On Thursday, September 24, 2020, #G2Great welcomed authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey to chat about their current book (which is one of the titles in this series, Link). The Wakelet from the chat is available for your perusal here.
This review of their book by Jackie Acree Walsh said so much that I actually thought my work was done as far as this blog post.
Echoing through the pages of this timely book is the message: Effective teaching is effective teaching, no matter where it occurs. Teacher voices and classroom examples animate core principles of research-based teaching and learning, enabling the reader to visualize practices in both face-to-face and online learning environments. Multiple self-assessments and templates for reflection support reader interaction with the content. The authors connect Visible Learning and informed teacher decision-making to all facets of effective lesson design and delivery, and address the important issues of equity and inclusiveness; learner self-regulation and driving of their own learning; and use of formative evaluation and feedback to move learning forward. A must-read book! Jackie Acree Walsh, Book Flyer Link (Corwin site)
What a great book that builds on our existing knowledge and pedagogy as well as our values and best intentions! But never let it be said that I didn’t share my own ideas and thinking! Let’s get started with Doug and Nancy’s thoughts about a message from the heart!
What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?
Taking care of oneself is essential. Teachers are so giving, sometimes to the point where they sacrifice their own physical and mental well being for the sake of the students and communities they serve. Self-care isn’t selfish. It gives you the emotional muscles needed to serve others effectively.
So what does self-care entail? What do teachers and school staff need to be thinking about? Module 1 in The Distance Learning Playbook addresses this topic. Individual teachers and teams can work through this module to consider actions that will engage and impact students. An excerpt is available from Corwin at (Link) to explore a work / life balance.
One example: If you are considering a “standing desk” to avoid sitting all day every day, think about how you could “try this out” without spending money on a new desk.
HOW? Try a paper box . . . those sturdy boxes that reams of copy paper come in. Do you have one on hand? Or a crate? Set your computer on that box or crate to “raise” the eye level camera for distance learning. Find materials in your home that could be used to raise the work level of your desk in order to create your own DIY standing desk with $0 cost. WIN/WIN!
Do you want to increase the likelihood that you will carry through with actions to increase engagement and impact? Find a commitment partner and agree on what and when you need assistance from your partner in order to be successful.
All of this is possible because Doug and Nancy are quite specific about their success criteria and share those criteria as well as ways to think about rating the criteria and determining the importance of each factor. Link to an example.
What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?
The big takeaway is that we realized that as a field we know a lot about teaching and learning, and we didn’t forget it when we needed to engage in distance learning. We hope teachers will regain their confidence as they link what they know to new implementation practices.
This book is titled: The Distance Learning Playbook with a subtitle “Teaching for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting.” That “any setting” means that the basic principles apply across all settings. Yes, distance learning may be one setting but it does not wipe out all other teacher knowledge around pedagogy and curriculum. We don’t reset at zero when the delivery models change; instead, we sort and sift to ensure that we are choosing the BEST strategies and tools for engaging and impacting learning. This information is included in Module 9: “Learning, Distance or Otherwise”.
What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?
Like educators everywhere, we had to rapidly shift to remote learning this spring. But going forward, we knew that we couldn’t remain in a state of crisis teaching. John Hattie’s Visible Learning scholarship has transformed education worldwide. Dozens of educators opened their virtual classrooms to us to create a new visual lexicon for how those evidenced practices are enacted in distance learning. Weaving the two together has transformed the conversation. We hope that it sparks action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever.
“Action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever” is the goal. Time, learning opportunities and resources like this text have provided examples of increased learning for students. With a “can do” growth mindset and a toolbelt of best ideas and resources, we can and MUST improve learning. And as a part of self-care and informed, reflective decision-making, our days do not have to be filled with doom and drudgery. We can and MUST build in time for laughter and relationships with our students, parents and communities in order to sustain our lives in these challenging times. Additional ideas on this line can be found in “Module 3: Teacher—Student Relationships From a Distance.”
How are you handling your self-care needs?
What impact are you designing in your lesson planning?
Additional resources: The Distance Learning Playbook – Corwin link Free resources – Corwin link Introduction to Visible Learning – Corwin link 3 part Webinar – Teaching Channel and Distance Learning Playbook registration – link Free Webinar: Going Deeper With Distance Learning, Tuesday Sept 29 @ 12pm PDT/ 3pm EDT – Registration on Corwin site
This blog post is dedicated to all of us who are either working in schools or attending schools across our nation and throughout the world. Unless you are going to school right now, it would be difficult to understand the level of stress we are all experiencing. Teachers, administrators, support staff, and especially students are all coping with the impact of COVID-19 and it is not without some cost. This is why #G2Great focused on taking our professional and personal pulse for the 2020 -21 school year. As I think about how to shape this post I can scarcely get through the replies to question one of the Wakelet without my pulse beating like a rabbit.
Some are 100% virtual. Others are hybrid which may look like this: two cohorts of students attending in person Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays Every Wednesday is a virtual day for all students. Some are attending in-person full time with social distancing and mask-wearing. Others are attending full time within their own class bubble without social distancing. It may be easy to read and conceptualize what these options might be like; a person might say, “I get it, I am informed. I read the the CDC’s Continuum of Risk but school administrators and leaders know what they are doing.” You’d be correct to have confidence in us. We are doing everything we can to make school safe and secure for students and staff. However, we have never done this before, and it is the ongoing emotional strain of working within these systems that is like a silent oppressive force.
This teacher is speaking her truth, and her truth is very much in line with my own. Many of you reading this post today may be feeling the same way. We bring both expertise, empathy to the job regardless of our personal struggle. Whether we are showing up virtually or face to face we are giving it our all. The word that keeps coming back to me is resilience. Teachers are resilient.
Did you know, there are seven essential building blocks for resiliency? According to Kenneth Ginsburg, they are: competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control. It should be no surprise that teachers demonstrate all seven every day.
Competence & Confidence
Val brings up a very important point and good reminder for us all with her tweet. Use an asset lens because we all feel much better about ourselves and our circumstances when we feel competent.
Once you feel competent it is a natural shift to grow confident. Mollie is making another important point, growing confidence comes from putting your professional energy to tried and true professional practice. Emphasize “kidwatching” and relationship building and bring some familiar experiences back no matter what setting you happen to be teaching in right now.
Connection & Character
I got you Julie. Knowing that a caring community is there to give you advice, or just there to listen without judgement is something we all need. Get that any way you can. Maybe your school is not a place that offers that support, but then look for it someplace else. Twitter, and #g2great in particular have become very important to me. I know I belong, I found my people.
I was drawn to Fran’s tweet, because it is just good advice for us all. Living the advice offered in her tweet would be an excellent model of character in action. Especially living in these times where people of good character can be difficult to find. I can do my part, I can try to live up to Fran’s words and that helps to ground me.
Contribution & Coping
While I don’t know this for sure, but I would wager that Kathy Sahagain, paid for those books out of her own pocket. I feel it in my bones, but even if she didn’t, she is a great example of an excellent teacher. Teachers like Kathy contribute towards the wellbeing of students above all else. I have found, that while we teachers may have varied professional beliefs, the one constant is the compassion and dedication we have for students. We care. We do whatever it takes.
No administrators have said these words to me, but it helps me to know that they were said. I can borrow those words, and repeat them in my mind and that is helping me to cope with the strain.
I cannot give you a favorite book. I cannot be the leader who is present in your school to deliver the words that help you to cope with the professional load. I can be the little voice that reminds you to take control in this moment. May I direct your attention to my esteemed colleague and friend, Laura Robb? I say this on Twitter all the time, but I need you to really do it this time, “Listen to Laura…”
Whether you are coping with the pandemic just fine, or if you are drowning, or struggling like me, know that it is all ok. Everything you are feeling is ok, and needs no justification. There is so much that is out of our control, so grab onto what you can. One thing you can do, is to take good care of yourself.
Nurture yourself, treat yourself as you would your students, or a beloved family member, or friend. Take the weekend as a gift to yourself, because you are strong, you are talented, and you are resilient. You are doing the impossible five days a week, so breathe and take a lesson from the incredible Viola Davis and know you are deserving of self-care. You are worth it.
For an archive of the chat this week check out the Wakelet here.
So I am sitting down to reflect on both the chat this week and how we, the teachers of the world, are keeping things moving despite the challenges we face. I don’t want this post to come across as roses because this uncertain time we are in is anything but roses. Many of us are faced with new teaching situations that people call hybrid models or working online. Another group of us are in our buildings face to face with students. Wearing masks, behind plexiglass dividers. With our students but still so far away. It is hard not to feel as though it is all too much. So I don’t want this post to come across as some kind of “It will be great” rose coloured glasses mess because we don’t know if it will be and I don’t want to put that on teachers. I do want to reflect on why holding on to our passions and purpose can at least provide a bit of light in this time of uncertainty.
Before the school year started I wasn’t sure what it was going to look like. I knew that I was going to focus on reading and writing and sharing because that is what I am passionate about. This summer I did a lot of reading around equity, I read books and took online classes to further explore my own understandings around race. I started the year with a plan. I was passionate and put the learning I had done into my planning and the work I wanted my students to do. Now as we all know things never go according to plan so the beautiful work I had planned has turned out kind of like a DIY project that you find on Pinterest. Not a fail by any means but it sure is not as pretty as advertised. Here is the thing though, it is ok. We are faced with a challenge we have never had before and we are a passionate group teachers. We will work and push and strive to be the best because people have told us we are rockstars and superheroes and the best. We work and push and strive because we want to be. Not for ourselves, not most of us anyway, but for our students. We want to bring this energy to the craft we love because we know our students can feel that excitement. The passion is important but so is giving ourselves grace to rest when we are weary. None of us have unlimited tanks. Taking time to care for ourselves is important. Taking time to acknowledge that we are not rockstars, we are not superheroes, we are people how love what they do, are passionate about it BUT we also need time to regroup. We need to be given the chance to explore new ways of teaching that meet this challenge we face and when we fall, and we will, we need to let our passion lift us up when we are ready to try again.
In the simplest of terms I think as teachers our purpose is to teach. I think in these uncertain times we often over think that. I have many times seen these types of images
and wondered to myself if just teaching, if just reading with and writing beside my students was enough. We are asked to be so much, expected to be so much, it can become so heavy. Lately I am seeing more and more seasoned, amazing educators considering stepping back. Leaving the profession they love because the purpose has become muddy and the passion burns out. I don’t blame them, I think it sometimes, too. It is ok. I came across a friend’s post that referred to themselves as a failure. I was struck in that moment because this teacher who serves the greatest purpose inspiring so many students and teachers felt this way, how many others are feeling it too? The uncertainty of our work right now is shaking us all but we also know a little secret. We will figure it out. One thing has not changed, our students. We don’t do this work to be rockstars or superheroes or champions or pirates or saviours. We do this work because we want to teach and inspire our scholars to seek out knowledge and create change. It might be muddy right now, we might be pushing our way through and we might stumble but holding on to what we have always known to be true, that our purpose is to teach, we will find our way out and back up. We might just need a hand.
I think in the end if we can manage to keep our passion for this beautiful work we are blessed to do burning and keep our eyes on the purpose, the true purpose, we will weather this storm. There are so many distractions out there. Quick fixes, platitude spouting carnival barkers, door to door salesmen pushing the next book that doesn’t really address the work we do but says all these nice things. These all cloud our purpose. As teachers we sense these things and avoiding them is what that sense of professionalism is all about. Who are we working for? What is our purpose? Where is our passion for this work? Are we, despite the ever-changing landscape, holding true to who we are as teachers and keeping our students as the focus? In the end, I think we must look at the simple truths. Here are mine.
I got into teaching because I wanted to help my students think critically and find joy in learning. I am fuelled by that spark we see when those learning moments come alive. No pandemic can erase that, no uncertainty can wash it away. Will I need to take more breaks? Sure and that is ok.
On 9/3/20, I experienced what it feels like for a dream to come true twitter style when Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne joined our #G2Great chat as guest hosts. This was certainly a day to honor their remarkable new book, Made for Learning: How the Conditions of Learning Guide Teaching Decisions. But it was also a dual celebration that Brian Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning would be introduced to a new generation of teachers. The fact that our chat was also Made for Learning publishing day was the celebratory icing on the cake. If you missed this chat live, you can revisit our Wakelet here.
Made for Learning represents a glorious new beginning based on Brian Cambournes sixty-year research journey. Brian’s book, The Whole Story, was published in 1988. As I anticipate the arrival of my copy of Made for Learning thirty-two years after The Whole Story was published, I can still recall holding his book in my hands knowing full well that it would forever change the way countless educators would look at teaching. Brian’s Conditions were born through many hours of thoughtful observations of children in their natural settings and this connection to the learning process is a testament of how The Conditions have changed how we view learning.
What I love most about Brian’s hot off the press collaboration with Debra Crouch is that Made for Learning embraces this same spirit of teaching I read about over three decades ago. Like its predecessor, teaching and learning are thoughtfully intertwined and thus viewed not as what we do TO children but how we take advantage of in-the-moment responses to learners engaged in a learning experience as we honor them through professional decision-making FOR learners. Made for Learning elevates our understandings with classroom examples that Debra and Brian lovingly placed across the pages of their book. These powerful teaching-learning additions help us transition from theory to practice as we bring The Conditions to life for a new generation of children.
You can read more about Brian and Debra here by clicking on the red boxes at the far left side. Since it’s always helpful to hear about the authors’ process from the authors, I’ll begin by sharing their motivation for writing Made for Learning in their words with the first of three questions we asked them:
What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?
If we want democracy as we know it to survive, schools must produce a critically literate citizenry. Therefore, we need to make learning to read and write as easy as possible. This, in turn, means using a pedagogy which does not complicate the process, and, importantly, results in durable learning.
In classrooms, we see teachers trying to put constructivist pedagogy and associated teaching practices into place without a deep understanding of constructivist methodology. Many of these same educators are unaware of the Conditions of Learning, which provide a framework for applying a constructivist methodology. The Conditions of Learning theory serves as a framework for designing learning settings and for analyzing why learning is occurring—or not.
In her opening story, author Debra Crouch wrote, “My hope for readers of this book is that, through understanding the Conditions of Learning—whether it’s the first time hearing about them or it’s a revisit— educators will consider and reconsider what it is they believe about learning, decide whether and how their practices align with those beliefs, and, ultimately, trust themselves to make decisions that matter for their learners. To decide for themselves: What is the distinction between learning and teaching?”
This distinction so beautifully captured in their words is also reflected in this book quote as we are reminded that our observations of children actively engaged in the process of learning both inform and guide rather than dictate our professional choices and thus those choices are changing and growing as our understandings of children change and grow. This is, of course, a stark contrast to the long-standing belief that teaching can be scripted and that outside sources can control this interplay of teaching and learning. It cannot!
Made for Learning offers a front row seat where Debra and Brian SHOW us how to accomplish this across the pages of the book with far more detail than I could possibly offer in a chat reflection. Instead, I captured the wise words of Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne during our #G2Great chat to extend and support their book in a lovely merger of print and twitter chat fueled dialogue. I began by perusing their tweets during a fast-paced chat hour and then organized them looking for patterns, wanting to slow down our dialogue by sharing what we can glean from their words. And so, I offer Six Takeaways inspired by the collective wisdom of Debra and Brian:
Takeaway #1: Learners as Capable Beings
The very heart and soul of Made for Learning is the deep-rooted belief that every child is capable of learning. And when they are surrounded by those who demonstrate in actionable ways their unwavering commitment to this belief, it can become the tipping point to success. Brian points out that if what we say and do is contrary to this belief, it is likely to be passed on to children and how they perceive themselves as learners and humans. Debra reminds us that there is a vast difference between viewing teaching as a response to the child in front of us in the course of learning vs. viewing teaching as a process of “giving stuff” to children in the form of information, directives, products and dictates. How we view this teaching-learning connection is often apparent within minutes of stepping into a classroom.
Takeaway #2: Learning as Meaning-Making
One of the central features of learning spaces where The Conditions are alive and well is that the act of learning is viewed as a meaning-making process. This is largely reflected by the teacher’s language. By inviting children to think like scientists, mathematicians, explorers, historians, writers and so on, we change not only the way they perceive that learning but also the role they play within that learning. Debra extends this invitational process of learning by reminding us that learning is a collaborative experience where children are afforded the time and space to share and then refine their thinking in a culture of collective discourse. In this way, meaning making is viewed as an active process that best occurs by moving along a respectful pathway where children can share their thinking as they also are able to learn new ideas within the company of others. The idea that this is also how we best learn in the real world is no accident.
Takeaway #3: Learners as Trusted “Doers”
Debra highlights the Conditions of Engagement as a process where we view children as “doers,” or owners of their own learning. Both Debra and Brian remind us that creating a positive and supportive learning environment is critical. This allows us to respond to children as they are assuming increasing control of their own learning so we can ensure that we do not inadvertently promote dependence on the teacher. When this supportive environment offers tools and visual displays as scaffolds of what we see and hear within the learning process, this can provide a visible paper trail toward growing ownership of learning as we also increase students’ confidence in their own ability to do so. This is in contrast to compliant dissemination encouraged by programs, packages, boxes and mandates that rob children of their rightful place as doers and owners.
Takeaway #4: Learning as Approximations
Across the pages of Made for Learning, most of the student examples reflect learning through the lens of approximation. These approximations occur in on the spot learning that reflects the supportive noticings of an observant kidwatcher offering timely feedback that can move the learner ever closer to growing understanding and independence. Brian emphasizes how this begins by drawing from our own lives as a model who has engaged in this shifting process of approximating. Debra illustrates how thoughtful and responsive in the moment questions can reflect our own curiosity about their thinking in a way that extends this learner-centered process. Approximating is not about labeling responses as right or wrong but using those responses as a stepping stone to new learning that offer us new insights into student thinking at any given time from one approximation to the next.
Takeaway #5: Learners as Individuals
Authentic learning is a key feature of Made for Learning but authenticity without time and opportunity to apply and practice that learning over time ignores the very purpose of authenticity. Brian reminds us to “identify and share student transformations” that occur within this application process vs merely replicating (and often regurgitating) what we have taught. Debra extends this transformative process of application by encouraging us to be intentional about sharing our explicit expectations for responding while also leaving ample room for student choice. If we want our students to engage in learning as doers and owners of that learning then leaving room to make the choices that best reflect them as the unique learners they are is essential. Their choices and how they respond to them will also deepen understandings we can gain about students each step of the way.
Takeaway #6: Learning as Passion-fueled
The #G2Great chat experience with Brian and Debra felt like a celebration of what learner-centered is all about so this us a fitting final takeaway. Brian’s suggestion to share stories that reflect our personal transformations as learner is such an important one. When children can see who we a learners and that this transformational process is unique to each individual, it will help them to reflect on and verbalize their own unique transformations. Debra adds that the “student/teacher bond allows us to truly “teach with a sense of awe. The choices we make as teachers within the course of student learning is far reaching. If we have any hope for learners to be passionate about their learning, then it makes sense to first model our passion about what we teach and what we see as teachers who are also learners. These connections create a teaching-learning environment where agency and inquiry work in tandem. And this has never been more important than at a time when the pandemic has shifted teaching-learning to a virtual setting.
Before I return for my closing reflection, I’d like to share our second question with a response from Debra and Brian:
What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?
Learning is not “stuff” given to a child. Learning is the totality of the meanings constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed by a learner. This learning drives teaching decisions, not the other way around.
Nature has already worked out a “fail-safe” pedagogy for ensuring newborns will learn how to make meaning using oral language. This fail-safe pedagogy involves certain conditions being present which nurture oral language development. Written language is a different form of language and is learned under similar Conditions of Learning.
All learners have the potential to learn. When teachers structure an environment bringing the Conditions of Learning to life, they support this potential to develop. Teachers’ beliefs about learners, and learning in general, determine opportunities that are provide for those learners.
A shift in belief and language by teachers and students to one that aligns with constructivist pedagogy is necessary for ensuing student learning that is “fail-safe.” This shift necessitates moving from a Discourse of Acquisition, where learning viewed as “stuff” to be transferred from a teacher to a student, to a Discourse of Meaning-Making, where learning is viewed as meanings constructed by a learner.
Teachers in constructivist classrooms organize time and resources in particular ways to encourage approximations of and responsibility for what is being learned. They respond to learners’ attempts in ways that communicate unconditional expectations and beliefs in the learner’s abilities. This in turn supports true student engagement. Constructivist learning settings support M. A. K. Halliday’s belief that we learn language, through language, and about language, SIMULTANEOUSLY.
Unless we examine our own belief system and language, we will never fully understand why we do what we do in the way we do it. We will not understand why certain instruction works and, even more crucially, what to do when it doesn’t. The Conditions of Learning can serve as a framework in this exploration of practice.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS: An Insiders View of Made for Learning
My long-held deep appreciation for The Conditions of Learning detailed by Brian Cambourne in 1988 in The Whole Story has only been strengthened by this exquisite new collaboration with Debra Crouch. I am so grateful to them for writing this book that I know will breathe new life into The Conditions in classrooms everywhere where children will flourish through their wisdom.
In closing I’d like to share an unexpected revelation when I realized that it reflects the learner-centered view of Made for Learning. While I was working on the takeaways for this post, I suddenly felt like a poster child for what that learner centered teaching is all about. I contemplated over two dozen tweets from Brian and Debra, quickly realizing that I had to pare them down. I then began doing what I have done the better part of my adult life but rarely even thought about from an inside-out view as a learner. Yet today I felt as if I was gazing into a mirror where my status as unique learner that took years to exist and thrive suddenly made sense why my early years as a learner were less than successful. An essential part of my learning process is ample time for mental rehearsal before I can even consider starting a piece of writing. My unusual and often slow process was seen as an unacceptable path in my K-12 pursuits and a contradiction to long-standing teacher centered dictates that define acceptability. My teachers’ refusal to acknowledge my process as legitimate even though it seemed unusual to them led to many years of struggling through on-command writing. It was not until I began my undergraduate work to become a special education teacher that I was afforded the freedom to uncover the very process of learning that allowed me to be successful later in life than most and ultimately appreciate writing that I had abhorred for so many years.
While some of these steps I need to take may seem trivial, unnecessary and extraordinarily time consuming to others, they are a very essential part of my writing process that entails gathering, exploring, organizing, reorganizing envisioning, revising, moving, eliminating, adding, jotting and finally putting a first draft to paper in the form of scattered seeds of ideas that are in my head awaiting a writerly home. This leads to changes as my initial plan gradually morphs across the writing process I have found to be my saving grace. With each new step I begin to refine my thinking while I move ideas around again and again, which ultimately led me to change direction in the sixth takeaway and omit the seventh takeaway altogether.
It seems fitting to end a post about celebrating and supporting our learners in all their uniqueness and making room for choice both in what and how we engage in learning by sharing this from a personal perspective. I decided to capture the real-life images of someone who views learning as a slow path to discovery and acceptance and my deep belief as an educator that all children truly are capable, including this capable learner who was once described as a hopeless “non-conformant.” This is a perfect examples of what it means to be ‘made for learning’ and why our learners and their process to matter how different than our own should be celebrated rather than seen as an oddity to be “fixed.” Zooming in on my own process of meaning-making in technicolor view certainly put “made for learning” into perspective.
With that in mind, I’d like to close with individual reflections from Debra and Brain on our third and final question.
What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?
Brian: Human children are made to learn by making and communicating meaning using a wide range of symbol systems. This learning will be more successful and durable if the Conditions of Learning can be applied to the learning settings teachers create.
Debra: Children come to us ‘made for learning’ and it’s up to their teachers to honor and teach from that perspective. Every child deserves a teacher who believes in them as learners—unconditionally. For, without that unreserved and unqualified conviction, children may learn in spite of us, but not because of us.
Finally, I’d like to express our deep gratitude to Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne. We are so honored that they shared their immense wisdom on our #G2Great chat and gave us a very personal glimpse into their incredible new book, Made for Learning. This new beginning will long support our shifting perspective for current and future generations of children and impact the choices we make to ensure that we honor our children who are all Made for Learning through our actions.