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

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.

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.

_____________________________________________________________

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.

_____________________________________________________________

Whoever drives learning determines the destination

Whilst reminiscing with adults about our own experience of school, there are two types of story or description that emerge Classroom stories normally focus on the teacher, be it the way they talked, dressed or displayed terrible personal hygiene. Any other school stories include personal memories from trips, stage performances or embarrassing social moments. Now, notice here that stories that relate directly to the individual are outside the classroom, and most classroom memories do not relate oneself.

Where is the self in the classroom?

Who drives learning-eduwellsTeachers are often proud of their ability to build relationships with individual students but it’s the nature of and reason for that relationship that I want to examine. What I am about to write might frustrate some who see the nature of these relationships as the cornerstone of their practice. But like I have done many times, it’s the fundamental systems that schools use to deliver education that I am questioning and the way in which those systems impact on the relationships many teachers have with their students.

My thoughts this week relate to my recent discussions about factory style compliance being the driver for school practice and decider of success. When compliance with teacher issued work and rules is the primary concern during the school day, it has the tendency to shape the relationships of all those concerned. A topic that is talked about often is the difference between education and learning, where education is a finite something received from others and learning is a personal and authentic journey that doesn’t necessarily have an final destination. My feeling is that relationships formed within an environment of education do not recognise the individual beyond a need to comply with and complete work issued. An education predefines how learning takes place and so one-to-one relationships have to centre on either compliance assistance or issues outside the learning, like recent sporting successes or student hobbies. Relationships formed within an environment focused on learning are designed around the needs and passions of each individual to progress. In this way, education does not equip the individual for further learning as much as a personally driven experience that develops one’s own strategies and tactics.

BECOMING A LEARNER TAKES TIME

I was invited to speak about change at another New Zealand high school this week where I did my best to explain the shift from educating the masses to developing individual learners and why the changing world was busy extending our need to do so. The thing I couldn’t stress enough is that whole school change is not worth attempting. The senior students in 90% of high schools have been trained to be educated by others and will often resent the idea of taking charge and being responsible for their learning.

So play the long game. Start with your youngest year group and have the teachers build a library of learning strategies and classroom expectations that have the learners consider “How might we or I progress towards this goal?” Challenge your students more to practice considering all the available options rather than waiting to be given them. Equip and empower your learners to be more independent but also self-aware in knowing when and how to seek assistance from those inside and outside the classroom.

Same workload – less stress

Confusion exists amongst teacher about student-driven learning. It requires just as much work from the teacher but the focus of the work is strategic and centred on resourcing students (example here) so they know:

  • how to go about being productive
  • how to hold meaningful discussion
  • how to evaluate information
  • how to think deeply
  • how to listen
  • how to communicate ideas
  • how to show empathy
  • and so on…

These questions must feature as the most common discussions in classrooms if schools are to genuinely recognise the individual learner. Once teachers are brave enough to start the long game and build better learners, the stress levels plummet. As a teacher in such a situation said to me last year: “why didn’t we do this 20 years ago!”

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

How compliance hurts all learning

Like many deputy principals around the world, I didn’t do very well at school. I was cheeky (not naughty) and hyperactive … every teacher’s favourite nightmare!  If I did the work, I always used the popular “bare minimum, last minute” approach. With no real world experience, and parents who had understandably given up trying to help, I couldn’t see any reason to comply with the prescribed workload. I knew I was capable and the teachers frequently told me so, but what I saw as simple compliance just didn’t excite me.

compliance-EduwellsIn my 15 years of teaching I have always sympathised with non-compliant learners but only in the last 5 years have I realised that compliance is not the only option for a classroom. I am currently working with the teachers in my school on a transition of staff and student mindset (it might take 5 years) that will hopefully have classrooms involving each learner in discussing and developing awareness of their own learning processes. Having students consider how they personally would best achieve the goals makes them feel appreciated as an individual and ironically (strict conservatives probably think this is nonsense) demands more from them. The alternative is to continue prescribing it for either entire classes or subsets of these (I’ve never been comfortable with teacher devised “differentiation”) and hoping for compliance.

Why not comply?

Success in school, something I knowingly chose to throw away, is predominantly a measure of your willingness to comply. If you sit quietly, follow all the guidance and complete the work, you will undoubtedly succeed with at least a satisfactory grade. Compliance was very important when preparing populations for factories and hard labour, but why comply these days with someone else’s learning program? If learners have evidence in their life that ‘playing-the-game’ means success or they have been conditioned to comply then schools generally achieve their assessment goals. Under the existing worldwide school compliance schooling, rich kids outperform poor kids and girls outperform boys. This explains why rich kids see ‘the system’ worth complying with and this explains why girls comply and thus “succeed.” But is compliance genuine success?

It is not hard to find evidence from industry, universities, and parents that even school leavers with successful grades disappoint those in the real world, who expect them to show initiative and make decisions, something classrooms have hardly shown a interest in. All young people are capable of initiative and decision making, they just get very little practice. Students taught as a class, think as a class and not individuals.

“Students taught as a class, think as a class and not individuals.” – Richard Wells (@Eduwells)

Compliance classrooms promote further undervaluing of students who’s lives already feel undervalued and hold back those who feel confident to suggest better approaches and stretch possibilities. From top to bottom, compliance hurts all learning and it’s time to start involving the young people in their own development. School as a journey of self-development is often as invisible to learners today as it was to me when I scraped a pass for compliance in 1995.

Want to read more?

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

ALP Ad4

Book preview 01: A Learner’s paradise by Richard Wells

coverWow! I wrote and published a book! I was asked to write the book by edTechTeam after an online chat where I outlined what I had presented about NZ education at an event in Miami. My aim in writing the book is to inspire educators around the world to implement significant change based on the amazing initiatives that are forging adaptive, future-focused education in New Zealand. In this series of book previews, I’ll choose and blog my favourite examples from the book of how NZ systematically grows it’s educators and schools collaboratively as a nation. Thanks to those who’ve already bought it. BUY IT HERE!

Preview1: Teaching as Inquiry

The topic of professional development can spark conversations that go on for hours (Trust me, I’ve sat through hundreds of planning meetings). You can spend one meeting after the next discussing how to approach professional development as a school: Who needs what? Should there be elements of compulsory training? And the most frightening and misguided question: Which tech should we be using? In all the schools I worked in during the first decade of my teaching career, these marathon meetings led to minimal success.

Even today, many teachers’ vision for how learning should look is based on their own school experiences. Some see professional development as a sporadic series of (often – disappointing) events that they choose to or are asked to attend. What is most sad to me is when I meet student-centred teachers who, when providing training to other staff, do not use their normal classroom techniques because they know the audience of teachers are expecting and comfortable with the stand-and-deliver format. It is certainly not a bad thing that the number of education conferences continues to grow. But the attendees at these events tend to be from the minority of teachers who have developed some type of growth mindset. The majority of teachers I’ve worked with in schools, both in the UK and here in New Zealand, have yet to attend such an event and many wouldn’t see much need to.

Remember, the New Zealand system is fantastic, but Kiwi teachers are still coming to terms with it. The question for any education system, then, is this: How do we make having a growth mindset the norm amongst educators? In truth, it takes time to develop a culture where growth is the expectation, but including a systematic approach to developing this mindset as part of your national curriculum document is a good first step.

A National Growth Mindset

It is with great pleasure I can tell you that New Zealand is systematically solving the issue of nationwide, authentic professional development. The solution comes from making every teacher accountable for designing and reporting a personal inquiry into their own classroom practice. This is done through an action research model we call Teaching as Inquiry (TAI). Asking teachers to challenge and reflect upon their teaching automatically makes it more relevant and personal than if they were following a mandated lesson plan—or even simply following their own lesson plans from the previous year.

Teaching-as-inquiry_reference

This call for continual personal reflection and professional development is the opposite of any form of one-size-fits-all approach. The trick is to make teachers accountable for sharing their reflections with, at a minimum, others in their school and, more preferably, the world. The style of learning and area of growth targeted are chosen by each individual teacher and are expected to produce a measurable challenge to some aspect of their teaching. The purpose of TAI is to instil in teachers the belief that professional development is, and should be, instigated by the individual. It also promotes the idea that development and learning is continuous and not isolated to planned events.

Learning is personal

teacher chatThe best professional development comes from reflecting on one’s own practice and applying measurable challenges to one’s own teaching. It is a practice that empowers teachers to keep and improve the good stuff whilst throwing out the things that don’t make a measurable difference to learning in their classroom or school. Teachers are then encouraged to share those measurable challenges or inquiries with other educators, be it in one-to-one meetings with a “critical” friend or on a blog, as a growing number of Kiwi teachers now do.

TAI is a practice that is successfully developing a culture amongst teachers in New Zealand for collaborative reflection and shared growth. This culture, in turn, helps to build trust within the system as teachers are more accountable and transparent in what they are doing and trying to achieve. The sharing of TAIs also provides a library of ideas and resources to any educator willing to tap into the blogs and wikis created by their fellow educators. I created this diagram of the SITTI model to show how the TAI process fits with schools’ professional development goals and creates a vision for learning that includes everyone.

SITTI Model-EduWells

Want more great ideas and initiatives from New Zealand? 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

Cultivating boys that read

I’ll start with my own story to highlight a huge issue with reading that many boys struggle with. I find when people discuss whether they read or not, they tend to assume the discussion is based around fiction. In this sense I never read as a child. This will amaze many but due to a 1980s focus on self-discovery learning in UK elementary schools, I was permitted to not read if it suited me. I managed to avoid reading a whole book for my entire education. I read so little, I can tell you exactly what I managed before the age of eighteen:

  • at 6, I finished my last full ‘reader’ called “Roger red hat”
  • at 13, I fought through a third of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, before putting it down.
  • at 14 I confused myself on holiday with about 30 pages of an apocalyptic fantasy novel
  • at 16 I was forced to read scene from Macbeth to my English class

boysreading-eduwells

An unread college boy

At university (strange that I actually got there in the first place), I specifically chose an american literature elective to force myself to read a whole book. That’s right folks, I was 19 when I completed Catcher in the Rye, my first full book. The key reason for my trouble with reading was that, like many boys, I was always active, showing-off and inclined towards creative and/or physical activity. Books just required too much sitting down. I was never given a justification for dedicating serious time to someone else’s story. I may be nature or nurture, but boys struggle with empathy more than girls and I think it makes it harder for young boys to empathise with characters and really immerse themselves in the story. So what follows are the thoughts of a “non-reader.”

3 Ideas for encouraging boy readers

1. stick to the facts

Someone recently suggested to me that all men are somewhere on the autism spectrum, which from my experience, might be true. This is a more clever way of saying: all boys will obsess or get geeky about something. It might be sports, music, or Star Wars facts but details are everything to boys. A boy who lives near me discusses the facts of Star Wars far more than any narrative it might have. Parents and teachers can encourage this and arrange social groups around non-fiction interests to encourage boys to seek out more information, and thus read. Remember too, that websites and magazines also count as reading. Build a boys reading club around a magazine subscription in their topic of interest.

2. little and often works best

As a boy, I can tell you we like things simple. We’re not complicated animals. We like things to be quickly resolved and so books of short stories, that can be picked up knowing resolution with be arrived at quickly, seem more approachable than the thought of investing deeply in long complicated . Ensure boys have short story collections available so they can complete the narrative quickly but more often.

3. laugher satisfies

Comedy links to my previous idea. Funny situations and jokes are more immediately satisfying that other emotions, that can take longer to cultivate in a story. Comedy has the ability to entertain on each page and so keep a boy with shorter attention span hooked. Again, comedy also requires less deep empathy than love or pain. Find the funniest books you can.

My future? I now read more than ever, but sill not much in the way of fiction. My blogging keeps me reading, my Time magazine subscription keeps me reading, and the Curious Minds podcasts keep me reading.

boy reading

Image credit

_____________________________________________________________

eduwells-profile-drawnAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Leader 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 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.

_____________________________________________________________