Learning with the Community


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.

eFellows17 – Hui #1

wp-1485562570118.jpgThe CORE Education Dr Vince Ham eFellowship programme kicked off last week with the first 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.

My intent with my eFellow17 hui blogposts is to briefly capture the discussion and learning with three ideas and three questions. I blog in order to reflect; by thinking back through the hui and synthesizing the discussion I hope to think more deeply about my learning. My aim is to share ideas that fit with the purpose of the fellowship: “to inspire transformational practice“.

Three Ideas

  1. Derek Wenmoth introduced the inquiry mindset and the key questions challenging education at the moment.
    • What do we see the role of technology in learning?
    • If education is all about interpreting knowledge – knowledge based system – who owns the knowledge?

The impact of these key questions was captured by the slide below, where he argued that realising the potential of 21st Century learning  can only occur when technology is used to transform learning and knowledge is owned by the collective.


2.  Alex Hotere-Barnes introduced ideas regarding Kaupapa Māori Research, and what he’s learnt being Pākehā and engaging in this area result. He referenced the work of critical Māori scholars Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Graham Smith and Ani Mikaere who all foreground the cultural and political dimensions of kaupapa Māori thinking and action.  A key point was the importance of challenging “deficit theories” in research that position Māori as “objects” of research; as opposed to being the designers and doers of Māori research. I took from this that there are a lot of cultural considerations to think about when approaching research from a Māori perspective; but fundamentally one needs to be open to communication and collaboration – it’s all about relationships.

3.  Keryn Davis introduced Cowie and Carr’s concept of the consequences of assessment – that all assessment makes a difference to competence (how does the assessment impact the abilities and skills of the learner?), continuity (what does this assessment connect to?) and community (how does assessment build community?)

Three Questions

  1. Derek’s question of “What do we see the role of technology in learning?” has been answered in a way by one of the leading players in NZ education, NZQA. The commitment to using digital formats for assessment has shaped a lot of the conversation in the last two years on this matter. However, as Derek pointed out, at this stage they substituting: taking a paper exam and putting it online. If we were to transform external assessment, what might that look like?
  2. In Alex’s presentation, he gifted us an expression: “Pākehā paralysis”, which is based on the work sociologist Martin Tolich. It occurs when pakeha become immobilised by the challenge of interacting in culturally appropriate ways.  This is a barrier that gets in the way of Maori success in the NZ school system. A question going forward is how best to overcome this feeling? What strategies do we need to employ? This EDtalk expands on that brief definition and has several ideas.

3. And finally, a question that is launching my inquiry this year: how might teachers collaborate to create safer spaces for students of minority sexualities and genders?


Authentic Learning in the Digital Age – Larissa Pahomov – Part Two

In my previous post on this book, I looked at  Larissa Pahomov’s take on creating an authentic learning environment using the perks of the digital age. She took on teaching research and collaboration, and then looked at presentation. She continues…

Chapter seven focuses on Making Reflection Relevant.

The key question that opens the chapter is: “If you were to do this project again, what would you change or do differently?” Of course, rarely in the culture of NCEA do we take the time to reflect adequately on a completed task before moving onto the next assessment. However, this is valuable and Pahomov argues that for meaningful reflection to occur it must be “metacognitive, applicable and shared”. I found the challenge that reflection needed to be shared the most confronting. I think I have been guilty of seeing reflection as being tunneled into an independent process, because that is what it needs to be in order to be honest. However, often we aren’t honest with ourselves, so it makes sense that reflection is brought out into the open to be navigated in a space where help is available. The challenge here is to a create a culture of infinite improvement and where “the classroom can become a place of collective support” (113).

The framework for Student Reflection (114):

  • Put reflection first
  • De-emphasize grades
  • Integrate student and teacher reflection
  • Let reflection accumulate

Chapter eight focuses on Embracing the Culture: Schoolwide Practices. This is a discussion of how the model of SLA can actually be made to work and what practices and policies are in place to make the kind of teaching and learning possible.

  • Common Language – this has been evident in my experience when the school adopted SOLO and students’ built an understanding of a common language because it was being used in all their classrooms. How powerful would it be if our values, and key competencies were more prevalent in our language rather than the back end of the curriculum which so often gets put first? The benefits here are that the language encourages learning, not assessment, it helps to empower students, and teachers support one another because everyone is reinforcing the same thing.
  • Open Doors – through using shared planning procedures, the opportunity to access everyone for conversations (no one expert) and frequent classroom visitors. They also have a peer tutoring arrangements which I found quite interesting. Academic credit is incorporated into this service and it builds role modelling and enriches the learning environment.
  • Outside Partnerships – real world learning is embraced through getting students out into authentic environments to extend their learning. Again a shift away from the teacher as the expert.
  • Advisory – a central teacher figure (sounds very similar to what ‘Form Time’ or ‘mentoring’ is trying to be as it seems to be in the NZ context). It is essential the relationship between the teacher and the students are strong in this context, and the continuity here is obviously also key.

I’ve taken a huge amount away from this book and consider it one of the best professional reading I’ve done in a long time. I’ll be recommending it whenever I can and sharing the love!

Authentic Learning in the Digital Age – Larissa Pahomov – Part One

Pahomov’s book begins by quoting John Dewey:

’Knowledge’, in the sense of information, means the working capital, the indispensable resources, of further inquiry; of finding out, or learning, more thing

…and uses his idea as a backbone to establishing a familiar shift that is occurring in education and begins to build a framework for implementing “personalized, inquiry-based education in a typical secondary classroom” (2).

The transformative effects of technology

  • Shifting the emphasis from content to skills
  • Allowing for constant engagement
  • Democratising Learning
  • Connecting to ‘the real world’
  • Simplifying the back-end of work

Characteristics of authentic inquiry-based instruction:

  • Choice
  • Personalization
  • Relevance
  • Empowerment
  • Care

Chapter Three deals with the facilitation of research. Two shifts I am attempting to make in response to this reading is to make another attempt to more authentically teach research methods. I was amazed at the tools that are out there now since the last time I sought help in this area. In particular, these lesson plans have me very excited. Secondly, my current approach in my Year 13 class seems to offer too much space for research.  Pahomov suggests ‘inquiry prompts’ which are well constructed questions encouraging critical thinking and deep research. Following this lead may offer more substance in class.

Chapter Four deals with collaboration. Pahomov cites three qualities of successful collaboration, “it must be documented, asynchronous, and classroom-based” (64). One of the thoughts shared in this section was the idea of “anchor documents” – a useful term to refer to documents that outline the requirements for a project of task. Teacher Dashboard makes this easy, but the term I think might be useful for differentiating between documents.

In this chapter on collaboration, Pahomov  talks about the idea of group contracts. While the example she gives goes too far for my context (but I could see the benefit of heading in this direction) the ideas here are very exciting for my Drama class and Media Classes. She suggests a group contract. She gives a exemplar and I really like the power it gives students and allows them to police themselves. The idea of having a firing process is also excellent – exciting for students, but ultimately designed so that it addresses and resolves group dynamic issues. I’m planning on taking this to the next level!

Subsequent chapters on Perfecting Presentation, Making Reflection Relevant and Embracing the Culture will be addressed in a future post. This book is loads brilliant. 

Core Values of Authentic Learning

The five core values of teaching and learning as per the text ‘Authentic Learning in the Digital Age’ by Larissa Pahomov:

  • Inquiry – “students need to ask their own questions” (10)
  • Research – “what matters is no longer how much you already know, but how well you can find out what you need to know” (10)
  • Collaboration – “collaboration is the cornerstone of the work life of adults” (11)
  • Presentation – “knowing how to present themselves and their work appropriately and effectively is essential” (11)
  • Reflection – “reflection…helps ensure that students (and teachers) improve with each cycle of learning” (11)

I’ve taken this framework and decided to use it as a start of year activity. These values underpin my process as a teacher and therefore it’s essential that the students understand why I am doing what I am doing. This is the major shift in my practice that I want to achieve this year. I want to ensure that I am effectively communicating with students the thinking behind my teaching and their learning. I’m going to propose these values and let the students explore them and find out what they mean to them.  Some agreed class definitions would be appropriate for building a shared vision of the teaching and learning for the year.

Introduction to Self-Study

An evolution of the Professional Reading group has been proposed and it has got me really thinking. The evolution is a Self Study group – a collection of teachers that would undertake a self study across the year, meeting monthly as we explore our inquiries.

Self Study, according to Anastasia P. Samaras and Anne R. Freese who wrote in ‘Self-Study of Teaching Practices Primer’ the characteristics of Self-Study:

  1. self-study is situated inquiry;
  2. self-study is process;
  3. self-study is knowledge;
  4. self-study is multiple;
  5. self-study is paradoxical.

It is not just about sitting by yourself and reflecting, it’s about working within a framework of literature, critical friendships, internal and external reflection.

Samaras wrote another book called ‘Self-Study Teacher Research Improving Your Practice Through Collaborative Inquiry‘ and defines self-study as (the brackets are my thoughts):

  1. Personal situated inquiry (it has to be of interest, something that matters to ‘self’)
  2. Critical collaborative inquiry (critical friends are better than friendly critique – “How did it go?…How do you know?” – honest feedback and reflection)
  3. Improved learning (focus on outcome, learning about yourself)
  4. A transparent and systematic research process (necessity of openness to outside views, questions, critique)
  5. Knowledge generation and presentation (questions around how to present the information and what audience we are targeting and is accessible ethically).

I believe self-study to be a personal, systematic inquiry situated within one’s own teaching context that requires critical and collaborative reflection in order to generate knowledge, as well as inform the broader educational field

The process of self-study opens us up to questions and feedback. How to elicit that feedback can be done through student voice. Meetings with students and critical friends interviewing students is interesting. Some feedback about this, how to get this feedback out was discussed and these ideas were shared:

  • Start with generic questions – what was your favourite topic? Warm them up before hitting the nail. Settling in questions.
  • What could I have done differently? What could the teacher be doing to improve your learning?
  • Use “why” and open question to find more specific detail.
  • What have I done in the classroom to make the biggest difference out of school? What advice would you have for next year’s class?

Where to from here?

  • Looking at the Self-Study guidepost and framework to determine next steps.
  • Meet further with the group and determine a research question.
  • Interested in applying the self-study framework to the potential high achieving boys in mentoring, the student centred 3MED course next year or some of the basics around my Drama teaching.

ULearn 2014 – Day One

I may have spent the three days in Wellington, but I was engaged as ever online, following everything I could from twitter, to live streams, to blogs, to the various links that popped up. At any given time I had so many tabs open I couldn’t identify what was what. This I believe is awesome. Here’s some snippets of the things I took away and some of the next steps.

Keynote #1: Prof Yoham Harpazshared collaborative notes

This was a big picture presentation focusing on what educators should be doing with the students of this modern era. He defined three educational meta-ideologies: socialization, acculturalization and individualization. After unpacking the structure of an ideology and how ideology impacts education, he presented the three meta-ideologies, claiming they cannot all be taught because they contradict one another.

The_Three_Meta-Ideologies_of_EducationI found this a bit troubling. Why are they exclusive? In a student-centred learning environment is our job not to teach the students about these three spheres and have them determine what is best for their learning? I could see that going down really well in a couple of my classes. However, this wasn’t the keynote’s direction. Harpaz’s claim was that “Good schools stick to one ideology. Every one in a school community talk the same language.”

His conclusion was the moment of truth. Three questions to reflect on:

  1. To which ideology am I attracted?  What is my pedagogical sentiment?
  2. Which ideology dominates N.Z. schools and my school?
  3. Which ideology should dominate NZ schools? and my schools?

Takeaway: How do I move my practice to be more individualised – fostering the autonomy and authenticity of the learners in front of me? How do we change the culture of the school to this? I think this is already happening to some extent this year with our professional learning focus, but there is much further to go!

Breakout #1 – Pond and N4L with Kris Ganly & Ian Allan collaborative notes

This was pitched far to low and I was disappointed that this session was streamed. I spent most of my time on twitter.

Takeaway: I’m now on Pond and I’ve been playing around. My next step is to upload some resources. To be honest I haven’t found anything there that suits what I’m doing in Media or Drama, but the beauty of it is it can be shaped by the profession. 

Breakout #2a – Improve Your Collaborative Practice: Sharing is not enough with Rebbecca Sweeneycollaborative notes

The essence here was all about the inquiry cycle and meeting specific needs – ensuring that there is clarity around the actions that we do in order to achieve better outcomes.

The non-engaging session tended to list the dos and don’t without much depth. Or maybe that was the stream that kept cutting out. However some nice comments keep things fairly interesting. I wish I had been there!

Takaway: Keep that inquiry cycle central to all my actions and planning. I do let it slip sometimes and this was a good reminded of its importance.

Breakout #2b – Twitter for Beginners (and those looking to become more connected) with Craig Kemp collaborative notes and 10 Steps to Creating the Perfect Educational Twitter Account plus Craig Kemp’s blog

Nothing all that new. It was great to see Kemp followed the same structure as I did when I ran a similar session at our recent UnConference. Affirmation! One thing I really liked was this analogy:

2014-10-08_1456Takeaway: I can use the pencil analogy, and this is great to be able to take his suggestions and follow some key people on twitter. 

Keynote #2: Adam Lefstein collaborative notes

Focusing questions:

  1. Why should we care about teacher professional conversations?
  2. What do we talk about when we talk about our practice?
  3. What sort of professional conversations make us smarter about our practice?
  4. So what? (Or what can I take back to school from this talk)

The general idea here that I gleaned from twitter was around making our conversations more effective, as the saying goes ‘the whole is greater that the sum of its smarts’. Discourse shapes our thoughts, what we see and what we say. He is big on dialogic pedagogy which I’m not sure I get…but I’ll return to it later on his website.

Dialogic pedagogy is a term used by a growing number of scholars, practitioners and policy-makers to describe learning processes in which teacher and pupils critically interrogate the topic of study, express and listen to multiple voices and points of view, and create respectful and equitable classroom relations

He presented 10 informal rules to govern pedagogical discourse:

  1. Don’t talk about pedagogical problems
  2. Don’t mind the gap between teaching aspirations and classroom realities.
  3. Dichotomise
  4. Trust your own unique experience. Embrace it and share it
  5. No precise professional language
  6. Hyper-criticise
  7. Focus on what is missing
  8. Trust your feelings and Intuition… no need to justify and provide evidence
  9. Everything is due to the teacher

Rules for Professional Conversations that make us smarter about our practice

  1. Focus on the core work of teaching: classroom practice
  2. Anchor discourse to rich representations of practice and base claims on evidence from them.
  3. Adopt an inquiry stance: describe and understand before attempting to judge and solve
  4. Balance criticism and support, and be honest.
  5. Focus on issues and dilemmas
  6. Should be affirming and safe as well as constructive.

I have to admit this is a presentation I wanted to be at. I think there should have been a lot of debate about the ideas being presented here, and many of these statements seem provokative. Twitter didn’t quite do them justice and this didn’t allow me to have my own take on them.

Take away: find out more research about pedagogical conversations and professional dialgoue. This seems like a good area to go further in. I think there is a lot of value in some of these ideas i.e. “Adopt an inquiry stance: describe and understand before attempting to judge and solve” and they are worth reflecting on further.