Stars and Clouds recommends…

Obviously I can’t keep to a schedule. So I will keep my recommendations random then. Better than nothing.

Oh, and welcome back. The blog was down for a few days, as I removed some photos from here, and from my flickr. If you find photographs missing, I am sorry. Due to professional circumstances, I removed photos from my old school all together for now. Sorry about that!

Now, back to the recommendation! Today I recommend a blog deep from the bottom of my heart!


Meg is a mum of a lot of amazing kids, an amazing photographer, she is compassionate, she is devoted, she is crafty beyond belief, and I want her to come and decorate my new apartment in Italy! (Yes, seriously, can you come over for a week, please Meg? Please??? PLEASE?????).

Meg went to Sierra Leone this year and blogged about it too. It made me cry! Her devotion is inspiring! And her blog is fun to read! She even throws in the occasional cocktail recipe or “how to cut a pineapple” instruction! She rocks! Check her out!

Oh, and there is the shop!! I could buy ALL of it! Really!

Check it out, it is a blog full of beauty, love and fun! Thanks, Meg!


From reflection to professional inquiry

Sticking to the theme of reflection and professional learning, I thought I would dedicate this post to professional inquiry or action inquiry or action research. Action inquiry is the term I used during my studies, the IB uses the term professional inquiry (and offer a workshop in it too), and some others say action research. The exact definitions may differ a little, but all of them should include vital steps.

Kurt Lewin designed the following action research model:

Picture taken from Fern Uni Hagen

What I find is important to any professional/action inquiry/research approach is that the general or initial idea, as shown above, is clear to the practitioner. We might want to inquire into something new to us, or something that we found was not working the way we want it to in our practice. It can be anything, as long as you are enthusiastic about it. The process requires some work, and without some determination, it might easily fail or be forgotten.
Lewin allows for a nice fact finding stage. I think this is where you get immersed in literature. If you are working on university credits or similar, you will probably have to to a proper literature review at this stage. It might take some time. Do not rush through this, because if a lot has been said about your idea before, then you might get some answers during this stage already.

At this point I should say that even if you are not doing this for anyone other than yourself, make sure you document the process. This does not have to be a proper research report, but a well-organized learning journal or blog might be a good way forward, to keep track of your reflections, thinking, findings and new ideas.

As you enter the planning stage, you are deciding on making ONE change to your practice. This is where the ACTION comes in, where we take the theory into the classroom. At this stage you should know how you want to collect data!
This is research, or an inquiry, and what you do need is evidence! To some extend this is where the difference between inquiry and research might be the most obvious, but I think that in both cases proper data collection and analysis is important. Get yourself acquainted with qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. Be aware of ethics. You might only be doing this for yourself, but do it properly anyway!

After taking the first step and collecting your data, you need to analyze and evaluate, you draw conclusions on the change you made and you will probably change your original change, or add to it. This is a cyclical approach, we never stop learning! If you are happy with the achieved result, then well done, if not, then continue to inquire until you are!

I think this is such a fantastic way to learn! In July 2009, when I attended the Pedagogical Leadership in the PYP workshop in Zürich, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Professional Inquiry in the PYP workshop. The participants had been working on establishing their research plans, or plans for action, and were eager to share them and get feedback (another crucial part!!!). It was a fantastic experience, and I somehow ended up talking a lot to Kathy Short, who was running this workshop, without knowing who she was! An amazing woman!

Before I conclude here, let me say something else about feedback. Collaboration makes this process easier. If the inquiry is about your practice only, make sure you have some critical friends to provide you with another perspective! But action inquiry can also be a collaborative effort!

Using a reflection cycle

During my degree, we explored a variety of reflection models, as well as action  inquiry/research models to encourage deeper reflection, and learning. At this point I feel I should be revisiting my work, but it isn’t actually available online anymore, as my server space at the time is no longer there. I will try to make an effort to upload all those modules though.

Most of my modules I completed as websites. It was a nice way to take the assignments apart, and then to put them back together. I feel as though I successfully did two things during my degree: authentic technology integration, and inquiry-based learning. As such, I feel like I’m able to transfer this to my classroom much more easily than if I hadn’t learned this way myself. The PYP is all about inquiry-based learning and teaching, as well as about the authentic development of key skills (or transdisciplinary skills, as they call them). While the current skills do not explicitly refer to technology (and the question remains open whether we need to refer to such skills explicitly), I believe that literacy development, communication skills, research skills, social skills, thinking skills and even self-management skills, all include a technology component. That is my perception though, and I am a very techy person. So again, there might be need to make it explicit.

Let me focus on the actual point of this post: reflection models. There are plenty of them out there, and here are a few just to demonstrate what I’m talking about.

The reflective cycle by Gibbs (1988). Photo from Oxford Brookes.

Kolb’s experiential learning cycle (1984) from Leeds University

And there are plenty of others, ranging from “What? So what? Now what?” to Bloom’s Taxonomy (which the Thinking Skills as mentioned above are quite obviously based on). What we have to ask ourselves first though is: What is our purpose in using such a model? And what do I feel comfortable with? I personally find Kolb hard to apply (and yet used him particularly because of that in one of my action inquiries) and Gibbs easy and meaningful. That has had an effect on my practice though, because I brought Gibbs into my teaching. And just writing this now, I never gave students the opportunity to choose a model themselves!
Gibbs is perfect in situations that create or trigger a lot of feelings and emotions. When we feel like we failed, or were treated unfairly. Or when we are so happy, or proud of ourselves. It is a good model that deals with feelings, but also separates them from the facts.

Any model will do, and in some cases you might want to mix and match. We don’t always need a model, I am sure most of you reflect all the time, without structuring the process. But this is the point: Structuring our reflection may sometimes be needed. And it can lead to very deep and meaningful learning. It can lead to turmoil, as we reveal more of our thinking and we might find the need to challenge ourselves. If we stay open-minded and determined to learn though, this is just what we need!

Have you ever used a reflection model? Which ones are your preferred methods of reflecting?

Looking back over the year

Over the next few weeks I would like to take some time and look back over the past year. It was a year full of learning for me, with its ups and downs, its challenges and its rewards.

I am very proud of the work I did this year, but there are also lots of little (and some bigger) areas of improvement that I want to address in the summer and the next year (or years). Taking time to look back and reflect, to challenge our assumptions and views, to question our actions, to align our theories-in action (our espoused theory and our theory-in-use) to achieve double-loop learning (referring to Donald Schön here, who used to be a big feature in my degree and is worth going back to in practice as well), is a very important part of professional learning and a must (in my opinion).

I look forward to composing and sharing those reflections.

However, to start the reflection phase off, I would like to share something else. The last week was our last week at school. A lot of students from my class are going home or moving on. We talked a lot about the year and what the children enjoyed. It was wonderful to hear that they all had fun, felt confident in their learning and actions, were proud of their achievements, were happy to have made so many friends, and enjoyed our units of inquiry. One students pointed out (this was her first year in the PYP), that she loved how everything “worked together” as opposed to having just Maths, Science, etc.

I got a lot of lovely cards and notes at the end of the year, some of them making me feel really good!

A big thank you to my class (WIS 3 and 4) for making the past year (or for some students even 2 years) so much fun and so exciting!

Art Workshop

As I said in my previous post, it is always nice to welcome a visitor to our class. The grandmother of two of my students was visiting from San Diego, where she works with the Museum of Modern Art’s Educational Outreach program. She ran a workshop in my class at the beginning of the school year, and she offered to run another one.

It fit a little into our transdisciplinary theme “How we express ourselves” but the workshop was a stand-alone art session.

The focus of the workshop was on Mary Cassett and the students were developing their chalk skills.
Our visitor was so enthusiastic and that inspired the students immensely. They all got to work so quickly and developed their ideas as they went along. What came out of it was just amazing! Colorful, and full of self-expression.

Thanks to Tracey! I loved to have you there!

To see all pictures, please check out the set on flickr