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.

Sage on the Screen – Education and Media Technology

sage-screen_webThis interested book written by Bill Ferster organises itself through chronological developments in technology. Ferster captures each development as a history of progress and relates it to the growth of modern pedagogy. The contents pages looks like this:

  1. Traditional Media
  2. Interactive Media
  3. Hypermedia
  4. Cloud Media
  5. Immersive Media
  6. Making Sense of Media for Learning

The temptation here is to see such a structure as a rubric that we are moving through. One could argue that traditional media for instance could be prestructural on the SOLO Taxonomy, and immersive media is the extended abstract. This notion led me to reflect on my own practice, which I would argue fits in the cloud media space – streaming media, MOOC’s, flipping, are all embedded in some way into what I do. From the rubric perspective, this book gave me an insight into what education is moving towards.

The historical approach to this book led to some interesting evaluative comments about the introduction of media technology into education. In the formative years, as cinema, radio and television all emerged, application of these mediums into education settings appears to be ineffective coming from the perspective of transformational pedagogy. The case study put forward here of American Samoa where congressional funding was used in the early 1960s to create instructional televised lessons which were used for up to 30% of the learning time. “The top down, autocratic nature of the American Samoa experiments is typical of how many educational technology projects are implemented” (36). Professional capital was absent from this approach, and therefore the technology – at best – only substituted the teacher’s practice rather than enhanced the learning.

the_samr_model

The book then documented the attempts of technology to create learning experiences that were not passive, or linear in their implementation (42). Learner agency developed with the introduction of more interactive media, but needed to move in alignment with developments in pedagogy. Where traditional media, like films, offered teachers a break, the shift to interactive forms of media required a different set of teaching skills (70). The disconnect between the technology and the implementation had begun – something which is visible now in a BYOD environment where students might still be experiencing no fundamental change in the instruction because pedagogy has not moved alongside the technology. (Represented by the first level of the SAMR model).

When exploring hypermedia, Ferster argued that “using multiple (but appropriate) forms of media together can often be more effective than any single media form alone” (88). This was supported by Richard Mayer’s research into the principles of multiple-channel learning:

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This research presents  a compelling argument for blended learning, but what technology to blend? The media technology that could potentially feature in classrooms has never been more diverse. This is evident in the immersive media chapter, where virtual reality and augmented reality are explored. The challenge in laid down in the final sentence: “if instructors can come up with compelling uses for the new capabilities these tools afford, immersive media may indeed join the pantheon of instructional media forms” (158).

My major takeaway is that the human element is fixed element in any pedagogy. Many media products “assume that all students come to instruction with the same amount of preexisting knowledge and learn at the same pace;” however, a good teacher can optimise this tool and create learning opportunities for the right students, at the right time and the right place (171). The human element is the most important factor in learning, and no modern media or medium can replace it… yet.


Ferster, Bill. Sage on the Screen: Education, Media, and How We Learn. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, Maryland. 2016.

Evaluation of Multi-Level Media

This post is a chance to collate a lot of complex thinking around how my multi media studies class ran this year. The purpose is to evaluate and reflect with a focus on next steps for developing the course.

I proposed a multi level media course last year, which manifested as two 31-33 classes with a fairly even mixture of Y12 and Y13 students in both. I developed an approach to the course by moving away from the Achievement Standard and looking at the core curriculum seeds from which assessment could grow. I was looking for the core concepts and learning objectives that had commonalities between the year groups. I developed a plan which saw the year split into three areas:

  • Production
  • Genre
  • Research

Each of these areas had specific curriculum links to focus on during these thirds of the year, and potential achievement standards that students could opt into.course-outline

According to Hipkins, Sheehan and Johnston “standards are not…designed to be treated as a basis for time-bounded, sequential teaching units” (46, 2016). They suggest that courses structured by chunks of Achievement Standards typically contain problems of fragmentation. Their suggestion is to compile a comprehensive compilation of what is worth learning for each curriculum area and design courses from that.

The delivery of this course was a big shift as well. My planning was around identifying the key concepts or key learning that needed to take place for success in each standard to meet – stripping the multiple week units I had taught in the past right back to their core. I split these learning topics over the course of weeks, attempting to create one idea or topic per lesson. Given the design of this course has student agency at its heart, I never made teacher time compulsory. Learning outlines were shared and students could opt in to taking part in the tutorial-type structure which left me working with a small group in a teacher directed way. To support this structure resources were developed for each learning area to guide students through in a self directed way. To develop this I need to:

  • Create student opportunities to run tutorials with peers
  • Refine the approach to the breakdown of the course so that tutorial time is effective
  • Develop the self directed resources to further emphasise learning, not assessment.

To support this, students were put into critical quartets (groups of four sometimes five multi-level with a range of individual needs). Each week we would have 10 minutes for each group to discuss three or four reflective questions:

  1. Share one piece of significant learning for you in the past week.
  2. Check assessment plan together. Outline what you are doing for each piece of assessment for the remainder of the year.
  3. How can your learning be supported for the rest of the year?

The purpose of such a time was to focus on the principles of the class which I regularly articulated:

  • Ako – grounded in the principle of reciprocity
  • Collaboration – learning together
  • Reflection – engaging in continuous learning
  • Whanaungatanga – positive relationships
  • Me Whakamatau – work had to achieve together

Hand ins for assessment were not as naturally occurring as I would like, but an improvement from my approach in 2015. I had a go at zero deadlines last year with mixed success. While I feel that achieved some deep personal learning for a number of students, I didn’t really have the data to be able to continue with that approach. Students that we would not typically define as ‘high achieving’ struggled and administration of this approach proved challenging.

This year I set up four deadlines across the year. For each one a student needed to submit one assessment. This effectively reduced the amount of credits in the course (although students were welcome to submit additional assessments, although only seven students across the two classes took up the option). The following statistics capture the picture at the time of writing:

  • Prior to external assessment (where additional credits could be gained) the average number of credits per student were
    • 10.4 credits – line one
    • 10.1 credits – line two
  • When outliers are removed (i.e. international students not working towards NCEA, students that did not engage due to horrific absences) the averages were:
    • 10.7 credits – line one
    • 11.4 credits – line two
  • When broken down between Y12 and Y13 the difference is clear. Reflecting the difference between the uptake in the external and :
    • Y12 – 10.9 credits
    • Y13 – 13.2 credits

Overall, this credit attainment is lower overall than previous years. When there was a structured course design Y12 contained 17 internal credits and Y13 contained 16 internal credits. More student choice has led to less overall credits. More analysis needs to take place of the level of achievement gained as my hypothesis is that less coverage has led to deeper content – and therefore an increase in the number of Merits and Excellences.

However, more pressing is the consideration of whether this course design has led to deeper learning in terms of the vision of the school and the front half of the curriculum. In terms of data to measure this, firstly, I have taken surveys of the students throughout the year to self reflect on the development of their understanding and application of the key competencies. This data can be built on when gathered next year after implementing those key next steps.

Furthermore, student voice has been gathered which capture some of the perspectives of the class. These quotes firstly establish the positives of this approach:

Having a choice with what internals to do and when to do them by was a very important learning step for me. I feel it got me prepared for the mindset and the self motivation skills I will need next year at university. In saying that, it was fairly difficult to get into the habit of this especially since it was the first year where we really got a choice on what we do.

There shouldn’t be any boundaries with learning and I think that everyone should be able to study together, it lets people connect and share more ideas with each other no matter the age or year difference.

It worked good because being self directed meant I set more goals

I think this has worked for me in a way where I got to get into discussions with peers that I otherwise wouldn’t talk to, especially with the discussion opportunities. The classroom being an overall friendly environment that allows growth has helped me a lot with my learning and understanding.

And these perspectives offer some insight into the challenges going forward:

I thought that this was good for my learning becaue it meant I could do things I enjoyed and was interested in but I think I would have benefitted from some more structured lessons around how to do certain things.

I didn’t particularly enjoy having a mixed class were everyone was doing different stuff. I’m not very good at working in an environment that is not teacher directed. I did however enjoy when we did class discussions.

At first I was lost and didn’t know what I was meant to do / what I was doing. Even when I was giving help I never really understood what I was still supposed to do.

My interest here is in the difference between what I thought I was doing and how what I was doing was seen by the students. There is plenty of feedback here to keep developing my approach. I believe the core data here speaks to a continuation of the principles of the class, but refinement of the method.

NCEA in Context

ncea20in20context_cover_frontNCEA in Context is a compelling page turner released earlier this year (chapter one here). Written by Rosemary Hipkins, Michael Johnston and Mark Sheehan, it contextualises the introduction of the system and evaluates the implementation and the shifts that have occurred since 2002.  As well as covering an interesting history of assessment, there were several points to reflect further on, captured below.

The systematic barriers to innovation were fleshed out for me in concerning detail. This theme popped up in a range of chapters, from the creation of the UE requirements which places restrictions on assessment delivery in Y13 (and by extension the formative years) to the development of moderation procedures which have had a restricting affect on risk-taking by emphasising fair assessment procedures. The authors suggest “the problematic assumption…is that academic rigour inherently resides in traditional subject arrangements” (172).

A persuasive section of the book tackled the relationship between NCEA and the NZC. In Rosemary’s RNZ interview, she suggested: “NCEA is only the method of assessing the learning. Actually what should be driving is the curriculum.” The result of this relationship is suggested to be fragmented course design involving “loose aggregations of standards approached as separate curriculum topics” (153). Case studies showcased cohesive approaches to this challenge.

Content selection was also challenged given that “coverage is not even an option anymore” (148). Teachers need to think “more broadly yet also more explicitly about the purposes for which they teach specific content” (147). They suggest more streamlining of content that is both”life-worthy and life-ready” (149). This to me felt like it was targeted at traditionalists who are firmly holding on to outdated approaches to content design, a trend that I would suggest is over-represented in traditional subjects.

A theme throughout the book was the notion of self-fulfillment when tackling the perceived problems of NCEA. The authors suggest, “Expectations that students will not cope become self-fulfilling when they are not supported to try and develop their higher order thinking capacities” (192). This is another reminder about the impact of assumptions and the importance of forecasting high expectations to all students.

Chapter 14 embraced the challenges for students when presented with the relentless pressure of consistent assessment for three years as well as the flexibility of choice that places significant responsibility in the hands of the students. The authors promote caution as to whether relentless assessment (leading to higher percentages) and more student choice has led to better life-worthy learning.

For reform and revisioning of assessment to take place, the authors are clear that a whole school approach is necessary. As Rosemary stated on RNZ; “The safest conditions for doing less is an agreement for the whole school. This is something that teachers have to be addressing collegially.” Three steps are suggested:

  1. Remove the assumption that whole cohorts will follow a lock-step curriculum
  2. Access for every student to academic mentoring to support individual decision making
  3. Stakeholders (student, parents, whanau, teachers, community) all understand the “wholeness of the intersecting pieces” that make up a school’s assessment plan (198).

The final chapter is called “Reimagined NCEA.” These are some of my key takeaways:

  • Assessment to “become so enmeshed in the everyday work of the students that they would not even know they were being assessed” (206).
  • To implement significant changes the focus should be the implementation, not formal sweeping changes to the system.
  • Increasing the understanding of the differences and intersections of NCEA and the NZC is fundamental to reimagining.
  • Professional learning is key: “Teacher expertise will be of paramount importance to maximising the probability that successful practice will evolve” (216).

Hipkins, R., Johnston, M., & Sheehan, M. (2016) NCEA in Context. Wellington: NZCER Press.

Pam Hook Keynote – Teacher Only Day

Pam presented SOLO Taxonomy to the staff several years ago and today’s presentation built on this learning in particular with the school’s new initiative of introducing the ‘active learning‘ programme.

  • SOLO’s structure focuses on the observed learning outcomes not the learner themselves. Both surface level or deep level outcomes but the taxonomy also provides language for students to improve their outcomes.
  • Connected learners. Every time a learner makes a connection, they achieve deeper learning.
  • SOLO provides a different mental model for students that have a fixed mindset or a negative attitude to learning. It challenges the idea held by some students that working hard and failing is more embarrassing than not trying and failing. Looking dumb opens yourself up for put downs. SOLO can resist this tendency by individualising the learning process.
  • SOLO taxonomy is a spiral – it never stops spinning. Once you reach extended abstract you begin to access pre-structural ideas as well. Learning is a continuous process.

Do we overvalue engagement? If you just teach for engagement, do we ever achieve deep learning? This is a real challenge to my philosophy. Reflective question: Have we got a whole lot more engagement or have we got deeper learning outcomes? We risk teaching abstract concepts sometimes when they aren’t engaged. If you are putting SOLO against the active learning model, use it to label the learning outcome – not the kid.

Capture

Final thoughts shared in the finale for the day:

  • See…think…wonder… 
  • Student inquiry leads to shallow outcomes – a weak pedagogy – you see a lot of stuff collected and presented but not a lot of deep inquiry. Guard against a student collecting and presenting through using the Learning Intention Generator.
  • School is about learning. Everything you are charged to do in your classroom is about achievement outcomes. SOLO can be the measure that you gauge how effeimagective this learning is if you can make these concepts real in your classroom.

And finally, the day was finished with a reminder of the hexagon strategy. We wrote words that were associated with active learning and then combined with others to form a map of the topic, making connections and investigating these through learning dialogue. A great collaborative activity.

2015 Goal Reflection

In 2015 my focus was to redesign 3MED as a student-centred course. This was a tangible, measurable goal that was closely connected to my wider focus around my teaching as being learning focused, not assessment driven.

A student-voice post from last year captured many aspect of the class – as does many planning documents including a slightly cringe worthy attempt at capturing the course in a letter I wrote and emailed to all students at the beginning of the year. The measurable outcomes suggest I was successful. All students recorded an improvement in their self-motivation and self-management skills. Personally I averaged less than 5 minutes at the front of the class for the entire year. And results wise were comparable to previous years.

However, the class culture was more favoured by students than the learning outcomes. They noted that they enjoyed the class but didn’t feel like they learnt a lot from it. This might reflect that the skills they were developing are part of the hidden curriculum and therefore less accessible for their own reflection. However, I agree that the learning wasn’t as strong as it could have been. The tutorial structure didn’t work as well as I hoped and the collaboration that I envisioned never really manifested.

The next steps are bringing the momentum that I have begun in this class to the multi level combined 2MED/3MED classes I have this year. Some of the strategies I have begun to explore to address what happened last year:

  • Formalised tutorial plan co-constructed with the students – every class has a teacher-directed offering that the students have control over what it is.
  • Collaborative critical quartets – assigned groups that check in once a week for reflective conversations about what is going on.
  • Four set deadlines throughout the year – however, student choice enables the to decide what they submit for each of these checkpoints.

Stay tuned for more reflection on the progress!

Karen Boyes Webinar – Teaching in a MLE

“Modern Learning Environments (MLE) are all the talk in educational circles right now. Schools are knocking out walls and creating bright stimulating classrooms with multi purpose furniture and giving students access to technology. On the surface it looks fantastic, however without a big pedagogy shift, students will be simply just learning the same way many teachers have been teaching – just in bigger classrooms with new furniture. In this fast paced webinar, Karen will challenge you and your team to look deeper into the why’s of MLE’s and the how’s of successful pedagogy.” – Webinar introduction

Within the context of Modern Learning Environments and our schools’ move towards and active (project-based) learning scheme, this webinar offered a lot of reminders about best practice. Successful pedagogy starts with the student, and inquiring into the thinking dispositions and key competencies is vital in student centred learning. A more complete reflection from the webinar will come, but a key takeaway is all I’m planning to post now…

I haven’t used wordle for a long time now, but this strategy was a fabulous reminder of its power. The specific idea shared here is to get wordle to spit out an essay and see what sticks out. A thesaurus can then help to develop vocabularly and make the writing better. The trick here is not just this technique, but then asking the students to hand in the process and show their growth by submitting the draft, the wordle and the finished product.

I can see this strategy working well with scripts. I have a student’s draft with me at the moment, which currently is too simplistic to meet the standard at Level Three. The wordle looks like this:

wordle

I would hypothesise that a script with more complexity would see a better distribution of words beyond the main characters with a greater variation beyond “walks”, “afternoon”, “school”. One reflective question to ask here would be if the theme of the film was identifiable through the wordle. Thanks Karen Boyes for this outstanding strategy!