Tea circle…

We sit around a table, drinking tea in a relaxed manner, engaging in meaningful conversation about learning and life.

I am participating in my first ‘tea circle’ with a group of 12 year olds and it feels much more like a ‘real life’ experience than like ‘doing school’. Once they are over the initial novelty of the situation, they relax into the conversation, listen and respond to each other naturally and build on each other’s contributions. They talk about what they have learned and how they have grown this year and no-one mentions anything related to content or traditional school subjects.

  • I’ve learned to listen to other perspectives… to be open to adapting my ideas based on input from others. (Leo)
  • I really understand people better now, because I think about where they are coming from (Amelia)
  • I’ve learned to dig deeper and find the roots of an inquiry. (Rosa)
  • It’s like an iceberg, you need to be open to the ideas and perspectives that are below the surface. (Eiden)
  • I’ve learned to be comfortable in the learning pit, what to do when I’m stuck and how to overcome challenges (Amalia)
  • It’s a pity that the lesson sometimes ends while you are still in the learning pit and you have to go to another class. It makes you lose flow.
  • I think it would be helpful to learn in mixed age groups, especially for something like art, where you can be inspired by people of any age.
  • I’ve learned to take responsibility for my own learning. The teachers trust us in Year 6 (Romy)
  • I think teachers would always trust us, but it’s up to you to earn trust; some people cause loss of trust for others. (Eiden)
  • We need to be role models for younger students. I’ve learned about leadership. (Eden)
  • The way we learn is different this year, it’s less about content and more about understanding ourselves and others. (Amalia)
  • The focus is on the explanation, on our thinking… on process. (Rosa)
  • For this kind of learning you need self management skills, like organising your time and interacting with others. (Leo)
  • If this kind of learning started earlier in our schooling, it would become a norm… (Amelia)

I find myself wondering why we don’t invite learners to the table (literally) more often, as individuals and as equals, rather than as students, to share conversation, stories and insights and to learn from each other.

Learners on learning…

Teaching can be tough. There are days when dealing with difficult situations, students or parents can feel unrewarding and you might feel unappreciated, disappointed or overwhelmed.

Listening in on Year 6 students reflecting on their learning with an outsider (a researcher exploring the PYP enhancements for the IB), I was impressed by the extent to which they understand the learning process and can articulate their understanding. Teachers, they are a credit to you.

When asked if they have agency, they said they didn’t know what that meant. But here are some of their thoughts about their learning…

  • Our learning is like a ‘choose your own adventure’. We have control over how we learn and that makes us more invested.
  • The attitudes we demonstrate show who we are and what we care about. We talk a lot about what dispositions we need and which ones we need to work on.
  • There is leashed and unleashed learning, like Studio Time, where we choose what we want to inquire into and how. There is no point everyone just learning the same thing. The way we learn encourages individuality and authenticity.
  • Inclusion is a big focus this year. It’s about not leaving people out and we have tried to make friends outside our usual friendship groups.
  • Assessment is how the teachers know what we need and how they can help us. Everything is assessment, we don’t always notice when they are assessing us. Teachers are with us all the time, they don’t need tests to know where we are at.

I know there are times when you wonder if it’s all worth it. Based on the thoughtful comments of these 12 year olds, I can assure you that it is.

10 ways to make learning meaningful…

Whether your students are completing assignments, inquiring into areas of their interest, covering curriculum or exploring their passions, to what extent does it feel (to you, as much as to them) as if they are simply complying and ‘doing school’?

How can we extend learning ‘beyond the project’ and ensure it’s a powerful learning experience, rather than a task for school? (Hint: the answer does not lie in assessment criteria, rubrics or grades.)

1. Do you LISTEN more than you talk?

2. Are the learners really inquiring, in the broadest sense of the word?

Look at the description of inquiry from Making the PYP Happen. Are they doing most of these things? Or just researching?

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways.

3. Will this inquiry be worthwhile? Will the learners experience challenges and figure out how to overcome them?

Support them in feeling comfortable in the ‘learning pit’?

4. Is the inquiry concept driven? Are the learners doing more than just finding facts and information?

  • Are they exploring and developing an understanding of big conceptual ideas.  
  • Are they looking through the lens of one or more key concepts?
  • Can they identify big ideas and apply them in other contexts?
  • Can they articulate conceptual understandings developed along the way?

5.  Do the learners have ownership? Will this inquiry help them grow, not just in knowledge of content, but as learners?

Some questions to support their ongoing reflection:

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6. Are the learners thinking critically and creatively about the content they explore?

A variety of less common thinking routines that can extend their thinking:

Think Puzzle Explore
Circle of viewpoints
Generate Sort Connect Elaborate
Tug for Truth
Parts Purposes and Complexities
People Parts Interactions
Think Feel Care
Imagine if…

7. Are the learners able to think about how their inquiries impact on other people? Will they be motivated to take action?

8. Will they explore ways of extending the learning beyond the classroom?

  • Look for opportunities for collaboration across the year level.
  • Extend it to other year levels. (Can older learners create for an audience in lower grades? Can learners seek feedback or support from another class or year level?)
  • Encourage interactions with primary sources within and outside outside of school.
  • Use your network and theirs to help extend the learning to the broader community and the world.
  • Use Google docs, Twitter and blog posts to reach out globally. (click links for examples)
  • Connect with experts face to face or via Skype. (eg Skype in the Classroom)

9. Will there be opportunities to identify problems and issues and develop solutions?

For some learners, the design thinking process might be useful:

10. Will learners have opportunities to express their  learning meaningfully and creatively?

How will learners present, represent and/or share their learning? Will they choose to express their learning through a creative medium such as art or film? Will they paint or sculpt? Will they write poetry? Set it to music? Do an expressive dance? Create a stop motion animation? Build a model? Develop an app? Design a website? Write a book? Organise a debate? Start a blog? Make a speech? Create a campaign? Lead a workshop? 

Will they do, say, think, feel, want… or be something different as a result of this learning? 

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?

Can you hear the learner’s voice?

Do conventional report cards give parents a true description of a child’s learning? If not, what would improve them?

This was the driving question behind yesterday’s #edchat conversation. I assume that ‘conventional report cards’ vary in different educational contexts around the globe. And I’m sure they have much in common in the attempt to reduce the exciting, messy, complex process of learning to something tiny and uniform that fits into an envelope.

Report card

Can you hear the learner’s voice in your reports?

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that teachers can ’cause learning without the student’s help,’ as Dylan William says in this great little clip about metacognition. 


The most telling part of my school’s reports is the student reflection. It reveals a great deal, not just about the learner but  about how the learning takes place…

Some snippets from our current Year 5 and 6 report reflections:

Compare these, which focus on ‘work’ and ‘results’…

‘I worked really hard… and in the end it all paid off because I got an A.’

‘I have improved immensely in spelling. I got 41 out of 50 however, I still think there is room for improvement.’

‘In maths I don’t think I am living up to my potential, as I am not getting the results I would have liked to.’

‘I think I need to work on listening to instructions more carefully.’

… to these, which focus on learning…

‘This year I have extended my knowledge, matured and have shown that I can overcome anything if I really focus and concentrate on all the obstacles that are in the way of my destination – succeeding and doing my utmost. I think that I am a curious and open minded learner. ‘

‘In Inquiry, I’m like someone running and picking up speed and momentum. Last year, finding a big question was so baffling but now it’s simple. These last three inquiries have been so absorbing, I have been like a sponge waiting for more knowledge to absorb into my brain.’

‘Throughout primary school you do units of inquiry. At the beginning of this semester, I thought that I was locating facts and presenting them. In this semester, I have learned not just facts but deeper understandings and meanings. I have also improved my creativity in linking ideas in units of inquiry’.

‘I have learnt many skills about writing speeches and how they are not just a read-out narrative, how to raise my voice when talking about something important, speak in a different tone or to move my hands in certain way to get people’s attention. I still think I need to improve on my writing skills and how to convert thoughts into words and get them on the paper.’

Can you hear the learner’s voice?

Related post: 10 ways to encourage student reflection

10 20 ways to think about your class blog…

One of the ways I like to encourage learning based on my school’s learning principles is to promote the use of class blogs. In the lower primary years, the blogs are often used to communicate with parents and to share the learning that takes place at school. As we move higher up in the school though, the class blog has the potential to be so much more than that.

I’ve written about class blogs several times in the past, but my thinking  has changed as I have watched the blogging experience unfold at my school. I have seen even the most motivated teachers become disappointed by the lack of student interest, poor response from parents and the absence of the anticipated authentic audience.

A great post this week by Andrea Hernandez, entitled Where is the Authentic Audience? got me (re) thinking. And another thought-provoking post by Kath Murdoch exploring what inquiry learning is NOT, as a way to understand what it IS, inspired me to consider class blogs in the same way.

I think that a class blog is not (just)…

  • A  place to post questions, worksheet style, with an expectation that all students will respond.
  • A space for teachers  to assess and comment publicly on students’ writing.
  • A sort of online vacuum, into which students’ writing is sucked, never to be seen by anyone.
  • A compulsory homework assignment.
  • Something managed entirely by the teacher, who makes all the decisions as to what will be posted and when.
  • An occasionally used alternative to writing on paper.

(With apologies if you use your blog successfully in some or all of these ways!)

Some questions to consider…

1. Do you teach students how to write meaningful comments that promote conversation?

2. Do you set aside time every day to check  for new comments and  discuss the comments that come in?

3. Do you encourage your students to respond to each other and whoever else comments?

4. Does your blogroll include other class blogs within your own school and are your students actively engaging with these?

5. Do you encourage your students to comment on class blogs at schools in your own and other parts of the world?

6. Have you and your students considered ways to involve their grandparents and retired people they know as a potential audience?

7. Do your students have ownership of the layout and theme of your class blog?

8. Do you frequently discuss the potential  audience and purpose of blog posts?

9. Do you model good writing for your students by blogging yourself? ( A collective in-school blog doesn’t require a great time commitment).

10. Do you regularly read and comment on other teachers’ blogs and discuss your learning with your students?

11. Do you encourage students to take photographs of great learning experiences and share their reflections with the world?

12. Do you have a visitors map or a flag counter and check them every day with your class to see who has visited and where they are in the world?

13. Have you considered a class Twitter account to share learning and tweet your posts to other classes?

14. Have you thought about blogging as authentic writing, rather than another separate thing you have to fit in?

15. Do your students choose where to post their writing and thinking, with the blog as just one option?

16. Have you exposed your students to great blogs (not just class ones) so that they can discover what makes a blog appealing and interesting?

17. Have you helped your students see how blogging is different from other writing? Can they drill down to the essence of something, add images and use  hyperlinks?

18. Do your students see the blog as an additional place to share and provoke thinking, and to make thinking visible?

19. Is your blog a place to continue the learning conversation from school to home and back?

20. Are you working on building a learning community which includes yourself, students, parents and other learners in your school and the world?

A different kind of conference…

There are 44,500 people under 25 homeless every night in Australia. A few years ago, Bianca was one of them. Now she is working in her dream job, helping homeless youth.

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Mike is a basketball coach who works with disabled and disadvantaged kids in the Helping Hoops Program, which helps build confidence, teaches respect and trust, promotes social inclusion and develops teamwork skills.

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A huge amount of fresh food goes to waste every day and yet many people cannot afford enough food to eat – especially healthy fresh food. Sarah works for SecondBite, who redistribute fresh food to ensure that people who are homeless or living in poverty get fresh food every day.

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In many places, girls don’t go to school, missing out on important opportunities to escape poverty. But girls are the solution to problems too. Through her work at CARE Australia, Lyrian works to help women and girls lift themselves, and their families, out of poverty.

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These and a dozen other speakers will present interactive sessions to ninety Year 6 students this week at our Equity Conference. This is the second year, we have arranged this very different way for our students to learn and it’s exciting to plan better learning opportunities each time. The idea developed last year from an idle thought first into a plan and then into a powerful learning experience.

The conference is the start of our Year 6 PYP Exhibition unit.

The central idea: ‘Developing awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act’. Students will spend the next two months inquiring into this conceptual idea. It will provide the context within which they will find something they care deeply about to explore, culminating in the exhibition, where they will share their learning with parents and guests.

The aims of the conference:

  • To expose learners to all kinds of  issues of ‘inequity’ and to provoke thinking on a range of related issues.
  • To provide the opportunity to hear from people who have worked in areas that are taking action to right inequities.
  • To help students develop convictions about what is right, what is wrong, and what needs to change.

In between sessions, students will gather in small groups to process and reflect on what they have heard and experienced. They will be encouraged to ask themselves: What does it make me feel? What does it make me wonder? What does it make me wish? What do I believe about this?  They will share their thinking with their groups and consider each of the issues in terms of the concentric circles modelDoes this relate to the world? The local community? My family? How might it connect to me?

At the end of the day, there will be an opportunity for students to express their feelings in any way they like. Stations will include a graffiti wall, art materials, tools for oral, written or video reflection… and learners will be free to choose one or more media through which to express themselves.

The day will embody all our learning principles and promote all the attributes of the IB learner profile.

And it’s only the beginning of the learning…

10 reasons students should blog…

… and they all come from 12 year olds!

1. I think the blog has turned me into a global learner, who loves to share their learning and opinion. The disadvantage is that sometimes the blog deletes your post. The advantages are endless. You can share a video, picture and writing. I think my learning has improved from the blog because it has made me a enthusiastic learner. Its great that anyone in the world can access and comment on OUR blog. I hope to create my own blog sometime in the future. (Emily)

2.  I have learnt a huge amount of information from looking at others’ thinking and asking questions. You can post videos, texts, images, google maps, any embed things and links. One thing that really gave me information about the world was a voice thread that I set up about education around the world and after a few days comments were just flying in. I got comments from nearly every continent. This shows that the blog is wide open which is great. (Leor)

3. I think that the blog is great because we get to be a big community of learners and share with people from around the world and it’s like exchanging learning. We learn from people and people learn from us. The advantages were sharing learning with the class more… and we could have a conversation about learning. (Ieva)

4. By being able to look at other people’s learning and learn from theirs… I am more clear on what I have to do sometimes and I can get ideas from others. I also enjoy the blog because I am able to get feedback on what I do from people all over the world and improve myself to make things perfect. (Cassie)

5. I think that it’s a great tool for learning and communicating! It has many advantages like you can access it from anywhere school, home etc. also people from other countries can comment on our learning and tell us their opinion and we can learn about their country by commenting back and asking about it. We can share our learning with each other, the rest of the school and anyone from any other country. (Alicia)

6.  As a learner I think the blog is great , you can put so much effort into something and not only your friends and family can see it but the world, you can learn so many new facts from the public. The blog is like a room with different people in it. I have created my own blog and I think its great because it’s what I have to say and people all over the world can help me discover more. (Justin)

7.  At the start of the year I wasn’t very sure about using the blog and I wasn’t quite sure how to write a good post. Since then I have learnt all the skills and techniques to make a good post/comment. I am now very confident with using the blog. Looking through all my blog posts it shows how far I have come and towards the end how much better all my blog posts are. (Lexie)

8. It helped me as a thinker because when you look at other people’s posts on sometimes the same thing, they could be very different and it could change your thinking too. Because you realize the other side of what you are thinking. My comments now are very different to the start of the year because now I am thinking as a learner, but before I was more thinking about being a worker at school. This helps a lot because you want to get something out of what you do – that is what a learner does, a worker does it to get it done. (Josh)

9. Using the blog as at tool, has extended my thinking is so many ways. It has helped me communicate with people all around the world and get to know about them a bit better. The advantages of being on the blog, is learning about different people and seeing what other people post on the blog to compare! (Amy)

10. Using the blog as a tool has really helped me with all my learning because people comment from all over the world and are able to see what we are learning about. When they comment we can use that information for our inquiry. The blog has helped me as a learner because you get everyone’s opinion from around the world and you learn a heap. (Jay)