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

Playing the game of school…

Grab a dice and play the game of school…

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This was the provocation for my Unleashing Learning workshop, entitled ‘From Doing School to Real Learning‘.

How did playing the game make people feel? It seemed pointless. You could win without doing anything meaningful.

What was missing?  Purpose, fun, discovery, feeling, thinking and, indeed… learning!

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This was not a workshop about answers, its intention was to provoke thinking, to unsettle and to push. Hopefully, it left participants wondering about these questions and more…

  • What are the conditions for powerful learning?
  • How much time do we spend on things that do not lead to powerful learning?
  • What do you believe about learning?
  • Does your practice align with your beliefs?
  • To what extent do children create their own learning opportunities way beyond what school can offer? 
  • Does school slow down learning?
  • Is it easier to do something the same way than to rethink learning from scratch?
  • What’s one change I can make, starting tomorrow?
  • Is your planning time spent thinking about what and how you will teach?
  • Do you think about how best each student will learn?
  • Are old pedagogies suited to a rapidly changing world? 
  • How might we unleash learning rather than doing school?

What does student ownership look like?

‘Imagine if we did this with kids’… I said in my previous post and, within a few days, some teachers have!

The learners work in mixed groups across two Year 6 classes and respond to the same question that we gave the teachers last week: ‘What does student ownership of learning look like’? 

The teachers move between the groups, asking probing questions, encouraging the learners to think more deeply.

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IMG_4826Responses are quite revealing!

  • Teachers tell students where to go, but they choose their own route to get there.
  • Teachers tell the students what to do, but they decide how to do it.
  • People can have their own opinions and points of view.
  • Freedom to learn and independence.
  • Taking pride in your own learning.
  • Thinking and reflecting about what and how you learn.
  • Doing your work without letting yourself be distracted.
  • We are all unique in our learning and thinking styles.
  • Teacher opens the door, but only we can walk through.
  • Choosing wisely where to sit and who to work with.

It’s only Day 2 of the school year and I know things will develop as the year unfolds. These young learners have teachers who value student ownership and will work at establishing a culture where this is real. They are part of a learning community where ownership of learning is valued and beliefs about how this takes place have been articulated and agreed upon.

Yet I can’t help but wonder:

  • Have our learners really experienced ownership of their learning within a school context?
  • Are the children saying the sorts of things they think teachers are looking for?
  • Can our learners imagine what really owning your learning looks and feels like?
  • Do adults really believe that children can be the owners of their learning?
  • Is ownership of learning compatible with traditional models of school?
  • How can we help children (and teachers) separate the notion of learning from that of ‘doing school’?
  • Does our practice align with our beliefs?

 

 

Student ownership of learning…

“I think teachers should not be telling the students exactly what they should be doing. They should be finding their own path and figuring out the ways that they learn best.”    ~ Georgia, Year 6.

The Year 6 PYP exhibition is a prime example of the kind of learning that is unleashed when students own their learning. The confidence and understanding with which Georgia and the other learners shared this learning experience are evidence of the power of student ownership…

Looking forward to increasing opportunities for student ownership in 2016!

Listening to student voice…

Enthusiastic students from Years 4, 5 and 6 sit in a circle at the end of the day and share reflections on our Program of Inquiry. I tell them the teachers are considering which units to keep and which need changing and they are eager to have their say. As always, the children’s insightfulness delights me!

I ask them to write down what makes a unit of inquiry worthwhile.  They put their initial thoughts to one side and spend some time examining the K-6 curriculum document, expressing their opinions of the units into which they have inquired this year. Green stickers for the ones they have loved and felt they learned a lot. Red for the ones they didn’t enjoy at all. Yellow for the ones in between. (No sticker at all if you can’t even remember the unit!) They discuss the units in pairs, paste their stickers and record their reasons for these ratings. Next I ask them to think about all the units from the preceding years , share the ones they still remember well and consider why they remember those. One girl remembers a unit she explored six years ago because ‘It had  strong personal connections. I like units that are about me.’

Finally, they return to their original statements and refine them, now that they have reflected more closely on the units of inquiry. Here are their thoughts on what makes a good unit of inquiry:

A worthwhile unit of inquiry has/is…

  • Lots of options so kids can choose what interests them (Mischa)
  • Activities that engage you and take your freedom to another level (Brodie)
  • Ways that kids can connect to the inquiry (Jesse)
  • Excursions, incursions, projects, building things, freedom to learn. (Zac)
  • One that students have connections to. Relevance to everyday life. (Mia)
  • Fun, interactive, different materials, getting your hands dirty. (Mia)
  • Freedom for students to inquire into what interests them (Tammi)
  • Enough for kids to explore. Not too small. 
  • Open ended, so we can figure it out for ourselves. 
  • Skills and knowledge that will help for the future.
  • Freedom to lead your own inquiry. Hands on experiences beyond the classroom. (Benji)
  • Complex questions you can pursue without running out of material. (Yoshi)
  • Enough time to go deep into your questions. (Yoshi)

Reflections

Their reflections about the specific units of inquiry turn out to be less valuable than the bigger picture. Ask yourself these questions about ALL the learning in your class?

  • Are there options for the learners to investigate what interests them?
  • Are there possibilities for everyone to connect to the learning?
  • Do the learners have freedom to explore?
  • Is the learning relevant to their lives?
  • Is the learning engaging and challenging?
  • Are there opportunities for play?
  • Is it open-ended so learners can figure things out for themselves?
  • Are there opportunities for development of skills and knowledge for the future?
  • Does the learning extend beyond the classroom?
  • Is there enough time to for deep learning?

Doing school vs (real) learning…

I love chatting with my colleague about approaches to pedagogy and how to encourage teachers to reflect and grow. This week’s conversation gets us thinking about a shift in focus required for (some) beginning teachers… and some who’re not beginning.

We attempt to define it. Is it a shift in focus from:

  • Teaching to learning?
  • Teacher centred to student centred?
  • Work to learning?
  • Short term to long terms goals?
  • Content to process?
  • All of the above?

How often do you say these sorts of things in your classroom?

  • This is how you need to do the task.
  • Don’t publish till you show me what you have written.
  • Your answer is ok but it’s not the one I’m looking for. (not necessarily in those words)
  • This is how you can improve your work.
  • Don’t move to the next step till I say so.
  • Stop (in the middle of what you’re doing/thinking/learning) and listen to my instructions.
  • I want you to…

Are you depriving your students of opportunities to make decisions and reflect on them, learn from mistakes, become independent learners, think for themselves and… really LEARN?

What are the effects when teachers say things like this? (Observed in class visits this week)

  • What do you think is the best way to go about this? Why do you think so?
  • Create your own experiment, if you think it will be more effective.
  • How would you teach this to students of any age of your choice?
  • It doesn’t matter what I think, what do you think?
  • How and why would you go about developing new vocabulary? (second language)
  • You know more about this than me, what do you suggest?
  • What did you learn about yourself as a learner?

Consider your practice….

Are you providing opportunities for meaningful learning?

Or are you and your students ‘doing school’?

Lauri, Year 3
“Can you go and find some good microscopes for around $100? You know more about these things than me…”
Year 6 PYP exhibition information night
Sharing with parents what we’ve been learning and what we’re interested in exploring.
Year 4 - Adventure Time
Creating emotion balls as part of an ‘Adventure Time‘ exploration of mindfulness
Year 4 Adventure Time
Getting feedback from peers before pitching to the class, rather than just asking the teacher

Adventure Time – an experiment in student driven learning…

Most formal curricula have hundreds of outcomes. If you were to address them individually, you’d need to be at school for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for about 20 years…

What if you relinquished control and let learning happen?

What if the students had opportunities for authentic, meaningful, self-directed learning, through which many of the curriculum areas were addressed?

Last week I visited Jina’s class as they were preparing to present their pitches for ‘Adventure Time’. The couple of pitches I witnessed incorporated multiple curriculum areas and a broad range of trans disciplinary skills.

It’s interesting, then, that teachers think they can’t spare the time for this sort of learning!

I’ll be observing the learning with interest as this experiment unfolds and documenting it here.

Here’s what the kids are saying…

10 ways to make meetings (and lessons) meaningful…

Does every meeting in your school relate to or result in learning?
If not, is the meeting worth having?

Does every lesson in your classroom contribute to meaningful learning, rather than completion of work?
If not, is the lesson worth having?

So far, I’ve read Chapter 1 of ‘Meeting Wise’ by Kathryn Parker Boudett and Elizabeth City, and I’m taken with it, right from the first two questions, with which I totally identify…

‘Have you ever had to sit through a whole hour when you felt like the substance of the meeting could have been handled in five minutes?’

and

‘Have you planned a thoughtful meeting only to have it derailed by a couple of rogues participants who have their own agendas?’

The authors highlight four aspects for careful consideration when planning successful meetings:

Purpose
Process
Preparation
Pacing

The meeting checklist they suggest includes twelve probing questions relating to the above, of which I have selected ten. The questions are theirs, the applications to the classroom are mine:

1. Have we identified clear and important meeting objectives that contribute to the goal of improving learning?
Do we know the purpose of every learning engagement in our classroom? Do the students? Is every single thing that happens in your learning space thoughtful and international?

2. Have we established the connection between the work of this and other meetings in the series?
Is it clear how today’s learning relates to other learning that has and will take place? Do students have opportunities to make connections with prior learning, construct meaning and apply learning in different contexts?

3 Have we incorporated feedback from previous meetings?
Do you seek feedback from your students about what they got out of learning experiences? Do you observe and listen to the learning and plan responsively?

4. Have we chosen challenging activities that advance the meeting objectives and engage all participants?
Are the learning engagements challenging, purposeful and engaging? Will they advance not just knowledge, but the growth of skills and attitudes that will matter in future learning?

5. Have we built in time to identify and commit to next steps?
Have we provided learners with time for thoughtful reflection and consideration of how to take their learning forward? Have we offered meaningful feedback, or rather feed forward that might guide them?

6. Have we built in time for assessment of what worked and what didn’t in the meeting?
I’m fond of the saying ‘everything is an assessment’. Have we observed and listened thoughtfully to what the learners say (and don’t say) as evidence of the development of skills and understanding? Have we identified misconceptions and highlighted further needs?

7. Have we gathered or developed materials that will help to focus and advance the meeting objectives?
Have we planned and developed provocations that will provoke thinking and engage learners with the intended issues, concepts and beyond? Have we carefully thought about the desired understandings then encouraged creative ways for students to embark on their own journeys to get to them?

8. Have we put time allocations to each activity on the agenda?
If you plan what will happen throughout your lessons, this one will make sense to you. As an inquiry teacher, it doesn’t apply in my context! We need to be ready to abandon the plan, if the learning takes us in a new direction. We need to plan in response to the learning.

9. Have we ensured that we will address the primary objective early in the meeting? 
Do we ensure we don’t waste time on activities that won’t lead to learning, but get right into the learning from the start? Can we take the role, hand out the books etc in a more efficient manner that doesn’t waste prime learning time? Have you read ‘The 5 Minute Teacher’ in which Mark Barnes highlights the idea of talking less and letting the learning happen?

10. Is it realistic that we could get through our agenda in the time allocated?
Have we filled a lesson plan with activities or have we allowed time to let the learning unfold? Will students be so busy competing tasks, they don’t have time to construct meaning? Have we ensured there will be time for depth of understanding?

Blogging for authentic trans-disciplinary learning…

Overwhelmed by demands of mandated curricula?

The Australian curriculum lists ten learning areas (English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, Arts, Economics, Civics and Citizenship, Technologies, Health and Physical Education) as well as general capabilities and cross curricular priorities. If you had to ‘cover’ all the skills and knowledge listed, you’d need to be at school for 24 hours a day for about thirty years.

Learners reading, writing and collaborating on a class blog can address a range of curriculum areas simultaneously and incidentally. Take a look at what’s happening in @Mr_Kuran’s class.

All you need is imagination…

Blogging in the classroom is an exceptional tool for learning that is engaging, relevant and trans-disciplinary. All you need is a bit of imagination and you’re away. (Or you can borrow my ideas)

And a blog…

Our new Year 3 teacher @Mr_Kuran kicks off with a few simple posts for all the Year 3 students to comment on. The children are still learning how to sign in and respond. They have yet to work on writing quality comments that encourage conversation, before moving onto writing their own posts later in the year. The blog will provide an authentic context for reading and writing, as well as a forum to express thinking and an avenue for extending inquiry beyond the school walls.

Meanwhile, the children have started to write…

And an audience…

A tweet out  to the world by @Mr_Kuran (with a #pypchat hashtag) brings a visitor from Mozambique! Checking the flag counter in the next few days, the children discover they have had visits from Poland, Switzerland and Laos. Barely a week later they are hooked! The blog has received visitors from near and far, including countries the children haven’t heard of. Our young learners are exploring the geography of the world as they plot their visitors on the map.

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The flag counter encourages not just curiosity but a range of mathematical skills, enhanced by engaging learning experiences such as this QR code investigation.

Hopefully, as things unfold, a global audience will motivate our young learners to write more…

Authentic trans-disciplinary learning…

After only an initial introduction to blogging, many areas of the curriculum are already being addressed and the children are developing a range of trans-disciplinary skills.

And they are loving it!

More ideas here – 20 ways to think about your class blog.