What was so inspiring about Matt Bar’s ELI Talk that I stopped all other work to write about it? Connections. As a person, I am always looking to connect myself to the ideas and world around me. This is also what I do as an educator. In every seminar I teach, each teacher mentoring conversation, each student interaction, I am asking myself:
How does this concept or idea connect to what I know?
I may not know a lot about hip hop, but I know that text! I was sitting on the edge of my chair as I heard Matt describe the word-based interactions between Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Metzia 84a-84b) as an “original rap battle.” I had studied that same text in havruta (partner text study) just last March. And certainly not in the context of hip hop. So how exciting would the reverse inspiration be from a student: "I may not know that text, but I know hip hop!"
How can it connect to what the learner knows?
Seeing text through this lens is the kind of connection opportunity we seek for our students. As I look for multiple ways to access a text, comparing Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish to Tupac and Biggie, honestly, hasn't occurred to me. But it might occur to others (as it did for Matt) and it certainly might occur to students if they are given the opportunity to interact with text in new and, maybe, surprising ways. As Matt takes his viewers and listeners from Talmud to hip hop to the importance and weight of words, I can imagine the eyes of today's generation lighting up, their interest peaked, their surprise, “Huh. This relates to my world?!?!”
How can we use this information to make new connections previously undiscovered?
Matt is exemplifying meeting students where they are to help them see Judaism through their own lens, not just the lenses that we, as parents or educators, might suggest. As a hip hop novice myself, I now have the riveting opportunity to learn with my students. If we want students to be lifelong learners, we should model how we still experience the thrill of learning something new and looking at something from a different perspective.
So where do all these connections lead? I started by connecting Matt's ideas to one of my professional goals: providing multiple pathways to access Jewish text study. I'm inspired to offer this kind of connecting opportunity to the teachers and students I have the privilege to work with. And, most importantly, I'm excited to explore these kinds of connections as one member of a larger community of learners, each of us "sharpening" each other.
Reference: ELI Talks. (2016, March 1). Matt Bar: The greatest rap battles started WAY before Tupac and Biggie... [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/bfPlQts5Nas
I've been taking a lot of new educational risks lately. Being a teacher-researcher feels like the most prominent one. I recently began action research to study my instructional practice leading professional development. I'm recording my teaching, analyzing transcripts and participant commentary, and reflecting on who and what and how I am as a teacher of teachers. This risk, this close look at what I do and how it effects others, seemed a bit scary at first, but then I had a nagging sensation of "I've been here before." Upon further reflection I realized, not only have I been a teacher-researcher before, I was a teacher-researcher from the beginning.
When I was teaching in the public school system, I was given a notebook with a list of learning goals and told "Teach them!" Every day as a new teacher was a risk. Each time I wrote a lesson plan that first year, implemented it, and took notes on how it went I was essentially taking risks in the classroom and doing a form of assessment that could qualify as part of a research cycle, although I certainly wouldn't have called it research at the time. I may not have started with a formal question and finished with a formal writing exercise, but I was assessing what went on in the classroom and looking to make changes to ensure what I was doing was more effective for students and their learning. How helpful would the language of research have been as both a validation of the work process and an encouragement to focus in on particular aspects of teaching/learning/students to effect change! The structure of research would have helped me narrow the focus and more efficiently apply the assessments and reflections I was making.
As I delve deeper into my graduate work and the accompanying action research, I continue to be struck by how much the language of research applies not only to actions that I took in my classroom, but also to what I do now in my role leading professional development. So many of the daily activities of teacher-leaders are also inherently authentic research experiences. I ask myself if an instructional module helped teachers achieve the learning goal. I ask if I met the specific learning needs of a teacher. I look for assessment tools to support each of these prior questions. I narrow my questions: "How can I help Joe feel supported and successful during partner text study sessions?" As I ask questions and seek answers, I am beginning to revel in the process that is making me better at what I do.
Taking a the research risk has led me to deeper thinking and new goals. I'm going to work on incorporating a language of research into instructional coaching times and professional development modules with my teachers as I continue to embrace my own research process. The application of teacher-research language to what many teachers already do, is not only validating to our work, but also adds to the professionalization of our field. This language of "question, data, analysis, research" heightens the already present reflection on and adaptations to teaching. We, as teachers, may come to the field for a variety of reasons, but I aim to see we stay not only because we love it, but also because we continue to work at it and can revel in sharing our learned expertise with others.
Are you currently doing action research in your classroom? Looking to start? Have thoughts on the process? Share comments below to continue the conversation.
My Current Inspiration: The Art of Classroom Inquiry (Hubbard & Power, 2003)
I am a Twitter convert. My initial thought about Twitter was , "Why?" Why would I want to share my thoughts in such a public space? Why does the world care about what I'm doing? Why do I want to encourage myself to write in often improper English in only 140 characters when I'm prone to big words and long sentences (this question being a fine example at a mere 201 characters)?
The real question was , "Why not?"
I have grown increasingly enamored with the possibilities of Twitter. I have grown my PLN by leaps and bounds, connected with other educators and professionals who share my interests, and been exposed to a multitude of opportunities for stretching my thinking. Just last night I went from being a TweetChat observer to a TweetChat participant (Thanks #educoach!). I found it both overwhelming (so many posts so fast) and exciting (so many ideas to ponder in such a short time).
Worth the risk to put myself a little outside my comfort zone? Absolutely. Asking all those questions in the first place had me really thinking about how, when, and in what contexts I wanted to use Twitter. I can't ask the teachers I work with to challenge themselves in how and when they use technology in their classrooms if I haven't and don't continue to challenge myself. Acknowledging the questions and trepidation we might feel before trying something new can only make the experience richer. We are thinking about our thinking. Processing our process. I'm all about that kind of learning!
Integrating technology is a lot about risk-taking. At the most basic level, it's a risk that any of the darn things will work in the exact moment that we need them (see previous post). On other levels, it is about taking risks to affect change. Integrating technology requires not only a change in tools, but can also be a a change in the classroom dynamic, the role of the teacher, the experience of the learner, to name a few. So many variables. I see a large part of my job as being the "Model Risk Taker." Some might say the guinea pig. I'm OK with that.
I was very unsure about using Twitter initially, but I came, I saw, I keep learning. And I did that in a public sphere where other educators could see my successes and failures in real time. Bottom line: One must try. This is the true first lesson in technology integration.
I didn't start my career as an educator. I was a scientist. I studied cell growth and sequenced DNA. In my last semester of college (as I was deciding where in the field of research science I woud like to go), I participated in a program where science majors taught hands-on science in Atlanta public schools (ESEP - which has since been expanded and is still going strong). I didn't realize it then, but this was truly my first opportunity to participate in innovative education. At the heart of this innovation? Connecting. Connecting those doing science with those introducing it at its most basic levels in order to educate and excite students about the possibilities of science. It was then that I became interested in education.
The biology degree was followed by an MAT and teaching experiences in grades 5, 4, 2, and 1. I took more classes, tried out new techniques, collaborated with colleauges. With each new experience, I realized how much my peers and I learned, and how much better we became at our chosen vocation, by working together. Our face to face connections, the basis for developing ongoing collaborative relationships with colleagues, was invigorating and purposeful. It was then that I became an educator.
As my role in education has evolved, so too has my "connectedness." Through Twitter, emagazines, blog posts, Hangouts, and a plethora of other online resources, I have immersed myself in the offerings and potential of a digital world of professional development. I am connecting with an even wider array of experts and colleagues in my field than when I started with ESEP. I am conferencing and collaborating with learning partners across time and distance more effectively than during my initial classroom teaching experiences. And why? Because I am most connected to the concept of lifelong learning. This connection, and the drive to inspire it in others (with the help of an impressive array of technology-based tools), is how I have truly embraced being a Connected Educator.
As I've been thinking about what to write for my second ever blog post, many ideas have gone through my head. What kept coming back to me was the idea of working with reluctant tech users.
The most recent workshop I gave was for a group of teachers and their teen assistants. Quite a mix of tech comfort levels and familiarity! In my pre-workshop conference with the educational director, "reluctance" was a theme. Throughout many of these pre-conferences, reluctance has been at the forefront: reluctance to use tech at all, reluctance to try something different, reluctance to give some of the control to students, reluctance to allow students to use their own devices, and so on. As I planned for the day, I thought about tools to model that were simple, applied to a variety of content areas, and allowed for teachers and teens to work together with their students with just 1 device per grade level owned by the school. (Yep, one!) The final choices for tools to model: Padlet and Plickers.
Padlet is one of my all time favorites. I've used it to provide a resource bank, as a student response system, and was ready to try a KWL (a la this idea from Richard Byrne) where the K = tech tools that participants were familiar with, W = tech tools we want to learn about, and L = how it all came together in the classroom. This worked kind of like a job board to match teens and teachers with prior tech skills with others who were looking to learn a new tool (per questions in the W column). All was working well until...
Wrong #1 - Internet down. No one's posts were adding or refreshing on the page.
Same workshop. Internet back. Let's try Plickers with questions to start discussions about organizing for tech like: "I must have one device per student to use tech in the classroom. T/F" and "I need to know everything that an app can do before I use it in my classroom. T/F" (Side note. I'm going "False" on both counts. One, I really wanted to point out how the one device that teachers had access to could be used in so many ways and it only takes one to get started. Two, I want the teachers I work with to know WHY they are using an app and what LEARNING GOALS the app is best for before knowing what every tap and click will do.) Again, all going well until...
Wrong #2 - Page load error and the cool Plickers response graph is a no show.
It happens. To all, or many of us. The WiFi only goes out when the technology presenter is visiting, yes? Sure enough, all the evaluations of the workshop were along the lines of "Great tools, so excited. Biggest concern is that it won't work when I need it!" Sounds good, but not really what I was going for in terms of taking away some of the reluctance to use tech in the classroom.
So... turning my two wrongs into a right? What a great opportunity to model what really could happen when you have a great plan with tech (I suggested teachers check out this planning tool from our website.), but it goes awry. During the workshop, we moved on to creating questions that would initiate discussion instead of answering a few to start. We went old school with thumbs up-thumbs down and had a good chuckle about it. We looked at screen shots instead of live Padlet walls to get the idea. This was a great time to model what teachers have to do all the time: think on their feet. How many of us have had lessons with no tech at all go differently than planned? Do we stop using whiteboards when the marker dries up? Do we skip the whole lesson if one handout is MIA? Nope. We keep going. We find a way to turn it around because the tool is just a tool, but the teaching and learning happens with the thinking. And what isn't right about that?
Well, here we go. I've been thinking about starting a blog for quite awhile now and the #educoach blog challenge was just what I needed to make the leap. My brain has just been full of ideas and thoughts about ways to transfer instructional technology techniques, plans, and ideas designed initially for secular education to the Jewish complementary school classroom. I'm hoping that by reflecting on those ideas in this space -which is gratefully more than 140 characters per post ;) - I will be able to put my ideas into practice for a larger audience while building my professional learning network (PLN).
I'm an educational technology specialist, former elementary school teacher, avid reader, and lifelong learner.
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