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My Digital Literacy Synthesis Paper

Visual representation of my personal digital literacy network of experience/story since 2014

My purpose in this paper is to reflect on my experience in the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy in terms of how the learning experience impacted my role as an educator, digital storyteller, and as a leader engaged in promoting innovation processes in my pedagogical practice with teacher professional and digital literacy development. In my roamings within my original academic field of study, Cultural Anthropology, as well as in my existential rumblings through adulthood, I have embodied my life experience around the theme of story, inspired by the concept of bliss, as proposed by american Mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell traces back the notion of bliss to the Sanskrit phrase sat chit ananda, which he translates as being, consciousness, and rapture. He articulates his interpretation of this transcendental phrase in his famous quote (2004), and one which has been a source of personal and professional inspiration:


“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”


Campbell talks about one-to-one conferences with his college students and how he was able to notice a student’s eyes light up when an idea or theme sprang up into the conversation. He would make a point of encouraging his students to pursue those ideas further, to allow themselves to be driven by their curiosity and follow their bliss. Thus, it is in pursuing a journey of inquiry, driven by themes that enrapture our senses, our intellect and spirit, that we perceive value in our existence. People are not seeking the meaning of life per se. What we seek, according to Campbell, is an experience of being alive. We create meaning from acting on our experience, and also from reflecting on the consequences and the value that results from reflecting on experience. (Dewey 1916, 92) In that sense, I would like to explore the meaning making that is achieved in the process of storytelling by sharing some of my digital literacy learning background, for it is in the process of creating and sharing our stories, our own personal myths with others, that we gain a deeper sense of identity, confidence, and purpose. Importantly, reflection on experience, as expressed in stories, operates change in how we view ourselves and in our being in the world. We change, therefore, we learn through sharing our personal experience of embodied life with those around us.

My central thesis in this reflective piece is that digital storytelling is a rich means for empowerment, playing a critical role in scholarly, professional and personal identity formation in educators. My story as an inhabitant of the digital universe began in 2014, when I explored the concept of rhizomatic learning in participation within a community of global educators in a cMooc (connectivist massive open online course) called Rhizomatic Learning: the Community is the Curriculum. At the time, the feeling was that of diving into the deep end of the digital literacy swimming pool. Driven by my curiosity and a longing for interaction in a new learning space, I immediately began engaging with other members of this rhizomatic community, who responded to Dave Cormier’s course provocation-assignments in the form of blogs and digital art, which were also shared on Twitter via the hashtag #Rhizo14. My first digital creations took the shape of writing in my own, then newly-created blog, and also in interacting with other participants in their digital spaces on their blogs and on social media. This was the year I began building my professional learning network on Twitter, which plays a critical part in my everyday digital literacy and professional learning habits.

a design I created and offered the Rhizo14 community. Some of us got t-shirts made with this piece of digital art. I used Canva.com in this creation.
The image above was a design I created and offered the Rhizo14 community. Some of us got t-shirts made with this piece of digital art. I used Canva.com in this creation.

Notably, the more participants engaged in collaborating to cocreate new meaning by commenting on one another’s blog posts and tweets, the deeper our appreciation for collaborative inquiry became, which is one of the three core design elements of the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. My Rhizo14 cMooc experience was intense, generating dense human connections, despite the fact that it was fully online. One of such strong bonds were with Egyptian scholar Bali Maha, whose prolific digital scholarship has been an inspiration in my own learning in digital spaces.
My digital literacy learning journey both in Rhizo14 and in SIDL have helped me increase my confidence as a digital creator and storyteller, for they were both instances which enabled me to exercise my voice and choice. Indeed, my sense of agency as a learner was increased in such inquiry-driven, collaborative educational contexts. After all, it is:

“(…) by choosing how to creatively express ideas and create media, as well as explore different ways of taking social action, (that) learners may explore their identities as citizens who can improve their communities and society.”

(Hobbs et al. 2019)

The intensive face-to-face dimension of SIDL brought to the fore the interactive and relational aspect of digital creation. The minds-on, hands-on work with my dyad partner, Carla Arena, and the interplay between our different modes of collaboration (I am a “southwest” and she is a “northeast” as identified in the compass points dynamics we engaged in during SIDL) shifted the focus from skills with digital tools to interpersonal and  time management skills in managing the complexity which naturally emerged from our collaboration. Furthermore, our knowledge with the digital tools used in our design studio project shifted our challenge focus from digital skills to digital literacy, in the sense that we were concerned with how the audience of our project – educators – would engage and make meaning with the digital artifacts we were creating together. In other words, we found ourselves more focussed on the who, when, where, why and how learners would make sense of the digital materials we were engaged in co-creating. This is the difference between digital skills and digital literacies:

“We often hear people talk about the importance of digital knowledge for 21st-century learners. Unfortunately, many focus on skills rather than literacies. Digital skills focus on what and how. Digital literacy focuses on why, when, who, and for whom.”    

Maha Bali (2016)

Another core design element of SIDL is motivation as a primer for learning and development. A powerful connection with motivation is the concept of the ‘Golden Circle’, as proposed by Simon Sinek. Agency is heightened by a clear sense of purpose, and that is what we experienced in the SIDL opening event. Participants were prompted to create their own meanings of digital and media literacy, and share those with other participants and faculty members in order to spark communal dispositions among all people in the learning space. Moreover, the Digital Learning Motivation Profiles list supported participants in making connections between their educator identities and their motivations for engaging in digital and media literacies developmental work with learners. This horoscope-style self-assessment served as a catalyst for people to orbit towards others with similar motivations, fostering further connection among participants, who also felt valued and respected in their diversity of motivations in approaching the work of digital and media literacies. Importantly, this illustrates the very nature of the digital literacy mosaic created by the engagement of people coming from multiple knowledge areas and interests.

The third design element at the core of SIDL is the most powerful, and the one which most resonates with my work as a change agent and social practitioner in the field of innovation in education. As an advocate for human-centered innovation, I share the concern expressed by Hobbs et al. (2019) with regards to the reduction of digital literacy pedagogies to the practice of the so-called personalization of learning which is driven by software algorithms. Such device-centered approach to digital literacies development disengages and disenfranchises both educators and learners, promoting a dangerous power shift which puts the machine in the center of learning, rendering the human element of the experience less important and peripheral in the essentially human process of learning though meaning making and the construction of understanding. Rather than personalized, learning is personal in that it is built in inquiry-driven cooperation among people. According to Dewey, as argued by Dyehouse, “shared understandings are the consequence, not the cause of cooperative action.” Dyehouse continues citing Biesta (2006, 30):

“For Dewey, education is more basically a matter of ‘those situations in which one really shares or participates in a common activity, in which one really has an interest in its accomplishment just as others have.”

Dyehouse (2016, 175-176)

These are the participatory situations in which successful collaborative activity results in learning and understanding. Dyehouse concludes by saying that “(…) for Dewey, the real key to understanding is in doing things together.” 

This view of making learning personal validates the networked and collaborative practices I have adopted in the design of professional development opportunities for educators both with my dyad partner Carla Arena in Amplifica, and in my role as innovation specialist in my school, Casa Thomas Jefferson. In the first Amplifica seminar for educators, in which I participated as a presenter in 2015, my talk was titled “The Power of Connections”. This was an inspirational talk in which I shared the design principles informing the technology integration and digital literacy development practices adopted in one of my early projects as technology integration coach in my school. Similarly to Hobbs et al. (2019, 408), I believe that the work of digital literacy development requires the intentional design of professional development opportunities that:

“(…) foster teacher agency so educators gain confidence in designing their own lesson plans and instructional units for inquiry-based digital learning. We see teachers as eminently capable of supporting and scaffolding student learning through inquiry and collaboration.”

Hobbs et al. (2019, 408)

Bali (2016) mentions the 8 elements of digital literacies proposed by Belshaw (2014). Interestingly, she points out the element of confidence is an important one among the elements. Belshaw explains that the element of Confidence requires a slightly different approach to its development in comparison to the other elements, for Confidence is a transversal element to all others. He refers to the process of Confidence development in digital literacies as the act of connecting the dots. According to Belshaw (2014, 52):

“Developing the Confident element of digital literacies involves solving problems and managing one’s own learning in digital environments. This can be encouraged by the kind of practices that work well in all kinds of learning experiences. Namely, self-review focusing on achievement and areas of development, paired with mentoring. I believe P2PU’s ‘schools’ to be an extremely good example of an arena in which the Confident element of digital literacies can be developed. Not only are learners encouraged to reflect on their practices, but to form a community. Such communities can help build confidence.”

Belshaw (2014, 52)
Source of image of the PDI Framework above: Coiro, J., Castek, J., & Quinn, D. (2016). Personal inquiry and online research: Connecting learners in ways that matter. PDF, page 9.

Finally, in SIDL, we had the opportunity to experience the Personal Digital Inquiry model proposed by Coiro et al. (2016) scaffolding our knowledge building and the development of participants’ digital literacy skills. The PDI model was clearly articulated throughout the SIDL immersive learning experience, its power notably evident as the Design Studio unfolded. Dyad partners dove deeply into the inquiry process by wondering and discovering, accessing, analyzing and evaluating  knowledge and ideas in collaboration and discussion, then taking action and creating digital artifacts with which to promote learning. Reflection pushed us forward and back into the PDI Framework for Teaching and Learning, eliciting the refinement of our final projects. Keynotes and workshops in SIDL were instances of teacher-driven action quadrants illustrated below the (green) line of inquiry in the image, in the giving and prompting stages of technology for knowledge building. We were then gradually released into the upper, learner-driven quadrants of making and reflecting as the inquiry was sustained until the end culminating event where dyads proudly shared their learning artifacts with the whole community. 

Circling back to the element of confidence in the development of digital literacies, I find myself wondering about the interplay between one’s process of confidence development and the development of one’s leadership persona. I am intrigued by the inner workings of the identity formation of a digitally literate individual, learners and educators alike, in such collaborative learning environments.

Photo of the mystic crossing the threshold image above. A powerful symbolic exercise into language.

The experience of exploring imagery that would represent ourselves as digital literacy leaders in our own contexts was a very powerful one to me, in particular. I gravitated towards a picture of a mystic crossing the threshold of visible reality in order to unveil the inner workings in the backstage of the universe. This symbolic exercise provided me with new language to articulate how I sense my calling to lead change in my educational context. I was left feeling a sense of potency and intentionality with regards to the leader in me. Interestingly enough, I am now engaging in the design and facilitation of a leadership academy for middle managers in my educational organization. Ever since my experience in SIDL, I have gained a renewed sense of agency, self-efficacy, and even courage to tackle this great challenge. SIDL has made feel validated in my rhizomatic and communal approach to learning, leaving me with a sense of belonging and sustained curiosity for what is to come.

References:

Bali, Maha (2016, February 3). Knowing the Difference between Digital Skills and Digital Literacies and Teaching Both. Literacy Daily. International Literacy Association. Retrieved from <https://literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2016/02/03/knowing-the-difference-between-digital-skills-and-digital-literacies-and-teaching-both>

Belshaw, D. (2014). The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. Retrieved from <http://digitalliteraci.es>

Campbell, J., Kudler, David, editor. (2004) Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation.

Coiro, J., Castek, J., & Quinn, D. J. (2016). Personal inquiry and online research: Connecting learners in ways that matter. The Reading Teacher, 69(5), 483-492.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education.

Hobbs, R. & Coiro, J. (2018). Design features of a professional development program in digital literacy. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. DOI: doi: 10.1002/jaal.907

Hobbs, Renee, editor. (2016). Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy through Personal Narrative. Temple University Press.

My #DigiURI final reflection

https://flipgrid.com/s/93606ea8d6f6?embed=true

Writing Teaching – TESOL 2015

I had the honor of being invited to take part in the panel “Crossing Borders, Building Bridges: Second Language Writing in Global Contexts” at TESOL 2015 in Toronto, CA. The presenters shared their experiences in Second Language Writing (SLW) practice and research in global contexts including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. The presenters discussed best practices in SLW pedagogy and research projects that are influenced by contextual factors such as medium of instruction, culture, and politics. Below I share a transcript of my talk.

Many thanks to Lúcia Santos, Isabela Villas Boas, Denise De Felice and Vânia Rodrigues for this wonderful opportunity of sharing the hard work we do at the Casa.


OUR CONTEXT

I have been at Casa Thomas Jefferson for fifteen years, the last five of which working as Advanced Course Supervisor. Let me briefly describe my context to provide you with some background information that will, hopefully, help you better understand the scope and nature of our work in the teaching of writing, as well as the challenges we face in our educational context.

Casa Thomas Jefferson is a language institute, which, for the past 51 years, has specialized in teaching English as a foreign language. We currently have a little over 17 thousand students, distributed among 6 different campuses, 10 outposts in private K through 12 grade schools, and a select number of corporate courses  in Brasília. Our students have English classes with us twice a week, which amount to a total of approximately 4 hours a week. We are an extra-curricular program, and a large number of our students begin studying with us from as early as 4 years of age, staying with us until they become young adults, teenagers ranging from 16 to 18 years of age. Therefore, the bulk of our student population are youngsters, some of whose parents have been our students in the past, so we do have a reputation of excellence and tradition in teaching English, which we strive to uphold every day.

The teenagers who have been with us since their early years graduate from our Advanced Course, the course which I oversee; these students speak fluent English, and achieve a very respectable command of the language in terms of structure and vocabulary. They can understand spoken and written English, as well as produce the language with a dependable degree of accuracy and fluency both in oral and in written form. That is a result of our skills-based approach to teaching English, adopting communicative methodologies that are informed by highly regarded, pedagogical practices, such as those informed by social-constructivist principles. Another key feature of our methodology is that our classes are taught in English, since we have a strong English-only-environment policy in our classroom.

We adopt coursebooks in all of our courses, which we choose via a comprehensive book analysis process in which teachers, as well as other members of the school Coordination, evaluate and critique several coursebook series before we make a final choice and adopt one specific series. We are, however, very particular about how we need to adapt whatever material adopted to best suit our own context and our students’ needs. That is actually one of the major sources of impetus for the ongoing professional development that takes place at the Casa. Course Supervisors, such as myself, are responsible, among other things, for assessing the success in the adaptation process and spotting opportunities for improvement and development, which result in training for our teachers.

So, as you can see, the work has really only just begun when a new coursebook is adopted. And, traditionally, one of the major components of our courses which require lots of adaptation and personalization is exactly the teaching of writing.

OUR METHODOLOGY

Let me now go into the writing teaching methodology we adopt at the Casa. As mentioned before, we adopt a skills-based approach to teaching English. Therefore, writing is one of other skills that we want our students to develop in English. From beginner levels, our students already start producing short texts, and are exposed to tasks which will foster an experience in writing as a process which not only involves linguistic knowledge but also planning and drafting skills. In other words, we expose our students early on to practices informed by the belief that writing is a sociocognitive process, recursive and non-linear in its creative nature, and the very expression of one’s voice.

By the time our students reach the Advanced levels, they have developed a repertoire of basic writing skills, as well as some writing metalanguage. They have also been introduced to the concepts of audience and purpose, with some experience with different genres. They have worked with drafts, receiving feedback on their writing by means of comments addressing content, style and organization, as well as indications of linguistic improvements by means of proofreading symbols used by teachers.

In the Advanced levels, our students, who are mostly teenagers going to high school, are asked to focus on a specific genre, namely the academic essay, which they are required to master both for language proficiency and college entrance exams.

THE ADVANCED COURSE WRITING PROGRAM

I would now like to focus on some of the distinguishing features of the Writing Program we develop in the Advanced Course. Our Advanced Course is made up of four semesters. The first two, corresponding to the upper-intermediate level, are critical for the success of the writing program developed during the last two semesters, which correspond to an advanced level of English.

During the first semester of the upper-intermediate levels, students’ writing goals are to consolidate and master the writing of paragraphs, following the linguistic and organizational requirements of body paragraphs in academic essays. Now, once they go on to their second semester in upper-intermediate, they will gradually expand on their previous knowledge to learn how to structure a full essay, containing an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion. They acquire some basic training and knowledge of the overall requirements of a well-structured essay before going into the advanced levels in the next two semesters.

Once they get to their third semester in the Advanced Course, they’ll get plenty of practice in the four-paragraph academic essay. They will be provided with practice in a variety of writing strategies, producing expository and argumentative essays, for example. In other words, they are learning a specific rhetoric and genre that will benefit their writing skills in and outside of our English classroom.

At this point, it’s appropriate that I mention another aspect of our educational context. In Brazil, they way our teenagers are taught Composition in their K through 12 schools, more specifically in grades 10 through 12, is fundamentally different from the experience with Composition they have with us at the Casa. A vast majority of Composition teachers in Brazilian high schools adopt a product-oriented approach, where writing teaching means correcting students’ mistakes and grading essays against college entrance exams parameters. There is emphasis on neither the cognitive nor the social dimension of the writing process, which relegates writing to being an end-product, resulting from the mechanical replication of models, which is ultimately a score on a life-changing exam for these teenagers, the one that will get them into a good university as soon as they leave high school.

Back to our English teaching context, in the Advanced Course, teachers are required to use a set of writing worksheets which will serve as the basis for their pre-writing lessons. The writing topics are adapted so as to become appealing to our teenagers, and are chosen in order to fit the subject-matter explored in their coursebook units. Students are assigned their writings at the end of a unit, after they have had plenty of opportunities to explore a given topic. In the case of the Advanced Course, pre-writing lessons are preceded by a Reading lesson, which will serve as an entry point to the required writing for the unit.

Now, keeping in mind that we have approximately 100 teachers working with a population of a little over 2000 Advanced students, we need to adopt instruments that will ensure the quality of every lesson, be it a pre-writing, or any other type of lesson. So, we try to select and adapt topics that we believe will entice our teenagers, stimulating their creativity and willingness to voice their opinions and feelings. We also adopt the use of writing scoring rubrics to try to minimize subjectivity in the feedback process, as well as to provide students with a set of clear expectations for their work. Our students need to know how their writing will be assessed by their teachers.

A pre-writing lesson will typically contain the following stages: think about and discuss the writing topic, brainstorm content, outline ideas, study and analyze a model and focus on specific language strategies to convey meaning. Once students have had their pre-writing lesson, they produce their 1st drafts, on which they’ll get feedback from their teachers regarding several aspects of their writing: content (their ideas), text (organization, genre, style), and language (grammatical accuracy and word choice). Students may also get feedback from peers and from one-on-one conferences with their teachers. They are then asked to produce their final drafts, whose grade will be considered for evaluation purposes, together with the other grades they have as part of our course.

We have also been adopting a Portfolio approach, in which students are encouraged to reflect on their overall development through the semesters as Casa Advanced students. One of the strategies we want our students to learn with the collection of a portfolio is to identify areas for improvement and establish goals for future assignments.

Now, the use of portfolios in the Advanced Course presents challenges. Brazilian students, coming from the background they have in their K-12 school culture, do not seem to value their own writings. That is understandable, given the mechanical production of essays for college entrance exam prep. By implementing writing portfolios, we are trying to foster a sense of value regarding writing as a means of personal expression.

Another challenge we face is a certain level of resistance to adopting peer revision, which I personally believe to be a natural fit to a portfolio approach and a writing teaching pedagogy based on socio-constructivist principles of learning.

Another challenge worth mentioning has to do with time constraints and teachers’ workload. It is no easy task for teachers to do the necessary planning and keep up with the drafting process, providing the necessary support and the high quality feedback our students need to succeed. One major adaptation we’ve had to implement is that of bringing the number of drafts from three to only two. That means that teachers now provide feedback on content, organization, as well as language use upon correcting students’ 1st drafts. Teachers are also instructed to grade 1st drafts so that, should a student fail to produce a final draft, that student already has a grade for his writing work, even if he or she do not follow through with the entire drafting process.

To the effect of tackling those issues involving time constraints and handling logistics (turning in assignments and providing feedback in a timely manner), we have started experimenting with a digital alternative to the physical portfolios. We are experimenting with the affordances of Google Classroom for the development of our Advanced Writing program. We are still in a piloting stage, having invited a small group of about ten teachers who were eager to try out this new tool with their Advanced students. We hope that, by making the handling of logistics simpler and paperless, students and teachers might find ways of managing the process more rapidly and more conveniently. And of course, that is not to mention other possibilities of sharing content, communicating, and classroom flipping that we have just begun exploring with this tool. Digital portfolios and the possibility of showcasing students’ writings to a real audience online are what’s next for our students’ writings.

I’d like to share a quote by Professor Ken Hyland in his book Second Language Writing, which I feel synthesizes our efforts towards an effective writing teaching pedagogy:

“In practice this (an effective methodology for L2 writing teaching) means a synthesis to ensure that learners have an adequate understanding of the processes of text creation; the purposes of writing and how to express these in effective ways through formal and rhetorical text choices; and the contexts within which texts are composed and read and which give them meaning.”

We choose to teach writing the way we do because we believe that effective, communicative writing can and should be taught to our English learners. We believe that the very development of their writing skills directly impacts their cognitive and expressive abilities, empowering our teenagers as they exercise and get to know their own voices.


References:

HYLAND, Ken. Second Language Writing. Cambridge Language Education series (Editor: Jack C. Richards) Cambridge University Press, 2003.

VILLAS BOAS, I. F. Stepping Stones for Successful Writing. In: VI Seminário de Línguas Estrangeiras da Universidade Federal de Goiás, 2006, Goiânia. Anais do VI Seminário de Línguas Estrangeiras – UFG, 2006. p. 453-464

VILLAS BOAS, I. F. Process Writing in a Product-Oriented Context: Challenges and Possibilities. Article based on part of the Doctoral Dissertation entitled A Contribuição do Processo de Ensino-Aprendizagem de Produção Textual em Língua Inglesa para o Letramento do Aluno,  presented at the School of Education, Universidade de Brasília, 2008. In: RBLA, Belo Horizonte, v.14, n.2, p. 463-490, 2014.

1st ATNU – Advanced Teacher Network Unmeeting

On February 6 I held a meeting with our In-Service Advanced Course teachers. My group of Supervisors had decided that it would be worthwhile to try a different approach to our In-Service meetings, which have traditionally been lectures containing announcements and information about course features, with an audience of teachers passively taking it all in. I wanted to engage teachers in reflection on their own practice, as well as tap into their beliefs and values as educators, so I gave them a challenge, a driving question that would sort of give some direction and purpose for the session. This was our driving question:

How can we adapt coursebook use in order to foster more meaningful learning experiences to our Advanced students?

In order to get teachers immersed in our context, they were asked to carry out a poster & post-its activity. They sat together in groups of five to six people at round tables in our Resource Center. Each group was given a poster containing three questions: who are our students? what are their needs? how might we meet their needs? Teachers were asked to brainstorm responses to those questions, writing their ideas/responses on sticky notes for each of the three questions. Once they had generated plenty of ideas, they went over their notes with their groups, selecting what they agreed to be the most relevant ones and placing those higher up on the poster. The atmosphere fired up with the buzz of nearly ninety people talking, exchanging ideas, interpreting their findings together.

Now that they had brainstormed and discussed their teaching/learning context, they had a vivid, dynamic image of their students in mind, as well as their challenges in their everyday teaching practice. The next stage would take them closer to the topic addressed in the driving question – coursebook use and adaptation. For this stage of the session, I had reccommended (a few weeks before the session) that teachers read a post written my me on the subject of materials adaptation. The idea was to give them some theoretical and methodological references to help them shape their contributions and reflect on their materials’ use so far in the piloting stage. Each group accessed a Google Doc, which I had previously created especially for this meeting, where they would be guided in their reflection and suggestions for making the best of the coursebook we are currently phasing in in our Advanced Course.

Before we finished the session, once groups of teachers had finished editing their Google Docs, they were asked to leave an exit ticket, sharing their impressions of the session. I will now share some of their responses, sharing some of my reflections triggered by their feedback.

“I think this session was very interesting for learning and suggesting improvements for the advanced course. Sharing experiences with more experienced teachers, was also fantastic.”

This was definitely a concern of mine when planning the session: creating opportunities for teachers with different backgrounds and classroom experience to work together and engage in meaningful discussion. I was hopeful that this kind of heterogeneous collaboration would produce interesting learning for all involved, regardless of how experienced they are, or whether they are new teachers at our institution.

“It was great to have this opportunity to share experiences and generate new ideas with other advanced teachers. The discussions we carried out today will help me plan my lessons and adapt the course materials this semester.”

Hopefully, a great number of teachers was able to take something practical from the session. The fact that they were asked to collaborate in order to carry out the tasks proposed naturally led teachers to share experiences and tacit knowledge, which is especially valuable for those teachers starting out. It’s also a positive way to make the institutional culture known among the people – teachers – who directly contribute to (re)creating it every day, in and out of the classroom.

“it’s important to get someone to keep group on course or discussions become very general rather than specific…” 

This was also an experiment in teachers’ capacity for self-directed, self-managed collaborative work. Some groups seemed to manage to keep on track, being highly productive, whereas others seemed to lag, getting sidetracked in long discussions. This is, therefore, a valuable suggestion for future sessions. I should point out, though, that I feel it’s only natural that it so happens, especially when we are beginning a shift from sessions centered on one person transmitting the information to a hundred passive listeners, to decentralized, collaborative (and often times messy) work among different individuals.

“This was a very hands-on meeting which was very productive. We have had the opportunity to share many ideas and impressions related to the advanced series. There was active participation and a thorough exchange of ideas/concerns/experiences.”

“I really enjoyed the way that this meeting was planned as it allowed us to participate actively and to go deep into the topics discussed. It was also very nice to get to know my colleagues better and to find out their ways to teach the advanced course.”

My two takeaways from these two quotes are hands-on and participate actively. One of my core goals was to have teachers go beyond the generation and discussion of ideas by actually getting them engaged in making something. For me, the posters and the docs they created as a result of their negotiations are valuable iterations of collective knowledge.

“I think this was a very interesting attempt at dealing with such an overwhelming topic. I find the session would’be been more effective if we didn’t need to go through the warm up stage in the meeting.”

This comment has given me some insight on the issue of timing. It had been my idea not to spend too long on the poster & post-its stage of the session. I must confess, nonetheless, that I myself lost track of time at certain points of the session, since discussions seemed to become denser and denser by the minute. This suggestion also reflects a concern I mentioned above, regarding the different teacher backgrounds and levels of experience. A very experienced teacher, having been immersed in the Advanced Course context for a long time, might have been ready to dive into the second stage of the session right away. My takeaway here is differentiation. How might I be able to differentiate without alienating, and still keeping it productive?

There were 43 exit tickets total. Below are a few other comments (highlights are mine and will hopefully speak for themselves):

“it was interesting to share opinions and discuss the questions. i felt there was a sense of focus and that our group feels more ready to tackle this semester. a great way to have the ‘meeting’.”

“A profitable and organized session! I actually had new ideas and heard nice ideas from peers!”

“I much prefer this over the traditional meeting. I think the activity was fantastic for generation of ideas. It was very focused and could have been more productive if people kept the conversation on task.(…)”

“The discussion was relevant and productive. Thank you for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to our next meetings.”

“Very organized and productive!!! I was glad you opened a channel for us teachers to express our real concerns about the book. Hope we find our way out of the main problematic situations.”

“The session was thought- provoking and insightful. The steps were clear and meant to fit a very demanding audience. The group discussions were interesting throughout the session. Most of all, it gave room to the ” Thank God I’ m a teacher” feeling we need in the beginning of the semester!

I will end this post here, for it’s already quite long, but I’ll be coming back to this session in future posts where I hope to explore the richness of content generated and beliefs shared by this amazing group of teachers.

I take this opportunity to thank each and every teacher who participated in this session for their commitment to their own professional development, and to being eager to provide meaningful learning experiences to our students. Thank you.