How are all learners’ needs for catered for?

Have you thought about whether or not all learners needs are catered for, as highlighted in an earlier post?

Which of these images resonates with your perspectives on inclusion, differentiation or simply catering for every learner’s needs? 

Multiple different entry points, well planned in advance, to allow access for every learner?

Or one broad, interesting, open-ended provocation that allows each learner to go to a different place…?

Image by Dominic Walter


How do you cater for all learners’ needs?

Do you plan for differentiation in advance of the learning? Or do you wait and see what the provocation reveals?

Do you teach first, then observe what learners need? Or do your learners have a go, before you step in to teach or support?

Are there opportunities for all learners to engage in a complex, meaningful problem in different ways, depending on interest, ability and preference?

Does agency and ownership allow learners to learn at their own pace, seeking support when they need it?

Does an inquiry stance in itself ensure differentiation and inclusion?

Related post: 10 ways to differentiate learning.

A (technology) vision for inspiring learning…

Technology can inspire and enhance learning through innovation, collaboration & creativity.

This is the tech vision statement for VIS in Laos, where I had the pleasure of working with a lovely group of educators for several days last week. It is also the central idea for their inquiry into the use of technology for innovation in learning.

Our provocations included, among other things:

  • an exploration of the difference between enhancing and inspiring, which stimulated interesting conversation, not just about technology (which isn’t really the point) but about learning.
  • looking at examples of collaboration and creativity to inspire possibilities.
  • investigation of the 2016 ISTE standards for students.
  • creating stop motion clips to encapsulate the big ideas within the standards.
  • consideration of how the characteristics of the innovator’s mindset might influence teachers’ approach to technology integration.
  • individual and team meetings exchanging ideas and thinking collaboratively.





Their ongoing inquiry involves putting ideas into practice, making connections, experimenting, investigating, exploring further… bringing the vision to life.

Graham was inspired to start a blog. His first post challenges us to consider whether the PYP exhibition is actually an expedition. Year 6s in Australia have already been inspired to pursue the question. Some of them might like to connect with Graham’s students in Laos…


Linda sent out a tweet asking for photos of learning spaces around the world to help her Preps gather data for their inquiry into learning environments and received, among other global contributions, images of the early years learning spaces at my school.

Olwen’s class created stop motion animations of their own migrations and put out a request for people to share their migration stories via these google slides. My school community will be invited to add theirs – would anyone in my network network like to contribute?

img_9292 img_9295

Some of the take-aways:

  • It’s not about the technology, it’s ALWAYS about the learning.
  • The tools have to work for us, we don’t work for them.
  • Try one new thing.. but not just for the sake of it.
  • Know your purpose!
  • Extend the learning into the wider world.
  • You don’t have to know everything. Let the learners take the lead.
  • Collaboration and creativity don’t depend on technology…
  • but technology can take them to another level.
  • Innovation is a mindset🙂

I already love the flow on from connecting with these teachers and the way their tech vision statement is embodied in our ongoing collaboration.


Empowering our learners…

One of the most exciting things we saw during our recent visit to ISHMC (International School of Ho Chi Minh City, where Sam Sherratt is based) was the unstructured inquiry set up in a Grade 4 class by Adrian Watts, the principal.

Learners were given a choice between four different explorations (although they didn’t know the precise task until after they had selected what seemed interesting to them):

  • Reassemble a computer so that it works.
  • Fix the motor on a scooter.
  • Knit a finger puppet.
  • Sew a pair of trousers that fits someone in your group.

Participants were permitted just three questions over the course of the day. It was interesting to observe the thoughtful way they approached this, writing down possible questions and carefully considering what and whom they would ask.

It was more difficult for the observing adults to adhere to the rules. Most found it hard to overcome their natural inclination to step in and help, instead of stand back and observe the learning (and the range of trans disciplinary skills in action).

What did we observe during this exercise in child driven learning?

  • learner agency and empowerment.
  • total engagement in meaningful learning experiences.
  • curiosity and willingness to experiment.
  • competence, creativity and problem solving.
  • resourcefulness and fearlessness in approaching the unknown.
  • interesting group dynamics and differing gender biases within groups.
  • risk taking, learning from failure, persistence and resilience… in varying degrees.
  • collaborative decision making.
  • and more…




The transferable messages…

We need to believe that children are capable, curious, competent and creative and, given the opportunities and encouragement, can lead their own learning.

We need to rethink contexts where the teacher controls the learning and the students jump through hoops set in front of them by the teacher, the school or the system.

We need to stop ‘doing school’ and think about what it means to really learn, because real learning often has very little to do with traditional notions of school.

An opportunity for powerful learning…

‘J is beyond excited for the conference!’ according to a message from her mother. She’ll be sharing her passion for baking with some of her peers on Tuesday at our Year 6 #PassionsMatter conference.  An update says: ‘My kitchen is a hive of activity in preparation for Tuesday. The girls have been shopping independently this morning with their shopping list and budget (prepared by themselves). They are now preparing and packing all that they need for their workshop. Totally self directed! THIS is learning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ 

L is excited too, as expressed in an email to her teacher, discussing the purchase of materials for her sewing workshop.  A has prepared an inspirational talk about how books capture her imagination and transport her to other worlds.  T is writing his own book and will tell his peers about that.  J’s talk uses take off and flight as a metaphor for achieving goals…

In the lead up to the conference, our learners have been involved in authentic opportunities to write, speak, research, think, calculate, make decisions, collaborate… and learn. Students have written inquiry emails, made phone calls, worked out costs for catering, placed orders, designed the logo and certificates, written speeches, given constructive feedback, planned and re-planned workshops.

The program includes some external presenters , who are all passionate, young role models some of whom have mentored the children in planning their sessions. Their workshops will provide opportunities for students to explore areas of passion such as song writing, story telling and sport coaching, as well as to engage with the big ideas of finding your passion, self belief, learning from failure and overcoming obstacles. 

On Tuesday at Passions Matter 2016, students will be speakers, workshop presenters, photographers, caterers, tweeters, bloggers and reflection group leaders. 

Emailing presenters
Meeting with mentor
Planning and re-planning workshop
Practising inspirational speech

This is powerful learning. 

Why only once a year? What if we had days like this once a month? Once a week?

How can we make this kind of meaningful, purposeful learning part of regular, daily school life?


The back story…

From doing school to Learning 2 day

Unleashing Learning

Learning Unleashed

The Story Within

And even further back…

Why isn’t school like a conference?

A conference for kids

How best do little kids learn?

How best do little kids learn?

It’s not a question generally asked by only slightly bigger kids!

A. is an unusual student (aren’t they all?) in Grade 2 with a passion for teaching and learning. His teacher understands him well and, rather than demanding compliance (not his forte), has tapped into his interests, encouraging him to explore possibilities by going down to teach the Prep children. Apparently he meets with the Prep teacher to understand their needs and discusses with his teacher his ideas for his lessons. 

When Kath Murdoch visited the school, his teacher introduced A. and got Kath to explain the notion of inquiry learning. She’s working indirectly on helping him regulate his own learning through his understanding of learning in the bigger picture.

Today I have the pleasure of spending half an hour with him, in my favourite pastime… educational dialogue! He tells me about his experience so far with the Preps and asks me about effective teaching and learning. I suggest he start by thinking about his own learning and the approach of his own teacher, whom he clearly admires. He opens his notebook and thoughtfully starts a list:


  • it has to be interesting
  • it has to be active
  • you need to encourage the children to think
  • you need to connect to them
  • start with something curious

I show him some of our learning principles and he is instantly engaged. by these three:


‘So… I need to get them curious’, he says, ‘and encourage them to be risk takers and try different things. They need to work together and talk to each other. And I need to make sure it is challenging… slightly bigger than where they start so they have to be extended and keep going…’. He pauses for a moment ‘And if not, it’s giving me a clue that the lesson might not be suitable or interesting’. 

As A. starts copying from the cards, I tell him he can have the one he’s focusing on. He looks longingly at the rest of the pile and I encourage him to take them all. ‘They might help me further along’ he says and heads happily back to class, notebook in one hand, learning principles in the other… on a mission to explore how kids learn best.

Just give kids the opportunity and encouragement… and magic happens.

Are all learners’ needs catered for? 

How are all learners’ needs for catered for?
The design thinking model is an excellent way to approach the issue, forcing us to think about this from the learners’ point of view first.

It’s not the time to express your opinion or to make judgements. It’s too soon to identify problems or jump to conclusions. Ideas and solutions will only come later… Step #1 is EMPATHY and we need to focus on how the learners feel.


We go around the room, taking turns to put ourselves in the learners’ shoes. At various points, some or other students will feel…

  • invisible if their needs are not noticed
  • inadequate when they are unsure what to do
  • liberated when they have agency
  • valued when others take an interest
  • isolated when withdrawn from class
  • comfortable when allowed to express learning in their own way
  • important when their contributions are valued
  • anxious about others’ opinions of them
  • self-doubt when they can’t keep up
  • excited when they feel successful in their learning
  • understood, when their needs are identified
  • labelled (although some kids want to be labelled, it turns out)
  • confident when they can take the lead
  • secure when given time to think
  • pressured by high expectations
  • stupid when they don’t understand
  • appreciated for their individual abilities
  • frustrated when unable to understand or explain
  • rushed because of timetable pressures
  • afraid to show what they don’t know
  • proud when they achieve things for themselves

This stage of the process ends up taking the whole session. But it’s worth it…


Should we focus on teaching or learning?

Inquiry happens when you focus on the art of teaching.” Kath Murdoch.

This is an interesting moment in Kath’s conversation with teachers. I lose focus on my note-taking as I pursue this thought… I tend to say ‘focus less on teaching and more on learning’, and here is Kath Murdoch, inquiry guru, expressing what, on the face of it, seems to be just the opposite.

Kath has spent the week with teachers at my school, provoking thinking, that of teachers and students alike, modelling in classrooms and then collaboratively analysing teachers’ observations. The conversations during the week have been as valuable for teachers as the classroom observations, especially the final day reflections, when teachers draw out the big ideas in response to Kath’s question:

What does it mean to have an inquiry stance in our teaching?

After the session, I attempt to categorise the teachers’ ideas under conceptual headings. The more I think about their statements, the more my categories overlap. I consider first Kath’s shared list of inquiry practices and then Ron Ritchhart’s cultural forces. In the end it comes down to a handful of big ideas, for me…

  • Language:  Use a language of learning not compliance. Choose language that supports learners in describing and reflecting on their thinking and learning.
  • Process:  Focus as much on the process of learning as the content. Use split screen teaching. Notice and name how we are learning, not just what we are leaning.
  • Release:  Let go of your expectations and allow students to lead. Ensure the learners do the heavy lifting. Release responsibility as early as possible, then observe where to take the learning next.
  • Teacher as learner:  Position yourself as part of the learning community, not as the expert in the room, both physically and through your interactions. Make your own thinking process visible.
  • Time:   Do less, but do it more deeply. Devote time to developing learning dispositions. Give children time to reflect on how and why they change their ideas or thinking.

But, even as I elaborate on these, I notice they are further interconnected. I keep going back to change and revise them. It’s impossible to separate ‘using the language of learning’ from the notion of ‘teacher as part of the learning community’… or the ‘focus on process’ from the notion of time…

And, in a moment of clarity, I see that Kath and I are talking about the same thing… The ‘art of teaching’ IS knowing how to focus on the learning.

Imagine a library…

The check in for our meeting is ‘Imagine a library…’

We talk about libraries we have seen in different places and in our heads. Libraries that challenge prior notions of what a library might be. Tranquil libraries with waterfalls and vertical gardens, places to read, to imagine and simply to be. Interactive libraries that buzz with activity, places to gather, to socialise, to communicate. Wonder filled libraries that provoke curiosity to explore, to research, to find out about the world. Creative libraries, with equipment and inspiration to film, to make, to animate, to create…

Next we look at our learning principles, our shared beliefs about how children learn, and consider how practice should align with beliefs. How will these beliefs influence the way our library looks and the role of the librarian?

The new library at our junior campus will be an open plan, central hub, with access from all sides. There will be a decentralisation process… The younger children will have mini libraries in their own learning areas. Teacher resources will move from the library to the planning area. These shifts will not only ensure access at point of need, but free up space for a different vision. There are organisational problems to solve, logistics to work out, perceptions to be changed and understandings to be unlearned.

And it’s an incredibly exciting time to re-imagine possibilities…

Image credit: Deviant Art – EdCamp65RHH

#Passions Matter- a dynamic student conference!

Our Year 6 students are currently finding and exploring what they are passionate about as they head towards the culmination of their primary school learning in PYP exhibition.

The central idea for the exhibition is ‘Exploration of interests and passions inspires learning and action.’ Within this broad conceptual understanding, students are following their own areas of interest and deciding on their individual and collaborative inquiries.

On Tuesday 13 September, we will have a full day student conference with guest and student speakers as well as workshops led by guests and students. Our students will be involved in the planning, organisation and facilitation of this conference – a manifestation of this year’s focus on student ownership and our belief in our learners. 

We are looking for young people (up to 30 ish – not too far removed from our students!)  in Melbourne, Australia, who would be willing to participate in our Year 6 conference and inspire our learners by sharing their own passions.

Possible ways to be involved might include:

  • Giving a 5 minute inspirational talk.

  • Running an interactive workshop about exploration of passion

  • Running an interactive workshop in your area of passion

  • Partnering with students to lead a workshop

  • Facilitating a reflection session of some kind

  • One off or ongoing mentoring of/supporting students with their inquiries in Term 4.

Content might include such things as:

  • What sparked your interest or curiosity

  • How your passion developed

  • Your journey in exploring  your passion

  • How your journey has helped learn about who you are

  • Action or experiences related to your passion

  • Evolution of your passion

  • How your passion may have changed your life

If you are interested in being involved in a dynamic student led event and supporting our learners in developing their passions,  please fill in this form by 19 August.

The back story…

From doing school to Learning 2 day

Unleashing Learning

Learning Unleashed

The Story Within

And even further back…

Why isn’t school like a conference?

A conference for kids