Make a student-centred classroom [Part 2]

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

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

star_wars-_-eduwells_2017-001

STEP 3: DEVELOP A FULL LEARNING TOOLKIT…

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

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

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

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

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

LEARNING PROGRESS-EDUWELLS

STEP 4: THE TEACHER’s ROLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3 coming soon:

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

Advertisements

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.

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.

Future Proof your Learning Environment

BlogBut-app14“Did you know, there’s an app for that?” In fact, there’s 100s of new apps everyday and many teachers are put off technology because of it’s rapidly changing landscape. “How can I possibly keep up with what I should be asking the kids to use?” is a common question. The secret is to not worry about which app is the right one. Let the kids collectively do the ground work and worry about keeping abreast of the generic technologies and capabilities that numerous apps are making available.

But before you even worry about overall technologies, worry about what skills your teaching (regardless of content) might be developing. It is becoming a much talked about subject that any particular content schools might have “delivered” in the past is diminishing in value as A) it all becomes available on-demand on the internet in both written and video format and B) the world changes at an increasingly faster rate and priorities change year-on-year.

Universal Skills – prepare for a changing world

kids ipadMy planning starts with analysing universal skills I think are lacking amongst the students.

  • Do my students need more practice at collaborating?
  • Do they need more time on reflecting on previous work or experiences?
  • Should they be working on successfully communicating in writing or visually?
  • How about project planning or connecting with the community?
  • … and so on.

I also then ensure I have answers for the kids regarding why this is a skill worth practicing. Much of how I operate is around student devised projects but I work with the students on what they might focus on if I feel they or their team are not proving strong at a particular skill, like those I listed above. In a rapidly changing world, these are the skills that help develop what for me is the key skill: learning to learn. Why? For example, recent research is showing that unto a 3rd of jobs that exist in western countries will be replaced by automated robots or computers in the next 2 decades!    Picture Credit

Universal Content – add purpose to education

ocKids-iPadWhat information is most important these days? That’s a hard question. Given the uncertainty over even the next 5 years, how does any teacher know what they are teaching will be both paramount or relevant in five years. In New Zealand, I’m lucky that the National Curriculum took account of this uncertainty over where the future might lead and in 2007 removed nearly all content to focus on universal skills relevant to improving communities and the economy in the 21st century.

Universal technologies not apps

The freedom the iPad brings to each student’s learning experience is key when the skills and content being dealt with can be so varied within a class. Let the students find relevant apps whilst teachers focus on knowing the available technology types that they might be expect to see or encourage as options for dealing with material, even if it’s just occasionally. Here is my list of technologies that iPads now offer to a student:

  1. Movie making (Telling stories) – see here for movie making skills
    Narrative is so important in learning and allowing students to tell a story whilst combining multiple media types (film/photo/audio/voiceover) can be one of the most powerful and enjoyable learning experiences. The importance I have placed in any one-to-one device having a camera that can be used for this activity never fails to prove itself every week in my school.
  2. Animation – A challenge in planning and patience
    The opportunity to plan and produce animation, either in 2D or 3D is a real challenge at any age. It’s also fun and allows students to recreate any situation for any topic of story they might want to present.
  3. Collaborative cloud documents / presentations / planning
    This is very much how the world will operate for the next few decades and so building these skills and also their new forms of “netiquette” become paramount. The power in crowdsourcing ideas and skills when producing learning outcomes and the way in which live collaboration speeds up the process whilst developing social / team skills is crucial to all industries from the arts to business to sports.
  4. Web publishing – Blogs / wikis / iBooks / video / apps
    The fact that young people can now publish instantly for free is still not fully understood as the world-changing situation that it is by many educators. The world audience that many people under the age of 16 already have and the self-made learning network the children build for themselves through feedback and professional advice can not be underestimated in how it will change the landscape in schools over the next 10 years.
  5. Green Screening
    This technology is a powerful and fun addition to the world of mobile device learning. It is powerful for telling stories, reporting on events already filmed, school work produced in class or acting out impossible scenarios never before imagined in the classroom. My students were able to stand inside their iPad work whilst they talked us through in a video.
  6. Modelling – Allow students to play with that that would normally be impossible or difficult
    Many apps now model or simulate objects and scenarios for the students to play with but there’s also numerous opportunities to build models with on-screen clay, lego, paint, metal, or electronics. This is not ideal as the real thing is often better but if arranging or funding the real thing is difficult logistically, these virtual technologies are brilliant, especially in the way they can be instantly reset for numerous attempts.
  7. Augmented Reality
    This is the new frontier becoming increasingly mainstream. AR, as it’s referred to, is the idea of adding a layer of on-screen information, written, colour or 3D, on-top of what you can see through the camera in real life (think Robocop). Google has just completed it’s first trial with “Google Glass” and what DAQRI are doing for industry is amazing. Here’s my intro to the Augmented Reality for schools
  8. Coding
    Code.org and “Hour of Code” are part of an international push to have young people all coding. Whether you knew that or not or are already onto debating its merits or not, it can’t be argued that the results of coding now rule our lives and children should have at least some exposure to what it looks like and is about. There are now many teach-yourself systems and apps on the market and most are entertaining and successful at introducing young people to how coding works. Here’s one of my post on iPad coding.
  9. Building Networks
    This has become natural and normal practice for many children. Kids start networking online as early as age five with sites like MoshiMonsters.com and even coding apps like Hopscotch build on this with uploading, commenting and peer support through what they call “Branching”. Tumblr, Facebook and even Snapchat can be seen by parents and teachers as worrying signs but a positive view is to see them as practice for what some business experts have already predicted will be the most crucial skill of all over the next 30 years – networking & connecting. Many of my senior students will setup support Facebook groups or pages regardless of it being mentioned or not by the teacher. It’s just how they operate.
  10. Bookmarking
    Being able to not only save web discoveries but also collate, organise, collaborate and share collections of bookmarked material is an essential skill from the “to-do list” to more serious research. Systems like Evernote and others are great at helping people manage the vast array of stuff on offer. Modern bookmarking apps are also great when teams are collaborating on one project.

An open ended challenge

There are thousands of apps that offer entertaining and even interactive experiences with specific content. The issue for schools is becoming too reliant on a specific app’s existence. It is hard more most app developers to maintain the business and compete in such a difficult market and they often disappear after 2 or 3 years. Allow students to discover and use content apps but don;t centre your teaching on them. Focus your energy on universal skills and technologies and allow the students to practice and showcase their innate curiosity and talents for mastering specific apps collaboratively. in short, future proof your learning environment.

Please let me know if you have ideas for other technology types and I’ll add them to the list. Thanks.