Monday, June 27, 2016

Helping Writers find their Voice

by Phil Margetts (Ako Hiko Education Programme Leader)

You might think that two hours of PD after a long day at school (that included writing moderation) would be a struggle but I found Charlene Mataio’s session extremely inspiring and thought provoking. It was also amazing to see so many teachers from the Ako Hiko cluster come together and work in the same space.

One realisation that I had during the session was that I’ve probably spent more time marking and moderating writing samples, that force me to look at what makes a ‘good writer,’ than sharing this information with my students. As Charlene suggested, co-constructing anchor charts that show the features of ‘good writing’ could so easily be added to class sites and be updated regularly with the added bonus of being more visible to the community and accessible to students at any time. Another goal of mine based on this session is to start displaying writing from all parts of the writing process. I believe that all too often we push for that perfect finished piece of work without valuing the process that gets us there.

My grand idea that I implemented the day after the session was to create a digital resource where students could identify their passions and interests. This would then be used as inspiration and as a framework for students to carry out personalised writing every week. The immediate challenge: What to do with the group of boys whose interests are made up entirely of inappropriate computer games? Is it our responsibility to expose these students to a new range of interests? Or do we accept their current interests and let them write about shooting people until their hearts are content?

And what about our students who need extra support with their writing. How are we using the new technologies to help them? Are we still just substituting worksheets for Google Docs and relying on their increased engagement due of their devices? Are we using the devices to their potential? And if we are, what are we doing to share our practice with others? With so many teachers in one room I couldn’t help but think: What if everyone was to share one tip, trick or resource? How much richer would we become as a cluster? How much would our students benefit?

Finally, the point that was left ringing in my ears: “What have you taught your students about writing today?” So often I find myself trying to get tasks finished, rushing through activities or spending time checking students have filed their work in the correct folder, that this question has been neglected.

It sounds ridiculous that you wouldn’t teach something new about writing to each student every day but I know for a fact that I have been guilty of this in my classroom. The most obvious idea that comes to mind is to use the knowledge that already exists in the room. There are 24 people in the room. Only one of them is me. With so much talk around student agency, how beneficial would it be for your more able writers to take on a greater role in your classroom. How could they be used to make sure that every student goes home knowing something new about writing every day?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Chromebook and a Plug

This post was written after a visit to New Windsor School in October 2015. Originally published here.
By James Hopkins (Outreach Facilitator)
With such increased visibility, we have much to learn from today’s students when we look at coping with change. Adults who have developed a fixed mindset or those afraid to step outside of their comfort zone are often those most resistant to change. Once the fixed mindset takes hold, those who have it quickly become problem finders, not problem solvers. And yet here I sit, in a ‘classroom’ of 60 students in a low-decile school, watching intently as they decamp from their room and settle into a new home for the next 8-12 weeks. Why? Because their rooms are being knocked through to establish an environment for collaborative practice and it’s unfeasible to stay in them while the building work takes place.
So on a dreary Monday morning, 60 students seamlessly transitioned to their new makeshift classroom, the school hall. Not an ideal situation, but as a temporary home it has everything the students feel they need to continue their learning, their Chromebook and a plug! How many teachers do you know that are able to comfortably shift their learning environment for three months and simply just pick up their laptop and power cable? How many are able to work anywhere, anyhow and at anytime? Of course there are the modern learning pedagogy enthusiasts and practitioners, but most would struggle and spend days wrestling with the upheaval and shift. Yet the students that surrounded me this afternoon were simply happy with their device and a power source. When the time comes, non-digital resources will appear just as they would in their own classroom. Art will still take place and hands on practical resources will be fetched or retrieved. Make no mistake, this is not about the device! It is about mindset and change.
“Now put yourself in a growth mindset. You’re a novice- that’s why you’re here. You’re here to learn. The teacher is a resource for learning. Feel the tension leave you; feel your mind open up.
                                    The message is: you can change your mindset” (Dweck 2006)
I chose Carol Dweck’s quote to reaffirm the differences between many of our adult minds and those of the learners in our school system today. The understanding that learning can take place while surrounded by four walls and facing a data projector, but also while sitting under a tree and watching the world go by, or collaborating across the globe in the online world. It is anytime, anywhere and anyhow, it is ubiquitous.
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What these teachers have created is an environment that encourages risk but within the realms of a pedagogically sound model. Their students are unphased by change and look actively to lead it over experiencing it- this hasn’t happened overnight! Students choose their focus, articulately express their goals and collaboratively unpack next steps to achieve them. These students are self-regulated and motivated learners. This is by no means a new concept and looking as far back as 25 years ago, Zimmerman was able to state:
“At one time or another, we have all observed self-regulated learners. They approach educational tasks with confidence, diligence, and resourcefulness. Perhaps most importantly, self-regulated learners are aware when they know a fact or possess a skill and when they do not.” (Zimmerman 1990)
And what of the walls or the classroom as a home base? What about the constant need for a teacher to direct the learning and feed the information? Exactly! This is the growth-mindset, self-regulated modern learner. These are students who understand the value of collective responsibility for their learning.
The modern classroom, or ‘innovative learning environment’ doesn’t need to look like it’s been plucked from Google or furnished with running desks to engage. Yes it would be nice, but these are enablers and to some could even be a distraction. The modern classroom should be learning focused, tool and skill rich, visible to others and promote a culture of risk taking. How many walls does it need? Who cares?! A flippant response, but arguably appropriate and leads us to the question, how many walls do our students want?
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Our mindset as we enter a room often dictates the effectiveness of our teaching and learning. Have we forgotten to ask ‘why?’ or simply ‘what else could I do?’ The students I observed today weren’t reliant on the walls that surrounded them or their seating plan. Their chromebook is an enabler. It is the right tool at the right time. Nothing more. Their knowledge of the Google Apps tools meant they were able to begin a piece of work in one room and confidently pick it up in another, without giving seating or furniture a second thought. They slide effortlessly between conversations via email, the chat box and into real-life. They still call across the room, they still value face to face time, but they recognise how temporary a shift can be, because to them, it’s just a set of walls.
Dweck, C. 2006 Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential. Random House Publishing, New York.
Zimmerman, B. 1990 Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: An Overview. Article retrieved from Education Psychologist, January 1990.
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