10 ways to consider your learning space…

It began during a PYP workshop in Melbourne last week, where we used Ron Ritchhart’s 8 cultural forces as a lens to explore how we might create a culture of creativity.

As participants considered various images of learning spaces, their own and others’, including some beautiful, inviting Reggio environments we generated a list of questions, such as these:

  1. Does the learning space reflect what you say you value about learning?
  2. Is the space visually appealing? Does it invite learning?
  3. What kind of culture does the learning space suggest?
  4. What is the role of colour? Is there too much ‘visual noise’?
  5. What role do the learners play in deciding how the space is organised?
  6. Has the purpose of everything you post on the walls been carefully considered?
  7. How is students’ thinking made visible?
  8. How is natural light maximised? (I really did hear a story of a teacher who put up curtains so that children would not look outside and be distracted!)
  9. What clutter can you get rid of? (Now.)
  10. MOST importantly: How is the space organised to foster things like: independence, collaboration, agency, creativity, movement and thinking?
The original version!

 

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 to learn?

2. 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?

3. Who do you believe should hold 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 do you believe the learners can really lead the learning? Is initiative valued over compliance?

4. Do you see every learner as an individual?
Are you tempted to refer to the class as ‘they‘ or do you always consider each individual’s personal story? Are you aware of what influences each student’s  learning? Are your beliefs evident in your language, your expectations, the routines in your room and in the relationships you build?

5. 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?

6. Who do you believe should do the heavy lifting?
Do you explain everything in detail, sometimes 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 always decide what to cover and how to teach it? Or do you believe that students can be empowered to explore curriculum requirements via their own inquiries, in their own ways?

8. How important is measurement of achievement?
Do you teach to the test? Do you believe 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? Do you and your students believe that reflection and metacognition are integral parts of learning?

10. Is there a safe space for risk-taking and failure?
Does the learning culture encourage students to take risks and make mistakes? Do learners seek and grapple with challenging problems and unanswerable questions? Do you (and they) believe that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow?

If you’ve thought about your ‘why’, the ‘how’ is much easier to achieve.  Are you asking the right question?

* Influenced by the Modern Learners podcast The Answer to How is Yes. Now reading the book by Peter Block.

(With apologies. This has been posted before under a different heading. Found the post in drafts and accidentally posted it again, deleted the previous one, now it’s back with the right title. For my new friends at NES. )

Planning (but not too much) for inquiry…

 

There were so many things to be excited about during the planning of this unit with our Year 1 team:

  • the honest reflection of the teachers who engaged in this inquiry last year and their willingness to view it through fresh eyes;
  • the openness of the teachers for whom the unit is new and the ideas they bring to the learning process;
  • how far we have come from the days when we thought we had to plan the whole inquiry in advance;
  • our split screen approach to planning, in which we simultaneously consider the unit and the format of the new planner we are designing;
  • the opportunities for the development of the whole child, both as a curious scientist and as a human being who cares about animals;
  • the authentic learning that will arise from having caterpillars, chickens and rabbits in the learning space;
  • the teachers’ own inquiry into how best to provoke, support and encourage the children’s inquiry;
  • the agency learners will have as they help care for the animals, share their wonderings to lead the inquiry, develop their own theories, find the best ways to document their observations and choose how they might like to present their learning…

and now, the wonderful possibilities arising from the children’s initial wonderings:

  • I wonder if they eat their poo.
  • I wonder what patterns they will have on their wings.
  • I wonder what they do when no-one is there…

Learner agency and classroom management…

How does learner agency influence the need for ‘classroom management’?

Posting the question on Twitter brought responses such as these:

After listening to Derek Wenmoth’s video, our teachers collectively came up with a list of words that characterise agency. These included concepts like initiative, empowerment, intentionality, self-regulation, trust, awareness, active involvement, interdependence and, interestingly, wellbeing…

Inspired by Nadia Ellis’ post, we explored the meaning of ‘management’ and compared our agency list with synonyms for ‘manage’ – control, handle, master, manipulate, dominate, rule, oversee, supervise…  No wonder that little blue guy is pushing back!

So how might we create a culture of learner agency in our classrooms, a culture in which learners are empowered to take ownership of their learning and the need for classroom ‘management’ is diminished?

We’re exploring agency through the lens of Project Zero’s Eight Cultural Forces: language, time, opportunities, expectations, interactions, routines, modelling and physical environment. How might a thoughtful approach to each of these support the development of a culture of agency? What might we need to change? We’re compiling a collaborative list, so what are your thoughts?

Images from http://www.presentermedia.com/

Modelling change…

It was interesting to be part of a gathering of 1800 IB educators at the recent IB Global Conference.  The program included entertaining and thought-provoking speakers and sessions, yet I found myself wondering…

Since the theme of the conference was ‘Shaping the Future of Education’, why did it feel so similar to previous conferences? Why did the conference itself not model a different approach to learning?

What if the conference structure broke some of the traditional moulds of schooling?

What if the conference organisers modelled the kind of risk-taking and innovation we aspire to foster in our schools?

What if authentic educational challenges were posed (or identified by participants) and groups collaborated on designing potential solutions?

What if there was more exposure to the ground breaking experimentation and reform in innovative school contexts around the world?

What if more sessions had participants constructing meaning collaboratively, rather than listening passively?

What if more sessions involved opportunities for cross program, cross-disciplinary interaction and collaboration?

What if there were more un-conference sessions where participants raised pertinent issues for discussion?

What if the collective wisdom and experience  were drawn upon in sessions, so that everyone could be both teacher and learner?

What if participants were invited to put forward their ideas, challenges, successes, passions and wonderings in advance, and the conference was built around the needs of the learners?

What if ‘IB update’ sessions were presented in a ‘flipped classroom’ model, where information was disseminated in advance and the session time was used for engagement with the content?

What if, instead of announcing the proposed enhancements to the PYP program, participants were invited to engage with the proposals, give feedback and suggest improvements?

What if there were opportunities to apply the learning creatively in some active hands-on sessions?

What if time was allotted for reflection and ‘feed-forward’ on both the content and process of learning?

And finally… why has so little changed since I wrote this post?

Teachers as learners…

‘How do bloggers find their voice?’

Joc is facilitating a meeting with a team of teachers, exploring blogging as a writing form…

‘Through their passions?’ someone asks. Taking a stance on an issue? Sharing experiences? These are some of the possibilities raised by the the group. They have all read blog posts, but not written any.

‘By writing’, someone says.

I think back to eight years ago when I first started blogging.

My first three posts, which I soon deleted, sounded as though they were written by different people, as I struggled to find a voice. It was only when I let go of preconceived ideas, stopped trying to impress an imagined audience and just wrote, that I found a voice… my own.

It’s best not to over think or over plan. Try not to agonise over whether your writing is good enough. Write, check, publish, done. You can always write another post when you’ve developed your thinking further or changed your perspective. Just write. A lot. Or you will never find your voice.

Now write’ says Joc. She has provided links to some mentor texts (blog posts) and wants the teachers to experience this themselves, before they ask it of their students. Initially there is resistance. Anxiety even? Realisation dawns that this is what our students experience every day and our awesome teachers throw themselves willingly into the learning pit

Teachers in the flow of writing their posts.

And this is Megan’s take:

Today I was asked to just write for 30 minutes…. Easy right? Go for it? Ummm no, I thought…

About what? Where do I get my ideas from? Geeze….is this how I make the children feel when I say…”Just write about whatever you want”  Do they freeze up like me?

How am I meant to encourage children to be authors and find their voice, if I am unsure of how to find my own? I have never seen myself as a ‘writer’ but find such contention with this because I know how important it is, as a teacher, to model to the children, to show them different styles of writing, to show them what it might look like to take a leap and enter the world of being an author!

Have I ever written something as an author? I really can’t say. I have recorded my opinion while listening to someone speak…Is that being an author? I have modelled story writing with the children in class…Is that being an author? I have written my reflection or opinion on things…Is that being an author? I write questions to my children in response to their learning…Is that being an author? Perhaps I am just a little unsure of what being an author ‘looks like’ or perhaps I just lack the confidence in my own skills to ‘have a go’. I encourage that ‘growth mindset’ with children everyday, yet haven’t been able to apply it in my own world. Why?

If I really think about it, I am a writer everyday, I just don’t put my words in to writing.

My younger sister recently had a career change from Lawyer to Transformational coach – what a huge leap of faith she took. And, while following this niggle has lead to great things, she has also come across road-blocks when it comes to writing and expressing her voice. Being new into the industry she feels her voice isn’t valued or worth something…yet! And although she has felt this way she has realised that it is the only way to share her feelings to have her voice heard and to inspire people…so she did it!! She writes blogs, facebook posts, reflections, coaching seminars, she uses anything she can to share her passion and her voice. She was terrified…she didn’t know how it would be received….but she did it!

So……really I am just being a big wuss…look out blogging world, I am coming in hot!

By Megan McKenzie

Unit planning isn’t linear (either)…

Following on from our  non-linear consideration of curriculum, we approached collaborative unit planning in a similarly holistic way, with the child at the centre, to ensure a focus on our goal of developing the whole child.

As teachers considered the desired conceptual understandings and the content requirements of our curriculum, the potential to develop skills and dispositions in an authentic context were revealed…

Following this process with different year level teams and different units of inquiry led to a number of insights:

  • Making thinking visible is an important part of the collaborative planning process.
  • Considering all the elements simultaneously makes it easy to visualise the potential big picture.
  • The visual process allows for collaborative construction of meaning.
  • While always conceptual, some units are more knowledge based, others more skills based, and that’s ok!
  • A holistic vision of the unit highlights  opportunties for natural connections that strengthen learning.
  • Opportunities are illuminated for split screen teaching (inquiring into content and developing skills & dispositions simultaneously).
  • Standing around a table might trump sitting behind computers for collaborative thinking!

Curriculum shouldn’t be linear…

Learning isn’t linear. Consider your own learning… How do a range of separate experiences contribute to the development of your understanding? How does that understanding deepen, the more you engage with the same conceptual ideas in different contexts?

So, why had we historically planned the order of our units of inquiry in a linear way? (When would one unit end and the next unit begin? How many weeks would we need to devote to each? What dates would work best?) The time had come to view the process in a different way.

We started from the most beautiful questions that drive change –

Why?’ ‘What if?’ and ‘How might we?’

Why should curriculum be viewed as linear?

What if we put the child at the centre and considered the learning in a more wholistic way?

How might we approach the big picture through the lens of transferable concepts, rather than the calendar?

In each team meeting, we began by writing the ‘related concepts’ (PYP terminology for the big transferable ideas) in each unit on individual sticky notes and arranging them to allow us a visual perspective on the learning as a whole, then underlining the concepts that are most transferable.

This simple activity raised a number of insights, such as:

  • There are opportunities for further development of understanding, through concepts repeating in different units.
  • Some concepts are more highly transferable across different areas and more applicable in life.
  • Sometimes a unit has too many concepts, leading to less depth in the learning.
  • Some combinations of units have concepts that interconnect more, while others are more subject specific.
  • Some units lend themselves more to transdisciplinary learning than others…

Approaching the exercise conceptually, visually, in a non linear way led teachers very quickly to valuable conclusions about the big picture of learning – which units would flow on most logically from each other, which units might be best run concurrently and which units lend themselves to ongoing learning, woven throughout the year.

Some examples of ongoing, concurrent or even year-long, units of inquiry:

A Prep unit, exploring reading and writing as an inquiry.

Central Idea: We can receive and communicate meaning through symbols. 

Lines of inquiry:

  • How sounds and words are represented
  • How we  receive and communicate meaning through written text

A Year 5 unit which, after the initial provocation and exploration, will continue as a Genius Hour project, with learners pursuing their own inquiries and action.

Central Idea: Ideas inspire possibilities for action.

Lines of inquiry:

  • How we bring our ideas to reality
  • Skills and attitudes required for taking action

And our whole school, year-long central ideaOur choices define who we are as individuals and as a community, with different lines of inquiry at each year level, such as:

Prep (self)

  • How our choices help us learn
  • Choices in how we express our learning
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning

Year 3 (individual and community)

  • Who I choose to be  as a member of our learning community
  • Choices that affect our learning community
  • How diversity enriches our learning community

Year 6 (personal, local and global)

  • Active citizenship
  • How choices and decisions are made
  • The impact of our choices and decisions  – personally, locally and globally

Learning isn’t linear…

The ‘so what’ of learning…

Action is the ‘so what’ of learning…

“PYP schools can and should meet the challenge of offering all learners the opportunity and the power to choose to act; to decide on their actions; and to reflect on these actions in order to make a difference in and to the world.” (Making the PYP Happen)

At the start of our PYP journey, we used to think…

  • Action was a separate ‘thing’.
  • Action usually happened towards the end or after the unit.
  • Action needed to be visible.
  • Action was only about what students ‘did’.
  • Action needed to go beyond the self in order to be valuable.
  • Student initiated action was the most desirable kind.

Now we think…

  • If learning is active, relevant and meaningful, action will be integral.
  • Learner agency implies ongoing action of all kinds.
  • Some of the most valuable forms of action are not overtly visible – shifts in thinking, deepening feelings, development of dispositions.
  • Action might be shifts in what learners think, say, feel, have, believe and become… not just what they do.
  • Action often begins with shifts in the self.
  • Shifts in thinking can lead to visible action. Action can lead to shifts in thinking.
  • Demonstrating attitudes and skills can be a form of action.
  • Sometimes an idea isn’t initiated by students, but they can take it and run with it resulting in highly meaningful action.

Do you consider these to be examples of action? Try placing them on an iceberg, depending on whether they are overtly visible or not and see what new ideas emerge?

The PYP review update suggests the following lenses through which to view the demonstration of action: social justice, advocacy, participation, lifestyle choices and entrepreneurship. We have applied the model of action below (shifts in thinking, having, saying, feeling, being as well as doing) to unpack what each of the new lenses might look like… in action.

 

When viewed in this way, it becomes apparent that concepts like social justice can apply just as much to 5 year olds as to older students and that any one of the lenses can be just as relevant in the classroom context, the school, the local community or globally.

What action will you be taking next?