An inquiry into ownership of learning…

What do you notice about Audri as a learner?

We begin our Year 4 collaborative planning session with Audri… to generate thinking about the ways young learners own their learning, outside the classroom…

The teachers notice and name his confidence, persistence, belief in himself, resourcefulness, curiosity, commitment, ownership of learning, enthusiasm, excitement...

Layla wonders if Audri’s uniqueness and enthusiasm would be stifled in a traditional school setting.

Jina responds that she is excited by the possibilities of creating such authentic learning opportunities in her classroom.

Watching an extract from Guy Claxton on building learning power adds another layer to our conversation:

He says the ‘The ability to learn is very learnable’…

Some key questions which he asks:

  • What habits or attitudes of mind do you invite and cultivate in your students?
  • What learning muscles are being stretched beyond mastering content?

Important learning dispositions that have value for our learners in the ‘real’ world (beyond passivity, remembering, note taking and regurgitating, even if these might be useful in some contexts):

  • Curiosity – asking questions, seeking problems, finding solutions, desire to learn
  • Persistence – sticking with it in the face of challenges and difficulties
  • Resourcefulness - experimenting, taking initiative, having a range of strategies on which to draw
  • Collaboration - being willing to and knowing how to collaborate effectively
  • Thoughtfulness - standing back and thinking metacognatively, being able to think clearly and critically
  • Imagination – visualising new concepts, producing new ideas

Claxton says it is possible to strengthen all of these, even within the parameters of conventional classrooms. One of the major considerations is how we talk. Most teachers spend a great deal of time talking about ‘work’.  Shifting the focus to the process of learning, makes a huge difference.

Back in our planning meeting, we talk about the importance of making thinking visible and the value of noticing and naming learning behaviours, raised in both Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart et al and Choice Words by Peter Johnston. (Both books are highly recommended.)

The latter highlights the influence our language has on student learning. I particularly like examples like this one, which demonstrate the effect of a few well-chosen words…

“What have you learned most recently as a reader?” …the teacher begins with ‘given’ information that is not up for discussion: a) the student is a reader, and b) readers learn things. The only question is, what has this particular reader learned? For a student to respond to this question, he or she has to review recent learnings. The opening question requires an answer that begins, “I learned. . . .” It insists on an agentive identity statement about reading and learning. At the same time, it creates a learning history, which is an antidote for students who think they are not good and have always been not good.”

As I’ve frequently said in this space -

We have learned that it’s more valuable to spend time building a deep understanding of what a unit of inquiry is about and deciding on conceptual understandings than on planning activities.

A valuable tip we gleaned from Sam Sherratt  is to agree on one word that sums up the conceptual essence of the unit. In this case it is ‘ownership.’

Central idea – Taking ownership of learning empowers us.

Conceptual understanding rubric -

Beginning Developing Established
Learning is meaningful when we take responsibility for it.

Responsibility

I see the teacher as the one who knows what to do, how to do it and if it’s good.

I expect the teacher to tell me what to do and how to do it.

Sometimes I make decisions about my own learning, without asking the teacher.

I can describe some ways I am becoming more responsible for my own learning.

I make decisions that support and promote my learning.

I can explain the reasons behind my choices and decisions.

Reflection and metacognition lead to ownership of learning.

Reflection

I don’t think much about my learning.

I can’t explain why I am doing specific tasks.

I don’t understand the difference between ‘work’ and ‘learning’.

I am beginning to think about how I learn.

I can explain why I am doing specific tasks.

I can identify the skills and attitudes I need or am using.

I can decide which strategies to use in my learning and explain my choice.

I think about myself as a learner and can identify my strengths and challenges.

I reflect on my learning, set learning goals based on my reflections, and act on them.

I can explain how I could use my learning in different contexts.

I can explain what I gained from a learning experience, what I contributed, what could have made it better.

Feedback welcome!

Meeting Wise

Is every meeting at your school about learning?

Does every meeting connect to ongoing work and goals?

Do you come out of every meeting with a plan for action or a sense of where to go next?

To be honest, we often used to go round in circles in our meetings, talk at the same time, interrupt each other… We are a passionate bunch, and it was never through disrespect, rather a result of caring a great deal, having lots of ideas, wanting our opinions heard..

Since introducing Meeting Wise agendas, our meetings have become much more focused.

The Meeting Wise authors highlight four aspects for careful consideration when planning successful meetings:

  • Purpose
  • Process
  • Preparation
  • Pacing

Today in our meetings: 

  • The objectives are clear
  • Participants come prepared
  • Everyone has a voice
  • We have clear, expected norms
  • The content of the meeting relates directly to the stated objectives
  • Participants have turns to take on roles of facilitator, timekeeper, note taker, so…
  • Everyone has a sense of ownership
  • There is a sense of true collaboration within groups
  • Distributive leadership is fostered
  • We usually have fun!
  • We use effective protocols to ensure all the above
  • Participants leave with a clear sense of the next steps

I took most of these statements from the plus /delta we do at the end of meetings, in which participants share what went well and what could be improved. This is usually addressed at the start of the next meeting of the particular group.

Learning Team Leaders have received a copy of Meeting Wise and all teams are gradually improving their meetings by implementing the suggested procedures and protocols and adapting them to our needs.

Highly recommended!

(See my earlier post in which I applied the Meeting Wise questions to classroom learning.)

Coaching for learning…

Do you set the bar high and constantly seek to improve your practice?

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It’s a privilege to work in a school with a strong learning culture, where teachers’ professional learning is valued and new opportunities for further learning and growth are constantly being sought.

The latest initiative is a one-on-one coaching model, providing opportunities for teachers to engage in reflective conversations about teaching and learning, set goals, analyse evidence and take action to enhance their practice.

It’s an approach that meshes well with our beliefs about how learning takes place, our determination to abandon ‘one size fits no-one’ PD and our commitment to teachers having choice in their professional learning.

We’re just beginning the journey, reading a great deal, thinking, talking and making connections to whole school goals as well as our learning principles.

We’ve had some engaging conversations with inspiring, passionate educators already implementing different models in their schools. Thanks Cameron Paterson for your initial insights and for introducing us to Chris Munro, who we now feel is part of our team!

Interestingly, our conversations with Chris (and Helen!) and with Maggie Hos McGrane, who are approaching coaching in different ways, for different purposes, using different models, highlighted the same big ideas. They even used similar language, gave similar examples and quoted similar success stories!

These are some of the common threads pulled from conversations with those generous educators…

A constructive approach to improving practice.

Coaching is non judgemental, not tied to evaluation or appraisal. It’s about teachers choosing to improve their practice, through goal setting, observation and one-on-one reflective conversation.

Listening is a key element

Coaching is about LISTENING, not about TELLING. It’s like inquiry teaching… Listen to where the learner (teacher) is at and ask questions that help them figure out where to go next. The coach needs to get rid of their ‘internal dialogue’ – It’s not about you!

Protected Time

Coaching provides a legitimate opportunity for ‘me time’, in which the coachee can talk about themselves and their practice as much they like. What a luxury in terms of professional learning.

Evidence based

Coaching is grounded in evidence. From the first conversation, it’s about noticing and naming what the coachee is feeling, followed by gathering of agreed data through planned observation, to seeking evidence that change has taken place. How will the teacher know she has been successful? How is student learning impacted?

Action

If there’s no action, there is no point in coaching. What happens as a result of the reflective conversations? What do teachers do? How does practice change? How is learning affected?

Have you implemented coaching at your school? How have you approached it? Has it been successful? Do you have ideas to add to those above?

Instant communication and twice yearly report cards…

I am a ‘cloud granny’ , ever appreciative of the miracle of instant global connection which technology affords us…

Usually when I write about the Granny Cloud, it’s in the context of Mitra’s School in the Cloud.

Cloud ‘Grannies’ all over the world (people of all ages and genders) interact regularly and electronically with kids in a range of settings, currently mostly in India, but expanding to other countries too. As these sessions unfold, it’s rewarding to observe the children’s confidence grow, English improve and computer skills develop.

And I am also a ‘real’ Cloud Granny…

When my kids were little, we would take photos of their latest achievements, wait till the film was developed and then mail the prints a week later to the grandparents overseas. By the time they were received, the photos were out of date.

skypegrannyToday, I wake up to a series of photos and videos of 15 month old Shai’s latest antics. By mid afternoon in my time zone, I can expect the inevitable ‘Skype? ‘ message and I hear him laughing before we can even see each other on the screen.

The lovely teacher at Shai’s day care has set up a private Facebook page, where she posts photos and messages of the daily activities, so parents and (even faraway) grandparents can enjoy seeing the children playing, learning and interacting. It’s a joy to observe Shai’s love of animals on the day the animal lady comes and to watch his progress as he gradually learns to join in with the older children in musical and art activities.

So…

Why is it that, in this day and age of instant communication, schools and parents still expect the kind of report card suited to another era? 

Why do report cards traditionally go out twice a year, when there are endless ways teachers and learners can, and do, communicate their learning throughout the year?

Why do teachers spend great chunks of time writing a summative assessment on a final report, when formative assessment, goals and ‘feed forward’ during the year are so much more valuable?

Why don’t teachers, parents and learners share the learning via online portfolios, easily accessible throughout the year, demonstrating process, progress and final product, with facility for reflection by students, feedback by parents and ‘feedforward’ by teachers? (Let me know if you have a great system, we’re working towards it.)

Why don’t learners communicate their learning more with parents and the wider world through the many possible channels available online?

Why do governments and school administrators continue to dictate not just the existence of report cards, but often the format and parameters they should fit?

Why don’t we abandon report cards altogether?

Now, to prepare for the meeting in which we will review our reports and do our best to make them fit expectations and requirements…

Planning for an inquiry into digital citizenship…

Today’s collaborative planning session with the Year 5 team is both challenging and invigorating. There are 7 of us in the room and one digital participant. The conversation is impassioned and (mostly) focused as we debate, disagree and eventually reach some common understandings.

It takes over an hour to ensure our conceptual understandings are sound and to consider the evidence that will demonstrate these understandings in our learners. This part is the crux.

It doesn’t bother us that most of the planner is still blank and we have barely thought about the learning engagements. We know (now) that if this part is established, we only need a few good provocations, then (almost) sit back and see how the learning unfolds.

Observing and listening to the learning, will determine what happens… that’s how inquiry works, so how can you plan it in advance?

The unit is about digital citizenship, which could easily fit into any of the PYP trans disciplinary themes and end up looking quite different. We want ours to be in ‘How We Express Ourselves’, because, as Silvia Tolisano says, ‘We are preparing students for a time when what they know is not as important as what they can do with what they know…’

It quickly becomes apparent that

  • we can never rehash an old unit, because we are always learning.
  • some of the understandings from last year are no longer relevant and we need to shift the focus from consumption to creation.
  • having 1:1 iPads has changed the way students do things and teachers see things.
  • our approaches to teaching literacy and literature require some radical new thinking, as might our definitions of both.
  • we need to ensure our students are learning ‘now literacies‘, (Silvia Tolisano) so they can engage effectively in a world very different from when their parents and teachers went to school. (So why does so much of school still look the same?)
  • there is endless potential for global collaboration to enhance authentic learning within this unit and the teachers are finally ready. (See my first ever blog post FIVE years ago! We have been chipping away, but there is so much more we can do…)
  • the teachers will need to pursue their own inquiries if this unit of inquiry is to be a success… but then, that is what inquiry teachers do.

So how do I tag this post? Is it about planning? Digital citizenship? Inquiry? Concept driven learning?

Or is it about change?

 

Effective School Teams

There are hoops on the floor and cards with each staff member’s name on them. The task is to silently place the cards into the hoops indicating existing teams in the school.

In the first round we are not permitted to move cards placed by others. It’s an interesting, yet frustrating process! How can I place some of the cards assigned to me if others have already created teams with which I don’t agree?

Once everyone has had a turn to explain their placements, we move on to the second round, silently again, now with the freedom to move and replace names in different configurations.

By the third round, there are overlapping hoops, string has been added to demonstrate connections across hoops and some names have been written on more than one card…

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The process reveals that:

  • Hoops are restrictive in exploring teams because they are closed circles and teams overlap.
  • We have many teams within our three campus school, some cross campus, some within. No-one works in isolation.
  • Everyone belongs to more than one team, some to many.
  • There are different perspectives on which teams people belong to.
  • Where you see yourself might be different from where others see you.
  • Some teams exist because of circumstance, some teams are imposed, some teams are chosen.
  • There are possibilities for new teams, which have not yet been considered.

The process is part of a discussion by our leadership team and the next steps will include all teachers examining the existing teams, defining their purpose, identifying the teams they belong to and would like to join…

Are all our teams effective?

  • Does every meeting of every team relate to learning?
  • Does every team have a shared sense of purpose?
  • Does every team have an essential agreement or shared norms?
  • Who steers the ship? Does every team have a leader or rotate leadership?
  • Does belonging to several teams give members broader knowledge and understanding?
  • Does belonging to too many teams mean you attend too many meetings and are spread to thinly?
  • What about informal teams? Unofficial groups who choose to collaborate?
  • Are all teams built on trust?
  • Do participants in every team learn from each other?
  • Does every team include healthy conflict and welcome different voices?
  • Are meetings well planned with clear learning related objectives?

and another question…

  • What teams do you belong to beyond the walls of the school?

Reflections:

  • One of the best teams to which I belong is an unofficial alliance, where ideas and thoughts are safely shared, analysed, criticised and developed.
  • Some of my most valuable learning comes from beyond the school walls – my global PLN.

An inquiry into how the world works -2

It’s the first time our Year 6 students are exploring the trans-disciplinary theme ‘How the World Works’ for their PYP ‘exhibition‘ inquiries.

We initially have some concerns…

How will we ensure it goes beyond a science fair?
Will all students engage with science in a meaningful way?
How will we make sure the learning is rich and deep, with opportunities for every learner to find something about which they are passionate?

We develop a few conceptual understandings which we’d like the learners to reach…

  • Science provides a lens through which to look at the world.
  • People apply their understanding of science to solve problems and meet needs.
  • Scientific and technological advances have an impact on society and the environment.

And some strong provocations to hook them in and get them thinking…

They are inspired by Louie Schwartzberg’s TED talk – Hidden Miracles of the Natural World, in particular this, which provokes them to think about science in new ways…

What is the intersection between technology, art and science? Curiosity and wonder, because it drives us to explore, because we’re surrounded by things we can’t see.

After unpacking the trans-disciplinary theme, students enjoy a ‘Science Exploration Day’ during which they explore all areas of the school – the garden, the cafeteria, the nurses station and more – taking photos which they later connect to the various strands of science.

Visitors Sam and Jethro, a couple of young inventors, expose the students to the design process. The children need to come up with an idea and  go through the design process to create something new from what is already known.

Prototype for a creature created through the design process, which will move via electrical circuit
Prototype for a creature created through the design process, which will move via electrical circuit

Our learners quickly show an awareness of science in our world, further enhanced by an excursion to the city, where they choose to visit either the museum or the art gallery as well as various parks and buildings. Taking purposeful photos helps them NOTICE and NAME science everywhere and heightens awareness of how humans apply their knowledge of science too.

This week they they also begin their explorations of science through a choice of creative media – art, music, dance, animation, photography, poetry or design (electronics and coding).

Comparing the sounds made by different instruments
Comparing the sounds made by different instruments
Photographing the natural world with macro lenses
Photographing the natural world with macro lenses
Creating movements that replicate nature
Creating movements that replicate nature

Excitement is high.

It’s already apparent that our early concerns were unnecessary.

The children are totally immersed in their learning, already considering what interests them most, what they are passionate about and why, what they might like to explore further and how… They will have plenty of time to think, experiment, investigate and ask themselves not just WHAT? but SO WHAT? and NOW WHAT? before deciding on their chosen inquiries.

This is a far cry from offering a range of topics for students to choose between and creating random groups in which they will work, an approach often used in classrooms and even PYP exhibition units.

This is all about choice and student voice and learners taking ownership of their learning. It’s about learners having opportunities to find and solve problems and explore real issues that matter.

It’s an opportunity for rich, meaningful learning. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds…

10 ways to make meetings (and lessons) meaningful…

Does every meeting in your school relate to or result in learning?
If not, is the meeting worth having?

Does every lesson in your classroom contribute to meaningful learning, rather than completion of work?
If not, is the lesson worth having?

So far, I’ve read Chapter 1 of ‘Meeting Wise’ by Kathryn Parker Boudett and Elizabeth City, and I’m taken with it, right from the first two questions, with which I totally identify…

‘Have you ever had to sit through a whole hour when you felt like the substance of the meeting could have been handled in five minutes?’

and

‘Have you planned a thoughtful meeting only to have it derailed by a couple of rogues participants who have their own agendas?’

The authors highlight four aspects for careful consideration when planning successful meetings:

Purpose
Process
Preparation
Pacing

The meeting checklist they suggest includes twelve probing questions relating to the above, of which I have selected ten. The questions are theirs, the applications to the classroom are mine:

1. Have we identified clear and important meeting objectives that contribute to the goal of improving learning?
Do we know the purpose of every learning engagement in our classroom? Do the students? Is every single thing that happens in your learning space thoughtful and international?

2. Have we established the connection between the work of this and other meetings in the series?
Is it clear how today’s learning relates to other learning that has and will take place? Do students have opportunities to make connections with prior learning, construct meaning and apply learning in different contexts?

3 Have we incorporated feedback from previous meetings?
Do you seek feedback from your students about what they got out of learning experiences? Do you observe and listen to the learning and plan responsively?

4. Have we chosen challenging activities that advance the meeting objectives and engage all participants?
Are the learning engagements challenging, purposeful and engaging? Will they advance not just knowledge, but the growth of skills and attitudes that will matter in future learning?

5. Have we built in time to identify and commit to next steps?
Have we provided learners with time for thoughtful reflection and consideration of how to take their learning forward? Have we offered meaningful feedback, or rather feed forward that might guide them?

6. Have we built in time for assessment of what worked and what didn’t in the meeting?
I’m fond of the saying ‘everything is an assessment’. Have we observed and listened thoughtfully to what the learners say (and don’t say) as evidence of the development of skills and understanding? Have we identified misconceptions and highlighted further needs?

7. Have we gathered or developed materials that will help to focus and advance the meeting objectives?
Have we planned and developed provocations that will provoke thinking and engage learners with the intended issues, concepts and beyond? Have we carefully thought about the desired understandings then encouraged creative ways for students to embark on their own journeys to get to them?

8. Have we put time allocations to each activity on the agenda?
If you plan what will happen throughout your lessons, this one will make sense to you. As an inquiry teacher, it doesn’t apply in my context! We need to be ready to abandon the plan, if the learning takes us in a new direction. We need to plan in response to the learning.

9. Have we ensured that we will address the primary objective early in the meeting? 
Do we ensure we don’t waste time on activities that won’t lead to learning, but get right into the learning from the start? Can we take the role, hand out the books etc in a more efficient manner that doesn’t waste prime learning time? Have you read ‘The 5 Minute Teacher’ in which Mark Barnes highlights the idea of talking less and letting the learning happen?

10. Is it realistic that we could get through our agenda in the time allocated?
Have we filled a lesson plan with activities or have we allowed time to let the learning unfold? Will students be so busy competing tasks, they don’t have time to construct meaning? Have we ensured there will be time for depth of understanding?

10 alternatives to goal setting…

My friend Jason Graham is a passionate educator with a massive amount of energy and enthusiasm for learning. You can find him on any given day planning great learning for his kids, supporting other educators, developing and delivering workshops or engaging in learning conversations via Twitter, blogs or face to face. He’s an inquirer, always posing problems, exploring possibilities and dreaming up new ideas. He’s a change agent who doesn’t accept the status quo, constantly questioning and seeking ways to do things better. He loves his students and strives to be the best teacher he can.

Yet (like me) he finds it frustrating when he’s asked to write down specific goals. This exchange on Twitter got me thinking:

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I often wonder about the value of teachers asking their students to write down their goals (and admin expecting their teachers to.) I’m sure most respond the way Jay does. (See his post here)

Rather than asking students or teachers to set specific goals, consider some of these options…

1. How do you learn best? What hinders your learning? How can this knowledge help you with future learning?
2. What are you proud of in your teaching or learning and what do you wish you could do better? How might you go about it? Who might support you?
3. What do you really care about? How might you make a difference? What steps could you take to start the process?
4. What are you fascinated by? How might you find out more about it? Who else is interested? Can you collaborate?
5. What do you dream of doing? How might you work towards that dream? Who might you share it with? What kind of support do you need?
6. What do you wish you could change? What small steps could you take towards making it happen?
7. What excites you? How might you make that part of your learning? Who might you collaborate with who shares your passion?
8. Who do you admire? What can you learn from them?
9. What are your strengths? How might you develop them further? How might you be able to support others in their teaching or learning?
10. Instead of asking someone to ‘set goals’, what would you ask them to think about that might take them beyond where they currently are?

Wouldn’t these sorts of questions promote real, valuable reflection?

And I rather like this idea from Kath Murdoch-
Choose a single word that represents something you’d like to focus on. Put it in a place where you can see it every day as a reminder to keep that focus in mind.

Or would you rather write down your ‘smart’ goals?