Mittwoch, 20. November 2013

Individualizing and Differentiation - Principles

Its been a while now, but studies have picked up the last week. It is a quite rare occurrence but I also encountered a couple of interesting things. They all centered around one topic, individualizing and differentiation in the classroom.

One of the better seminars I participate now this term is called ‘individualized support’. The seminar itself flew by kind of quickly because we only had it 4-5 times in the last two months. Nonetheless the information we got and had to think about was great. To finish off the seminar we had to think about our personal principles when thinking about individualizing and differentiating in school based on our experiences and what we have talked about in the seminars. Many of the points tie in with the things I got to know in a couple of schools I visited and worked in. These are the things that I wrote down:
- create an environment that suits both the kids and the teacher
- have enough space for learning
- pick up every child where it stands, evaluate status before beginning
- pick appropriate material and methods for the level the child is on at the moment
- make sure to have individual learning goals, while also keeping class goals in mind
- be in constant communication about their progress
- constant adjustment of material based on needs of the children
- know your role as a teacher, sometimes you have to lead, sometimes you to accompany them
- knowledge about methods
- differentiated performance evaluation

These things are certainly core thoughts for anybody who digs deeper into this topic. When we got this task to take down 10 points that are important to us, I went on a step-by-step basis as you can see. As we were talking about the points with our teacher and other students it became clear that not everybody did it that way. For one, it shows again how different people work, it is, one the other hand, a little bit strange that other students teachers didn’t build a sort of ‘program’ with these points, but just jotted them down to talk about them. I feel like it is important to have a guideline of sorts, which is what I had in mind while writing. It obviously depends on how they interpreted the assignment. I think student teachers more often than not need a good guide and guidelines, since that’s why they’re at teacher training. 

But back to the actual list. I have been to a couple of schools now and most of the time the school building, but even more so the classroom, just felt good. They didn’t make you feel constricted, but only very few schools, namely one out of the six schools really had enough space where you would immediately think ‘this is perfect’. If there are session with open learning and individualized methods you definitely need a lot of room, a lot. If you think about yourself, sometimes you like to read a book in your bed, but sometimes it is also nice to read a book while sitting at a table drinking tea. Most of the time in schools though, the kids are made to sit at their desks all day, regardless of the task, I won’t say it is bad per se, but I know I can’t work on certain things while being in a seated position for more than four hours. In that particular school it was amazing to see how different the children looked like while working. Some of them sat on the ground, some of them very on their stomach, others were sitting alone at a desk, some were working together while standing at a desk etc. Seeing scenarios like these make me wonder why it is so common to sit at desks at school all the time, I wouldn’t want all the children in class to become desk-workers, they are hopefully going to spend their working days in various different environments.

A couple of the points are about topics that are in discussion in education all the time anyway; evaluation before you start, evaluation of the progress and testing afterwards. It all seems simple, but these are phases very most damage is done. And it’s not only about evaluating if somebody needs extra help or a specific kind of method, it is also about children who are gifted in a way, they can just as easily be left behind if they don’t get challenged and supported to improve. Unfortunately all evaluation processes hinge very much on how politics view education, schools and the curriculum.

The last thing I’d like to add is the fact that even though many school systems are sometimes limited by politics, it is absolutely valuable for student teachers to know about the right evaluation methods, various progress checks and different testing models. It is also vital to know about didactics and methods in the field of individual learning. It will make your teaching better and yourself better, and allow you to get the most of the situation regardless of the circumstances.

I’d like to close on a fun note with a video that summarizes everything I just said in less than a minute, plus, it shows exactly what it actually looks like, including the disregard for somebody who is ‘different’.

Dienstag, 5. November 2013

ePortfolio - Fulfilling its Potential?

Before I get into it more, I’d like to quickly recap my connection to ePortfolio for all who are new to this blog. When I started my teacher training program one of my teachers, who is a big believer in all-Web 2.0 related teachings, started the implementation of an ePortfolio. The plan was to use it mostly for the practical training, but we also started getting more tasks and tried to use more than just one feature. This point wasn’t that easy because the version of our platform was slimmed down so much, that it made working with it in any capacity more stressful than fun. Starting my second year my university signed off on a research project about the use of ePortfolios in teacher education, where I started working as well. We are finishing up this project soon and I will post a nice page summarizing and showing everything we did.
During that time I was part of presentations at conferences, articles and also wrote a specific Mahara Manual for our student teachers. I also held workshops for a different university, for non-teaching students and helped them get to know ePortfolios and so on. The latest big thing was my Bachelor thesis  which I finished in the beginning of the year about, yes you guessed it right, the use of ePortfolios in teacher education.
So what I want to write about was sparked more by the experience with people not in teacher education and their acceptance and/or use of it rather than the topic I’ve been involved in very much the last couple of years.

Thinking back on how we started with the first version of our platform, it is almost unthinkable how different everything is now. Not only are we doing much more with it, we actually CAN do more with it. The main point of use for ePortfolios was for us to share our reflections and other documents with our teachers. We also used the group feature, which enabled us to somewhat work collaboratively. The limitations we encountered had nothing to do with us not getting proper work or enough work, it was simply because the system was not capable of doing more. Having said that, I am still sometimes surprised how it is used by some course leaders.
There are especially two examples that bothered me. For one of the workshops the only thing we had to introduce to the students (extra occupational Masters students) was how to create a folder, upload documents and put them on their page and make it available for their teachers to see. I get it that they have a lot to and that the main reason is that their teachers doesn’t have to deal with them sending them a bunch of Emails. But as much as I endorse the use of ePortfolios, if that is the only reason you want to implemented it, then I’d have to say that Dropbox offers the same thing with easier access and installation. Don’t just use for the sake of using it. 
Especially with these kind of students, it would be a great opportunity for them to really dig into it and use it as a presentation portfolio. In todays world, regardless of occupation, it will only be a positive thing if you show your employers or partners that you are creative, you know your way around the internet and computers, and can make your CV look professional. That is one of the things that I mentioned to them randomly; their version has the integrated Europass, that is pretty cool to use. I think if you sell it the proper way it can be useful for these kind of students, besides their obligatory duties at the university as well. It offers many possibilities but they all go to waste so easily if you don’t recognize them.

My second issue was with an extra occupational Bachelors Course. They had complained about their students forgetting a lot of the usage of the platform in the previous years since their courses were every two weeks, and they didn't get regular tasks to work on. We came in to do almost the same introductory course as for the course I mentioned above, but this course also had to write a blog, feedback their peers and their uploads and make it more personal by filling in the biography and trying to make it look better. Of course there will always be students who engage more in the things they are tasked with, so these are not the students that would worry me. I’m worried about the students who simply don’t care. This fact combined with their previous experiences that they seem to forget a lot should make me, as the course leader and teacher, think about how I can get them to be more active. Now the same things can be employed as with the Masters students, sell it to them as something useful and something they can all use in their personal lives as well. It sounds easy, and I know that even this way, people will not care. But why not make a Blog about their Jobs? Since these students all have a similar background, or at least a similar outlook, since they study the same specific program, they would definitely find common ground in their various jobs and experiences.
Obviously its just a random idea, but just like before, there is the potential to do more and engage them. This engagement in any work can also prevent problems of non-use that arose in previous courses.

I have to say that my background with this kind of work might be totally different. I have experienced everything I’d like to think. Beginning with a very basic version to new versions where we fully integrated our CV, we write Blogs, share material, collaborate and reflect etc.

Regardless I think the key with every tool is to know about its full potential, otherwise you might waste energy, while you and your students could be working more efficiently than before.