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.

Wa Ako – Active Learning Stories

visionActive learning is taking place in Wa Ako at the moment. Wa ako is our regular period four slot which has enabled a diverse programme focusing on learning to learn and realising the Newlands College vision. We are building towards two days off timetable in Week Nine where a number of projects will manifest and some impressive ideas will come to life. The following magical stories were just two of the many shared today at the staff’s professional learning session, shared here with permission from the students. Last year a similar post captured student voice and here is some reflection.


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Active learning is something that more accidentally happened for me this year. I didn’t have a active learning project to begin the year with so I turned my focus into what was happening for me in 2018. Through a connection on staff I ended up emailing Steve Logan from Logan Brown and was invited in for a coffee. This led to working shifts at Logan Brown, not doing dishes, but actually preparing the food.

I’m not just on websites trying to figure out what to do next year, I’m actually out there doing it trying to figure out how to keep doing it next year. I simply started with the question: ‘What am I going to do and how am I going to do it?’ And followed through from there. The key challenge for me is not actually knowing what to do when on the job in the kitchen. But the learning for me is about asking questions and being open to advice, guidance and support so that I can develop the skills to be successful.

 – Ben Murdoch (13WG)

I am part of a group of Year 12 and 13 students have been planning a project as part of Active Learning, which involves a day of amazing Science experiments that we hope will inspire more students to develop an interest in the Sciences.

The idea began when I began to notice that there were many students that didn’t choose a Science subject as they passed through high school, or there were some students that didn’t choose to follow through with Science to Year 12 or Year 13. As I thought about it, I realized that most of these students did not leave the Sciences behind because they didn’t like it, but rather because they didn’t want to study it for the purpose of passing a test. I also noticed that the majority of students that did keep Science as a subject had a genuine desire to learn more about the Sciences.

So, I decided that there must be a way to inspire people to take an interest in the Sciences so that they can see it as more than a subject, and rather as the study of how the world works. When we were presented with the opportunity to take up a project of our choice for Active Learning, it was the perfect opportunity to do something about it. So together with some other eager Year 12 and Year 13 students (Rachel Wilson, Becka Tiongson, Shine Wu, Ruth Cabahug, Aneesa Delpachitra and Ryan Mass) we set about doing something that could make a real difference, and have an impact on the future generation. As a group we came up with the idea of involving our neighbour, Newlands Intermediate.

We plan to use the two days we have been given at the end of June, June 29th and June 30th for this ‘programme’. We have several options of how we can run these two days, and we will arrange it to suit however many classes the Intermediate would like to send to us. The plan is to have sessions which last for an hour with three stations. We aim to have a class (or 1/3 of the group) at each station for 20 minutes, and rotate through all three of the stations.

We are well on the way to making this a reality and have even begun taking steps to turn this into a business venture as well.

 – Clarice du Toit (13CO)


These are magical learning stories enabled by teachers letting go of the control and having the students led their own journeys. So many amazing things are happening around the school and the energy is so contagious. It’s very exciting times!

Disrupting Subject Silos – Media & Photography Project

I’ve passionately advocated for department hubs and breaking subject silos in the past, but struggled to find the space for this philosophy to manifest. This collaboration between media and photography is a step towards that vision. Despite it being minor in scale, I hope the ripples will spread strongly.

Earlier in the year, I identified that one of my multi level media classes is on the same line a Level Two Photography class. This planted the seed for some sort of collaboration, eventually working out a model of combining classes to allow students to work with each other within the parameters of content that overlaps both subjects.

Media Learning Intention

Photography Learning Intention

To develop understanding of the technical features of a camera. Including, but not limited to…

  • Aperture
  • ISO
  • Shutter speed
To develop understanding of narrative structure and storytelling. Including, but not limited to…

  • Three act structure
  • Todorov
  • Binary oppositions

Each class had a preparation lesson which offered a useful opportunity for revision in both classes. In assigned groups they prepared a ‘lesson’ for a parallel group in the other class.  The following period, the students were matched up and delivered their lessons to one another. Many felt they already knew what the other class could offer so we stressed that we are all learners and that asking good questions was the key to deeper learning.

Our intention was both to offer a significant learning opportunity for our students and to blur the line that sits between our subjects. On both fronts I think we were successful. Many students reported back shifts in their understanding and the crossover between departments became explicit. However, to develop this approach, I think a stronger framework would need to be in place. One area that challenged the students was how to teach someone else something. Breaking down learning objectives and finding methods to convey information was challenging. Questioning was also something I felt like the students needed more support with. If this structure of more peer-to-peer tutoring and questioning was more familiar, I can see this being far more valuable.

While this is a minor piece of disruption, I think it speaks to the fact that you can create innovative approaches with tradition classrooms. You don’t have to have a sliding door to disrupt the idea of a classroom being contained by four walls and you don’t have to have a fluid timetable in order to see subjects working alongside one another. I’m left wondering how best to sustain this? Could a unit be taught in this way? Next stop… media studies and calculus…!

The Attention Industry Vs Today’s Classroom

A few weeks ago on National Radio, I caught Columbia University professor Tim Wu discussing the “Attention Industry” which he unpacks in his new book The Attention Merchants. He spoke about how our attention is a business – media companies, the
the-attention-merchantsentertainment industry, politics and just about everyone in the public sphere all want our attention. What is new for today’s society is the volume of competition and the ubiquity. There has never been so much competition for people’s attention with hundreds of things trying to grab our attention all day. As Wu point it: “It’s like we’re in a carnival non-stop all day”.

The implications of these ideas impact education. Educators too are in the attention business. We are competing for the attention of our students. When we consider the global competition for attention, can a teacher really be angry about a student who succumbs to click bait and ends up off task for a few minutes? What is the appropriate response when a student is taken away from the class discussion by a notification coming from their pocket?

I feel educators need to embrace being part of the attention business. The ubiquity of technology and the competition for attention that comes with it is part of the modern world and our students need support to navigate it. Wu says “the presence of all those technologies in our lives is driven by this business model and its appetite for more and more of our time.” Students need to be conscious consumers in this market and make autonomous decisions to contribute effectively. We have to be realistic about the world our students are navigating and make it transparent that we are also navigating it alongside them.

There’s deeper thinking to be done around the biological impact that the attention industry is having; but in the meantime, I think our focus should be nurturing agency and self-directed skillsets and focusing on the front half of the NZ curriculum.

The Power of Inquiry – Kath Murdoch

poibookI spent some time thinking about why ‘The Power of Inquiry‘ had made such a difference for my thinking above all the other literature I’ve engaged with dealing with inquiry. From about halfway through the book it became really clear that the point of difference was how holistic Kath Murdoch‘s ideas were around inquiry. Teaching through inquiry wasn’t about just about a process – it’s about a inquiry mindset that drives everything that we do; it’s a “way of being” (180). While this book appears to be more targeted at primary education, it was the idea of the inquiry mindset that I really latched onto and strongly feel is worth engaging with regardless of your sector.

The ideas in the book are really captured by the chapter headings, as titled below. For the purposes of this blogpost I’ve recorded something that each chapter triggered for me as a way of taking these ideas further in my practice.

Creating the Space: How can we design learning environments for inquiry?

I was struck by how this chapter didn’t just consider the physical environment, but also the emotional environment. I would argue these exist concurrently; design physical spaces for positive relationships. To me this means inclusive classroom spaces designed for diverse learners. The ideas of Universal Design for Learning sit nicely alongside this chapter.

Beyond Topics: What is Worth Inquiring Into?

Murdoch consider catalysts and contexts for inquiry, but also emphasises the big picture. The Newlands College vision contains the destination for our students. Any inquiry question posed can be evaluated by asking “how does this fit into the big picture?” (50). So for our Newlands College akonga we should be asking “how does your inquiry fit into our vision?”

Inviting Uncertainty: How can we grow a culture of questioning and curiosity?

The power of the question “what is this making you wonder?” really struck me (58). It’s a question that promote metacognition and allows thinking to be externalised. The process of learning becomes uncovered and questioning may indeed begin to flow. Other parts of the chapter recalled John Loughran’s ideas around questioning in What Expert Teachers Do (2010).

Finding our Way: What role can frameworks and models play in scaffolding inquiry learning?

The balance between formula and freedom was embraced here: “The challenge then is to acknowledge the way we can scaffold our planning and teaching by referring to a process without becoming overly prescriptive” (77). Essentially, I feel one needs to just get over yourself and let go. But also the notion of one lesson inquiries – deepening our understanding of the inquiry process through modeling it in one off lessons.

Assets for Life: How can inquiry nurture skills and dispositions for lifelong learning?

Drawing on Claxton’s learning power, Dweck’s work on growth mindset and Costa’s habits of mind, Murdoch makes a compelling case in this chapter for the way inquiry can prepare a student with toolkit for learning. The takeaway here is the importance of identifying the links to the skills and underlying dispositions that add value to the learning. In the Newlands College context, I believe this sounds like using the words of the vision actively to describe the learning taking place.

To each their own: why make it personal?

The idea that shone in this chapter was the power of letting go balanced with the challenge of letting go. Murdoch spoke about “holding the space” – giving the learning environment enough structure so that students can still find their way even if they find self-management difficult (124).

Staying Accountable: What does assessment look like in the inquiry classroom?

I felt like this quote summed up the entire book really:

Teacher who use inquiry-based methodologies have a firm belief in the transformative power of ownership. When students feel they are the ones ‘doing the learning’ rather than the teacher ‘doing the learning to them’ they are undoubtedly more engaged, and with engagement comes increase potential for learning (147).

Together is Better: How Can We Grow an Inquiry School?

Underlined the importance to me of not just having a vision, but having a deep and shared understanding of what that vision is. The shared aspect of that statement speaks to Murdoch’s section in this chapter on collaborative cultures which have been shown to increase student achievement (171).


Murdoch, K (2016) The Power of Inquiry. Seastar Education, Australia.

eFellow – Hui #2

The CORE Education Dr Vince Ham eFellowship programme continued last week with the second hui of 2017. I’m privileged to be one of seven teachers on this year long journey that will see us challenged and inspired as we all take on individual inquiries that will be presented at uLearn17. Continuing the trend from my blogpost on the first hui, I’ll capture the journey with three ideas and three questions.

New Ideas

1. Te Pā o Rākaihautū

Te Pā o Rākaihautū is the school that fellow eFellow Heemi dubbed “the school that whānau built”. It was a magical visit from which I am still buzzing. EFellow15 Steve Mouldey wrote about the school in his blog as “truly living their vision”Te Pā‘s vision uses the verb imagine – a really provocative way of framing a vision: “imagine a world where learning is exciting, challenging and meaningful; where our marae, our whenua, our moana are the classrooms; where our kaupapa, stories and knowledge are central to the curriculum; and where our tamariki, mātua, toua and poua can learn side by side.” This vision was in action in every classroom we visited. It was a privilege to walk through the classrooms, observing learning in action and observe an authenticity that I am still reflecting on many weeks later.

2. Hagley College20170405_131737

Our visit to Hagley College captured some similar themes. A completely different environment, but it too was incredibly connected to its community. The authenticity here was striking. When entering classrooms, it wasn’t immediately obvious who the teacher was. This wasn’t just because adult students are part of Hagley, it was also because of the design of the classrooms and the way that learning was being approached. In every context, from the animation room, cooking spaces and the fashion hub, the feeling of a traditional school simply wasn’t there. It didn’t feel that students were compromised in order to fit into the environment – students were at the centre. This is made all the more impressive by how the special culture of the school means that the roll picks up a lot of students that don’t succeed in other schools – drop outs, exclusions, or students that fall short of a qualification. This was another magical school to see in action.

3. Universal Design for Learning

Chrissie Butler was our guest on the second day, who was charged with the task of disrupting our thinking through introducing us to UDL. This was my second introduction to the framework – but it may as well have been my first, such was the way that Chrissie disrupted my assumptions. I need to do a lot more gathering of my thoughts around this, but a quick easy takeaway was the need to “plan for predictable variability”. More on UDL via Chrissie on EdTalks.

Questions

1.Letting them Try

Te Pā o Rākaihautū told us about their trying policy. If someone has an idea and it’s not against the law or the lore – then they can try it. If it works, try and make it better, if it doesn’t try something else. This reminds me of Welby Ings who in his recent book Disobedient Teaching claimed “waiting for permission means very little ever gets changed” (20, 2017). What needs to happen in the spaces I work to empower every teacher feel like they can make significant change?

2. Christchurch20170404_125827

With the hui being in Christchurch, we were right in the heart of a city that was in the process of transforming; I vow never again complain about the volume of Wellington’s roadworks. In travelling around the city we saw the remarkable way that disruptive thinking was challenging the way the think about space and community. The pop up, gap filling culture focused on creating temporary initiatives that invested in connecting people to the space. The TED talk below makes it clear that the movement is about people – how people understand space in the city and how they use it. What can education settings learn from this approach? How can we gap fill our schools to improve our learning spaces?

3. Inclusive Pedagogy

Questions I am taking forward with my project. Asking teachers to consider:

  • How do sexuality/gender minority students know they are safe in your classroom?
  • How does your practice support the disruption of heteronormativity or binary views of gender?

Learning with the Community

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poibookThe photo above was taken on the school’s first ever Community Hour where members of the community were invited in to tell their stories and respond to student questions. It was organised by our Deputy Principal, Deb King, as part of launching our 2017 programme of Active Learning – weekly inquiry based learning time free from the constraints of curriculum and assessment.

The community was incredible at taking up this opportunity. Politicians, City Council, our feeders schools, police, fire department, the SPCA, InsideOUT, Newlands Community Centre, lawyers and a funeral director all came to speak to various groups of students un-conference style. The concept for the day came from the principles of curiosity found in Kath Murdoch’s book (pictured) which emphasises the power of inquiry and student questioning. The structure was supported by Sugata Mitra’s mantra of “learning at the edge of chaos” with the hour appearing unstructured and the school being alive with uncontrolled opportunities.

The group I sat with was talking to John Robinson from Challenge 2000. What struck me was the level of questioning that the students delved into – really interrogating John in terms of social justice. They really challenged the ideas being presented and the depth of their inquiries impressed me. Is this the result of giving the students free reign to respond authentically? What was also interesting was how little they listened to each other. It’s a small sample size, but the room’s questioning was erratic. Instead of building on from each other and asking questions along a consistent line, it really was pot luck as to where the next question would target. It’s a new part of teaching questioning I hadn’t thought about. The subject is important, but the room is equally so.