The value of communication and collaboration

Lombardi - Work Together

About a month ago, one of my posts (What are you learning?) made reference to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook report.  I want to come back to that report today and look at the top 6 items on the report.  As I look over the list it keeps bringing me back to one of my favorite questions when thinking about learning in our classrooms: What do our kids need in order to be successful in the future?  This list can help serve as a guide.

NACE Attributes Employers Seek

Think about some of the most successful companies in our world today.  Whatever the company is, if they are trying to be innovative in their field, they are focused on creating the best products possible for their customers.  What does work look like for those innovative companies?  I’m guessing that they are concerned about their teams of employees working together to create innovation.

Think for a second about your best lessons.  How many of you can claim that every aspect of your best lesson for your students was imagined, planned, created, and developed completely by you?  I know when I was still in the classroom, I was constantly collaborating with other teachers to improve my lessons, to add cool new ideas, or to make the learning experience even better for the learners in my classroom.  I’m guessing that most (if not all) of you will say the same thing.

If we know that innovative companies seek communication and collaboration, and we know that we achieve our own best work through communication and collaboration, and the data from the most recent NACE Jobs Outlook report shows that employers value communication and collaboration, what are we doing in our classroom to explicitly teach our students how to communicate and collaborate?  Paul Solarz, the author of Learn Like a Pirate has an entire chapter on peer collaboration.  He shared lots of great ideas of how he creates a collaborative environment for his students.

Early in the chapter he talks about the importance of establishing classroom expectations and norms as a group, where all members of the class have their input in those norms.  As you build in and truly teach collaboration skills, students will take ownership of those skills and will help one another to be better collaborators, letting each other know what they need from one another so that all can be successful.

Even with the opportunity to teach collaboration, the only way students will be able to learn and grow in this skill is through the opportunity to practice.  Be looking for as many ways as possible to integrate collaboration and communication into your lessons.

And something has to be said about the classroom environment in order to create an environment that is conducive to communication and collaboration.  Think about when you are working with colleagues, how do you choose to sit?  Based on my informal observations visiting team PLC time in our building, generally we sit in a group in such a way that everyone can see everyone else.  Students need to be able to do the same when they have time to collaborate.  Rows aren’t conducive to communication and collaboration.  Seats where students are far away from their nearest neighbor don’t facilitate collaboration either.

Many of the classrooms in our school have created opportunities and spaces for students to be able to sit together and collaborate, whether it’s a small spot on the floor, a rug area, creative seating options, a couch, or high tables and chairs, there are places where students can sit together and collaborate in the classroom.  To take it a step further, how many of you have considered not having a seating chart in your classroom?  A true flexible seating environment can be created where there are norms about students choosing the space that they are able to do their best space.  And as a safety net for you, you can always set the norm that poor choices by students may result in the teacher asking the student to make a different choice.  Think about the way you would empower the learners in your room to be able to select their own seat each and every day in order to meet their learning needs!

I want to conclude this post sharing some pictures from offices for Google and Apple, two of the most innovative companies around today, as well as one of my favorite shared working space, Starbucks.  I’m not saying that our classrooms need to necessarily look like these (they’re a bit extreme), but we might want to think about how spaces like this create environments where employees are able to put out amazing and innovative products.  We also should realize that some of the students will be doing work in environments like this in their future.  What can we do in our classrooms today to help them be successful in their future?

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So what are your thoughts?  Have you had success teaching students communication and collaboration explicitly?  What has worked for you?  What concerns do you have about integrating more collaboration and communication into your classroom?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!


What does the research say?

A couple weeks ago I wrote about John Hattie’s work developing a ranking system that rated the effectiveness of a variety of influences on student learning. If you didn’t get a chance to read that post, you can find it here: Research, meta-analysis, and John Hattie. As I shared in that post, sometimes it’s overwhelming to begin looking into educational research for ideas to implement in our classroom. What I love about Hattie’s work is that he does most of the heavy lifting for us. He has combed through nearly 1200 research studies, and has a list of 195 influences that can relate to learning outcomes.

In today’s post I’m going to look at a couple of the most promising influences on learning outcomes. These are the things that we might use to find the answer to the never ending question of “What works best in education?” As a reminder from last week’s post, mileage may vary based on the background and influences in your classroom, but the larger the effect size in Hattie’s meta-analysis, the more likely it is to impact learning for the students in your class, and an average effect size is a 0.40. Anything over a 1.0 would have a huge impact.

  • Teacher Estimates of Achievement (Effect size 1.62): We all naturally make judgements about students. For a long period of time, research has shown that teachers have lower expectations for students from low-income families and black students. In an interesting study out of Brown University, boys and girls who start school with the same types of behavior problems generally end up in very different places down the line. Boys in this group have lower test scores and lower graduation rates. Why does this happen? Boys from this background are not expected to be successful, so they aren’t. I’ve always loved the Henry Ford quote “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”  What if we change that quote slightly – Whether you think they can or think they can’t, you’re right. The research is solid – when we believe that our students can learn and be successful, they are much more likely to live up to it. We’ve all had moments where we think (or say) “That poor kiddo just can’t do it.” Be aware of these thoughts, because they can impact your attitude. Our attitude affects our choices, and our choices have consequences.The reality is that if we believe we can make a difference for these kids, they are more likely to be successful!
  • Collective Teacher Efficacy (Effect size 1.57): This refers to a group of teachers who believe that through working together, they are able to develop students’ abilities. Basically, if you believe in yourself and your own abilities, you are much more likely to be able to help your students to learn and grow. When a teacher has a high level of efficacy, that teacher is likely to have a higher level of effort and persistence, be more willing to try new teaching approaches, set more challenging goals for themselves and their students, and attend more closely to the needs of students who require extra attention.
  • Self-Reported Grades (Effect size 1.33): Another name for this strategy could be student expectations – how prepared do students believe they are t show what they know? Children are generally pretty accurate in predicting how well they will do on a test prior to taking it. As the teacher, you would then find out what those student expectations are, and then pus the student to exceed their expectations (Growth Mindset!). A way to do this would be to ask a kiddo to write down their predicted score on the top of an exam prior to taking the exam.  se that information to engage your students to try to do even better than what they predict!

There are many more influences in Hattie’s meta-analysis, but I wanted to point out these three because they are all more than 3 times the average effect size, they are all relatively easy to implement, and especially in the case of the first 2, they are entirely reliant on our own beliefs about students and learning!  We’ve talked a lot about growth mindset in education – to implement these influences, we need to practice our own growth mindset!

Hattie - Good things follow

What are your thoughts?  Do any of the three influences above strike a chord with you?  What can you do with this information to impact the learning of your students?  In a recent interview, I heard one teacher talking about the importance of starting right now.  Sometimes in education we’re tempted to wait until after a break, or until the end of the semester.  The teacher shared that in her opinion, if you know better, why wouldn’t you want to do better?  Take something from this post, and think carefully about how you could use it for the benefit of your kids, and then… Just do it!  Don’t put it off, dive in!

Growth mindset and the innovator’s mindset

In the past 6 weeks I have been participating in #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course). For those of you who aren’t aware of #IMMOOC, the course is centered around the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. The book focuses on these guiding questions:

  • How do you move from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”?
  • How do we start to innovate inside the box?
  • How do we move from “engagement” to “empowerment”?
  • What does innovation mean for education, and should every educator be an innovator?

In the first week I wrote a blog post titled Innovate…why? in which I pointed out my 3 main reasons for innovation in education. One of the items I shared was on the role growth mindset plays in innovation in education. After posting my blog, I got the comment below from George:

Couros Comment

With this comment, I began thinking about the role that growth mindset plays in The Innovator’s Mindset.  Couros defines this mindset as:

the belief that the abilities, intelligences, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas.

I believe that all teachers agree that we are looking for ways to help the learning that happens in their classroom be “new and better”.  As I read more and more of The Innovators Mindset, I began making connections between what I read from Couros, and the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.  In this book, Dweck shares a quote from Benjamin Bloom that I feel relates to The Innovator’s Mindset:

After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.

Think about the power of that statement. This is not about the top 1-2 percent – the ones we might call geniuses – being able to learn anything. It’s the belief that with the right circumstances, anyone can learn anything.  What does that fact do for you as a teacher? I know that for me, that drives me to think about what those appropriate conditions are that will lead to the best possible conditions for learning.

I don’t think that the traditional model of school creates those best possible conditions for learning. I think that we as educators reflect on what we can do to learn and grow in ways that will create new and better learning environments for our students. As I think back on the conversations through Twitter, through the guest sessions, and the text of The Innovator’s Mindset, there are a few things that I see as imperatives, and all of them take a growth mindset from us.  Here are 4 of them:

  • Risk Taking: This is not just about getting our students to take risks, it’s about modeling our own risk taking as educators. During our course kick off with Jo Boaler, a statement really resonated with me – “It’s hard to give kids a growth mindset if you don’t have a growth mindset about your own learning.” Statements like “I’m not good at technology” or “Math was never my strong suit” show your students a fixed mindset, and does nothing to encourage their own risk taking. Instead, we might say things like “We’re going to try this and see how it works out.” Even if you fall flat on your face, you modeled for your students a willingness to step outside your own box, which encourages them to do the same.
  • Homework: You better be coming at me with research on this one, because I know some of us in education view homework as a must. As Alice Keeler pointed out, that 10 minute per grade level rule of thumb for homework is totally bunk with no research to support it.  “Some dude just made that up” she says.  The research on homework, especially at the elementary and intermediate grade, shows that the effectiveness is very low. On the other hand, relationships have a very high correlation to learning and growth. What gets in the way of those relationships? One thing is the negative interactions that happen at the start of class when we are discussing homework that wasn’t completed last night. If we take that away, we instantly remove one of the barriers to great relationships with all kids! If you must give homework, assign 20 minutes of free reading time. That reading is correlated with a lot more success than any worksheet! And if the worksheet is so important, shouldn’t you be doing it in class so that the students have appropriate guidance?
  • Grading Practices: For years, there has been a tradition of teach the lesson, hand out the homework, collect it the next day, grade it, put it in the gradebook, and hand it back (that’s what was done to me, and at least for a while, it’s what I did in my classroom). Let’s be honest though – most of those papers we hand back end up in the trash. Kids didn’t value them. Parents often only valued the grade in the gradebook, and how it affected their child’s overall grade. Learning was not the focus, an A-F letter grade was all that mattered. When we put a grade on anything, that signifies an end of learning on that topic. If we want to continue the learning, meaningful feedback is so much more powerful.  And I have to ask, are there times that you don’t pick something up as quickly as a colleague? Maybe some new tech is taking you a while to get used to, maybe you’re trying to figure out how to embed more inquiry into your math, whatever it is, there’s probably somebody who “got it” more quickly than you. Should you be evaluated lower because it takes you longer to make it work in your classroom? I want to applaud those who try something new – even if it takes longer than the teacher next door to them! Students are entitled to the same chance. If the focus of your classroom is on learning, how can we not reteach to those who struggle? How can we not offer a retake to someone who wants to show that they are learning and growing? We need to celebrate that learning, whenever it happens!
  • Flexible Seating: This isn’t just about putting fancy furniture into your classroom and then assigning seats just like you did with desks. True flexible seating is like what happens each time you go to Starbucks to work. I know that sometimes I like the table and chair so that I can spread out. Other times I like the high table so that I can stand while I am typing, or use the stool if I must sit. And every once in a while, that comfy chair in the corner calls may name. How sad would it be if every time I walked into Starbucks, they told me where I had to sit? Kayla Delzer reminded me that “Starbucks is a better learning environment than our classrooms.” A true flexible learning space leads to ownership and choice, which leads to more motivation, which leads to better learning. And here’s the fact – if flexible seating can work in kindergarten classrooms, there’s no way you can’t set the norms for your class to make flexible seating successful! Have kids try out each seating choice, have them reflect on what is their best learning space and why, and then encourage them to choose the spot that works best for them! As you set the norms, remind them that you always have veto power on any poor choices that they make, and then give it a whirl. Why wouldn’t we want our students excited to get to class so that they can pick their just right seat?

OK teachers, how many of you are feeling challenged by some of the things in this post? That’s ok! Are you feeling intrigued to make a shift? Then just do it! Don’t wait for the weekend, don’t wait for Thanksgiving Break, if you believe that a change here could impact learning for your students, then take that leap. Have a growth mindset, but even more, have an innovator’s mindset to try something that will be new and better for your students!

Couros - Best for this learner