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.

learning-tools-eduwells

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.

kcs-eduwells-2017

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.

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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

kcs-eduwells-2017

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.

How I made my advertisment in Keynote

coverIt was very exciting to become a published author this year and a big thank you to Holly Clark and the EdTechTeam for encouraging me to write A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining Education. The book explains all the amazing things that are happening in New Zealand’s education and why I believe it will lead the world in future-ready education for some time. Thanks to all those who have bought it so far. Below is my advert for the book but I’m being asked each day – “How did you make it?” Like everything I do, I used Keynote for Mac. I was tempted to use one of the many video animation websites such as Powtoon but I wanted more precise control over the visuals and style.

Here’s the advert and below are some lessons on how I produced it.

Lesson 1: Trust me, You can draw!

Drawing your own objects in keynote is easy, even for non-artists. In this video I show you how great drawings can be created in Keynote by tracing photos and graphics. This is done with no fine control of the mouse or technical drawing skills.

Lesson 2: Don’t just transition … Animate!

Keynote comes with both advanced drawing tools, extended photo manipulation and also multiple action animation per object per slide. In this lesson I show you how I used these multiple actions to make things move around a slide instead of just entering and leaving.

I hope these helped and please contact me with any more specific questions you have.

 

Does your classroom make learning visible?

I had a fantastic planning day with the leaders in my school yesterday where we evaluated how conscious and engaged our students were in their own learning. The consensus was that our overall system was still very teacher driven and much work had to be done to encourage teachers to involve the students in, and make them more aware of the process of learning they were experiencing.

LEARNING PROGRESS-EDUWELLS

Why IS a Math test like a clay elephant?

I had a brief conversation with a 12 year old boy this month that went as follows:

Teacher: “What’s your favourite subject?”
Student: “Art”
Teacher: “What are you doing in Art?”
Student: “Making clay animals”
Teacher: “Why are you making clay animals?”
Student: “I don’t know, it’s like a math test. The teachers give you this stuff and you do it!”

Unless teachers make the reason for and the progress in learning something permanently visible to the learners, the tasks and activities just become “more work.” There are many tools teachers can use to do this:

  • Learning / goal matrix
  • Micro credits
  • Student reflection & planning time
  • Student designed assessment criteria
  • Peer-assessment
  • Peer critiques & discussion on progress

The more progress, however small, is visible to the individual, the more they will develop a growth mindset(My intelligence can grow and is not fixed). Once this mindset is present in a learner, many problems that schools have to deal with start to disappear. Motivation becomes intrinsic and extra effort is applied. This post by Peter DeWitt highlights the great work of Carol Dweck on proving that growth mindset does not come from simply applying more effort but is what generates more effort.

Elephant Maths-eduwells

Feeling involved as an active player in the learning process

The important consideration that came up in our discussion yesterday was the sense that the individual learner felt involved in the process. Offering every opportunity available for the students to make decisions and be responsible for the shape of the outcomes that achieve the goal, preferably a goal they set themselves. It was important for students to not be taught as a class because they would think as a class and not individuals. Understanding one’s existence as just a body in a class undervalues the individual and lessens genuine engagement beyond that of compliance.

Teachers need to ensure they are planning and developing environments where the individual expects to act as such, devising and tracking their own progress towards goals. Once the process of learning is made visible and the individual feels involved in that process,  answering the question “why are we doing this?” is much easier for everyone, including the teacher!

Note: Computer games are popular predominantly because they all make progress as visible as possible.

I written more on this subject in my new book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining Education (Paperback and eBook)

ALP Ad4

 

 

Schools & the Death of the UBER career

Everyone is talking about UBER. There are now sites dedicated to “The UBER for X“. It is a popular analogy for presenters and bloggers because it epitomised modern technological disruption. UBER is a great example of how questioning the status quo and connecting dots between existing ideas can have such significant global impact in just a year or two. A similar thing is happening with telephone operators v.s SIRI type technology.  But for me, it’s the next chapter that most interests me: The death of the UBER career.

UBER timeline-Eduwells

I thought presenters, bloggers, and teachers might find a simple timeline useful. Please feel free to use this but please give me a mention:-)

People? What people?

This article discusses how many of the major car companies, alongside Google and UBER (that’s quite a team!) are lobbying the U.S, government to ensure their driverless cars (it’s not just Google who are making them) can cross state borders and be recognised as ‘legal drivers’. Given the safety, cost-saving and productivity gains offered by driverless cars, I think most people will be surprised at how quickly they embed into society in the developed world.

The UBER story is more about entire new industries being born and dying in the same decade, than it is about the death of old industries. The speed of change is getting faster and this is a new norm that schools must be aware of when discussing their purpose for existing. How quickly people can learn new knowledge and skills is far more important now than any particular knowledge or skill. This needs to have a huge impact on what gets practiced and emphasised in classrooms around the world.

best-apps-of-the-year-uber

The most expensive thing in any industry is it’s people. Most companies are working hard to remove the requirement for employing people. Amazon already have robot organised factories passing products automatically to drones for delivery! Losing your job because it’s cancelled all together is now so common, the U.S has introduce new employment insurance products to help people out.

What does this mean for the classroom?

The classroom is now a place to practice collaborating to learn. The questions that students should be allowed to ask and run with might be:

  • What should I be working on?
  • Who with?
  • What will we need?
  • Who can we call? (Ghostbusters?)

Practicing these questions and improving one’s collaborative productivity is going to be key to surviving the 21st century job market. This will help people continue to remain employable as well as up-skilling them for developing their own careers and businesses in a market where that itself might become a necessity. This does mean that if students in a classroom are currently reliant on a teacher for what to do and how to do it, they’re in big trouble!

Google Classroom in one minute

Here’s a one minute post with a one minute tutorial. I’m busy at the moment encouraging colleagues to start using Google Classroom. The reason I’m pushing it is that for the majority of teachers and especially the less technically inclined, it removes so many of the regular problems with choosing and setting up various apps and platforms for communicating and sharing files in a BYOD school. So here’s my summary poster that explains the key elements of each of a classroom page.

Make BYOD easy with Google Classroom:

  • A class is up and running in 5 minutes – no technician / admin required
  • Classroom automatically organised Drive folders for you
  • No more emailing required
  • Students can submit any file type for an assignment
  • Messaging can happen as a class or privately to one student
  • Multiple teachers can run a class
  • Mainly use assignments as they have the most options
  • Try to get most student work created from within an assignment

Alice Keeler has load more advice on Google Classroom

Here’s my poster:

Google Classroom Pages-eduwells

Factory education fails everyone

Reminding teachers of what it’s really like to be a student in school is one of my favourite professional pass times. I was presenting at a conference recently and at 3pm, many teachers were talking about being overloaded with information and how tired they were. I highlighted that this was exactly what it’s like to be at school except they had not even been asked for any outcomes or work and would not have to do this for the following 200 days! They all agreed this was good news for them. But what about our students?

Thanks to my friend Danielle Myburgh for telling me to get on with producing a Factory Education poster!

Factory Education-EduWells

 

IS School is still a burden?

My presentation (Slides below) was on Learner agency: the purpose, control and ownership students do or don’t feel they have over their learning. I started with a 1957 Chuck Berry line: ““Soon as three o’clock rolls around, you finally lay your burden down” I highlighted how 40 years of almost zero development had led Bart Simpson in the 1990s to share the common joy of : “woo hoo! Snow Day!” I asked the audience of about 50 teachers to fill out 2 Google form questions to confirm if they thought the school day was still a “burden.” Even with a massive majority of elementary school teachers, there was still a 50% agreement that it was. I’m sure this figure would have been higher with high school teachers.

Top students hide their grievances

3 examples I gave of academically successful students not rating the school expericene as positive, regardless of being able to comply with it, were:

  1. A top grade 7 student regularly achieving a top 3 in class tests and projects, excelling at two sports and working as a library assistant, expressing most mornings how she did not want to go to school due to it being “really boring!” This was the last student her teachers would expect to have this attitude towards school. What must the less engaged be saying?
  2. The head girl and head boy in a high school both starting the respective ‘high achievers’ speeches with implications that their success was in spite of school not because of it. The top female student highlighted that she had been a well supported high achiever from day one and school had been a great opportunity to show how her already positive approach to challenges could yield great results. The male top student semi-joked that making his bed every morning had started his day with a sense of pride and achievement meaning his self-worth would approach the required compliance in school more positively.

Employers and Universities share their GRIEVANCES

  1. “teenagers are leaving school lacking basic skills” – UK (Source)
  2. “School leavers are not meeting the needs of the New Zealand workplace, according to an employer survey.” – NZ (Source)
  3. “… despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not ready for postsecondary studies” – US (Source)

My presentation also included 3 examples of the 100s of articles and reports you can find to show employers, universities and even parents are commonly under impressed or disappointed by the motivation and skill set held by school leavers. I highlighted that Malcolm Gladwell’s Ten thousand hour rule, would expect that after 12 or 13 years of 5 hours a day experience, students would be extremely motivated and skilled to make significant impact on the world. The fact that they are commonly unmotivated and lacking confident to tackle situations without significant guidance and scaffolding, means we have them practicing the wrong things.

Tackle Deja Vu with “VuJa de!”

I came across “Vuja De” when a friend of mine, Steve Mouldey introduced me to the Curious Minds Podcast interview with Adam grant.

‘Vuja De’ definition: “The vuja de mentality is the ability to keep shifting opinion and perception. It can mean reversing assumptions about cause and effect, or what matters most versus least. It means not traveling through life on automatic pilot.” – Bob Sutton – ‘Scaling Up for Excellence’

It is time for all school leaders to question every aspect of deja vu within their professional life. This is best explained in the way that comedians take a seemingly fresh look at everyday occurrences and by highlighting them, make us laugh out loud. This type of perspective is required if school leaders are to ever see that what they think is being successful within their factory school model is not serving either the children or their future.

Here are my slides:

Does your classroom put the cart before the horse?

Most people assume formal education is a process of individual development from being heavily assisted at the age of 5, moving on to only requiring guidance and eventually achieving full independence and confidence to tackle one’s own learning and growth. The sad truth is that most teachers of 18-year-olds will tell you that their students remain heavily dependent on constant guidance and support. I produced the following graphic to sum up the three aforementioned stages and I wonder which one best depicts the average teenager in your education system.

Horse & Cart-EduWells

Whether, as a teacher, you are tackling a prescribed set of content, have the luxury of devising your own, or even better, are negotiating the tasks and content with your students, it is worth considering who is doing most of the work. You can’t develop a top footballer without allowing them to practice, try, fail, and try again. The same goes for what we want from our students. Most classrooms are so busy avoiding wrong answers they maintain and develop dependent learners who check with teacher before making any step forward.

Where do ‘good’ students come from?

The top students in any school, through family, sporting or performance experiences, are normally high achievers in spite of school and not because of it. They have arrived at the school having regularly experienced situations where their decision-making mattered, they were or remain responsible for for the success of activities, and the possibility of failure was common. This is exactly the conditions that the average school classroom avoids and thus does not develop the average student into a genuinely motivated, confident citizen. At school, I was very much an average student and can confirm that any motivation and responsible decision making was left until after university. I was kept safe from such matters by the education system I went through and spent my twenties working out how to perform effectively in teams and get projects completed on time. 

STAR_WARS2 _ EDUWELLS.017

“…But they get the grades”

Please don’t confuse success in exams and grade acquisition for genuine achievement. Many, if not most top grades around the world are achieved through targeted teacher coaching. Coaching only tuned for the specific prescribed challenges of the assessment at hand. This only results in what universities and employers report as school leavers lacking initiative, motivation and professional skills. This is not educational success by any stretch of the imagination. You will still get your grades if you devote time in early years to letting learners experience managing their own learning as a norm and not spoon feeding content to them. This will develop people who have their own coping mechanisms when it comes to exams later.

The Classroom is for developing people

The habits of many schools hand the responsibility of growing the person to extra-curricular activities and not the classroom where the students spend most of their time. The number of times I’ve heard the words ‘all-round education’ in discussion of sports or cultural events and at the same time the classroom is reduced to only a place in which information is passed from teacher to student. Many adults make the mistake of thinking “I went to school and turned out alright.” But when challenged they will conclude that any confidence or initiative they have has been developed post-school not during. This I feel is a massive missed opportunity that many non-high achievers miss out on.

It’s time to make the classroom as challenging as the sports field or theatre stage. Make the students more accountable for what takes place and whether or not it succeeds. Shift the responsibility from teacher to student for organising how the current challenges get tackled.  It may go wrong initially by like football players, they’ll get better and better until they are ready to face their final school challenges independently.

Play safe and start early

This does not happen overnight. What I propose here is a vision for your school in 5 years time, not tomorrow. Don’t dismiss this because you can’t picture your more senior students handling the responsibility of devising their own plans for learning. If they haven’t had the prior practice they’re not going to take charge tomorrow. You have to build the expectations and competencies over a 5 year process. Rethink the learning environments that your school’s youngest learners experience and let the current students live out the teacher-directed education they were introduced to as much as they need to. Focus on what your school will offer the next intake and how it will develop them to tackle the content without it being spoon fed from day 1.

Helping boys learn

As a high school student in the early 90s, I was already aware that teacher expectations for my school success were less because I was a boy. Ever since the developed world in general made the compulsory schooling opportunities the same for both sexes, the girls have increasingly extended their dominance over boys in most areas of educational achievement.

Fortunately for a post that’s trying to stay under 500 words, my scope here does not include why this is the case. I could talk about maturity, social awareness, societal pressures on girls, the changing role of men, and even computer gaming, but I won’t. Let’s look at what some teachers are doing to better cater for boys and thus level results.

Helping boys learn-eduwells

HEY TEACHER, STOP TALKING

IMG_0024A number of variables impact on boys’ relative ability to cope socially, or be productive in groups. This includes the classroom. They are often more productive and positive when they are able to study independently, i.e. the learning resources are available on demand and students can expected to go at their own pace. The average boy also responds better to one-to-one support from teachers, rather than having to publicly interact in whole class discussion. Numerous colleagues and educators I’ve worked with around the world have all shared positive correlations between them stepping away from the front of class delivery and boys results. This is achieved through systems such as flipped teaching or project-based learning. This is connected to boys needing to be doing rather receiving. Most boys need to be active learners.

Keep learning active

Boys also respond well to learning environments that allow for movement. Teachers I have worked with on modern learning environments have often expressed how boys have responded positively to having choice regarding where and how they learn in a classroom. I have had conversations with boys about them enjoying the variety and allowance to change how they physically place themselves to work. This can include standing desks, couches, beanbags or the floor. One’s not necessarily better than another, it’s the freedom the choose and change during a lesson that’s key. For similar environmental reasons, headphones can also help boys who are clear on objectives to shield themselves from other distractions to ensure they get something done.

Maintaining focus on the game

IMG_0025This is a much discussed topic but possibly due to typical social habits, many teachers feel boys do get distracted more easily in a classroom of 30 people. This is where gamification does have a role to play in keeping boys productive. Any parent will tell you that distracting a child away from a game is difficult. This is because there are multiple elements added to games to maintain focus. The two most common gaming tools to employ in a classroom for the benefit of boys are timers and progress charts. Once boys know where they are at in the learning and how long they have to complete a step, they respond accordingly. Boys enjoy challenges that are visually clear. They do not respond well to ambiguous learning targets as they are less likely to use their social skills to fill in the gaps, such as asking the teacher or friends.

No such thing as “a boy”

I am not assuming that all boys are the same and will respond to these ideas but in my experience working with educators, they will help many boys achieve better in your classroom.

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EduWells2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ 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 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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Here’s an extra resource on the impact and use for Game-based learning and Gamification of classroom activity.

The Gamification of Education
Source: Online-Education-Degrees.net