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?

No secret teacher business…

One of the things I enjoy most, now that I no longer have my own class, is when teachers excitedly share examples of student thinking and learning with me.

Here is a lovely learning reflection by 12 year old Sassi (with her permission)…

At the beginning of this year, our teacher sent us an ibook called ‘Making The PYP Happen.’ This book has so much information on different ways of learning, how to look at different big ideas, this book explains concepts, explains attitudes, clarifies learner profiles and gives me great ideas on how to look at a big chunk of information.

At the start of Term 1 in Mrs. B’s class, I didnt really understand how I could go deeper in my learning and wasn’t sure how to take the information and learn in this different way. Now, half way into Term 3, I can’t imagine learning in the other way that I used to.

A big word that Mrs. B taught us at the beginning of the year was ‘metacognition’ and that means thinking about thinking. I now realize that to really be successful in your learning (in 2014) you first have to make sure that the way you look at your learning is the best way of doing so.

I am now a reflective learner who gets more out of the activity by looking back and also observing as I go. I really like having my own Weebly blog and I love adding posts to the ‘Learning Journey’ page, where I look back at what skills I have used in the last week. I take into account how those skills helped me so that I can use them and improve when I do another activity. I have become a critical thinker and I look at each side of any story or fact.

I used to think that learning would stop when I went out of the classroom. I now know that if one wants, one can be a life long learner and always learn and be a thinker in any situation.

This way of learning definitely suits me and I can definitely see how much I have developed as a learner – from just doing work and making sure I understand the formula, into a learner who inquires and clarifies how it works to understand why it is like it is.

I will take all of my metacognitive skills with me throughout my life in school and outside of school. Because I have developed so much as a learner, I feel that I can pick up on things faster and learn in a better way.

My observations about learning in this class:

  • Learners have access to the ‘handbook’ which details the desired knowledge framework, conceptual lenses, skills and attitudes we hope they will develop. No ‘secret teacher business’!
  • Learners use the language of learning, without the teacher being concerned about difficult vocabulary. She has faith in her students’ ability to learn.
  • Learners are empowered to take ownership of their learning and given the tools with which to do so.
  • Learners are encouraged to think deeply, not just just about WHAT they learn but about HOW they learn. They consciously observe themselves as learners and reflect on their learning.
  • Documenting their own learning supports students in the reflection process. Doing so on a blog means others beyond their classroom can participate and comment. (This class also has bubble catchers in which they capture their thinking through writing, mind mapping or illustration, taking care to ‘tag’ their reflections with the big ideas.)
  • Learning isn’t viewed as class work, but as an ongoing, indeed lifelong process. Our learning principles are alive and evident in this learning space!
  • Learning how to learn, think critically, see different perspectives and understand themselves as learners takes students far beyond content or curriculum.

Unfortunately, it seems that some learners see this as a different ‘way of learning’. Isn’t this what learning should always be like?

Shared photo streams – Imagining more connected learning…

Creating shared iPad photo streams was a brainwave – so simple and obvious, yet so effective!

They provide a space to gather evidence of learning, share practice and celebrate the learning taking place across the three campuses of our school. It’s an opportunity for members of our learning community to find out what’s happening in other grade levels, the kitchen garden, the art and music rooms… We’re encouraging more comments and conversation around what’s posted to make this even more meaningful.

We’ve come a long way in the past few years in terms of flattening classroom walls and connecting with the world. Today, the images I see in our shared photo streams suggest new possibilities…

Our art teacher posted a series of beautiful artworks by our 5 year olds. Beyond sending them home to be stuck on the fridge… imagine if photographs of these creations were published in an online book, along with captions written by the children and photos of them at work creating them?

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There is some powerful thinking happening in Year 6 as their awareness of inequity is raised. Imagine if they were collaborating with learners globally, sharing their tough questions, exploring different perspectives, comparing and contrasting action taken in different countries and deepening their understanding together.

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Year 5 learners revisited and reflected on their class agreement, halfway through the school year. What if they compared their agreements with those established by classes in other parts of the world? Imagine how communicating with other classes, discussing commonalities and differences might heighten awareness and strengthen learning communities within and beyond their own classrooms.

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I love the photos from the Year 1 inquiry into how we express ours ideas and feelings through performance. Imagine if these performances were filmed and posted online for children in other places to see and our children received feedback from all over the world.

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And, as I was writing this post, a fresh idea just struck me.

Imagine if two or more classes of similar age in different parts of the world created a shared photo stream and posted images, shared learning experiences and wrote comments to each other. Are you in?!

Our access to digital technologies make all of this, not just possible, but easy.

Just imagine… and then we can make it happen.

Personalised learning for teachers…

Our strong beliefs about what comprises effective professional learning underpin the planning for our up-coming professional learning day, BY the teachers FOR the teachers…

We have so much knowledge, expertise and passion within – It’s not always necessary to depend on outside presenters to take our learning forward.

We begin by surveying the teacher-learners to find out what sort of learning opportunities they would prefer. The results indicate they’d like a combination of time to pursue their own interests independently and facilitated workshops addressing relevant topics of their choice.

So, our student- free day next Monday will look like this-

Session1 – Teachmeet.

In the traditional Teachmeet style, teachers will present for 2 or 7 minutes, sharing a tool, a strategy, an idea or an example of practice. Without the need for coercion, we have volunteers from every single grade level (and several from some!) on a range of topics, such as:

  • Team teaching
  • Effective search strategies
  • Capturing student thinking
  • Reading ideas
  • A variety of apps eg Book Creator and Explain Everything
  • An approach to home learning
  • Purposeful groupings
  • And more…

Session 2 – Workshops

Teachers choose to facilitate and/or participate in two out of eight one-hour workshops on topics of interest, identified through the survey. Workshops will be hands on, encouraging active group participation and opportunities for participants to construct meaning for themselves, on the following topics:

  • Twitter for global learning
  • Supporting kids with Dyslexia
  • Encouraging creative thinking
  • Provoking inquiry through great picture books
  • Open ended iPad apps for learning
  • Promoting social cohesion in the classroom
  • Exploring ePortfolios
  • Using data to inform teaching and learning

Session 3 – Personal learning 

Teachers choose to collaborate in teams or work individually on anything they like. For many, this is a continuation of previous personal learning time but some have chosen new areas for inquiry and others will use the time to apply their learning from the morning sessions. Ideas are as diverse as:

  • Positive psychology and student wellbeing
  • Using animation to express learning
  • Harvard research into thinking and learning
  • Vocabulary enrichment
  • Augmented reality
  • Building resources for Maths inquiry
  • How to encourage ownership of learning and student voice

As always, we have dismissed the notion that one size fits all, and ensured that our learning principles underpin, not just student learning at our school, but our own professional learning too.

Our learning principles -

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

We’ll ask everyone to reflect at the end of day, not just on what they have learned, but on what they notice about themselves as learners and on the process of learning itself.

If you’re in Melbourne and excited by the potential to be a part of this vibrant learning community, see my previous post.

Looking for passionate educators…

We’re looking for a few new teachers to start in 2015 and the Primary Head says he’d like us to word an ad that really reflects who we are and the kind of educators we hope to attract.

This is what we come up with -

Are you looking for an opportunity to grow as a teacher and a learner?  Do you set the bar high and constantly seek to improve your practice?  Do you have ideas and experience to contribute to our vibrant learning community?  

We are looking for energetic educators with strong beliefs about learning, not afraid to embrace change and innovate…

One of the teachers looks at it and says ‘ I wonder if WE (existing staff) would get the job’!

So I take the ad to our Learning Team Leaders meeting and ask everyone to reflect on it individually from a personal point of view. The ensuing conversation is great, as always in this group of passionate educators. The discussion includes -

  • how much we have grown as educators and continue to do so
  • how confident each of us might be, applying for a job worded this way
  • different degrees of willingness to embrace change
  • ways of reflecting on and evaluating our own practice
  • the kinds of experience people feel they bring to our learning community
  • reflections on changing attitudes over time
  • what kinds of teachers set the bar high and judge themselves harshly
  • the challenge of getting other team members to embrace change
  • ways to encourage others to focus on improving practice
  • how exciting it is to be part of this vibrant learning community
  • what dynamic new teachers we hope to have next year!

If you live in Melbourne, or plan to in 2015, and this sounds like your kind of working learning environment, let me know below.

An inquiry into how the world works…

Headphones on, each member of the group watches their assigned video and considers how it fits into the PYP trans disciplinary theme ‘How the World Works’…

Inquiry into the natural world and its laws, the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.

We’re watching things as diverse as the longest pedestrian suspension bridge, how fish breathe, a poo powered flame thrower, a man-made forest on a river island in India and ice cream that doesn’t melt

Sharing back with the group provokes discussion about what excites us, connections we see, problems solved and issues raised and the varied aspects each of us might find interesting to explore further. We look at the ways people apply scientific knowledge to solve problems, meet needs, create art…

We check which of the science strands are addressed by the videos and highlight the relevant concepts in each.

This is not a classroom, it’s a collaborative planning session.

The goals are as follows-

  • To get the teachers excited about what’s possible
  • To highlight the fact that science is everywhere
  • To encourage us to observe and notice science around us
  • To provoke thinking about the ways humans apply scientific knowledge
  • To create a context in which to plan for student learning and inquiry.

We’re planning for our PYP exhibition* unit and it’s the first time we’re exploring it in the theme of ‘How the World Works’.

The teachers are already excited about…

  • provoking our learners’ curiosity
  • inquiry that is real, relevant and engaging
  • opportunities for exploring passions
  • the possibilities for creativity and innovation
  • observing and really noticing the world
  • the potential to change perspectives
  • opportunities for learners to use a broad range of skills
  • scope for hands-on making and doing
  • bringing all the learning from previous years together
  • the potential to include the natural world, art, technology, ethics…

And concerned about…

  • ensuring it goes beyond being ‘just a science fair’
  • opportunities for action as a result of the learning

We’re keen to hear from other PYP practitioners who have explored ‘How the World Works’ for their exhibition units, in particular if it was a dynamic, student centred, passion driven, authentic learning experience for all.

* I hope in the IB PYP review, they decide to replace the term ‘exhibition’. It makes it sound as if the focus is on the product, when the most important aspect should be the process of meaningful, in-depth, personal and collaborative inquiry, drawing together all the skills and attitudes they have developed over time – Learners taking responsibility for their own learning. 

 

Join the School in the Cloud…

Have you watched Sugata Mitra’s TED talk about his dream to build a ‘School in the Cloud’?

It’s now a reality. There are five new School in the Cloud labs in different settings in India, three in schools and the latest two in remote areas, where kids walk from the local villages to access the computers and interact with emediators, who we refer to as the ‘granny cloud‘.

We’re not all grannies, many volunteers are male and age isn’t relevant!

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There are currently not enough ‘grannies’ to meet the needs of the new centres.

Would you like to…

  • Give 30-60 minutes per week?
  • Interact with kids in India?
  • See the light in kids’ eyes as they learn to to communicate with you?
  • Learn about another country, culture, education system… and yourself?
  • Connect with other volunteers?
  • Do something new?

Are you willing to…

  • Converse in English
  • Tell stories or discuss pictures
  • Introduce ideas
  • Ask questions
  • Provoke curiosity
  • Share culture
  • Build confidence
  • Praise and encourage

To learn more about the granny cloud and register your interest, go to the School in the Cloud website and you can read about some of my experiences here, here and here. If interested, let me know and I can help you with the process, or simply sign up on the site.

 

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