Design as Teaching

golden flowers

I am in the middle of reading ‘Design: A Very Short Introduction’ by John Haskett. Like many other design related books ‘Design…’ begins by exploring the evolution of design establishing the idea that design permeates every facet of life. Haskett then goes on to discuss the merits and values of form and functionality – something which is explored effectively by Bruno Munari in the excellent ‘Design as Art’. Reflecting on the values of form and functionality got me thinking about how much design goes into the learning that takes place in my classroom and reminded me of something that I was told as a trainee during my first school placement.

Even the smallest change in environment will effect their (students) behaviour and attitude towards learning.

This has stuck with me and has had a profound effect on how I approach everything I do as a teacher. In all that I do, weather it is maintaining the learning environment or assessing students work, I give considerable consideration to both form and function.

The following is a list of ways that design (form and function) have impacted on the learning inside my classroom. In order to keep this meaningful I have not provided an exhaustive list but simply offered two examples for each area. Under each heading, the first example demonstrates how form has impacted on that particular area of my teaching. The second example demonstrates how functionality has had an impact.

Classroom (Learning Environment)

  • Your classroom must be clean with well maintained (preferably interactive) displays. It sends a message to the students, the minute they arrive in your room, about the sort of teacher you are and what standards you will expect from them.
  • The way that you use your seating in your classroom is exceptionally important. I have developed a seating plan system in which I seat my students in pairs based on similar ability. They are sat behind/in front of another pair who are slightly more able which allows me to minimise movement during group based activities. I also incorporate the students’ photos on to my plan along with their target grades and any SEN information that is available. For the first term I adjust the seating arrangements until I am happy that it works in terms of learning/behaviour. This process really helps me get to know them quickly and informs my understanding of each students potential.

Lesson Planning

  • I try to make sure that my lessons are engaging and challenging to ensure that my students enjoy what they are learning. This does not mean that my lessons are ‘fun’! It simply means that I ensure the activities are well designed for the different learning styles/abilities of the students in each of my classes. The right amount of challenge ensures that students feel engaged and will thus enjoy learning.
  • One of the keys to effective planning is maintaining an understanding of flow. I use Google Calendar to keep a record of my lessons. To ensure flow and that my classes and I reach our predefined goals I constantly review what we did in the previous lesson and what we will be doing in the following lessons. This helps me ensure that the activities and learning aims of each lesson are appropriate and will stretch/challenge each student to meet their goals by the end of the unit of work.

Teaching Style

  • I video myself regularly (I am not vain, honest.) to improve the quality of my lesson delivery. For example, I have made significant changes to the way I use the tone of my voice in lessons as well as simply kicking a few bad habits. However, I don’t think I will ever stop saying “erm…” all the time! ☹
  • I have also worked significantly on questioning techniques and approach certain lessons/units with a preconceived set of questions/questioning styles to facilitate different modes and levels of learning. It has also helped me be truly inclusive, having formed a specific methodology around questioning to target specific groups of students.

Homework

  • For both form and functionality I put nearly all of my homework online through the Moodle course that I am using for the particular unit I am teaching. I will often include a YouTube video as part of the homework, be it in a forum to spark discussion or as part of an assignment. Embedding the video is far more aesthetically pleasing that simply inserting a hyperlink. This video demonstrates how to embed YouTube videos into Moodle. The first method demonstrated works within the forum, wiki and assignment modules also.
  • One of the most important things about homework for you as a teacher is that it is manageable. This was one of the deciding factors in why I moved to putting nearly all of my homework online through Moodle. Marking online through Moodle is quick and relatively hassle free in both the forum and assignment modules. What’s more, Moodle gives you the ability to instantly grab data on students that have/have not done their homework. This record can be easily collated and printed to provide evidence for parents about their son/daughters completion (or lack there of) of homework. Very powerful!

Marking and Assessment

  • No red pens please! No, I’ve not bought into some educational fad. Red is simply an aggressive colour and I choose to avoid using it to mark my students’ work. Blue or green are equally good colours and show up perfectly well against the black type of my students’ essays. It’s simply a personal choice!
  • A recent redesign that has taken place within my teaching practice is that I have moved the majority of my formative assessment from paper and pen to electronic methods particularly through the use of Google Docs. I can assess a student work both in real time during a lesson and also after the fact. They can access their work and see my comments anytime they are online. And this method of assessment can, if used correctly, provide a clear record of the students targets and progression. (More on this in a future post.)

Technology

  • I love Apple. I teach on a MacBook Pro and adore the ergonomic and aesthetic beauty combined with seamless functionality that it offers. Apple produce devices that are objects of pure beauty. I used to be a PC but I could never return to “ctrl+alt+del”, erroneous file menus and (“spits”) Internet Explorer. Thinking about it makes me shudder! ☺
  • As a teacher I believe you should only use technology where it will enhance the learning of your students. I have put considerable time into testing and picking the technologies that I use with my students. They must be easy to use so that my students and I can focus on the learning rather than on how to use the technology. Here are three different examples of technology I have used with my students:

How has design impacted on your teaching? I would really like to know if some of the ideas I have put across have struck a chord or made you think about the form and functionality of your own teaching practice. You can comment below.

Image: ‘Golden Flowers’ by Shareen M on Flickr.

May You Be Present Here And Now

you are here now

 

Effective teaching and learning is about being present; being in the moment. Too often I am aware of teachers who are not being in the moment.

When you are teaching please don’t:

  • Sit at your desk for the entire lesson
  • Check your email
  • Try to book your next holiday
  • Plan your next lesson
  • Play a video for the entirety of the lesson

These actions and others like them send one simple message to your students: That you don’t care. Perhaps the reason you don’t care is because you are not being in the moment, you are elsewhere. The knock on effect of this is probably poor behaviour from your students, they are now, not in the moment either because they don’t want to be and they are certainly not learning.

If this is hitting home and you want to reinvigorate the teaching and learning in your classroom, then begin by turning off your email for a day. Forget about what you are doing next lesson or tomorrow. Get up from your desk and step away from the white board. For the whole day, lesson by lesson, inside your classroom focus on the here and now. Your students will appreciate the attention, real learning will take place and you will feel so much better for freeing yourself of other matters, particularly your email inbox.

Remember “you are here now”!

Image “you are here now” by farouche and available to buy on etsy.

Boo #2: Shipping, Gifts & Email

This is a recording of a blog post published earlier this month. You can read the original post here where you will find all of the links to people, books and concepts that I mention in the recording.

You can find all of my Boos here.

And you can subscribe to my Boos direct via iTunes or RSS.

Shipping, Giving Gifts & Combating the Email Onslaught

seth godin blogI finished reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin a few weeks ago and while I found it to be an interesting read, the main thesis of the text was nothing I didn’t already practise. I strive every day to “ship” and “give gifts” and I can’t evangelise enough on how important both of these concepts are as a teacher.

You have to “ship” because your day is filled with deadlines: lessons to be planned and taught, data to be input, reports to be written and homework to be marked. If you want the learning inside and outside of your classroom to be any good you have to “ship” on all of these tasks. Also, you have to “give gifts” because it’s good to be generous. Share what you do, not to get noticed and win promotion but to help make sure that every student gets the best possible education they can. I love to “ship”. I love to “give gifts”. Why? Because I care about learning. In fact, I love learning; it’s the reason I’m a teacher.

Shipping is fraught with risk and danger.

(Fear of shipping, Godin, 2010)

It’s easy to be afraid of “shipping” and “giving gifts” because many teachers are perfectionists and many teachers are protective about what they do.

  • What if every part of your lesson has not been meticulously planned?
  • What if you didn’t mark every essay in minute detail?
  • If you share an idea or a resource what if someone steals it and presents it as their own?
  • What if no one thinks what you are doing in your classroom is of any value?

To questions like these, I say remember it’s the students in your classroom that matter, so get smart. Digitise everything you do/use and back it up. Reuse and improve should become your personal mantra from day one. The better you get at this the more time you will have for the marking and data analysis which is (honestly) more important than much of the planning that you spend your time doing. What’s more, good formative assessment and understanding your students’ potential will ultimately lead to better planning any way. They inform each other and will lead to better teaching and better learning.

One of the keys for me, in ensuring that I “ship” on time is the way I deal with email. I, like many of you, work at a school where email has become the number one method of communication. However, the reality of this is that your inbox can have a stranglehold on your productivity as a teacher and certainly get in the way of the learning by impinging on the time you should be spending marking, planning and experimenting.

To combat the email onslaught I religiously use the following approach to email set out by Merlin Mann in Inbox Zero. Implement this into your work day when checking your email and your productivity will improve significantly, leaving more time for the marking, planning and most importantly the learning.

inbox zero

As for “giving gifts”: blog. Blog what you do, get a creative commons license and don’t let someone else show your ideas off. Do it yourself! Deliver CPD, sign up to present at a TeachMeet, build sessions into department meetings to share your ideas and encourage colleagues share what they are doing. If you take control of your gift giving you will find that you can (and will want to) share selflessly. Others will benefit but so will you.

To close, I will give a gift and allow Seth to have the last word:

A life spent curled in a ball, hiding in the corner might seem less risky, but in fact it’s certain to lead to ennui and eventually failure.

(Fear of shipping, Godin, 2010)