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…!

Media Studies – Class EduCamp

I often preach that the students in my class have the experiences, knowledge and understanding to teach me as much – if not more – than I am capable of teaching them. This year I tried a new way of walking the talk by taking the time to run an in-class EduCamp. We took the time as a class to understand the EduCamp, un-conference style of learning and each prepared a slide for the smackdown:

To listen to the students talk about their area of interest and their questions about the world was fascinating. It was authentically student centred and it revealed more about some individuals than any google form could.

The class responded to the topics and contributed postits to the board with things they wanted the opportunity to explore further. We made a timetable based on these areas of interest and voted with our feet – at one point all migrating into the one room for a tutorial on how planes fly.

The sessions contained fascinating conversation about road ranging topics including how schools can best support mental health issues, the nature of leadership, photography and drones, film and empathy, doing exchanges to other countries, and using the science of microwaves to transfer data from Wellington to Auckland. The opportunity saw several students have a chance to facilitate, jump on the whiteboard, share their knowledge and have their understanding and experience validated.

This to me speaks volumes about not only the value of student voice, but also the EduCamp structure as a means of creating space for it. That’s my highest possible endorsement on the eve of #EduCampWelly17.

What Great Teachers Do Differently – Part II

41204q11wal-_sx313_bo1204203200_In a previous post on Todd Whitaker‘s excellent read What Great Teacher Do Differently I captured his first 7 of 14 points about what effective teachers do. The following post details the next seven along with a few thoughts that those chapters provoked.

8. Don’t Need to Repair – Always Do Repair

Two big aspects of this chapter that I value and will takeaway:

  • Effective teachers don’t use sarcasm, make cutting remarks, issue smart retorts, or engage in banter that could be harmful. Be I do – and probably quite often. It’s something I haven’t been challenged enough on. The potential harm to relationships and learning is too great to continue with this risky behaviour.
  • A scenario Todd describes in some detail is about building a repairing conversation with a student who has fallen out with another teacher. He suggests preparing them for an apology before any further action can be taken by using the analogy of the highway patrol man giving someone a ticket. How can the driver best get out of that situation: be nice. In practice this means helping the student to understand what their best next steps and giving them the language to support them to do this.

9. Ability to Ignore

Sometimes acting on an observation only serves to escalate something into a situation that requires handling. Sometimes not acting on an observation loses a teachable moment. Finding a balance and fine-tuning professional judgement is the key here.

10. Random or Plandom?

In an effective teachers classroom, design will play into maximising every potential learning moment. This includes the planning of the programme, but also the design of the space and who collaborates with who. Doing things by design, but not actually looking like there is a design is the goal.

11. Base Every Decision on the Best People

This tenet challenges the idea of instigating a rule or regulation because one person has done the wrong thing. The idea relates to the staff room as well and the way that staff are treated. I can think of examples where signs have been put up, or conditions put in place that have led me to question my own actions, despite how I was not contributing to the issue in the first place. This feels to me like a seed that could grow into professional capital is explored further.

12. In Every Situation, Ask Who is Most Comfortable and Who is Least Comfortable

This chapter contained a confronting idea for me that has got me thinking about the way feedback is gained and acted upon. The argument here suggests that approval of a system by a majority isn’t a measure of a success – it is who is comfortable or uncomfortable with it. Looping back to the previous chapter, it is what the best people think that matters most. For example, if 5% of the effective people are uncomfortable with a new idea, then that needs to be addressed. If 25% of the ineffective people, then this isn’t so much of a problem. If people feel uncomfortable, they will change their behaviour, for better or for worse. I’ve extrapolated a bit there, but the idea is quite a challenge to my assumptions.

13. What About These Darn Standardised Tests

The central debate in this chapter doesn’t interest me much, although Todd makes some excellent points around navigating it. What I am interested in was the overarching point of the chapter which is: “effective teachers don’t let hot-button issues shift their focus from what really matters” (107). As mentioned previously in these posts, it’s the students that are at the centre, and the goal is to prepare them for life, not for the next test.

14. Making it Cool to Care

“Students care about great teachers because they know great teachers care about them” (122).

What Great Teachers Do Differently – Part I

The difference between more effective teachers and their less effective colleagues is not what they know. It is what they do (xiii)

41204q11wal-_sx313_bo1204203200_What Great Teacher Do Differently was a super summer read from Todd Whitaker. This blogpost is just a capture of his first 7 main points (the books is subtitled ‘the 14 this that matter most’) and a few thoughts that those chapters provoked.

1.It’s People Not Programmes

Improving teachers or getting better teachers are the best ways to improve a school. People make the biggest difference. But people are all different, and what is effective to one person isn’t going to be effective to someone else. I am a remarkably different teacher to the colleagues that I work most closely with. To pick up a programme or a plan of theirs and take it into my classroom is a mistake. People make the difference: not just myself as a practitioner, but the students in every class are different. No programme can be the solution; people have to be at the centre.

2. Power of Expectations

The start of the year is the chance to set the tone and to frame positive expectations of the behaviour of the students. The book doesn’t mention it but I kept thinking of the ‘don’t smile until Easter’ mantra that some of my colleagues still mention (and possibly even employ). I couldn’t think of a worse way to create expectations than not smiling. That kind of approach leads to setting rules (being responsive to behaviour) rather than expectations framed as positive and welcoming statements.

3. Prevention Versus Revenge

My takeaway from this chapter was the reframing of the toolkit of behaviour management strategies. The point Todd made here was that every teacher has a list of options they may take when a situation arises (eye-contact, send to the Dean, praise another student for the correct behaviour etc.). However, the point is which of the list of strategies always work? Answer: none of them. So what makes an effective teacher is being able to select the right strategy at the right time. Also: never use sarcasm and never yell.

4. High Expectations – for Whom?

Todd points out that high expectations is not a variable between ineffective and effective teachers: all teachers have high expectations for students. However, great teachers have high expectations for themselves. “If the students are not focused, great teachers ask what they themselves can do differently” (34). Sometimes I find myself articulating this idea through asking whose actions are you ultimately responsible for, so therefore whose actions can you actually change?

5. Who is the Variable?

The empowering approach of accepting that you yourself is the one in control can raise teacher efficacy which will trickle down to the students. A focus on self, on responsibility, on how we respond and on what – at the end of the day – we can control will lead to success. I would challenge the binary that Todd suggest here however. I do feel there need to be a balance managed between reflecting on our own actions as teachers and attributing success of lack of successto the actions of students. We need to be cautious about attribution or causation when thinking about pedagogy.

6. Ten Days our of Ten

The challenge for all teachers is not to be positive and upbeat some of the time – it’s to create a positive atmosphere of mutual respect all of the time. Todd explains a number of aspects to this, from arguing that you don’t have to like all your students – you just have to act as if you like them, to the ins and outs of praise: effective praise must be authentic, specific, immediate, clean and private. And finally, you can never have too much nice.

7. The Teacher is the Filter

As teachers, we are responsible for the tone of the class. When we sneeze, the class catches a cold. Our focus becomes the students’ focus. Meetings are an opportunity to make “the teachers more excited about teaching tomorrow than they were today” and lessons a chance to make the “students to be more excited about learning tomorrow than they are today” (57). Filter out the negatives that don’t matter: they don’t do good to anyone. Instead share a positive attitude and watch that spirit become infectious.

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.

The Teaching and Tracking of Key Competencies

Over the course of the year I took the approach of measuring key competencies and collecting data on the development of key competencies. This was a consequence of my inquiry into how much my teaching was focused on assessment rather than learning. The importance is captured by this idea straight from the NZ Curriculum:

Key competencies matter because they support dispositions that will enable young people to learn well now, and to go on learning throughout their lives.

The approach I took was to include more explicit teaching of key competencies in my teaching and to have students complete three self-assessment surveys that asked them to rate themselves (a general question – problematic in retrospect, but still gives usable data), share an example of where a key competency was applied, and finally set a goal for the next term around the development of that key competency. The data has allowed me to reflect on this area of my teaching and develop an action plan for taking this area further.

Thinking

The data here shows an increase across the year, but a curious drop off in term three and four. This is reflected in the other key competencies, and I would suggest both the increase in sample size (in term two the motivated students were more likely to complete the survey) and the nature of the school year, whereby by term three many realise they have achieved their goals/the necessary credits and therefore coast to the end of the year. I found this a problematic part of such a student centred course, as self motivation was key to success – but I don’t feel like I explicitly addressed this enough.

The shift in the written responses provided some interesting insight. Some of the responses in term one represented some quite basic understanding of the idea of thinking as a key competency:

Thinking skills like guessing what people are saying? Yeah i use it all the time.

I used thinking skills when I was developing the concept: I wanted the concept to be entertaining to the audience and spark a conversation about genders, this meant that I needed thinking skills to make these work together.

It took me a while to think and come up with an idea and then develop it.

But later in the year it was clear this understanding had developed as more insightful and reflective responses suggested a deeper understanding of this key competency:

I was able to look at topics and go beyond what was there to reach a higher level of thinking.

I particularly remember the time while talking about Modern Family and Mr Cargill went and flipped perspectives on the show. This was a light bulb moment on how there are always two sides to each perspective and something to discuss in between too.

Throughout term 3 and 4 I have tried to extend my thinking to the wider world and incorporate these ideas into my assessments and general thinking when I approach something. Not just thinking about passing or in the moment but the further thinking and effects.

Critical thinking was a focus of term three whereby I would often assume the role of devil’s advocate or mediate a debate with the class on a contentious topic or issue.

Using Language, Symbols and Texts

This was generally a key competency that the students struggled to understand. Over the course of the year, this increased in the sense that a connection was made between this competency and expressing knowledge and understanding. This led to one reflective response that I found interesting:

Using the correct terms and skills when it comes to external and internal assessments. I understand and know the skills I’m just not distributing it in the right places

This captures the concept of communication as multi-faceted. This student is reflecting on the fact that they understand the ideas that they wish to communicate but that the representation of their ideas did not meet their level of understanding.

To develop this area further I think I need to take more explicit steps around teaching this area for students to be able to recognise the learning they have developed in this area. They have all learnt about visual storytelling, as well as communication in media form (as I would estimate 90% of them have submitted an assessment using a blog or weebly etc.) They have all developed writing skills as well with the concentration of conveying higher order thinking and learning new terminology a regular focus. But all this needs to be explicitly conveyed to the students.

Managing Self

This represents the same trend of improvement, but no significant shifts to speak of. The agentic style of the course has offered the chance for students to reflect on how they approach this aspect of their personal development:

This term I learnt from my mistakes where I started my assessments earlier

I set mini deadlines for my film production that I could make.

My self management was extremely poor in term one, hardly doing any work at home and talking off topic in class.

This gave them the opportunity to identify areas of growth. These included:

I am hoping to keep a consistent and balanced workload throughout the term for the future assessments so that I can do my best work.

I should probably get feedback from the teacher if i’m unsure about something because he has a different view on things.

I hope to possess more self motivation to complete tasks earlier in order to be highly successful.

However, the question that remains for me, is while I am giving them the opportunity to self-manage, how do I ensure as a teacher that they are maximising their learning from this opportunity? I’m absolutely sure I haven’t got the balance between freedom to delve and checkpoints to conform right and I know that this balance needs to be differentiated from student to student.

Relating to Others

This competency shows a visible shift. The main focus for this year was about capitalising on the multi-level aspect of the class using the principles of ako, collaboration, reflection, whanaungatanga, and me whakamatau.  This manifested in weekly critical quartet times where the students were organised into groups to reflect on prior learning and use each others experience to develop deeper understanding and outcomes. During this time I was able to observe the groups and their dialogue and support them in developing skills around how to navigate a deeper discussion through asking questions and promoting opportunities to contribute. This was reflected in the comments:

I related to others I don’t really talk to when we had our critical quartet sessions.

I applied these skills in our critical quartets where we helped each other develop some ideas and give feedback.

In my creative quarters I was put with people I wouldn’t normally communicate with and I talked to them about my script and my opinions and problems I have/will encounter during the production of it.

There were further efforts to create a collective environment where the priciples of ako were visible, but I don’t know that I could claim that I’ve truly capitalised on the potential of this. I am considering how to further integrate the year groups so that there are more opportunities to develop skills for this competency. From quartets to trios? Or learning peers? Finding more connections between the learning areas or more cross content? More student voice operating in a teaching capacity? These thoughts need further exploration.

Participating and Contributing

I tend to frame active involvement in the community as participating in the online global community. For this media studies course this usually meant creating work that contributed to the online knowledge economy or creative products that could achieve a wide audience. Like using language, symbols and texts I don’t believe I explicitly taught this skills well enough for this feedback to provide much insight. Some interesting comments did emerge:

Unfortunately my contributions community wise have been low with my film not being up to par, not attending 48hrs and in my opinion my learning and work as a whole have not come been up to anything notable which for me being a person with high hopes in this industry is a little bit of a bummer.

Having to actually avoid saying too much in class, because it’s more so for the people who don’t understand it. By myself answering so much, it doesn’t become as beneficial to those who don’t understand it.

I have really tired to voice more of my opinions and contribute

These responses (and many others in a similar style) show that clearly the explicit teaching was missing, but also that there are interesting student assumptions in play. It is worth considering how the students value knowledge and contribution of knowledge – and then how to shift this to something that is more valuable to them as lifelong learners.

Overall, collecting this data has been highly valuable, but next year some changes I need to investigate to develop my teaching in this area include:

  • Integrate more explicit teaching of the competencies into my class design
  • Use the data proactively throughout the year to address individual learning needs
  • Integrate the key competency self-review process with the critical quartets (or whatever system that might look like next year)
  • Review the gathering of quantitative data on key competencies – at the very least I need to rephrase my questioning.
  • Inquiry into self motivation – by following through on 2016’s goal.

uLearn16 – Keynote #2 – John Couch

‘New Dimensions in Learning’

John leads the Education business at Apple – his more than 40 years as a computer scientist and his advocacy for the use of technology in education has revolutionised learning in the classroom. At Apple, our dedication to learning has always been a part of our DNA.

John captured the shift in education – defining it as a movement from education to learning. He reminded us of the ‘memorisation era’ and what has since happened to transform practice. School used to be a place where one could memorise their way through, but this is no longer the case. Education is what people do to you; learning is what you do for yourself.

So… we need to have a vision. A vision clairfies one’s mission. Vision is inspirational; mission is measurable. Why does your school exist. Can you articulate the why? Creativity allows us to think differently and provide environments where a student can be engaged. If the student is engaged, they’re going to learn.

How are we creating a learning environment around technology?  We look at technology as a tool. Digital natives see it as an environment. We used to call it cheating, now we call it collaboration.

All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time – Steve Jobs

Think about Apple Education and their leading example:

wp-1475722672973.jpg

Knowledge is…something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. – Joshua Davis

wp-1475722668894.jpgPersonalised learning environment works just as well inside and outside the classroom walls. If content is free, whats your value? How do we reframe knowledge and make it purposeful and relevant? The Zone of Proximal Development suggests we need to develop collaboration. The great the knowledge and greater the zone.

So how to reframe education? One framework is Challenge Based Learning (CBL). It has a familiar feel to it (and relates a lot I guess to the design process and PBL) but sets out a strong structure to position knowledge in a process where learning is the driver:

Framework CBL.JPG

John critiqued the tendancy to teach to the middle. He demonstrated this with a couple of graphs that hit close to home. No student is average; any institution that is based on average is doom to fail. Todd Rose talks about this more in his TED talk:

Another way of visualising this is through the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who argues there is a space for optimal learning when challenge and skills are balanced. This argues once again for a personalised learning approach:

Fundamental flaw of the education system is that we still can’t meet all the individual learning needs. But John Couch’s ABC’s could help!

  • Access
  • Build
  • Code

wp-1475722664199.jpg

The keynote wasn’t full of anything that was remarkably new or controversial to my thinking and philosophy. However, what it gave me was ammunition. It contain language and examples that will be powerful to use in my journey. The overall message seemed to be that we need to move beyond education and unleash learning. And I am very excited about this.