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.

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.

_____________________________________________________________

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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#EdTech makes no significant difference

Teachers like me, who are keen on the potential of educational technology to change schools are often the first to say “it’s not the technology that’s important, it’s what you do with it.” We also say things like, “It’s about creativity, collaboration and communication.” After all, I started this very blog as an iPad support site and spent the first 3 years discussing the wonderful things one could make on an iPad and how exciting all the apps and their technologies were. But regardless of how people are collaborating, creating, and getting excited, there’s one crucial thing to remember … technology makes no significant difference to learning.

edtech-no-differnece-eduwells

EdTech output does not equal BETTER learning

To help explain where schools still often miss the point when talking about technology use, I’d like to mention two important educators.

john-hattieJohn Hattie: A New Zealander who has been Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia, since March 2011. He is the Author of “Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.” an influential paper on what has a real impact on learning. In his list of nearly 200 influences on learning outcomes from an ever increasing meta-analysis of global educational research, you have to go to number 70 before you even get a mention of technology. Since it’s first publication in 2008, students self-reporting their own success has proved to be consistently the most influential indicator. This is something most schools don’t utilise at all whilst dedicating hours to training staff in technology.
.

derek-mullerDerek Muller: An Australian who has had success in teaching through video and even has a PHD in doing so. His extremely popular video on why #edTech has little impact on learning has had more than a million views. In the video below, Derek takes you back 100 years and runs you through the history of the claim that This will revolutionise education.” He highlights that if the goal and content of an activity is the same, the format makes no difference. His summary reminds us that the point of education is not to aim for particular output from students or simply deliver information, even new styles of input & output. “The purpose is to inspire, challenge and excite people to want to learn.” Another key point he makes is that learning is a social activity and is most successful when every individual feels they have a role to play within that learning. Teachers are only truely successful when focused both on the design of and the locus of control within a social learning environment. That requirement is what maintains teachers as so important.

Does tech still have a role to play?

how-technology-in-schools-has-changed-over-time-infographicPlease don’t be confused and think this is an anti-tech post. There’s nothing wrong with using technology as long as the classroom norm is that individual students expect to evaluate their own outcomes (Just as Hattie’s studies indicate) and preferably against calculated targets for understanding and impact that the students devised or negotiated in the first place. All learning must include the questions below, if it does, technology only opens up further opportunities, if it doesn’t, then technology only becomes the distraction that many fear it is.
Click the infographic to the left for a nice history of EdTech.

Questions for all learnERS

  1. Why am I learning this?
  2. How will I measure my own success?
  3. Who with and how might I best succeed?
  4. What are my next steps?
  5. How am I tracking my progress?

Technology will help answer all 5 questions but if they are absent from the mind of the learner, technology will not assist true learning at all. My primary concern as an educator now is who is driving the learning in my classroom, be they using tech or not.

I have covered many aspects of future education trends in my $16 book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. Here’s the Ad:

The Amazing iPadpaloozaGC 2016

ipadpaloozagcI’ve just had a fantastic week on the Gold Coast of Australia at iPadPaloozaGC! Cathy Hunt (@art_cathyhunt) and her team organised the widest breadth of inspirational speakers and demonstrations I think I have ever seen at one event. I thought I’d focus my summary on that breadth, so lets take a look at the themes covered.

1. Creativity

The conference had so many sessions on the creative side of tech use in schools and encouraged the notion that technology was not about consumption and was far more engaging and effective when challenging young people to create and share. Paul Hamilton, Cathy Hunt, Simon Lees and Brandt Ward all ran pre-conference days on making and learning through problem solving and story telling. All four discussed how the technology encouraged constant review and reflection from young people and how tech’s speed of production allowed for rapid prototyping and iteration. This is what learning should always be about. Music, Film-making, robotics, Minecraft were also strong themes at the event and made for a dynamic and exciting atmosphere all-round.

2. Wellbeing and acceptance

michael-carr-greggMichael Carr-Gregg (@MCG58) was the Keynote speaker on day one and gave a brilliant, no-nonsense, info + advice packed talk on young people and mental-health. His advice covered so many topics including acceptance, depression & health. He highlighted how they all contribute to the success, or lack of, that children experience at school. He explained wrong assumptions held by adults regarding young people’s mindsets and also the way that technology has such a positive role to play in tackling issues of wellness. Put simply, if schools want to improve grades, they need to invest much more time and money in mental health. Brilliant stuff, Michael! You have immediately made my life better by introducing me to sleep apps and iPhone settings to improve my wellbeing significantly.

3. Accessibility

craig-smithI thought things had been pretty amazing on day 1 and then Craig Smith (@wrenasmir) and Christopher Hills (@IamMaccing) appeared on stage and blew my mind! Craig works extensively around the issue of accessibility and is an inspiring man to meet. He acts as a powerful reminder that the world is a far more complicated place filled with amazing people overcoming challenges daily that most people don’t even notice. Craig introduced us to a team of educators like Michael Harrison (@ozmsh) and David Woodbridge (@dwoodbridge) who are working tirelessly to raise awareness of the progress being forged by technology accessibility options, especially by the people at Apple. Craig was great but then Chris hit the stage and made me cry, laugh and tweet like a madman, sometimes doing all three simultaneously. Chris is a world recognised Final cut pro accredited trainer, phenomenal film-maker and now programmer, who just happens to have an acute form of cerebral palsy. His videos showcased his ninja skills on Mac software that would outperform most people regardless of that fact he didn’t use his hands! Craig let me in on an extra story about Chris where it was suggested Chris apply for extra test time during his Final Cut Pro accreditation, which Chris turned down only to go on to beat his assessor’s time !!! I haven’t blogged about technology for a while now but Chris and Craig reinvigorated my passion for the impact technology can have in changing lives for the better. thank you so much to both of them.

Here’s one of Chris’ videos:

4. Security

Troy Hunt (@troyhunt) took the stage for keynote of Day 2 and wowed us with a funny, slick and scary presentation on tech security. He showed us how vulnerable, ignorant, and easy to hack we all were, troy-hunt
whilst making us laugh and gasp. He was yet another significant change of theme and sent us all away with a sense of needing to do yet more education in the area of security and digital citizenship. Social media and online accounts have become such a daily norm that we need to keep up our discussion around safety.

5. FUN !!

Firstly, big up to Bella Paton and her fellow students at St Hilda’s for their amazing talented entertainment during the event. The number of delegates who said “That’s not live is it” when they first heard the girls’ singing and showed disbelief as they peered round the corner. Congrats Bella, You’ll be so successful, I’m sure! Now, something I don’t say very often but “thank god for Americans” My friends from the U.S, Carl Hooker (@MrHooker), Lisa Johnson (@TechChef4U), and Felix (@FelixJacomino) and Judy Jacomino (@JudyJacomino) bring so much energy to these events, they really send you home buzzing. They make you excited to be an educator and demonstrate in so many ways how teachers can connect to have such a bigger impact on young learners around the world. Thank you SO MUCH, all of you!

cathy-hunt-and-carl-hookerThat was one very special week and I can’t end this post with out saying how kind, talented and important Cathy Hunt and her work around the world is. This event exuded Cathy’s passion for education, creativity and fun. I know she’s worked so hard to make it happen and deserves all the praise she’s getting for doing so. Follow her NOW and get her books on iPad Art and you’ll be amazed at how she invigorates your love for creating and the potential Art has to change anybody’s life. Big congrats Cathy and even bigger thanks for inviting me to iPadpaloozaGC !!

I didn’t mention it too many time at iPadpalooza so I thought I’d just mention that there’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. [Watch the Video!]

Why are we still ignoring @SirKenRobinson?

It’s 10 years since Ken Robinson’s infamous talk on how schools kill creativity. In it, he mentions the entrenched hierarchy of subjects with Math and English at the top and Dance and Drama at the bottom. So … has your school changed? No? Mine neither. Change is hard but it’s time to take another look at what Robinson’s message was and maybe try to add a more practical perspective on why young people need this change to happen asap.

subject-hierachy-eduwells

The Hierarchy generations

The current teaching profession was born and developed in a world based on long-standing hierarchies. These orders of importance were how the world operated and they had been fixed for hundreds of years. The world unfortunately still subconsciously behaves on the basis that, for example, the mind is more important than the body, and men are more important than women. To ask the current generation of teachers to significantly shift an engrained mindset is a big ask. Society still assumes that universities do the most important educational work and thus we allow universities to continue to drive the purpose of school. But Robinson highlighted ten years ago that earning a degree was becoming less connected with guaranteed success and fewer young people every year were convinced that academic success was worth working for.

Subject ego trumps learner

The problem we have with this change is our  understanding of why schools exist. The industrial approach to education has school communities (teachers, students, parents, and business) focused on the output from any aspect of school. English produces essays, which must be important because writing is all around us. Science looks at results and graphs and these have always looked important. Art produces paintings and these are just a nice-to-have and so Art must be of less importance. The factory model has always been preoccupied by production and teachers plaster their classroom walls with what students have produced.

hierarchy-of-subjects-eduwells

By maintaining a focus on product, we loose focus on the process of learning and development and thus what each subject area in a school has to offer all individual learners regarding process and mindset. Young people do not see
school attendance as a matter of self-development but as a series of requests from teachers for output that matches exemplars. Robinson discusses the creative arts as important but his message is for schools to focus on the creative opportunities in all subject areas and preferably across them. The importance placed on the output of learning content has led schools to lose touch with students’ individuality and what they expect of themselves.

Why SOME subjects are MORE like gaming THAN OTHERS

When a subject’s content is held in such high esteem, a feeling develops where there’s little need to be creative or worry about what the students could add to the situation. This results in young people who wait to be issued material and challenges, at which point they will attempt to process them as requested and instructed. Like gaming, things appear in front of you and you are provided with tools with which you process those things and success is decided by a comparison between your processing of the situation and the pre-designed perfect example. Computer Games and most lessons are centred on the stuff and the tools. What’s invisible in the mindset of both gamer and traditional classroom student is the self. What’s most important to me at this moment? What would be the best thing to challenge myself with? What are my needs at this time? These are questions that students do not generally ask during English, Maths, Humanities and Science.

Self is part of the arts’ modus operandi

Dance, Drama, Music, and Visual Art ask “Who are you?” and “How do you operate?” as a matter of course. This is a regular practice that the current “top 4” don’t do enough of. In a world where employment will not be offered to possibly 50% of western society in 20 years time, we need to build confidence in young people in exactly who they are and what their strengths are in open situations. Confidence to invent, innovate, and contribute without requiring someone else to provide a starting point or even a job.

students-self-eduwells

Ken was correct and as he predicted in 2006, he’s even more correct today. Knowing and confidence in what one has to offer the world is the key requirement in a rapidly changing future and the arts offer this to all. We’d be safer with them at the top of the hierarchy, regardlesss of what they output.

Here’s a nice video by Prince Ea, covering the same theme:

 

 

 

The Art of Learning

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-3-31-13-pmIn my school, we are on a development journey to shift responsibility for learning from the teachers to the students that may take 5 years. This requires a shift in mindset by all involved, including the community, who put most of the pressure for grades on the teachers. To compliment this, we have shifted our attention when observing classrooms. Rather than focus on the behaviour of the teacher, which is common in many classroom observations, we are carrying out learning conversations with selected or random students in the room. Once the class is underway with a task, the “observing” teacher sits down with a student or group and asks what at first seem like obvious questions:

  1. Do you know why you’re learning this?
  2. How do you know how well you’re doing?
  3. What would your best attempt at this look like?
  4. What’s your next step?

These might seem obvious when considering the apparent purpose of education but parents and teachers themselves can get quite a shock to find how often the answers are not clear to the average student. This is because we have developed education systems that place such an emphasis on teachers issuing education to students, that as long as work is being completed, the learners can feel quite separated from the reasons they’re there in the first place.

“Let’s just get this fiNished”

In a BYOD environment it is common for students to develop habits where they gravitate towards the same app and output format because it becomes the most familiar and thus quickest with which to complete work. So in my school, I am finding that teachers offering free choice of expression are still receiving predominantly presentation slides as the output of choice. So, during a number of my learning conversations, I decided to find out how much thought was going into considering approach to a goal and the actual output produced.

conversations

Here is a summary of these conversations from multiple classes of 15 year-olds:

  • Teacher: “why are you learning this stuff?”
  • Student: “cos it’s probably useful”
  • Teacher: “Why are you using Keynote?”
  • Student: “it’s easy and teachers say we get higher marks for colour and pictures but we don’t know why”
  • Teacher: “why is that slide a useful one in the presentation?”
  • Student: “it’s got words and pictures … I don’t know really”
  • Teacher: “If you’re all doing Keynote presentations on the same topic, how do you know they won’t all be the same?”
  • Student: “… How about … we not talk to each other!”
  • Teacher: “what grade are you hoping for?”
  • Student: “Above average.”
  • Teacher: “Do you ever aim for a top grade?”
  • Student: “If I like my teacher or am already good at the subject”

Answers like these are common in schools around the world. They are also eye opening to teachers who don’t spend enough time discussing learning and focus too much understanding course content. The lack of genuine engagement in what one is doing is symptomatic of an understanding that what is taking place is a teacher devised workload, not a learning experience that one is part of. The drive for results can reduce the art of teaching to an ability to produce completing, compliant students, but what about the art of learning?

Engagement relates to locus of control

It is time that classrooms place the emphasis on students making nearly every decision regarding what, when and how they go about learning. It is time for teachers to focus on challenging students on their decisions whilst realising that through practice, students will develop an understanding that they are in charge of and thus responsible for their learning. When I’m talking to students in a year’s time, I hope to receive detailed explanations as to how and why their learning is happening the way it is.

I would not have understood this by carrying out a standard teaching observation. I would have reported on wonderful teachers carrying out their lessons with nice compliant children. Let us worry more about developing learners than topic absorption and we will eventually shift the pressure from that of compliance to that of students articulating their own learning success.

More like this in my book A learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

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.