10 Questions to Critically Reflect On
As 2017 draws to a close, we sense the beginning of new opportunities for growth and improvement on the horizon. In looking back on the past year, we have a choice to reflect on what has worked and what hasn't. Although reflection is a practice that we all need to pay more attention to, the act of reflecting itself is not enough as learning and growth through reflection requires taking action.
As George Couros says in his latest book, An Innovator's Mindset, "Teaching is one of the most human professions that there is."
Better understanding and deepening the relationships that we have in our lives is at the heart and core of what Couros is referring to in the above statement. Teaching is deeply personal and developing our relationships with colleagues is just as important as the need to get to know our students better. Our actions, day in and day out, have a strong impact on the relationships we have with our colleagues. I'm not implying that we need to be best friends with every single colleague, but our profession does require us lift and empower those around us on a daily basis. In getting teachers to be their best, they MUST feel valued and supported.
However, in order for us to be our best, critical self-reflection provides us with opportunities to become more self-aware of our own actions and assess to what degree these actions are empowering not only to ourselves but to others in our life as well.
I took some time to create a list of questions that I wanted to personally reflect on as 2017 draws to a close. In being the leader that I want to be, I have to be able to answer these questions honestly. I need to zero in on areas I need to do a better job at and not only just reflect, but take action on improving these areas.
I hope that you find value in these questions and that they spark thought within yourself in regards to whether or not you were your best in 2017 and what areas you need to focus on to be a better version of yourself in 2018. You can print off a copy of these questions by accessing the PDF link below.
Nothing can replace the power and impact that a carefully designed provocation has on student learning. I've devoted the last several years to better understanding how provocations can be improved on and designed in ways that help students make stronger connections to the big ideas in a unit. A rich and meaningful provocation can:
Although I understand what a good provocation is, I recently challenged myself to better articulate what I truly believe makes up a rich and meaningful provocation. I spent a few hours really thinking my way through different considerations I have when designing provocations. In order to do this more effectively, I decided to create a 'provocations design' rubric that zeroes in on important criteria related to designing effective provocations.
I rarely like to take a stance on things as I like to remain open to new ideas. However, I found that taking a stance on what I believe to be the key building blocks to designing a rich and meaningful provocation helped me to clarify my own thinking. As I was giving a presentation to teachers on the power of provocations, I thought that including this rubric in the workshop would be a good way to stimulate discussion related to what they think makes up a good provocation.
I'd like to share this rubric with you. I hope that, at minimum, it challenges you to think about the provocations that you use and how these provocations can be refined in order to deepen student learning in your classes. Feel free to share any thoughts below in the comment box. You can agree, disagree or think it is complete nonsense. All that I ask is that you share your honest thoughts and feedback. I've included a PDF link for you to download this rubric if you'd like. Thanks!
Narrowing the Focus
Purpose of Unit:
This unit is focused on inspiring students to take action on being physically active when outside of their regularly scheduled PE time.
Background into the unit:
The unit itself is quite unique in the sense that we are providing opportunities to students for free play and exploration of areas of interest in regards to being physically active. However, this unit is carefully designed to get students thinking about what opportunities exist for them to be physically active within their immediate community, then create a unit that recognizes these choices and to offer students chances to explore these opportunities. We are very fortunate here at KAUST to have amazing facilities, resources, and spaces for young people in the community to take advantage of.
Our goal is to provide students with an open slate of possibilities that falls within the constraints of what they can do within their community. We want to inspire them to take action on being physically active in order to find the value it has on connecting them with their peers and the impact it has on their well-being.
Major challenges of this unit
When designing a unit such as this, it is necessary to be ultra-aware of the actual curricular outcomes that we are striving to address. In allowing lots of choice, it is necessary to be purposeful in our pursuit of providing meaningful, community-based opportunities for physical activity.
FLEXIBILITY: A unit such as this is impossible to deliver if we are not flexible within our approach and how we interpret the curriculum.
CONTROL: We must be able to give up lots of control and to let students' genuine interests rise to the surface. We must honor these choices BUT ensure the students understand that the choices that they have are rooted in opportunities that exist outside the school and within the community.
SUCCESS CRITERIA: Regardless of the physical endeavor itself, we must provide a solid structure in regards to making success criteria explicit to the students. As this is not a traditional unit, there are a number of physical activity themes embedded within the experience. A teacher using this approach must be ready to draw on a multitude of outcomes from various areas of the curriculum.
FEEDBACK: It is critical to stay on top of the students' chosen paths of exploration and make them aware of the desired outcomes of their chosen areas. This can be done through a number of strategies, but collecting data on their progress is pivotal to creating opportunities for them to be successful.
As you can see from the photo above, over a succession of classes, the students were able to explore different areas related to physical activity. After a whole class exploration of these areas of physical activity, they could assess to what extent they enjoyed it (0-10 scale).
Once they had experienced all of the different possibilities (4 classes), they had to NARROW THE FOCUS. I then asked them to chose their top two favorite activities. They filled out their answers on the cards shown in the photo below.
I collected their responses in regards to these top 2 choices and now the rest of this unit (8 more classes) is devoted to honoring their choices and structuring all learning and opportunities around these choices.
You can imagine what it's like getting ready for a unit such as this. It requires lots of preparation in regards to organizing equipment and space, but it's well worth it.
As the students come to class, there is no warm up needed. No opening tag games, no sitting in a circle talking about what they are going to do, no explanation of expectations or rules. They just get right down to business. I love it!
However, at this point in the unit, as the main focus is still on free play and exploration within the boundaries of their two choices, the students must understand that there still needs to be a focus that is rooted in specific outcomes within the curriculum. Ensuring the students understand these outcomes is critical to the success of the unit itself.
As we work through this unit, our goal is to inspire action. To get kids wanting to take action on being physically active in their own time, outside of regularly scheduled PE time. We want to get them reflecting on the action that they take on being active and to find joy in this this endeavor.
If you are interested in teaching a unit such as this, you need to throw traditional assessment out the window as it will not work. However, there are still possibilities to assess your students and offer timely feedback to them in order to help them improve on their skills but it depends on making important learning outcomes explicit and visual. The students must know that their free play and exploration must be rooted in a purpose that allows them to demonstrate important outcomes and skill development.
Formative Assessment For Learning
In order to begin to gather data related to their successes and to areas in need of growth, I had my students do a thinking routine that allowed them to share their thoughts. I made anchor charts that had important outcomes described in each area of their chosen physical activity. I had the students record their successes and their areas in need of improvement.
In recording their thoughts, I now how a visible anchor to give them timely feedback while they free play and explore their areas of interest. There is no doubt that I could step in and dictate what they need to get better at and provide them with a number of drills and different types of practice that they could do to get better at areas that I think they need to improve on, but the aim of this unit is not about teacher directed skill and drill. Instead it's about meeting them within their level of interest and choice and offering them insightful and critical feedback related to the areas they have identified as being important to improve.
I'm not saying this is the best way to run a unit, but I can say that I'm enjoying teaching it and the students seem to be enjoying the experience. I'll seek feedback from them over the next few weeks in regards to whether or not they actually liked the unit. More to come!
In the meantime, see examples of the thinking routines used to elicit important thoughts from the students in regards to their strengths and areas in need of improvement within their chosen areas of pursuit. Thanks for reading.
Unpacking the Challenges Grade 5 Students Face in Being Physical Active?
As we dive a little deeper into our 'Connections To Community' unit, it is very important to examine the challenges that students face in taking action to be physically active at recess, after school, and on weekends. It is worth the time and energy to begin to unpack these challenges with the students and co-construct solutions that may help them take more action on being physically active outside of their regularly scheduled PE time.
To set the tone for this unit, we used a powerful provocation that I wrote about in blog post #2. It was an excellent provocation that got the students tuned in to the big ideas of 'taking action' and 'identifying challenges'.
In taking it one step further, we revisited the provocation from the first class. We shared our big takeaways and what resonated the most in regards to the Julius Yego Story. This took a couple of minutes, then I had the students think about their own lives and identify challenges that they faced that were similar to Julius Yego. Using yellow sticky circles, the students identified which challenges that they had in common with Julius. They wrote their name on the yellow circles as well, so I can follow up individually with them (see photo below).
As a quick follow up, I had the students then write down other challenges that they face in taking action to be physically active on a separate visual using sticky notes. It was important to provide the opportunity for them to share as many challenges as they could think of, so that we could begin to think about solutions.
In the visual below, you can see what this visual looked like.
When class was over, I went through their responses and created a visual that would be used to begin the unpacking process in regards to brainstorming potential solutions to the challenges that the students face. We will co-construct these solutions across the grade level and get input from different teachers and students across the school. In identifying challenges so early in the unit and beginning to unpack potential solutions, we are in a great position to get the students to hopefully take more action in being physically active when outside of the regularly scheduled PE classes. Please see visual below that includes their very honest answers.
Now that we have identified a number of different challenges that the students face in taking action to be physically active, it is a great time to bring in the 'Solutions Grid' strategy that I've used in the past to brainstorm and document solutions to different problems that students face. Over the next couple of weeks, we will look at each challenge and record as many solutions as we can. My hope is that by the midway point in this unit, when taking action becomes critically important, the students will have a number of different strategies that they could use to overcome the challenges that they have identified as holding them back from taking action to be more physically active in their lives outside of PE time.
Please see the 'Solutions Grid' below. As this grid fills up with ideas, I will do another blog post to share our learning. How might you use the solutions grid in your program or your classes? Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.
Setting the Tone: The Power of Provocation
A good provocation can stir up lots of different feelings in our students and really tune them in to the big ideas in the unit. When starting off any unit, finding the right provocation is critical because it allows the students to identify and begin to unpack success criteria from the very first lesson.
Deciding on the best provocation is no easy task and takes time, but is well worth the effort. We need to be absolutely sure that we pitch the provocations in a way that draws attention to the big ideas that we have identified as being most important in the unit.
As our 'Connections to Community' unit is primarily focused on the importance of taking 'ACTION' in our lives to be physically active, the provocation we chose to kick start this unit with is the story of the amazing, Kenyan world champion javelin thrower, Julius Yego.
Julius epitomizes what it means to take action and to overcome obstacles and challenges in order to be the very best that we can be. Although the video is about 7 minutes long, it really helps to reinforce the idea that we can all take action in our own lives. A perfect message to start this unit off.
I will be including a number of strategies in this blog post series on the 'Connections to Community' unit. I included two different strategies in the first blog post.
A key strategy to ensure students make strong connections to the big idea in the unit is to create the best driving questions possible when delivering the initial provocation in the unit. Bearing this in mind, the two driving questions we used with our students were:
As the students came into the first lesson of this unit, they already knew what the unit was going to be about because I had interviewed them last week. We got to the learning straight away. I introduced the Julius Yego story to the students and explained what the two driving questions were that I wanted them to think about as they watched the video. Once the video was done, the students did a walk and talk with their classmates, discussing and sharing ideas that they had related to the two driving questions.
Walk and Talk! This strategy is all about getting young people moving and talking rather than sitting. You can read about it in a blog post that I wrote a few years back by clicking this link. My good friend, Joey Feith, also recently discussed the walk and talk strategy on his new podcast here. If you have time, you must check out Joey's podcast and his website. His work is truly wonderful and insightful.
The students came up with some great ideas in the walk and talk and shared these ideas in a thinking routine that we did. As you can see from the photo below, they shared their ideas on sticky notes attaching them to either of the questions that they were brainstorming answers to.
In total, watching the provocation and completing the thinking routine took roughly 15 minutes. To some, this might be taking too much time away from being physically active in PE, but I completely disagree. Setting the tone for the unit by using a powerful provocation is critical in order to inspire and motivate our students. The time needed to complete this activity allowed the students to really connect with the importance of taking 'ACTION'. We had a quick discussion that allowed the students to share their big takeaways from the Julius Yego story then moved into the exploration phase of the lesson. The students had identified a number of different activities as being among their favorites in the interviews last week, so we started off with an exploration of a couple of their choices (tennis and frisbee).
When the lesson finished, I took all of their ideas and created two separate visuals with their ideas posted. These visuals will be very important as they will be used at the start of the next lesson to do a quick review of the Julius Yego story and the big ideas we identified as being most important. As you can see, the students came up with some great ideas related to identifying challenges he faced and how he took action to be the best he could be.
A power provocation can go a long way in helping students unpack important success criteria in a unit. It can also serve to inspire and motivate them to want to be their best by creating the emotion hooks needed to get them to want to take action.
To conclude this blog post, I'd like you to watch the Julius Yego story yourself. How would you answer the two driving questions after watching the video? What inspires you the most about Julius' story? How might this video be used in any of the units you teach in PE? Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading this post and for checking out the video below.
It's been a while, but I'm super pleased to be back in the gym teaching PE over the next several weeks. Although much of the work that I now do with teachers at Gardens Elementary School is helping them to plan teaching, learning, and assessment in their subject areas, it has been quite some time since I planned and taught my own unit. My current job role, as Pedagogical Coordinator, has taken me away from teaching, but it is still very important for me to stay in the trenches of teaching, so that I never lose sight of how incredibly demanding it can be. As well, it's important for me to continue to work on refining my teaching skills.
My goal over the next few weeks is to blog about the unit that I am teaching, with my colleague, Bill Kelly, and the journey that we hope to take our students on. The overarching theme throughout this unit is to create the conditions for students to want to take action to be more physically active when not in PE class.
The first step of the process was to interview all the grade 5 classes before the unit began to see their favorite ways of being active in PE class, at recess time, after school, and on weekends. Most of the classes came up with similar ideas, but they also had different ideas to share. Using this information as a starting point, the unit will be structured around providing students with an opportunity to explore and develop skills specific to their areas of interest.
In planning forward in this unit, it was important to refine the number of outcomes and concepts that we felt were most important to address in their learning in this unit. In order to emphasize just how critical taking 'action' is, we decided to make this the overarching theme or idea to be addressed. So, with 'ACTION' as the big concept being focused on, the supporting concepts we came up with for this unit were; Organization, Social Connection, and Skill Competence.
A strategy that we put into practice at our school is to combine two big concepts together to create a driving statement or conceptual question to be unpacked with the students. This allows them to identify and co-construct success criteria in order to deepen their learning and push their thinking forward. Please see conceptual visual below to better understand what this looks like.
We must make sure that all of the concepts that we have chosen support and reinforce everything that we are striving to get our students to know, understand, and be able to do. Therefore, during the planning process, we must be able to articulate exactly why it is we have chosen the outcomes, concepts, and important dispositions that we have. My teaching partner, Billy Kelly, and I have taken a lot of time to do this. When looking at the dispositions below, you will see the strong connection to the big concepts in this unit.
The last part of the initial planning process was to focus on what specific skills we wanted the students to develop in order to allow them to take action on being physically active with others at recess, after school, and on weekends. The specific skills I am referring to here have nothing to do with the physical literacy skills they will need to develop and strengthen in this unit. These skills will come out a bit later as students zero in on specific interest groups that they would like to join as the unit progresses (to be explained in later blog post).
In order to kick start this unit off on the right foot, it was necessary to ensure that my teaching partner and I had a sound structure in place in regards to concepts, skills, dispositions and driving questions that we hope to unpack with our students.
The visuals above show all of the big ideas that we hope to focus on and develop a deeper understanding of as the 'Connection to Community' unit progresses.
Now that you have seen the basic structure of this unit, blog post #2 will delve into the provocation that we used to get the students tuned into the big ideas of 'taking action' and 'social connection'. Thanks for reading!
We must never forget that teaching is among the noblest of professions as it allows us to truly connect and to make a difference in the lives of others. We can often times lose sight of the genuine impact that we can have on changing our students' lives. We can feel overwhelmed with the demands of the job at times, but at the end of the day, we must not forget why we chose this profession. Enjoy the video below.
We often hear that listening is such an important skill to better develop within ourselves. Most of us strive to be better listeners. However, the reality is that it can be very easy to fall into the trap of always wanting to share our beliefs, ideas, opinions, and suggestions without really taking the time to deeply understand others.
How often do we take the time to dig more deeply into the perspectives of others and to better understand why they think the way that they do? How often do we take the time to ask questions that probe beyond a superficial level?
When was the last time you asked more questions in a conversation (personal or professional) with another person than being the one to do the majority of talking?
Here’s a little test for you. Take just one day to focus on the number of questions that you ask others. Don’t set the intention to ask more questions, just go about your normal day as you would. In doing so, try to be more self-aware of the questions that you ask others. Be more aware of how much time you devote to listening to their answers and asking even more questions to dig deeper into their thoughts.
Our work can be greatly enhanced by becoming better listeners and asking better questions. As I aim to be a better listener myself, these are things that I am reflecting on.
Our thoughts are underscored by our beliefs and our beliefs are often what drive the decisions that we make in regards to how we change our teaching practice. How our beliefs change over time depends upon our ability to step back and look at the assumptions that we hold about what we feel is most important.
How has your teaching practice changed over the past year? How different are you now than you were a year ago at this time? How is your program different than it was a year ago?
What are you committed to changing next school year based upon what you have learned about yourself and your teaching throughout this past school year? What do you need to be aware of within yourself in order to succesfully implement future change in your teaching practice?
The need for change does not imply that we are not doing our jobs well. Better accepting the need for change means that we are willing to learn, grow, and continually develop ourselves and challenge the beliefs and assumptions that we hold. Easier said than done, but important to put into action.
According to a Harvard study, 47% of our time is spent by our mind in thought. Seems quite normal that people do a lot of thinking throughout the day while at work. However, this study delves more deeply into our thoughts and has found that most of the thoughts we experience on a day-to-day basis are quite negative and anxious in nature.
The study has shown that our minds are often times taken over by meandering thoughts that pull us away from being present with whatever activity that we are actually doing at the time.
The research also indicates that lack of presence is the root cause of most unhappiness in our lives, meaning that when we are distracted and not present with whatever the actual task is that we should be focused on, it has a negative impact on our well-being.
Employing mindfulness strategies in our lives allows us to be more present and put less energy and attention into being consumed by our thoughts.
A great place to begin to learn more about mindfulness and to actually experience some strategies to calm the mind is by downloading the Headspace app which was created by Andy Puddicome. Try out the free 10-day mindfulness challenge that Puddicome leads listeners through on the app. You own’t be disappointed. Give it a shot.
"We are anxious about feeling anxious."