Recently I read Richard Wells new book "A Learner's Paradise: How New Zealand is Reimagining Education." I've followed Richard for a few years - he writes an awesome blog, shares great iPad tips and tricks and was a CORE efellow last year. Make sure you follow him on twitter if you don't already.
I was interested to read this book for a few reasons. Firstly, I have been trying to find out more about teaching and learning in high schools. As a primary trained teacher, my knowledge of high schools are really based on my own experiences, which are now scarily over twenty years ago. Next, I taught in the United States for six years. Friends and colleagues would often ask me about the education system in New Zealand and it was often hard to explain to them just how education here "works". This book provides a great overview to the kiwi education system in a way that people from other countries could easily understand. Finally, we are currently having a brand new high school built in our local area which opens in 2017. My own children will eventually attend there. I have been following the process closely, intrigued as to how they are setting up their curriculum and learning spaces. I found this book really helpful with providing background knowledge about the way high schools operate in New Zealand.
This video provides a great summary of the key themes of the book.
So I don't want to spoil the book for you, but thought I would share some of my key takeaways. I certainly feel like I have a much better understanding of the secondary schooling system and the maze of NCEA after reading this book. It made me feel proud to be a New Zealand educator and highlighted the many positives we have in our system.
I particularly identified with the Richard's thinking around transitions - from ECE to primary to secondary to tertiary. He highlights the loss of potential that happens with these transitions. If teachers don't know or acknowledge what the student brings with them as they walk through the door, then much is lost. "When teachers of older children remain ignorant of these developments, they underestimate the progress made by students in the earlier years. This can lead to inappropriately reduced expectations of students in high schools." (A learner's paradise, p44)
That constant movement from "king of the hill" to "bottom of the pile" needs to be addressed in New Zealand schools. How does that feel to a learner? And what opportunities are being missed if we don't build on a learner's prior knowledge and experiences? Richard outlines how communities of learners have been created to develop a more seamless education pathway for New Zealand kids and I think we have a real opportunity here to build relationships, learning pathways and collaboration across educational sectors.
I also liked the practical solutions that Richard provides for overcoming barriers to student centred learning. His key components for success - timetabling to learn, teachers releasing control and letting the students drive their learning, enabling technology to empower and having students design and have ownership of their assessment. Many schools are on this journey and working to overcome real or imagined barriers to effective 21st century learning.
So after reading "A learner's paradise" it was with excitement that I saw this curriculum plan from my new local high school. So many of the ideas in the book are reflected in the learning design that Steve Saville and his team are putting into place for the new Rolleston College. I'm feeling very excited that my children will experience quite a different way of learning at high school than I did. Some awesome possibilities on the horizon.
Think about "A learner's paradise" for your school's professional learning library. It could work well as a "book club" type text as there are supporting reflective questions throughout which would build in opportunities for discussion and self-review. I particularly think primary teachers should have a read. Expand your knowledge across sectors and remind yourself that we live in an awesome country.
This is probably my favourite video at the moment. Short, sharp and to the point! John Spencer is an innovative educator who SHARES. He is passionate about design thinking and blogs and shares great videos that he creates.
Sign up on his website to receive his free design thinking toolkit and to follow the blog. Well worth it!
Loving this new resource from the fabulous team who run the inclusive education site as part of TKI. They have created an amazing resource to support the development of innovative learning environments that work for ALL learners.
The resource highlights that "Sensitivity to individual differences and learner variability must be a driver for decisions relating to pedagogy, practice, and design of flexible spaces. The guide emphasises the need to plan in partnership with students, teachers, parents, and experts. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles underpin the approach, recognising and supporting the learning and wellbeing of all students."
Take some time to explore the different aspects. There is just a wealth of resources, links, videos etc. Content curation at it's best!
You can also download the summary of the content site - could be a good resource to refer to to help plan out areas you wish to explore further.
A fabulous video that discusses real, deep focused collaboration. Not just surface level collaboration. We don't want collaboration that's fast and furious, or forced and fearful. Really worth a watch - share with your staff and start the discussion. How do we create communities of people who work together and support each other around a common cause?
As Term 3 begins in New Zealand, I always think that halfway through the year is a great time to check how everything is going in your innovative learning environment. When teachers begin to collaborate, one of the bonuses is the frequent "check in" moments. Those quick discussions at morning tea or the after school sessions when you talk about your day.
However, I also think it is important to really stop and reflect on how teaching and learning is working in your class. When you're working in an ever changing, evolving environment it's important to assess how you are doing!
I wanted to share two tools that I think are really valuable to support teachers in doing this. They could be used alone or together. The best thing, is they are both free! The first is the Core Education MLE Matrix. This has been around for a while and is still an excellent tool to track how your school or space is progressing, towards sustainable and mature innovative learning practice. Depending where you are on your ILE journey, you would use different parts of the matrix. It's a great way of seeing how far you have come and what your next steps might be. The questions also support you to check if you really are where you think you are.
How could you gather evidence to support where you think you fit on the matrix?
Could you involve learners or whānau as part of this process?
There are ten dimensions to explore and five process elements. There are also guiding questions posed as success measures around ubiquity, agency and connectedness.
The other tool that I recommend looking at is the Grow Waitaha Monitoring and Evaluation Framework. Once again, this is free and available on the Grow Waitaha website. Permission has been given for adaptations to be made. For those unfamiliar, Grow Waitaha is a programme running in Canterbury, supporting education renewal in the area after the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.
The Monitoring and Evaluation Framework describes the areas that schools need to consider if a future-focused vision is to be realised. When in use with a school it effectively becomes a ‘tool’ that can be used to monitor progress over time. Its purpose is for schools to be able to evaluate, plan and monitor their progress throughout their build process to ensure that they will be in a position to maximise the potential of their new or redeveloped spaces.
Although designed to support schools through the building process, it could easily be adapted for use in your ILE. The framework identifies nine aspects that enable schools to advance with their transformation of teaching and learning practice. Schools can identify where they think they fit on a rubric, reflect and plan out next steps accordingly.
If you use these tools, it's important to remember that no ILE is the same and they are ever changing, evolving places. Changes in staffing, learners, community, leadership and buildings can all have an impact on teaching and learning. It's not a race to get to the "final column" of these tools and to stay there. Often, it's a case of forward and backward movement, revisiting something that has fallen by the wayside, deciding that you need to go back in order to move forward.
Two examples I have seen recently of this have included:
A teaching team who has moved into a new, purpose built learning environment. They have needed to revisit collaboration with their learners and really build some understandings about working together in their new space. They had done some prototyping of this in their previous environment, but the learners are struggling to transfer these skills.
A teaching team that has had several staffing changes. They have needed to go back and redevelop their shared vision for innovative learning, in order to make sure they move forward together as a cohesive team. They are also planning how to include their learners in this process.
Speaking of the learners, there is the other piece in this process. Half way through the year is always a great time to collect some student and community voice. Check out this previous blog post on Student Voice in the Collaborative Classroom for some tips!
How best could these tools be used in your space?
Could you include them as part of a staff meeting?
Would your collaborative teaching team benefit from looking at them together?
What other questions do you still need to ask?
I really enjoyed this quick read article by David Jakes about ideas! It's all about how teachers need to come up with better and more innovative ideas in order for change to occur.
"Change is dependent on generating ideas, and about creating ideas that have magnitude — and that really is the key. Big ideas, ideas that potentially position the organization beyond their horizon line, bold, creative, audacious ideas, and those that make you tilt your head, squint your eyes, and then slightly nod. And then smile."
This kind of leads to a Core Blog Post that I recently wrote based on the video "Beyond the Obvious". It's all about how we often hold back sharing our own thoughts because we don't think they're any good. How do we encourage others to share their ideas in order for collaboration to take things to the next level? How do we create the conditions for this in our schools?
"There’s a reason that collaborative teaching is often called “power teaching.” By collaborating with others we combine expertise. Interacting with a wide range of people lets us gain multiple perspectives. This in turn leads to greater chances of our ideas intersecting or colliding, increasing the likelihood of creativity and innovation. We can share ideas that may then evolve into transformative action."
Think about sharing these readings with your staff to build a dialogue.
Questions to consider:
Do you have a school culture that encourages all contributions?
Do you indulge in "blue sky thinking" that lets people think creatively?
Do you allow for collaboration within your staff?
Do you encourage multiple perspectives? Do you engage with student and community voice?
"Little ideas are easy. Big, potentially impactful ideas — not so much." David Jakes
Check out this awesome blog post from my colleague Mark Osborne. Some great strategies for creating a sense of belonging and including all when developing an ILE.
Many people worry about their children feeling lost as we move towards larger more open spaces. Great to see the issue addressed, rather than "glossed over" which can tend to happen. Take a look at the reflective questions and apply to your context.
Such a privilege yesterday to be able to see the brand, spanking new West Rolleston School! The school welcomed their foundation pupils with an opening ceremony and assembly yesterday morning, then allowed the general public to come along in the afternoon.
They have only been in the buildings for a few weeks, but the work they have done is amazing! There are still a few finishing touches to be made and some more furniture to arrive, but they are ready to go!
The story around the choice of colours and the development of the environment is just beautiful! Each learning studio represents the local culture through a direct link to colour and the environment.
One thing I found interesting - you could really see the thought they had put into designing learning spaces. I could imagine the pedagogical approaches they will be using just from the way the spaces are set up. Thank you so much to Sylvia Fidow and the team for taking the time for an open night, the day before school officially starts.
Check out some of the amazing flexible spaces!
Wide Open Spaces!
Break out spaces/ Groovy furniture.
So it is Summer Break here in New Zealand. Christmas and New Year is done and dusted once more! Of course, Summer will fly by and before we know it, teachers will start heading to school to get organised for their new classes! In a few short weeks schools will be buzzing with excited students (and parents). So what is going to be your focus for 2016?
Whenever I would head back into the empty school in January, I was always struck by two things. 1 - the quiet and 2 - the pile of "stuff" that I hadn't quite managed to deal with in the rush of finishing the previous year! It was always a great time to reflect on the successes and challenges of the past and to start thinking about the year ahead. As learning centred educators, we are always engaging in this natural form of "teaching as inquiry." Thinking about what engaged our learners and was successful so we know what to do more of, but also thinking about what wasn't working well so we know where to improve.
So to get you started, here are a few of thoughts about what is worth spending your precious time on as you start a new year.
1) Your collaborative relationships.
Do you have a new co-teacher? Are you co-teaching for the first time? Do you have new people coming onto your teaching team? However you are organised and even if you are working with the same people, it is key that you put in the time to find out about each other, your strengths and skills and plan for the way you will work together.
The fantastic Steve Mouldey(@GeoMouldey) has put this resource on The Pond - a questionnaire for getting to know your co-teacher. (PDF copy at the end of this post.) It could easily be adapted to a variety of settings. Also if you're not on The Pond or the Virtual Learning Network,maybe this is the year to join and start exploring some of the awesome resources and discussions that are on there!
2) Student Voice
Getting to know your new students and gathering student voice and input is key to establishing authentic positive relationships quickly. How will you quickly access information about your students' opinions, ideas and strengths? Is this maybe an opportunity to get rid of some of those tired first week of school activities and to try something different?
3 Organising your virtual space
Have you had a tidy up of your virtual space? If you are reusing parts of it ( and hopefully you are if it is a site or weebly ) have you checked for out of date information, archived old student work that is no longer needed and fixed broken links? Make sure you're working smart - moved rooms? You may just need to change your site address or class twitter handle.
4. Organising your learning environment
Here's a job to take off your list NOW! This is not your job! This is one of your learners' jobs! Sure, you might have some furniture to quickly move and a couple of posters to put up, but this is no longer your responsibility! I remember spending days setting up and rearranging my classroom furniture, but in the past few years it's been all on my kids! Once again - ditch that " All about me" poster and get the kids involved in setting up spaces for their learning. Document the journey and create a resource for the class. These blog posts have some ideas for starting out! CEM #2, Just like Starting Over
4. Start Scanning
From Day 1, this is the time to start thinking about Teaching as Inquiry for 2016. In the scanning phase of Spirals of Inquiry, we need to be genuinely curious about our learners and to stay open to all kinds of new information and insights. I often find that in these early days, you might spot something that leads to a "hunch" that may need further investigation as the year progresses. Just keep it on your radar.
5. Improve One Thing
Challenge yourself to make an improvement with one thing. Maybe your reading programme needs a revamp? Does your school have a professional development focus in a learning area that you could build on? Maybe you are never making it outside with the students to fitness? You might want to ask better questions. But just pick one area that you know needs improvement and focus some energy on that.
6. Try One New Thing
Ok, so number 5 features improving something that you already do. But what about trying one NEW thing? Maybe this is the year you become a tweeter. Maybe you've always wanted to write a blog? You might want to try students running their own learning workshops as part of your classroom programme? Seek some support from your colleagues if necessary - perhaps someone is a whizz at GAFE and you really want to upskill. Model being a learner in front of your students.
7. Set a self-care goal.
Don't burn out in the first three weeks! Remember to take care of yourself too! Teaching is one wild ride! Don't sweat the small stuff and focus on what's important - those excited kids coming through the doors ready to learn! Good luck!
This week I was lucky enough to go back to my old 'hood at Clearview Primary. I was catching up with Tori Wilby ( @miss_wilby, @Clearview7and8) who has been using Hapara Workspace with her Year 7/8 class.
I've long been a fan of Hapara Teacher Dashboard - such an amazing way to organise google apps, which let's you take the collaborative GAFE suite next level! Hapara Workspace builds on the features of the dashboard, by allowing you to create learning pathways/ sequences of work for your students. Students are able to easily access selected resources, complete activities in google drive, collaborate easily and receive and respond to feedback. If you already have Teacher Dashboard, you have Workspace available to you also.
When I visited, one of the Year 7/8 reading groups was in the process of finishing up working on the novel "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley. A challenging text, but the students were so engaged and told me how much they had enjoyed the novel. Most students had the novel as an ebook, and some had it as a graphic novel. ( Love this differentiation - following the principles of Universal Design for Learning.)
To support this novel study, Tori has run guided reading sessions, where there has been close analysis of selections from the text. Vocabulary development and comprehension have been they key focuses of these sessions. Student discussion and collaboration is planned for in these sessions.
Student learning activities have then been available on the "Workspace." Tori has added relevant resources such as videos and weblinks, then attached a range of google docs/slides/forms that the students need to access in order to complete their reading task followups. Workspace allows you to sort students into groups to allow for even further levels of differentiation. Some of the activities are collaborative, with a task shared amongst a group of students and some are for individuals.
When Tori opens Workspace, she can see all the learning pathways she currently has running.
This is what the "Frankenstein" workspace set up looks like. You can add learning intentions/ goals, rubrics and more!
Tori highlighted the key benefits of using workspace in her classroom and for this unit of work:
An added feature in Workspace is the ability to set due dates for assignments. Once a student has submitted their work, Tori is able to assess it. If necessary, she can send the work back to the student for editing. The newly added "see recent changes" feature in google docs lets her see modifications instantly once the students resubmit their work. When Tori is happy with the completed work, she marks it as assessed. Workspace then makes a copy of the work and puts it in a separate folder. This means Tori is now the owner of that piece of work and has a final copy from that moment in time. The students get their own copy back and could make modifications if they wish, but Tori still has the finalised copy. She can then easily download these as PDF's and will sometimes make into a class book - either by printing, or importing into a programme such as Book Creator or ibooks author.
It was great to touch base with the students and talk to them about their learning. Some benefits that they highlighted from this unit of work were:
A huge thanks to Tori and the Challenge Team for having me along to their class. And MIND BLOWN: Did you know that Frankenstein is NOT the name of the monster in the story, but the name of the monster's creator?? STILL SHOCKED. Maybe I need to add this book to my summer reading list. To end with, check out these amazing thoughts from the students - the slide show below is from their K-W-L slides that they had worked on throughout the novel study. These are some of the "L" learned slides.
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.