"Bringing the Farm to School: Growing Healthy Children & Communities" by USDA is licensed under CC by 2.0.

Visual Literacy: Analyzing Infographics with Students

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. 

"Bringing the Farm to School: Growing Healthy Children & Communities" by USDA is licensed under CC by 2.0.

“Bringing the Farm to School: Growing Healthy Children & Communities” by USDA is licensed under CC by 2.0.

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.

Using Infographics in the Classroom

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Infographics

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.

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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?

screen-shot-2017-04-26-at-10-23-53-am

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!

How Can Administrators Best Support Professional Development in Education Technology?

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?

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Ed Tech Professional Learning Considerations

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?

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Reflections on Peer Coaching: Experiences and Essentials

As part of my studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I recently engaged in and completed an exercise in peer coaching with a new teacher. I considered the additional challenges that face new teachers in the first few months of school and transitioned from an advocate to a collaborative partner, capable of leading and guiding inquiry. I practiced communication skills, including active listening and questioning strategies as my collaborating partner and I worked to build lessons together. Much of my work in this course centered around the study of Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Communication by Les Foltos

How can a school without a peer coaching program still benefit from the peer coaching method?

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Using Universal Design to Differentiate Instruction

"Universal Design for Learning" by Giulia Forsythe CC 2.0  https://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/8527950743

“Universal Design for Learning” by Giulia Forsythe CC 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/8527950743

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.

Defining Standards

Next, it is important to define the standards being focused on. There can be multiple categories of standards to consider: curriculum standards like those found in the Common Core, 21st century standards such as those with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, and technology standards like the ISTE Student Standards.

Crafting Student Directions & Assessments

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.

Differentiation

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?

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Why Do We Need to Define What 21st Century Learning Looks Like?

“Shared Vision” by Annie Tremonte created using Piktochart is licensed under CC 2.0.

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?

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Coaching Relationships with New Teachers: Implementing Inquiry over Advocacy

Untitled Infographic (5)

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? 

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Revising a BYOD Action Plan: Creating an Online PD Space

Action Plan Feedback

This quarter, I have been working to develop an action plan centered around how the policy of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) fits into my ideal learning environment. Recently, my class came together for a face-to-face session to review emerging plans. We engaged in a practice known as a Tuning Protocol to receive feedback. Just as student learning isn’t as powerful in a vacuum, neither is the ongoing learning and development of educators. Dearman and Alber (2005) address using collaborative practices to analyze and reflect on student work, and claimed that the involvement of educators in reflection and decision making not only creates commitment, but propels and sustains instructional shifts. After my participation in this process, I can see how this would work.

I was astounded by the high level of my peers’ action plans. Their thoughtful reflections on their school learning environments seamlessly merged into their envisioned growth opportunities. The feedback I received on my own plan left me poised to dig deeper, clarify confusions, and make decisions about how it will all come together. For example, @EllenJDorr prompted me to remember that I have to address the connection between BYOD and student-centered learning. Student independence requires teachers to loosen some control over the use of technology in the classroom. Additionally, @Ingersoll_Ryan reminded me that it is not just about rationalizing the positive impacts of BYOD, but owning the distractions personal devices do cause. Yes, students will be distracted at times, and this will be challenging. However, we can own our role to instruct students how to manage this distraction.

Professional development has continued to be the focus of my plan. While I have continued to focus on the unconference model, I have struggled to articulate the research-based evidence of this choice. Additional research has highlighted the power of working in cohorts, who focus on content and engage in active learning (Desimone et al., 2002). The professional development cycle I graphically outlined above centers on these fundamentals. The first step of my plan involves introducing this professional development plan to staff. Many in my cohort suggested that I showcase what successful BYOD in the classroom looks like, share school demographics about student online and device use, and present the rationale for why BYOD benefits student learning, all in the pursuit of inviting staff to participate in the larger conversation (@MrsBTodd gave me a great suggestion to develop a simple infographic to distribute).

Finally, the feedback I received also pushed me to realize that I need jump in and start designing this professional development process. My biggest struggle has been how to blend the unconference model, which fosters interest and participant-driven conversations, with the inquiry model, which supports instructional growth via experimentation and collegial feedback. Participating in both of these practices led to my own instructional shifts this past year, so their value is fresh in my mind. So how do these two ideas come together? I thought the only way to figure this out was to start to build it…

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How BYOD Fits Into An Ideal Learning Environment

This week I am continuing to work on my Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) action plan as part of my Digital Learning Environments course at Seattle Pacific University. I am working to get to the heart of why utilizing personal devices in the classroom is part of an ideal digital learning environment. If I remove the word digital, I see that my ideal learning environment encourages students whose learning is a result of their personal curiosity. It challenges students to persist in their learning despite ongoing challenges. And, it develops a student that is able to adapt to shifting situations.

What does a learning space that supports the development of a curious, persistent and adaptable student look like? It is clear that challenging assignments and remediation do not make a student persistent in their achievement. Similarly, asking higher level thinking questions does not make a student curious. And, assigning students to different projects or partners does not make a student adaptable. These skills are learned through the fine craft of a teacher who focuses on each student as part of a larger puzzle. Students have individual needs: they learn at different paces, have different interests, and need support in different areas. Our classroom environment has to be one that challenges students when they are ready for it, encourages students when they need it and teaches lessons that require thinking alongside all types of people. It pushes students to ask questions stemming from their own inquiries and personal interests. It also creates a student who can reflect not only on what they have been learned, but how they have learned.

"High Ropes Course Climbing Forest" CSU under CC BY 2.0 Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/high-ropes-course-climbing-forest-246113/

“High Ropes Course Climbing Forest” CSU under CC BY 2.0 Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/high-ropes-course-climbing-forest-246113/

Engaging students in this type of environment requires an awareness of current cultural norms with emerging technology. Awareness of how today’s youth are using technology on their own time provides a window into possible approaches (Morris and Stommel , 2013). A lack of awareness can potentially short change our students and push them away from genuine learning experiences that they already understand, enjoy and want to expand upon (Morris & Stommel, 2013). Recently, my district conducted a survey of 8th graders, which included questions about technology. The survey results showed that 91% of 8th grade students had their own cell phone last year. Bringing personal devices means that students are arriving to school with some of the most modern applications available, and my ideal learning environment does not prevent students from accessing the most current tools used by society on a daily basis.

The use of personal devices in the classroom creates opportunities for students to not only access digital tools, but to own their learning literally and figuratively. They have a comfort level with their personal device. They care about their personal devices. Part of being curious and adaptable is being able to resolve individual challenges in real time. The challenges that come with BYOD are also some of the learning benefits. Troubleshooting setbacks on devices, as well communicating with peers to do so is not only real world, but builds a persistent and adaptable person. Personal devices in the hands of every student can also actively engage everyone in the room, motivating students to make choices about how to independently implement technology to meet the demands of a task. The technologies on personal devices are moving targets, putting students in charge, as they need to adapt and learn to dodge obstacles. An ideal learning environment involves students in this process. It includes teachers who are willing to work alongside students to navigate the confusions and shifts of emerging technology to support the development of these skills. This may create anxiety in education, but many effective shifts in educational practice have done just this (Morris & Stommel, 2013).

Morris, S. & Stommel, J. (2013) Why online programs fail, and 5 things we can do about it. [Web Post]. Retrieved from http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/why-online-programs-fail-and-5-things-we-can-do-about-it/