on getting from training to teaching…

As hard as I try to reflect on my teaching and the learning that I’m trying to support, the reality is that sometimes I just get so busy that I teach by habit. Juniors in our International Baccalaureate program begin working on what is called the Extended Essay each fall. The “IB EE” as it is called here at our acronym-loving haven of learning out here in the middle of the sea is an “independent self-directed piece of research finishing with a 4000-word paper” on a topic of each students’ choosing. Though the essay is independently researched and each student is paired with a faculty mentor, this year the library has been enlisted to meet with the IB EE cohort to guide them through the topic selection process and to help students develop their information seeking strategies based on the research question each has developed in concert with his/her mentor teacher.

As a second year teacher at Mid-Pacific, I get observed by the principal of the high school and am expected to develop a professional portfolio as part of the school’s professional evaluation process. As it turned out, my principal dropped in to observe my information seeking strategy session with the IB EE students where I proceeded to power my way through:

  • Building credibility with citations (Borrowed from John Boyce’s amazing blog, Honesty Honestly)
  • Reminders about types of sources and how they can be used
  • Finding evidence
  • Note taking strategies

In retrospect, WAY TOO much crammed into too little time to be of much use to anyone… #Sigh #WhatWasIThinking?

Note: I know that it may not seem like it from my posts to this blog, but I do actually know what I’m doing in the library most of the time, it’s just not very interesting to write about it. #ImJustSaying… #LOL!

In our post observation debrief my principal, Tom McManus, and I had a really productive dialog about “training vs. teaching.” While I’ve been “trained” in CPR numerous times over the years and have successfully completed the practice sessions on the plastic models, I’m really quite doubtful of my ability to effectively apply the CPR concepts beyond, “You, call 9-1-1 and come back after you’ve done it!” On the other hand, when I have been taught skills and concepts of increasing complexity and difficulty with consistent feedback over time, I have been able to learn tasks of significant difficulty and complexity. I eventually learned how to read, for example, even if it took me a bit longer than most of my peers! LOL!

It was with this “training vs. teaching” framework in mind that I read Shelagh Straughan’s amazing, I Second That Emotion, post about her efforts to build on Kulthau’s work on the affective dimensions of the research process. I immediately stole her idea, tailored it to my needs and my context, and put it to work.

My Harry Potter Sorting Hat-Style social-emotional learning assessment tool!

My Harry Potter Sorting Hat-Style social-emotional learning assessment tool!

It felt like having my very own Harry Potter sorting hat! Knowing that they were all in the earliest stages of the research process, I didn’t have to worry much about those that were feeling uncertain or feeling optimism and this, in turn, freed me up to chat with, coach and teach students who were feeling confusion, frustration, and doubt. Rather than training the cohort with one size fits all instruction, I was able to more strategically meet with those students who were expressing feelings falling outside of what we would typically expect to see as students launch into research.

A few days later I was lucky enough to attend the amazing Schools of the Future Conference here in Honolulu which focuses on deeper learning, project-based learning, and technology integration. A theme that seemed to come into clear relief over the course of the conference was the importance of attending to students’ social-emotional needs. A session by Douglas Kiang of Punahou School on The Wearable Classroom focused on technologies that allow students to express that which is internal in an externally visible way.  He shared some short vlogs in which he asked students to use their webcams, phones, or tablets to record short videos of themselves talking about their work and their learning.

In my first effort to use student vlogging in a while, I have asked my IB EE students to film a 60-90 second vlog talking about their research work. I asked them to tell me:

  • What they think [about their research so far…]
  • How they feel
  • What they need
How do you feel?

How do you feel?

Self-assessment vlogging instructions.

Self-assessment vlogging instructions.

While student vlogging has always intrigued me, the complexity of creating, posting, and viewing student generated video has it’s challenges. A big part of the reason that I decided to give vlogging another shot is that I thought that I had found a solution to the challenges of collecting and viewing student file. I learned a way to create a Google Dropbox that would allow students to upload files directly from their iPad camera rolls to a folder in my Google Drive and set it up. Pre-testing with a variety of files indicated that it would work, but even at 30-60 seconds, students vlog files exceeded the allowable upload size. Fortunately most of our IB students already had school Youtube channels in place so vlogs were upload there and students submited the links to their “unlisted” videos to a Google Form that I built on the fly.

My hope in trying student vlogging was to both get a feel for the kind of information literacy and resource support that would be helpful to students as they research, and to be able to forward each student’s self-assessment vlog to their various teacher mentors in order to give mentors a more holistic view of their students’ needs as they progress through the research process.

I am incredibly excited about the reflection and insight that emerged from students’ vlogs. I found evidence of deep thinking about their topics, thoughtful assessments and reasoning for their feelings at this point in the process, and really great reflection on what they “need” at this point. One very surprising and encouraging trend is how many of our students honestly stated that more than anything, they needed to carve out and commit time to their Extended Essay work. Though it was unintended, I think that the vlogging exercise helped many students come to the realization that sometimes their “needs” on a task come from mentors and other outside influences, but even more often, the “need” is something that must come from within. “I need to spend more time doing my research.”

Here are some samples shared with students’ generous permission:

I’m really excited about the possibilities that student vlogging may offer as I feel like I have finally found an assessment tool for my information literacy instruction that is easy to assign and easy for students to create, but that gives me wonderfully useful feedback that I can use to target subsequent instruction aimed at the whole group, sub-groups, or to individuals.

For the first time in a long time, this week, I felt like I was teaching rather training!


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