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.
The best thing about the holidays, is having some time to read! I have read my share of trashy books this summer, but I did come across this article from a couple of years ago that I liked.
Generation C: Transforming Learning and Teaching Practices by Janice Mertes. There are some good ideas on her Top 5 list, many of which we all do to some extent. Something I would like to do more of is involve experts in my classroom programme. With skype, that is something I can do easily and need to make more of an effort to organise. What would your goal be for 2014?
If I had to create my top five list of instructional activities and tools for Generation C students to use, the list would include:
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 the term has whizzed by - not quite sure where the weeks went! Of course, it feels like I have never been away! The kids are loving the new classroom set up, and it has been great to see them start to "own" the space. They make great use of the bean bags, floor pillows and cushions. The old bar stools that were destined for the dump, and the number 1 favourite. There is often competition to see who will get to sit in those!
We were also fortunate to get a low white board table to sit in the learning studio. This is really popular with the kids too. I'm planning to develop a resource box, with activity cards for the students to choose independent activities that they can complete on the table. Eg. word families, ways of making different numbers, sentence starters.
We are team teaching Maths among three teachers. What we are trialling is this:
We have 3 homebases and a long learning studio area. 1 teacher has groups in HB10. This is also the SILENT ZONE. Any student can choose to work in here, but they must be on their own and silent. It has been really interesting to see who chooses to work here - one day there were 20 students making this choice.
The second teacher has groups in the learning studio outside HB10. We have a whiteboard station set up here.
HB 11 is a space for practice activities and computer tasks. Students working on these can also choose to work in the learning studio. HB12 is Maths Games Zone. The interactive white board is loaded with games, there is chalk outside and there are maths games to play and reinforce learning. This room is buzzing and often quite noisy - but that's the purpose. The teacher who is not working with groups that day is the roving teacher. They are available to help students, check practice activities, monitor students and supervise the general area. Guess which is the hardest job?
We have just introduced a teacher aide two days a week, to release the roving teacher to work with a targeted group of students. This is also working well. Parent help is available several days a week also.
When you are teaching, you are focused on your group and there are hardly ever outside distractions.
When you are planning, because you are only planning for one or two maths stages, the quality really improves. We have all agreed that we have got to know a math stage in depth and that the quality of our lessons, ict integration and follow up activities has improved.
Students who are not with a teacher have someone to go to when they are stuck. Games are purposeful because there is someone to monitor those children who are using those activities.
Students are working through maths progressions for their numeracy stage.
The space that we have can be a little tricky to use, but I feel like this "power of 3" math is going really well. There are still a few kids whose self management needs work, but as I keep reminding myself, that's also the case in your own classroom.
During a class circle time with my kids, we came across a couple of potential problems that needed solving. Firstly, lots of children reported others taking computers and saving them for friends who were still in their maths group. Many also said that when choosing a space, someone else would tell them that they couldn't have that space as they were "saving" it. We had a hui to discuss these issues and reiterate that no-one owns a space in the block. During the circle time, the kids noted several positives such as meeting students from other homebases, developing key people that they worked well with and not being distracted or interrupted in group time.
I personally cannot believe how much learning has happened in the term. I would estimate that I got through almost twice the Math Key Ideas that I would usually get through. The progress has been amazing and I have been super impressed with the students. We're still working through new ideas, finding solutions and refining, but I'm really enjoying this way of teaching!
Some of the best learning experiences I have had this year, have involved getting out and about and visiting schools, talking with teachers and principals and seeing what other people are up to. When you are a classroom teacher, it is all too easy to get stuck in your own environment and not know what is going on, even in your own school.
Fortunately the internet provides a window into the outside world. There are hundreds of educational blogs, tweets and facebook posts that give you instant professional development. But seeing something for yourself is the ultimate!
I love this blog post from The Third Teacher + about the value of field trips. They are inviting people to share their field trip experiences and have these tips for making the most of a visit to a learning environment.
I love these suggestions, especially the ask and absorb questions. I was trying to think what is my favourite place in my school, and apart from the coffee machine in the staffroom, I think it is probably the learning studio area. This always seems to be a hive of activity, a place where students interactions are taking place and I love the hum of "busyness".
So why not try and take a field trip yourself? Stop hiding in an office on your classroom release day doing paper work. Plan and make time, even for a field trip in your own school. The inspiration, ideas and even validation of your own practice will be way better than getting that data entered!
I thought it would be interesting to talk to some of the Provisionally Registered Teachers working at my school, to hear their first hand experiences about working in a MLE. Even though it is a while ago now,(!) I can still remember my first teaching position and the excitement of finally having a class to call my own! The hours of setting up and all those resources finally going up on the wall. My very own teacher desk and one desktop computer in the corner with a printer that had Microsoft Works, Dangerous Creatures and Encarta!!
I wondered how it would feel to not have that experience. To go from teacher's college straight into a shared learning space. To find out I interviewed Jacinta, Caitlin and Jason, provisionally registered teachers at Clearview Primary. They all began teaching at Clearview Primary in 2013. Jacinta and Jason had previously been student teachers in our stage 1 space when they were being operated as single cell classrooms.
Caitlin commented that as she was used to having an associate teacher in the room, she had found it easy to work alongside other teachers.
Jason said it was great to get management tips and tricks from more experienced teachers.
The PRT's said there wasn't any preparation at Teacher's College for the possibility of teaching collaboratively or in a shared teaching space.
The PRT's felt the opportunity to work collaboratively with experienced teachers was a fantastic opportunity. They could observe colleagues, plan together and have support with making overall teacher judgements.
The PRT's felt they had a strong bond with the students in their home class. They said it was essential that at the start of the year you had the opportunity to develop relationships with that group of students. For Jacinta and Caitlin, they spend two afternoons a week with their home class, the rest of the time is spent teaching collaboratively. They both felt this was an important time to focus on pastoral care and relationships. Jason spends more time with his home class, as his team is currently developing their collaborative practices.
Jacinta had taught in a single cell classroom last year for three terms. She noted that working in a shared space, you can lose some flexibility. For example, in a single cell classroom, if her writing session was going particularly well, she could continue with it. However, timetable restrictions in a shared space and with workshops running to time, you are unable to do this.
Jason also felt that some flexibility was lost and it was often difficult to find time to fit in "bits and pieces", like buddy classes and when your class was on presenting assembly.
The PRT's found that developing collaborative practice takes time. There have been extra meetings as their team has constantly sought to reflect on and improve their practice. As one of the teaching spaces only opened this year, it has been challenging for all teachers involved to develop the systems needed.
How will Colleges of Education respond to the changes in teaching pedagogies? What changes will they need to make to prepare teachers for new environments and ways of working?
How can we ensure that "teachable moments" and flexiblity can still be allowed for in a collaborative open space?
What changes to Advice and Guidance programmes will schools need to make? For example, should a PRT teach collaboratively with their tutor teacher?
It was great to hear from our PRT's who are all having a highly successful year of teaching. In some ways, if working in a MLE is your first experience, you are at an advantage over those of us who are having to unlearn and relearn in order to transition to teaching in a MLE. I hope to catch up with our teachers in Term 4, to find out what other reflections they have on the year.
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.
If you missed it, so worth checking out this story on Campbell Live this week. A great tour of Hingaia Peninsula School in Auckland and some experts weigh in on MLE development.
What a privilege to visit the fabulous Breens Intermediate School today! For those readers from other countries, an intermediate school is a "bridging school", between primary school and high school. It covers two year levels, Years 7 and 8. They are quite unique in the fact that students only attend these schools for 80 weeks.
Principal Brian Price showed me around his fantastic school and I was able to speak with various teachers, leaders and students. The classrooms were built in the 1970's, but once again, this is an example of a school adapting their traditional environment to enhance teaching and learning. About 5 years ago, many of the internal walls were replaced with windows, to open up the classrooms and deprivatise practice. The school has also reorganised some spaces, taking storage rooms and specialist spaces where able to develop three learning "hubs". Furniture has been adapted and purchased to create flexible learning areas.
Discoveries at Breens:
When students enter Breens, there is a rigorous induction process. Interviews are held with parents, teachers from the feeder schools and with students. The year begins with a three way conference. Teachers do their best to place students in a class where they will experience the most success. Students do have a home class, but there is ownership of all students by all teachers.
Within the learning hubs, the teachers plan and teach the students collaboratively. As a staff, they visited several Auckland schools for inspiration, and attended the "Think Forward" conference. Senior leadership has also played a vital role in the development of team teaching.
Breens has strong values underpinning the school culture. The students have a deep understanding of the values and they are an integral part of everyday life in the school. The school's visual metaphor draws on the community, family and feeder schools as the supports to grow strong students.
Each learning hub has three teachers and up to 90 students. Two of the hubs have large gathering places, where the students assemble each morning. This means the day starts with shared karakia and waiata. Notices and messages are shared. Students and teachers can also work in this space throughout the day.
The school also has an excellent library, known as COIL - Centre of Information and Learning. Students can access this anytime. The library area has been really well developed, featuring several "rooms within rooms". A support person is available to help with research and there is excellent ICT access.
Breens is a BYOD school, with students able to bring a device of their choice to support their learning. There are also multiple technologies available around the learning hubs for student access.
Teacher spaces have been developed in each hub. Team Leader Nathan Maclennan, described how easy it is to collaborate in the teacher space. Planning, professional conversations, moderation and reflection occur on a daily basis. The teachers plan using google docs, so plans are easily accessible. Assessment is also recorded on the google docs - teachers can make anecdotal notes about students that can be accessed and added to by the other teachers. In some cases teachers are focusing on specialist curriculum areas, for example, one teacher doing literacy groups, another doing maths groups.
Students have a lot of ownership and independence with their learning. In one of the blocks I visited, each student had a personal timetable and knew when they would meet with a teacher for workshop style instruction. Meanwhile, they had negotiated tasks and challenges to be working on. Students were motivated and engaged, working in a variety of spaces and using ict tools to suit their purpose. This year the students are also responsible for their own blog, which they are using as a record of their learning. This was also inform three way conferences and provide a way of sharing learning with families.
Goal setting is authentic and visible. Students set goals each term, then reflect weekly on their progress. Breens is introducing a coaching model called "Learning Advisors" where students will meet with a coach to discuss their progress on their goals. Mentors will also share their own goals, and model active listening. Students will develop skills to share with their peers and give feedback and support.
The students I spoke with at Breens were very articulate when talking about their learning and how they were using the space in the learning hubs. One comment some Year 8 students made, was how well they knew the Year 7 students in their hub. They said in their past school, those year divisions were quite strong, but in this environment, it didn't matter.
I left Breens, inspired with some new ideas to try in my school. The teachers and students are definitely demonstrating the values of being bold enough to try new ideas and it's a beautiful thing!
How can I make goal setting in my own class more purposeful and effective? Younger students often find goal setting difficult and easily forget their goals. How can I make goal setting an integral part of learning for my Year 3/4 students?
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.