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  • isolated when withdrawn from class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

10 questions in pursuit of learner agency…

Claire Amos inspired the audience with her ‘Free Range Learning‘ talk at Learning 2 last year and I found her recent post on learner agency thought-provoking:

So what does Learner Agency actually mean. … In the context of a school this might involve students taking action, whether it be through reading, researching, discussing, debating, experimenting, making or tinkering and as a result, gain (through their own efforts) new understanding and new learnings. This being a shift from the notion of teachers, teaching at the student and fundamentally providing all of the knowledge and content which they then transfer to the empty vessel.

Of course this notion is not new, in fact, it’s positively ancient. I sometimes think Socrates must be turning in his grave.

So if this notion has been bandied about since the time of Socrates, why the hell are we considering it as cutting edge now? I’m guessing the honest answer is that education started off pretty sweet, then got a bit crap in the last 100 years or so.

 

In her post Claire suggests 10 ways you might provide learner agency in your classroom or school. I note with interest that almost every one of them includes the word ‘give’ and/or the notion of teachers or leaders ‘providing’ or ‘allowing’ learner agency.’ 

Can we create a culture of agency, where decision-making, choice and voice, reflection and metacognition, exploration and inquiry, risk taking and resilience empower our students to live their learning, rather than ‘doing school‘?  Below are some key questions that need to be considered in developing a culture of agency.

10 questions in pursuit of learner agency…

1. What is your ‘image of the child’? How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them?

2. Do you know every learner’s story? Are you tempted to refer to the class as ‘they‘ or are you always conscious that each learner brings her own interests and abilities, strengths and challenges? Do you think about each individual’s personal history? Are you aware of the factors that influence each one’s learning?

3. What do you believe about learning? Knowing what and how to teach is not enough. Have you, individually and as a school, thought deeply about how you believe learning takes place? Have you carefully examined the extent to which your practice aligns with your beliefs?

4. Do your learners believe in themselves?  Do you group your learners on perceived ability or do they have opportunities to learn with and from others with varying strengths, challenges and interests? Is a growth mindset fostered? Are learners motivated by learning itself, rather than extrinsic rewards that encourage winners and losers in the game of school?

5. Who holds the power? Is your token nod to agency allowing the learners a choice when you decide it’s the time? How much of what your students say and do has to be channeled through the teacher? Do you make most of the decisions? Or can the learners really lead the learning? Is initiative valued over compliance?

6. Who does the heavy lifting? How long do you spend making sure students know what they are supposed to do? Do you explain everything in detail several times in different ways? Or do the learners have a go at experimenting and tackling problems first and you step in at point of need? Are you able to release control so that the heavy lifting is done by the learners?

7. Who owns the curriculum? Do you have secret teacher business? Do you check the curriculum and decide what to cover and how to teach it? Or are students empowered to explore curriculum requirements in their own ways? Are there opportunities for engaging, relevant learning that addresses trans-disciplinary learning across curriculum areas?

8. How important is measurement of achievement? Do you teach to the test? How much weight is placed on grading? Do you think everything has to be formally assessed and what can’t be measured is less valuable? Or is the process of learning perceived as more significant than the outcome? Is process valued over product?

9. What is the language of your classroom? Do you talk about work and tasks or does everyone speak the language of learning? Is how we learn as much a part of the conversation as what we learn? Are students aware of who they are as learners? Are learning dispositions noticed and named? Are reflection and metacognition integral parts of learning? 

10. Is there a safe space for risk- taking and failure?  Does the culture encourage students to take risks and make mistakes? Is the exploratory aspect of learning stifled by expectations? Do learners seek and grapple with challenging problems and unanswerable questions? Is failure viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow?

 

Constructive criticism…

keep-calm-and-just-tell-meTell me…

if you disagree with what I say.

if you have a different perspective.

if you feel I’m taking over.

if you think I’m not pulling my weight.

if my carelessness frustrates you.

if my perfectionism annoys you.

if you find me apathetic.

if my enthusiasm drives you crazy.

if you feel like I’m criticising you.

if you have criticism of me.

if you think I complain too much.

if you wish I’d express an opinion.

if my expectations are not clear.

if you think I ask too much.

I’m the only one who can do something about me.

(And don’t forget to tell me what you’re happy about.)

Self challenge- A post a day for a week? #fail. The good thing about failing a challenge you set yourself is that you only have yourself to answer to!

The way we present ideas influences how they are received…

I was surprised by the number of slides tweeted from a recent literacy conference that lacked a sense of visual literacy. Even the most seasoned presenters sometimes seem unaware of the negative impact their slides have on the delivery of their messages and ideas.

Visual literacy has been described as ‘the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of (still or moving) images, extending the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text’. (Bristol and Drake 1994). It’s not just about consuming though. This definition is missing the ability to create meaning through visual media too.

It is this literacy that underpins our new Year 5 PYP unit of inquiry in the trans-disciplinary theme How We Express Ourselves. 

Central idea: The way we present ideas influences how they are received.

Learners will explore examples of animation, short film, images and presentations to see what makes the delivery of ideas and messages effective. Through their exploration, they will deepen their understanding of techniques and develop criteria that they can apply to their own use of visual media for presenting ideas and messages.

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‘We are a visually illiterate society. Three R’s are no longer enough. Our world is changing fast—faster than we can keep up with our historical modes of thinking and communicating. Visual literacy—the ability to both read and write visual information; the ability to learn visually; to think and solve problems in the visual domain—will, as the information revolution evolves, become a requirement for success in business and in life’. – Dave Gray, founder of visual thinking company XPLANE.

 

Self challenge: A post a day for a week. #4

Alignment of practice with beliefs…

A river needs banks to flow. Think of Learning Principles as providing the banks, within which professional prerogative, academic freedom, and teacher creativity can flow.’ Jay McTighe.

It was at a session with McTighe that I was first introduced to the idea of learning principles, an articulated set of shared beliefs about learning, that underpin decisions and practice within a school.

At the time I wondered if we needed such principles. As a PYP school, we already had a framework and a common language. Our school already had a vision and a mission statement. But it turned out to be a vital process with a powerful impact on teaching and learning.  Over time we’ve explored what each principle looks like in practice and we constantly examine the alignment of beliefs with practice. We came to realise that these principles applied just as much to teachers’ learning as to students’. These days we use the learning principles as a springboard for our growth reviews, a non judgemental, coaching based opportunity for teachers to work with a partner from the Teaching and Learning team on developing their practice in line with chosen goals based on our learning principles.

I recently spent an afternoon with a committed and enthusiastic group of teachers at Preshil Primary School working on the first stage of developing their learning principles.

Considering conditions for powerful learning.  Participants shared examples of deep and powerful learning they had experienced or observed with their students and then considered the defining characteristics of such learning. What are the conditions for powerful learning?

Examining learning theories.  They examined a range of learning theories and placed themselves on a continuum for each. To what extent does each of the theories align with what you believe about learning?

Writing belief statements about learning. Individuals wrote their own belief statements then shared, refined and prioritised them in groups. What do you believe about how children learn best?

Evaluating belief statements. The whole group examined, sorted and evaluated the statements. Which beliefs align most closely with yours? Which would you like to see included in your school’s learning principles?

Next steps…

  • Refining and finalising the learning principles.
  • Unpacking what they might look like in practice.
  • Examining alignment of beliefs with practice.

I look forward to hearing how things unfold!

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Self challenge: A post a day for a week. #3

Kids communicating with kids…

“Hands on heads. Now shoulders. Where are your shoulders? Well done!”

This is the first time Jess and Tyler, two Aussie Year 6 students interact via Skype with preschoolers at KNB, Phaltan, as part of the Granny Cloud project. The little ones on the other side stare wide eyed at these two strangers on the screen. Who knows what they they are thinking!

On the Phaltan side, the session is facilitated by 13 year old Shruti, whose English and computer skills were enhanced by her own Granny Cloud experiences over a number of years. She confidently guides, encourages and translates as required. This is part of an experiment to introduce this kind of exposure at a much younger age to gauge its impact.

After a while, the children begin to warm up and join in, first one, then another, as Jess and Tyler slowly introduce the body parts and sing the song “Heads and Shoulders, knees and toes’. Their excitement is evident through their muttered exchange of observations in between… ‘Heads and shoulders… the one in white is joining in!.. knees and toes… oh wow look at the little one in the middle!.. heads and shoulders…they’re getting it!… knees and toes… look, look they’re all doing it!!…'” It’s an adrenalin rush that I recognise from my own Granny Cloud sessions, even now after all these years, that comes from a rewarding exchange with children when you see it’s going well and they are responding.”

After the session I ask the girls what surprised them. “How quickly they caught on. It was really awesome that we got to teach them. Can’t wait till next week!” And from the other side? Prassana, who’s researching the effects of early interactions of this kind: “It was wonderful. The little ones warmed up so quickly” And a text exchange between the girls…

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Self challenge: A post a day for a week #2