Tag Archives: learning principles

Do you own your curriculum or does it own you?

This ‘break-up letter ‘post, in which Jeanne Zeuch explains her reasons for ‘breaking up with’ the Reggio Emilia approach, is well worth reading.

I wonder how many other educators are forgetting to examine what is important to THEM. Rarely, if ever, have I seen or read educators flat out adding – stating for fact – their own ideals from their own school culture that they have weaved seamlessly into their mission. I feel like we – including me – are so dazzled by the inspiration of REA that we don’t even consider incorporating our own beliefs or values. THAT is why I am breaking up with REA. I cannot teach in the beautiful school that I teach and keep seeing what is missing from the RE value set.

I think it’s relevant for educators everywhere who adopt a program or an approach, without critical reflection and extensive consideration of the program’s relationship with one’s own beliefs about learning.

And it’s food for thought for you

Leaders who expect their teachers to implement programs selected and enforced from above, without choice or ownership.

Teachers who accept and implement entire programs uncritically, without adapting them to their own beliefs.

Purists who worry more about the words than the philosophy behind them.

Educators who think curricula need to be covered, and programs need to be taught.

Whether it’s your national curriculum, an inspiring approach or a subject specific program… it needs to be understood, analysed and adapted to your beliefs about learning, so that you own it rather than it owning you.

 

In the picture…

photo

What does this image reveal?

One of my colleagues sent it to me, in response to a request I sent teachers for photos of kids learning, for a presentation to parents. It shows a group of 4th grade students applying their skills and knowledge in Hebrew creatively, using iPads. I’ve had fun with it!

To begin with the Learning Team Leaders examined it for evidence of the IB PYP standard and practices in Teaching and Learning. They felt it might show these-

  • Teaching and learning engages students as inquirers and thinkers.
  • Teaching and learning builds on what students know and can do.
  • Teaching and learning supports students to become actively responsible for their own learning.
  • Teaching and learning addresses the diversity of student language needs, including those for students learning in a language(s) other than mother tongue.
  • Teaching and learning uses a range and variety of strategies.
  • Teaching and learning incorporates a range of resources, including information technologies.
  • Teaching and learning engages students in reflecting on how, what and why they are learning.

Next, I tried to decide which of our school’s learning principles it best depicted so I could place it appropriately in my presentation. The scene could easily represent all of these -

  • 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.

If we wanted to, we could probably unpack the trans disciplinary skills that are evident and the attitudes being demonstrated. Or we could check the scene against the so-called 21st century skills. It’s interesting how much we can see in one simple image (with minimal explanation from the teacher). Examining classroom photos to see what they reveal is a great way to refocus on beliefs about learning and a host of other big ideas.

What might this image reveal?

 

Pulling the pieces together…

‘Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the demands of teaching?  Does it sometimes feel as if there isn’t space in your head for more ideas, programs, strategies and tools? It might help to spend some time thinking about how the seemingly disparate parts are connected…’

Those were the opening lines to a post I once wrote entitled ‘Connecting the dots.‘ Unfortunately I didn’t get beyond identifying the problem, which resulted in some great conversation… and more questions than answers. The truth is, I didn’t really know how to help teachers connect the dots. Two years down the track, I have a slightly better idea and it’s something I’m constantly working on.

Enter Time Space Education. As mentioned in my previous post, our teachers didn’t want or need ‘another new thing’ and our brief to Sam and Chad was to ‘pull the pieces together’. Amazingly, they did. And, without really introducing ‘another new thing’, their approach pulled things together in a way that was both new and fresh!

As stated on their blog, these are the basic principles behind their practice, all of which contribute towards ‘pulling the pieces together,’ creating powerful learning experiences and reducing the stresses induced by the demands of teaching…

  • Being Purposeful – Asking why, putting learning and student growth at the centre of everything.
  • Working from Within – Understanding that learning is more powerful when it comes from students’ personal experiences.
  • Seeking Simplicity – A determination to look for ways to keep things simple in every domain of learning and life at school.
  • Being Timely – Creating a positive relationship with time and knowing when the time is right.
  • Making Friends with Curriculum – Knowing your curriculum well so you and your students may use it to your advantage.
  • Understanding the Power of Mood – Knowing that people need to be in the right frame of mind in order to be at their best.
  • Making Space – Creating dynamic, flexible and beautiful learning environments that can be adapted to suit learning.

I’ve linked to some posts on their blog (and a couple on others!) elaborating on some of these principles. The sessions Sam and Chad ran with students and teachers demonstrated these principles in action. Take a look at this Storify from Year 4 and see the evidence for yourself.

Are these principles a part of your practice?

Teachers’ action research…

I sent this email to the teachers at my school…

Hi All

In the past we have had successful voluntary learning groups in areas such as visible thinking, differentiated learning, global education and integrating technology.

Teachers often feel that there are so many ‘things’, it is difficult to integrate everything. Some of us have talked before about ways to ‘connect the dots’. I think our learning principles can help pull things together.

I’d like to start a new voluntary group, based on the Inquiry Circle I saw in New York during the holidays… in our own style.

My vision of it looks like this:

(Open, of course, to ideas, suggestions, modifications, negotiations!)

Meet fortnightly for an hour before school and…

  • Revisit and unpack our learning principles.
  • Each teacher choose an area for their own ‘action research‘ based on one (or more) of the learning principles.
  • Create an ‘action research question’. This question usually develops and changes as the exploration unfolds.
  • Decide on a course of action and/or specific approaches you plan to try.
  • Feed back to the group and reflect individually and collaboratively on what you’ve tried and how you might proceed.
  • Possible readings to enhance and support learning.
  • Possible Skype ins from educators in other places exploring similar issues.
  • Group discussions to help ‘connect the dots’.
  • Optional shared reporting and reflection in an online space.

Example questions for action research…

#1 Question: How might we best arrange furniture and set up the classroom to promote learning?

Area of interest: Learning space

Learning principles:

  • Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.
  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.

#2 Question:

How can technology support differentiated learning opportunities?

Area of interest: Integrating technology

Learning principles:

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.

Simple Action Research model:

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 9.45.43 PM

Stephen Kemmis

Let me know if you’re interested in joining such an Inquiry Circle and we can take it from there…

Edna

I re-read the email before I sent it and had second thoughts… 

  • Maybe I don’t know enough about action research. In a recent Twitter chat, I got the impression it HAS to be done a certain way. (Who says?)
  • Maybe everyone’s busy and no-one will respond. (So what?)
  • Maybe an hour won’t be long enough? (Oh well.)

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Post Script:

Six people are in!

MY action research:

Question: How can we create new models of professional learning in our school that help build our learning community, while embedding our learning principles in our practice?

Area of interest: Teacher professional learning.

Learning principles: All!

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, 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 takes place when we feel secure, valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

Suggestions, tips and ideas invited!

Are adult learners different from young learners?

I’m currently participating in a training course for IB educators to become officially recognised IB Workshop Leaders. Learning with and from passionate, knowledgeable and driven educators, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, is proving to be engaging and exciting. I’m enjoying the challenge of being pushed to think about learning in a different context.

I notice again and again, that the issues discussed, the tips the leaders offer, the problems we grapple with and the strategies shared all apply just as much in teaching and learning at school as they do in running adult workshops.

We reflect individually on the conditions that support and hinder our own learning, and then share in groups. There’s much commonality… and difference, of course, and the leaders point out that all these are considerations to bear in mind when running workshops for other adults.

These are some of the factors that come up in the conversation:

(Notice anything?)

As adult learners, we value…

  • Opportunities to interact with other learners.
  • A sense of  learning something new.
  • Enough time to talk, reflect and construct meaning.
  • An interesting presenter, aware of participants’ needs.
  • Engaging and provocative issues to grapple with.
  • A range of perspectives.
  • A clear purpose.
  • A variety of presentation styles.
  • A safe environment in which to try out our ideas.
As adult learners, we don’t enjoy…
  • Being passive while a presenter lectures.
  • PowerPoints with too many words.
  • Lack of internet access.
  • An overcrowded agenda.
  • Physical needs not being met
  • Not enough time to reflect and internalise.
  • Lack of support and follow-up.

We’re asked to examine a list of the characteristics of adult learners and consider the implications that these have for us as workshop leaders. It’s true we need to be aware that adults have accumulated a (longer) lifetime of knowledge and experiences that might affect our learning. Adults might come to the new learning with more preconceived ideas, stronger opinions and possibly a resistance to change. But as I work my way through the list, I’m struck again by the fact that learning is learning and there is not much difference between the way adults learn and the way children do. Before I’m criticised (yet again!) for my tendency to oversimplify, let me clarify that I am not comparing the natural curiosity and exploration of toddlers to adults studying for a PhD. (Or am I?) I’m sharing my beliefs about the ways learning works.

As an educator who thinks deeply about learning, I have spent a great deal of time over the years considering almost all the things on this list in the context of student learning. How much will I need to adjust my practice when working with adults?

These are my school’s articulated learning principles: (If you read this blog regularly, you’ll have seen these beliefs referred to repeatedly!)

Everyone has the potential to learn.

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, 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 takes place when we feel secure, valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

It seems to me that if I bear these in mind, as I always need to do in learning situations, facilitating adult workshops will not be all that different from teaching in a classroom.

IB Workshop Leader Training Day #2

Concept driven learning…

Some ‘big ideas’ about concept driven learning:

(From this week’s little #pypchat on Twitter)

  • The world is changing. Knowledge is changing. The ability to view the world with a more flexible mind is invaluable. (Steve)
  • Concept based learning is about big transferable ideas that transcend time, place, situation. (Ed)
  • Content just focuses on facts while concept focuses on making sense of those facts and the world around us (Christianne)
  • Content based teaching may not get beyond information transmission/superficial learning (Gillian)
  • Concepts are a way to organize and make sense of learning. Connect disciplinary knowledge.  (Miranda)
  • We can’t possibly teach everything that is important, but we can teach the big ideas. (Alexandra)
  • Concept based learning is a framework to study everything. So much information. Content can change, concepts stay the same. (Mega)
  • Information is useless unless you can do something with it. (Lynne Erickson)
Big Ideas in the classroom.

Since I no longer have my own class, I relish opportunities to get into classrooms. This week I’m team teaching in Year 5 with Rubi… and team learning. We bounce ideas before class, observe and listen to the kids and change the plan as the learning unfolds. The ‘topic’ is energy, but it’s inquiry learning and it’s concept driven. 

The first provocation is a video showing the effects of an electricity blackout. The students’ questions are quite specific to the incident, and we realize we need to change the plan already. We ask the kids to revisit their questions and ‘grow’ them, this time considering big ideas, transferable through time and place. It only takes one example from a different context to get the idea and they are away! This round of questions is about electricity and alternative power sources, not just the blackout they saw.

Rubi introduces a second provocation to further develop their thinking. She puts on music and asks the kids to dance and jump around. There is lots of noise and energetic movement, kids remove their sweaters as they warm up and a good time is had by all (except the class next door.)  We ask the kids to discuss in groups how this activity connects to the first provocation and then come up with further questions.  This round of questions is about different forms of energy, where they come from and how they are used.

Sorting Questions.

With each question on an individual sticky note, the groups sort the questions in any way they like. Before they start I ask them what they see as the purpose this activity. Mia says it will make them read everyone’s questions and think about them. Liam says it will help them organize their thoughts. Amanda says it will  help them check their understanding. Josh says they will have to justify their thinking.

Some groups sort the questions by topic, others by big ideas. One sorts them according to the PYP key concepts. Some groups sort and re-sort in different ways. Some sort them into deep and shallow questions, open and closed questions. I’ve seen Rubi encourage this this kind of thinking by having kids analyse questions through the question quadrant. They use the language: ‘That’s a closed question,’ ‘You could just google that,’ ‘ That’s too narrow, how do we make it a bigger idea’? ‘That’s just about facts, it’s not deep enough.’  We gather the questions, type the whole lot and cut them up, ready for sorting the next day.

To sum up the lesson, we ask students to give it a title. I ask what a title does and they tell me ‘It sums up what’s important,’ ‘It tells you the main idea’, ‘It tells you what it’s all about’. ‘It makes you want to know more’. Their titles fit the bill!

A conceptual central idea.

We introduce the central idea: ‘Our use of energy has an impact on the planet.’

Each group now gets the whole class’s questions and the task is to sort the pile into two groups… Those that relate to the central idea (the overarching conceptual understanding.) and those that don’t. The students are totally engaged as we move between groups and listen to the rich conversation. There is much debate and it doesn’t take long before they decide they need three groups or even four, because it isn’t as simple as that! Through the process, questions are further developed and refined.

Key concepts.

The key concepts which will be our lens for the inquiry are function ( how does it work?) and responsibility. We ask the students to get the laptops and create a quick cartoon using Toondoo to show their understanding of one of the two concepts in a clever way. Some create cartoons that connect to our central idea, others show examples that connect to their personal lives. The choice is theirs - the results are creative and thought-provoking! Back in groups, the students now pick out questions relating to each of these  key concepts….

Big ideas about the learning:

Officially, there has been no teaching yet. A few video clips, some ideas on the class blog to think about and the time described above spent provoking and developing thinking.

Yet, already…

  • Students have risen above the facts and are thinking on a conceptual level.
  • They are making connections with prior knowledge and constructing meaning for themselves.
  • They are asking and answering questions, organizing ideas and justifying their thinking.
  • The so-called ’21st century skills’ of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration are all evident.
  • A host of other trans-disciplinary skills are being practised.
  • Curiosity has been sparked and there is excitement about taking the learning further.
  • Every single one of our school’s learning principles is evident.
Images: Responsibility by Amelia, Function by Gabi

What are your beliefs about learning?

Do you just go in there and teach or do you think about the ways in which your students learn best?

Just mention the periodic table and my daughter bursts into song  ‘Hydrogen, Helium…’

She has little if any interest in things scientific or mathematical. She hated maths at school and I recall a science teacher once reporting to me that she had fallen asleep during class. It was a race to see whether maths and science teachers gave up on her or she stopped trying first. She spent her final years at a school that specialized in the arts, where she focused on drama, theatre, art and music. These days, at 26, she is fluent in Spanish and runs a children’s arts and literacy foundation in Ecuador.

So how is it that she recalls the periodic tables fifteen years after learning them?

As part of a 6th grade performance, the music teacher set the elements to music. The catchy tune and the elements of the periodic table have stuck in my daughter’s head ever since.

What does this tell us about how learning works?

What does it tell us about the ‘one size fits all’ model of school?

What are your beliefs about learning?

Asking good questions…

Cross-posted at Inquire Within

What questions do you have about this artifact? It doesn’t matter what it is. We don’t know and we don’t (as yet) need to try to find out…

Our job is simply to create questions. We are each assigned a different lens through which to view the object and ask our questions. We are artists, mathematicians, scientists, inventors and historians.

We are encouraged to frame our questions conceptually. Considering the key concepts of form, function, causation, change, connection, perspective, reflection and responsibility (key concepts in the IB PYP) helps us to ask deeper and more interesting questions.

Give it a try!

I loved this activity, facilitated by Helen Morschelour workshop leader last Tuesday, for a number of reasons:

  • We could approach the task in different ways – it was naturally differentiated.
  • It was inquiry based, encouraging us to question, wonder and explore possibilities.
  • We were honing our questioning skills, while constructing meaning about the object and its possibilities.
  • We collaborated in groups and it was active and social (and fun!)
  • There were no wrong answers (or questions) and it didn’t matter what the object really was, so everyone was happy to have a go.
  • It was challenging and engaging and we saw at once how it could be used in our classrooms.
  • There was valuable individual and shared reflection about the process itself.

No wonder it was so successful. Take a look at our school’s learning principes

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, 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 takes place when we feel secure, valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

PS. It’s a quipu. Go and do your own inquiry…

Questions about curriculum…

 

Letter to an imaginary educator…

Dear Anon,

As an educational leader, do you think your decisions should be based on beliefs about how learning best takes place?

Here are my school’s articulated learning principles:

  •      We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  •      Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  •      Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transferring to different contexts.
  •      Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.
  •      Learners need to feel secure, valued and able to take risks.
  •      Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  •      Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning.

I have a few questions for you to consider:

What are your beliefs about learning? Do they coincide with ours?

Did you know that a curriculum should not be static, but constantly revisited and updated  to be current, relevant and promote authentic learning?

Do you think a curriculum has to be a set of books with prescriptive instructions for teachers?

Are you aware that workbooks do not usually foster meaningful learning?

Do you realize that teachers are capable, thinking human beings and don’t need prescribed programs in order to teach?

Do you know that prescriptive programs tend to stifle creativity and discourage teachers from pursuing new ideas and experimenting with different options?

Have you considered investing the money you currently spend on pre-packaged programs in freeing up teachers to think, learn and construct meaningful learning experiences for their students?

Have you ever asked students about what engages them and how they learn best?

Have you spent much time in a student centred classroom seeing how inquiry fosters a love of learning ?

Have you entertained the possibility that administrative matters can be dealt with via email and conversations in meetings should be about teaching and learning?

Have you considered that people with experience and a track record in successful teaching and learning might have something worthwhile to contribute?

Did you notice that education has changed and is constantly changing and that classrooms should not look the same as they did five, ten, or fifteen years ago?

Watch this video,  it might help…

Do you believe all educators should be learners first and foremost?

Do you lead by example?

Kind Regards,

Edna

Effective professional learning…

I listened carefully. PD

I thought about the subject matter.

I looked at my watch.

I focused for a while.

I checked my email.

I tried to listen.

I thought about other things.

I asked a question.

I wondered why the question wasn’t answered adequately.

I disengaged.

I thought about effective professional development…

Have you ever been to a PD session like that? (Rhetorical question! I know you have.)
Staff at my school spent some time last year developing shared beliefs about learning. Why shouldn’t these principles apply to teachers’ learning too?

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to different contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.
  • Learners need to feel secure, valued and able to take risks.
  •  Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning.
Help me write my latest post in the ’10 ways…’ series. I’ll start and you can add points via comments…

10 ways to ensure effective professional learning…

1. Teachers need to be responsible for their own learning. 

To inspire others to learn, you need to be a learner yourself. Actively seek out professional learning opportunities.  Engage with educators via social media. Read blogs. Sign up to Twitter.

2. Differentiate.

Don’t plan whole staff sessions for teachers with different levels of experience and varied needs. Include choice.