EdShift Podcast Transcript: Dr Monica Burns Talks Active Learning

Monica Burns

Welcome to season two of the EdShift Podcast!

Listen on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts, and get the transcript of Season 2 Episode 1 below.

In today's episode, we are joined by Dr. Monica burns and we spent our time diving into active learning and how it can successfully impact your classroom. So we looked at the importance of student agency, student creation, and student collaboration, and how we can really ignite students and engage them in their learning when we include those in our instruction.

Katie Novak: Let's jump in. Hi, everyone. Welcome to season two of the ed shift podcast. Really excited to be joined today by Monica burns, who you might know as class tech tips. Monica, welcome to EdShift.

Monica Burns: Thank you so much for having me today.

Katie: Awesome. Thanks for being here. So Monica, for anyone who might not already be following you online, might not already be connected with you. Give us a little overview of who you are, your background and what you do today.

Monica: Absolutely. Well, I'm a former New York City public school teacher. I'm still based here on the east coast, right outside of New York City, where I taught in a classroom, starting off with an overhead projector, chalk, and a chalkboard, all of those great things. Before transitioning into a one-to-one environment, that's where we started using tablet technology, thinking about ways to get kids exploring, expanding their worldview and capturing their learning in new and different ways. Then out of the classroom for several years now, writing and talking about all things at tech on my podcast, The Easy EdTech Podcast on my blog Class Tech Tips and getting a chance to work with educators at schools, districts, and special events like the ISTE conference just a few weeks ago.

Katie: Yeah. I love it. It was really great to connect with you there Monica at ISTE! I'm always, impressed and amazed at how busy you were, how much you know, how many places you were active in and how much value you're able to provide to the community.

Monica: Oh, thank you. And I'm really excited to be here as well.

Kris: So Monica I'm a long-term, long, long-time follower and I feel like you've got such great advice and I love the way, you know, you frame your approach. So I'm excited to dive into the conversation today and, you know, see what we can talk about that will help our teachers prep as they think about going back to school.

Katie: So we wanted to talk a little bit about this idea of active learning and active classrooms today. So why don't we start by defining that together, Monica, when you think of the idea of what an active, engaged classroom looks like, what does that look like? Esoterically and literally to you.

Monica: So for me, an active learning environment is where students have a specific role that they're taking on, where they're truly engaging with the content in the classroom. So not in a passive way, right? If we're looking for that, the opposite, right? So not passively consuming content, although content consumption might be a part of it as they're getting going, but also an opportunity for them to apply what they've learned, actively engage, ask questions, talk to their classmates and maybe participate in an experiment. So there might be some experiential component to that active learning piece, but it's not a space where we're very quiet necessarily, right? It might be a bit of a bustling classroom environment too.

Kris: One of the things that comes to my mind when we talk about kind of that active bustling environment and where students are really kind of engaged in the learning, they're creating, they're showcasing. How do we incorporate strategies that really help to personalize that? I think particularly, you know, coming out of our pandemic era teaching, we've got some students who are disengaged, we've got some students who have some gaps. So what are the things that you recommend we think about doing to help address that in this active environment?

Monica: So when it comes to supporting student interests, you know, that can be easier said than done, right? What are student interests? They're wide-ranging sometimes it's hard to find a common thread that also connects back to the learning goals or the content area focus in a particular classroom. So when I talk about, or think about student interest and taking that into consideration, it can mean a few different things. One part might be for an educator to sit back and say, all right, what are the subtopics underneath our larger topic that I can present to students to help them self-select what groupings they wanna be a part of, or help me to decide what direction we're all gonna take. Knowing where certain students' interests or subtopics might grab their attention. I can either have a one-on-one conversation to build a connection or where I can build in something to reach a student who is particularly not engaged in a learning experience. So to find out what kids are excited about, there may be interest surveys that as much as it's nice to have open-ended questions, like tell me what you wanna know. Sometimes students need direction and what those options even are. We are all guilty at all ages of not, you know, we don't know what we don't know. So especially in a classroom where you might be teaching something new, you might not necessarily have an open-ended question of, you know, where in the world do you wanna travel to until you've had some conversations on what the options might be. Right? So those are the kind of things to take into consideration. First with student interest is really setting up kids for success, with an interest survey and having them know that you are actively using that information that they're giving you too to say, oh, I made this decision, or we're gonna, we're gonna read this article today because I heard so many of you say... And really build that ownership that the whole class now has in a particular activity. And that validation to say, I'm listening to you. So come back and tell me how you felt about this. So that could include not just an intro survey at the beginning of the unit, but now that we have more contexts on continuing to listen and we're building in those moments for wonder. That can help direct a conversation in a classroom or the type of content examples, uh, that you might provide. So one of the areas, when we think about getting kids interested and excited, I like to think about is, yes, we're committed to listening, but making sure we're setting up those routines and systems. So they're part of our regular practice and they're transparent and kids are part of it too.

Katie: Yeah. I love that. I think as you were talking about the idea of, of refining questions as not just leaving them open-ended, I think as adults, we probably all know what decision fatigue feels like. Um, you know, so taking what might, particularly for more students over others, feel like a, a burden, giving them that sense of direction, but then continuing that ongoing open, um, conversation that shows them that they have choice and that their voice is valued in what they're learning. I love those, you know, relatively straightforward to implement, but very impactful tactics.

Monica: Yeah. Such a great point about providing those choices for students in a way that feels safe for them to be able to speak up and say this, not that right. Or just present things so that they're able to share. There's a lot of fact-finding that takes place right over the course of a teacher's day, in addition to formative assessment or things that might feel a little bit more strategic or built into a plan, listening in to see what kids are interested and excited about is an important part of creating an environment where kids are ready to engage.

Kris: So what, what role you talked about listening, and one of the things that is so important in the classroom, we're hearing students. And I think an important component of that is also students hearing each other and sharing this kind of diversity of viewpoints, and diversity of interest. So how does this kind of collaborative or cooperative learning kind of fit into that active learning model? What are some things some teachers might want to think about there?

Monica: So one thing I would consider would be the types of questions and the frequency with which you're asking them and giving kids the, I don't wanna say right groups as if there's only one right answer, but put them in the right group for them in that moment, in that topic, on that day of the week cause we know things can be evolving for them to really have a productive discussion. So part of it is that set up for, how am I going to phrase a question or what examples do I need to give before we go out into a small group discussion? So everyone feels comfortable and confident to participate in that collaborative opportunity, but then also am I setting up kids for success with their particular group that they're now gonna spend some time with? That could mean, is that group dynamic going to be strong or is it gonna be a little tough based on other factors? And have we talked about what it means to participate in a group actively respectfully, what it means to listen to another member or to validate something that they've said? That's gonna look different in a group of first graders coming together to talk about a topic than say an eighth grader, but we know that those skills are evolving and being built, you know, all along the way. So two things I would say there is setting up for success with the questions and giving kids the context that they need to answer those questions, but also taking group dynamics into account and prepping kids to really work within a group.

Katie: What advice would you give, Monica, as we're thinking about this idea of like, group dynamics and setting up for success, teachers are starting back into classrooms. What advice do you give for really laying that foundation at the start of the year when there's, you know, a lot going on and you don't know your students yet? What are some steps they can take right off the bat to start?

Monica: So just like we spend time in the beginning of the school year, maybe a little more in an elementary than a middle or high school, but we spend time investing in routines. Right. We know that if we put that energy in, in the first six weeks, we're not gonna have to keep having those same conversations with as much frequency throughout the whole school year. And if a new student comes in, they can fold into those routines or we can layer on more over the year goes, I think of the routines with working within a group or the expectations of what that looks like, something that requires investment up front, with increasing payoff throughout the whole school year. So to set someone up in success for a group that might include sharing exemplars and nonexemplars, like these are the kind of ways that we address a classmate or these are the ways that might, you know, what do we think about this exchange? And so that could be a role play in the way we might traditionally do it or teacher modeling, what that interaction looks like. But if it is something where discussions will take place in an online space, it could include showing examples, like how might you feel if someone had posted that as a comment on your document or how would it feel if someone couldn't hear the tone in your voice? Let's read this in a happy tone, in a supportive tone, in a frus... you know, and just really having that investment upfront so that a student is able to use that in their own context. And it doesn't mean it's a one-and-done, right? This is an evolving thing. Teachable moments abound in many situations, when it comes to working well within a group. But I would say investing that time, which could include that prep piece, the exemplar exemplars, the nonexemplars and the debrief to say, how did that feel today? Was there anything that was tough in your group? And maybe that's a whole class discussion, maybe that's, "write it on an exit ticket just for me" type of contribution. So that debrief piece you might not use every day. Or every time once you hit February or March, but you may really allocate those extra five minutes throughout August and September because you're gonna use that information or bring that back to a kickoff for the next time a group of students is going out to work together.

Kris: Yeah, totally. I love that. You mentioned those online spaces as well, because you know, also showcasing teaching, modeling, digital citizenship, you know, for yes, it's the classroom and it's, you know, these are things that apply in, in every area to your life that you're interacting with people in person online.

Monica: Yeah, for sure. I mean, there's so many examples we can pull, right. Or we can talk aloud as we're navigating a space that might not even be related to that particular goal, but we can say, you know, just like we might say, oh, I know this button does this like, or Ooh, that comment surprised me that I saw this morning when I was watching my favorite YouTuber share an update, right. Or whatever it might be that you threaded into the conversation, right? Those are the kind of light bulb moments you can set up kits for.

Katie: I love that.

Kris: I love this idea, you know, of reflection and really getting students to integrate that into their part of, into part of their process. The other thing that I kind of wanna dive a little bit deeper into is kind of those group dynamics. So when we're figuring out what makes a good group and how we then get our students to reflect on that experience and understand how they work with each other, what are some of the things you might be considering when, when you're picking groups to help students be successful in a particular activity?

Monica: Well, part of it is listening to students and letting them know that you're listening. So if they've come to you with a concern in the past, acting on that doesn't mean that person's not in a group with that student. They might have had a concern with, or an issue with, but saying, we're gonna get into groups later today or tomorrow we're gonna be in groups. I wanted to let you know that this person is in your group - I know that you always haven't gotten along the best with them, but I think this time it might feel better because we're working on this or because we're taking on roles. So listening and then acknowledging that you're listening through actions and conversations is something that I would say is a good consideration there for getting kids set up for different types of group dynamics. And letting them know that you are hearing them when they do have a concern. Smaller groups have different dynamics than larger groups and that's true both in online spaces and offline spaces. It would be really tough for me to open up a jam board with a group of, you know, 30 5th graders for the first time, all in one space, unless we had spent a lot of time in there in small groups first, right? Knowing what it feels like if someone moves your sticky note in one area or another, or knowing what to look out for, if you need some more space. So you might find that with a group dynamic, you're starting small and building, as opposed to jumping into a project where five students are working together and that might feel really overwhelming for all of them. So those are two things I would consider being very transparent with your setup, giving kids the heads up, if you think that it might not be something they're super pumped about when they see it so that they can prep themselves for that case of maybe not working with their favorite person all the time. But then also having group sizes that are going to scale if needed at some point, but also lend themselves for kids to try things out, get comfortable, whether that's in an online space or in an offline environment.

Kris: There's so much you said in there that I love because we've got this just focus on relationship building. So the relationship between the teacher and the students, and then also helping students develop their relationships with other students, even when that may feel challenging and then not neglecting the other components of what they're doing. So building up the proficiency with the technology that you're asking them to use, letting them, you know, explore it in a way that is comfortable and safe and then growing them from there and kind of increasing the things they're able to do. And so I think, you know, great advice and I love all of that.

Monica: Thank you. I think there's just so much opportunity for capacity building at a few different levels. So if you're working in a district where you're making a big push for social-emotional learning doesn't mean you need to abandon something else. It's right there. It's already happening. You might have those conversations right alongside your digital citizenship goals or your technology proficient goals as well. So a lot of opportunities for relationship building in these spaces.

Kris: And I think it's so important to remember that we can do all of these things at the same time. I know that sometimes it feels overwhelming when we're trying to help kids in so many different ways with so many different skills, but, you know, taking the time, like you've mentioned to really, to think about it, to set up the process in the classroom to slowly build, to build those skills, we can, we can actually accomplish a lot more without it feeling like so much on our teacher's plates.

Monica: Absolutely agree.

Katie: Yeah. Love that. Well, Monica, thank you so much we do have one, well sort of two, but one final question that we like to ask everyone on the EdShift Podcast. And that is, what has been the best part of your day today?

Monica: Gosh, well, I would say it is, the sun is out today. It is a bright sunny day and that's just, that's definitely been a highlight. I'm always, uh, always pumped for the good weather, but from a more professional capacity, I've had some great conversations with educators, not just you two here on zoom, but to educator friends earlier today on Google meet, having great conversations. So those relationships are definitely a highlight of my day too.

Katie: I love that. And Monica, we will have some information in the show notes for everyone. But where can they find you? How can they connect with you online?

Monica: Yeah. So my blog ClassTechTips.com just celebrated 10 years in May of this year, which is pretty wild. So that's where you can find all the things. You can even press play on my Easy EdTech Podcast, straight from the blog too. And then I'm at ClassTechTips on all the platforms, whether you wanna follow along on TikTok for some music in the background with some EdTech tips or find me entrepreneur or Instagram, that's another great way to connect.

Katie: Love it. Awesome. Thank you so much, Monica. All of those links will be in the show notes, everyone. Thank you for joining us on this episode of EdShift. Can't wait to see you next time. Follow us on socials. Leave a review. If you're listening to this on somewhere that has podcast reviews and we'll talk to you next time. Have a great day.