In my last post, I wrote about the use of infographics in the classroom. Their creation can be a powerful exercise in both visual literacy and graphic design. A far cry from the poster projects of my youth, infographics call on students to synthesize information and think thematically. Just because you present students with a great online infographic creation tool (Piktochart, Visme, etc.) doesn’t mean they are ready to create one. Many students are not even familiar with the term infographic (informative graphic). I start any lesson on the topic by asking students to analyze the work of others. This extra step yields far better results in students’ final work.
Questions to Ask Students
How do you read this image? From left to right?
How does the organization of information/text structure help an author and a reader establish important themes?
What do you see first? Why?
What stands out to you at second glance? Why?
Where does your eye travel?
What relationship is shown in this infographic? How do you know? What choices did the designer make to ensure this was clear, even from afar? How does this help you to read this information?
How is color used? What is bright and what is dull in color? Why do you think the creator chose to do this?
Students are amazed to realize that these design decisions are not haphazard, but purposefully considered by the author.
For example, consider the infographic above. A quick “read” yields some clear key aspects of this infographic’s design. Thematic imagery is used to convey the larger message (farm-to table practices are present in some U.S. schools). Even a cursory glance suggests that numbers and statistics are a focus. Color and font size also draw attention to these statistics. This infographic is designed to highlight the successes of current farm-to-table eating in schools, rather than challenges. One may even notice that the sizes of the grocery bags decrease to coincide with the percentages represented on them. While this is far from a complex infographic, it is successful in presenting synthesized information about the topic. It is also clear that graphic design elements are purposeful and on-message. You may think these simple elements are innately obvious, but it is useful to model your thinking and work with students to unpack these design choices as they relate to theme and message. Finally, I encourage teachers to survey students for topics of interest before choosing an infographic to study together. This will create further engagement and interest with students.
In my own classroom, the use of infographics has been a valuable tool to teach not only visual literacy, but graphic design. Our society is a visual one and students need to be prepared to not only interpret the meaning of visuals presented to them but to present their own visual stories back to others. Many already do this in some capacity on sites like Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. Of course, creating an infographic does go beyond taking a selfie, requiring students to think very critically. Above are some infographics of mine that I’ve shared with students.
What is an infographic?
I tell my students that infographics (informative graphics) are a way to convey information to an audience in a simple, engaging way. I tell them that it is a way of storytelling. I tell them that it counters the notion, often seen in writing, that longer is better. I tell them that synthesis is truly the challenge here. The key to a successful infographic is a finished product that looks deceptively simple.
How do you use them in your teaching?
Each time I’ve presented this idea, I’ve been surprised by how many student haven’t heard the term infographic. They are, however, familiar with similar images in nonfiction books from their childhood. Students are often surprised by how much they can “read” from a visual image, as well as how quickly they can identify the relationships present, such as in flowcharts and cycles, etc. I often begin by showing students some examples and asking them to identify key elements. This is an important first step to pave the way for students to create their own. Infographics can be used as a creative alternative to a typical project or even writing assignment. Students can share them in a printed form or with each other online. In the examples below, my students use infographics to share elements of symbolism from novels they had recently read.
How do you make an infographic and not just a poster?
Get out of the habit of “go find and stick up” (Images are not stickers to place without thorough consideration.)
Viewer should be able to understand relationships at first glance (cross language barriers perhaps)
Overall imagery should be thematic or symbolic
Not just be content, but an analysis of this information
Does your infographic…tell a story? persuade? present an argument?
Consider the overall text structure (compare & contrast, sequence, cause & effect, etc.)
What tools do you use to create infographic?
There are many, many online tools available that can make this process easy and fun for students. Some examples are shown above. Please note that some of these tools have both free and paid versions with varying customization options. Be warned that “go find and stick up” is tempting with these tools. Additionally, by no means is a fancy tool necessary to create such a visual image. A simple tool like Google Slides, Powerpoint or even pen and paper can work just as well!
Well, it has been 349 days since my last blog post! Where have I been you ask? Great question. My last post found me completing a graduate degree in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University while closing out another school year as a middle school language arts teacher. It also found me nine months pregnant and counting, awaiting the arrival of my son. Born on June 10th, Parker arrived only four days shy of the last day of school, and the same day as my graduation from Seattle Pacific. Of course, this made it a tad tricky to attend. Check out the make-up graduation my esteemed program director, David Wicks and my devoted cohort, hosted a few months later. Who says you can’t do it all?
During this hiatus spent caring for my son, I have continued to engage in education technology by exploring some great opportunities presented to me. Follow me as I share about the following experiences in the coming weeks!
1. Running professional development sessions for teachers on the topics of Infographics, Student Blogging, and Genius Hour
At the heart of my current studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University is ISTE Coaching Standard 4, which focuses on how professional learning can be best support teacher practice and, ultimately, student learning. Professional development is often associated with the administrators who orchestrate it. As a result, recognizing how paramount administrators are to the implementation of good professional learning is the key to its success.
My exploration on this topic began by examining an additional set of ISTE standards, the standards for administrators. An excellent resource, these standards explore everything from modes of establishing a learning culture at one’s school to the development of school improvement plans. Most relevant to this post is ISTE Administrator Standard 3, which specifically calls for, “Educational administrators [t0] promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.” How is this achieved?
How can administrators best support professional development in education technology?
For the past few weeks I have explored ISTE Coaching Standard 4b to try to understand how professional learning specifically impacts the use of education technology. School districts continue to take major steps, both in effort and resources, to provide professional development opportunities in the hopes of improving student learning. Unfortunately, the results continue to indicate that most professional development is unsuccessful (Jacob & McGovern, 2015). What are some potential options?
As part of my recent exploration of peer coaching, I have recently explored what it means to peer coach and what 21st century learning looks like in the classroom. Now, my attention has progressed to think about lesson improvement within the peer coaching process. As previously discussed, effective learning challenges students to shift from simple consumers of information, to producers of knowledge in the real-world (Foltos, 2013). For many, this type of learning is not easily integrated into daily teaching (Foltos, 2013). What steps are necessary to co-plan an effective lesson plan?
Creating a Task
Foltos (2013) wrote that first you need to create a task that is complex and real-world. It shouldn’t be too simple or too easily solved (Foltos, 2013). While this concept sounds good, it can be difficult to translate into a learning activity that is both relatable and digestible for students. Foltos (2013) suggested that real-world problems presented are aligned with student interest and that requirements can be easily defined and understood by students.
From here, the learning context can be defined. This might be more easily understood as a “series of carefully sequenced learning activities” (Foltos, 2013, p. 125). It is, of course, important to determine how the learning activities correlate with the standards (Foltos, 2013). Finally, student directions can be crafted, assessments can be created, and resources can be identified, all through a process of receiving and sharing feedback.
One of my collaborating partner’s current focuses is differentiation. As such, I thought it relevant to align this week’s guiding questions about co-planning lessons to questions of differentiation. Differentiation is easily discussed but not as readily implemented into the classroom. It remains a great theoretical concept that is difficult to implement on a daily basis, given time constraints and curricular demands.
What protocols can be used to collaboratively design differentiated instruction effectively?
This week in my studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am continuing to explore ISTE Coaching Standards 1 and 2 by investigating what effective student learning looks like. Just as norms are an important part of a peer coaching relationship, so too is a shared vision for what effective 21st century learning looks like. This shared vision creates a starting place for any collaborative work.
The future of education is changing to respond to the internet’s information age. With an overwhelming amount of information accessible online, the role of teachers is less about possessing knowledge and more about facilitating learning driven by the students themselves. It is about preparing students for the emerging skills of tomorrow’s jobs. Resources like the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) set out to define what effective students learning looks like to get there. Commonly referred to as the four C’s, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity are referenced as the basic elements of 21st century learning. However, these skills can appear vague or nebulous compared to the daily needs of instruction. As a result, it is important for coaching teams to define which skills are most important to student success (Foltos, 2013). The work to define these characteristics becomes “a road map that describes what teachers need to do to improve their practice and specifics on how to shape teaching and learning activities to reach their goals” (Foltos, 2013, p. 105). Foltos (2013) provided a solid reminder that while it is easy to say that students need to learn 21st century skills, it is more challenging to transfer skills such as critical thinking to daily classroom practice.
How do we turn these frameworks, standards, visions and characteristics into realities? What does it looks like, specifically in an English language arts classroom?
This week in the Digital Educational Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am exploring the roles of communication and collaboration in peer coaching as they align with ISTE Coaching Standards 1 & 2. Foltos (2013) asserted that effective communication and collaboration in a coaching relationship, “emphasize[s] inquiry over advocacy” (p. 87). He stated that reliance on advocacy can result in too much reliance on a coach’s expertise (Foltos, 2013). Instead, inquiry and feedback cycles between collaborating partners build capacity for autonomous problem solving, which serves to best meet student needs (Foltos, 2013).
For better or for worse, new teachers have the same amount of responsibilities that veteran teachers do. Additionally, they have to learn these responsibilities in real time. While coaches desire to build a new teacher’s capacity, it is still all too easy to advocate when daily problems need solutions. Unfortunately, reliance on advocacy puts the coach in the role of perpetual expert (Foltos, 2013). While I am not an expert in all realms, I do have an expertise that could be useful to a new teacher. On the other hand, I don’t want to influence a teacher too heavily from my one set of experiences and perspectives. Where is the balance between inquiry and advocacy in a coaching relationship with a new teacher?
How do you promote inquiry over advocacy, given the vast amount of new information new teachers need to acquire daily?
This quarter in my studies in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am studying the practice of peer coaching. I have arrived to the table unsure of this role and ready to explore the model alongside my cohort of peers who come from rich and diverse educational environments. So, I am starting with the basics.
What is peer coaching?
While I have not worked in a school with peer coaches before, I have heard the term used in the past. Unfortunately, I have been disinterested because of my perception that it was a form evaluation. In an age when teachers are often blamed for educational malpractice, it is easy to be defensive. Additionally, while the practice of observation is often highlighted as a helpful component of coaching, it is closely tied with evaluation. Since I might not be alone in this perception, perhaps perception is an important consideration when implementing a peer coaching model. In order to address perception, it is best to start with the what before the how. According to Foltos (2013), “A Peer Coach is a teacher leader who assists a peer to improve standards-based instruction by supporting the peer’s efforts to actively engage students in 21st century learning activities” (p. 3). Integral to this process is a coach’s ability to guide a peer towards autonomy (Foltos, 2013). It is also a collaborative process between two peers, not a hierarchy of superiority. Transparency in these goals can also perhaps go a long way in establishing an effective practice.
What is essential for successful coaching?
Based upon the work of Foltos (2013) and my own experiences, the following themes have become apparent.
A coaching relationship needs to consist of willing participants, who are open to building trust with one another (Foltos, 2013). This trust is the foundation of a working relationship that encourages risk-taking and growth.
It is important to set goals and norms collaboratively. While it can begin with a school or district goal, it can also stem from goals set by the coaching partnership (Foltos, 2013).
Establishing modes of respect is a separate consideration from participation. It is important to address time as a factor in a coaching relationship, and recognizing certification hours and/or compensation for work being done outside of the school day can properly value the process.
How do you create a peer coaching model that doesn’t suggest or feel like an evaluation system?