Soliciting and Providing Feedback through Peer Coaching Experiences

Overview

Imagine peering into the engine of a running vehicle.  It is likely that you visualize several parts, working together harmoniously so the car runs smoothly.  It is less likely that you think about how many trials and errors, restarts and near quits it took for the vehicle to get to the point where it ran at all, let alone well.  Observing extremely effective peer coaching may look the same–it just seems to work.  However, unless I’m missing the secret key to coaching, this is very far from true.  In fact, the one “key” idea I have learned is that becoming a great peer coach and implementing a peer coaching plan is extremely difficult.

In building anything great, the process needs to be altered, refined, expanded, and sometimes thrown out.  In prior blog posts for the quarter I have shared some peer coaching strategies I’ve found effective as well as reflected on my successes and areas of improvement.  For my final reflection, I wanted to look at how to continue to grow a powerful peer coaching system, specifically by looking at when feedback is and is not appropriate, how and when to solicit feedback, and what to do with it once gathered.  I chose to include my final reflection on my recent “real world” peer coaching experiences along with this post to provide a reference point and to keep me thinking about how to continue growing as a peer coach.

Feedback vs. Evaluation

The infographic below represents the difference between feedback and evaluations, which I created by synthesizing some of the most relevant information from various resources, listed in my “references” section. I thought that it was important to distinguish between these two terms before looking further at the place for feedback and evaluation in peer coaching opportunities. I am glad I did so as it actually appears that feedback is much more effective at encouraging growth, and is therefore more appropriate in peer coaching.  Evaluations, while useful in determining areas of growth, are best suited for conversations between administrators and individual teachers. Examples of how feedback can be used in peer coaching, with resources, are included further on.

Feedback in Peer Coaching

In our cohorts Google Hangout several weeks ago, one of my professors, David Wicks, made a quick side comment about how a coach must be careful with how feedback and evaluation are used in peer coaching.  This was a sticky comment, it got my brain spinning, and it gave me a good framework for my research. I chose to spend the remainder of my peer coaching course exploring the question, “How can a peer coach effectively self-assess and gather feedback from others in order to grow as a coach and ensure that the feedback is accurate?” While I never directly asked David why he said this, my initial inquiries helped lead me to two possible reasons:

  1. Evaluations have no place in peer coaching.  From here on, I will only talk about feedback.
  2. One must be very intentional in seeking feedback and consider how feedback is solicited, how the questions are worded, what is done with the feedback once received, and who gets to review it.

To help further focus my exploration, I appreciated that my classmate, Liz Ebersole, asked me the following question:  “Would you use this type of evaluation/feedback to plan PD for coaches or to collect data to advocate for adopting a peer coaching practice at the school/district level? What do you hope to learn from the feedback and how will you share it and who with?”

Using David’s comment and Liz’s question, I created the following infographic to display a rough idea of how feedback can be used in peer coaching and included a few resources that might help start the process.

Reflection on My Peer Coaching Experiences

This quarter I had the opportunity to practice peer coaching by working with a teacher at my school.  While there were a few hiccups in the process, this experience was so valuable for me because I was able to debrief and share ideas with my master’s program cohort.  An overview of what I learned during this process, along with the work that my colleague and I produced, is included in the document below.

Future Inquiries

  • In my peer coaching experience, I worked with a colleague who is also a close personal friend.  This presented unique challenges and made parts of the process easier.  What additional tools and strategies might a coach want to use when working with someone they are less familiar with?
  • One topic that myself and others in my cohort explored this quarter was that other professional fields, outside of education, offer great insights into how to be an effective coach.  I would like to explore this further in the future.
  • In this blog post I touched on providing feedback in peer coaching.  I would like to look at this deeper too and gain some “field experience” to help explore this further.

Resources

Baehr, M. (n.d.). 4.1.2 Distinctions Between Assessment and Evaluation. Retrieved December 08, 2016, from http://www.pcrest3.com/fgb/efgb4/4/4_1_2.htm

Rehman, S. (n.d.). Effective Feedback. Retrieved December 8, 2016, from http://phoenixmed.arizona.edu/sites/default/files/content/facdev/rehman-512014.pdf

Baby Steps Towards Mastering Coaching Behaviors

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One statement that often causes me to roll my eyes is when people say, “well, it’s easier in theory than in practice”.  I find this insight to be negative, dismissive, a way to throw in the towel before even giving something a chance.  This being so, I cannot help but keep having this thought over the past few weeks as I have been learning about behaviors and communication strategies that an effective peer coach must employ.  For example, I know that a good coach listens attentively without interrupting, yet I often find myself railroading other people’s thoughts with my own.  I know that a good coach creates a safe space for learners to grow, yet I sometimes find that I come across as sarcastic or self-righteous, qualities I know can be very off putting, particularly in a learning environment.

Now is not the first time I have learned about effective communication and collaboration techniques. This topic, and many related suggestions, have come up in my k-12 schooling, in education and linguistics classes I took when I was getting my bachelor’s degree, in professional development opportunities, and in personal self-improvement scenarios. Why then, if I keep learning the same conversational and coaching tips, have I not been able to fully implement them into my communication habits?  The simple answer is because it’s hard.  Hard tasks take repeated, consistent effort.  It takes grit and patience.  This being so, I am excited that I have another opportunity to look at my coaching habits, to reflect on how I have improved, and to set some goals to keep getting better.

An issue I face every time I dive into the topic of effective communication and collaboration is that I am quickly overwhelmed–there is so much information on the topic available, so many “tips” and “tricks” and “how to’s”.  Furthering my dilemma is that a lot of this information is good, valuable, I want to use it.  However, I also know that people learn best through scaffolding, by breaking down the learning into manageable steps.  So, while I am feeling very inspired to improve my communication habits in hopes of becoming a better learning coach (and person as a whole!), I am going to need to make myself slow down.  This week, I am going to focus in on a few communication pointers that I know I need to work on, choosing tips I can easily and frequently implement.  Once I get these down, I can look at the next steps to continue improving my communication skills.

Easy-to-Implement Communication Pointers for Peer Coaches

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  • Don’t interrupt: give the learner time to finish their thoughts–interrupting someone while they are speaking is not only rude, but I may not have the whole idea of how I can offer assistance of I don’t let them fully express their ideas.
  • Paraphrase what the learner says:  repeat back what the learner says as it demonstrates that the coach is listening and helps them process their ideas.  For example, asking “is this what you mean” helps learners know whether or not they are being concise and accurate, and in turn helps them fine tune their ideas.
  • Set clear norms and objectives: if all learners are aware of the behavior expected of them as well as the objective they are working to meet, the learning session will run much more smoothly.  It will also be easier to reflect on the learning if the objectives and expectations are clear.
  • Show, don’t tell: In an article titled “The Secret to Great Coaching, Les Foltos includes an analogy that I really appreciated.  He explains that “coaches need to understand that their learning partners, like rock climbers, need to be able to act on their won when they reach the crux of the problem” (Foltos 2014).  If a coach doesn’t let learners reach their own conclusions, they will become dependent on the coach.  The coach must provide opportunities for self-discovery to help learners feel empowered.
  • Ask probing questions: to help lead the learner to their own ideas, ask questions to spark their thinking.  Rely on lists of question stems, or simply ask “why” or “please elaborate”–again, let the learner make their own discoveries!

Building Blocks of Trust

For the Google Hangout that was paired with this week’s study, one of our instructors, Les Foltos, asked us to look at the following list of behaviors that build trust in the workplace (Peer-Ed 2015).

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Les asked that we take this information and build a diagram of our “building blocks of trust”, which should consist of a five-block pyramid with the behaviors we found to be the most important, or those that we wanted to work on improving.  I am including my “building block of trust” below.  I designed it similar to how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is organized, with the behaviors at the bottom being essential before those above are attainable.  As Les stated, my building blocks will change as my skills as a coach develop, so this is just a work in progress.

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Future Questions:

  • How will I know when I have mastered these communication skills? What can I do to reflect and check in on my progress?
  • I choose to focus on communication skills that I need to work on, but that I think most people could benefit from implementing too.  What’s missing? Is there a big “coaching to-do” that I am leaving out?

Resources

Les, F. (2014, June). The Secret to Great Coaching. Learning Forward, 35(3), 29-31

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Gonzalez, J. (2016, March 20). How to Plan Outstanding Tech Training for Your Teachers. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/tech-training-for-teachers/

ISTE Standards for Technology Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2016, from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

 Wicks, David and Foltos, Les. (2015).  Building Trust: Behaviors that Build Trust in the Workplace.  Seattle, WA. Retrieved October 17, 2016.

Redefining the Writing Process through Digital Instruction, Collaborative Projects and Assessments

Reflection Overview

While last semester of SPU’s Digital Education Leadership master’s program focused on ISTE standards for students, this semester has examined ISTE standards for teachers.  So far, we have looked at standard one, to facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity, and standard two, to design and develop digital age learning and assessments.  Naturally, these two standards fit together as the first asks educators to consider the learning experience and the other focuses on the assessment process. This connection allowed me to fully rethink how I teach an area of instruction, from its inception to its conclusion.  Subsequently, I choose to focus on how to redefine the writing process using digital tools.  The questions that I chose to explore for each standard, listed below, gave me a starting point.  However, as you will read in the reflection, my research lead me to various conclusions.

Standard 1 Question: How can I revamp the standard essay writing process to foster creativity and utilize technology tools?

Standard 2 QuestionWhat digital tools or digital experiences are available that allow students to collaborate on the writing process, specifically those that can easily be monitored and assessed by the teacher?

Digital Tools to Redefine the Writing Process

My first considerations when looking for quality digital tools are to find those which are easy to use and are simple to implement immediately, with little set-up or training necessary.  I also tend to choose tools that are cloud-based so they can be used on any device, or those which are compatible with Chromebooks as I am at a Google-school.  With that said, the following tools meet these qualifications and address the two parts of the writing process that I personally don’t always teach effectively, brainstorming and publishing.

Brainstorming Tools

I recently asked students to create a timeline of pertinent events from their life as a way to brainstorm for a narrative essay. In the past, I had students create this timeline on paper but figured that there was likely a more engaging and valuable option for completing this task–I was right!  In looking for digital timeline tools, I found a lot of different options, but found that HSTRY and Read Write Think Timeline seemed the most appropriate for education.  Both allow students to incorporate media and offer various organizational ideas, totally revamping the traditional timeline.

Additionally, my master’s program has turned me on to mind-maps as a way to organize ideas.  We use Coggle to reflect on each module, which is great as it incorporates pictures, media, and is very visually appealing.  Below is the Coggle mind map I made based on ISTE standard one as an example.

I also recently equipped my Google Docs with the Mindmeister add on.  This is another great tool that allows students to create a mind map out of an outline.  What I like about this is that it would be a good way to teach the outlining process, which I know I sometimes overlook!  Below is a Google Doc displaying a sample, based on a few points we covered regarding ISTE standard 2.

 

Additionally, I explored tools for creating citations and bibliographies withing Google Documents.  The best tool I found was the Paperpile extension, which allows for users to easily embed both parenthetical citations and a works cited section.  I also tried out EasyBib, which was equally easy-to-use but was a bit more limited on what all it offered.

Reconsidering Assessments to Increase Educational Value & Relevance

Over the past few years, my district has begun assessing students through “performance tasks” in the core subjects such as math, science, history, English, and Health/PE.  These tasks require all students to take common assessments, typically involving a lot of writing, over the year. Teachers then gather data on these assessments to provide to the district.  The data is meant to inform instruction, identify areas of need, and hypothesize about how students may perform on state-mandated tests.  There are definitely benefits to these tasks, such as that they do provide valuable data on our students, compiled by our teachers rather than a hired scorer who-knows-where.  Creating these tasks also provides time for departments to align instruction and norm grading.  However, I believe there are a few ways that these tasks can be redesigned so they are more valuable instructional tools and more meaningful to students.
 
Our performance tasks are meant to be served “cold”, by which I mean that students do not get to prepare for them at all–besides general class instruction throughout the year–and they are not allowed to receive help from the teacher during the process.  These guidelines make sense, as they are similar to what is required for a state-mandated test.  The issue however is that, at least in English classes, these tasks have replaced various essays or big writing assignments we have done in the past, in which students received a lot more instruction.  I cannot see the value in taking out instruction to get a general idea of how a student MIGHT do on a state test.  It is also difficult to watch some students get hung up on a simple formality, which makes them unable to complete the task at all.  Additionally, since these tasks must be competed in class, it is very difficult to account for absent students.
Another area to reconsider is in what is how the writing process is taught through these performance tasks.  As an English teacher, I argue that the most important part of writing is the revising and publishing.  ANYTHING someone writes, from an email to a novel, should be read over, often several times, for accuracy.  Then, when the finished work is turned in, it should be published and received in a way that encourages others to read it, or for it to have some valuable purpose.  For these tasks, students jump right into writing the paper, very rarely read their work over, and then immediately forget about them when they are finished.  It is really hard to “sell” something when it’s hard to find much value in it myself.
 
A final potential issue with these performance tasks lies around the necessity to norm writing expectations beyond just their department. As it is, teachers only discuss how to score these performance tasks with their own subject-area departments.  This means that writing expectations may be inconsistent among each group.  Incidentally, this leads students to be confused when they are getting high scores for writing in math or science, and much lower scores in their English class.   

My Collaborative Project

The big project for my master’s program this semester is a global collaborative project.  These types of projects ask that educators “flatten their classroom walls” to collaborate with individuals outside of the classroom.  I have been exploring various global projects and have found some really awesome ideas out there, such as.  However, I have also learned that the last month of the school year is not the time to start this type of project as it requires a lot of planning!  In consideration of time restraints, I am trying out a mini-collaborative project this year, where I will have my ninth grade English class work through the writing process with a sixth grade language arts class within my district.   Specifically, these students will work together to edit each other’s papers and I will collaborate with the other teacher on strategies for teaching narrative writing.  While I’d love to try some “bigger” projects in the future, starting small is a good way to step into this cool idea to take make learning more relevant, valuable, and collaborative.

Analyzing Argument in Advertisements: A Lesson Using the ASSURE Method

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Overview:

The ASSURE Model, detailed in the infographic below, is an excellent tool to help teachers develop an appropriate and effective learning environment for their students.

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Using this model, I developed a lesson plan on analyzing argument in advertisements.  What was great about this project was that it not only fulfilled a school assignment for my SPU Digital Ed. Leadership master’s program, but I was actually teaching it to my students at the same time.  This made it very relevant to my teaching and I was able to fine tune the lesson through trial and error.  Additionally,  the lesson combines Common Core State Standards in English/Language Arts with ISTE Standards 1 and 2.  While this lesson is intended to be taught in a ninth grade English classroom, it could easily be adapted for a different age group or subject area.

The complete Advertisement Analysis Project Lesson can be found by following the link or it is embedded below.

Reflection:

I found the ASSURE model very useful for creating specific, thoughtful, and thorough lesson plans.  I really liked that it asks you to consider modifications and adjustments so you feel prepared in case anything goes contrary to the plan.  It is especially important to consider this when dealing with technology as it seems like, in navigating digital learning, there is a lot that may not go as planned.  Overall, I appreciated the process but I do think that this model might be a bit too extensive for a day-to-day lesson.  It is very appropriate when planning units, particularly those that heavily rely on digital tools.  With that said, the greatest pleasure I had in teaching this lesson was in the level of student engagement and therefore the quality of the finished projects.  I believe this was in large part due to having to think through each lesson component and possible outcome really helped me address any issues quickly and efficiently.

References:

ASSURE. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.instructionaldesign.org/models/assure.html

ISTE Standards for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-students

Media Literacy. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from http://www.teachinctrl.org/lessons/mediabetweenlines.php

Creating Innovative Digital Learners

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What’s Going On?

Now that second quarter of the Digital Education Leadership Program at Seattle Pacific University has taken off, we have jumped into unlocking the ISTE student and teacher standards while analyzing and discussing various frameworks for integrating technology into the classroom. Specifically, we have looked at ISTE Standard 1, which focuses on creativity and innovation, and Standard 2, which lays out objectives for communicating and collaborating in a digital classroom.  While studying each standard, we have used the SAMR and TPACK models as pedagogical frameworks for educational technology immersion.

Through these explorations, I have developed two questions that have guided my research and learning, which were inspired by the two ISTE standards we’ve studied.

  1. How can an educator best offer a variety of technology based creative platforms (Piktochart, TouchCast, Google Slides/Draw, PowToons, etc.) in one assignment or project and still make sure that the end result meets the same standards and objectives?
  2. When assigning a collaborative project, how can I ensure that my students are indeed collaborating–equally participating in completing the task? What tools are available to ensure, enhance, and monitor student participation in collaborative projects?

The class readings, my research, and the resources shared by my classmates have provided a huge scope of information to address these questions.   Below, I elaborate on a few of the most notable points I have come across in my learning on how to create digitally enhanced instruction that is both innovative and meaningful.

The SAMR Model

The SAMR model for integrating technology into teaching (infographic below), developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, breaks down how educational technology is used into four categories: substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition.  This provides a scale for how technology is incorporated into a classroom, starting with substituting a digital tool to complete a traditional, non digital task, and ending with redefining learning through technology. This model does not suggest that the “enhancement” stage, including substitution and augmentation, is subpar.  In fact, sites like TurnItIn and Google Classroom along with digital tools, like free online graphing calculators, have greatly improved a student’s access to resources and a teacher’s ability to effectively manage the classroom.  However, the transformation stage, including modification and redefinition, calls for educators to incorporate digital tools that totally redefine learning, which is both incredibly exciting and a bit terrifying.  A few of these “transformational” tools that I have personally tried out are listed in the “redefining learning” section below.

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**A great resource for introducing educators to the SAMR model is available here through Common Sense Media.

Redefining Learning

In Teaching in a Digital Age, author A.W. Bates’ immediately makes the point that, “As more instructors have become involved in online learning, they have realized that much that has traditionally been done in class can be done equally well or better online” (n.d., p.1.7).  This directly relates to the SAMR model in that it draws attention to the less than obvious fact that technological tools are inherently redefining learning.  Bates’ explanation extends the SAMR model a bit however by elaborating on how digital tools have redefined both how a teacher informs instruction and how a student synthesizes their learning through using creative, collaborative, and innovative digital tools.

On the educators side, Bates explains two emerging frameworks for teaching, the flipped classroom and blended learning models.  In the flipped classroom, the educator records the lecture, which the students watch on their own time and then class is dedicated to discussing or further exploring the topics that arise.  Bended learning is a bit less clearly defined but involves a hybrid of digitized and traditional learning methods.  For example, in a blended classroom a teacher may use online sites to organize and share resources or manage the flow of student work, but the instruction may be provided in a more traditional format. While both of these frameworks appear to be in the “enhancement stage” according to the SAMR model, it is clear that, education at a core, is inherently changing.  It won’t be long, as Bates suggests, before the digital classroom looks very different from the traditional learning environment most of us are familiar with (n.d., p.1.7).

Along with the pedagogical changes to learning and education, technology is altering the tasks, tools, and experiences available to students in the classroom.  This is where ISTE Standards one and two come into play, as there are now so many tools that completely change how a student creates, innovates, and communicates both individually and collaboratively.  Below, I have included an infographic which categorizes some of the tools I have come across that transform and redefine student learning and relate to these two standards.  I choose tools that I have personally used and that are easily accessible to students in my district (we have 1:1 Chromebooks) but, as these tools are constantly being created or adapted, this is just a starting point.

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Future Explorations

  • When applying the SAMR model to technology instruction, is it best for an educator to begin with the first step, substitution, and work up to redefinition, or is it better to aim directly for redefinition from the start?
  • How can we continue to balance “tried and true” traditional teaching methods with new methods that seem to completely redefine learning with technology?

References

Bates, A. W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (1). Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/part/
chapter-1-fundamental-change-in-education/

Puentedura, Ruben (2014). SAMR, Learning, and Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/11/28/SAMRLearningAssessment.pdf