It’s almost impossible to explain my absence during course 4, except that it started with this back in October:
And ended yesterday celebrating my 32 years of life. Yes, it’s been a month hiatus that I will try to make up for in 1 week. I do, in fact, have a lot to say and reflect upon in Course 4. So let’s go, ha-tee-ho!
As many of you COETAILers out there know, my school Shekou International School, as a whole has been moving up the SAMR model ladder. Just our hashtag #SISRocks has trended (in fact, it’s the most trended international school hashtag in the Asia South-Pacific region) since mid-2012, and has redefined our professional sharing practices, both among our staff and with other schools/colleagues/classrooms in the international school community. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in our practice. Everywhere you turn on our campuses, learning is being redefined.
When asked to reflect on my practice and how the English language learner support is also being transformed at SIS, I don’t know where to start! So much has changed as language barriers and the students’ exposure to, and the opportunities to develop language (both academic and social) are now endless due to global connectivity. So here are some examples about what this transformation looks like, and how it continues to evolve and climb that ladder step by step:
Augmentation – Using A+Pro or other flashcard apps to make individualized word banks that include images, audio, links to web and a daily practice reminder.
Modification – Using the CONFER app to combine WIDA Can-Do descriptors and the TCRWP teaching points, to assess ELLs.
Redefinition – Using Padlet to create a ‘wall of walls’ to collaborate on vocabulary learning and learning.
The tricky part about me reflecting upon this as ‘my practice’ is that it’s doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to them, the students. I may guide them into using the tool, but it is them who redefine their learning through the use of the tool. For the Padlet, for instance, I may think of the endless ways it can be used for students to develop their vocabulary. I may also suggest to them what they can do and how to take it further. But it is really in their application of the tool that will show me its capacity (and/or limitations). It is the exploration of the strategy through the tool and how each learner uses/applies it that will truly be the real redefinition.
Again, just the tip of the iceberg in what truly is to be a 21st century learner as well as a 21st century educator. So I climb this SAMR ladder with my learners every day. I see them climb it as well, sometimes without even realizing it, they enhance and transform their learning.
While cleaning out my work mailbox the other day, I found this email I sent our eLearning (previously known as ‘Tech’) team. Please read on and I’ll explain why it was so important (although risky) for me to share.
Date: February 8, 2012
Dear Technology Team,
I had some wonderings regarding the decision to block networking sites (i.e. Facebook, Pinterest) from our server during school hours at SIS (Shekou International School). There was a time when I pushed for such a block, especially when students can access these sites and use them unproductively or even inappropriately during school hours. However, as we reflect on the use of technology at SIS, I wondered about the disadvantages of blocking such sites.
From a support teacher’s point of view, one that feeds on the creative ideas provided online to continue to enrich the support given to the curriculum (Pinterest is a great example); I wonder if this restriction will have a negative impact in the way I look for inspiration online. Also, as the Double Happiness Committee representative, I’m currently trying to encourage SIS staff members to ‘Like’ our new DHC page on Facebook (this undertaking was also an inspiration by the PD given by Kim Confino). This is already a hard sell and the popularity of our page hasn’t taken off the way I would’ve liked; and I wonder if having Facebook blocked on campus has had an effect on the popularity of the page. How can I ask staff members to ‘like’ us when our own server won’t allow us to visit it?
In my experiences, I’ve seen that any technology brought to the masses can have one of two effects: impress or intimidate. I wonder if blocking Facebook or other networking sites that are blocked in China, adds to the intimidation rather than inspiration that such networking can bring. I’m very well aware that when technology is used inappropriately, the consequences can be brutal. But if an educational establishment that fosters exploration and inquiry like SIS restricts the use of such websites, I wonder if the message we’re sending is that blocking the sites has a more effective impact than educating and training for their appropriate use. Therefore if the teaching staff is restricted from using these sites freely, how can we impart our knowledge of the right uses of this technology to our students? How can we learn to be guides for our students when they’re out there surfing networking sites in this technology heavy world?
And lastly, as a tech person myself, one who not only loves the use of technology but also strives to explore it in all its entirety to improve my practice as an educator; I wondered if I would be writing this email a few years ago. Like I said, I used to be on the front lines when it came to blocking sites, always with the thought of protecting our students from using them inappropriately. But that hasn’t made them go away and it certainly hasn’t stopped me, you, our families, our friends, our students, our students’ parents; from using them on a day-to-day basis. And now I wonder if I want my role as an educator to be to stigmatize those sites, label them as ‘something you do at home’, and support the restrictions imposed on them; or if I would rather be an educator who asks questions about ways to educate everyone in productive, creative and effective ways to use them.
Like you, I want our school to move forward in its use of technology in all its aspects. And I wonder if these restrictions are a step back as opposed to a step in the direction we want SIS to go. I don’t want this email to sound like a complaint, it’s not. It’s simply meant to be a seed that sparks up a real discussion about what this block really means in the long run and whether it’s time to look into other options as to how best to educate others in using these sites, whether it’s at school or at home. I would love to be part that discussion if it happens 🙂
I’d be lying if I said my first instinct was to share this email. It’s almost like ‘airing our dirty laundry’, so to speak. But as I re-read my thoughts and reflections on this topic, I can’t help but emphasize how far we have come.
We as a school. Shekou International School is now one of the leading tech-integrating international schools in the world. Our Twitter hashtag #SISRocks is shared, used and ‘trended’ on a daily basis to zoom in on how SIS is transforming learning. A vast array of media is used to enhance our classrooms and our curriculum. Our teachers and students have self-managed devices, 1-to-1 iPads starting in grade 4, and MacBooks up to grade 12. Our Kindergarten students build digital portfolios and tweet their learning every day. Our community tweets, blogs, and collaborates online using Padlets, Google Docs, Edmodo, Evernote… And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
We as a professional learning community. Our eCoaches who work tirelessly to provide us with the tools to enhance our teaching practices. Teachers who are willing to take risks and challenge themselves to try new things as their classrooms are repeatedly ‘disrupted’, principals and directors who learn with us and support us while we explore a new age in education. Students and parents who have embraced the changes and put their trust in us to lead this transformation.
And I as an educator. Back in February 2012, as I wrote that email, I could’ve never imagined this. Flipped classrooms, full transparency, enhanced learning for a generation of digital natives. A transformation, a paradigm shift, in only 18 months! Wow.
Here’s a WMC (Weapon of Mass Collaboration, loving this term!). I created an interactive wall for “messing around” 🙂 I used Padlet (aka Wallwisher). Give it try! Let me know if there are any bugs. While you’re using it, think of many ways you could use this to collaborate, learn & share with others. How can you use this tool in a team meeting? How about your classroom?