Opportunity for learning…

The children at Matt Glover‘s feet are unsurprisingly engrossed in the conversation. Matt is interesting and funny and he talks to them in an engaging and respectful way.  This is the introduction to a lesson in which he models his approach, observed by teachers inquiring into how to improve the teaching of writing.

What strikes me is that it’s not just about writing workshop. Good practice can be applied across all learning areas….

What if teachers kept all ‘lessons’ to 5 minutes?

What if the learners were quickly released to get on with it?

What if the majority of learning time involved learners engaged in doing?

What if the teacher conferenced with individuals, not to correct, remind or tell, but to teach at point of need?

What if strengths were noticed, named, shared and built upon?

What if children were encouraged to see themselves as ‘insiders’ in the learning process?

What if learners modelled their own creations on authentic examples from the real world?

What if learners were encouraged to imagine and to innovate?

What if learners were encouraged to be the teachers in the room?

What if teachers trusted the learners and the process?

What if learners had agency over their learning?

What if successes were shared and celebrated?

What if classrooms were always filled with ‘real’ learning rather than ‘doing school’?

Should we focus on teaching or learning?

Inquiry happens when you focus on the art of teaching.” Kath Murdoch.

This is an interesting moment in Kath’s conversation with teachers. I lose focus on my note-taking as I pursue this thought… I tend to say ‘focus less on teaching and more on learning’, and here is Kath Murdoch, inquiry guru, expressing what, on the face of it, seems to be just the opposite.

Kath has spent the week with teachers at my school, provoking thinking, that of teachers and students alike, modelling in classrooms and then collaboratively analysing teachers’ observations. The conversations during the week have been as valuable for teachers as the classroom observations, especially the final day reflections, when teachers draw out the big ideas in response to Kath’s question:

What does it mean to have an inquiry stance in our teaching?

After the session, I attempt to categorise the teachers’ ideas under conceptual headings. The more I think about their statements, the more my categories overlap. I consider first Kath’s shared list of inquiry practices and then Ron Ritchhart’s cultural forces. In the end it comes down to a handful of big ideas, for me…

  • Language:  Use a language of learning not compliance. Choose language that supports learners in describing and reflecting on their thinking and learning.
  • Process:  Focus as much on the process of learning as the content. Use split screen teaching. Notice and name how we are learning, not just what we are leaning.
  • Release:  Let go of your expectations and allow students to lead. Ensure the learners do the heavy lifting. Release responsibility as early as possible, then observe where to take the learning next.
  • Teacher as learner:  Position yourself as part of the learning community, not as the expert in the room, both physically and through your interactions. Make your own thinking process visible.
  • Time:   Do less, but do it more deeply. Devote time to developing learning dispositions. Give children time to reflect on how and why they change their ideas or thinking.

But, even as I elaborate on these, I notice they are further interconnected. I keep going back to change and revise them. It’s impossible to separate ‘using the language of learning’ from the notion of ‘teacher as part of the learning community’… or the ‘focus on process’ from the notion of time…

And, in a moment of clarity, I see that Kath and I are talking about the same thing… The ‘art of teaching’ IS knowing how to focus on the learning.

Alignment of practice with beliefs…

A river needs banks to flow. Think of Learning Principles as providing the banks, within which professional prerogative, academic freedom, and teacher creativity can flow.’ Jay McTighe.

It was at a session with McTighe that I was first introduced to the idea of learning principles, an articulated set of shared beliefs about learning, that underpin decisions and practice within a school.

At the time I wondered if we needed such principles. As a PYP school, we already had a framework and a common language. Our school already had a vision and a mission statement. But it turned out to be a vital process with a powerful impact on teaching and learning.  Over time we’ve explored what each principle looks like in practice and we constantly examine the alignment of beliefs with practice. We came to realise that these principles applied just as much to teachers’ learning as to students’. These days we use the learning principles as a springboard for our growth reviews, a non judgemental, coaching based opportunity for teachers to work with a partner from the Teaching and Learning team on developing their practice in line with chosen goals based on our learning principles.

I recently spent an afternoon with a committed and enthusiastic group of teachers at Preshil Primary School working on the first stage of developing their learning principles.

Considering conditions for powerful learning.  Participants shared examples of deep and powerful learning they had experienced or observed with their students and then considered the defining characteristics of such learning. What are the conditions for powerful learning?

Examining learning theories.  They examined a range of learning theories and placed themselves on a continuum for each. To what extent does each of the theories align with what you believe about learning?

Writing belief statements about learning. Individuals wrote their own belief statements then shared, refined and prioritised them in groups. What do you believe about how children learn best?

Evaluating belief statements. The whole group examined, sorted and evaluated the statements. Which beliefs align most closely with yours? Which would you like to see included in your school’s learning principles?

Next steps…

  • Refining and finalising the learning principles.
  • Unpacking what they might look like in practice.
  • Examining alignment of beliefs with practice.

I look forward to hearing how things unfold!

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Self challenge: A post a day for a week. #3

An effective model of professional learning…

Joining the cohort of teachers learning with @langwitches last week, when I could, I found them highly engaged and involved in their own learning. The approach was different from the last time Silvia visited our school. This time she worked with a group of teachers, each of whom elected to participate, a diverse group with varying needs and different entry points. This proved to be a successful model of professional learning that aligns with our learning principles, a set of beliefs about learning that apply as much to teachers as to students.

Despite (because of?) the diversity within the group,  a high level of trust and collaboration were evident. Teachers had ownership of what and how they explored and Silvia stressed that this was about being self-directed, self-motivated learners. New skills were mastered within a context and there were opportunities to apply them purposefully and reflect on how they will be transferred.

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The evidence is visible in more than a dozen personal blog posts on our collaborative blog, many by teachers who rarely write about their learning, most by teachers who have never blogged before, all sharing thoughtful documentation of, for and as earning. Take a look at a few examples…

Am I literate? by Lesley

Help! I’m a digital citizen by Limor

Global literacy is a highway by Lauri

I’m on my way… by Nicole

Sharing my learning leads to learning from and with others by Linda

And some tweets that sum up the learning…

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A different workshop…

These are a few of the delightful children with whom I regularly interact via Skype from Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan, an unusually egalitarian school in Phaltan, Maharashtra in India…

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It’s my first time visiting KNB and I’m excited to meet ‘my kids’ in person, but before the school year starts, the teachers gather for some of their own learning. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead a workshop here and share learning with this dedicated group. It will be an introduction to the ideas of Ron Ritchhart and Visible Thinking, something completely new for them.

I head into the session far more nervously than usual, uncertain what to expect in terms of their level of English and their openness to different ways of thinking… but mostly concerned that, without being able to understand their conversations,  I might not get a sense of what connections to help them make, how to shift thinking forward or what to reinforce.

My fears turn out to be unfounded. There is enough English in the room for mutual understanding, be it via valiant attempts at self expression, translation by those who do speak English or facial expressions and body language.

There are so many things that make this a unique and special experience for me…

I love the way most of those speaking in Marathi still make eye contact with me (not the person translating), and I can sense the passion as they talk about their school, even if I don’t understand the words.

I like the fact that a small sprinkling of English words in the midst of the Marathi, along with intonation and facial expression, are often enough for me to get the gist of what they are saying.

I’m delighted by the fact that when I am talking, even though I know they are concentrating hard to understand me, I can see the light dancing in their eyes, because they are excited by the ideas I am sharing.

I love the warmth with which they welcome me, their obvious desire to learn, as well as their pride in their school and everything it stands for.

I’m humbled by the opportunity to share learning in a context so different from the well resourced schools at which I usually work and to observe first hand that the most important resources are not ones that money can buy.

I note with interest that in this outwardly simple seeming, rural school, powerful beliefs, not just about learning but about humanity underpin every single thoughtful thing that happens. (Read more about it here)

I remind myself again that, even at my age, after so many years of experience, there is always so much to learn…

Tomorrow I meet ‘my kids’!

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My first experience of a thinking routine in Marathi!

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Focusing on ownership of learning…

Day 1 of the new school year had a hundred and twenty teachers gathered in one place to think about student ownership! What could be better?

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In cross campus, mixed role groups, teachers took turns to talk about something they had learned during the holidays and how they had learned it. Conversations were varied and animated, as experiences and reflections were shared between people who don’t usually work (or play) together. *Imagine doing this as a whole year level or cross grade exercise…

Our 2016 focus was introduced: Increase opportunities for ownership of learning.

Teachers were asked to ponder the question – ‘What does student ownership of learning look like’? *Imagine doing this in your classroom…

  • READ a blog post. 
  • SHARE something you read relating to student ownership of learning.
  • DISCUSS which of our learning principles it connects to.
  • CREATE a poster about ownership of learning.

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How can we set a tone from Day 1 to give the message that we value student ownership? *Imagine asking your students this question…

Having considered the ‘what’, the teachers now explored the ‘how’, using Ron Ritchhart’s 8 cultural forces as a scaffold:

  • Time
  • Opportunities
  • Routines/ Structures
  • Language
  • Modelling
  • Interactions/Relationships
  • Physical environment
  • Expectations

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Looking forward to an exciting year of increased ownership of learning for teachers and students alike.

** Join us to unleash the learning in March at Unleashing Learning!

 

A (massive) collaborative curriculum review…

How (and why?!) would we involve over a hundred teachers in a curriculum review? What could we hope to achieve? Wouldn’t it be easier to have a small focus group reviewing our PYP program of inquiry?  How could we make this IB requirement into a meaningful learning exercise? How would we make it a valuable experience for all staff?

According to feedback from staff, we certainly achieved our goals last Monday, despite our reservations…

Inspiration:

Objectives:

  • To gain an overview of the big picture of the whole school Program of Inquiry and see how it works.
  • To interact with different people, across campuses, across disciplines, and engage in educational dialogue.
  • To share observations and questions that might assist in tightening the Program of Inquiry.

Group roles: (A choice of the following)

  • Facilitator – Facilitate the discussion, making sure everyone in the group has a voice.
  • Recorder #1 – Record big ideas and important thinking on your group’s Google doc.
  • Recorder #2 – Record questions and wonderings.
  • Tweeter – Tweet key ideas as the discussion unfolds.
  • Back Channeller – Share and discuss with other groups via the back channel in TodaysMeet
  • Time keeper – Keep an eye on the time to make sure tasks are accomplished.
  • Observer – Observe and record what you notice about the how the group collaborates.
  • Spy – Visit other groups to hear their conversation and get ideas.

Tasks:

  • See Think Wonder – Get a sense of the big picture of the POI.
    • What do you notice?
    • What are your initial thoughts, overall?
    • What are you wondering?
  • Horizontal review – Check the units across one year level (not your own).
    • Will the unit invite student inquiry?
    • Will it be globally significant addressing the commonalities of human experience?
    • Will there be opportunities to develop understanding through multiple perspectives?
    • And several other questions from the IB guide.
  • Vertical review – Check the units from K-6 through one trans-disciplinary theme
    • Are all aspects of the trans-disciplinary themes explored at some point in the programme of inquiry?
    • Will the units in this theme challenge and extend students’ understanding?
    • Is there is a balance of key concepts used throughout this trans-disciplinary theme.
    • And several other questions from the IB guide.
  • Personal reflection – Add your thoughts via the Google survey.
    • Place yourself on a scale of 1-10 to represent your knowledge and understanding of the whole school program of inquiry.
    • Sum up your overall understanding of the POI in one sentence.
    • What does the POI have to do with YOU?
    • What did you notice about yourself as a learner during the session?

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Comments from some of the participants:

  • There is always more to learn and collaboration is crucial.
  • I was able to gain more of an understanding through the discussion and asking challenging questions helped us dig deeper into the POI.
  • I was part of a temporary community of learners and we went on a journey together.
  • I felt supported and it felt good that my ideas were included although I know very little about PYP.
  • I noticed that I’m still a learner – I was able to expand my thinking and to look at the POI from a learner’s point of view and not just from my subject area.
  • It helped me feel part of a bigger thing and that I’m not alone in my line of thoughts.
  • I feel more confident to express my views and listen to others in an open-minded manner.
  • It was great to realise how my learning continues to grow and I could make a contribution even though my area of teaching isn’t mainstream.
  • I can ask too many questions and I love critically analysing things but it can be irritating for others.
  • I was able to discuss and share concerns with my colleagues and discovered that colleagues had similar concerns.
  • Having a clear role to play supported my active participation.
  • I noticed how valuable it is to work collaboratively with people across different teaching areas. The different perspectives were really fascinating.
  • As a facilitator I noticed myself being a much better listener. I asked questions to keep the the conversation flowing and invited everyone to share their thinking.

Observations:

  • Great to see the entire teaching community actively engaged in educational dialogue.
  • Everyone has something to contribute. Fresh perspectives can be valuable.
  • Teachers appreciate protected time for collaborative discussion, exchange of learning and airing concerns.

Conclusion:

It’s valuable to see everything as an opportunity for learning!

Back Channelling in the classroom…

Does ‘the research’ know best?

“I think that enough research has been done on the delusion of multi-tasking to say, yes, do all the back channel stuff, but perhaps leave it to afterwards?” … This is part of a comment left on my previous post, in which I introduced the notion of back channeling as a form of documenting for learning.

Perhaps it’s a skill one can develop with practice, since many are able to do it successfully.

Or perhaps it’s best seen as part of a collaborative exercise. Different people capture different elements in the back channel and the combined results are greater than what you could have achieved on your own.

Or perhaps it’s simply not for everyone.

One size does not fit all

The comment writer says  “I take copious notes during presentations and then go back to blog on them, however I’ve tried at times to do the twitter backchat thing and find I can either listen properly or tweet, but not both.”

It’s the opposite for me. Personally, taking copious notes is what distracts me from the content. Distilling the essence in tweets works better for me. One size does not fit all… nor should it. Not in life and not in the classroom.

Which is why @langwitches introduces teachers to a range of different options in her presentation. And it’s why she introduces the students to a range of options in the lessons she models throughout the week.

Back Channel in the classroom

‘The back channel is the conversation that happens behind the real life front conversation,” says Silvia by way of introduction to Today’s Meet, which the students will use to document their thinking during this particular lesson. ‘You’re going to have your own chat room.’ The students are instantly engaged!

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It takes a bit of time for them to get used to watching a video and expressing their thoughts in the back channel simultaneously. Some find it easier than others, but that’s ok. They are all learning to use the tool today. Once mastered, it can be just another option in their tool boxes (and that of their teacher) to add a layer to the learning, used by those for whom it’s useful at appropriate times.

After a while, Silvia switches to the ‘front channel’ to discuss what’s going on in the back channel. When a student writes something inappropriate, it’s a ‘teachable moment’ and she happily takes the opportunity to talk about audience and purpose.  Hopefully, lessons are learned. She skims through the comments with the students, highlighting valuable contributions, listening to their observations and pointing out good techniques, like inserting an @ when replying to an individual. Silvia points out that the teachers observing in the room are learning too.

The learners are practising a range of transferable skills – reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking, analysing, applying, interpreting data, decision making, evaluating…

Students comment ON the back channel IN the back channel:

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How might you use the back channel in future?

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 2.44.25 pmAnd some other ideas…How about sharing a back channel with another class in our school for a discussion?  Or a class in another country – synchronously or asynchronously? What if teachers shared their learning with their class while they are out at professional development? As Silvia says ‘It starts with imagination… ‘

The back channel as a source of data

Silvia meets with the teachers later to unpack the back channel. The process involves pasting the transcript into a google doc and ‘cleaning it up’. Any irrelevant comments (lots of ‘hi’s’ and ‘sups’ to begin with) are removed. Misconceptions are noted for addressing. She shows the teachers how to use Skitch to annotate a screenshot of the remaining conversation with different colours representing different kinds of observations.

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Some students were able to repeat points they heard in the video, some asked and responded to questions, some connected ideas and demonstrated original thinking. It’s a rich source of data to inform teaching and learning and a way to assess a range of skills.

Documenting OF and FOR learning

And all the while, we are documenting the learning, that of the students and that of the teachers, through photos, video, annotations and notes…

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and via ‘that’ Twitter back channel…

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What are your thoughts on back channelling?

#2 in a series on learning with @langwitches

Learning with @langwitches…

‘The back channel is the conversation that happens behind the real life front conversation.’

love the way @langwitches explains this to the children, even though the back channel is as much real life for me as the front conversation!

On her first day working with teachers, a full day, full on workshop which blows minds – some love it, others are overwhelmed – Silvia introduces several back channels at once. Participants are encouraged to use Today’s Meet and/or Twitter and volunteers take collaborative notes in a Google doc

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The goals are multi-layered – 

  • Understanding NOW literacies.
  • Global sharing. 
  • Documenting for learning.
  • Exposure to new tools and new ways of thinking.
  • Connecting to our whole school goal of using data to inform learning (that of the teachers, as much as the students).

The rest of the week consists of intense learning in our upper primary school, with and from Silvia – in classrooms, in small groups and individually. Teams meet with Silvia to talk, listen, choose and plan before she models in the classrooms. They meet again to debrief and yet again to reflect after they have experimented for themselves.

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Teachers are the documenters of and for learning. We’re watching, listening and gathering data to inform future learning… of the teachers, as much as of the students.

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It’s a meaningful model of professional learning:

  • Extended over an entire week, with time for experimentation and reflection.
  • Something for everyone.
  • Tailored to our needs and goals.
  • Big picture then zooming in to the details.
  • Responsive, rather than pre planned and packaged.
  • Thought provoking and challenging.
  • Inquiry driven.
  • Personalised.
  • Change making.

Back to the back channel…

I’m a back chaneller by nature. I like to talk to construct meaning. I interrupt. I blog in my head, as I  distil the essence of learning experiences. And I tweet…

So from Day 1, I document the learning, via several back channels at once. I observe Silvia’s ‘front conversations’ – with teachers, with students, with teams – and I try to listen more than I talk. I have ‘back conversations’ in my head and with others. I join the Today’s Meets. And I tweet…

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I curate stories of documentation via Storify.

I encourage teachers to blog and I join the conversation via comments.

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And then, I blog!

More soon…