10 ways to make learning meaningful…

Whether your students are completing assignments, inquiring into areas of their interest, covering curriculum or exploring their passions, to what extent does it feel (to you, as much as to them) as if they are simply complying and ‘doing school’?

How can we extend learning ‘beyond the project’ and ensure it’s a powerful learning experience, rather than a task for school? (Hint: the answer does not lie in assessment criteria, rubrics or grades.)

1. Do you LISTEN more than you talk?

2. Are the learners really inquiring, in the broadest sense of the word?

Look at the description of inquiry from Making the PYP Happen. Are they doing most of these things? Or just researching?

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways.

3. Will this inquiry be worthwhile? Will the learners experience challenges and figure out how to overcome them?

Support them in feeling comfortable in the ‘learning pit’?

4. Is the inquiry concept driven? Are the learners doing more than just finding facts and information?

  • Are they exploring and developing an understanding of big conceptual ideas.  
  • Are they looking through the lens of one or more key concepts?
  • Can they identify big ideas and apply them in other contexts?
  • Can they articulate conceptual understandings developed along the way?

5.  Do the learners have ownership? Will this inquiry help them grow, not just in knowledge of content, but as learners?

Some questions to support their ongoing reflection:

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6. Are the learners thinking critically and creatively about the content they explore?

A variety of less common thinking routines that can extend their thinking:

Think Puzzle Explore
Circle of viewpoints
Generate Sort Connect Elaborate
Tug for Truth
Parts Purposes and Complexities
People Parts Interactions
Think Feel Care
Imagine if…

7. Are the learners able to think about how their inquiries impact on other people? Will they be motivated to take action?

8. Will they explore ways of extending the learning beyond the classroom?

  • Look for opportunities for collaboration across the year level.
  • Extend it to other year levels. (Can older learners create for an audience in lower grades? Can learners seek feedback or support from another class or year level?)
  • Encourage interactions with primary sources within and outside outside of school.
  • Use your network and theirs to help extend the learning to the broader community and the world.
  • Use Google docs, Twitter and blog posts to reach out globally. (click links for examples)
  • Connect with experts face to face or via Skype. (eg Skype in the Classroom)

9. Will there be opportunities to identify problems and issues and develop solutions?

For some learners, the design thinking process might be useful:

10. Will learners have opportunities to express their  learning meaningfully and creatively?

How will learners present, represent and/or share their learning? Will they choose to express their learning through a creative medium such as art or film? Will they paint or sculpt? Will they write poetry? Set it to music? Do an expressive dance? Create a stop motion animation? Build a model? Develop an app? Design a website? Write a book? Organise a debate? Start a blog? Make a speech? Create a campaign? Lead a workshop? 

Will they do, say, think, feel, want… or be something different as a result of this learning? 

Looking closely and exploring complexity…

A fan, a mobile phone, an umbrella, a computer monitor, a toaster… We ask the kids to engage in the Parts, Purposes, Complexities thinking routine.

Examine the object carefully and record the following:

What are its parts? What are its various pieces or components?

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What are its purposes? What are the purposes for each of these parts?

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What are its complexities? How is it complex in its parts and purposes, the relationship between the two, or in other ways?

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Now take apart your object and record further parts, purposes and complexities that you discover…

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There is total engagement, excitement and a sense of purpose. Groups form naturally based on curiosity and everyone works collaboratively and inclusively. And it’s fun!

Their reflections are insightful:

“Everything around me is fascinating in its own way and is made in order to achieve its own goal”

“All parts are really important and small parts can be really important. We didn’t realise till we took it apart that one little screw was holding the entire umbrella together. We have to look deeper to discover amazing things”

“There are so many more parts than just what you see. This activity kind of reflects people. We can see a lot on the outside but the parts on the inside make us function. There is always more on the inside..”

“This tells me things are not as simple as they seem and not to accept information about something, look deep see what else is part of this object or person.”

“This shows I can always dig deeper and go further in my learning. I wonder if everything in my inquiry is useful”

“This helps us with problem solving and helps us create. If you can visualise how something is made and how it works, you can make it.”

“I realise now that everything has a purpose and there might be more than you can see from the outside… it makes me feel more curious about things and appreciative of many little parts inside one object.”

And that’s why I make my mistake…

Because their reflections seem so insightful, I make the assumption that they will readily be able apply this to abstract contexts. I ask them to think about an object, an idea or a system in their current inquiries and use the thinking routine to look more closely and explore the complexities.

I miss the point entirely, which is to get them to SLOW DOWN their thinking. Next time I will go all the way back and take one step at a time. We need to start from here:

Examine the system or idea carefully and record the following:

What are its parts? What are its various pieces or components?

A report card for teachers?

Teachers spend countless hours thinking about how best to describe their students for the written reports that go home to parents. At my school, these narrative comments focus less on work on more on learning. Teachers are encouraged to consider what they know about the whole child and to describe who each one is as a learner.

Who writes a report about the teacher as a learner? This creative teacher wrote his own report, an honest self- reflective appraisal of his first year teaching Year 6. (Read the whole post here.)

I challenge other teachers and leaders to reflect on their learning this year and write their own reports… 

Dean Kuran – Grade 6, 2016

Dean is a caring, enthusiastic learner who has taken many risks this year in his pursuit of being the best member of the school community he can be. He has demonstrated the qualities of being a risk-taker, moving into a new learning environment and being willing to take on new challenges, including a lunchtime drone-flying club, presenting and hosting TeachMeets, giving his students more ownership of their learning – while discovering the delicate line between ownership and anarchy – being ready to speak up and accept when he has made mistakes and responding positively to constructive criticism.

Dean has been resilient in the face of unforeseen circumstances, for both himself and his peers.  He has focused on finding a balance between extra-curricular activities and non-negotiable tasks. Dean has sought assistance from experts as he looks to take the next step in his development as a facilitator of learning, and has enjoyed experimenting more with inquiry approaches to writing and mathematics. He has dabbled in mindfulness, breathing exercises and a healthier lifestyle to reduce his stresses, and to assist those who also need time to regulate their emotions. 

Dean enjoys developing his learners into effective communicators so that they are confident and feel secure when they speak. He focuses on creating an environment that is safe, welcoming, flexible and energetic. Sometimes, the energy levels can reach a point that may not be conducive for effective learning, and Dean is encouraged to be more composed and forthright with this expectations. 

As an inquirer, Dean has experimented with a variety of approaches to his learning, including the split-screen method,  various thinking routines like this (a personal favourite, particularly in Number), and team-teaching. He has become so aware that learning is not about the product; it is about the process. The trials and tribulations. The new skills we learn, and the old skills we extend. The knowledge we gain. The actions we take. 

He is supported by a close network of mentorspeers and incredible learning support staff, who have enabled him to think deeply about the kind of educator, member of staff and person he wants to be for his students and those around him. He loves a walk down the road for a coffee too. 

Above all, Dean seeks two qualities from his learners, and they are the two that were sought from him by his parents; respect and responsibility.

Dean understands that there is a long way to go on this learning journey, but he is excited for what is to come next.

Process, not product.

Actions, not words.

 

(Leave a link to your report post in the comments.)

What if education was about improving the world?

12-year-old E is passionate about changing the world. While some of her peers struggle to extend their personal interests into deeper or broader explorations for the PYP expedition, E wrestles with how to narrow her focus down.

She cares deeply about everything. Her ‘top 10 list’ includes a range of human rights and environmental issues and she can’t decide which to explore further first. I ask if she’d like to begin by identifying a change she could work on that could make a difference at school, before taking on the world, and she likes the idea.

E quickly sees a way to take this further. She will ask the children of the world (well, those she can get access to!) how they would change their schools and how they would change the world. Analysing the data will answer a range of questions about which she’s wondering and might help her decide on her next move.

Can you spread the word to help her reach a broader audience? Here’s her survey, if you can share it with young people you know. This is E’s investigation, but I’m looking forward to seeing the responses too.

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I’m intrigued by an idea in the first paragraph of Marc Prensky’s book:

Our current education is wrong for the future not because we haven’t added enough technology, or because we haven’t added enough so-called 21st century skills, or because we don’t offer it to everyone equally, or even because we haven’t tried hard to incrementally improve it. Our current K– 12 education is wrong for the future because it has— and we have— the wrong ends or goals, in mind. Up until now, education has been about improving individuals. What education should be about in the future is improving the world – and having individuals improve in the process. ~ Education to Better Their World by Marc Prensky.

It seems that while encouraging E in her exploration, I’ll be pursuing my own parallel inquiry…

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.

 

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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…

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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?

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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…

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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:

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  • 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:

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‘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.