The New Zealand Education Review Office releases publications that support effective teaching and learning on a regular basis. Their recent release is an interesting look at strategies that schools are using that have led to increased achievement outcomes for learners in Years 5-8.
The report identifies some key aspects of schools where effective approaches and strategies were implemented across the school. These included:
Of particular interest to me was the information about engagement and motivation:
"Engagement and motivation were both crucial for supporting the learning and achievement of senior primary school children. Many schools were successfully giving students greater opportunities to work in multilevel groups and to make choices about their learning. Teachers grouped children for the purpose of learning about a particular concept, acquiring a specific skill, or exploring a context that interested them. They no longer grouped children by achievement level or reading age. In some cases, children were able to select which workshop to attend or which context to explore. Children were taught how to work well together, contribute, listen to others, and take responsibility for completing something successfully. Some children who had been working in a bottom group or even independently with a teacher made considerable gains when put into a multilevel group – they no longer felt designated as failures and enjoyed being supported by, and learning from their peers."
Many of the approaches that the report is discussing have gone from strength to strength with the introduction of collaborative teaching. When teachers and students work together, the possibilities for different types of grouping and teachers being able to offer different options to for students to learn material have dramatically increased.
Some examples I have seen in practice recently include:
There are some really interesting case studies that are worth reading through. Below is the summary of approaches used. Could be worth taking a look at some solid, evidence based practice if your school is working through any of these strategies.
Take the time to check out Dr Julia Atkin and her thinking around spaces and resources. The fabulous team at Grow Waitaha has compiled this video guide to support thinking around this topic.
Alice Keeler - need I say more! You won't regret taking the time to listen to her! An awesome session this week with Alice preaching to the choir, ranting about grades, homework and testing. She's hilarious to listen/ watch!
This week's chapters of the book focused on the characteristics of the innovators mindset:
My key takeaways this week - in education there's a lot of focus on problem based learning, solving problems etc. In the Innovator's Mindset, George quotes the awesome Ewan McIntosh (p49-50) who notes that FINDING the problem is an essential part of learning - one that students miss out on when we pose the problem to them first. "Currently the world's educational systems are crazy about problem based learning, but they're obsessed with the wrong bit of it. While everyone looks at how we could help young people become better problem solvers, we're not thinking how we could create a generation of problem solvers." I think this is something for us all to be conscious of. The key elements of inquiry learning, PBL, design thinking all focus on students identifying an AUTHENTIC problem. In my work with teachers currently authentic curriculum is a huge focus. However, it's easy in the busy-ness of teaching to skip this step. Much easier to find the problem ourselves. That doesn't mean it's not a real problem or that students wouldn't have come up with it themselves anyway, but if we miss that step of real engagement and authenticity, then we're not starting in the right way and are going to have to work that much harder to engage learners.
My other key takeaway was around reflection. Reflection is also very much a buzzword with teachers at the moment, but I have one word - BORING! Filling out endless sheets of paper or google docs with questions is not going to make most kids better learners. If anything, they're not going to want to learn so they don't have to fill out the reflection sheet. There must be better, more innovative ways of doing this! On p57, George comments; "Reflection is a practice to which we need to pay more attention. It is crucial to innovation as it ensures we're asking valuable questions such as What worked? What didn't? What would I/ we change? What questions do I have moving forward?" Absolutely! These are not the questions that I see teachers asking though! My challenge in my work with teachers is to support them to move past lists or questions that are possibly good, to engaging in real reflective practices with students. Are we asking students how they like/ want to reflect, showing them how it supports the learning process, using exciting ways to do this? Or are we just creating another substitution level google doc and saying "fill this out?". I plan to investigate this further over the next few terms - could make a good blog post in the future!
Further Reading/ Resources:
Documentation and Reflection Prompts
Teach Thought Questions
The Reflection Fad
So I decided to check out the IMOOC for 2017 based on George Couros' Innovators Mindset. I'd been meaning to read this book for ages and thought it might make me finally get into it. A fabulous first week intro with the guest speaker for the week one of my absolute favourites - Jo Boaler. Loved that I could listen to the podcast while travelling to this beautiful place - Lake Tekapo. (Except it was pouring with rain while I was there!)
The blog prompt for this week is Why is innovation in education so crucial today? I decided to write about something that was probably my key takeaway from the assigned chapters and which has stuck with me all week after listening to the podcast.
Often when I work with teachers, they tell me that they really want to be innovative, but national standards are in the way, or NCEA is in the way. (International readers, these are New Zealand's high school assessments and an elementary school reporting requirement.) In George's book, I loved this phrase - We have to innovate - INSIDE THE BOX! We have to look at the realities of our situations and create something new. Our kids can't wait for a new government, a new Minister of Education, a principal who understands etc. etc. There will always be constraints - laws, money, time, resources, but there is still room for innovation. This is why innovation is crucial - our kids need it.
On page 10, George shares Dr Joe Martin's quote - "No teacher has ever had a former student return to say a standardised test changed his or her life." Absolutely! We have to keep true to our vision of teaching and learning - confident, connected, lifelong learners. I truly believe that kids who are excited about learning and allowed to learn in the way that suits them best will achieve standards set by some external source.
My other good reminders from this first session - Innovation starts with a question, Innovation can be simple. George defines innovation as a "way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from invention, or iteration but if it does not meet the idea of something new and better it is not innovative." Looking forward to next week's session!
Further Reading: A interesting business blog post about "in the box" thinking.
“If there has been one lesson learnt about innovating education, it is that teachers, schools and local administrators should not just be involved in the implementation of educational change but they should have a central role in its design.” Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills.
Love this quote! If we want real change in our schools, it's vital that the people who are passionate about excellence and transformation are at the heart of planning for this.
The OECD has recently issued a new publication - The OECD Handbook for Innovative Learning Environments. This follows on from their awesome ILE publications that have been released over the past few years. There are practical tools and ideas to support schools to further develop and enhance teaching and learning.
Here's the blurb:
You can access the handbook online here.
And a great summary blog post introducing the key ideas from the OECD blog.
Teachers all over the world are embracing working collaboratively, inspired by the benefits to learners and also the benefits for themselves. But it's not all smooth sailing. I often describe this move to collaboration as a journey, which is "two steps forward, one back". It seems to be a process where some days everything is running smoothly and effectively, then the next day it can all fall apart. As educators wanting to make a difference for our learners, sometimes it can be tempting to keep pushing forward - with often disastrous results. Challenges with learner behaviour, a disengaged community, parent complaints and damaged relationships can follow.
So how can you make sure that you recognise the signs that something isn't working? How do you know when to stop doing something? And how do you move forward again once you have reflected and evaluated?
THE BIG PICTURE
Often as teachers we have a picture in our head of what we think a collaborative learning space will look like. We have visions of motivated learners working on a range of activities, personalised timetables, effective technology use and workshops running that meet learners needs. However, the reality is that this vision is not achieved overnight. It involves a long period of scaffolding, modelling, systems development and organisation. Constant reflection and refinement is key.
My question is, do your learners have this vision? Do they have an understanding of what is possible and where you are headed? Your learners probably haven't had the opportunity to visit other schools and classrooms. Share with them the possibilities - how you hope that your learning environment will operate. Co-construct with them the steps that you are planning to take to support them to get there. If your goal is personalised timetables, talk to the learners about the purpose and how they will enhance their learning. What opportunities will there be? If learners understand that and can see the "big picture" they are more likely to engage with the smaller steps along the way.
IF IT DOESN'T FIT, DON'T FORCE IT!
I often hear "collaboration isn't about spaces it's about pedagogy!" While this is totally true, flexible and innovative learning environments definitely support and enhance collaboration. Often teachers begin working collaboratively in environments that are challenging. I have seen amazing teaching and learning happening in very traditional spaces but one thing those teachers have done is to recognise and respect the limits of their learning spaces. Usually they tell me that they are working in a certain way, but if/ when they move to an innovative learning environment they have intentions to make even further modifications to their practice. These teachers haven't been afraid to admit something isn't working and to modify or even scale back their collaboration if necessary. Old spaces weren't acoustically engineered and having a large number of students in a space where noise becomes a huge issue isn't healthy for anyone. Using a space as a breakout area that isn't visible by teachers is probably going to cause some issues. Try things out and include your learners in the ways you are trying to use your environment. Keep your big picture vision in mind of where you want to head and make the environment work for you.
REFLECT, REFINE, REFRAME
So back to the questions that I asked at the start of this post:
How can you make sure that you recognise the signs that something isn't working?
How do you know when to stop doing something?
Oh you'll know because there'll probably be chaos! But seriously, your learners will tell you! Listen to their feedback to help you refine teaching and learning programmes and to develop systems. This is also where your collaborative relationships are key. Maybe you think something isn't working but others on your team think everything is fine. How will you have those conversations with others? Rely on your professional expertise to make those calls.
In practice, my key question was always "How is what we are doing better for learners than when I was just on my own in my single cell classroom?". If I couldn't answer that question with evidence that it was better, then I needed to make a change, with one further check in: "Have I given enough modelling/ scaffolding/ time for what I am doing to work?" This is where once again that professional expertise comes into play. It actually takes longer than you think for students to get the hang of a new system or way of working and too much change becomes really confusing.
I really like this diagram from John Spencer, which illustrates how as you practice something, the time it takes reduces. He writes a great blog post about developing creative fluency in students, which kind of links to what I'm saying about giving ideas and systems a chance to work. Your professional judgement needs to come into play to make those key decisions - this isn't working and it's time to stop, this isn't working and it's time to refine, this isn't working but it might just need more time.
How do you move forward again once you've stopped?
Don't ever be afraid to model your journey as a learner. Sometimes it's hard to admit something hasn't worked in your classroom. Be open - share with your learners what you have stopped doing and why. Reflect and make a new plan. Sometimes that new plan is what I call "pulling back". This often has to happen when we've tried to move too fast on our collaborative journey. Something I think every teacher has probably been guilty of at some stage. Because we can see that big picture vision and we want to get there... NOW! But remember, there is no final destination, there is no end in sight. We're not going to arrive at Destination: Perfect Collaborative Practice.
A key question here is how are you as a school supporting and developing collaboration? As you journey together, the path will get easier. I will always remember, three years in to my school teaching collaboratively having learners arrive at the start of the year who already knew how to find a learning space to work in, choose who they worked with best and manage their belongings. I realised that they were now learners who had only ever known having more than one teacher. It was an a-ha moment for me, recognising that the work we had been doing as a school was now providing a solid foundation for effective collaborative practice.
So if you are facing challenges with collaborative teaching, my key wonderings for you are:
Does your school have a shared vision for collaboration?
How do you share this with your learners?
What opportunities are there for your learners to give feedback and ideas?
How are learners involved in the problem solving process when issues arise?
How do you scaffold and model systems in your collaborative classroom?
What are your strategies when things aren't working? How do you decide when to stop doing something, when to refine it or when to give more time?
How are you supporting learners and each other through a process of change?
Unattributed images all licenced by Creative Commons
I'm really liking this diagram? snakes and ladders game? from "The Essential Guide to Professional Learning: Collaboration" put out by the Australian institute for Education and School Leadership.
I don't know that you want to start rolling dice and moving counters, but the ideas in here are worth examining. Could be worth exploring as a reflective tool/ self review tool for school leaders?
I love the easy access of virtual professional learning communities! I seem to end up checking them out while waiting in the car to pick up my kids, in the Dr's office and at other random times. The beauty and ease of online means that anytime access! I recently came across these benefits to being part of online professional learning communities.
One of the online groups I think is worth a look has definitely been around for a while. The virtual learning network has been going for quite a few years and has some great groups worth joining. One of the key groups that I follow in the Innovative Learning Environments group. Often great discussions taking place on these.
Of course Twitter is most people's "go to" virtual community. My hot tip, find someone you know who's awesome and see who they follow! Then stalk them! Easiest way to build up your network and if they're boring, you can always unfollow them!!
Using your online network to share your Teaching as Inquiry is a great way to get new ideas and support. Just make sure you participate as well. Don't just stalk!
Think about how you can connect with others professionally in 2017. Online communities are a great resource to access.
Last week I was talking with some teachers about different ways of planning together. Google Apps are often a "go to" tool for this and many teachers use them in amazing ways to share information, monitor and track data, record notes etc.
Google Forms has been on my radar recently as a great way of recording information. Often used as a survey tool, it has the potential for SO many other uses. Recording anecdotal notes, as an exit ticket - the list is endless. It also has the ability to turn your data into graphs and tables as well as the ability to sort the data in different ways in the spreadsheet where the form responses are stored. Here's a really basic example of what a form for anecdotal notes might look like.
So a teacher I was working with really liked the idea of using Google Forms to record information about her learners. She would be able to have her iPad with her during group time and quickly make notes on the form. The only thing was, she already had a great setup in Google Sheets, where she had data shared with her collaborative teaching partners. They were using this really well and were making notes attached as a comment in cells on the spreadsheet. The issue was, that they had to hover over each comment to read. "If only the data on the Google Form could be stored in the Google Sheets too?" we thought. Well, the good news is it can!
Here's the steps:
1. Set up your google form with the questions that you want. (This is actually a big deal! Clever drop down boxes, checklists and questions will guide the information you want to collect. Don't rush this - set it up well!)
2. Set up your Google Sheet with whatever data you want.
3. Set the destination for your Google Forms data to "an existing spreadsheet".
4. Now when you complete the Google Form, it will just create a new tab in your spreadsheet and your information will be there. New google form, same destination? New tab!
You can of course rename the tab however you wish - group names, teacher name etc. The Google Form tools can be accessed so you can view graphical representations of your data.
And there you have it - everything in one place. You can have tabs to store data and tabs to store form responses. Gotta love Google!
"We really should have more meetings," said no teacher ever. Meetings are probably one of the biggest annoyances for any teacher, especially poorly run ones. I often hear from teachers that they are reluctant to work collaboratively as they think there'll be way more meetings and they'll waste too much time.
Time truly is an educator's most precious commodity and we don't have it to waste. Saying that, I truly believe that working collaboratively leads to better outcomes for everyone. So how can we make sure that our collaborative team meetings are effective, purposeful and learner focused? As we kick off a new year when there sure needs to be a lot of meetings, I thought I'd share my hot tips for making them work for you.
#1 Start with a team charter.
I'll go into more detail about these in another blog post, but it's important that meeting protocols have been discussed and decided as part of a team charter. This sets you up for success right from the start. Start times, finish times, agenda, decision making, roles and responsibilities, actions - all need to have clear processes and guidelines.
#2 What's the purpose of this meeting?
Why are you having this meeting? If it is purely to give people information, perhaps there is another way it could be done. Email? Shared google doc? Otherwise it's helpful to outline a clear purpose at the start. This can also serve to keep a meeting learner focused. For example: "Our purpose today is to analyse last year's achievement data and to group our students." "Our purpose today is to discuss ways of gathering and using student voice."
#3 Shared agenda - but get it done!
It's great to have a shared agenda that people can add to, but nothing worse than an empty agenda at 3:00pm followed by last minute additions and a full agenda at 3:15pm. Decide on a closing time for adding agenda items. This gives the chairperson time to order agenda items and check time.
A key role in meetings is that of the time keeper. Assign times to agenda items and have a group member monitor this. This helps to keep discussion focused and on track.
#5 Share the load
Share roles and responsibilities for chairing meetings, taking minutes, organising the agenda.
#6 End the meeting
There's nothing worse than a meeting kind of finishing, but people are still chatting and you're not really sure if you can leave or not! So you kind of stand around and before you know it, you're pulled back into a discussion that should have been part of the meeting. Make a definite end time and let people know it's fine to leave. Then anyone who wants to stay around and chat can but meeting decisions shouldn't be revisited.
#7 Park the questions and idea "sparks".
It's easy to get off on a tangent during a meeting because someone thinks of a question about a previous agenda item or has a sudden idea based on the discussion.(Anyone whose been in a meeting with me knows I'm guilty of this!) Have post-it notes handy so that people can jot those thoughts down. Then at the end of the meeting, set aside time to revisit any questions that need answering. Ideas can maybe go on the next meeting's agenda or be discussed if time.
Build in some reflection time periodically. Check how you're going following the processes you agreed to. Celebrate progress you have made. Be self-aware and think about how you are contributing. A fun way to look at roles is with the video below - "Every Meeting Ever". You will have definitely met some of these people in your career!
I hope these ideas give you some support around having effective meetings in your collaborative team this year. I highly recommend Joan Dalton's "Learning Talk" series as a resource, particularly Book 5, "Important Conversations At Work". Some of the ideas above I have adapted from her work and some are from my experiences in many boring meetings in my career! Here's to less of those in 2017.
My name is Ngaire Shepherd-Wills. This website is a record of my TeachNZ sabbatical, Term 2, 2013 and then I have continued to share my wonderings and discoveries about Innovative Learning Practices. I now work for CORE Education. Views are my own.