This post was first published on August 11, 2014 for voicEd.ca
As teachers, we don’t always know our impact unless our students come back and share with us. Similarly, as global teacher learners, we don’t always know the people that we reach and the positive impact we might have on the growth of other educators. This year, I’d like to start by thanking Annie Fetter, someone whom I’ve never met face-to-face, for the positive impact she’s had on my growth this year, and for the rich discussions that she’s prompted me to have with educators within my PLN and with the teachers I work with back in Guelph.
This is the video that got things started for me in May of 2013. It’s an Ignite Session from a Math conference where Annie shows how she uses a Noticing and Wondering strategy when teaching Math. It was shared on Twitter by one of my mentors, Mary-Kay Goindi.
Mary-Kay and I spent some time talking about this video and then the ideas began to percolate as we went about our year. As I watched it several times, I began to love the elegance of Annie’s message. This strategy makes thinking visible, both to students and to teachers; what another learner notices can be really helpful to us as thinkers, and we don’t always ask students to articulate this internal noticing. It’s really inclusive, in that no value judgements are made, only observations. When teachers ask, “What makes you say/think that?” instead of, “Why?” students are encouraged to provide evidence, rationale and further information to describe their own thinking, something so powerful as a formative tool in order to know what next steps for a learner might be. So simple, and yet, so powerful!
At a subsequent event, the Waterloo Region Edcamp in February, I was in a session with another one of my mentors, Peter Skillen, and as part of the discussion I was sharing one of my problems of practice, that of finding strategies that help with the synthesizing of ideas that students are gathering during the inquiry process, something that Peter and I have discussed at length as we try to share our knowledge of PBL and knowledge building, often with teachers who are new to the process. It’s the part of the process that we often see is missing in inquiry projects today, and the part that I find most challenging. I have my toolkit of strategies, but I wanted to learn more from this group of teachers gathered at EdCamp. Luckily for us, a teacher from a nearby private school spoke up, (I’m sorry that I can’t remember her name) and shared that she had been using some of the Project Zero strategies for this purpose. Excellent! Peter and I had heard about Project Zero from Howard Gardner himself several years earlier at a conference, but I hadn’t followed up by really delving into the routines they had developed. I’d also enjoyed reading Making Learning Whole, by David Perkins, but had not yet made the connection!
This led the 3 of us (MK, Peter and me) to spend some time sharing, digesting, and discussing the book Making Thinking Visible and trying the Thinking Routines presented therein in order to help students and teachers with rich and focused thinking in the classroom. They fit very well with our thinking about inquiry-based approaches like Knowledge Building, and, in fact, they were not necessarily brand new to us, but provided a new lens, another look, in order to go deeper in our own professional learning. Indeed, they include a version of Annie Fetter’s Noticing and Wondering, called ‘See Think Wonder’, although I think I’ll still stick with the simplicity of her version at certain times! A couple of new learning experiences, supported by wonderful dialogue, led to a positive change in my practice over the course of about a year or so.
I’m about to start in a Vice-Principal role next September and in looking back at how Annie’s video led to positive change for my learning, I’m reminded that sometimes our virtual teachers plant a seed that gets slowly nourished by those colleagues we trust in our professional learning community. This is exactly what Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall propose in their wonderful book, The Connected Educator when they suggest that the combination of Professional Learning Communities (f2f), Communities of Practice, and Personal Learning Networks lead us to powerful new kinds of 21st century professional learning.
For me, Annie planted a seed that took about a year to grow into positive change, thanks to the support of wonderful colleagues!