School has changed, have expectations?

At an information session for parents, we highlight the ways that school has changed and share a range of examples of learning that is real, relevant, engaging and trans-disciplinary. Learning that matters in the world these children live in, not constrained by subjects, walls or limited imagination.

We explain how the PYP develops our students’ academically, socially and emotionally, focusing on personal values, learner agency and global awareness. The passion and knowledge of the teachers in the room is impressive and the picture that’s painted for the parents is one we imagined would excite and delight them.  But these are still some of the things we hear…

I just want my child to learn the basic skills.

What about rote learning? Knowing the periodic table was valuable for me.

At the end of the day, they need to be able to remember stuff for assessments.

With all this broad emphasis, will they learn about specifics?

What about VCE? Will their grades be good enough?

At the end of the evening, a number of parents do come up to say thank you. We have clearly provoked their thinking, even those who are having trouble reimagining school. One mother, whom I happen to have taught about twenty years ago, says quietly  ‘I know I need to shift my old-fashioned views of school’. Indeed. School looks nothing like it did when I taught her!

iPads in the classroom… a no-brainer

How would you respond to a parent who is convinced that having an iPad in the classroom will make her child less smart?

‘What’s to stop him just looking up answers instead of using his brain?’ she asks.

I explain that education isn’t just about ‘knowing the answers’ any more, since ‘answers’ tend to be readily accessible to all.  It’s more about learning how to ask questions and to find, interpret and critically analyse the answers. It’s less about remembering facts and more about conceptual understanding. It’s less about knowing stuff and more about knowing how to learn...

Half an hour earlier, my presentation had, I thought, included wonderful examples of ways technology has enhanced learning; kids ‘using their brains‘ not just to ‘find answers’ but to apply their knowledge creatively, such as…

  • videos created by kids demonstrating their understanding of mathematical concepts.
  • animations in which learners have applied knowledge and skills in a second language.
  • connections with classes in other parts of world, via Skype and blogs.
  • an exciting inquiry in which images of plants growing in different environments were gathered from contributors around the globe.
  • students writing, creating and sharing their own iPad books. (link to simple version)
  • a host of images showing learners engaged in a range of trans disciplinary skills.

But this parent remains unconvinced.

What more can I say?

Below: Some images of kids ‘not using their brains’…

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Kids not using their brains?

In the picture…

photo

What does this image reveal?

One of my colleagues sent it to me, in response to a request I sent teachers for photos of kids learning, for a presentation to parents. It shows a group of 4th grade students applying their skills and knowledge in Hebrew creatively, using iPads. I’ve had fun with it!

To begin with the Learning Team Leaders examined it for evidence of the IB PYP standard and practices in Teaching and Learning. They felt it might show these-

  • Teaching and learning engages students as inquirers and thinkers.
  • Teaching and learning builds on what students know and can do.
  • Teaching and learning supports students to become actively responsible for their own learning.
  • Teaching and learning addresses the diversity of student language needs, including those for students learning in a language(s) other than mother tongue.
  • Teaching and learning uses a range and variety of strategies.
  • Teaching and learning incorporates a range of resources, including information technologies.
  • Teaching and learning engages students in reflecting on how, what and why they are learning.

Next, I tried to decide which of our school’s learning principles it best depicted so I could place it appropriately in my presentation. The scene could easily represent all of these –

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

If we wanted to, we could probably unpack the trans disciplinary skills that are evident and the attitudes being demonstrated. Or we could check the scene against the so-called 21st century skills. It’s interesting how much we can see in one simple image (with minimal explanation from the teacher). Examining classroom photos to see what they reveal is a great way to refocus on beliefs about learning and a host of other big ideas.

What might this image reveal?

 

10 big ideas from eduTECH…

Billed as the biggest educational technology conference in Australia, I note with interest as I sum up the big ideas from EduTECH, that they are not about the technology.

These were some of the messages from the likes of Dan Pink, Stephen Heppell, Ewan McIntosh, Alan November, Stephen Harris , Andrew Churches and Sir Ken Robinson. I‘ll keep it brief, with links to other posts that elaborate. You can apply the big ideas to all kinds of learners, teachers and students alike..

1. Ownership
Enable choice. Foster independence. Encourage responsibility.

2. Collaboration
Learn together. Grow ideas. Build community.

3. Creativity
Experiment. Play. Make something.

4. Problem solving/finding
Think differently. Find solutions. Seek new problems.

5. Curiosity
Ask questions. Notice. Wonder.

6. Diversity
One size does not fit all. Differentiate. Personalize learning.

7. Flexibility
Rethink school. Create new spaces. Unlearn.

8. Relevance 
Make it real. Solve real life problems. Create for an authentic audience.

9. Connection
Build a PLN. Flatten classroom walls. Participate.

10. Change
Do one new thing. Influence someone else. Shift the sand, one ‘teaspoon’ at a time

10 things parents should unlearn…

“We need to educate the parents.”

I’ve heard that statement three times in the past week alone. Once was while discussing the purpose of student portfolios. The second was in the context of making our PYP exhibition more student led, focusing more on the learning than the presentation. The third related to student led conferences. Apparently most parents want time to discuss their children’s learning without the learner present.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the parents. They need to be partners in their children’s learning and we need to find ways to make this possible and meaningful. But many parents base their opinions on the only model of education with which they are familiar… their own schooling. Even if they are young parents, I’d like to hope schooling has changed since they went to school.

10 things I think (some) parents should unlearn…

1.  Learning is best measured by a letter or a number.

2. Product is more important than process and progress.

3. Children need to be protected from any kind of failure.

4. The internet  is dangerous for children.

5. Parents and teachers should discuss students without the learner present.

6. Homework is an essential part of learning.

7. The school is responsible for the child’s entire education.

8. Your child’s perspective is the only one.

9. Learning looks the same as when you went to school.

1o. Focus on (and fix) your child’s shortcomings, rather than their successes.

I won’t elaborate at the moment, as I’d rather have your input. As a teacher and/or a parent, which ones do you agree with? Disagree? Challenge? Question?

One of the most visited posts on this blog was 10 things TEACHERS should  unlearn. Take a look at that one too.  It was written two years ago – Does it need an update?

From teaching to learning…

We’re working on shifting the focus from teaching to learning at my school. We try to ensure decisions are based on our learning principles, be they about teaching, classrooms, programs or personnel.

Shifting the focus from teaching to learning…

We used to spend a whole day planning how we would teach a unit of inquiry.

Now we  discuss the big ideas, establish the conceptual lens, clarify the enduring understandings… and then wait and see how the learning unfolds.

We used to think we had to plan a whole range of activities and work our way through them.

Now we create a bank of possible provocations on which to draw to stimulate student thinking as their skills and understandings develop.

We used to think the whole class had to do the same thing at the same time in the same place.

Now we think groups of learners might spread out through the learning spaces doing different things, learning in different ways.

We used to think we had to teach the whole class the same skills.

Now we think explicit teaching is often focused on smaller groups depending on their specific needs at the time.

We used to think teachers controlled the learning and always knew where the learning would end up.

Now we think it’s valuable to really listen to what learners say so that what they know, understand, think and care about can drive the learning.

We used to think we had to teach every subject separately.

Now we think the best learning is often trans-disciplinary. The more connections learners make and the more they get to apply their learning in different, authentic contexts, the better.

We used to think about assessment of and assessment for learning.

Now we think about assessment as learning too. We encourage self reflection, goal setting and metacognition in our learners.

How much teachers have shifted depends on experience (but not always), on understanding, courage, and imagination. We still sometimes have trouble letting go of old ways of thinking. Sometimes we still use new learning  spaces in old ways. Some teachers still use new technology to do old things. External demands and time pressures often inhibit what we can do. But we’re constantly working on it and we know that we have changed.

It’s easy to talk about educational reform. Some inspiring educators have succeeded in entirely reinventing school. Take Monica Hardy’s Innovation Lab or Kelly Tenkely’s Anastasis Academy. Most teachers, however, are confined by the reality of life in their institutions, rules from above, expectations from outside, cultural and economic influences. While these may prevent the radical kinds of innovation that would rapidly transform education, change can happen, one school at a time, one class at a time, one teacher at a time, one idea at a time.

Do you have a teaspoon?

I honestly believe that the future is going to be millions of little things saving us. I imagine a big seesaw, and at one end of this seesaw is on the ground with a basket half-full of big rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air. It’s got a basket one-quarter full of sand. And some of us got teaspoons, and we’re trying to fill up sand. A lot of people are laughing at us, and they say, “Ah, people like you have been trying to do that for thousands of years, and it’s leaking out as fast as you’re putting it in.” But we’re saying, “We’re getting more people with teaspoons all the time.” And we think, “One of these years, you’ll see that whole seesaw go zooop in the other direction.” And people will say, “Gee, how did it happen so suddenly?” Us and all our little teaspoons…(Pete Seeger)

Related posts:

10 ways my thinking has changed.

10 ways to differentiate learning.

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for the learning.

10 ways to differentiate learning…

Once upon a time in the olden days, the teacher stood out front and taught the whole class the same material in the same way. Everyone was expected to do the same tasks, some passed and some failed and were labelled ever after. The focus was on teaching, not on learning. One size was supposed to fit all and if you learned in a different way, too bad for you.

Time passed and it turned out that everyone didn’t learn in the same way after all. The teacher realised that learners have different needs, interests and abilities. Differentiated instruction was invented. The teacher prepared different tasks for each group in her class and preparation now took a whole lot longer. The needs of the learner were being better catered for, but the teacher was up all night.

She needed to think about differentiation in a different way.

10 ways to differentiate learning…

1. Let go.

Give the students (at least some) ownership of their learning. Don’t always be the boss of the class, be part of the community of learners. Don’t make all the decisions. Allow choice. Encourage students to think about how they learn best. Have students decide how to demonstrate their learning.

2. Change your expectations.

One size does not fit all. Not everyone fits the traditional mould of school, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn. You might need to change what you do. Remember you teach people, not subjects.

3. Change the sequence.

Learners don’t need total mastery of all the skills before they can apply them. Provide meaningful, authentic learning opportunities for everyone. Turn Bloom’s taxonomy on its head. All students can solve real problems and write for a real audience.

4. Use technology creatively.

Blogging, film making, global interactions, social media, photography, gaming (and much more!) …all provide naturally differentiated opportunities for learners with varied levels of ability, different interests and special talents.

5. Care about what matters to them.

Encourage learners to follow their interests. Know their story. Make their learning relevant. Connect with their passions… or help them to discover what they might be.

6. Assess for learning.

It’s not about a test at the end. Record student thinking and track development over time. Create meaningful assessment tasks that allow transfer of learning to other contexts. Think of everything as an assessment. Every piece of work, every blog post, every interaction, every conversation can tell us where a learner is at and where they need to go.

7. Embrace inquiry as a stance.

Create a culture of thinking, questioning, wondering and exploring. Start your questions with ‘What do you think?’ so that all responses are acceptable. Find ways to provoke learners’ curiosity and a desire to find out for themselves.

8. Don’t be the only teacher.

Students can learn from their peers, other teachers, parents, their on-line contacts, the world. Help them build their own personal learning network with and from whom they can learn.

9. Focus on learning, not work.

Make sure you and your students know the reason for every learning experience. Don’t give ‘busy work’. Don’t start by planning activities, start with the ‘why‘ and then develop learning experiences which will support independent learning.

10. Encourage goal setting and reflection.

Help students to define goals for their learning. Provide opportunities for ongoing self-evaluation and reflection. Provide constructive, specific feedback. Student blogs are great tools for reflecting on learning and responding to their peers.

If you’re the teacher in the story above, take a look at this chart, highlighting the differences between differentiated instruction and personalised learning. Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization by Barbara Bray.

School in the 1920s…

I show this picture to my 91-year-old mom and she is stunned. Where are the desks? Are they allowed to sit where they like? Who’s watching them? Where is the teacher??

We get talking about her own school days. She remembers walking to school, carrying her books in a suitcase, and meeting her friends Bertha and Joy. They sat in double desks with ink wells, facing the blackboard.

Mom recalls not enjoying school much and when I ask why, she tells me that nobody did! The teachers usually shouted although not specifically at her.  She remembers her teacher dictating spelling words. The girl beside her was ‘clever’ and wrote quickly, but she could not, of course, copy her answers. She recalls the teacher going round the class calling on each individual to respond and feeling relieved if she knew the answer.  She talks about her surprise when the 6th grade teacher once said something nice about her in front of the whole class  (‘I thought she didn’t like me’) and I love the fact that this special moment can still bring a smile to her face after eighty years. There’s a lesson there for teachers today…

A quick internet search brings up the history of the school and my mom  is amazed that I am able to find information, names and photographs from the 1920s. The site has a photo of Miss Meyer the headmistress at the time, and I’m told the children were afraid of her. I read that there was a hostel for girls who boarded at school during term time. My mom remembers she once forgot something in her classroom on a weekend and went, fearfully, to knock on the door at the hostel to ask if she could go into the school and retrieve the item.

I probe for more memories but, for now, that’s all I can get.

We don’t have ink wells any more, but it strikes me that in many schools, things haven’t changed all that much. Hopefully school is no longer a place for fear… of teachers, of failure, of humiliation or of punishment. I wonder how learning can occur under those conditions?

10 questions to provoke change…

The Urban Dictionary defines ‘shaking the cage’ as challenging a social system to instigate change.

It’s been suggested by a respected colleague that perhaps I ‘shake the cage’ too often. The way we did it was fine. Leave things as they are.  People have ownership of the old way. Too much change. Too many obstacles….

As I work in an IB PYP school, I’ve been reflecting on  ‘shaking the cage’ through the lens of the IB Learner Profile. It’s our goal to develop the attributes of the Learner Profile in our students, so don’t we need to live them ourselves? We need to ask ourselves these questions:

1. Are you a thinker?

Do you think critically and make reasoned decisions?  What do you believe about how learning takes place?  Have you thought about why you do things the way you do?

2. Are you open minded?

Are you open to new ideas and different ways of doing things? Do you seek and evaluate a range of viewpoints and are you willing to grow from the experience?

3. Are you knowledgeable?

Do you constantly explore concepts, ideas and issues? Are you constantly growing as a learner? Are you keeping abreast of new ideas in education?

4. Are you principled?

 Are you totally honest with yourself and others about why you prefer to maintain the status quo? Do you have a responsibility to help your students learn in the most effective ways?

5. Are you an inquirer?

Are you curious and do you actively enjoy learning?  Do you constantly question and wonder how to create the most engaging, challenging and meaningful experiences?

6. Are you reflective?

Do you give thoughtful consideration to your own and your students’  learning? Do you  constantly reflect on your practice? Do you listen carefully to your students’ reflections on their learning?

7. Are you a communicator?

Do you express ideas and information clearly and creatively?  Do you listen to and build on the ideas of others? Do you work effectively and willingly in collaboration with others?

8. Are you a risk taker?

Do you approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and forethought? Do you have the independence of spirit to explore new ways of doing things?

9. Are you caring?

Do you work at making a positive difference to the lives of others? Do you care deeply about your students and how best they learn? 

10. Are you balanced?

Do you understand the value of intellectual, physical and emotional balance to achieve well-being for yourself and your students? Do you embrace the necessary changes to achieve  this?

If we live the Learner Profile, we are going to be shaking the cage all the time. We owe it to our students…

Reference:

http://www.ibo.org/programmes/profile/documents/Learnerprofileguide.pdf

In some examples, I have used and adapted the actual language of the LP definitions.