Developing deep learning strategies

“Technology, strategically integrated with the other core components of the new pedagogies, unleashes deep learning.” A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning

My experience of using technology in teaching was while being the role of “Compters Teacher”. Every time I was teaching a technology concept, such as coding, text editing, digital design, I had a feeling of the concept itself being “naked”. Every time I had to think of a theme that could support learning on using digital tools. This way, I made my first steps of tech integration and began meeting teachers to discuss the curriculum content that could be supported by technology. Our school didn’t have a position of technology integrator yet and technology was as a separate subject. This role was obviously missing something. This was an example of how “technology used without powerful teaching strategies (and deep learning tasks) does not get us very far”. Learning about digital tools separately didn’t get us far until the establishment of the position of a technology integrator. After this improvement, everything has changed. Collaboration between teachers has significantly changed shape and structure of lessons. Student tasks became more complex and generally goal-directed, which brought new learning experiences for students. Such change has brought positive changes that motivated students as learners. Teachers had more experience of efficient collaboration and content creation that improved teaching methods. Therefore, students developed their skills in even more effective and attractive ways. Of course, it took a while to define the use of technology in the classroom as well as come up with the most effective strategies on how to implement technology integration with a certain subject. Technology integration is a  process requiring a lot of creative thinking. In general, I must admit that our teachers are very creative and very often their requests surprise me (in a positive way). Thanks to constantly improving digital platforms technology provides wider opportunities for effective learning.

“Without changes to the fundamental pedagogical models by which teachers teach and learners learn, technology investments have too often simply layered slightly more entertaining content delivery or basic skill practice on top of conventional teaching strategies that focus on the reproduction of existing content knowledge.” A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning

According to the same research by Michael Fullan Maria Langworthy, digital tools and resources create opportunities for new content discovery, global collaboration and new knowledge creation. Moreover, the effective use of technology allows teachers to improve students’ abilities to take leadership of their own learning. Technology provides an opportunity for students to learn collaboratively outside the school. This way students raise learning effectiveness.

When pedagogical and deep learning capacities are clearly defined and developed, digital tools and resources enable the:

1) discovery and mastery of new content knowledge;

2) collaborative, connected learning;

3) low-cost creation and iteration of new knowledge;

4) use of new knowledge with authentic audiences for “real” purposes;

5) enhancement of teachers’ ability to put students in control of the learning process, accelerating learner autonomy.

Today, technology as a separate subject almost doesn’t exist. It is more likely to be a tool for raising the efficiency of every subject being taught to students. Here are some examples of “Technology-Based Interventions in our school:

A digital book creation tool (WriteReader or Book Creator) supports student learning from age 4 – 11, which they use to improve their language, writing, research skills as wells as deepen understanding of science concepts, and much more. Our young students demonstrate high engagement while using this digital tool. They are using it surprisingly often – even during their free time. Students are actively developing their research skills for gathering relevant information for the digital book, this way taking leadership of their learning, designing and managing their own learning, because of their highly increased motivation. A very exciting moment for the students is sharing the created books in the classroom with the school community.

Photo by stem.T4L on Unsplash

Music – our students have a joint music and technology integration project, during which they learn various genres of music, make a music remix, and program Sphero robot to dance to that music. Moreover, they record a video of the dancing robot and edit it by adding pieces of the chosen music. Students learn, explore, experiment with variations of coding algorithms. This project lasts about 7 weeks. Students are highly motivated and involved during the entire project, they are looking for the best creative solutions in order to come up with the most original dancing robot.

French or other foreign languages – by using Thinglink during french class students create an interactive dictionary. For example, they add a picture of a bedroom and include tags explaining each item in the room in French. At the end of the project students visit each other rooms and learn new words by exploring peers’ rooms.

“It is therefore the pedagogy of the application of technology in the classroom which is important: the how rather than the what.”

One step back and two steps forward

Vulnerability – the quality of being vulnerable = able to be easily hurt, influenced or attacked. (Dictionary Cambridge.org)

If you are brave, you will fall, you gonna get hurt. (Brené Brown. “Daring Classrooms”)

Brené Brown in her speech (Brené Brown. Daring Classrooms – SXSWedu 2017) has emphasized four main skill sets of teaching courage in the classroom – Vulnerability, Clarity of Values, Trust, Rising Skills.

According to Brené “no vulnerability – no learning”. It is very important to create shame resilient classroom environment. Otherwise, students who are closed inside themselves are no longer learning. Students have to learn how to get up after failure or experience of shame in the classroom. Being able to admit being guilty because of not putting enough effort into learning is a part of being vulnerable. Without being vulnerable, we can not learn and teach empathy.

“Learning is inherently vulnerable and it’s like you’ve got a classroom full of turtles without shells.”

I’m teaching courage by emphasizing students’ mistakes as the best way of learning. I always encourage students to make mistakes and learn from them. This way I am teaching students courage for failing, backing up, and going forward. Sometimes, I see students crying while learning a new coding concept and I simply explain that this is part of the learning process. Mistakes are important, we can’t avoid them as well as we can not be experts of a new concept once we begin learning it. Just being a human I am vulnerable. Sometimes I understand my mistakes in teaching. Then, I admit the mistake in front of my students and sometimes even look for their support. It’s because we are learning together. I like learning empathy, a different understanding of the world surrounding us, creativity, courage from my students. It’s great to be different and special.

Dialogical learning

Paulo Freire describes five ideas that he believes are important for dialogue:

  1. Humility – according to Paulo Freire, “Dialogue cannot exist without humility”. I will always remember the words of one of the professors of my pedagogical study – “You have to manage to raise yourself to the level of a child”. I am always considering my students being equal humans and sometimes even higher. We, adults, have lost so much of what we had while being children – the courage of being silly, never-ending energy, curiosity and so much more.
  2. Hope – “…believing in students is a core part of instruction and learning.”  This is an invisible process, that is happening while learning. I “keep my fingers crossed” every time we learn a new concept. When we fail, I’m looking for other more effective ways of teaching it. This way I improve my teaching abilities.
  3. Faith -“…having faith in students can instill a true and profound sense of self-worth and help them to value themselves in all future relationships.” I don’t think learning can be successful without faith and trust. Students trust me when they know that I trust them, and this way our learning journey gets started.
  4. Love – Students always subconsciously analyze and feel us – adults. When we teach with love and passion, they learn the same way. The effect is reversible.
  5. Critical thinking – “students will not think unless we approach them with an openness and a desire to learn from them.”  In my classes, I love using inquiry-based activities to encourage students to think of the concept from different perspectives. This trait is essential in learning research strategies. I teach my students to be skeptical about what they read online and always look for more resources of information. Similar rules can be applied to the real world.

These traits can be demonstrated through classroom activities. By teaching digital citizenship skills  I encourage my students to think of positive sentences that describe rules of becoming a responsible digital, citizen.

My favorite practice is to let students take the teacher’s role and help classmates learn. We all are different and see the world differently, so learning from each other opens new horizons and points of view on the same things. No matter what age you are.

Research is a key to the future

While teaching research, I always discuss with my students the importance of this process for their future. Students have to gain this skill and develop it further in high school, college, university, and future “real life”. How can you buy a good car without making research? How can you bake a delicious cake, without analyzing a list of different recipes?

Digital research is one of the most popular methods for learning. However, there are way more things to learn to make regular “Googling” an effective research tool. While teaching students valuable searching tips, I encourage them to look deeper and think the way the search engine “thinks”. We are looking at the possible connections between search results and how we can find results that are not showing up for us, just because of our location. Why? How do the ads work? Why do we all get different results by typing the same keywords in search? This also develops a better understanding of digital literacy among students. Being digitally literate opens opportunities for being self-taught.

Changes

After rethinking this week’s reading, I will focus more on the creation of deep learning assignments for students, as well as meet teachers and discuss possible changes of students’ activities, that could be related more to deep learning experience. I will offer more ideas that would allow students to learn from real-life situations. I’ll rethink and develop teaching plans and assignments based on the SAMR framework for learning. Students are different as well as their abilities to learn and it is amazing how much technology allows us to differentiate learning material for students.

I was really inspired by this great article by Dr. Monica R. Martinez (6 Powerful Strategies For Deeper Learning In Your Classroom), who described six powerful strategies for deep learning in the classroom.

1. Connect: Create a Community of Learners

2. Empower: Activate Students to Lead Their Own Learning

3. Contextualize: Use Human Themes

4. Reach: Network Beyond School Walls

5. Inspire: Personalize The Learning

6. Wire: Make Technology the Servant, Not the Master

I think that students can learn together even more effectively. Sharing knowledge and working together towards one goal brings really great results. One of my goals for the next year is to gather a group of students who could help teachers and students solve various problems with technology in the classroom. Students will come up with common goals on how to help teachers in the classroom when a technology-related problem occurs. Any student willing to learn more about technology and take the role of “tech support” in the classroom could join the group. It should be cool to get a role like that.

Giving a real-life experience for students is so important. Students are much more motivated when they see the connection between learning concepts and their application in real-life. If we are learning to code, where can we use it? For example, we can program a robot that is cleaning our house. Or program a spaceship that would fly to Mars. It’s all about programming. I would like to relate my teaching concepts to real-life situations as much as possible.

As Susan McCray, a teacher from Casco Bay High School states, “Everything is related. Everything matters, and we are all working all the time to help them [students] see the connections.”

As I’ve mentioned before, without integration with other subjects, technology doesn’t have the power as it could. Moreover, students participating in integrated classes accelerate their learning process because of better and faster understanding. Connections help learn.