to get a general overview of their child. Considering this, is it really worth the enormous amounts of time teachers continue to invest in them year after year?

Instead of allocating two entire months a year to collecting data and writing report cards, I wonder if our time and energy could be better spent somehow. I wonder what might happen if we spend that time creating intriguing and meaningful learning experiences for our students rather than giving them weeks worth of independent activities while we assess on the outskirts of our classrooms.

We like to think that we hold ourselves to high standards. “We don’t teach to the test and we don’t cover units,” is an often-heard expression of every proud educator. Coverage and teaching to the test are considered bureaucratic and ineffective in education, so we don’t dare use those words.

In place of them, we’ve found substitutes that diffuse the potency and are more tolerated. Instead of “cover,” we now use “get through” and “finish.” Instead of “teaching to the test,” we now “have to report on it.” The linguistic ambiguity somehow lessens our guilty conscience, and allows teachers to remain in a passive role that absolves them from any responsibility.

This is just part of education. We can’t get around it,” you’ll often hear us lamenting. “What would happen if we got rid of report cards? That’ll never work.” Despite our loathing for report card writing seasons, it’s easier to stay the course and play the game than it is to revolutionize it. Part of the reason we oppose report cards so strongly is because we know they are a waste of time and believe something is inherently wrong with the current model.

So, how can we make it right? How can we track student progress in a way that is meaningful, yet time-efficient for teachers? How can we shift the focus back to learning, rather than reporting on it? How can we ensure that teacher time is used for effective long-term growth, rather than short-term appeasement?

What follows are a few ideas to get the conversation started at your school for how to throw out traditional report cards and move into personal learning contracts.

Less is More: 

Created by Reid Wilson via someecards.com
Created by Reid Wilson via someecards.com

Literacy and numeracy are the only concepts that teachers should continue to collect data on in elementary schools. This data should then be qualitatively and quantitatively tracked (and reported on) to ensure the foundation of learning is strong in all students, and differentiation takes place at school and at home.

As for everything else, what’s the point?

The world is not going to come to an end if we don’t report on an eight year old’s understanding of migration push factors and three-dimensional figures. Little Timmy won’t be at-risk if his parents don’t find out in writing that he struggles to read graphs, but has a solid understanding of how media influences society.

Secondary schools are often attempting to assess more skills than are humanly possible. How can you know 80 students so well that you can assess them on 14 different skills when you only see them twice a week? Why are we wasting so much time on a best-guess scenario?

What we might find is that by freeing up time currently allocated to assessing and writing report cards, we can spend more time teaching to the misconceptions students have raised…and fostering more learning along the way.

Educators are beholden to time more than anything else in this profession. If time is such a precious commodity, why are we assigning so much of it to jumping through systemic hoops because that’s the way we’ve always done it?

From Reporting to Coaching: 

Created by Reid Wilson via someecards.com
Created by Reid Wilson via someecards.com

Administrators don’t give report cards to teachers because it doesn’t foster professional development and they have more important things to do with their time. Many schools are now moving towards a coaching model of professional growth where administrators or learning coaches help teachers identify strengths and areas of development.

The most empowering form of this coaching model is when teachers can identify an area of development (potentially gleaned from previous observable data) and take ownership of it as their learning goal. When this goal is articulated to the coach or administrator, it becomes a form of a contract for personal or professional growth. The teacher acknowledges that this is an area they are struggling with and would like to put time and energy into developing. They call upon the coach to provide guidance when necessary, collect observable data and monitor their progress.

For example, if I choose to make a contract with my leaning coach that I would like to work on providing greater wait time between question and answer, the next time my coach comes into observe me, I know that this specific outcome will be the source for data collection. I won’t be focusing on seventeen areas of development all at once, but rather, one which I can effectively manage and nurture.

Teacher-directed professional growth is beneficial because we have ownership and agency over our individual goals. We negotiate the terms of our learning and are empowered in doing so.

If this coaching model is so effective for professional development in teachers, why aren’t we employing it for personalized learning in students as well? Why has the coaching model evolved for teachers, while the reporting model remains archaic for students?

Redefining What Drives Learning: 

Created by Reid Wilson via someecards.com
Created by Reid Wilson via someecards.com

We always tell our students that they shouldn’t be overly focused on their grades and how they compare to others. We preach that what we care about most is their progress, their growth and their attitude towards learning.

Yet, our speech and our actions are contradictory at best, hypocritical at worst. On Monday, we tell our students that they shouldn’t stress out about their scores. On Friday, we write report comments based on the unit we just finished and assessed. What better way to lose students’ trust than by telling them they should measure their personal progress against where they started while we measure their ability against an abstract standard.

Instead of having unnecessary summative assessments and end of term report cards, why don’t we base our student growth model around personal learning contracts. These contracts, established between the coach (the teacher) and the coachee (the student) would arise out of periodic conversations between both parties. These coaching conversations would take place in the same way teachers have reflective dialogues with their administrators.

The teacher would ask the student to specifically identify an area of development. The student would articulate the concept(s), skill(s) or attitude(s) they would like to work on over a given time frame. Throughout that period of time, the teacher would be collecting observational data on the student’s progress and report back what was collected. After the contracted time frame, a follow-up coaching conversation would ensue with the teacher communicating what was observed. The student would then reflect on their efforts, their progress and their next steps. A new contract would be identified, or the old one modified, depending on the direction the conversation takes.

The length of time between coaching conversations would depend on a variety of factors, such as: is the teacher in elementary or secondary? how many students are in the class? how frequently will specialist and world language personal learning contracts be formed? how old and/or capable is the student of pluralizing their personal learning goals? how much data will still need to be collected in literacy and numeracy for tracking and reporting purposes?

The pitfalls for such a change are many, but it will inevitably come down to one question: is it adding more to teachers’ workloads, or is it freeing up time to teach and coach?

One way to ensure that teachers are not falling victim to the add-on ethos of so many institutions and curricular frameworks is to schedule these coaching conversations into their daily or weekly timetable. Whether it’s 20 minutes a day to meet with one student in elementary or it’s 60 minutes a week to check in with several secondary students, this cannot be seen as “one more thing to do” in teachers’ eyes. Otherwise, we’re only substituting one failing concept with another in disguise. The whole essence of a new model is to have teachers stop wasting their time on report cards and free up more time to improve student learning.

A Conceptual Rebirth 

Created by Reid Wilson via someecards.com
Created by Reid Wilson via someecards.com

With some ideas in education, we can try to reconceptualize them in a new light in order to make a current model better. But for others, the models are embedded too deeply in our consciousness for a simple conceptual shift.

We can’t allow a new concept to grow until an old concept has died. Whether it’s a coaching model based on learning contracts or something completely different, we must allow our concept of report cards to die. They don’t serve us anymore.

The death of report cards shouldn’t be a passive and natural death–it should be active and intentional. We must kill the report card. For it is only through this death that a new conceptual rebirth can emerge.

And maybe then, something other than report cards can drive my teaching.

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This blog is not a critique of the school I work at (which is awesome), but an observation of conceptual and systemic failure in education as a whole.

I am Introvert, Hear Me…Write Quietly Alone at Home

Background: 

Introversion and extroversion are one of the most thoroughly researched topics in personality psychology. There is no agreed upon definition for what tendencies an introvert embodies compared to an extrovert. There are, however, generalizations that have come out of this field of research that most psychologists can accept as the norm. These characteristics should be viewed as a spectrum in which individuals have differing degrees of behaviors present. They should not be seen as a black and white, one-size-fits-all truth.

Extroverts are most often considered assertive, dominant and bold. They tend to think aloud and prefer speaking over listening. They prefer being in the company of others and are drawn to the external world of people and activities. They are gregarious and enjoy being in environments where there is high stimulation. They don’t mind being the center of attention and are quick to think on their feet. They express themselves best through conversation and easily engage in small talk.

Introverts, on the other hand, are quiet and cerebral. They are highly introspective and drawn to the inner world of thoughts and feelings. They listen more than they speak and tend to think carefully before they talk. They process information about their environment unusually deeply, observe subtleties others overlook and are able to concentrate and persist for long periods of time. They express themselves best through writing and prefer deep discussions over small talk.

Photo Credit: Βethan via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Βethan via Compfight cc

Extroverts are talkers who get their energy by being around other people. Introverts are thinkers who create their energy by being alone or in small groups.

Depending on which researcher you consult, introverts account for one-third to one-half of all humans. This would mean that one-third to one-half of our students are introverts, and one-third to one-half of our colleagues are introverts. Due to introverts being the minority in society (and in schools), the perception of them and their contributions can often be affected by the dominant, extroverted majority.

Susan Cain, author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” makes the claim that society aggrandizes and values one type of archetypal personality: that of the extrovert. She coins this belief, the “Extrovert Ideal,” and suggests that it is an oppressive standard of conformity most humans (both introverts and extroverts) strive to achieve. Cain examines a shift that took place in the 20th century where society changed from valuing a culture of character (citizenship, duty, honor, reputation, morals, manners, integrity) to a culture of personality (magnetic, fascinating, attractive, dominant, forceful, energetic). This shift, which precipitated the Extrovert Ideal, manifested out of the increasing career-driven, business world (where presenting ideas to a board and being charismatic were more important than the ideas you were selling). Later, the increased presence of this archetypal extrovert figure took root in popular media, where enigmatic characters and strong personalities began to leak into our subconscious. Due to this cultural value shift, many Western societies have come to emphasize and praise this Extrovert Ideal. This has had an interesting effect on how Western cultures in particular, perceive certain behavioral traits.

Cain outlines several studies that show how talkative people are considered smarter, better looking, more desirable and more interesting. This would then likely affect how likable, trustworthy and influential a person is.

But should it? Why is it that those who talk the most in groups are considered smarter? There is no correlation between the quantity of speech and the quality of ideas. How is being talkative an indicator of trust or influence? Is there something inherently suspicious about quietude and solitude?

Photo Credit: Worlds In Focus via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Worlds In Focus via Compfight cc

Introverts are not oblivious to these societal opinions. We didn’t need data to confirm what we have been experiencing and feeling for most of our lives. Societal messages, those coming both consciously and unconsciously, have been communicating that there is something wrong with us. We are often told that we are too quiet, we think too much and we are too serious. We are told that we are no fun, we don’t know how to enjoy ourselves and we are too sensitive. We are told that we are not happy unless we are sociable and we must be outgoing in both our personal and professional worlds.

We might be called arrogant and standoffish because we don’t like to be around others as much. We might be called boring and told we have no personality because we don’t want to be the center of attention. We might be called weird or gay because we are not the aggressive archetype of our gender. We might be asked: why are you such a party-pooper? what’s wrong with you? why are you so unhappy? do you think you are too good for us? (I’ve been described and asked the above on multiple occasions throughout my personal and professional life.)

As a result of these false perceptions, Susan Cain goes onto say, many introverts have had to pretend they are more extroverted than they actually are in order to fit in and become the social norm.

Why is it that students and teachers should feel like they need to be disingenuously extroverted in order to be accepted for who they are? How might societal, cultural or community bias towards extroversion affect how students and teachers are perceived, contribute and participate in a learning environment?

Photo Credit: Troup1 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Troup1 via Compfight cc

Through an evolutionary lens, introverts would have had to maintain their survival through some sort of contribution to their species. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. Likewise, introverts in education must have something to contribute to the survival (or recreation) of education…but, only if the environmental conditions allow them to survive.

Are introverts becoming an endangered species in school communities? Or, do they have a healthy population in modern educational institutions?

Introverts can be found all throughout the educational community: from students to teachers, administrators to policy makers, and support staff to parents. Considering this, what can we do in order to ensure that introverts are valued for who they are in the community they belong to?

What follows are a mix of light-hearted suggestions and honest insights that may help educational institutions honor introverted tendencies, reconsider current practices and promote a healthy introversion population.

For Colleagues:

Introverts have a hard time with small talk. You know that uncomfortable silence that often puts you at unease? Small talk is sometimes like that for us. If you see us standing by a plant at whole school events or sitting in an empty row at staff meetings, this is probably why. It’s not that we don’t care about how your day was or don’t want to hear what you did on vacation, it can just be difficult to warm up in conversation. For us, engaging in small talk throughout the day is akin to what it would feel like for you to remain silent for a day. Sounds pretty discomforting, doesn’t it? Instead of asking us typical chit-chat questions, ask us about deep pedagogical topics, like where the future of education is heading or something we are struggling with in our classroom.

Introverts often like to eat alone in our rooms or with a small group of people with whom we feel comfortable. This isn’t because we don’t like you or think you are unworthy of a conversation. We introverts create their own energy. We don’t get it from others–we give it to them. Constantly engaging and talking with students and colleagues all day is extremely exhausting for us. We go back to our room to avoid the staff lounge and cafeteria not because we think poorly of you; it’s because we wouldn’t make it through the day if we didn’t. Another reason we might avoid these common areas is because we would have to put on a false sense of extroversion while there in order to keep up with your conversational energy.

Asking introverts to be falsely enthusiastic at meetings, such as standing up and dancing, doing school spirit cheers or high-fiving everyone in order to leave, is sure to be met by inner annoyance. By all means, if that external enthusiasm is how you feel you need to express yourself, we are all for it and completely support your actions. But don’t make it an expectation that we have to be like you and then tell us we are no fun when we begrudgingly comply with intentionally less enthusiasm than we actually have.

Photo Credit: Let Ideas Compete via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Let Ideas Compete via Compfight cc

That would be like us asking you to sit and reflect in silence on your teaching practice for a few hours straight. How’s your enthusiasm now?

Introverts might not be as talkative in the hallways as you would like. Again, this is not to be taken personally and goes back to our aversion for small talk with a limited external energy supply. Saying hello to everyone we pass by and engaging in constant discourse only appeals to the Extrovert Ideal (and benefits only extroverts). We don’t necessarily see the connection between staff morale and chit-chat (as it only helps the morale of those who are extroverts). It doesn’t mean that we are not friendly, as most introverts have high degrees of empathy and compassion, but it does mean that we can’t always give to you. We need to take care of ourselves first. If we didn’t take care of ourselves first, we wouldn’t be able to give so much of our energy out to those we care for. The next time you see us walking across campus, forgive us if we prefer a quiet hello, a head nod or a smile and bashfully get back to our classroom to continue with our latest obsession.

For Administration:

What is a model employee nowadays? When administrators are looking for skills in candidates, what percentage of those skills are naturally dominant in extroverts?

When institutions seek out team players who can work in a collaborative environment, why type of person might they be envisioning? How many of them are picturing someone who is lively, talkative and brings a lot of energy to the community? How many of them are picturing someone who quieter, more reflective and thinking deeply?

I would posit that in evaluating applicants, you will find people skills valued over thinking skills, and rightfully so. Communication is at the heart of teaching students, collaborating with colleagues and meeting with parents. But it’s important to remember that thinking is equally at the heart of the teaching profession. You can just as easily have communication without thought as you can have thought without communication. Despite both needing to be present, I question whether introverted skills are taking a back seat to extroverted skills in teacher recruitment?

How often are schools looking for teachers to be outgoing, full of energy, exciting, enthusiastic and communicative? How many are actively looking to add teachers who are pensive, insightful, observant, persistent and thoughtful?

When teachers attends job fairs as candidates, they are encouraged to go to the social functions so administrators can see how they interact with potential colleagues. They are placed in a room full of strangers, some of whom they are competing against to get the same coveted position, and are then supposed to make small talk and see who can come across as the most charismatic in front of their potential employers. It’s as though some administrators see socializing and the ability to chit-chat as a precursor to being an effective teacher or positive presence within an institution. Why is this? Small talk and working in a collaborative environment are two entirely different objectives.

Collaboration is hugely beneficial to education as a whole, whether it be through team meetings, staff professional development, or an online PLN. Collaboration and connection to others is paramount for introverts and extroverts alike to share, refine and recreate ideas. However, a healthy balance must be achieved, as too much collaboration has the potential to hold introverts back.

Photo Credit: Gilles Gonthier via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Gilles Gonthier via Compfight cc

Introverts aren’t opposed to team meetings and committees, as they can often be a place of exposure to new perspectives and a source of idea extraction. They can capitalize on their listening skills, make observations and focus intently throughout. For introverts, this can become a great opportunity for social brainstorming, with others’ thoughts sparking their own. However, the real value does not come from the meetings themselves–it comes afterwards. This is when introverts can go off and be thinkers, reflectors, synthesizers, ideators and insightful proposers. It is important for administrators to remember this when gathering feedback from their staff. Extroverts will give you feedback right away and be done with it, often at the meetings themselves. However, introverts will digest and process bits of information they gleaned from the meeting for days after. Administrators should try to give them more space and time to make observations, provide insight and propose improvements that everyone else might have immediately overlooked. One way to do this is to keep a digital form available so introverts can contribute feedback when they are ready and have thoroughly come to a thought conclusion. It also gives them an opportunity to articulate their thoughts in a non-public venue.

Collaboration is hugely effective, but so is independent thought. Introvert and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who is a proponent of working independently, once said, “I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by a committee.” In a collaborative environment, we must find balance between meeting times and isolative creation. Let introverts wander off alone into the depths of thought and bring ideas back to committees and groups, rather than collective ideation in real-time. Solitude can be a catalyst for innovation.

For Students:

While reading Cain’s book, I came to the realization that I was being an enormous hypocrite towards my introverted students. I had unknowingly succumbed to the Extrovert Ideal and was pushing my quieter students to be more talkative, participate more in whole class discussions and work in a highly collaborative and stimulating environment. Thinking back, I had the best of intentions and wanted them to grow up to be not like me (an introvert). I wanted to provide the nurture that perhaps I had missed as a child so they could have all of those extroverted qualities that many introverts wish they had. However, I erroneously thought that introversion and extroversion were more dependent on nurture, when in fact, it mostly comes down to nature.

As a teacher, that doesn’t mean I believe we should move back to an era of isolation and individualized learning and completely do away with collaborative learning environments. However, I think we all could consider riding the pendulum back a bit towards the center when it comes to collaboration over-kill in a classroom.

We consider the learning needs of EAL students, Learning Support students, Exceptional Learners and everyone in between. But how often do we consider what an introverted student might need, or be feeling, in a modern classroom? I don’t think they are going to need pull-out support, but I might give them a little more freedom if they decide to pull themselves out of an overstimulating and talkative group.

Conclusion:

Introverts are not better or worse than extroverts; they are just different. There are many biological factors that play into how introverts and extroverts respond in certain situations. Although emotions and thoughts can be nurtured and re-learned to a certain degree, introverts are the way they are due to reasons beyond their control. In 21st century schools, it’s not only unrealistic, but also unfair that introverts are expected to be more like extroverts. Educational institutions should strive to be a little more understanding of our quirky personas, and perhaps even consider ways in which introverts can be more effective colleagues and learners.

And if that happens, instead of the social majority wondering what’s wrong with us, maybe we can begin to teach them what’s right with us…

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The primary source for the blog post above was Susan Cain’s, “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Instead of constantly sourcing and quoting her, I will defer much of the information in the background section to her book. If you are an introvert, are in a relationship with one or work closely with one, I highly recommend reading her book. She also has a wonderful TED talk that gives a much-less detailed overview of her research.