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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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.

star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-002star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-001 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-003 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-004 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-005 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-006 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-007 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-008 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-009 star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-010

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.

Why Teachers should act like Rookies not Experts

RookieAs a teacher, I found Curious Minds episode 41 with Liz Wiseman on Why Learning Beats Knowing, sparked a number of ideas that connected with my recent posts emphasising the need for self-learning practice in schools over that of receiving teaching. Liz explains with numerous examples, why a ‘rookie’ approaches problems and projects from possibly a better starting point than an expert might. I thought I’d offer you my takeaways from this podcast (although I highly recommend listening to the whole thing). Liz’s book is available here.

Be Rookie smart not Expert smart

The most important role a teacher has theses days is to model learning and encourage curiosity. If we continue to base classroom practice around our expert status, we present ourselves as the endpoint of any expectation or debate. Teachers develop better learners when they model trial & error. Nurturing a classroom culture where everyone, including the teacher, is in a constant state of personal development means expectations and possibilities are left open-ended rather than fixed to the teacher’s ‘correct answers’.

Rookie Smart

 

Hide your inner expert to inspire your rookies

  • Learner plateRookies make for better learners than experts.
  • Ability to learn has more value than what you know in the 21st Century.
  • Rookies aren’t weighed down with prior assumptions and have a larger need to seek and build new knowledge. This leads to new ideas and approaches to problems.
  • A rookie has to make smaller but more regular development steps, constantly needing feedback and assurance. ‘Expert’ teachers often make giant leaps towards known answers. The rookie’s baby steps require a rapid feedback loop, which leads to a more agile learning process more suited to the 21st Century economy/society.
  • Acting as if no expert exists in the room, rookies need to connect with others, which encourages collaboration and participation.
  • Lacking knowledge resources leads to more adaptive and resourceful approaches to problem solving and knowledge acquisition.

It’s time for teachers to ask their students:

  • What makes a successful rookie?
  • What do we need and where might we get it?
  • Who can help us? etc.

It’s best teachers present the idea that no correct answers exist in the room and even if they secretly do, it’s the challenge for teachers to guide in such a way that students might arrive at their own answers but hopefully in new and inspiring ways that the teacher can learn from. This completes a rather neat circle of learning.

Here’s a great video (via @geomouldey, via @Dwenmoth) that outlines many of the reasons why we need rookie rather than expert approach to classroom practice.

Book banner.001Want more ideas and initiatives like this one? My book A Learner’s Paradise by Richard Wells is full of them. Available now on Amazon.com

Is your classroom filled with students or learners?

In a connected world with Wikipedia and Youtube, and technology that deletes more and more workplace roles every week, what should schools be focused on? Many teachers simply feel they do a better job that the internet at tailoring material to ensure students pass assessments. Teachers still prepare resources to read, watch and complete. Students are given or access these resources and work through them over a set period of time. They are then assessed and conclude that they have either acquired (temporarily) the skills and knowledge or not. What’s missing from this experience? – Learners! One analogy question I have for schools:

Is your school serving fish on a plate or issuing fishing rods?

Learning-to-Fish-EduWells

What’s the difference between a learner and a student? A student goes through the motions of learning for the sake of school structures and assessment, whereas a learner knows the context of the experience, can measure their own progress and makes decisions on next steps. The next steps might include consulting with an expert, such as the teacher, but it’s a learner who drives the experience. Well, that’s what I do when I’m learning something these days and it’s certainly not what I did at school.

Like the vast majority of current school leavers, It was after school that I spent years having to learn how to learn and look after myself. The school day had never given me any significant reason to look after myself beyond abstract grades and thus the teachers operated on the basis I never would show any genuine interest. They issued everything I needed in bite-sized chunks hoping I’d re-enact it in the assessment. Learning is exciting, being a student sucks, and as Chuck Berry said in 1957 – “Soon as 3 o’clock rolls around, I finally lay my burden down.” I remember thinking exactly the same thing and know that most students still feel the same.

“learning is exciting, being a student sucks”

So what should schools be doing? Developing learners. If from an early age the expectation is that one will learn how to look after one’s own learning and this expectation remains consistent, teachers wont find they have to do all the ‘learning‘ preparation on behalf of the students as is happening today, even with university students. No matter how much teachers would like it, the standard factory model school (still the vast majority) is not designed to and thus should never expect to develop true independence. Any school’s successful students who seem more independently driven, will be so due to expectations  for decision making and showing initiative during experiences outside the classroom somewhere – think scout leader, sports captain or orchestra member.

Scaffolding how to go about learning and be productive is what teachers should be working on.

Making decisions about what, how and who to work with so as to produce and evaluate outcomes, should be the norm in any classroom at any age. Scaffolding how to go about learning and be productive is what teachers should be working on. We need faith that by placing “how to learn and be productive” at the heart of classroom thinking, the average student will gain experience in driving situations just like our best students receive outside the classroom. 2 Posters I use to continue the learning conversation are below.

How to Learn.001

Design Thinking - EduWells

Are teachers stealing problems from learners?

My school’s team of counsellors invited a speaker to provide professional development on the introduction of our student mediation program. Some students were going to receive training on how to become mediators of their peers’ problems. The training focused on the types of questions you ask as a mediator and the difficulties people found in not automatically trying to solve the problems they were listening to.

Owning Problems

The speaker asked the teachers to roleplay a mediation situation and discuss a problem that a teacher was having at the time. The aim was to become better listeners and through the example mediation questions, empower the problem-owner by letting them realise their own solution. In discussion afterwards, there seemed general agreement that it was:

  • Important to let the person work it through themselves as otherwise we might not truly solve the problem
  • Interrupting with suggested solutions would switch ownership of the problem from the victim to the mediator, disenfranchising the victim from the solution.

A parallel with teaching

My simple conclusion at the end of the session was that the relationship between teacher and learner should be exactly the same. Teachers should pullback from providing solutions in classrooms as this means that learners never own the challenge. This itself is a challenging proposition as I am suggesting that once students see a teacher trying to provide solutions, they understandably struggle to truly engage in the experience.

This does question:

  • Worksheets
  • Lecturing
  • Flipped Teaching
  • Lesson plans around content
  • Textbooks (The answers at the back!)
  • etc.

It’s time for teachers to build their practice around prompting questions and not guiding solutions. This makes for a better and more meaningful journey for the learners.

A matter of context?

The strange thing from me is that some teachers have their practice of teaching content and solutions so ingrained that the struggle or refuse to see this parallel. Where they have some faith that young people might be able to solve their own personal and social problems, they still maintain a notion that without a teacher, few learning solutions would ever eventuate. This of course is the common issue of relinquishing one’s power base and stepping down from one’s stage. It is as human to want a sense of power and especially an ego boosting ‘stage’ in the classroom, as it is for anyone to interrupt mediation with solutions to people’s personal problems.

It’s time for teachers to shift their practice to one of mediating learning. Plan and structure the learning environment and questioning, not the paths that learners must follow to arrive at predetermined solutions as this reduces the depth of the learning experience.

What is Student-Centred Learning?

A recent job vacancy for a leading position in a New Zealand school asked for a focus on genuine student-centred learning. What fascinated me was their use of the word ‘genuine’. My experience shows me that confusion, misinterpretation, and a lack of exposure to relevant examples, means that too many educators do not understand true student-centric learning. Many schools feel under pressure to be implementing such models but often only change surface level elements whilst proclaiming they have achieved it.

What is student centred learning-eduwells

Why being student-centric matters

Let’s cut to the chase. This matters because we all know that young people (including ourselves many moons ago) would rather stay at home than go to school. If students tell people that they like school, what they’re often picturing as they say it are things such as hangin’ with friends, music productions or the sports events. When students are asked what their favourite part of school is, they rarely mention anything that takes place in a classroom. I recently asked 3 boys, who had moved from elementary to junior high, what was positive about the change. They actually agreed on “moving between rooms” as the first improvement that sprung to mind. That’s right folks, their best part of the daily school experience is the brief time spent in the corridors! All you have to do is endure an hour with one teacher and then you get a break for 5 minutes before the next.

The New Zealand education review office that runs quality assurance checks on schools’ practice recently reported on 68 schools that :

“Students in all schools were experiencing an assessment- driven curriculum and assessment anxiety. In many schools the only people who understood the overall curriculum and the competing demands on them were the students.” – ERO “Success in secondary school

The constant amongst most schools that drives this pessimistic view held by students is that they rarely control any significant part of their day. As an example of how common this view is, I can even use teachers to prove my point. I’ve worked in four schools that have all held teacher training days. During a number of those days, sessions have been prearranged to showcase tools or pedagogies and staff have moved from one session to another. Many of these days have received feedback that they were not very useful. A recent example I experienced broke the trend and offered longer sessions of self-directed time for colleagues from the same department to work on their own material. The feedback included:

“Best staff training days so far, we got to work on our own stuff and had time to get things done. It was great to work with other departments” – Teachers

Many teachers agree that student-directed learning makes sense when it comes to their own learning but this rarely translates to their approach to teaching.  Releasing control is always difficult, so I thought I’d do my best to outline some practical questions and advice from my own experience that will hopefully make some teachers reconsider their need for absolute control of when, what and how learning takes place.

1. TIME(TABLE) TO LEARN

Timetabling the day has more impact than you think. As the teachers highlighted above, how the day is divided often shapes it’s potential to engage people in learning. A comment by a New Zealand principal has confused many educators I’ve shown it to:

“The timetabling I’ve grown to love is that which subjugates the timetable to its role of representing the vision and values of the school and bringing life to the curriculum design principles that emerge from the vision and values – a timetable that is flexible and responsive with the needs of the learner firmly at the centre.” – Mauri Abraham (NZ Principal)

The idea of a timetable representing the vision for the school confuses many. The way you allocate time indicates your school’s priorities and thus your values. This is because teachers who are used to a day centred on the their needs don’t view the timetable as an enabler for students to learn but as another mechanism for managing them.

One major requirement for learning is reflection. Hardly any schools timetable for it.

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey

Students are normally given no time to reflect on recent learning before they are thrown into another unrelated lesson (High school) or topic (elementary).

2. RELEASE CONTROL

If your timetable is focused on the needs of the learners rather than teachers then you’ll be free to let the students shape a great deal of your teachers’ day. One issue that both restricts student experience and makes it less engaging  is that the whole day is often prearanged by the teachers for the teachers. Where to be, what to look at and what to aim for has been predicted and so actually demands less challenge. Learning happens when best when the learner is immersed in the experience. To truly immerse, a learner must have input into that experience.

Compliance is not learning, even if it results in good grades. Teachers should arrive at work wondering how they will be needed, not how students will conform to their pre-arrangements. I’ve always thought that the prescribed experience of school that teachers experienced in the 20th century is to blame for so many not taking ownership of their own professional development. Many are still waiting for the imaginary PD timetable and activities to be written for them. I wouldn’t want to think we were breeding another generation of people who wait for learning to be arranged.

3. allow technology to reach its potential

Technology is not essential, but it helps. A large number of schools are now using technology but teachers’ prearranged learning and goals restrict the experience for students in what potential there is to explore and discover with technology and the internet. Rather than learn, they are asked to use technology to achieve prearranged targets. This does not allow them to experience the same real learning process that people do outside classrooms.

Most young people are used to exploring and contributing to online discussion and events in their personal life. Many schools don’t make the most of this and create an abstract environment where study material has already been sorted and the path a discussion will follow is already well trodden by previous classes. Access to technology should be an empowering opportunity and I hope teachers ask students to surprise them with what the can achieve rather restrict expectations with rigidly structured tasks.

4. Students owning their assessment

Involving students in the design of assessment is both crucial to engagement and exactly what any learning involves when people outside schools undertake a challenge. If adults attempt to learn anything they start by setting criteria for how they will know they’ve reached their goal, be it piano or a google chrome extension. This is also something we generally deny students in schools. They are normally adhering to someone else’s idea of success. In doing this, teachers and schools remove an important personal connection to the learning experience.

I have experimented much in the last 3 years by challenging students to consider what marks success within each task they undertake. I have been surprised by how engaging this activity is for my students. It might be because it’s a novelty in relation to other learning they do but one group, for example, extended the assessment design to a full week of lessons without any encouragement from me!

Even if you are working in a high school and assessments set by high authorities. Ensure your students have time to review the course demands and construct their own list of requirements. To some teachers, this will seems like a waste of time, when they have already done it for them. But again, I stress that it is part of true learning and to remove this step only creates an environment of compliance and the skill of learning is not developed by the students.

Like reflection, considering one’s own success criteria is an important part of the learning process and schools should reintroduce this if learning is ever to be considered as authentic and meaningful.

Don’t just state your vision but be it

Many schools will state that they want students to be independent, responsible and confident. But if your students are walking into a school environment where every aspect is prearranged, you remove the need to be independent, responsible and confident about anything significant. We say practice makes progress, well let’s start allowing students to practice what we want them to become.

How I’ll be learning in 2016

2016 Learning-EduWellsIt’s that reflective time of year again. It’s now that educators like me consider what will define our approach to teaching and learning in the next 12 months. It’s made more reflective where I live, as the New Zealand school year runs February to December, so I’ll be starting with new classes in a few weeks.

So, here we go! Everyone else is producing target lists for 2016, so why not me. I don’t assume that my 5 personal focus points for next year are a definitive description of the perfect education, but it’s where I’ve got to and what I’ll be focused on with my students. I also want to highlight that none of the 5 explicitly mention technology. Our future-focused system in NZ has pushed many of us beyond the need to overtly talk about tech as an isolated topic.

I’m busy at the moment writing my book on teaching in New Zealand and why it’s the best system in the world. One of the many points I am raising in this book is how free I am, as an NZ teacher, to focus on these important issues and skills, having not been given a standardised list of content by the government that I must cover. Over here, it’s the teachers that maintain and develop what should be taught. Look out from my book next year if you want to know more.

Here are my 5 BIG things I’ll be focused on in 2016:

Collaborative learning

One of my big concerns is how most schools and classrooms operate in such a way that it forms habits amongst the students for depending on teachers and the school structures to move things forward. A strong emphasis on creating a collaborative learning environment means students will move away from asking teachers for everything and understand how much potential they have between them to sort problems and organise their own learning.

ITERATE

Learning has no finish line. All learning must have a context, expect students to look into all aspects involved, and propose and test solutions and/or new knowledge they’ve come up with. This new knowledge can then be peer evaluated to encourage feedback to highlight the iterative learning process.

Community

Schools often claim to be connected to the community but this does not always include the learning. Connections and perspectives from outside the school gates is crucial to making learning real and relevent. This might be local or from across the world and may involve visits, webcams, problems posed by outside agencies to be tackled by students, or simply publishing for real-world feedback as part of the learning. You might be using Design Thinking or Project-Based Learning but it should at some point connect to the outside world.

Connect

This is as close as I get to directly mentioning technology. Whether it’s other students, field experts, other educators, and whether you are blogging, tweeting, messaging or skyping, learning in 2016 must be connected and shared. Groups, hashtags and commenting can add more depth to the discussion.

Self & peer assessment

Involving students in the design of how their work and projects will be assessed must become a norm. Publishing the marking matrix is one thing but having the students develop it is quite another. I was amazed in 2015 how seriously my students took designing marking matrix for team projects. One class happily took 2.5 hours over it on a shared Google Doc! It makes them consider what to focus on and can be developed as an ongoing process throughout the work. This gives them far more ownership over the learning process, than the standard top-down judgement approach.

There you have it. These are what I’ll be working on in 2016. I hope it gives some people food for thought.

Hey teacher, would YOU be a student?

If you ask me, the elephant in the classroom, especially high school classrooms has always been the fact that teachers would rarely choose for themselves, the daily experience they inflict on their students.  [Img Cred]

bored student

If you ask a high school teacher if they’d be happy with a daily experience such as:

  • an hour of trigonometry;
  • an hour of Macbeth;
  • an hour of plate tectonics;
  • an hour of tennis, followed by
  • an hour of chemical reactions
  • with no attempt to relate any of the learning.
  • oh, and do you want to sit in the middle of 300 teenagers for an hour long assembly?

Nearly all teachers say NO! (I’ve asked many)

So, two questions for schools:

1. What excuses do we have for creating a learning experience we wouldn’t choose for ourselves?

2. Why are we surprised at an increasing dropout rate and general switching off from school in a connected and active world of Facebook and Youtube?

An alternative with positive outcomes.

21C Classroom Layout

 

This year a visited a school that had re-purposed their existing physical classroom / corridor spaces, and redesigned their timetable to create a whole new learning experience. I could see within 10 minutes that the students were more driven and positive about school than in most schools I’ve been to. It did this by dividing itself into a mini-schools within the site. Rather than confine each student to a particular room from which learning would be ‘received’, every student had permission to design their own school day (every day) and had free access to up to 4 differently purposed rooms depending on what their needs were at any particular moment.

New use of school space

The 4 rooms that each child had free access to would include:

  1. a “Cave” (silent room),
  2. a pairs room (for peer tutoring),
  3. a group room (for project/teamwork)
  4. a tutorial room (They had to book into tutorials that the teachers ran on a rotation).

It was up to the children to use these spaces according to needs and be responsible for productive time management. Something that was very evident during my visit, where I could see that through practice and extensive experience in self-driven learning, the average student was more confident, organised and keen to discuss their progress.

New use of School time

Students are free to organised their own day. They had to book into a certain amount of tutoring in a week but by choice could tailor the tuition to their needs. They negotiated inquiry projects at the beginning of terms and worked on them in teams. They were encouraged to work together and solve their own problems. They also booked out technology from a central hub when required, rather than assume that technology was a must all day, like some schools suggest.

New use of Teachers

Teachers rotate between giving tutorials and roaming as mentors. A nice touch is for the principal to be signing off the final projects. Teachers have more time to talk to students and guide teams in their negotiated inquiries. Teachers were happier through working with students who were intrinsically motivated to learn on projects designed by themselves. All the national curriculum and regular content was still covered and any direct teaching needed was available, just never in a one-size-fits-all approach.

Question the old, not the new

One simple piece of advice is to spend more energy challenging your school’s status quo, than any alternative that might be suggested. Turn around and challenge that “elephant” that so many teachers and even more students are talking about.

The “WHY” Guide to #Edchat topics

Although many educational models and pedagogies can seem like a conveyer belt of fads sometimes, many of them at least focus on one or two key educational concerns. Regardless of whether you think it a passing fad, many of them have an aim that you should know about and be considering as a teacher in the 21st Century. I must admit though, as busy teachers, it is understandable that to fully implement a number of them is unrealistic. So here’s my summary of the key take-aways from each model that you should aim to implement in your teaching. (Click for larger version)

EduWells WHY Guide to edChat

WHY FLIPPED TEACHING?

OLD FLIPPEDIt’s not about lessons becoming homework. Flipped teaching solves all of the traditional complaints teachers have when teaching traditionally (Chalk & talk), such as:

  • I don’t have enough face-to-face and/or practical time in the classroom
  • I struggle to get through all the content
  • Students just don’t listen or are distracted by others or are away too often.
  • I wish I had time to stretch my more gifted students
    Here’s my post on Flipped Teaching.

WHY BLENDED LEARNING?

You might be against all this staring at screens but learning must involve digital if it is to prepare young people to be productive in the 21st Century. But digital does not allow students to practice all skills. Real-world collaboration and debate are also survival skills in a successful future. Don’t do the work for them! The students must practice balancing and selecting the appropriate tools, digital or not for a task. At the end of the day though, a good balance is the way of the world.

WHY SAMR?

i4S SAMR MindsetThere is some confusion over SAMR but it does make teachers reflect on the impact tech is having in their classroom. It encourages good conversations about pedagogy rather than being focused on tech for tech’s sake. My advice is allow the students to experiment and introduce you to new approaches. SAMR challenges teachers to push tech to do more for students. It also encourages tech use towards connecting and collaborating rather than just regurgitation and helps teachers to move forward with pedagogy.
Here’s my post on SAMR.

WHY UDL?

I am happy to raise my hand and admit my guilt about not planning well enough to consider individuals in my class who have specific extra learning challenges and obstacles. Anything from a sever disability to simple a lack of social confidence. Too many teachers plan whole units and lessons just for the “average” student Universal Design for learning asks you to start your planning with those with the greatest needs on the basis the others will cope. ensure your room has multiple options for accessing the learning and that you become aware of the extra aides available inside various technologies you have. Offer the required variety of media so all can access the learning.
Here’s more info on UDL.

WHY PROJECT-BASED LEARNING?

i4S PBL AppsThe world operates in teams whilst most students don’t. Project-based learning prepares students more for productive social interaction and team skills. An emphasis for presenting to external clients or experts adds a real edge and accountability to learning. PBL improves the scope for genuine community connections and authentic learning. It can also add a much needed purpose to schooling, often missing in the normal abstract content teacher delivery.
Here’s my post on PBL.

WHY CONNECTED LEARNING?

i4S-The Connected Class ChallengeThe internet and improved access through BYOD means that learning that encourages wider connections Inspires young people to make a real contribution to the world. They are not learning to be citizens, they are citizens NOW! Offers new perspectives & live learning, not available in an isolated classroom. Encourages peer-to-peer support & independence, creating more definite life-long learners. Oh, and Skype Classroom is free !
Here’s my post on a connected classroom structure for the students to practice with.

WHY DESIGN THINKING? (My new Favourite)

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsDesign thinking can present a little like PBL but offers specific structure that has:

  • a bias towards action (How might we …)
  • a easy structured process for the classroom
  • a Focus on thinking, empathy and prototyping ideas immediately.
  • it also encourages input from all, on the basis that any suggestion might form part of the solution.
    Here’s my post on Design Thinking.

WHY SOLO TAXONOMY?

In New Zealand, our national high school assessment is based around SOLO. We grade our students on their depth of thinking more that their ability to regurgitate the ‘right’ answer. Solo helps student consider their depth of understanding on any topic. It has a focus on the relationships between topics and themes to enhance learning rather than just the isolated topics themselves. Solo aims for students to show understandings by moving content into other contexts or from other perspectives.

Here’s my Star Wars Solo taxonomy Poster:

 

HAN SOLO Taxonomy vs RON-Eduwells

Redesign your teaching year with just the key take-aways

I do hope this has helped some busy teachers, who haven’t had the time to look into these models. I also hope it might have some teachers reconsider elements in their teaching that require a little more attention.