Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The 11th Year

We're beginning our 11th year in the 21st c. now and as an educator of '21st c. learning,' I'm wondering where we stand in terms of meeting any of the 21st c. goals or 21st c. standards we're on about, like the ISB21 T.A.I.L. Standards and Benchmarks, for example. But it's not just local, it's global (or 'glocal' as some like to call it). The 21st c. learner and everything else out there coined 'the 21st c.....' is the latest slogan suggesting we'll stay lost in the previous c. (or possibly further back) if we don't get on board—it appears it's where we need to be as educators (and every other successful person on the planet for that matter). Ironically, we're already IN the 21st c.—it's not a matter of getting there anymore. Given the fast pace of growth in modern times, isn't 11 years a lot of time to be spending to get somewhere? Here are some relevant places that taut the ideals of education of the 21st c. or even pose threats should we ignore acquiring and using its corresponding skills: Educational Origami, and this comparison between the old and new centuries is particularly idealistic one. The highlighted bits in 'New Research Shows...' suggest there's a definitional problem operating—not with the definition of 21st c., but of '21st c. skills,' and that this underlies the lack of embracing the new. In the video: 'Educational Change Challenge,' we're practically threatened by the claims made regarding the gap between 'us' [the old] and 'them' [they young]: "Are we preparing students for our age or for theirs?" the narrator queries. Or, how about '21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020 by Shelley Blake-Plock? I have to admit that I get taken in by such claims, but at the same time many of them, like the look of parent-teacher conferences, which are likely to disappear in place of 'virtual communication opportunities,'' were actually more appealing. How about #13 though?
13. Organization of Educational Services by Grade
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.
Now this to me seems a lot more dramatic of a change. But, need I really 'worry' about such a change? Or, Technology in the Classroom: Myths & Opportunities by Alan November inspires us teachers to see these changes as a relatively seamless process. I'm just starting up my Theory of Knowledge (ToK) course and we watched 'Shift Happens' to be reminded of the phenomenal pace of knowledge growth in all areas, of course with special emphasis placed on technology-related developments. My students commented on how the 21st c. pace is all they know and that there's nothing really shocking to them about it. It's us adults who seem to worry about how to ably cope with the future.

So then how DO we prepare to prepare our students to solve problems that don't yet exist on the planet? What about old-fashioned Professional Development (PD)? If the educational system itself is heading for a complete turn-around, then perhaps such is the case with PD. 'Why America's schools fail: Ineffective Professional Development' outlines most of the problems I've experienced with dead-in-the water PD—lack of time, passion, lack of professional learning communities. I've been involved in countless PD programs over the years, including conducting them myself. In fact, conducting PD workshops is a good way to evaluate their effectiveness. But despite the best PD programs, it's the sustainability factor, the 'I'm-going-to-do-this-in-my-school' factor, the 'I'm- getting-my-administrator-on-board' factor that makes all the difference. (Of course the COETAIL cohorts run by Jeff Utecht is certainly one PD program up for recognition—personal testimony as justification!) I'd venture to say that the more earth-shaking the change, as the #13 described above, the more factors in ones' favor the better to see evidence of reform. Using students as leaders is one such unique approach: 'Students as professional developers. Here's an upcoming conference with a networking partnership strand. We need something like these new PD approaches. We need to prepare teachers for the 'control shift.' We push educators into the 21st c. NOW. Isn't 11 years long enough? We need something systemic. We need commitment from more than just a small number. We need the PD to be embedded in our everyday world. We need administrative support—even Board support. Mentoring? Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)? These all sound feasible, but not unless we really want to do this—and I mean 'we' collectively. It'll take all of the constituents—admin included—to get into the 21st c. before the next decade ends—or before we end up going backwards!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Course 5 Project

(One of the most commonly-used academic vocabulary in English)
analyzed, analyzer, analyzers, analyzes, analyzing, analysis, analyst, analysts, analytic, analytical, analytically

Why would anyone want to analyze this jellied candle?

Now it's time to bring together some of the knowledge and understandings gained from the previous COETAIL courses and apply it to a 'real world' experience in the classroom. I'd like to revamp an existing vocabulary learning project in my EAP (English for Academic Purposes) 12 class. This group of EAL students are the least proficient English learners in the high school. Most of the group is generally Japanese and most of these (usually 90%) will be returning to Japan for college or university. The implications are that these students are sometimes weary of their English learning attempts, as they still have not achieved a passing score in reading/ vocabulary or writing. Further, the closer they get to returning to their home countries, the less motivated some are to improve their skills. Counter to this, however, there's a subset of students who view this last semester of language learning as their last-ditch attempt to get as far as they can in English. I have these two groups in mind when I set out their last semester tasks and try and individualize their experience as much as possible. I believe a focus on vocabulary benefits all in the group and find myself challenged to improve their vocabulary via innovative teaching as well as learning strategies. This is where Web 2.0 comes in and where the following NETS-T standard is targeted:

2. Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the NETS•S. Teachers:
  • a. design or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity

Here's a UBD (Understanding by Design) look at this revamped vocabulary learning unit:

Stage 1 – Desired Results

Established Goal
EAP 12 learners to leave ISB in June having acquired more English academic vocabulary than their current level at the start of the semester.

Students will understand that learning strategies, including metacognitive strategies, can enhance long-term memory in acquiring vocabulary. What is anticipated is that students will need to explore the different learning strategies, on somewhat of a trial and error basis using Web 2.0 activities, to see what's most effective for each as a learner.

Essential Question(s)
Can academic vocabulary learning and acquisition be fun?
Does the use of technology help to motivate and improve the second language (L2) vocabulary acquisition process?

Know & Be Able to Do
Over the course of their last semester, the Gr. 12 EALs will acquire (which means actively use in speaking and/or writing) at least 30 new most-commonly used academic English vocabulary.

Stage 2 – Assessment Evidence

Performance Task(s)
• Do a pre-assessment. Looking at Academic Vocabulary Lists (Coxhead), students will identify words that they do not know how yet to use and will work to acquire these vocabulary over the semester.
• Practice the meaning and usage of a particular word via a glossary on Google.docs & a wiki for reference. (A particular context in the form of a question is teacher-generated.) This is where the use of different strategies and different online activities come into play. Here are possibilities:
  • Find a picture that (obviously) illustrates the meaning of the word in context and post it.
  • Post a copy of the word family.
  • Create an original sentence that reflects personal experience using the work in the correct context.
  • Locate a practice exercise using the word and include the link on Google.docs for others to use. Somehow provide evidence of having completed the exercise.
  • Using Bloom's Digital Taxonomy: 'analyzing,' try mind-mapping or 'creating,' after 4-5 words, try a photo story or a comic creation.
• After 5 entries have been completed, student takes a 'quiz' on the vocabulary word in the same context, using a new set of questions (teacher-generated again)
• When the unit is completed, have a 'public' presentation (maybe a digital story), or other creation, like a rap/ interview/ talk-show and subsequently post on SlideShare. The final assessment demonstrates acquisition (spoken and/ or written).
• Some type of self-assessment to discern to what extent each student actually acquired the vocabulary.

Stage 3 – Learning Plan

• Ensure that students' prior knowledge of the vocabulary can be utilized to more deeply understand a particular word and its usage.
• Ensure students remain interested in the project—invite them to add, revise activity.
• Allow students to evaluate their work and its implications
• Ensure activities are personalized to the different needs, interests, and abilities.

This is the plan. Now comes the implementation. Vocabulary practice and quiz questions, as well as the glossary itself to be set up on Google.docs. The glossary needs to link to a Wiki. Sites need to be identified to practice the vocabulary and to complete the glossary requirements. All to be posted and made available on Panthernet.