Saturday, December 22, 2012

Educators as Learners... @ The Learning Forward National Conference!

One of the things we frequently discuss as a staff is our dual role of Educator AND Learner.  This was evident recently as three Austin educators attended the 2012 Learning Forward National Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.  Kara Cadue, Liz Malone, and Cooper Hilton spent five jam-packed days learning from leading educators, researchers, and professors from around the country.  We suspect they also managed to squeeze in some time catching the city "sites." :)

We have asked them to each share a reflection from one of the sessions that they attended.  In addition, they will share their learning with the Austin staff at an upcoming professional learning day in February.

Liz Malone- Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions

I recently had the opportunity to attend “Learning Forward,” an educators’ conference held in Boston, Massachusetts.  The atmosphere at this conference was like nothing I had ever before experienced.  From the moment we arrived, we were inundated with exceptional learning sessions as well as multiple opportunities to connect with educators from around the globe.  And if that wasn’t enough, we also found ourselves in a city where we were surrounded by the stories and heroes that helped to shape early American history.  One could not have asked for an environment more conducive to learning and growing than what we found in Boston!

While there, I had the privilege of attending a session entitled, “Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions.”  In this session we explored the idea of teaching our learners how to formulate and utilize effective questions in their learning.  Sounds simple, right?  Maybe even obvious.  However, I quickly realized that this idea was not nearly as obvious as it might sound.  As we worked through the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) with our facilitators, I began to think about what goes on in my own classroom.  With my background in Science, inquiry based learning is nothing new to me.  I have been very purposefully using that strategy with my learners for several years.  Unfortunately, even with that practice in place, I found that, much of the time, I am still the one asking most of the questions.  Why is that, I wondered?  I began to reflect on some of the basic beliefs I held about my learners.  Did I trust them to ask the “right” questions?  Did I believe they were truly interested in learning?  Did I see them as competent and capable of taking ownership of their own learning?  In theory, my answer to all of these questions was, “Yes, of course I did!”  In practice though, I wasn’t so sure.    I decided it was time to take a good hard look at my own practice and find a way to tip the scales in the opposite direction.  The Question Formulation Technique was the perfect tool for the job!

The Question Formulation Technique is a “concise, powerful protocol that enables learners to produce their own questions, improve their questions, and strategize how to use them.”  This protocol consists of six core components:

·      A Question Focus: This is usually developed by the teacher and serves as a springboard for student questions.
·      A process through which learners produce questions: This process is very simple and is guided by four basic rules:

1.    Ask as many questions as you can.
2.    Do not judge or evaluate questions.
3.    Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
4.    Change any statement into a question.

·      An exploration and sort of open and closed questions.
·      A Selection of Priority Questions: Learners evaluate each question and identify those they believe to be the most important.
·      Next Steps: Learners and educators work together to decide how they will use the priority questions.
·      Reflection: Learners identify what they learned, how they learned it, and how they will use it.
As you can see, the process is a simple one.  It is not complicated or even very time consuming.   It is simply a way to put the reins of learning into the hands of the ones who should have been doing the steering in the first place.  Mike Rose, author of Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us, puts it this way.  The Question Formulation Technique begins with the simple request to get students to ask their own questions, but at its heart, it is about creating a classroom alive with dialogue, inquiry, and respect for the students’ minds.”  That sounds like the kind of classroom I want to create.  That sounds like the kind of classroom I would have loved to have been a part of as a child.

I end with a simple question.  What would classrooms look like if teachers asked fewer questions and students asked more?  More importantly, what would my classroom look like if I asked fewer questions, and my learners asked more?

Cooper Hilton- Promoting Global Competency

To say that I was blessed to be able to attend the Learning Forward National Conference would be an understatement!  Never before have I attended a conference so focused on improving instruction and doing so through the lens of 21st century learning.  I had an opportunity to get to know fellow educators from around the world and hear about their experiences as they wrestle with the same task of transforming our schools.  Some of the sessions I attended focused on topics such as building strong teacher teams and promoting deeper student questioning.

A session that I would like to share with you, though, focused on the importance and necessity of teaching global competence.  It was hosted by the Asia Society whose educational mission is to enhance teaching in the US by pushing students to interact more with the world and develop the skills necessary to be successful in a global economy.  I was excited by how closely this mission aligns with our transformation currently underway!

With 1 out of every 5 jobs in the US tied to international trade, it’s easy to see that an understanding of other cultures will be crucial for our learners as they leave us.  How do we develop these global skills, dispositions, and knowledge?  The Asia Society argues that they can be built by focusing on these 4 ideas:
·      Investigate the World-  This is students investigating things beyond their immediate environment and identifying real world problems.
·      Recognize Perspectives- Students recognize and express their own perspective and identify what influences those perspectives.
·      Communicate Ideas- Students communicate their ideas with diverse audiences.
·      Take Action- Students translate their ideas into appropriate actions to improve conditions.

I had two main take-aways from the four ideas listed above.  The first take-away relates to our Enrichment Clusters at Austin.  These Clusters take students with similar interests and passions and group them to explore those interests and work towards an end product or service.  The process that students follow in their Clusters is very similar to the steps/ideas listed above.  I will be interested in seeing how these steps/ideas could be used to drive the development of our Clusters and perhaps include elements to address global competency. 

My second take-away that got my wheels turning was a realization of how each of these 4 steps/ideas encompass the 21st century skills that will be required of our learners.  My session was full of educators from around the globe (including Singapore, Canada, and Australia).  When given the task to compile a list of the skills/knowledge that our learners will need to be successful, we all identified similar ideas: Communication, Collaboration, Tolerance, Creativity/Innovation, Self-Direction, Perspective, Problem-Solving.  By promoting global competency (through the process outlined above), we are in turn teaching 21st century learning skills. 

I look forward to continuing the conversation at our campus!

Kara Cadue-

Imagine my surprise when I learned I would be going to Boston, Mass., for a learning conference!  Now while it’s true I love to learn, it’s even more of a truth I love learning about our American heritage and history.  And if you know anything at all about how our great country came into existence then you know the roots of our story are embedded deeply within the great city of Boston.  A city in which I had yet to visit…until just a couple of weeks ago when I attended the Learning Forward’s Annual Conference.  Although I’m not totally past questioning why I was a lucky one chosen to attend, it is time for me to begin to ask a different question.  That question that when answered begins to impact so many more people than just myself.  That question that turns the focus off of the fact that I was chosen to attend and onto the responsibility now set before me.  That question:  How can I best share what was learned at the conference?    And that question:  How can I convince others to embrace what was learned so as to positively impact our community, our school and ultimately our children?  I begin by reflecting here on our PD@Austin blog.
Learning Forward….what is it?
Learning Forward, once known as the National Staff Development Council, is an international, non-profit association of learning educators.  This group began in 1969 and today is an organization with many members, many different products and services, and a purpose which is directly tied to student achievement.   This group of “staff developers”   believes that what and how adults learn is just as important and crucial to study as what and how our young children learn.   We are fortunate in our district to have someone with strong ties to this organization.  Our very own Michelle King, Director of Professional Development for CISD, is the current President –Elect for the Texas Learning Forward Affiliation and is the Chair Person for the 2013 Learning Forward Annual Conference happening right here in Grapevine, Texas.
On the first night of preconference I sat down to dinner with Michelle King and asked her to share her history with LF.  She explained how she first became involved while working as a math curriculum director in a different district.  She was ready to find a conference  where she could attend with the different curriculum directors, regardless of the content.  Learning Forward was that experience for her.  Rather than a focus on a specific content this focus was on the learning, and the learning was something each of Michelle’s colleagues could share.  Had I stopped to think about how long she had been involved with LF, I would have quickly realized what a gold mine I was sitting on. Boy was I about to find out!  Here’s a very brief overview of some of the sessions I was able to attend and how what I learned can affect us here in our district.
Preconference Sessions:
1)      The Hidden Secrets of Powerful Teacher Teams with Katherine Boles, Harvard, and Vivian Troen, Brandels University

1.     Some of my tweets from this session:
a.     Do your teacher teams engage in instructional talk or merely speak in terms of collegiality and mutual support? #learnfwd12
b.     More important than the "WHAT we are teaching" is the "HOW we are teaching". Do we discuss the "how" enough in team meetings?hmm#learnfwd12
We analyzed written and video cases of teachers’ meetings; we practiced “difficult conversations”; we began to understand how much is wasted during the various educator meetings.   We should be discussing instructional strategies more and logistics less.  The cost of the hour of a weekly team meeting would be much for effective if teachers left the meetings learning things that could change practice.  We left with “A Framework for Evaluating the Effectiveness of Teams” and also the book, The Power of Teacher Teams.  Book study anyone?
2)     Personal Learning Networks and Communities, for Ourselves and for our Students with Will Richardson @willrich45
1.     Some of my tweets from this session:
a.      "The change we are in the middle of isn't minor, and it isn't optional.” - Clay Shirkey
b.     Fascinating 2 consider how pages of history books will read when Learners 100 years from now are reading about the Info. Age & how it changed education.
c.     Here's a subtle shift even the most resistant teacher can make - get the kids LEARNING ready rather than COLLEGE ready.
d.     Here's a question: are we teaching our learners IN school the way they learn OUTside of school? Duh...should be!
e.     #learnfwd12 YeeHaw!! @willrich45 just gave shout out 2 districts in TX who r paving the way in Transformation!That's us @Coppellisd Proud!
It was a mind blowing kind of morning.  Check out the presentation HERE.    The afternoon was all about how to use things like: twitter, pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.  I did learn a cool new trick using Google Reader.  Still playing around with it! 
Conference Sessions (Monday – Wednesday)
3)      When They’ve Lost Interest, Have you Lost Them:  Strategies to Engage Reluctant Learners with Evette Avila from Time to Know
Due to technical difficulties, the presenter stood and lectured from her PowerPoint …consider the irony.  The best part was when she shared a video from “The Teaching Channel.”  Love an idea learned from it…have already shared it with some administrators and starting to have conversations with other brave souls, willing to take a risk in order to grow in our profession.  Is that you?

4)      Increasing Student Ownership of Learning with Earl Martin of Emporia State University and Ann Addison of Olathe, KS, School District
The Nine Strategies for Increasing Student Ownership was the focus for this morning session.  The session validated what we are already doing in our classrooms.  I was able to walk away with many notes and concrete examples of strategies and applications.  Check out my tweets (@Love2LearnSS) from #Learnfwd12 to see a sampling of ideas on ways we can and are effectively increasing student ownership of learning.
5)     Prioritizing Global Awareness in Your Professional Learning Community with Julia Delatorre of Primary Source in Watertown, Massachusetts; with Education First; and with Mary Ann DeMello –Assistant Superintendent of Hopkinton, Massachusetts

Through the use of some cleverly created quizzes, we participants were quickly made aware of our lack of geographical knowledge and our weak understanding of the term “Global Competence.”  We spent the rest of our time studying Global Competence.  What is it?  Why is it important to our students and our future?  And how we can create learners who are globally competent?  I would love to share at a faculty meeting exactly how and what was learned at this session. 

6)      Creativity – Sparking Higher Level Thinking with a team of educators from Stafford Elementary School in Stafford, Virginia
My last morning was spent with 4th and 5th grade teachers who took the time to send us through stations where we participated in the activities they use to spark the higher level thinking in their learners.  No doubt a room with these activities going on would = a room full of engaged students.   My folder is definitely full of goodies to share with my colleagues as soon as I can!
Though that was the last of my conference sessions, I could still share so much more.  We learned at meal time (networking lunch is a hallmark of LF conferences), we learned from amazing keynote speakers and LF panel guests and board members, we even ventured out a wee bit into the great city of Boston to walk The Freedom Trail.  Oh, how we learned that day!  My hope for you is that you’ll check out the Learning Forward organization and learn a few things for yourself. Maybe I’ve piqued your curiosity and you’ll chat with me about some of the goodies with which I’ve returned. Maybe you’ll attend a Learning Forward Conference this summer or the Annual Conference next December.  “The current system is no longer relevant…Educators can lead transformation if they are willing to shuck the mindset and open themselves to the challenge.” (McNulty, 2009)  Accept the challenge…and Learn Forward!!

1 comment:

  1. Great to read this wonderful report on your experience in our workshop on the Question Formulation Technique. We'd love to hear how you've implemented. You can share with other educators from around the country and the world at We're eager to learn from you.