“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.
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.
So 2014 has started with a bang! Here at Clearview, we made the committment to teach collaboratively, right from Day 1 of the new school year. It has been interesting for me, as I have been released from my classroom for the first 6 weeks, to implement some ICT initiatives and provide support for teachers. This has meant the opportunity to spend time in all parts of the school and to see first hand how teachers and students are working together.
As part of our PD discussions last year, we decided that it was important that students and parents felt right from the start of the year, that there was more than one teacher involved in their education. In our 2013 "Meet the teacher" session, we had students meet altogether with the teachers who were to be part of their 2014 "power team." We made sure that on Day 1 of our 2014 school year, there were opportunities for students to all be together to get to know each other and their teachers.
Last year when creating our new classes, rather than create them in a traditional way with each homebase getting assigned students, we created clusters of students, then separated them into homebases for management reasons. For example, in my team we created 3 clusters of 45 students. We looked across those 45 children for behavioural issues and diverse learners as you would normally. It did mean however, that we didn't need to worry if a student was "on their own" in a homebase at a particular level, as there would be others in their power class that they could be grouped with.
We have also experimented with furniture and setup in different ways. In my team, classes are mostly working in power teams of 2 teachers and 45 kids. One room may be set up as a large open space, while another room may be set up as "rooms within rooms" for the children to work in. Different teachers are making use of the learning studio space in unique ways. Some using it as a watering hole space, others using it as a teaching space, others as a working space. Most often it is a mix of all three.
We are developing ownership of the space, by making sure students have a presence in all spaces. One room might display art and inquiry work for all students. Another room might have maths and writing displays for all students. In our newsletters, we have made parents feel welcome to visit all teachers and all learning spaces that their children are involved with.
As I have moved around our school, I have definitely noticed that the environment feels very welcoming and collaborative. It is very busy, but when you stand back and watch, you see students using all of our spaces, interacting with each other and a high level of engagement.
I am about to head into my classroom for the remainder of the year, so exciting times ahead.
And just like that, another year is over! Reflecting back on 2013, it has been a year of great change. I have made significant changes to my teaching practice, based on new learning, understandings and ideas that I have gained this year. I am incredibly grateful to have had my term sabbatical and it was an awesome opportunity - although I could have spent the whole year on my topic and not run out of avenues to pursue.
Looking forward to next year, I will be taking on a team leader role within my school as well as having some time to implement some digital initiatives which I am really excited about. In Year 3/4 we will have a team of 6 teachers. At the moment we are planning to work in teams of 2 for most of the time, but also teams of three and sometimes even a team of 6. We are all excited to be moving forward after trialling and experimenting with lots of formats and ideas this year.
When we grouped our students into new classes for 2014, we sorted the classes into " power groups", not traditional class groupings. We then separated the students into two homebases, mostly for management and pastoral care reasons - eg. school roll, talking with parents. We kicked off our traditional " Meet the Teacher" afternoon, by getting together with both teachers and classes, trying to send the message to our students initially that they have more than one teacher and a wide range of fellow learners.
At this stage I think our challenges will be:
Changing the traditional understanding of the role of a teacher and a class, for both students and parents.
Constantly reflecting on our practice to ensure we are not slipping back into "what's comfortable".
Developing " collective responsibility" among our teachers for all students.
Refining and improving systems that ensure quality assessment and reporting information is available to students and their families, in an efficient and purposeful way.
I'm sure their will be more - stay tuned in 2014!
So all good things must come to an end! Today my sabbatical ended and I headed back to my fabulous class, which is also a good thing. I'm kind of excited to start trying out some ideas that I've gained during my term off and to see how I can use my environment to support and enhance learning for my students.
Firstly, I started playing around with the classroom design. This term I am teaching collaboratively with 2 other teachers for Maths, 1 other teacher for Literacy and up to 5 other teachers for Inquiry, Discovery Learning and some Literacy.
I decided I would like to make my classroom more of a "watering hole" space, with a larger floor area. In the past, I have had quite large tables that took up all the room, so I switched these out for tables that are smaller. I still wanted the kids to have a "home seat". It's something I use for many of my management routines - I can take the roll in 2 seconds flat - but they will only be there a couple of times a day. This may be something I'll need to learn to let go!
I wanted to create more options for students to choose a space to work in. So now I have table spaces, a huge floor space that can fit 3 classes when required, and more "rooms within rooms".
We also have our learning studio space that we use all the time. The open space seems now to dominate the room, while before the tables definitely did.
So the kids seemed to like the new layout today and are already beginning to move around the class more than they did in Term 1. When I had big tables, it was often like they were fixed to a spot, so it was great to see them doing this. It will be interesting to see how this evolves over the next few weeks, with collaborative teaching and learning getting underway.
This week I visited Waimairi School, hosts of the well received "Think Forward" conference this year. Principal Mike Anderson spoke at the CEFPI conference (see previous blog post) about the challenges his school has faced as a result of the Canterbury Earthquake. Despite the disruption caused by the earthquakes, the school continues to move ahead, developing their learning environments and pedagogies.
Waimairi currently has Te Puna, a new entrant block with 5 teachers working collaboratively. This is the newest building on the campus. Two year 1/2 teachers are also team teaching in an adapted space.
Mike described the journey the school has undertaken over the past few years. A lot of initial work was undertaken examining the values and beliefs that underpin all aspects of school life. There was a lot of time spent developing the vision for teaching and learning at Waimairi. Mike believes that it is vital that all the staff (not just teachers, also support staff) are part of professional development, and that you need to spend money on the people in your school.
Discoveries at Waimairi:
The teachers who are teaching collaboratively are taking time to reflect and critique how the teaching and learning is developing. They are constantly refining their practice based on their observations and student needs. They are adapting their spaces and using furniture creatively.
A learning space was created for less than $800 with two existing classrooms. Walls were removed and a cloak room carpeted, to create a fantastic learning space.
Waimairi has worked with Angus McFarlane to create a culturally responsive environment. They are keeping this is mind as they develop their collaborative teaching programme.
As part of professional development, teachers are involved in a walk through model, where they have a critical friend. They visit other classrooms, then reflect on their own practice.
Inquiry learning drives the curriculum at Waimairi. Each term, students are involved in a process along with curriculum leaders and teachers, where the focus for the next term's inquiry is developed. This ensures student voice is heard in an authentic way. Community involvement is high, with sharing of high quality work, projects and performances.
Google docs are used by students to enable learning 24/7. Staff use hapara's teacher dashboard to organise their student's work. A focus is the development of purposeful, effective feedback.
Waimairi is part of a cluster and will be having some rebuilding and redevelopment in the future. They are the first cluster in Canterbury to be ready for the Master Planning stage.
Staff will visit Melbourne in the next school holidays, to gain inspiration and ideas for the future development of their school and cluster.
It was excellent to visit Waimairi and talk to Mike, staff members and students. A great teaching and learning environment and awesome opportunities ahead.
So being half way through my teaching sabbatical (sad face!), I took a moment to stop and reflect on some of my wonderings and discoveries so far this term.
Recently I read a fantastic book called "The Learning Edge: What technology can do to educate all children." by Alan Bain and Mark Weston. (2012) This synopsis describes the main idea of the text:
After billions of dollars, thousands of studies, and immeasurable effort by educators at all levels, why is the performance of students and teachers so unaffected by technology? Moreover, what should be done to extract genuine benefit from the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution? In this groundbreaking book, technology and education experts Alan Bain and Mark Weston provide research-based evidence for how the widespread application of ICT can provide powerful learning opportunities that lead to lasting gains and achievement. They show how the integrated use of technology at all levels of the educational system can greatly expand collaborative learning opportunities by giving all educational stakeholders powerful problem-solving tools and solutions. The approaches presented here are grounded in over twenty years of experience working with classroom teachers, school leaders, association members, and policymakers.
This book gave me quite a few "A ha!" moments, though don't buy it for a bedtime read. It is hard going, but totally grounded in research. One example in particular described students during the time I was in primary school. We went to the library, researched using books, made a nice poster to show our learning and if we were really good, the teacher would photocopy us a picture to cut out and stick on our poster. Bain and Weston made the case - so how is that different today? Many teachers ask students to research on the internet, find out some information, use a tool to create a poster with some pictures. Has the learning fundamentally changed, or are we just automating tasks that we used to do?
I came across this excellent blog post by Claire Amos, who discusses MLE's, technology impact and the need for real change.
So what exactly makes these learning environments "modern"? I guess what makes them modern is the fact that they are different from the old ones (i.e. single cell rooms) and for many, rather unsettling. Historically speaking, different and unsettling seems to mean "modern" doesn't it? I guess "unsettling learning environment" was a bit of a hard sell, so "modern" it is then.
But hang on a minute, who said that modern equals good? The reality is, good (and bad) teaching can take place anywhere. I am guessing (and I am hoping) that the MLE will not simply make the teaching and learning better because it is a MLE, but that it will encourage a more open and flexible approach to teaching and learning because as a space it is exactly that, open and flexible. I hope it will encourage all those things we refer to as "effective pedagogy" in the NZC. I also hope it might discourage too much teacher led instruction and encourage a more facilitation style of teaching and learning.
Claire goes on to warn that MLE's and BYOD, could become a "smokescreen" that learning has changed, when if fact, not much has really changed at all, apart from appearances.
MLEs are pointless if the teacher still leads from the front of classrooms (albeit classrooms with invisible walls). Learning Technologies are pointless when the students have the use of their technology controlled and limited to little more than word processing and the odd google search. The challenge will actually be to explore how the MLEs and Learning Technologies can be used to genuinely change how and what we have been doing.
I think we very much need to proceed with caution, questioning and constantly reflecting and evaluating. It is all too easy in education to jump on the latest trend or trial something without deep, critical thinking. Bain and Weston point out in their book, that we are finally at a place where because of technology, we will have the ability to provide truly individualised learning for all students. I think that is actually the goal and the environment, pedagogy, technology and curriculum are the tools that will underpin it.
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.