Most teachers recognise the potential for collaboration between students and the importance of it as a component of a 21st Century education and yet many do not take full advantage of the opportunities they have for collaboration as teachers. Others have found the benefits and willingly share ideas gathered from their personal learning network and contribute to Twitter chats and attend Teach Meets. For those who have discovered the possibilities that come from being a connected educator this story may help to affirm your participation, for those yet to join the discussion you may just find that spark that encourages your involvement.
Twelve months ago inspired by a course based on ‘Making Thinking Visible’ a group of teachers decided to use Twitter to share their journey towards a ‘culture of thinking’. An online chat was created to facilitate this using #cotchat to bring educators together and share stories of how visible thinking routines were used in their classroom. Over time this became a termly meeting of minds and after each session all those involved went back to their classrooms invigorated by new ideas. From this I have discovered new routines, refined my use of some old favourites and discovered ways to use thinking routines across disciplines based on the expertise of subject specialists. That this group was a mix of Senior School and Primary School teachers only acted to open new avenues for exploration. Those new to the use of thinking routines undoubtedly gained confidence from these chats and were able to have their questions answered.
Most recently cultures of thinking became the focal point for a Teach Meet and this provided an opportunity to meet face to face those with whom we have shared a year long learning journey. Teachers do love the opportunity to share stories from the classroom and thanks to the growing number of Teach Meets this is becoming easier. No longer is there a need to feel isolated within your classroom or even school.
During the most recent #cotchat discussion I floated the idea of having students draw what their thinking looks like. I had seen a similar method used years early when working with a group of teachers implementing a Middle School model. As a team building task we each drew our brains. It was an interesting way to share our thinking and feelings as we embarked on the adventure of creating a school within a school. More recently the idea of using drawings as a window into student thinking about the use of technology was encouraged by our IT coordinator. This was based on a paper by Walt Haney, Michael Russell and Damian Bebell of Boston College. The authors describe a long history of using student drawings within research and as evidence for analysing the effect of educational interventions. They conclude that using drawings can be a powerful tool for documenting and making visible student thinking and feelings. Such an idea fits well with visible thinking where the desire is to make visible the thinking of the students in diverse ways, recorded for future discussion and as a part of the assessment process. In visible thinking students will often use mindmaps, diagrams, notes or drawing to illustrate their understanding of a concept. In this instance I was looking to engage them in a metacognitive process of reflecting on how they think and learn. This was the seed of the idea but a piece was missing.
Teachers who have spent time online have probably encountered the sketch-noting skills of Sylvia Duckworth. Sylvia has a great skill for representing complex ideas in easily understood drawings that are at once comprehensible and beautiful to look at. This was the style of drawing I imagined would perfectly suit the task of students drawing their thinking and I shared this thought online. Thanks to the collaborative utility of Twitter this idea was spotted by Sylvia who most generously shared a slideshow she created as an introduction to sketch-noting. This all occurred in a matter of minutes and the next day I was armed with the resources I needed. That morning I shared the slideshow with my class, told them of how Sylvia used sketch-noting and how I wanted them to borrow ideas from the slideshow to share with me what their thinking or learning looked like. The results were so much more involved and revealing than I had expected and I am certain the students would not have been able to engage with the task as they did without the samples from Sylvia.
Impressed by the results I shared some samples online with the #cotchat community and by the end of the day was able to share Sylvia’s response with the class who were most excited to hear that their thinking had been seen by the teacher who had inspired their drawings.
This is in many ways a simple story of sharing an idea online, having it validated by colleagues and through that connection finding the right resource to make the idea happen. It fits into a bigger story of how we become a stronger profession when we connect and share our ideas. It shows the real benefits of collaboration and connectedness for our students and reveals how thanks to the tools made available by social networks it becomes possible to make real connections with teachers across the globe. It also reveals that even little ideas are worth sharing and hopefully encourages more teachers to share their little ideas so that others may benefit from the many great things happening in schools everywhere.
By Nigel Coutts with sketch-notes by the students of 6C