Peer Tutoring

This year as the Year 13 Dean, I’ve accidentally stumbled into the Peer Tutoring programme. Due to staffing for our weekly wa ako – learning to learn – periods, I’ve ended up running sessions on how to be a peer tutor. While some useful things were covered (how to build a relationship with a younger peer, questioning strategies, and some learning theories) I still feel like I didn’t capitalise on this opportunity, and I wonder how well the school is capitalising on this programme. So I turned to the literature.

nzcer_peer20tutoring_cvrJesse’s Pirini‘s book Peer Tutoring: A Training and Facilitation Guide offered some insight into some of the areas to think about when evaluating the peer tutoring that is already happening at the school. The conclusion of his book brought together the research and claimed the following as the most important in successful peer tutoring:

  • Strong, meaningful relationships between educators and students
  • promoting student agency through helping students to explore their thinking
  • setting goals by imagining a better future and then considering present obstacles
  • improving metacognitive competencies through peer interaction (73).

These four areas are reinforced by literature and provide a framework for supporting peer tutors. One of the cautions of approaching peer tutoring without a framework is it will be done the way people assume it should be done. “Often, this ‘natural’ approach reinforces an instrumental test and exam focus” (72). The shift is to make our tutors focus on the learning.

For this they need strong relationships and effective strategies. It was heartening to read about the reinforcement of relationships as the backbone to learning: “higher level thinking relies on basic emotional needs having already been met…A strong tutoring relationship underpins successful tutoring” (7). Pirini also drew on the idea of a tutoring toolbox – a collection of strategies to support student learning. The toolbox contain strategies such as:

  • Demonstrate a process of exercise
  • Give the student a task to do
  • Identify a specific problem
  • Determine an initial course of action
  • Contextualise a specific task within a bigger picture
  • Describe a basic process
  • Ask a deep explanatory question
  • Assess prior knowledge
  • Give specific descriptive framework

These strategies might naturally occur in a classroom, but there’s a danger of assuming that tutors will have picked up on this.

One of the shifts I reflected on from reading the book was making the programme student centred. A case study examined in the book puts forward the idea of a senior student leadership team who administer the programme by matching students and running the publicity. The other shift for me was the importance of training that is robust and ongoing in order for a tutoring programme to be successful. It’s too dangerous to assume, and it’s too easy to miss the learning opportunity here. My hope is we can use some of the book’s ideas to support some developments on what is already a solid foundation.

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The Director’s Craft and Student Centred Learning

41xybfa4xcl-_sx331_bo1204203200_After reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, I sought further insight into the creative process and how to frame it in my teaching. The Directors Craft: A Handbook for the Theatre by Katie Mitchell has served as a really strong companion to this journey. The explicit connections are with the annual school production I direct and the my drama class. However, it was the implicit connections with pedagogy that really interested me, challenging me to thinking about how the role of the director in a production overlaps with the role of a teacher. Teaching a particular skill or piece of knowledge could be done via direct instruction: tell the student what they need to know. However, by viewing pedagogy through the lens of the director, one can find something far closer to student centred learning: directing the student to find out. There is much out there already on student centred learning, but from this book it was the close connection between this concept and the craft of a director that felt worth exploring.  Some of the key takeaways from this book:

  • The idea of seeing the work as if it were “naturalistic cinema” (4). By thinking of it as a simplistic sequence, you can think of the play as how the audience will experience it frame by frame. How might learning also be narrative based in something similar to ‘naturalistic cinema’?
  • “If you get the picture of what happens in the past right, it will make what the characters do in the present more accurate” (24). This is essentially constructivism, articulating Piaget’s theory of learning. Your experiences of learning in the present, depend on your experiences and understanding of the past.
  • Action on stage only represents a small window of time in a characters day and a character’s life; just as time with a student in class represents a small window of their time. What happens outside of these windows is important and makes a big difference to what we do in the time that we have.
  • “Do not start on design, costume, lighting, music or sound until you have studied the play carefully” (76). A somewhat similar statement to make might be: do not start on lesson planning, resource selection, content choices, until you have met and developed relationships with your students.

I think there’s considerably more to explore with this pedagogical lens. My shift into teaching Drama over the last four years has had a profound impact on my practice in English and Media Studies. The Director’s Craft has been a launching pad to thinking about many of this ideas and is a truly excellent read.

The New Zealand Project – Max Harris

Max Harris is a Rhodes Scholar and a friend who I met at Secondary School. His book The New Zealand Project was a proud read from the perspective of seeing a brilliant peer’s writing published and an inspiring read from the perspective of the ideas and challenges that he shares. I was particularly interested in the views expressed on education, and this blogpost will attempt to capture some of my reflection on this.

The foundation of the book is a call for “politics grounded in cornerstone progressive values of care, community and creativity” (12). This values-based approach is threaded throughout the book in chapters that deal with various aspects of the political landscape from justice to economics, and the environment to gender and sexuality (I was very proud to see the last one achieve a chapter status).  Of the values discussed, I particularly responded to the importance of creativity. It is a value I championed in the Newlands College vision and a skill that the World Economic Forum claims will be vital for future employment. Creativity invokes imagination and innovation and “is in tension with the value of tradition” (16). Creativity is fundamental to a progressive society.

The discussion around a values-based approach led me to two takeaways from the book:

  1. That this value based approach should be used as a framework in other fields, for example I feel that there would be merit in using this framework as an approach to education if school decisions were seen through the lens of care, community and creativity. I feel a different decisions would get made.
  2. Education, therefore, is more deeply political than I have previously supposed.

While reading I started to think of some of the issues raised around NZ politics and applying them to education: the technocracy, the accessibility, the boldness of decision making being limited by the overton window etc. The ease of substituting ‘education’ for ‘politics’ was provocative, giving me lots of reflect on in terms of the way that the profession approaches the ‘bigger’ conversations in education. Where do values sit in these conversations? To what degree are we guided by them? There is, I think, an unfair weighting to the discussion that sits around ‘how’ where more value-based dialogue would concentrate on the ‘why’ and ‘what’.

The conclusion of the book contained three educational proposals for further debate:

  • “Te reo Maori should be a learning area in the New Zealand curriculum. Inequalities between Maori and Pasifika must be reduced…
  • A review of school zoning, enrollment scheme and school inequality should be undertaken…
  • Civics education should be introduced in New Zealand schools” (283-4)

Should this debate occur through the lens of care, community and creativity then I believe we could make some very promising progress.


Harris, Max (2017) The New Zealand Project. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books Ltd.

Digital Vs Human – Richard Watson

9781925321173My previous holiday read ‘Mobile Learning Through Digital Media Literacy‘ was a strong advocate for the integration of digitally based learning through careful application of several key principals. This book, “Digital Vs Human” by Richard Watson, is a far more cautionary tale. Watson is a futurist (interviewed here on Radio NZ) who was mentioned and recommended by Derek Wenmoth in his presentation on future trends.

The main them of the book was around the impact of automation and digitalisation: “How new technologies change the was that humans relate to one another, and ultimately, how technologies change human identity and purpose” (172). However, Watson is clear, boldly announcing in his preface “the problem we currently face is not technology, it’s humans” (xv). He encourages us to take control of the changes going on, to ask questions about purpose and impact, and evaluate ethically any technological change.

He considers the impacts of technology change on jobs, the economy and privacy, identifying that an “imbalance has emerged between work and life…individuals and community …liberty and equality…economy and the environment…physical and mental health” (16). The imbalance is leading to loss of connections and isolation of individuals. Watson implores us to stay in the driving seat, keeping creativity and empathy at the fore. Instead of blindly accepting new technology as progress, we need to ask what is it for? Who does it serve? Watson also considers the development of AI in depth. Where is the line between human and non-human? To what extent will humans “be happy to use machines in place of people and in what roles? Is there an obvious limit?” (58).

A chapter is devoted to education, but strung throughout the book is a challenge to rethink the relationship between technology and education. We live in an era “where our opinions are increasingly based on very little knowledge” where “knowledge of the fact a thing exists or is happening” is more important than knowledge itself (153). Are we over-schooling and under-educating? Are devices conditioning young minds “away from deep reflective thought”? (157). Is our tiered education system skewing our outcomes through the favouring of wealth and social status?

I think the issues discussed pre-date our current era; however, they have been exacerbated by technological change. The underlying issue, which he tackles, is the emphasis on learning to pass, or short-term knowledge. He promotes education through portfolio and people. Watson is particularly cynical about MOOCs and CoOLs which contradicts the research that people and relationships are what make the biggest difference to learning.

The final chapter of the book contains some ideas to address the themes in the book:

  • “consider the physical and digital domains as one” (240)
  • “challenge the myth that the intelligence of a large number of people online can exceed that of a single individual” (241)
  • “individuals should be granted the legal right to be forgotten…this might encourage more experimentation and act as a counterweight to conformism” (242)
  • “we must be vigilant against the threat of human extinction” (243)

Earlier in the book Watson suggests only when things are rock bottom, does humanity really truly reflect: “the threat of impeding death or disaster does focus the long lens of perspective” (93). I think the biggest takeaway from the book is the need to promote this wider perspective more often to have more ethical conversations about the progress society is making. The last six words of the book are a great question to start with:

Who do we want to be?


Watson, Richard (2016) Digital Vs Human: How We’ll Live, Love and Think in the Future. Scribe Publications: Croyden.

Mobile Learning Through Digital Media Literacy

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Published by Peter Lang

The first striking thing about the way the book (by Belinha S. de Abreu with Vitor Tomé) framed up its argument was defining the digital age as one characterised by performativity (“knowledge appreciated for its relation with power instead of truth”) and speed (xv). It positions this idea in the changing education landscape which needs to reform to ensure devices are instructional tools, not a babysitters – “the disconnect between what is assumed to be learning and engagement versus passive usage” (xxvi).

This led to the deconstruction of myths like the assumption that digital natives will be digital savvy and a task that uses a device does not necessarily have any pedagogical value. It made a clear argument that the placement of digital literacy is not exclusive to any subject and should sit in a cross-curricula space that is dynamic and responsive (I feel like that was a direct challenge to schools that are handling the 21st century by rolling out the same 4 week unit on digital citizenship annually since 2012). It also argues for online learning to be integrated in order to enables the four dimensions of learning 2.0: content, creation, connection and collaboration (144).

The second half of the book tracked through some expansive research undertaken in Portugal. The data was provocative, largely reinforcing the main themes of the book. It made a familiar call for widening our understanding of literacy to be inclusive of digital literacy. It called for the integration of online social networks to develop a participatory culture of global connectiveness: “We cannot continue preparing individuals to solve problems individually, because it is no longer what society asks citizens” (146).

The book asked questions about the privacy of data and the ethics of using mobile learning with students. If the only way to keep students safe is to keep them off the grid – which is unrealistic – then how do we ensure that digital citizenship and media literacy is taught to adequately protect students? NZ resource Netsafe is one place, but the authors quote a lot from cyberwise which looks worth spending more time with.

An overall point I understood from the book was the way that learning through mobile technology is not an automatic process. When we deconstruct the factors we realise that a lot of assumptions need to have significant thought and scaffolding to ensure positive learning outcomes for students. Take the digital divide for instance (or as Henry Jenkins calls it the “participation gap” [47]), which is often referred to in terms of who has the internet and who does not. Even in classrooms where everyone has internet access at home the divide still exists and can be broken down by the speed of their internet, the type of device used, the skills they have in navigating it etc. The authors drew on Yildiz to suggest that the way forward is providing students with multiple means of representation, expression and engagement (49). The solutions to digital literacy and inclusive learning might look very similar if both were explored through Universal Design for Learning.

In conclusion the book clearly places itself as an advocate for a positive position on mobile learning. It laments the fear mongering and negative media that hampers effort to move forward to digital integration. It finishes with this passionate call to arms:

“Mobile tools are here to stay and the underpinning of growing knowledge and understanding is best served through digital media literacy as the greater context and overarching inquiry” (174).


Belinha S. de Abreu w Vitor Tomé (2017) Mobile Learning Through Digital Media Literacy. Peter Lang: New York.

Students at the Centre – Personalised Learning with Habits of Mind

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Costa and Kallick’s habits of mind (2008), which were introduced to me by Karen Boyes at uLearn15, make up the spine of this superb book outlining the process of putting students at the centre of their learning. The book makes a case for prioritising four areas in order to support students to fully realise their potential as global citizens:

  • voice,
  • co-creation,
  • social construction and
  • self-discovery.

These areas guided a transformative approach to personalisation by teaching through the lens of the Habits of Mind.

I responded to the book’s sense of how and the focus on practical application of student-centred learning. A number of structures, templates and ideas could be taken straight into the classroom and these tangible strategies solidify the central philosophy of the book:

“The sense of urgency to respond to the growing diversity of our students, coupled with the innovative technologies currently available, make personalised learning not just a possible approach, but a probable one” (100).

The other strong section of the book that I responded to was the focus on educator’s actions when supporting a student-centred project. The authors suggested that “teachers need to resist rescuing students from struggle and allow them to think and learn” (92). By giving space around the learner, they get an opportunity to learn more about learning dispositions and their ability to persist, self-manage and make progress with a growth mindset.


Kallick, Bena & Zmuda, Allison (2017) Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind. ASCD: Virgina USA.

Disobedient Teaching – Welby Ings

‘Disobedient Teaching: surviving and creating change in education’ by Welby Ings really struck a massive chord with me.  The book is filled with inspiring ideas, relatable anecdotes and valuable points that helped to affirm some of my personal challenges and successes as well as point to next steps in my journey. I absolutely recommend this book to all teachers, or at least check out some of the media Ings did around it’s release including this superb interview on RNZ.

I was really moved by his discussion around change; declaring that “waiting for permission means very little ever gets changed” (20). It spoke to the conservative walls I’ve encountered and the issues I’ve faced in trying to evolve ideas that don’t come out of something being ‘broken’. Ings calls for bravery and disobedience in order to achieve reform.

In particular Ings takes aim at assessment. The arguments for why there needs to be change are familiar. But his solutions (framed up as self-evaluation, reducing the impact of marking, and quality reporting) gave me more hope for reform than I think I’ve held before. In terms of self-evaluation, he suggested three ground rules (72):

Only the person who has made the work can criticise the work

Others can offer positive comments, but, more importantly, they should ask analytical questions.

Deadlines are absolute.

The challenge therefore is to grow learners who have the reflective and critical skills in order to effectively self-evaluate. Ings suggested the questions “What is effective about the solution and why?…If I had time again what would I change and why?” (72).

Another powerful takeaway was his writing about passion and personality. A regular theme throughout the book was the power of teachers to create connections and moments that can effect a unforgetable positive change for a student. At the heart of this was the need for teachers to be authentic and real. “Showing feelings doesn’t make us vulnerable as teachers; it makes us complete…It’s by being ourselves that we become accessible” (112). I think this connects to a lot of the work that I’ve done around diversity. I’d go further to suggest that there is no way we can expect students to be authentic and real with us if we haven’t created an environment where we can be ourselves.

The final chapter was structured with a list of qualities to take forward:

  • Don’t criticise
  • Question bravely
  • Show an enduring interest in others
  • Think from the other person’s perspective
  • Humanise what opposes

I plan to keep this book nearby at all times and return regularly to its ideas. It was heartwarming to read such a real and moving account.


Ings, Welby (2017) Disobedient Teaching. Otago University Press: Dunedin, NZ.