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.

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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.

The Eight Personas of a Teacher – Dr Kevin Knight

Earlier this year I was privileged to head up to the Gold Coast to attend a conference titled ‘The Personal Teacher’. It was facilitated by the Compass organisation. There were speakers from the Compass group and also Dr Kevin Knight, on of the founding directors of the New Zealand Graduate School of Education. While all sessions were excellent, it was Kevin Knight who impacted me the most. He has since visited our school and worked with more of our staff who were equally challenged and inspired by his simple, yet unique way of breaking down the job of a teacher. I am excited that he will be returning to work with more of our staff in 2013.

Kevin divides the job of a teacher into 8 personas which form 4 antagonistic pairs:

  • The teacher as captain yet also relationship builder

This pair establishes the learning environment in the classroom. It is imperative for a teacher to quickly build positive relationships with the students they are teaching; however they must also be in charge. If teachers are not competent in this area then it will be very difficult to ensure learning is happening in the classrom.

Kevin had some very detailed forms that can be used to gauge how teachers are going in this area.

  • The teacher as scholar yet also analyst

This pair recognises the importance of knowing what you’re teaching – but it goes further than that. The teacher as analyst will know what their students need to learn and they will be able to clearly articulate the skills students have learnt.This information will be gleaned from pre-testing and assessment, both formative and summative.

  • The teacher as coach yet also as empowerer

There will always be times where the teacher needs to direct the learning (teacher as coach); however I was inspired to try and ignite passionate curiosity in my students so they enjoy their learning and take personal responsibility for it. Empowering students to direct their own learning is certainly one of my goals for the 2013 school year.

  • The teacher as an individual and also a colleague

This pair is fairly self-explanatory. Historically teachers have been excellent at working individually in their isolated classrooms; however this pattern is beginning to change. I know here at Temple Christian College our faculties regularly work collaboratively to develop units of work and create resources.

One of the reasons we are taking on Kevin’s model as a school is so colleagues can effectively mentor colleagues in all the personas to improve the teaching and learning that takes place here. Eventually, all our staff will be trained in Kevin’s model and be paired up to work with each other. This will involve visiting classes, and giving and receiving feedback to and from collegues. The feedback will then serve as a tool to self-reflect on current practice.

Personally, I found going through the model with Kevin to be some of the most valuable professional learning I have undertaken as a teacher. It certainly led me to reflect on what I’m doing in the classroom to ensure meaningful learning for all of my students.

Learning How to Blog

Last week I was fortunate to attend a couple of workshops and a presentation by George Couros. He inspired me, and many others, to blog as a public record of our professional learning and the things we are doing in our classrooms. As well as being a record it is also a reflective tool that can be used to refine practice and cement learning.

After hearing and seeing some of the ways that blogging is used at Parkland Area School, and having my attention drawn to this blog by pernilleripp via Twitter, I thought I would begin my blogging journey alongside my students.

The students have just finished reading the novel The Ink Bridge by Neil Grant. They are now going to be set a series of topics to blog about based around the themes from the novel. I have drawn up an assessment rubric that relates back to the literature and litercay strands of the Australian Curriculum. Students will be assessed on the following: their response to the theme as presented in the text and in a broader context; their ability to create meaningful text (including the application of word processing functions), and their interaction with other students through the posting of meaningful comments on each others work.

I am hoping that through blogging my students will gain the following skills:

  • to give and recieve constructive feedback from peers
  • create meaningful written dialogue
  • improved editing
  • view their own writing more critically
  • empathy

(adapted with permission from pernilleripp)

I, and my students, have signed up with edblogs; however as I and my class are new to blogging posts are not visible for the public to view. When I have finished the unit I may seek permission from some students to publish their work publically on the internet – but for now it’s just our class.

It has taken more class time than I would like to get everything ready to go; however all students started their first posts today and they are looking forward to reading each others work and discussing the themes of the text on the shared site. I’m looking forward to reading what they have to say.

Blog as Professional Portfolio

I am currently in a workshop with George Couros setting up a blog to use as my e-portfolio. This e-portfolio will address each of the NPST

1. Know students

2. Know the content

3. Plan teaching and learning

4. Supportive and Safe Learning Environments

5. Assess, Feedback and Report

6. Professional Learning

7. Engage Professionally

As well as keeping a record of how I’m tracking against each of the standards, this blog will provide me with an opportunity to reflect on my learning and connect with other educators.