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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

Shared photo streams – Imagining more connected learning…

Creating shared iPad photo streams was a brainwave – so simple and obvious, yet so effective!

They provide a space to gather evidence of learning, share practice and celebrate the learning taking place across the three campuses of our school. It’s an opportunity for members of our learning community to find out what’s happening in other grade levels, the kitchen garden, the art and music rooms… We’re encouraging more comments and conversation around what’s posted to make this even more meaningful.

We’ve come a long way in the past few years in terms of flattening classroom walls and connecting with the world. Today, the images I see in our shared photo streams suggest new possibilities…

Our art teacher posted a series of beautiful artworks by our 5 year olds. Beyond sending them home to be stuck on the fridge… imagine if photographs of these creations were published in an online book, along with captions written by the children and photos of them at work creating them?

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There is some powerful thinking happening in Year 6 as their awareness of inequity is raised. Imagine if they were collaborating with learners globally, sharing their tough questions, exploring different perspectives, comparing and contrasting action taken in different countries and deepening their understanding together.

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Year 5 learners revisited and reflected on their class agreement, halfway through the school year. What if they compared their agreements with those established by classes in other parts of the world? Imagine how communicating with other classes, discussing commonalities and differences might heighten awareness and strengthen learning communities within and beyond their own classrooms.

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I love the photos from the Year 1 inquiry into how we express ours ideas and feelings through performance. Imagine if these performances were filmed and posted online for children in other places to see and our children received feedback from all over the world.

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And, as I was writing this post, a fresh idea just struck me.

Imagine if two or more classes of similar age in different parts of the world created a shared photo stream and posted images, shared learning experiences and wrote comments to each other. Are you in?!

Our access to digital technologies make all of this, not just possible, but easy.

Just imagine… and then we can make it happen.

Beyond geography – A global collaboration

Geography, when I was in primary school, included rote learning of capital cities and populations and, most fun of all, making flags and colouring in maps.

Half a century later, Year 2 (7-8 year olds) at my school are inquiring into how geography affects the ways people live. They will explore landforms, climate, people and how they live, not from a textbook, but by connecting with children their own age in other parts of Australia and the world.

So far, each of our five classes has made contact with a class in another part of Australia and partnered up with classes in Indonesia, China, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand and Cambodia. Some of the teachers on both sides are new to this kind of interaction, but all are keen to connect via Skype, blogs, email and whatever other creative means they can think of.

Romy, one of new Year 2 teachers and her class connected this week with Sari and hers, from Surabaya, Indonesia, who was one of the participants in my recent digital citizenship workshop.

“The kids were so fascinated that they could be in touch with a school in another country and it really provided them with an opportunity to think about how different things are between the two schools and countries, but it was wonderful to see the smiles and wow moments when they realised they had things in common.”

A few years back, many of our teachers were nervous about getting involved in this kind of interaction without a great deal of support. Connecting with kids in other places has become more natural over time, but has often consisted only of a single Skype session, with little if any follow-up. Before each Skype session kids would prepare questions… and then sometimes be so busy waiting for their turn to ask, that they’d forget to listen to responses. We’re great learners though, always refining the process and learning from our mistakes.

This is the first time a whole Year level is on board at once and I’m as excited as the teachers are. They have made initial contact with their collaborators and most have decided it’s worthwhile connecting with their classes informally the first time, so that the children know who they’ll be interacting with. They have come up with a range of lovely ideas such as creating puppet videos to introduce themselves first!

There are many opportunities ahead for reading, purposeful writing for an audience, speaking and listening, mapping, learning about our own and other countries… and a host of worthwhile trans-disciplinary skills. And there will be opportunities for the development of a variety of attitudes such as appreciation, confidence, curiosity, respect and cooperation.

In the next few weeks, our Year 2 learners will be calling for photos from all over the world, with descriptions of how local geography (in the broadest sense of the term) influences the way you live.

Watch this space!

The big picture…

community of practice

If you read this blog, chances are you have seen this image before. If you read A Global Community, my chapter in the IB book Journeys in Communities of Practice, you’ll see it there too. And if you participate in ‘Direct Your Own Learning‘, my session at the Reform Symposium Conference next weekend (time conversion here), you’ll probably see it again.

After the first day of the Melbourne GAFE summit, (Google for Education), I wondered if the conference was more about tools than learning.  After the second day, with my thinking provoked by @mistersill and @betchaboy‘s keynotes, some new ideas inspired by sessions learning (well, yes) tools, and some good conversation with other educators, I’m re-evaluating…

It turns out the ‘big picture’ looks like the one above!

Talking about learning…

Our approach to the PYP exhibition unit is very different this year. 

The focus is on students talking about their learning… 

The central idea is ‘Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act’. Within the context of this broad conceptual understanding, students choose to inquire into a variety of inequities, ranging from racial stereotyping to school bullying, homelessness, animal cruelty, support for people with disabilities, and more.

After our opening conference day and other provocations to encourage engagement with the big ideas, students are provided with many opportunities to unpack the issues and think deeply about what matters to them, by talking… amongst themselves, with their own and other teachers, with students from other classes, with their own and other parents. 

One-on-one conversations…

Having the support of the entire upper primary teaching staff (and others!) for at least one lesson a week, allows time for every student to discuss what interests them and why, one-on-one with an adult . In some cases it takes several such conversations before students discover what they care deeply about and would like to explore. It’s a safe, supportive forum in which to explain the reasons behind their choice and the connection to their own life. As their inquiries unfold, these conversations serve to encourage, guide and validate. Some questioning and probing help them articulate their learning and plan how to proceed.

Unconference…

Students post up sticky notes indicating what they would like to discuss. By the afternoon these are sorted and like-minded groups are formed, across the four Year 6 classes. With a teacher to facilitate if required, the students share what they have learned so far, generate ideas, raise questions and concerns. They use a Google doc to record the conversation and share resources. It’s an opportunity to find  learners outside their own classes with whom to collaborate.

Checkpoints…

At several points along the way, an audience is invited in, providing another one-on-one opportunity for learners to share and take stock of new learning, respond to questions and reflect on the process so far. On one occasion it is parents who volunteer, on another it’s a Year 5 class. The students’ reflections indicate that the checkpoints are beneficial in keeping them on track, building confidence, receiving authentic feedback and helping them consider where to head next. 

The exhibition…

Last year, every group had a booth, backboard and table and a great deal of time was spent making these look attractive. There were posters, signs, presentations, games, cards and decorations. This year students are recording and reflecting on their learning journey in notebooks or on blogs, but for the exhibition itself each student will choose one mode of presentation only. It might be a poster, a movie, a painting, a photograph or a song. Whatever they choose needs to be a powerful and effective hook to engage the guests in conversation.

The focus is on students talking about their learning… 

The story so far…

What really matters

What would you do if you could change the world?

A different kind of conference

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Student Voices

Beautiful cello music track in the video played by Michael Goldschlager.

 

Teachers owning their learning…

Have you ever been presented with PD and then had no time to follow up?

How often do you have an uninterrupted chunk of time to inquire into something that interests you, to push your thinking and improve your practice?

Do you have enough opportunities to explore and think collaboratively, to unpack and discuss big ideas with others of varied experience?

On Monday we will have a half day of professional learning, different to any of our previous PD days. It’s based on a survey in which staff  indicated their preferences for the structure and content of the day.

Here’s what it said on the Google doc which was shared with teachers:

This table shows by far the most popular choices in our survey. Please put your name in the group you’d like to join. Use red if you are willing to facilitate the group inquiry (more than one person is fine!) Note: There will NOT be a presentation. The purpose is to work on a shared inquiry.

I have no idea how the morning will go, but, here’s what I do know…

  • Teachers should have ownership of their learning, just as children should.
  • Having choice in what and how you learn is powerful for all learners.
  • Teachers voted for time to inquire in small groups.
  • Teachers chose what they would like to work on.
  • The volunteer facilitators have taken their role seriously and done a great deal of thinking in advance.
  • The most meaningful professional learning I have experienced has been by teachers for teachers.
  • It is rare to have a chunk of time at school to explore something you want to take further.
  • You never know if a new idea will work till you try it!
  • If this is successful, next year we will extend it further…

A friend commented on the fact that I often write about innovations, before they happen. He thinks it demonstrates confidence on my part, since I am willing to blog before the vision becomes reality. Maybe. Or maybe not. Perhaps blogging in advance means that if it’s a failure, I can simply avoid writing about what went wrong! Or  (more likely) … I like the excitement of visualising and planning new learning experiences, even if I can’t predict the outcome. Watch this space… maybe!

Profile of a lifelong learner…

This collaborative post was written with Miranda Rose, a PYP co-ordinator, in Accra, Ghana. We had fun working, crafting, building, hacking away … and learning together. It made me want to write a post about the power of collaboration. Miranda, are you in?

What does a lifelong learner look like?

“The IB promotes the education of the whole person, emphasizing intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth through all domains of knowledge… The Learner Profile is a profile of the whole person as a lifelong learner.”  (IBO Learner Profile )

Do you help your students strive to be thinkers, inquirers, knowledgeable, reflective, caring, balanced, open-minded, principled, communicators and risk-takers? Are you?

The  Learner Profile is not a list. It’s a whole school vision.  The attributes of the profile are the habits of mind that allow students to act in meaningful ways (Davy, 2005). We need to plan learning engagements to develop, discover and accentuate these habits of mind.

The Learner Profile is not a sign to laminate and post on the wall. It’s something every member of the school community should aspire to be. It is the value system that transcends learning and should be found at every turn in the school.

The Learner Profile is not another ‘thing’ to cover in class. It’s embedded in all our teaching and learning. We need to develop a culture, where the attributes of the learner profile are noticed, nurtured, modeled and expected.

Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character identifies eight cultural forces that define a thinking classroom. These forces include : time, opportunities, routines & structures, language, modelling, interactions & relationships, physical environment and expectations (8 Cultural Forces by Ron Ritchhart). These ‘forces’ within the classroom environment can facilitate meaningful practice of all the attributes of the Learner Profile..

Some of our thoughts on how to make the ‘forces’ work to develop the Learner Profile in our classrooms:

  • Explore the attributes through the characteristics of world leaders, members of our local community and literary characters to help us identify what the Learner Profile might look like.
  • Help students take personal pride in demonstrating the attributes without extrinsically motivated awards.
  • Encourage students and teachers to set and reflect on personal goals based on the attributes of the Learner Profile.
  • Create essential agreements for effective functioning of groups and classes using the Learner Profile as a starting point.
  • Catch the students in the act of exhibiting the attributes of the Learner Profile. Display labeled photos of the Learner Profile in action.

And some further ideas via #pypchat, educators from all over the world sharing ideas…

  • We can model it through our actions. Make the language an organic feature of your pedagogy. Make it authentic.@wholeboxndice
  • Read stories in assembly showing LP. Be explicit about the traits. @LindyBuckley1
  • LP terminology is part of my daily language use. Library space makes reference to LP through posters and books lists @tgaletti
  • Use the language when discussing world news @CapitanoAmazing
  • Maybe the students can lead the community – teach the other stakeholders about the LP @jennysfen
  • Use language that relates to them. Students can display the LP even if they don’t use the ‘words’ @carlamarschall
  • What LP looks like as a parent-great way to intro it to them and gave good feedback to teachers @kassandraboyd
  • I think it has to inform everything you do as a teacher. Planning starts with it, instead of your standards or objective @PDin140orLESS
  • I like multi lingual / mother tongue displays & descriptions written by kids, often with parent help for translation @Saigon_Eldred
  • Students use them in literature circles for character analysis  @shaza33
  • All staff in school need to be involved in LP discussion, not just teaching staff @SarahHHK

We came to this post seeing ourselves as two knowledgeable PYP educators willing to take a risk and create a collaborative reflection. By communicating from different parts of globe, we began to think together. As we shared and processed our own ideas and the tweets from the first #pypchat, we became more open-minded about how the Learner Profile may look, feel and be developed in our schools. As a result, we now have more questions than we had before and our own inquiries into the Learner Profile have been inspired!

What does it mean to be a global citizen?

Our Year 6 students have been inquiring into a range of countries in the Asia Pacific as part of their exploration of what it means to be a global citizen. The central idea is that to be a global citizen, we need to understand and engage with our neighbours. They prepared a range of questions to help them understand our neighbours and then they engaged!

Here’s an example…

What’s the story? (Edna)

The session was planned for 2.30pm Melbourne time, but I reached the library a bit earlier to find a group of kids already chatting excitedly. Tahni, Alex, Ronnie, Ruby, Jaimie and Elijah were about to connect with Craig and his Year 4 class in Saigon to further their inquiry into Vietnam.

Craig’s Year 4s were quite delightful, as was the entire session! Craig fielded the tougher questions and encouraged his students to respond to the ones they could. Theirs is an international school, but they explained that their life and school are not typically Vietnamese. It was great to hear the authentic Vietnamese voice of NguyenU Phuong, the Vietnamese Teacher’s Assistant providing her perspective too. Craig seemed a bit surprised at his students’ ability to identify and describe difficulties faced in their country, such as Dengue Fever, flooding and traffic congestion.

The Aussies talked quietly amongst themselves in between, comparing the responses with their own lives here. Their questions showed that they had already done some research and they connected what they heard with prior learning. As well as wanting to know about school, festivals and daily life, their deeper questions related to government and social inequities, big ideas from earlier units of inquiry.

The session went on longer than expected and the Year 6s loved every minute of it. As they gathered their belongings to go back to their classes, I heard their comments:
‘I got so much out of that’, ‘All my questions were answered’, ‘I didn’t even know there were PYP schools all over the world’, ‘The kids were sooo cute’, ‘You learn so much more this way, than from just looking stuff up’….

What’s the other story? (Craig)

As with many students attending international schools, our students come from upper middle class to upper class homes. The students see what they have and their lives as being ‘normal’. It is quite common for families at our school to have housekeepers, nannies, drivers, security guards and the like. Other children come to school on the back of a motorbike, which is the most common form of transport used in Vietnam.

To prepare for the session with the Year 6 students in Australia, my students were asked to think about the questions over the weekend so we could brainstorm and share ideas prior to the Skype conference. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the thought the students had put in and some of the contributions that they’d made. My students reminded me of the mosquito borne virus, Dengue Fever, which has affected the families of at least 7 of my students, including my wife. They also came up with the flooding that we deal with on a monthly basis due to king high tides on the Saigon River. I wish I was that switched on to the world around me when I was 9 years old.

While my students recently completed and video recorded many personal interviews as part of  their current unit of inquiry, the Skype conference with Year 6  students from Edna’s school has given me the inspiration to try something similar when we’re inquiring into cultures and religions. I have former colleagues teaching all over the world who might be willing to support my students as they continue accessing primary sources. Instead of reading books about religions in February,  the students inquiring into Judaism can Skype with students at Edna’s school, those inquiring into Islam can talk with students from my former school in the Middle East.

I think by the time the conference had come to an end, everyone had taken away something positive – what could be better than that?