Sunday, April 21, 2013

Are You a Disseminator or Facilitator?

At IRA 2013, I am doing my session "Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?" Collaborating in Class and Online (yes, that also happens to be the title of my book ).  Each time I do this presentation, I have attendees who come because they are looking for strategies to teach writing. I also have people who attend looking for technology tools and applications. Do they get those? Absolutely, but I think they leave with much more. They leave with an understanding of what it means to create a classroom or school environment that is driven by student's choice.

The title of my book was chosen because as I was writing the first draft of a chapter, I shared a story about how my students wanted to write so badly, they were searching for any additional time within our very structured schedule. One student's solution was asking me, "Can we skip lunch and keep writing?" What can we as educators do to keep our students excited about learning?

The answer is simple, we must give them the power to make choices about what they will learn, how they will learn, and how they will be assessed on their learning. If you have no idea where to begin, the first place that I always turn is to my students. Ask them. Let them give you feedback. When you combine their feedback with your expertise as an educator, you've got a winning combination.

Although we are the content specialists and strategists, our role is no longer the sole disseminator of information. They have that in the palm of their hand, 24/7; they don't need us for that anymore. We must be the facilitator who guides them through all of the information and provides them with the individual support and opportunities they need to become the most successful student possible.

Those of you who read this blog know that I am very passionate about student-directed learning. Here are a few of the posts that I have written that give you a peek into my classroom to see what this really looks like when implemented:

I hope this gives you some inspiration or causes you to take some time to reflect on your teaching practice. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask them. Our classroom is an open book.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Top Seven "Forget-Me-Not" Presentation Practices

The busy spring time is upon us and for some of us, it will carry us into an even busier summer. One thing that I love is the opportunity to travel to speak and facilitate training all over the U.S. I thoroughly love the opportunity to meet and learn from other passionate and dedicated educators. Even though I do present, I try to take the time to continue by professional growth as well. I attend a lot of sessions. Every one of the presenters is knowledgeable on their topic, but sometimes it does not translate well to an audience. In Pay It Forward: 5.1 Ways to Share Your Expertise, I mentioned ways that we can guide our colleagues into sharing their teaching successes and experiences. Not one of us can claim to be where we are as educators without the assistance of others; it is important to give back to the educational community. Once teachers begin to feel comfortable sharing their best practices, the next progression is to present at a conference. The teacher who had asked for my advice in the previous post asked for some tips in creating an engaging presentation. Here are my top seven "forget-me-not" presentation practices.
  1. Set the tone of your presentation. People walk in wondering if they are in the right place and whether or not this is going to be beneficial or not. Music does a good job of setting the tone when people arrive. Also, add humor to your presentation. I am not saying that you should be a stand-up comedian because that sends the message of "I am silly and what I am saying is not all that important." However, when you add humor to the beginning and people get a chuckle, their brains release endorphines that help them connect with you and become engaged in what you are saying.
  2. Streamline your presentation. Slides with too many words or images takes the focus off of what you are saying. If someone cannot easily read or see what you have on a slide from the back of a ballroom, do not include it. The slide/image is there to support what you are saying. It is giving the attendees a visual or a graphic that will help your message stick in their brains.
  3. Be prepared. Time is one of our most valuable commodities. How many of us have sat through "death by PowerPoint" presentations where the presenter read off of the screen? How much did you learn or remember about what they said? If you are going to speak, prepare a presentation where your expertise is the focus. You are the expert. Practice your presentation and prepare for tech malfunctions. Could you do your presentation without your slides?  If not, then you are not prepared enough to speak as an expert. Here's what works for me: I have a pretty good memory, but I am not memorizing a script....especially for those 6 hour workshops. My presentations have graphics. With each graphic, I learn key phrases that I want to say within the point. Practice makes it flow easily for me when I am in front of an audience.
  4. Provide resources. Everyone wants to leave with something, but let's be honest about handouts. We get a paper handout, it goes home in our conference bag, and then it sits in the hall closet until we get rid of it a couple of years later. We live in a digital world so we need to provide our attendees with access to resources digitally. There are so many ways to share information in our world...blogs, websites, DropBox, Evernote, wikis, Facebook, etc. Most people now attend with a smart phone, laptop, or tablet. You can give them instant access to your resources and save them from lugging around the paper version. 
  5. Accurately name your session. We have all attended sessions based on their title and then come to realize that the session was nothing like what the title indicated. You want the people in your session to know what you are going to present about so that you have the right audience for your message. Don't worry if there are only a couple of people there. Those are the people who need to hear your expertise. If one person walks away with something that makes them a better educator, your presentation was a success.
  6. Listen and engage participants. As teachers we know that one of the least effective teaching strategies is straight lecture. Yet, you see educators doing this in presentations. The active participation strategies that work in your classroom with students will work those in attendance at your session. Facilitate conversations in your sessions, get them actively engaged, and remember it is about THEIR learning. Your goal needs to be to let them learn from your experiences. We know that the brain learns best when it is active in a fun and relevant manner. Don't forget to add that into your session.
  7. P.S. They're looking at you. You are there to share your expertise with other educators. Although we have always heard that we "don't judge a book by its cover," let's face it, we do. When people first see you, they are going to make a judgment about your ability to lead professional learning. Flip flops and vendor T-shirts do not instill a lot of confidence in your professional credibility. They want to know that they are not wasting their time by staying in your session. If they walk in and you look like your going to the ballpark or making a quick run to the grocery store, they are less likely to stay or open their mind to learning what you are sharing. (see Because Books are Sometimes Judged by Their Covers by Amanda Dykes).
These are my suggestions to those new to presenting at conferences. I would love to hear what your suggestions are about what makes a session a great professional learning experience.