How much time do you spend shushing twenty-four children while one child speaks?

Do you find yourself frequently shushing twenty-four children while one child speaks? 

It is true that children need to learn to listen as well as talk. It is true that patience is a virtue. It is true that we need to teach our children to be polite and wait their turn. It is true that sometimes (but not always!) it’s worth everyone listening to what one person says.


Have you added up the number of minutes in a day, a week, a year, that all except one child in your class are passively waiting their turn, while one child at a time (or the teacher!) talks? 

Have you considered the possibility that every idea does not have to go via the teacher?

Instead of every child getting a turn to share their idea while the whole class listens, would any of the following work?

  • Turn and talk to a partner.
  • Discuss in a group – Share only one thing that surprised you or one thing that was controversial.
  • Write your thoughts on a sticky note and post it up for everyone to read.
  • Share your thinking in a back channel like Todays Meet.
  • Write on big poster sheets then move around and read others’ responses.
  • A Chalk Walk, or a Carousel.
  • Collaborate on a google doc.
  • Use virtual sticky notes to post your thoughts in Linoit or Padlet or respond in Answer Garden.


  • More efficient use of learning time.
  • Active and social learning.
  • Increased student ownership.
  • Practising a range of skills in addition to listening (and waiting) – speaking, reading, writing, thinking, collaboration, cooperation, tech skills.

#1 in a series on making small changes

What other ideas can you add to the list above?

** Would you like to contribute a post to the series on making small changes? Something we all tend to do or you have observed in classrooms? Ideas of simple ways to do it differently? 



The school effect…

Do you encourage learners to construct meaning and make sense of the world around them?
Or do you feel bound by the constraints of the curriculum?

Do you encourage creativity, imagination and initiative?
Or is it more important that students learn to play to the game of school?

Are you constantly seeking ways to pique learners’ curiosity and provoke thinking ?
Or are you usually covering content and ensuring they learn what they need to know?

My curious grandson Shai is a fearless explorer and learner at the age of two, and I often wonder what effect school will have on him.


Here’s what four year olds said about imagination…

What is your imagination?

  • When you think about something that’s not real.
  • It could be something that you dream about like a dragon that could bite you.
  • My imagination is a rainbow coloured.
  • It gives you stories.
  • It gives you pictures in your head.
  • I think my imagination starts in my head but then it just pops out of your head.

Do adults have an imagination?

  • It’s only for children because it’s very special.
  • I think adults do have imagination as well, but children’s are better.
  • Adults think about real things.

And then here’s what Grade 2s said about stories…

(They had just been exposed to a range of lovely stories told in different ways!)

What do you know about stories?

  • They have a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • They have words in them.
  • They have to be read.
  • Some are fiction and some are non fiction.
  • It can’t just be short.
  • They have characters.

Why do we tell stories?

  • To get information.
  • So we can learn from them.
  • To use up time.
  • So we learn new words.

Hmm… Is that the ‘school effect’?

Observing learning… A letter to my grandson

Dear Shai

Observing you learn, even from the other side of the world, is as enlightening as it is rewarding.

Watching your videos over and over (as faraway grandparents must do) reveal, with each viewing, new things about you and your learning…

Your unbridled curiosity as you explore new things, experiment, play and investigate.


Your hutzpah, as you engage in activities intended for the older kids.

Your joy in your learning as you jiggle and dance while you ‘work’.

Your intensity when you find something that interests you, applying yourself to the same task again and again in different ways to see what happens.

Your fearlessness as you approach new encounters, patting a hamster and an iguana with equal enthusiasm.


Your thoughtfulness, as you stop to consider the best solutions to problems that present themselves- How will you climb up the step while carrying Granny (in the iPad)?

Your initiative, as you approach new equipment and new experiences – Who says you can’t photocopy a spoon?

Your creativity in finding new ways to use toys and nontoys, irrespective of how they are ‘supposed’ to be used.


Your impatience, pointing and grunting when you don’t have the language to ask for the help you need in achieving the task at hand.

Your persistence, not giving up till you succeed at what it is you seek to do. Who says you can’t fit through the laundry doorway with two washing baskets in tow?

Your pride in your own achievements as you cheerfully applaud your successful attempts at placing the shapes in the appropriate holes.


Your disdain for ‘the rules’, as you insist on choosing your own learning experiences.

I hope you retain these qualities as you grow and that they are not knocked out of you once you go to school…

Always sharing in your learning,

Granny xx


Building an understanding of digital citizenship…

What do these two words mean?

consume           create

Everyone in the class knows what ‘create’ means but only a few are familiar with the word ‘consume’. mostly in the context of eating, although one girl says ‘It’s when you take something in, for instance information’.

We use breakfast as our example and they get the idea that making the eggs could be seen as creating and eating them as consuming. We deliberately do not use a dictionary, so that they construct meaning for themselves, rather than narrow down their understanding with a fixed definition at the start.

In groups, the children then brainstorm all the things they do in a day, making sure every item includes a verb – watch TV, play Minecraft, eat lunch, write a story…


Using two colours, they highlight which of these are consuming and which are creating. The conversations are rich, as they build their understanding and discover that it’s not either/or, that some are both and some are neither… maybe.

Which of their daily activities are digital? In new groups, they now brainstorm their digital activities, taking care to include verbs, so that, for instance, ’email’ becomes ‘read email’ and ‘write email’…

They are already discussing consuming vs creating before we even ask the question. They are totally engaged and, apart from building their understanding of the desired concepts, so many trans-disciplinary skills are evident – communication, thinking and social skills – and, quite incidentally, a host of outcomes from the English scope and sequence.

At the end they write down what they understand about creating and consuming now…


They’re clearly ready to move ahead in developing the desired conceptual understandings in this unit of inquiry…

We need to think critically about digital content that we view and create.


I don’t think critically about digital content.I believe what I read on the internet.

I don’t think critically about what I post online.


I understand that not everything on the internet might be valid or true and can explain why.I can give some some examples of how I consider audience and purpose when I create digital content online.


I can explain how to assess if a website is reliable or not.I can identify and analyse techniques used to influence consumers.

I choose appropriate techniques to communicate creatively and  effectively online and can give examples.

People are responsible for digital content they create.


I can give some examples of how I can be responsible online.  I can explain how things I post online can affect my own reputation.I can explain how things I post online can affect the wellbeing of others. I take responsibility for my digital footprint and can explain how and why I do this.I can demonstrate my positive digital footprint.


The internet enables us to communicate and collaborate with people all over the world.


I can identify ways that I communicate with others online.  I can compare and evaluate different tools for online communication and collaboration. I connect, communicate and collaborate with people online and can say what I have learned from my interactions.

Our learners are gearing up to connect with kids in other parts of Australia as well as India, Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, Canada and other countries via Skype, Twitter and blogs. And they are already asking a range of interesting questions into which they might inquire!

In addition to refining this unit of inquiry with the Year 5 teachers at my school, I’ll be leading an IB workshop on Digital Citizenship in Melbourne in May, so feedback, resources, ideas and other perspectives are invited.  Please leave a comment!

10 questions to help you become a better teacher…

I read the post 10 Questions To Help You Become A Better Teacher This School Year by Terry Heick with interest.

The post grabbed my attention as I often sum up my own ideas in ten points. It has some interesting questions for teachers to consider, but I wonder if the post perpetuates the (mistaken?) idea that we should focus mainly on what we do and how we teach in order to improve as educators. In my opinion, focusing more on learning and less on teaching is a more worthwhile endeavour.

So here’s my take. 10 (other) questions to ask yourself that I think might help you be a better teacher…

1. What do I believe about learning?

How does learning best take place? Do kids learn by listening? By doing? By finding out for themselves? Does everyone learn in different ways? Do I value collaboration? Do some kids need to work alone? Does compliance contribute to learning?

2. Does my practice reflect my beliefs?

Do I provide opportunities for learning to flourish? Are learning experiences in my class aligned with my beliefs? Do I reflect regularly and critically to check if they are? Can someone else observe my classes and give me feedback? What if I asked the kids?

3. How do I shift my focus from what I teach to how they learn?

Is my teaching responsive? Do I constantly change the plans, depending on the learning? Do I step back and listen to the learners? Do I carefully observe and record where learners are at? How do I use my observations to inform teaching and learning?

4. Is the learner at the centre of everything?

Do I know every child’s story? What makes them happy? What do they care deeply about? What bothers them? How they do like to learn? What’s not working for them? How can I help connect the learning to their personal experience?

5. Do my students own their learning?

Do I talk too much? Test too much? Am I always in control? Does every conversation need to go through me? Do my learners have choice? How can I encourage them to take responsibility for the learning?

6. How can I ‘make friends with the curriculum’?

(Thanks for the quote, Sam Sherratt). Do I let the demands of curriculum get the better of me? Am I always trying to fit things in and tick things off? Can I become really familiar with the curriculum so that it’s woven through the learning experiences? How can I make trans-disciplinary connections? Am I ready to jump in with ‘just in time’ teaching?

7. How do I encourage creativity?

Can I stop playing ‘guess what’s in my head’? Do I encourage divergent thinking? How can I help my learners seek worthwhile problems to solve, rather than just the ones I set? How can I incorporate the arts into the learning? Is imagination as important as information?

8. How can I ensure the learning space promotes learning?

Did I get rid of rows facing the front years ago? Are the tables arranged for collaboration? Do we even need all the tables? Can we change the room around, depending on the learning needs? Do we need all the ‘stuff’ that clutters the room? What makes the learners comfortable? Will some colourful cushions change the feel of the learning? Can calming music affect the mood?

9. How can I ensure I am a learner first?

Am I a connected educator? Have I built a global PLN (professional learning network) using social media? Have I been to a Teachmeet or an Edcamp? Am I constantly reading and thinking about learning? Do I create my own learning opportunities? Or do I expect PD to be done to me?

10. How can I contribute to a culture of learning?

Am I a continual learner? Do I talk about my learning? Am I open to new ways of thinking? Am I ready to learn from my colleagues and my students? Do I willingly share my ideas? Do I bring solutions and suggestions rather than problems and complaints?

OK, so there are actually more than fifty questions, if you don’t just count the headings…

Who said becoming a better teacher was easy?

10 principles of effective professional learning…


Apparently this random comment (my response to a tweet in last week’s #edchat) was well received!

This got me thinking (again) about the principles of effective professional learning for educators. In no particular order, the following points are based on my own experience.

Effective professional learning needs to be…

1. Conceptual

Effective learning for teachers is not always about things you can try tomorrow, but rather big ideas that shift your understanding of teaching and learning.

2. Self directed

Teachers need opportunities to set their own goals, choose their own learning and follow their own interests. (Sometimes the most effective medium to achieve that is social media.)

3. Inquiry driven

The most effective learning isn’t usually ‘delivered and received’. Teachers need to question, experiment, apply, find and solve problems, engage in action reasearch.

4. Collaborative

Learn with and from others. build a personal learning network. Create communities of practice in your own school, your neighbourhood, the world…

5. Creative

Think beyond one-size-fits-all PD delivered by ‘experts’ on special days set aside for the purpose. Create your own learning opportunities. Visit other classes. Start voluntary groups. Participate in Teachmeets. Engage via Twitter and blogs. Find your own people!

6. Personalised

How often are teachers compelled to attend one-size-fits-no-one sessions, not relevant to their current programs, practice, interests or experience? Even on school wide ‘PD days‘, teachers can have a choice.

7. Reflective

Too often, teachers are expected to shift rapidly from one ‘topic’ to the next (@lisaburman called it ‘Hit and run’). Effective learning includes sufficient time for reflection, application… and further reflection.

8. Active

Learning is often less effective when the expectation is for learners to listen passively. There need to be active participation and engagement, opportunities to interact, reflect and construct meaning.

9. Enjoyable
(I crowd sourced this one). Teachers like their professional learning to include humour and a sense of fun. It doesn’t need to be a boring chore!

10. Challenging

Professional learning (like any learning) can be messy. There should be tensions to work through and big ideas to connect. It goes beyond solutions and formulae and things to try out tomorrow… which takes us back to where we started!

Of course, all of this applies to any learners, not just teachers. Try replacing the word ‘teachers’ throughout the above post with ‘students’, or simply ‘learners’… which takes me back to a post I wrote a while ago about adult vs child learners. What are your thoughts on that?

What’s been your best professional learning experience? Did it fit the above criteria? What have a I missed?

What kind of leader are you?

Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose.

This is Daniel Pink’s message today about what motivates people.


Dear Principals all over the world,

How do you motivate your staff?

Is there real educational dialogue between you and your teachers? Do you meet with them regularly to share conversation about teaching and learning?

What’s your educational vision? What do you believe about learning? Are you driven by your passion for education? Are all of these evident in the way that you speak and act?

Do you value the perspectives of the people on the ground? Do you pay attention to their opinions and encourage them to act on their beliefs?

Do you know who the real leaders are in your school? Do you encourage their creativity, passion and innovation?

What kind of leader are you?


Understanding learning…

We started the school year at each grade level, with an inquiry (directly or indirectly) into learning. A unit that set the tone for all the coming units. The intention was to focus students’ awareness of themselves as learners and help build learning communities in our classrooms and in our school.

As Dylan William says in the clip below, ‘We can train students to be better observers of their own learning so that they can take ownership of their learning…’

Browsing some of the class blogs, I came across this insightful reflection by Abby in Year 6. With Abby’s permission, I am posting it here to inspire teachers and learners alike…

I have done a lot of learning this term. Every challenge I have faced has improved my learning. Every day I have brought something home with me from what I have done in class and discussed it with my family. My thinking has been deeper and more insightful and I’ve refined my learning routines and now I can put my thinking into words easily and efficiently. I can generalise any learning and reading I do and turn long paragraphs into short sentences.

This year I have a notebook called a bubble catcher. I put my thoughts and ideas into this book and I can refer to it if I need to remember what I’ve learnt. It has been a really good way to think. Whenever I write one idea it makes me think about a new one and I end up filling three or four pages.

I can cooperate with my classmates and act responsibly. I use my initiative and do what is right without being told what to do. I have asked lots of questions and reflected on the answers.

This year, after thinking for a long time and talking to others, I have found something out. Learning never stops. Every idea you get will lead you to something new. You follow the path until you reach yet another idea, one that will teach you a new lesson. You make mistakes, but each mistake is worth it, because you will learn from it.

Choose your own learning…

Who chooses your professional learning?

In our professional learning survey at the end of 2012, the vast majority of staff indicated that they would like to use the coming PD day to work on personal learning choices, individually or in small groups.

The guidelines given to staff across the three campuses of our primary school:

Bear in mind that it is a professional learning  day and hence should not be used for catching up on paper work!

Over to YOU…

  1. Consider your personal learning goals, passions, interests, areas you’d like to strengthen or things you’ve learned but haven’t had time to explore…
  2. Talk to your colleagues (not just your year level teams), Learning Team Leaders, Campus Heads and Coordinators.
  3. Decide on what you think you’d like your focus to be for the day.
  4. Note that you will be asked for your reflections on both process and achievements after the day.
  5. Please fill in this form.
  6. Please indicate if you’d like help forming a group with others who share your interests (cross campus).

Your reflection will include something along these lines.

  • What did you achieve on the day?
  • What did you learn?
  • What surprised you?
  • What are your challenges?
  • How will you continue forward?
  • What did you notice about yourself as a learner?

The plans so far…

  • A couple of teachers have decided to spend the day familiarising themselves and creating movies with iMovie, so that they can use it to capture their students’ learning in a meaningful way
  • A group of teachers will work through Making Thinking Visible, exploring the thinking routines and how to use them to develop a culture of thinking.
  • Several teachers have teamed together to explore ways to use maths manipulatives.
  • One group, comprising a teacher from each year level, will explore educational apps and how they might best support learning across the curriculum.
  • The Prep teachers are exploring Matt Glover’s approach to literacy. They have been reading his books and will use the day to share their learning and consider how to apply it in their classrooms.
  • A couple of teachers have chosen to visit the Apple Shop for one-on-one training with their new iPads.
  • A group of second language teachers will investigate language games that will assist in differentiating learning.

I’m a great fan of the work of Sugata Mitra, regarding self organised learning… for children. It’s quite interesting to note that, given a full day to organise and explore anything they like, there are some teachers who find themselves wondering what to do with their time…

As always, our professional learning day is based on the same learning principles on which we strive to base all teaching and learning in our school. 

Once you’re clear what you believe about learning, it’s easy to build learning opportunities and experiences for learners of all ages.

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, 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 takes place when we feel secure, valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

Given a day like ours, what would you choose to do?