Category Archives: teaching and learning
I spent a great deal of last year enamoured with the idea of modern learning environments. One of my placements was at a school which had a large awhina area (an indoor court-yard) shared by 4 classes as a break-out space. It was fantastic to have a space for the syndicate (group of 3-4 classes) to meet as well as a place for students to have a place work independently of the teacher.
Coming into a more traditional classroom space with 28 of the flip-top style desks seemed rather daunting at the start of the year. While I had the advantage of an old cloak bay, where I put a couple of round tables in, I was stuck with what to do in my main classroom.
In the end I went old school making a couple of rows pushed up right at the back of the room. That lasted all of two weeks as I hated the large void created by having kids squished against the back of the room.
Over time I tried different table configurations to improve the flow of the classroom but the desks forever seemed to be in the way.
As I was sitting the library one day, I noticed something about the class. There was something about the design of the library that changed the vibe of the class. We became more mellow and the students seemed a lot more relaxed, more importantly they weren’t all working at desks. So I posed a question not just to myself but also my students:
How can we make our classroom more like the library?
We held a world cafe to try and answer that very question before coming up with ideas for the planning the classroom. It was amazing to see the level of creativity the kids came up with when having a blank slate. The students wanted cushions and more soft furniture as well as little nooks and crannies to read in. They absolutely loved the idea of being able to draw on windows and walls so I got some liquid chalk and some blackboard decal to put up on walls.
But the biggest problem still remained.
They soaked up so much space and energy in the classroom and often were an impediment to learning rather than an aid. What’s more a lot of the desks seemed to be places to store junk and bits of paper in which is space that could be used for different purposes.
Which led me to wonder could I ditch the desks?
Some teachers like the idea of giving each child a home base in the classroom. It gives teachers a degree of control as to where students sit which can be used as a way to manage behaviour in particular of students who have a tendency towards off-task behaviour. I know spent a ridiculous amount of time between the first and second term trying to make tables to ensure that my groups had a mix of personalities to make classroom management easier.
And then there were the students. Flip-top desks not only function as a work space for the kids but also storage. However for some kids they were also a giant receptacle for junk. Nevertheless the desks give each student a space in the classroom and that’s important for kids. Yet when tasked to design an ideal classroom, desks didn’t feature prominently in the students’ plans.
So I decided to take a risk over the school holidays and ditched individual desks. I bought the round tables out of my breakout space into the main part of the classroom and I chucked a few of the flip-top ones into the breakout area. I spent the early part of the school holiday quietly stashing away the remainder of the desks in little nooks and crannies over the school.
In their place I added some cushions, a bean bag chair and turned a sturdy bookcase on its side to provide storage and a bench type area. Student gear was stored in buckets which immediately increased the amount of floor space available.
The kids were shocked when they came back. Where would we sit?
The answer was wherever you feel comfortable.
The result of clearing out the desks is that my class feels a lot more agile. I love how quickly the room can configured and reconfigured depending on the the needs of the learners. If we need a big space for the whole class to meet that’s easy. When the kids need to collaborate in groups there are places for that, if they need quiet places they can find those as well. For their part, there are some students that absolutely love the new set up while there are others that miss having their desk.
One of the interesting side effects of moving to a more agile learning space is that actually makes classroom management a lot easier. During a classroom observation my principal noted that there appeared to be less students in the classroom because the kids were spread out and engaged in the learning.
Yes it means that it is a lot harder to monitor kids for off-task behaviour however the flip side is that off-task behaviour tends to be a lot more localized as the kids aren’t sitting so close together so there is less chance for others become distracted.
While I would love to have access to the wonderful teaching spaces that I’ve seen in some of the newer schools but I’m learning to make the space work for me. The purpose of this post is not to convert everyone to start chucking out their desks but rather to realize that while purpose-built modern learning spaces are awesome, regular classrooms can become awesome learning spaces with a modicum of cash and a bit of creative thinking.
A few months ago I floated the idea to my Year 7/8 class making a submission to the Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy being run by the New Zealand parliament’s education and science select committee.*
The project seemed like a great way to give my students an insight into how laws and policies are developed in New Zealand with the added bonus that the children would be able to give the committee some expert advice on digital learning from a perspective often absent from educational policy-making; that of the student.
The class banded together to make a video submission on the topic which I posted to the class blog. As I was about to submit their project, I asked my class if they would be interested in making a verbal submission. They were excited about the idea so I let the committee know the students wanted to appear. The project then got put on the back burner for a few months while we waited to hear if and when the students would be able to speak to the committee.
At the start of this term I received an email inviting my class to speak at parliament in front of the committee. Like most submitters the class had 5 minutes in front of the committee to have their say and would be asked questions about their submission. Deep down mild panic set in. What on earth was I thinking to ask for a spot for my 11 and 12 year old students to present to Members of Parliament?
The simple answer is a deep belief in the power of participatory democracy. I didn’t want my students to just read about parliament and draw a flag of a fictional country, I wanted them to appreciate that each of us has not only a right but a duty to participate in our democracy. In short, I wanted them to learn how to make a difference.
In order to select their representatives, the students of my class drew up a series of selection criteria and invited interested candidates to give a speech on why they thought they would be a good representative. Nearly a third of the class made presentations. Their classmates gave grades on each candidate’s public speaking skills, the ability answer questions well, overall contribution to the video submission, manage their time effectively and cope under pressure.
As I watched the process unfold, I was amazed at how the students had decided to assess each other. While our education system frequently tests for content knowledge, my learners were more interested in the qualities of their representatives. Communicating, managing time, the students were assessing competencies rather than content. Yet why is it our educational system is more obsessed with content?
Once the class selected their representatives, work began in earnest. I began calling in people from my own learning network to help. Teachers at newly built schools generously gave up their time to talk learning spaces with the children while another classroom talked about their school’s 1:1 laptop programme. The student submitters were very fortunate to get a prominent Wellington lobbyist to sit with them for over half and hour giving them advice on appearing before a committee. The students then wrote their speeches, a media release and practised answering mock questions during our classroom literacy block.
A prominent Wellington blogger who connected the students and I with the lobbyist featured the project on his blog. What started as a small project in a suburban Wellington intermediate was starting to go mainstream. By Monday morning the project had been picked up by the Waikato Times and the students put together a media release to get broader coverage. The stakes were getting higher and the submitter’s first practice run of the presentation in front of the class did not go well.
Fortunately the group took on their classmates’ criticisms and by Wednesday morning were as ready as they were ever going to be. And so I took four 12 year old students and their camera person to parliament to make a submission in front of 10 members of the country’s elected representatives.
Talk about an authentic audience.
In a room of cameras, microphones and a large number of adults each child’s contribution was nothing short of spectacular. One of the family members who accompanied us to parliament remarked that the students were funny and articulate but they still acted like 12 year olds. Which is perhaps the best compliment they could give me as a teacher.
At times it is a fine line to be walked between authentic student inquiry and an adult taking over student learning. In short I wanted each student to bring their best selves to the committee and leave knowing that their perspectives were important. Because more than anything, the students’ submissions were quietly telling a story of how technology in education is changing our learners’ lives.
Whether it be managing a learning disability, coping with the tyranny of distance or even starting up business. The students wanted their representatives to know that schools should be fun places where kids want to go learn.
It is a testament to New Zealand democracy that a group of 12 year olds can rock up to their House of Representatives and be treated with respect and dignity. There are far too many places in the world where this isn’t the case. Our Members of Parliament sometimes get a bit of a bad reputation for mudslinging and bad behaviour but that day the committee members were attentive and asked perceptive questions of the students. The MPs showed my students democracy at its very best: inclusive, empathetic and empowering.
For me as an educator this experience has demonstrated the power of connections. It never ceases to amaze how generous New Zealanders both inside and outside the educational community are with their knowledge. A huge heartfelt thanks goes out to all the members of my Personal Learning Community who helped my class succeed in their project. It was fantastic to see family members at the committee supporting their children and the local Member of Parliament gave the students a tour of parliament to top off the day.
The project has been hard work yet the pay off in student learning have been immense.
What started out as a class project on cyber-citizenship has moved well beyond the confines of our classroom into other schools, national newspapers, radio and even onto national TV. The experience has made me wonder how can students use their education to benefit our society? Might there be other real-world problems that students can use their talents to help solve.
There are some downers from the experience.
Time limitations, both mine as a teacher and the committee’s, excluded the whole class from being involved in the final submission. As I mentioned week, last my class is waaaaaaaay behind on our must-dos. But that’s the thing with authentic learning, it’s messy, timelines often blur and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t unbelievably exhausting. However it was also one of the most of exciting experiences I’ve had in my life. I am sure the lessons from that day will leave an impact for many years to come and not just for the teacher.
As the students boarded the train out of the city one of them remarked, “That was fun. When can we make another submission?”
*For those readers overseas, a select committee is a committee made up of members of the New Zealand parliament who give advice on particular subjects of interest.
This is a copy of my verbal submission that I made to the education and science select committee into digital learning. I was inspired to make a submission after attending the ignition unconference at Albany Senior High earlier this year.
Firstly I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak.
Today I would like to highlight five key points from my submission which I believe are important priorities to aid the evolution of 21st century learning.
- Initial Teacher Education
- Personal Learning Communities
- Agile Learning Spaces
- Moving beyond cyber-safety
Although the graduating teachers standards mention that those entering the teaching profession should be proficient in the use ICT that is not the same as being a competent e-learning classroom practitioner.
I think there is some what of a dangerous assumption that because younger teachers as a group tend own gadgets and have social media accounts they automatically know how to implement e-learning into the classroom. This is not the case. So much of my e-learning practice has been developed through interacting and observing other teachers particularly through social media. However I don’t feel that this kind of learning is valued within a university context.
In my experience initial teacher education in New Zealand has not evolved with the times. Trainee teachers spend too much time filing paperwork in ring binders and if they are lucky they might get a lecture or two on e-learning before they graduate. Thus e-learning at this level is reliant on a student teacher being placed with an associate who understands how to use technology in the classroom.
Once teachers get out into the workforce, they need ongoing professional learning. 21st century learning calls for active participation yet how many educators are still consigned to sitting politely in rooms and conference theatres listening to experts, some of whom may not have been in the classroom for many years. Educators need time and space to develop personal learning communities that go beyond their staffroom to help bring new ideas into their classroom.
With the help of my iphone I can pinch an idea for lesson from a classroom blog in Australia, save a professional reading from a teacher in the UK and have conversation about teaching with someone in the United States during my 20 minute train ride to Tawa. We need to broaden our thinking about where and how learning can occur not only for students but the teachers tasked with educating them.
Most of our learning spaces were designed in an era with the dominant pedagogy was that students need to sit in one place, ideally in front of board soaking up knowledge, in order to learn. Learning has changed and so too should the design of our classrooms.
Rather than talk about flexible spaces I prefer the term agile. Agile means that the classroom can be constantly being configured and reconfigured to suit the needs of the students within it. Over the last set of holidays I quietly stashed half the classroom desks in various nooks and crannies around the school and replaced them with a couple of round tables, buckets for students to put their gear, some cushions and a couple of bean bags creating a huge amount of space.
If the students want to collaborate they can do so, if they want to curl up in the corner to read they can do that too. The creation of our modern learning spaces can be done with a modicum of cash, a bit of creative thinking and school leadership that supports innovation in all its weird and wonderful forms. Am I a supporter of team teaching? Absolutely teachers need to be learning from each other.
One of the elephants in the room is assessment. We cannot build and educational system for the 21st century while using 19th century tools to assess student learning.
In selecting their representatives to talk to you today my class didn’t tell their peers to sit an examination on the content of their video. Instead they asked their nominees to give a speech in front of the class and invited the principal along so they could assess nominees’ public speaking skills and how well they could handle pressure. In short my 11 and 12 year old students have already figured out a critical flaw in our education system: our tools for formal assessment frequently don’t test all the qualities we wish to develop in our learners.
Given the amount of bad news we hear about cyber-bullying and inappropriate use of technology, I can understand why it is so easy for those in education to put up walls and demand that devices stay in bags. However within this context the computer is just an overpriced pencil. It is the interaction between people whether they are sitting beside each other half a world a way which for me makes e-learning so amazing.
Just like in Maths and PE, students need their teachers to guide and model good behaviour. By taking a hands-off and punish approach we deny our learners the chance to develop as cyber citizens.
E-learning is not just about bringing the world into our classroom but bringing our classrooms into the world. The submission project that Room 15, my fabulous group of learners, created is an example of the power of what technology can do.
My students got a chance to create work for an authentic audience, they were able to connect with experts outside our school community through my learning network and share what they have been doing so that they can inspire others. 21st century takes students beyond the role of being passive consumers of knowledge and enables them to be confident creators as well.
We are ⅛ of the way through the 21st century, isn’t time 21st century learning became the norm not the exception?
Last year I boldly claimed that holidays are for learning. At that stage of my course I was beginning to look for a job. This year I entered holidays feeling totally and utterly exhausted and really couldn’t see myself mustering much energy to do anything but watch re-runs of the Gilmore Girls in my PJs.
I still did manage a few days of slothdom but life is what happens when you are making other plans so what have I bee up to?
Meet-up is a social networking site where people with common interests get together and do something fun. So far I’ve learned how to make Curry, a decent flat white and been on a few Stand Up Paddle boarding excursions with groups I’ve found. However when the opportunity to learn how to make croissants with a genuine French pastry chef came up, the answer was or course ‘oui.’ Which is about the extent of my French as the only reason I took French at school was to eat.
In theory I should now be able to offer up pastries for staff morning teas but in reality I don’t think I have the patience for all the waiting around nor the attention to make sure that I roll the dough just right. Fun fact: croissants are made with fresh yeast.
Term 4 is camp at my school which means me alone in the woods with my class. Well may be not alone but responsible which terrifies me as I don’t have a good history with school camps. In Year 8 my teacher broke his leg and had to be shipped off the island. In Year 10 there was a horrible storm that flooded our tent. Year 12 the mountain erupted and just for good measure my brother smashed his patella and had to be shipped off the island. At this juncture, I’m thinking terrible weather might actually be the best possible outcome for my sojourn into the wilderness with my class. Which is just as well I went along to a First Aid course in the first week of the holidays. It was a really full-on few days but I am now back up to speed on bandages, CPR etc
Deserves a post in and of itself. But an awesome few days (re)connecting with NZ’s internet community.
Education and science select committee hearing
While nethui was on I popped over the road to see a select committee in action. It was rather surreal to hear someone I had never met before online or offline talk about the submission my class made. It was also awesome to see @claireamosnz give an amazing submission. I will take the lessons back to the classroom to help my students prepare for their verbal submission.
So a busy break. I managed a few days at school as well rearranging my classroom and am now gearing for an 11(gulp) week term.
A few weeks ago, I was at meeting where the presenter remarked to the largely teacher audience that we would have to excuse her creative right-brain tendencies during her presentation.
I’ve been ruminating about this off-hand remark for weeks, the idea that teaching isn’t a particularly creative profession. Certainly when we think of creative fields, design, art, music, film, writing and even science probably figure a lot more prominently in people’s minds than education.
Yet when we think of great teachers, and more importantly see representations of great teachers in the media, creativity is a common trait along with a commitment to education that goes beyond thinking of teaching as a job.
And I think there’s something in the idea that when we invest our creativity into an activity, our feelings about it change.
Is that why schools and by extension teachers are often viewed so negatively by society? Because they are seen as being places that kill creativity.
In one of TED’s most popular talks, Sir Ken Robinson argued that our educational systems have perpetuated a crisis of creative thought as students get their creativity taught out of them, time and again, in a systematic fashion.
So in many ways I don’t think the presenter of my workshop was entirely off-base when she assumed that teachers are detail-orientated types who love nothing more than flicking our red pens over spelling mistakes and making sure that our students pull their socks up. After all, I doubt many people would list a teacher among the creative people they’ve met. Maybe an art or music teacher might make the grade; maybe that one special teacher who marched to his or her own tune. But in general teachers are viewed as a uncreative bunch.
Certainly Sir Ken is right that part of the problem is undoubtedly inherent in our educational system. Schools are institutions which come with regulations and organisational hierarchies that often don’t sit well with creative-types. Because another central theme in the superhero teacher narrative is that this subset of teachers are frequently disruptive to school culture and often find themselves on the losing side of clashes with school authorities.
John Keating got pushed out in the Dead Poets Society as did Katherine Watson in Mona Lisa Smile. Real-life teachers Erin Gruwell and Jamie Escalante clashed with administrators over pedagogy in their films and in a nod to my friend @apathyjack, Dr Cox would have lasted all of five minutes in a school setting.
Perhaps it is this conflict between creative individuals and existing systems which is the reason that creativity isn’t something that is valued in the selection of would-be teachers nor much in teacher education programmes. Yet we can’t expect our educational systems to produce creative concept-driven thinkers if we don’t also have creative teachers in the classroom. However in my experience there is far more emphasis put on developing teachers as managers of classroom learning rather than as creative professionals.
One of the scary implications of the rise of Kahn Academy is that teachers don’t have the inclination nor interest to become competent producers of content – digital or otherwise – in their own right. I’ve had a couple of people remark to me that they can’t understand why I’m not in the film industry because of the video content that my class and I produce. Yet I don’t consider myself in away a proficient digital story teller. In fact most of my ideas are frequently stolen from others.
And I think that’s part of the problem. Teachers themselves often don’t view themselves as being creative, they think they merely reuse and adapt the ideas of others. What we often forget is that creativity isn’t a lone flash of insight but actually the adaptation of existing ideas to new contexts. It’s taking a reading programme and changing it to fit the needs of your learners. It’s turning a bucket into a place to store student gear.
Would schools function well if they were full of creative-types? I know I am a terrible when it comes to anything remotely admin-related. Collecting forms, organizing learning portfolios, policing uniform, even remembering to take the roll are tasks that are forever tripping me up and I hate doing them. What’s more standards and exams can also be rightly pointed to as constraints on teacher creativity.
But the thing is that creative professionals are always working within constraints. In fact creativity is often defined by the constraints in which it transpires. But even if you hypothetically swept away National Standards, NCEA and other traditional boogeymen of classroom creativity what would teachers do? Are teachers on the whole prepared to move forward as creative professionals?
If teaching is a creative profession how do we develop the creativity of our future teachers? How do we attract creative people to enter teaching? When and where, if ever, do teachers come to recognize themselves as creative professionals? How do we develop creativity in the teaching profession?
I always feel uncomfortable when people start talking about leadership. Especially if it happens to be in the context of events that have the tag ‘Emerging Leader’ ‘Young Leader’ or ‘Future Leader.’ Leaders have interesting things to say, leaders have responsibilities, leaders don’t forget to take the class roll after lunch.
I think opinionated geek is the most accurate description.
When I heard that #ignition2012 was happening during the April school holidays I couldn’t wait to book my flights vven though the dreaded ‘leader’ tag was attached to the event. The reason? Two days of un-conference .
Ever since I went to my first unconference back in July 2011 I’ve been hooked on the format. As a learner there’s nothing more engaging than being able to choose what to learn, when and from who. As an attendee I much prefer being an active participant at a conference than sitting as an audience member patiently waiting for the Q&A session to contribute to the conversation. Yes the person up the front might have something important to say but unconferences embrace the idea that the sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.
Which is what made #ignition2012 so exciting.
All those hierarchies that our model of industrial system of schooling built up over the last century or so vanished. At #ignition2012 it if you were veteran teacher of scholarship level physics at a large-inner city high school or someone in their first year of teaching five year olds their ABCs at a rural country school. Everyone was there with a common purpose to make New Zealand schools awesomeness incubators.
I love teachers from such a diverse range of contexts quite readily give up two days of their holidays to spend time at #ignition2012 learning and growing together. Nobody was required to be there and yet we were there. Some teachers traveled great distances to participate and the result was a giant melting pot of professional learning. There were sessions on e-portfolios building apps for learning and looking at applying augmented reality into the classroom. We discussed the Ultra Fast Broadband inquiry and talked about the conditions that lead to success for Maori students. In short it this was teacher professional development on steroids.
#Ignition2012 undoubtedly highlighted that the greatest strength of the New Zealand schooling system, institutional autonomy, is also its Achilles Heel. New Zealand schools and the educators within them don’t talk to each other nearly as much as we should. I think this is particularly the case for Beginning Teachers who can easily become isolated in our classrooms/schools with very little contact with those beyond our own bubbles. #Ignition2012 gave teachers an opportunity to connect with other teachers we would normally not be in contact with and the result was a bazaar of ideas to improve teaching and learning in New Zealand.
Moreover for those teachers on twitter and other social media, it allowed us to reconnect and put faces with profile pictures. It provided that real-life human component that is not there in online conversations. Coming together in real life is to quote the amazing @annekenn MAGIC.
What was really inspiring for me is knowing that there are other teachers out there in our schooling system who are dissatisfied with our schools and think we can do better. When I read about the latest policy developments in New Zealand education like the introduction of Charter Schools and Teach First New Zealand I often get despondent that the only new ideas for schooling are coming from the business sector. Ultimately discussions over how we train teachers or school governance is going to make very little difference to the shape of education. It’s the teachers who are in there with our students each day who need to ‘be the change’ in our schools.
#Ignition2012 shows that there are passionate New Zealand teachers out there who have no interest in perserving status quo in New Zealand schools. We know we can do better and in the case of Maori and Pasifika students in particular we know that system must do better. There are more teachers out who want to make New Zealand schools awesomeness incubators.
I hope next year you can come join us next year armed with your teaspoon.
“I honestly believe that the future is going to be millions of little things saving us. I imagine a big seesaw, and at one end of this seesaw is on the ground with a basket half-full of big rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air. It’s got a basket one-quarter full of sand. And some of us got teaspoons, and we’re trying to fill up sand. A lot of people are laughing at us, and they say, “Ah, people like you have been trying to do that for thousands of years, and it’s leaking out as fast as you’re putting it in.” But we’re saying, “We’re getting more people with teaspoons all the time.” And we think, “One of these years, you’ll see that whole seesaw go zooop in the other direction.” And people will say, “Gee, how did it happen so suddenly?” Us and all our little teaspoons…” Pete Seeger.
My profound thanks goes to the organizers of #ignition2012 in particular to @mosbourne and the crew at Albany Senior High School. A big shout out also goes to Russell Stanners, Tony Bacon and Abbie Reynolds from @vodafoneNZ for supporting my attendance.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 6.a
“Graduating teachers recognise how differing values and beliefs may impact on learners and their learning.”
Last week there were a lot of tweets in my feed on a New York Times article on plans by schools to scale back homework demands on their students. The idea of moving away from the traditional worksheet has already been implemented in some schools in New Zealand.
As a student in general I hated doing homework. I was quite content to go to school orchestra rehearsals, attend Board of Trustee meetings as the student rep and reading encyclopaedias to find out stuff (spot the nerd) but when it came to writing assignments or filling in worksheets, I tended to do avoid doing them if I wasn’t interested in what it was I supposed to be doing. The worst were the school projects which seemed to take hours and involved lots of yelling on the part of my parents.
When I was on Teaching Experience I was in charge of setting and marking homework. To be honest I didn’t enjoy doing it. Here was I perpetuating all the stuff I hated about homework onto the students, the dreaded worksheets. Marking the worksheets dealing with students who had lost/forgotten/didn’t have their homework sheets ate into classroom time that could have been utilized doing other stuff. But classroom time isn’t the only time wasted doing homework.
Some working parents resent the impingement that homework has on the very brief window between dinner time and bed time that they have with their children while others complain that homework eats up time that their children devote to sports and hobbies. Moreover some parents argue that taking trips to the museum, cooking and playing games are just as important part of a child’s learning as formal school work.
To be honest the only week I actually enjoyed the setting and marking of homework was when I decided to get the top-achieving students to design a simple game of chance to be played in class by the other students. The homework was relevant to the work we were doing in class which was a unit on probability, we had learned about what was good game (something with an even but fair chance of winning) and the students knew that I had the materials for the game in class.
The goal was getting students to apply their knowledge and teach the other children in the class. For their part the students took to the assignment with gusto turning their class into a gambling pit, complete with chips and a pit boss (again, we were studying probability) and it was rewarding to see the students using the principles we had learned in class. More importantly the students, both the players and game designers, enjoyed the activity.
But should these sort of homework assignments be the norm?
There are many parents that believe that traditional homework of worksheets, times tables and spelling lists are an important part of their child’s education. They themselves likely did a similar type of homework when they are at school. There’s also a school of thought that if teachers set students a lot of homework, then the students must be doing a lot of learning.
There is some merit to the idea that there are some things you just need practice, practice, practice in order to get better. Martin Gladwell’s best seller Outliers argues that individual success in any field is based on the 10,000-Hour Rule. Drawing on a studying on the making of an expert by Anders Ericsson, Gladwell argues that the key to success in any field has nothing to do with talent. It’s simply practice, 10,000 hours of it — 20 hours a week for 10 years.
The idea of practice, and lots of it, makes perfect undoubtedly drives some parents in particular those who sing the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. However buried under the headline of the amount of time needed to achieve mastery is how the time is spent:
“You will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach
not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself”
The problem with homework isn’t the amount, but how homework is utilized by teachers. However like many aspects of teaching what constitutes effective homework practice depends entirely on your point of view of what effective learning is.
New Zealand Graduating Standard 4.b
Graduating teachers use and sequence a range of learning experiences to influence and promote learner achievement.
Before I started out on my teaching experience, I mused on the idea that as a teacher I must Learn the art of stepping back well today I started putting into practice.
One of my year 8 classes was given a print out of their asTTLe pre-test for the unit that we are studying. This print out includes a list of strengths, achieved, not achieved and gaps in their knowledge over different Achievement Objectives in the New Zealand curriculum for that learning area. I then gave them a list activities from books and text books which support learning in those areas and placed the students in groups according to their test results. Finally I put up a sign-up sheet on the board where groups could sign up for mini-lessons with me on topics of their choosing.
From there I left it to the students
What happened next?
Well if you walked into my classroom you would have seen some groups working together on a topic, some students working individually. There were also students who elected to come up on a topic I had set to get the class started on the unit.
But what was amazing is that when I looked at the sign-up at the end of the lessons the students came up pretty much with what I would have planned form them anyway. The groups had allocated their time rather effectively with groups who need more assistance booked in for more lessons than the ones who were more confident in this part of the curriculum. The students had also self-selected the lessons I would have planned for them (I had done a shadow plan of the unit).
But why go through this process if we came to the same results?
Because the students needed to take ownership of their learning. Rather than me telling me what to learn and when, they’ve made the decisions. They’ve taken into account their personal timetables and learning networks to come up with a learning programme that suits their needs.
Oh and in case you are wondering, this plan was implemented not for English nor Social Studies but for Math.
My thanks to my Associate Teacher and Josh Stumpenhorst for the inspiration to implement this programme.
I’ll keep you updated on this class in the next few weeks.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 6.c
“Graduating teachers build effective relationships with their learners.”
What’s in a name?
Well if you are teacher a lot more than what’s on your birth certificate.
I remember being back in primary school where one of my teachers wistfully remarked that the students at a school he visited called their teachers ‘sir’ while in high school I called some of my teachers by their first names. My ex partner’s daughter went to a school where everyone, including the principal, was on a first name basis with their students. The school I am currently doing my placement at had a first-name policy many moons ago only to go back to having students call teachers Mr/Ms/Mrs Surname.
Most of the arguments for teacher sticking with using surnames end to focus on the idea of promoting authority. Using honourifics reminds everyone that the teacher is then senior and as a result gets a title, while the learner is subservient and is called by their forename. According to some supporters, teachers who let their students call them by their first name are responsible for the dumbing down of our education system and the destruction of society as we know it.
However there are some compelling arguments for teaching ditching the old tradition of Mr/Mrs. Firstly it is merely a reflection of a change in society at large for instance, my GP prefers that I call her by her first name and the only people that I would probably to refer to as Mr/Ms Lastname outside of school would be members of the older generation.*
There’s also an argument to be made for consistency. Most teachers in early childhood centres tend to be on a first name basis with their students and it seems a bit odd for a sudden shift towards honourifics once children reach school moreover it sends a rather strange message to students that teachers demand the use of honorifics but that courtesy is sometimes not extended to other members of the school staff such as caretakers and office workers. There’s also the whole Mrs/Ms/Miss debate which I will sidestep for this post (but reflexively flinch whenever I’m called Mrs or Miss). However the most compelling reason is that ditching honourifics helps teachers to create a bond with their students and a more inclusive classroom environment.
Although theoretically I’m drawn to the idea of being being known by my first name, I still find myself wanting to be known as Ms Lastname. However it is not an issue of respect. I’ve come to the conclusion that for me at least, using Ms Lastname has not been about gaining respect from my students. For me respect is something that teachers earn rather than gain through virtue of their position. In fact I would go as far to say that if the only way you can command respect is through your name, then you may not deserve as much respect as you believe. A name is not the only way to command respect, but it is one way to show respect. Saying please and thank you, listening to instructions and taking constructive criticism are far more important than a name.
For me it is an issue of privacy.
From the moment I enter the school gates I am no longer a person, I am a trainee teacher. I need to be ‘on’ at all times. I don’t swear, I seldom lose my temper. I will hear my name called hundreds of times a day. I give so much of myself to my students that when I come home at the end of the day all I want to do is skulk off to watch TV without interruption for a hour to stop being a student teacher and back to being me.
But who am I?
My parents have a pet name for me, my nickname is used by my friends, my full first name is what my co-workers tend to use while Ms Lastname is usually reserved for official correspondence and at the moment for students. Just about everyone will have several suits of identity which dictate how much of themselves they are willing to share with others.
For the moment, my first name is a part of my identity that I wish to keep private from students. Obviously if I was employed in a school where there was a first name policy, I’d be on a first name basis with my student but I’m not pushing to ditch them either.
*Though at my last workplace I referred to many of my co-workers and boss by honourifics.