Make a student-centred classroom [Part 2]

This is the second in a series of practical steps for creating a classroom that is led by students, whilst still achieving any current goals and hopefully extending them in the process. In the first post, I attempted to cover the first two steps:

  1. Know yourself: Focus students on realising their own needs and decisions during the learning process. The operation of the room / school must encourage individuals to recognise themselves as unique learners who expect to make decisions and own the process of developing and making progress.
  2. Master of tools and strategies: Teachers’ primary role is to issue and discuss learning tools and strategies first. Rather than fall into the trap of automatically solving problems for struggling students, teachers must make every stumbling block an excuse to discuss what tool might help or might indeed be missing from the situation. e.g. “I’ve been asked to analyse this paragraph but I’m not sure what steps to take to carry out the analysis.” You need to build a library of tools and have them well advertised around the school to remind students of their availability when deciding what to do next or how to do it.

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STEP 3: DEVELOP A FULL LEARNING TOOLKIT…

… and students who can use it. When I’m explaining student-centred learning, there are two types of tools required and there are numerous examples that make up both lists.

A) Practical tools: These are used to help improve and measure both progress and eventually the final outcome. They include:

  1. All Content/topic resources made available from the start. (Left: A poster of coding app options)
  2. Marking schedules that explain how judgements might be made or could be added to.
  3. Production tools, such as IT, to allow outcomes to be constructed
  4. Communication tools. These include anything that encourages dialogue. It might be a whiteboard on the wall for planning, or text-messaging to encourage going beyond the four walls of the classroom.
  5. Time-management tools: Learners need to practice dividing up and mapping out how best to succeed. This includes time but also people and resources.

B) Behavioural tools/practices: These are tools students use to structure their behaviour throughout a task.

  1. Choice: The number one behavioural practice that defines a student-led classroom is choice. I ensure that a number of, if not all options are available. If one is to master the process of learning, it is a matter of practice in making and evaluating decisions, setting goals specific to your own needs and measuring success against them. This is the real scary leap for many teachers, I’ve had many honestly tell me that “letting go” is the hardest part, but once they understand the function of their new role within this environment, it makes more sense.
  2. Discussion: Humans are unfortunately bad at productively conducting discussion. In my experience most meetings in this world are carried out simply to make participants feel better, so that they can report that “something” is being looked at. Overtly teaching structured-discussion where participants all get to consider their ideas first and then are listened to as they voice them, is critical in developing a student-led classroom. Then having tools to help the group compare ideas and make decisions is also a rarity in schools. I mentioned DAKI as a tool in the last post and this is a great tool to help groups classify ideas as they are put forward.
  3. Thinking: The key benefit provided by student-led learning is that by owning the process, students do show a keenness to think deeper about what they are doing. But they do need tools to help guide their thinking. This might be just a list of prompts to push them to think further on any idea. They should be generically written so as to be used in any task. Don’t try to provide task-specific prompts as this does not build good learning habits. An example I use often is from Design-Thinking. These are structured tasks where there are stages based on empathising with the target audience/client/subject. They prompt the teams to firstly profile the client(Facts), then consider client viewpoints(opinions) and separately consider the connections and influences (network) on the client before beginning to design an outcome/product/essay. These well advertised subtasks help the learners think deeper about the full situation.
  4. Research: An upside in the current world of “Fake news,” is that it shows what happens when a generation are not equiped to consider or check the source of information. Early in a school career, learners need to be equiped with how to discover, check, and site information, and do this collaboratively. Dividing searches between people and using others to bounce conclusions off is critical in saving time and improving outcomes. “How to Google” is important but how to work with others in creating conclusions that shape next steps is just as important.
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  5. Goal setting and reflection: Here’s what I do. I’ve issued all the topics covered by my course on a website that links to relevant learning material for them. Students choose a topic of interest and report to me on the same Google form every week, how last week went, their current work and what they hope to achieve this week. I hold 15 minute meetings within the lessons for the 4 or 5 students who have chosen the same topic. In this progress meeting, the students get to hear each other’s issues and goals and discuss the topic and it’s available resources. They often compare learning material and recommend one over another. My role is only to prompt and guide the discussion to help them cover all angles and to encourage extending any work so that it might have an impact locally or globally. To force the issue of student-led learning, I make sure the students are aware that most of their grading will come from the quality of their reflection written on the Google form each week. I have found that students who are asked to make their own decisions, report on them and be accountable to them, tackle the content more successfully, without me having to drive them through it. The spreadsheet pictured is the result of week one of a class getting used to such a system.

LEARNING PROGRESS-EDUWELLS

STEP 4: THE TEACHER’s ROLE

Short version? – Make everything available and only assist and discuss the process of learning.
To help teachers understand the significant improvement student-centred learning achieves against conventional teacher-driven approach, I like to recount conversations with students about numeracy and literacy under the conventional teacher-led experience. This highlights the lack of relationship between learner and learning.  A recent example went as follows:

Me: “Hello Jacob, you are now 13 and have had at least one hour of math every school day since grade one. That totals roughly 1600 hours of numeracy and Math. Could you please talk for 60 seconds about you and math?”

Student: ” … we always do it …. it’s boring … it can be easy … it’s sometimes hard.”

Me: “That’s 18 seconds, can you tell me about some math?”

Student: “… we do devision … and adding … and homework .. that’s about it”

Me: “Congratulations, that’s 39 seconds … not bad after 1600 hours of work”

The conventional focus on what must be learnt leads most learners to not consider their own role in the learning and therefore they often can’t articulate any relationship with the experience. I like to go as far as saying that under predefined teacher-led learning, each student does not even acknowledge their existence as they carry out uniform instructions issued to all. So what do teachers do during a student-led learning environment? I’ll give examples of this in the next post but for now, I’d summarise it as:

  1. Create a communication channel for learners to report on goals and progress.
  2. Assist students in selecting the appropriate tool for moving forward or deciding on next steps.
  3. Allow students to practice verbally explaining their learning without prompts
  4. Create opportunities that encourage students to work together and build on each other’s work and ideas.
  5. Challenge decisions and encourage students to challenge each other’s conclusions.
  6. Build relationships with students around learning, not just personal interests.

Part 3 coming soon:

In part 3, I’ll cover examples from different subject areas and my own classroom. I’ll also produce my library of tools and support material. 

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Make a Student-Centred Classroom [Part 1]

In 2016, I did a lot of posting and presenting on student-centred learning. I had great feedback and some supportive conversations about the obvious commonsense behind the approach. I’ve posted a number of guides and posters to help people understand the necessary components. But when the conversation on theory finishes, the first two questions are always:

  1. “So, what do I actually do?”
  2. “Where do I start?”

Getting down to business

I thought I’d start a series of posts on the practical steps and possible tools to use to help operate a student-led learning space. At this point in the conversation, many senior high school teachers start to explain to me that this doesn’t apply to them because “their” material (notice the ownership) and concepts are too complicated to be “self-discovered.” My reply involves highlighting that student-centred learning is not simply a matter of asking students to look everything up on the internet. It is a challenging development of a classroom environment that alters the expectations students have of themselves, develops growth-mindset, and builds an understanding of learning as a shared and social experience. An experience not reliant on any one individual.

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Step 1: You are your first learning objective

Start your journey by being clear that the teacher will not be the one who ‘starts’ learning each day. Learning is something that people, including adults, organise to suit themselves. Every individual needs to consider themselves first and how they best make progress. The teacher is there to help you understand and develop your own learning strategies. A teacher is sometimes more aware and experienced in the options available and that is what they are at school for. It is the student’s role to become a master in the way they personally best make progress. Know your weaknesses, your strengths, your available options.

Each learner needs to ask themselves questions such as:

  • Given the theme/topic, what are my immediate needs? (What’s my first problem?)
  • How many options do I have to make my next step? (What could I do next?)
  • What have I got/been given to measure my progress? (How would this be judged?)
  • How many ways could I express/explain my learning & progress? (What product would have the most impact?)
  • How can I plan my time, tools and use of others? (How big is this project?)
  • What communication channels exist to help me?

It’s good to have questions like these on the classroom wall to prompt conversations.

Initially students of all ages will struggle to get out of old habits. They are often used to the teacher planning their tasks and next steps for them. In most schools, teachers decide what to do and how to do it. Building better learning habits means shifting their practice away from expecting teachers to answer every need and question. Any question I get asked about what to do, how to do it, or worst of all, is ‘this’ good enough? I throw back at the student as a challenge to solve. I ask questions like “Where do we normally find the task information? or “What would best explain that?” or “What does your friend think of your work?” It’s a rarity to find a student so practiced at collaborating that they are aware of the progress made by another student. After just two weeks of not answering questions, my classes shift habits and more naturally turn to each other for ideas, allowing me to guide people I observe as needing more prompting.

Key competencies

In New Zealand we focus on 5 Key competencies for learning and being a productive citizen. Students being able to rate themselves and their classroom against these key competencies can help build an understanding of how they might be more successful individually and as a group. Viewing everyone in the room as a potential learning ally is very important in student-centred learning. Making learning and adapting the classroom’s primary conversation is key in 21st century education. Rather than filling the walls with ‘finished’ outcomes, use the walls more productively to remind the students of process tools and decision making aides to help them self-progress.

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STEP 2: Strategies and tools first

High schools could learn so much from elementary schools in that more progress is made when learners are equiped first with strategies before specific material or content becomes the focus. Learning to read is possibly the single biggest learning challenge students go through in their entire school career. Elementary schools achieve this by equipping learners with not just one but numerous strategies in making progress without teacher assistance. A conversation I had with elementary teachers regarding “if they get stuck on a word,” resulted in 7 strategies taught to students. The reason so many high school students are uninspired by their classroom is that, even in 2017, the system in most countries shifts from empowering the learner to the absorption of content.

We need to continue and extend the good work of elementary schools by adding yet more strategies, processes, and available tools and building a shared expectation that the students will tackle any challenge themselves.

“It’s the scaffolding of learning and not topics that is the primary job of a 21st century teacher.” – Richard Wells

Students must be taught and confident in:

  • a number of systematic processes that get a task done.
  • collaborating on checks and balances that measure the current success and progress.
  • critiquing and guiding the success of other learners.

Teachers will save time in the long run if they use class time to teach and practice learning approaches, collaboration, and project management strategies such as:

  • How to carry out group planning
  • How to critique the work of others
  • How to measure progress
  • How to plan the available time
  • How to test current success and make adjustments

Design Thinking - EduWells

I use guides on project-based-learning and Design-thinking as examples of processes that get good results. When critiquing work, strategies such as DAKI can help students guide each other in refining outcomes. These tools need to be well advertised and overtly taught to the class to ensure they can practice using them to make them effective (They rarely work first time). As a school, these tools and processes need to available full time and not teacher instigated. Students need to be free to make decisions like “I think this would turn out best if we run it through a Design-Thinking exercise.” They also might take the theme/topic and design a project around it to make it relevant to the themselves or their community. I’ll produce a library of possible tools and examples in the final post in this series.

OLD HABITS DIE HARD

The hardest challenge for teachers and students in starting student-centred learning is breaking old habits. Teachers have a compulsion to simply solve every problem instantly and students, viewing school as only a place you complete issued work, are used to looking for every shortcut available to quickly produce what their teacher has already decided is the target outcome. Introducing LEARNING as the main topic of conversation seems alien to many classrooms, especially in high schools.

In part 2, I’ll cover students monitoring and measuring quality and progress and outline some real examples of this taking place in both my school and schools I visit.

Teach Listening today to avoid another 2016!

Sorry to be political for just a minute but I promise this post has a non-bias, positive and productive ending. 2016 was not the best year of my life. For people like me, the world seemed to shift in a frightening direction towards isolation and polarised societies.

2016 in three words – “Failure to Listen”

As an educator, I’ve spent the last 6 months considering what has gone wrong and is it a matter of failing education producing “post-truth” generations who fail to question such things as fake news. This is where a randomised suggestion from TED.com seemed to offer me a gentle, concise, but powerful solution to all my concerns – Listening. I’d summarise 2016 as the year people failed to listen to others. A year where locking out debate and the thoughts of others became legitimised. Even the idea of listening to experts was questioned on both sides of the Atlantic. So I’d like to introduce you to (or remind you of) Julian Treasure.

5 classroom exercises to heal a world

In this talk, Treasure addresses our society’s shift towards too much noise (think social media and the pace of life) and thus loss of skills in and desire to truely listen to people and our surroundings.

“We’re becoming impatient. We don’t want oratory anymore; we want sound bites. And the art of conversation is being replaced — dangerously, I think — by personal broadcasting.” – Julian Treasure

If only we had  remembered Julian’s 2011 TED talk, we might not have has such an angry 2016. In this talk, he even predicted our current problems when he said:

“We’re becoming desensitized. Our media have to scream at us with these kinds of headlines [Sensation, Shock, Scandal, Reveal, Exposed, Fury] in order to get our attention. And that means it’s harder for us to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated … a world where we don’t listen to each other at all is a very scary place indeed” – Julian Treasure (2011)

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Teach Listening today!

Here is an edited summary of Julian’s 5 suggested exercises that I believe could transform your classroom, and possibly even improve grades, not to mention, save the world!

  1. Silence: “Just three minutes a day of silence is a wonderful exercise to reset your ears and to recalibrate, so that you can hear the quiet again.”
  2. The Mixer: “listen in the [classroom] to how many channels of sound can I hear? How many individual channels in that mix am I listening to? … put names to those channels such as: pencil; tapping; pouring paint; bunsen burner.
  3. Savouring: “This exercise is about enjoying mundane sounds.” Next time you sharpen a pencil, really listen! It’s a great sound.
  4. Listening positions: “Remember I gave you those filters? It’s starting to play with them as levers, to get conscious about them and to move to different places.” This is where you focus on one of the environment’s sounds and consciously enhance it’s volume in your mind by focusing on it intently.
  5. RASA: Julian says “Finally, an acronym. You can use this in listening, in communication. RASA stands for “Receive,” which means pay attention to the person; “Appreciate,” making little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “OK”; “Summarize” — the word “so” is very important in communication; and “Ask,” ask questions afterwards.”

I can see these skills apply to nay specialist area such a students using RASA to challenge each other on science analysis. Savouring as a dramatisation exercise, and Silence in ALL tasks – I already use it at the beginning of Design thinking tasks.

Teachers need to plan consciously for their use of listening and discuss / teach these skills specifically to improve levels of thinking and empathy practiced by their students. Let’s all start using the art of conscious listening throughout education and we help the next generations fight the noise that surrounds them and avoid another 2016.

P.S. 2016 as I saw it …

  1. The U.K. voted to ask foreigners to “leave” only to find out the next day they’d voted for the U.K. to “leave” Europe. “What is the EU” = most popular Google search on that day.  
  2. The U.S. voted to “drain the swamp” only to find that the “swamp” of bureaucrats and lobbyists were simply no longer needed because the the people who funded the lobbying were to be the new government cabinet.
  3. A horrible man in Syria officially asked a horrible man in Russia to help him sort out some people fighting for freedom, allowing the horrible Russian to perform bombing practice on civilians,. Then a tweeting 16-year-old U.S. president-elect called them both “great guys.”
  4. Nobody listened to anyone who didn’t already agree with them entirely.

[political bit over 😀]

 

 

10 #STARWARS #EDUCATION POSTERS FOR 2017

I hope you like this year’s set of Star Wars Education posters. The theme is very much in keeping with my 2016 posts on students driving their own learning. More will be on their way soon. Thanks for the wonderful feedback on last years.

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5 Tools for Student-Driven Learning

So, you’ve heard about student agency or student-driven learning, and possibly the same thing under some other awesome buzzword :-).  The idea of learners taking charge of, and feeling responsible for their learning is yet to challenge any teacher I’ve spoken to. But there are issues. The problem lies in three common questions:

  1. Are all children capable of driving their own learning?
  2. What’s the role of the teacher?
  3. How do I start?

So we need to consider what this looks like in all contexts. I can confirm that it does apply in all situations but is only successful if the teachers know their role and they equip students with the tools to, and practice in driving their own learning. So I thought I’d produce a simple template for teachers to use to develop their student-driven learning. I’ve written before about the most difficult part in this process being the shifting of both teacher and student mindsets. It requires an open mind in regards to the purpose of school and the idea that maybe existing education approaches have failed to ready most teenagers for what the “real-world” has in-store … as if they don’t already exist as citizens in the real world already!

Learning to drive

7207654634_f50c6446bf_zWhen people seem pessimistic towards student-driven learning, I often find myself making the ironic conversational segue to “learning to drive.” Even the most conservative teacher or parent accepts that to learn to drive a car, people have to drive a car! Even one’s first driving lesson includes making the car go forward yourself. Driving a car is one of the most dangerous things we do in life and yet we still don’t hesitate to place 16-year-olds immediately behind the wheel if we expect them to cope on the road after lessons. It’s the role of the driving instructor we need to consider. The instructor’s role (sometimes carried out less than successfully by parents) is to ensure the learner will be able to drive without them. This seems like an obvious and sensible approach, so why do most schools still take the opposite approach to learning other things? After 13 years of education, most 18-year-olds are still being coached by their teacher, point-by-point in preparing for assessments. The classroom might be the primary vehicle for learning but teachers must start letting students drive the vehicle if they expect them to cope without their direct instruction.

Tools for learning

The first thing needed is learners equiped to learn. To learn anything, one needs to be immersed in an authentic situation as possible, be making decisions and learning from them, aware of all options available, including time and collaborators, and measuring success and planning next steps. For example, this is exactly how I learnt to both blog at the age of 35 and skateboard at the age of 12. In a world that prioritises one’s ability to adapt and relearn, the new role for teachers is equipping students with the tools, experience, and thus confidence to take charge of their own learning.

This includes tools that allow the learners to:

  1. Think deeply (time – discussion)
  2. Set goals/purpose and choose/locate resources (people/info)
  3. Organise workflow (What to do 1st/2nd/3rd)
  4. Measure current success (Designing assessment matrix)
  5. Plan next steps (What to develop / move on from)

Here’s my infographic for learning tools:
learning-tools-eduwells

 

 

Teachers need to equip students to quickly point to the tools they use to:

  • Know what to tighten / do next (What’s my adjustable spanner?)
    • Design thinking is a good example of this.
  • measure current success (What’s my tape measure?)
    • co-constructed assessment matrix are good for this
  • Decide from a range of outcome / output options (What’s my paintbrush?)
    • Presented in class, published to the world, connected to community?
  • manage time and resources (What’s my stopwatch?)
    • Project management apps and negotiated timetables can help students feel responsible for time and resources.
  • communicate and connect with people inside and outside the classroom. (Where’s the conversation?)
    • The professional use of social media is still alien to most classrooms.

A teacher’s new script

The primary tool in developing student-driven learning, while also helping to change the mindset towards learning for all involved is a new script for teachers. This is the part that I personally found difficult. Despite discussing it for decades, thousands of teachers still struggle with switching from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.” To be a successful guide or mentor, you have to use a different script from that of a teacher. How teachers communicate with students can define who feels responsible for the learning, so choose your words carefully. Any questions to students need to emphasise their responsibility for progressing further. The conversations need to be learning focused rather than topic focused and expect further thinking. Here are just some examples:

  • move from “What are you doing?” to “Why are you doing this?” or “Why is this the priority at the moment?”
  • move from “how’s it going?” to “What do you need to improve so far?” or “How do you know you’re on track?”
  • move from “Are you finished?” to “What might this lead to next?” or “Who could this project or information have an impact on?”
  • move from “Do you understand that topic X is ABC?” to “How do you know you understand that topic X is?”

Questions must demand specific, quantifiable answers from learners who show an obvious sense of responsibility for the activity. This can’t be achieved if the ground work isn’t done by teachers to equip the students with the learning tools, skills and most importantly, the expectations that they can drive their own learning.

 

5 Key competencies for 21st Century learning

nzqa-post-qualification“THE ERA OF QUALIFICATIONS AS WE KNOW IT IS OVER … AS IS NZQA” – Sue Suckling : Chair of New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

I’ve written much about how blessed I am to teach in New Zealand, in fact, [plug warning] I’ve written a whole book on the subject. What’s especially nice about being connected with kiwi educators is hearing and chatting about the increasing number of schools making their shift from 20th century knowledge-based educataion to 21st century education centred on competencies and one’s ability to learn and relearn. As universities around the globe start to discuss the value of qualifications in a rapidly developing world, I don’t believe any country has all its necessary systems in place to make this shift more than New Zealand.  With this in mind I thought I’d look at how my school and many others in these beautiful islands are focusing their efforts on our curriculum’s core feature: it’s Key Competencies for 21st century learners.

FIVE BY THREE – DEPTH OF COMPETENCY

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As my own school looks to focus more on the Key Competencies, I’ve been working on an infographic (above) to help staff and students not only understand them but begin to discuss a progression in depth of competency. Based on the SOLO taxonomy around depth of thinking, I’ve applied the same three layers to the other 4 competencies. I’m blogging it here for feedback, so please tweet me with other ideas, thanks.

INDIVIDUAL AND TEAM COMPETENCIES

There are two ways to look at three layers of key competencies. Firstly, I’m presenting these ideas to individual learners as three ‘states of being’ where I challenge all students to reflect on what they are doing in their day to prove they have reached the ‘Apply’ level of each key competency. The second way to discuss them is to consider what it means to teamwork, in that we all have different strengths and all five competencies are presented best by a team who understand the strengths each member brings to the team. So to run through them for non-kiwis, I thought I’d outline my understanding of them as if they were 5 team members, each with a specialism.

The A-Team of Key competencies

Bear with me while I run through an A-Team analogy … (Image link: Wikipedia)

  1. The Thinker (Hannibal): The ability to take the elements (victims & baddies) presented to you, consider how they connect and relate to each other and think outside the box as to resolutions and impacts in other contexts.
  2. The Empathiser (Murdoch): The ability to read other people and consider other points of view to aide progress and quality solutions. Note: it was always Murdoch who got BA Baracus onto planes!
  3. The presenter (Face): There’s no point having the cleverest idea or plan in the world if you can’t explain it to or convince others . The ability to present ideas and designs effectively enough to impact others is a skill that takes practice.
  4. The manager (Hannibal – sorry, only 4 in the team :-): Organising when tasks should take place, the people required, and the tools needed is a tough challenge if you want a successful outcome to any project or task.
  5. The “Doer” (BA Baracus): Participating to such and extent that you inspire the best in others and have genuine impact on the world (some would say ‘getting your hands dirty’) is again, something that only a few people develop the temperament and thus competency for. BA always just wanted to get on with the plan and couldn’t stand that ‘stupid fool’ Murdoch and his delaying jibber-jabba!

Sowing the right seed

What I like to emphasis to teachers and students is that task design that allows students to focus on, practice and develop these key competencies early on will lead to the grades schools want through the independence they generate in learners. It absolutely does not happen the other way round. A focus on knowledge and skill acquisition does not cater for all learners long term and produces senior students who need and often expect assistance to appear when needed in any given situation. For example, in school communities still focused on fixed knowledge curriculums, parents will show much apprehension around which teacher their child receives to “get them through it.” This does not prepare young people for a world that no longer can have much faith in qualifications that indicate what one once did in different circumstances.

P.S. I do not endorse the smoking of cigars or teams void of women.

Supporting children confused by current world events

It’s funny how events in my life so often seem to align along themes, or maybe that’s just my mind playing tricks on me. As classrooms around the world continue to discuss and debate the meaning of surprise events like the UK’s Brexit and Donald Trump’s election win, I’m mentoring an intensive entrepreneur startup weekend centred on new ideas for education. What’s aligned in my mind? For me, the world events and the challenge faced by startup teams all revolve around dealing with assumptions and stereotypes. This is how classroom practice and school cultures could start to address much of the confusion children are currently expressing.

Assumptions and stereotypes

Facebook has suffered much criticism for allowing people to propagate simplified click-bate ‘news’ based on shallow assumptions, stereotypes and even completely fake information. In London, Boris Johnson paraded the streets in a bus plastered with wrong assumptions and I think the less said about Donald Trump’s campaign ideas, the better. Meanwhile, at this startup weekend, teams dynamically formed on a Friday night, attempt to put together a solid business model for an app, website or service to pitch on Sunday afternoon to judges.

swaklThis process, that I’m trying to mentor the teams through, has them stumble most on realising that their ideas are just assumptions. These are often based on stereotypes such as, “boys always like competition,” and halfway through the weekend they find it’s not always true and they no longer have a viable business to pitch. At the end of the day, wanting to simplify problems with assumptions and stereotypes seems to be human nature (note: I’m making an assumption) and thus is a theme that schools should be strongly focused on.

developing deeper thought

Any classroom activity will be filled with assumptions held by both students and teachers. Somewhere towards the beginning of most tasks, teachers can encourage discussions about challenging existing perspectives a normal part of the process. By doing this, it will help develop young people better equiped and informed to deal with world events like those experienced in 2016. Here are some common assumptions held by both teachers and students that subconsciously impact on class activity:

  • The teacher knows what’s best for me
  • The boys need strict discipline
  • You’ll find the answer with Google
  • All the students need to know this now
  • This app is the perfect tool

How do you know that?

swakl2We need to develop school cultures that understand the constructive side of everyone challenging their own thoughts as much as each other’s. As a startup mentor, I’ve been learning that how and when you challenge people is a skill that requires practice. This is why classrooms need to make debate a regular event with scaffolding to help young people and their teachers become better at moving discussion forward, strengthening relationships, and solving problems. The question, “How do you know that?” is a powerful one. It questions the background behind an idea as much as the idea itself. Asking students to validate their thoughts with evidence is something that often goes unchecked in classrooms focused on how ideas align with the curriculum’s target answer.

Now … how do I know that?

Thanks to Chris Clay for inviting me along to Startup Weekend Auckland and allowing me to learn so much from the Startup team and the other mentors.

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richard-wells-author-pic-sml-white-bnw
Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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R.I.P. public #Education in America

Every 11 seconds on Wall street, someone has the thought “There are billions of dollars tied up in public education that I can’t make more money on using the money I already have.” The phrase “Corporate education” does not sit comfortably with most voters on both sides of the political divide and so right-wing parties and their financial market friends around the globe try to disguise corporate education models under better sounding social initiatives, such as “School choice.” Trump obviously hasn’t had a thought about education and so has borrowed one from the Koch brothers.

Learning is first about money making

It’s Facebook that personifies the idea that all human activity should now be monetised as the social-media giant indirectly makes money on every photo and comment we upload. [Note: The scary prospect of how much money Trump made Facebook in the last 18 months.] So why shouldn’t the activity of learning be any different? Kids learn while rich investors make money! Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? So, with Republicans in control of every level of government and federal “School choice” almost inevitable, it’s worth looking into whether it works in practice.

This is where I could stop writing and just ask you to Google it. It takes the most basic Google searches to discover that all these market-driven policies are made to sound nice but do the exact opposite they claim to. Like all right-wing policies, they never allow for natural human behaviour such as personal and organisational self-preservation, and greed. This was made clear in “The maestro” Alan Greenspan’s comments on the (his) 2008 global financial crisis, “I made a mistake in trusting the banks would act in the best interests of their investors.” Even the wikipedia page on School choice goes to great length at explaining how the policy doesn’t work!

“Many of the current school choice models do not offer transportation to out-of-neighborhood schools, which discourages low-income families from selecting schools outside of their neighborhoods.[27] The “free market” created by school choice models is inherently unequal.” – Wikipedia

Saving education

The thought that I could save American education by simply asking Donald to go read Wikipedia sounds crazy but his lack of awareness of world issues and life on earth in general, he proved during campaigning, shows me that he’s never read wikipedia anyhow.    The problem America has is that the political discussion is always centred on the funding and organisational structure of education, rather than the experience one receives in the classroom. My own country New Zealand outperforms the US on every indicator at a fraction of the cost. We are worried firstly about what happens in the classroom and how engaged and involved individual children are in their own learning. We can only do this because we have no external pressures from third party interests, such as lobbying corporations like Pearson. Teachers know education better than corporations and business leaders and it’s teachers who run education in New Zealand.

DEAR DONALD…

If you want to know how to improve education for all at a fraction of the cost, learn from New Zealand. I just happen to written a book on the subject, in which I cover how we organise and fund public education to be one of the best in the world.

There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

Teachers! Stop marking!

Marking & grading school work must be the most painful part of teaching, right? Well, it’s time to remove the pain and look at a number of reasons why teachers should work towards an almost marking-free professional life. If we get this balance right, the school environment becomes far more inspiring for all involved. The key issue centres on everyone’s historic understanding of the purpose of school and the role of teachers within it. Here I will attempt to challenge this with some common sense arguments that I hope will help teachers change these expectations held of themselves and their learners.self-directed-learning-eduwells-001

1. Raising expectations

The factory approach to education has always encouraged the idea that teachers exist to grade products at the end of learning ‘assembly lines’. The factory workers (students) are given ‘assembly’ instructions and attempt to follow them, waiting only for the teachers to assess the end results. This creates thousands of classrooms where learners do not consider the success of their efforts whilst they work because the understanding is that the teacher is paid to worry about the success after the task is complete. In most classrooms you walk into, you will not find students discussing their current progress with their peers or naturally critiquing each other’s work, without it being directly requested by the teacher. What’s needed if we are to change this situation is teachers who see their role as one who scaffolds peer critique, progress tracking, and goal setting. The learners need an expectation that they will understand the assessment enough include assessment as a key part of their own on-going learning process.

2. Self-reporting students

Under traditional teacher-driven education, the students become passive learners and expect to be processed through the teachers’ programmes. By including self-assessment as part of their learning programme, students develop a growth-mindset through being helped to monitor and understand their own current progress and calculate their next steps. Teachers are needed for producing the tools with which students can do this self and peer-tracking. Rather than spend hours marking, teachers need to use that time to produce resources to help students develop learning habits that include self-reporting on progress to either peers or their teacher. If students don’t understand the assessment criteria inside-out, you can’t expect them to be getting the grades you’d like them to. When teachers reflect on all the considerations they have while marking school work, they often realise they are considering more things than they have made clear to students. We empower young people when we build an expectation in themselves to take charge of their success with all the required tools.

3. Building learners is easier than processing students

To build a learning environment free from teacher marking takes time and practice. You must start with your school’s new intake and get them accustomed to these expectations that they will report to teachers on progress, success and next steps. But it’s time better spent. Teachers reduce the pressure on themselves to have processed a class correctly by focusing on what learning environment they are nurturing. A learning environment that exists predominantly in the mind of each learner.

Summary thought

If two students cannot work together to mark and grade their own essays, they weren’t ready to attempt the essay in the first place. Let’s all raise expectations and I know young people will rise to match them.

Want more …?

There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

What makes a happy school?

no_hierachy_in_learning-eduwellsWhat makes all humans happy?

How about feeling:

  • you belong
  • you’re appreciated
  • you’re approach will be supported
  • and you’re important.

The factory gets everyone down

As education slowly drags itself out from the pit of 19th/20th century ‘factory’ education, it seems obvious to me that these were and are unfortunately the sentiments missing from much of my experience, both as student and teacher. The system my colleagues and I were educated in was centred on the exact opposite of the above list. It is very important to the uniform delivery of exam material that everyone comply and any appreciation of individuality be stifled. This has not only led to a history of students wanting to avoid school if possible (“Snow day” anybody?), but also led to unhappy teachers treated as evaluated delivery mechanisms.

A happy Alternative

hpss-danielle-on-floor-copyTo the left is my teacher friend Danielle, using the floor to indicate her equal status as a learner amongst her students. The flatter the learning hierarchies in a school are, the happier everyone is: staff; students; and parents. Developing a culture where everyone is a learner and has something to offer others is key to happiness for all. I have visited many schools in New Zealand and I can report that the happiest and healthiest exist where the principal is clearly viewed as lead learner not lead expert. Personally, I’m often tempted to judge a school by how visibly reflective its principal is. Many principals in New Zealand blog publicly (Links below) about both their successes and failures. This has the knock on effect of making teachers and their students more comfortable to try, fail, and thus learn.

Negotiation your way to happiness

A key to happy learners is to ensure nothing is assumed to be definite. The teacher doesn’t always know the best approach to learning for the specific learners in front of them. Students don’t always know their own strengths and weaknesses. The most effective environment is one of negotiation and reciprocal accountability between teacher and student. In New Zealand, schools use the native Maori term of “Ako” in place of the word “learning” as it better describes this reciprocal nature of learning. [Video credit: Breens Intermediate school, Christchurch]

“The concept of ako describes a teaching and learning relationship, where the educator is also learning from the student and where educators’ practices are informed by the latest research and are both deliberate and reflective. Ako is grounded in the principle of reciprocity and also recognises that the learner and whānau cannot be separated.”

Ka Hikitia, 2008, p.20

This is just one example where New Zealand’s balanced appreciation for both our primary cultures (Maori and European) benefits the wellbeing of our schools and their communities. To maintain one’s teaching certificate in New Zealand, teachers have to provide evidence every three years of how they have further developed their own learning and collaborative pedagogical approaches.

Western society was built on rigid hierarchies and from politics to medicine and certainly to education, the faster we learn that flattening them creates solutions to our biggest problems, the better for all involved.

There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

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Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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