Collaborative thinking…

One of my favourite things in the PYP is collaborative planning.

Six times a year, my colleague Layla or I meet with each grade level team to collaborate on planning units of inquiry.  Facilitating such sessions can range from exciting to frustrating, depending on the team, the unit, the time and, particularly, the ability to frame and agree on the desired conceptual understandings that will underpin the inquiry.

This week, I experimented with a different approach to tune teachers into the unit, establish common understanding and model good practice.

The unit of inquiry:

Year 2 – Central Idea: Public places are organised to meet the needs of community.

The opening task for teachers: (given one step at a time)

  1. Write ten places you have been in the past week on separate post it notes.
  2. Work collaboratively to sort them in any way you like.
  3. What did you realise about the concept of place?

Tania’s role was to document the learning. She took photos of the group collaborating, observed the participants’ interactions and recorded the things they said.

planning

Tania’s observations along the way:

  • ‘Are there any the same?’
  • ‘Can you explain to me?’
  • Grouping/ looking for similar places.
  • Debating and questioning each other.
  • Using language to clarify/ refine ideas.
  • Making connections between places and actions.
  • Sharing common vocabulary.
  • Completed a general sort, then refined this to sort again into bigger concepts (Is it recreational, business, infrastructure, wellbeing place, cultural place, an essential service?  And from these more subsets were made.)

Statements about the concept of place:

  • Places can be used for different things.
  • Places have different meanings to different people.
  • Places connect people.
  • A place doesn’t have to be tangible, it can be in the mind.
  • There are public places and private places.
  • Places can isolate people eg remote rural places.
  • Places can unite and separate people eg religious places.
  • Places serve different purposes and needs.
  • There are natural and made-made places.
  • Places are organised in different ways.

What the teachers noticed about themselves as learners:

  • I made connections with others’ thinking.
  • Trying to understand what others were thinking about was valuable.
  • Listening to others points of view helped me clarify.
  • Trying to think outside the boundaries to push the thinking further.
  • Listening to others helped me formulate my thinking.
  • I really thought about the concept of place.

Discussion about how we could apply the above in the classroom:

  • The learners could do the same brainstorming and sorting activity to tune them into the idea of place.
  • Split screen teaching - focusing on content as well as process of learning.
  • The role of the teacher in observing the learning.
  • Documenting data about students’ actions and thinking.
  • How we might use that data to inform teaching and learning.
  • Connecting to our whole school goal of using both formal and informal data to improve learning.

Agreed understandings:

Understandings Beginning Developing Established
Public places are organised to serve the needs of communities.  function I can identify places that I use and say what their purpose is. I can explain how some public places are organised and used. I can compare and contrast a range of public places and classify how they serve different needs.
People use public places for different purposes.  perspective I can find out what other people I know use public places for. I can give examples of different ways people use the same public place and why. I can compare and contrast people’s perspectives on public places and their purpose around the world.
Shared places need to be used appropriately by members of the community.  responsibility I can tell you about how I act appropriately in our shared learning space. I can give examples of how I and other people should act appropriately in familiar public places. I understand and can explain what appropriate use of different public places looks/sounds and feels like.

Conclusions:

  • Process is as important as content.
  • Successful collaborative planning is enhanced by ensuring shared understandings.
  • Different voices bring a range of perspectives which contribute to mutual learning.
  • Experiencing the learning in the same way that our students do can help us relate to the process and refine our expectations.
  • Observing and documenting the learning process reveals valuable information.
  • Collaborative analysis of the data gleaned from documenting learning is a worthwhile exercise.
  • Being aware of ourselves as learners supports our own learning and that of our students.
  • Our beliefs about learning (learning principles) apply just as much to teachers as learners.
  • Putting ourselves in the role of learners adds fresh perspectives and brings depth to learning. (Thanks @katherineqi )

 

The great divide…

I read Dale Worsley’s post this morning and thought about how lucky I am to work in a primary school with a dynamic learning culture, where passionate teachers constantly seek the most engaging and meaningful ways for their young learners to take ownership of their learning, where the learning is for ‘now’ AND for the kind of future in which they will live and learn.

I recently received this email from a friend whose daughter has just started High School (She’s 12. In Australia, children move from Primary School directly to High School. We don’t have Middle School as a separate stage).

My daughter’s education to date has been nothing short of remarkable. She has soaked up and been enticed by all that the school has to offer.

She has inquired and pushed boundaries. She has investigated and wondered her way through the most intriguing PYP journey. She is a thinker and has loved being knee deep in creative expression and pondering units of inquiry that encouraged her to be open minded and inquire into things she wonders about. With amazing guidance, she whole heartedly explored her area of passion and with excitement and exuberance presented her findings at the Year 6 exhibition.

Now in year 7, her school bag is full of thick text books (which also sit on her iPad) which travel to and from school. She sits at night working through pages of maths problems from the text books. Just as I had done when I was in high school (a million years ago) … A little archaic.

I understand it is very early days yet, but where has that amazing transformative thinking gone? The creative learning that is so full of colour and excitement…

Please tell me Ed, that it is on its way????

My sad reply: ‘I cant’

And again I wonder about the great divide between primary schools and (many) high schools…

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  • Why is that as soon as our students turn 12, they need to start preparing for the demands of VCE and university entry?
  • Why are the demands of formal education frequently out of touch with the reality of the world in which our students live and LEARN and contribute? (independently, without the assistance of school!)
  • Why do many high school students still do the same kinds of things their parents and teachers did when they went to school, while the rest of the world changes rapidly and dramatically?
  • Why did a parent once reprimand a high school teacher whom I know for encouraging the students to (gasp) think instead of preparing them for the exams?
  • Why should the focus shift from learning (in primary school) to work (in high school)?
  • Why should grades and results matter more than thinking, learning how to learn and contributing to the world in a meaningful way?

 

A thoughtful response by @alohalavina – Crossing the Great Divide

Everything is an assessment…

What would happen if we didn’t have numbers?

Rubi poses this question to her Year 5 class, as a provocation,  generating wonderful ideas and discussion…

  • We couldn’t build houses because we’d have no units of measurement.
  • No price tags. Everything would be free.
  • You wouldn’t know your age.
  • There wouldn’t be computer technology if there were no binary numbers.

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One student declares ‘We wouldn’t have time’ to which another responds ‘There would still be time, just no way to record it’…and they are on their way to a deeper conceptual understanding.

As Rubi shares the conversation with me, we are excited, not just by the kinds of things the children have thought about, but by the power of a simple open-ended question to  provoke thinking and inspire discussion.

She tells me she had planned to give a Maths pre-test during that lesson but, swept along by the comments, questions and conversation, had forgotten all about it. I point out that everything is an assessment. She agrees that she has gathered a broad range of data via this discussion, not just in terms of their understanding of the content, but about her students as learners. She can tell:

  • What they know about numbers.
  • Who understands the difference between time and the recording of time.
  • Their understanding of the application of numbers.
  • Which learners think in a complex way, beyond what’s on the surface.
  • How open each learner is to debate and ideas that challenge their thinking.
  • Which students are already engaging with higher order thinking and which might need support.
  • Who is naturally curious and eager to learn.
  • Which children think they are not interested in Maths and are turned off by talk of numbers.
  • Who is ready to take ownership of their learning and run with their own inquiries.
  • Who will need another provocation that engage them further…

Our school goal for the year is to use data to inform teaching and improve learning. While many think of data as the formal, numerical kind, it’s interesting how much informal data can be gleaned from careful observation and really listening to the learning. This is how good inquiry teachers decide where to go next.

Plan in response to learning, not in advance…

An essential agreement for change agents…

Our Teaching and Learning Team has an ‘essential agreement’, inspired by this clip:

The Teaching and Learning Team agrees to…

  • encourage creativity and innovation
  • view everything through a lens of curiosity
  • embrace new possibilities and actively instigate change
  • create joy in new ways of doing things
  • foster a sense of ownership and empowerment
  • work hard to plan for and achieve success
  • work collaboratively and value teamwork
  • ensure learning is positive, engaging and fun
  • model positivity and optimism

… and encourage the above in everyone with whom we work.

In a PYP school, every class, every team, even the whole school has an essential agreement which sets the tone for collaboration and teamwork. How else would we know what the shared norms and expectations are? There are endless ways to develop such agreements and, since it’s the start of a new school year in Australia, all our teams and classes have been working on theirs.

It didn’t take long for our Teaching and Learning Team – Director of Teaching and Learning (Literacy) , Early Years Learning Coordinator, Head of Learning Support, Teaching Coach, Maths Coordinator and me – to come up with ours, since we already have common passions and a shared vision.

We watched the Piano Stairs clip, noted and shared how it relates to our roles and goals and.. voila! All we had to do was compile them into a list and we are ready to take on the new school year… and the world :-)

 

 

A learning community…

Do you feel part of a learning community?

What teams exist within your school?

How do you build a culture of learning within and across your school teams?

Untitled

We start the year with a whole school gathering, an address by the principal in which he welcomes new staff,  shares achievements from the past year and outlines goals for the next. 

Moving inwards to the next circle, we have a two hour workshop for P- 6 staff across our three campuses, facilitated by the Teaching and Learning team.

Objectives-

  • Get to know each other across teams and campuses.
  • Develop a shared understanding of the primary school goal for the year.

Almost a hundred teachers are seated at tables in groups of 6. Constantly moving between groups will allow opportunities to meet and talk to a range of people, while engaging in educational dialogue.

  • Choose one of the chocolates on the table and say how it represents you. The ice is broken and everyone is laughing before we go any further. 
  • Examine the visual (above) and discuss what it says to you. The responses are varied and interesting, questions are raised and discussion is animated as we consider the purpose of each of the teams.
  • Explore the goal: Use data to inform teaching and improve learning.

What is data? Teachers are asked to classify a dozen items under the headings of data or not data. Some groups debate whether informal, subjective information counts as valid data. Others question how much information we get from formal testing. Watching Peter Reynolds’ The Testing Camera reinforces that testing is a snapshot, not necessarily representative of where the student is at. The conclusion is reached that everything is data. Observing students and listening to the learning, analysing their thinking and questions, watching them play and learn and interact will provide much more data than testing alone.

  • Traffic light protocol (adapted).  Teachers highlight which types of data they are already using, which they are uncertain about and which they haven’t yet considered.
  • Hopes and Fears protocol (adapted) This provides an opportunity for teachers to share what they hope to achieve in terms of our goal and where they might need support. (We are gathering data too!) 

The activities have given everyone the opportunity to clarify what data is, consider how they already using it and how they might in the future. They have engaged with the big idea that everything is grounded in evidence. We don’t just plan lessons and teach them. We build our planning around responding to the individual needs of every learner. (We are ready to take this further as the year unfolds.)

  • Individual and group reflection time. Did we achieve our objectives?  A ‘Plus Delta’ protocol (with which we try to conclude all our meetings) returns these amongst the popular responses: 
    • Opportunity to meet and talk to different people from different campuses.
    • Clearer understanding of what data is and how we will use it.
  • What does the school value? Each group brainstorms a list, based on the workshop we have just had. Responses include some of the following: 
    • Learning.
    • Each child reaching their full potential in all areas. Student centred learning. The wellbeing of every child. Holistic development. Individuality. Meeting all children’s needs. Targeting teaching to student needs.
    • Collaboration and communication. Collegiality. Teamwork. Community. Relationships. Each other as colleagues. Staff input, ideas and initiative.
    • Deep understanding of learning. Educational dialogue. Teachers as learners. Critical and creative thinking. Different perspectives. Reflective practice. Purposeful PD which models purposeful teaching and learning.

Our workshop has been successful.

Moving inwards to the next circle… 

Orientation for new teachers…

Original plan posted at Inquire Within.  Modified below, including reflection and follow-up.

Learning takes place through inquiry.

Learning is most meaningful when the learners have choice in how they learn, as well as opportunities to wonder, explore and construct meaning for themselves.

This is why we chose to structure our new staff orientation in the form of an inquiry

As part of a broader introduction to the PYP, our new teachers explored concept based learning, one of the essential elements of the PYP. They developed their understanding of the conceptual approach by using the PYP key concepts as a lens through which to generate questions about our school.

concepts

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The next step was an inquiry, via which they had the opportunity to actively find out about their new school, rather than passively sit and listen to us ‘tell them stuff‘…

Central idea:

Each school has a unique culture, beliefs and approaches.

Suggested lines of inquiry:

  • Cultural beliefs and values of our school
  • Our learning principles
  • The learning environment
  • Roles and responsibilities within our school
  • Our written curriculum

Participants worked in groups to select questions from those generated in the concept exercise and/or formulate new questions, based on what they felt they needed to know, before setting off to find answers that would help them learn about the school.

The following resources were at their disposal:

  • The school environment
  • The learning resource centre
  • Members of the school community who were present to support, demonstrate, facilitate, encourage and respond to questions
  • Access to curriculum documents

In truth, we had no idea how this would work out or to what degree it would be successful. But isn’t that how the best inquiries unfold?

It was gratifying to see the new teachers engaging informally with the principal, the head of primary, campus coordinators and other members of the staff  who volunteered to participate.

inquiry

At the end of two days of orientation (one an introduction to the PYP, the other an informal inquiry into our school) we asked each of our newest members of staff to sum up how they are now feeling in one word. They said they felt:
inspired, excited, reassured, welcome, safe, supported, motivated, energised, informed… and one said that the PYP at our school is ‘real’. (an interesting observation, which might provoke thinking…)

It sounds as if our approach was successful and we achieved our objectives:

  • Understand what our school believes and values about learning.
  • Begin to build relationships and feel part of our dynamic learning culture.
  • Acquire the information required to start the year safely and successfully.
  • An overview of the PYP in our particular context.

It was exciting for us to see how much our new teachers, with their broad range of educational and life experience, will bring to our school. We look forward to learning with them!

Read Anne knocks recent post, about her school’s plan for  ‘onboarding’ new staff (perhaps we’ll borrow that term next year). What’s your school’s approach?

 

How do your expectations influence learning?

Can other people’s expectations alter what you can do physically?

This question is the essence of a recent This American Life podcast, entitled Batman, which explores experiences of blind people and investigates the impact of other people’s expectations on what blind people can do. It’s fascinating!

As educators, starting a new school year here in Australia, this is a question worth pondering:

Can your expectations alter what your students can do?

In ‘handover meetings’, the previous year’s teachers share information about the students whom they ‘pass on’ to you, including their own opinions and bias.

Do you allow others’ perceptions to influence your expectations? To what extent do your expectations and, consequently those of the learners themselves, influence the learning?  (Watch: Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset)

When learners repeatedly display particular behaviours, it’s easy to label them and begin to expect those behaviours.

Do you unintentionally respond in ways that reveal your expectations? To what extent do your words and expectations reinforce the behaviours and influence the learning? (Read: Choice Words by Peter Johnston)

Teachers often over plan activities to achieve desired outcomes, with little consideration of the value of student ownership of learning.

Do you play ‘guess what’s in my head’, waiting for the answers you expect? Do you control the learning? To what extent do your plans and expectations limit the learners and the learning? (Follow: Kath Murdoch’s inquiry blog Just Wondering)

So… Something to think about as you start the new school year…

How do your expectations influence learning?

Other posts for the new school year:

10 things to do on the first day of school
10 ways to think about your learning space
10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning
10 ways to get your students’ respect
10 ways to differentiate learning

Can you teach writing if you don’t write yourself?

‘Read, observe, listen intensely! — as if your life depended upon it… Write your heart out’. - Joyce Carol Oates

When I first, tentatively, started blogging, unsure of an appropriate voice, I read some valuable advice, paraphrased here:

Exclude all words that just don’t add anything. This was the very best piece of advice I read when I first started blogging. Carefully re-read posts that you have written and try to remove all the extraneous words that add little or nothing.

With this in mind, I wrote prolifically, in my own voice, developing a minimalistic style which helped me distil the essence of my learning experiences into (I hope) clear, concise posts, clarifying my own thinking in the process.

I find myself impatient with the sort of pretentious writing described in this article by June Casagrande. The kind of writing that’s filled with extraneous words and repetitive phrases which you need to read and reread to discern meaning… Or simply let your eyes skim over (or off) and move on to something else.

‘Try to leave out the part that readers will skip’. - Elmore Leonard 

Casagrande’s article led me to this one by Steven Pinker and onwards to his newest book The Sense of Style, which was what inspired me, for the first time in years, to think about a different way of writing and to play with the piece in my previous post.

‘I don’t give a shit what’s in your head. By which I mean if it isn’t on the page it doesn’t exist. The connection between your mind and the reader’s mind is language. Reading is not telepathy.’ -Jeanette Winterson

As the quotes indicate, I’ve been exploring what famous writers say about the writing process, largely uncovered via Brainpickings excellent curation.

As in the case of all worthwhile inquiry, this led me to further wonderings…

– As an educator, how do you inspire your young writers?
– Do you write?
– Can you teach writing if you don’t write yourself?

‘Pay no attention to the criticism of men who have never themselves written a notable work’. - Ezra Pound

… or written anything at all?

‘To get started, write one true sentence’. - Ernest Hemingway

You can’t throw an ebook…

Mrs Gordon, the steely school librarian, once threw a book at me because of my insolence.

I still recall this decades later, not because of the indignity, but because of the irony.

The incident tipped the seesaw of our love/hate relationship, but I’m still grateful to her for introducing me to remarkable writers and instilling an enduring love of literature.

When books were made of paper, I used to borrow barrows of novels from the library and buy more books than I could realistically read. As a lifelong fiction fan, I assumed ALL books should be read from beginning to end, which is why I frequently found non-fiction boring. I’d been alive and reading for close to fifty years, before the realisation dawned that there were other ways to read. Really.

It turns out one can…
Dip in and out.
Skip the (boring) bits!
.end the from Start
Choose your chapters.
Just get the gist…

I love the papery smell and feel of ‘real’ books. Beside my bed, there is still a pile for perusal. Browsing bookshops (as long as they continue to survive) will remain a pleasurable pastime, if only to explore which ebooks to acquire.

Dear Mrs Gordon,
You’d be proud.
I’m older now than you were then and I’m still a reader.
Non-fiction too!
Sincerely,
Edna.
PS You can’t throw an ebook.

Post script in the following post.