My Case for Change

Today I was fortunate to attend one of AITSL’s Learning Frontiers Design Principles workshops facilitated by Summer Howarth (AITSL) and David Price (Innovation Unit – UK). The focus of the Learning Frontiers initiative is to bring schools, educators and other stake holders together to look at ways to increase student engagement.

It is disappointing to  hear statistics of high student disengagement and un-engagement. Australian research has found:

More of the statistics shared can be found via the online version of the design principles workshop here: 

Learning Frontiers Design Principles Workshop

Schools need to provide and education that prepares students to be problem solvers, responsible global citizens and effective communicators while cultivating a love of learning. (This list is by no means exhaustive – just a few things I was thinking about today.) If students are disengaged at school, research has shown that they are limiting their future success.

Solving the problem of disengagement is a daunting task; however as my group discussed today, we don’t have to know where the journey will end before we set off. In working together to improve the situation educators, as well as students, will be learning. As educators deeply engage in the learning journey new possibilities will be created and this is something I am excited about.

What do we want to see in our classrooms?

This year, Temple Christian College is celebrating 30 years and today, at our annual team building day, we took some time to celebrate our school community, where we have been and where we are going.

A highlight for me was conversing with staff, both teaching and non-teaching, about their motivations for working in schools. It was wonderful to hear teachers speak passionately about their subject areas and their desire to help students fulfil their potential, even after they leave school.

After sharing personal motivations for teaching, discussion moved to looking at successful and rewarding teaching episodes. As a school, we are in the process of developing a school wide pedagogy that lines up with our vision, mission and values. After sharing classroom experiences my group prioritised the practices listed below as the ones they wanted to see in every classroom:

Authentic – relating to each other genuinely and creating learning tasks that have real world application beyond the classroom walls.

Passionate – seeing teachers passionate about learning and passing the passion on to the students, evidenced by active and engaged learning in the classroom.

Inspiring – ‘sowing seeds‘ in students that will stay with them beyond the classroom motivating them to reach their full potential.

Challenging – encouraging students to wrestle with and enjoy the challenges of learning, not simply focus on the grade or reward at the end.

God honouring – as a Christian school we want our students to honour God in all things they do, both in and out of the classroom.

Caring – we talked a lot about valuing EVERY student and ensuring we were creating a safe and secure environment in our classrooms where everyone felt loved and accepted.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the other groups came up with and future conversations  about what we want our classrooms to look like at Temple Christian College. I feel privileged to work in such a supportive  school community and look forward to us growing professionally, spiritually and personally together.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TEMPLE CHRISTIAN COLLEGE!

CSA Conference 2013: Reflecting & Connecting

The CSA SA Conference provided a reflective and challenging start to term 3. It is always encouraging to be reminded that teachers can make a significant difference in the lives of students. There is so much more to education than simply the transfer of knowledge.

I love this clip shared by one of the speakers, Andrew Dwight.

When you keep doing things the same way you will get the same results. It reminded me of the importance of looking for creative solutions to engage all students in learning.

The conference also provided a new experience for me. I led two workshops introducing teachers to the power of social media as a professional learning tool. I am by no means an expert; however I shared my experience since coming to this realisation myself in November last year. Hopefully some of the teachers who attended the session will have found a new way to make professional connections. Here’s the link to the Prezi used in the sessions: The Connected Educator.

Questions+Thinking+Curiosity=Engagement and Active Learning

Recently, I read the book ‘Making Thinking Visible’ (Ritchhart, Church and Morrison, 2011) and it challenged me to awaken curiosity in the students I teach about the world around them.

“when our curiosity is sparked and we have a desire to know and learn something, our engagement is heightened” (Ritchhart, Church and Morrison, 2011, pg. 13)

Curiosity and greater engagement will result in active learning. When students are actively engaged in their learning, learning outcomes are improved.

(http://mathsimulationtechnology.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/active-learning-passive-teaching/)

Active learners remember more of what they have learnt as well as developing higher order thinking skills.

So, what am I doing to increase active learning in my classroom? The first was to find out the kind of learners in the classroom.  There was one student in the class who believed he “didn’t like learning”; it is a shame to think that his school experience has led him to this belief.  His contributions to class discussions contradict his view therefore I think he was trying to articulate that he doesn’t enjoy copying notes from the board and not having a voice in his learning. Following this realisation I have tried to incorporate language in the classroom that encourages the students to see themselves as learners. This is something I will continue to do as I believe it is imperative for students to see themselves as learners to move from passive to active learning. It is my opinion that passive engagement is a result of compliance. To achieve active engagement students need to see themselves as learners and be enthusiastic participants in their learning.

I am also using facilitative questions as the basis for the explicit teaching, to get students thinking about what they are learning.  I want to “..switch[ing] the paradigm of teaching from trying to transmit what is in our heads to our students and toward trying to get what is in students’ heads into our own so that we can provide responsive instruction that will advance learning.” (Ritchhart, Church & Morrison, 2011, pg 35)

Finally, I encourage the students to ask the questions. What is it they want to learn about the topic? I hope that an increase in active learning will spark questions from an intrinsic curiosity so that students are motivated to pursue the answers for themselves, rather than waiting to be told what to do, when to do it and where to find the answer.

 

 

Never Work Harder Than Your Students – A book by Robyn R Jackson

I was given an excerpt from Robyn R Jackson’s book Never Work Harder Than Your Students. I must admit I was intrigued by the title. At times, I’m sure most educators feel they are indeed working harder than their students. Jackson makes some wonderful suggestions that I thought I’d try out with one of my classes today.

Last week my class went to the River Torrens and did some water testing. We tested for phosphates, nitrates, salinity, aquatic insects, turbidity and the acidity of the water. I had a feeling that although the class carried out the testing well they did not understand what they were testing for, why they were testing for it and what their results could tell them about the overall health of the river.

Jackson suggests that rather than giving the students the information teachers should pose questions to guide the student learning. This I did well. The class worked in groups of 2 or 3 to define their nutrient; how the nutrients presence impacts on water quality and what their results tell them about the health of the River Torrens.

The students all have laptops, so I asked them to research their topic to report back to the class in 10 to 15 minutes. While some students did this well, others were unable to locate a good source to answer their questions.

In hindsight I realise that I assumed students would know how to narrow down their search to find the appropriate information; however it became evident that this was not the case. Although some students were able to complete the task successfully others were lost. Perhaps this is because I (and many other teachers) don’t often give the students the questions. Instead we tell the students the answers leaving them unable to find the answers for themselves.

There is a quote in the reading that I particularly love ‘Learning is a messy process and we cannot control it. Sometimes we have to let it get messy….’ Today’s lesson would have been a lot neater if had I simply lectured the students about the information I wanted them to have; however I am hopeful those students who successfully sought out the answers for themselves will have engaged with their learning more actively, giving them a more meaningful learning experience, than if they had simply listened to what I had told them.

Next time I try an activity like this I will give the students more guidance and model strategies they can use if they are not getting the desired results. I will need to be careful how I do this as I don’t want to merely give the students the answer but aid their search for it so that they find out the answers for themselves.

I believe that teacher directed instruction is still necessar at times; however as I plan for future classes I will be looking for ways I can ask more questions and encourage my students to ask questions too.

Aspirations & Differentiation

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” Louisa May Alcott (American novelist)

Over the past year I have become somewhat of an idealist in what I want my classroom to look like. I ‘aspire’ to see all students excited about, and actively engaged in their learning. I realise that it is highly unlikely for this to be achieved 100% of the time; however I believe this needs to be the goal of every teacher. As I have reflected on my classes I realise that I can do more to pursue my ‘aspirations’ to improve learning outcomes for my students.

To help ensure that my learning tasks are meeting the needs of my students, I surveyed the students to identify their learning styles. I’m not sure why I haven’t done this before! Now that I know how my students prefer to learn I am going to plan tasks with this in mind.

In addition to this, I have also been doing some research on the differentiated classroom. I’m excited to apply what I have learnt when planning my lessons for next term. Tomlinson states that ‘ student differences do matter and quality teaching makes room for these differences.’ (Tomlinson, 2010. Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom) I want to be a quality teacher therefore I cannot  ignore the different learning needs of my students. I plan to use a variety of differentiation strategies, including learning style, interest and ability.

Throughout this process my students will not be the only ones who are learning. I’m looking forward to learning more about myself as a teacher and the teaching craft. Reflection will be an important part of the learning process for both me and the students. I will seek regular feedback from my classes, reflect on this, and allow it to shape my actions in the classroom.

Over the coming weeks, as I follow my aspirations, I hope to see greater engagement and enjoyment from my students as we learn together.

Two Things: Grades & Reflection

This week I returned to being a student, beginning my Masters of Education at Flinders University. So far, it has been a great experience. There are a number of points I have been reflecting on following my first class and here are some of my thoughts.

Firstly, I was reminded of the pressure we inadvertently place on our students in the learning process by grading their work. On hearing about the assignments that need to be completed for the course, my mind immediately went to the grades I hope to achieve. I realised this is often what students experience in the classroom. While achieving good grades is not a bad thing, it is not the primary motivation I want my students to have when learning. First and foremost I want students to be intrinsically motivated by the learning process itself, not the grade they achieve at the end of it. I can’t escape grades at present; however I aim to provide authentic learning opportunities that engage students, opening them up to the wonder of learning.

A second thing I was reminded of was the importance of reflection in the learning process. My class were asked to read the poem “The Fire” by Judy Brown. The poem outlines what is needed to build a fire and it is a fantastic metaphor for what is required for transformative learning. It is easy to be busy, doing and trying many new things; however if we (both educators and students) do not find time to reflect on what is being learnt the learning will be limited. The poem highlights the need for space to enable the flame to burn. If there are too many logs on the fire, leaving no space, the fire will suffocate and be unable to serve it’s purpose. Similarly, if we attempt to do too many things leaving no ‘space’ in our lives then our learning will suffocate.