Friday, December 19, 2014

The Most Important Muscles of Them All - Learning Muscles

We took some huge risks this year.
Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. Brene Brown Daring Greatly. 

If we want our learners to have courage and take risks in their learning then we need to have courage and take even greater risks in our teaching. And as leaders we need to give people permission to take these risks.

Twelve months ago Jono wrote:
“I like the idea of learning muscles. It tells me that we can get better at these things if we 'work out' with them. We're basing our classroom around these learning muscles next year. We're trying to gear our kids up for the 21st century that they are going to go into and we want them to go in with confidence.” Jono Broom December 2013.

Learning Muscles- curiosity, courage, investigation, experimentation, imagination, reasoning, sociability and reflection. We added stickability and empathy.

So on the first day this year we said to our Middle Years kids (50 learners ranging in age from 9 through to 15) “This is our curriculum for the year. If you leave here at the end of the year better in some, or all, of these ten things then we will all- both us and you-have done our jobs.”

We have not “taught” reading, writing, maths or any other “subject” all year.

Whenever our learners set goals they were in relation to the learning muscles. When they reflected on the learning they had been doing they reflected on their learning muscles rather than the “content specific,” or “process skills” they had been learning or practicing.

We have freed our learners up to “inquire.” They have inquired into things we suggested, and more and more they have inquired into things they were developing passions and interests around. (See inquiry posts-linked below- for more detailed information on this.)

When reflections and evaluations of learning (theirs and/or ours)  identified the need for direct instruction in a specific skill, or development of some content knowledge then we provided this.

Student accountability developed.  Student involvement in and responsibility for their learning increased. Then student engagement started becoming evident. Student achievement using measures such as standardised assessments was skyrocketing by the time we were half way through the year.

But most importantly these learners ended the year with so much more confidence than they started the year with. Most of them contributed to a video book for a teacher leaving- these were the same students who lacked confidence and refused to be recorded on video at all in February when I tried to take some initial impressions of them and their ideas about learning. 
Another teacher who taught a  lot of the same students in 2013 and had been away all year visited on the second to last day. He couldn’t get over the difference in these learners confidence and general bearing. The way they interacted with each other and with adults. The way they held themselves and had a belief in themselves and each other.

Our end of year reports were learning stories based around the learning muscles.

They spent the last morning at school for the year reflecting and clearly articulating the learning muscles they had developed significantly this year.

These learners wanted to be at school. They were still at school in the last week this year working on their inquiries. A Year 10 boy got so far through his inquiry and realised he needed some more understanding to be able to do what he wanted to do. So 24 hours before school was due to close there he was with a teacher re-forming his inquiry questions. He can just come back to school and continue with this next year. 

Learning isn't restricted to neat and tidy 3 week units, or even 10 week themes any more. Learning is truly ongoing and on its way to becoming life long for these learners.

We’ve had such great success with the learning muscles as a trial in our Middle Years Learning Community (Years 6-10)  this year that we are going to be focusing on them school wide next year. We’ve incorporated them into the Mason Durie Tapa Wha model and these two concepts have become our graduate profile. 

How we do this with our foundation class students, who often come to school with the behaviours and knowledge more like three years olds than five year olds, and how we do this in our early years- where we know some of the basics of reading and writing are so necessary and how we do this through NCEA are some of our ongoing inquiries for the year. We have our initial plans for how we are going to do it and I’m sure they will be modified and change as the year progresses just as ours did this year.  

The learning muscles  are the most important thing we will measure our students progress in, from when they start school at 5 through to when they leave us at 18. We will assess reading, writing and maths as we go, and we will be continually evaluating and reflecting on what skills and concepts a learners needs help developing. But we will always remember that our aim is to help each learner to progress their learning in an ongoing quest to become a well rounded  lifelong learner. And we believe the learning muscles are the key to this. 

As has been said for many years- what you value is what you measure. 

We are determined to make the learning muscles the things we measure the most as a school- because they are the thing we want to value the most. Follow our journey as we strive to keep ourselves honest to this vision.

Useful Links:

My Story of Change- Jono Broom (the original post that started the learning muscles journey.)

Inquiry Learning

Web of Inquiry- Jono Broom

The Link In The Chain-Jono Broom

Self Directed Learning

Give Your Learners True Control- Karyn Gray

Do We Need a Bell to Signal Learning?- Karyn Gray

Curriculum Change

Throw off the Shackles and Turn the Curriculum Upside Down-Jono Broom

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Loving Monday Mornings Now

Monday mornings used to be really difficult. Students came to school after 2 or 3 days away from the routines and expectations, and often agitated about weekend events. Getting a learning focus established used to be a big part of our job on a Monday. But this has gradually evaporated and all of a sudden this week I realised we no longer treat Mondays as any different day to prepare for than any other.

It was a beautiful sun soaked Monday November morning in Te Karaka earlier this week. Sitting in our Middle Years Learning Community this is what I saw:

8.30am A teacher is uploading apps onto iPads while having a conversation with learners about computers and iPads. Other students are talking with other adults and each other about their weekends. Other adults- teachers and teacher aides are poring over the school forum looking at the messages about what was happening today- both in the school and in their learning community.

8.45am- when learning officially starts for the day I saw a group of Year 9-10 boys open their iPads and find the google site that lists the days workshops and suggested learning experiences for students to choose from. I hear one 15 year old say to another I just need to have  a look at the site and see which adult I need to go and work with to plan my day today. Off they all started to move to whichever adult they had been allocated to plan with for the day.

8.45-9.15 Groups of 8-10 learners are working with an adult to plan their day and write goals of what they want to achieve each period. These learners are Year 6 through to Year 10. 5 minutes into the block 12 Year 4-5 students also arrive to work in this space on their individualised inquiries for the first half of the day.

9.15-9.45 some groups of learners turn up to the middle space (we have four different learning spaces that all open onto each other) for scheduled workshops and adults come and work with those groups. 
One group is working on creating a display of a reflection about an activity from a recent camp. Another group is busy tweeting for the current gigatown competition. Some students and a teacher from the immersion class have joined in this workshop so that they can go back and pass it on to the rest of their class.

Another classroom adult is roaming around students working individually checking they have understood feedback on some recent writing about camp that has been added to each learners documents on google drive.

There are students out on the verandah writing lyrics and trying them out on a guitar.
Others are completing a piece of art.
Other are investigating their individual inquiry questions.
Some are completing a photography follow up task using camp photos.
Some are on an online forum checking the learning tasks outlines.
Others are on the forum checking the feedback that has been given to them on previous learning tasks. 

A parent turns up because her 10 year son was reluctant to come to school this morning and asks for an older boy who has a good connection with her son to go and talk to him. He goes off and soon comes back with the younger learner and helps set him up for the day.  

There is another parent who has come in to support her child in a restorative meeting at morning tea time. She s joining in with learners in their workshops and wandering around seeing the learning that three of her children- who are all learners in this community- are doing.

9.45-10.15 Workshops change over- some students move in for scheduled workshops, others move off and find a space to carry on with their independent learning.

Everyone knows what they are doing, everyone has a goal to meet and everyone is focused, but collaborating and enjoying their learning. 

A couple of Year 12 students come to see a teacher to ask if they can talk to them about an incident from last week and quietly arrange a more suitable time to come back.

10.15 a short piece of music plays and everyone gets up and puts their technology away without being asked and returns to the group they were in at 8.45am for planning their day. Learners pair up and share with each other what their goal was and how well they met it, using a number rating system and backing up their rating with explanations. Adults check in with each student about how effective their learning has been for the last 90 minutes and what their priority is for the next block of learning, and as they finish each group heads outside for a learning break.

What’s Different?
There have been over 60 learners in this space this morning. At no time have all the students been sat down and told to listen to instructions or demands. But all knew what to do. Instructions are available for all in written form online- some check these before they even leave home in the morning. And these are supported by an adult 1-1 as necessary

Most of the learning they were completing was self selected- individualised inquiries that have been negotiated with adults in various ways.

No bell rang to start or finish anything. This is because are actively facilitating the art of self regulation. 

There is an age range of 7 years. Year 4 students- some still only 9- were working alongside Year 10 students- many of whom are turned 15.

Technology supports and assists learning- it would be difficult without it, but its there to support, not drive the learning.

There is real engagement. These learners are controlling and leading their own learning.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Do We Need a Bell to Signal Learning?

Did a bit of a social experiment this afternoon. Don’t really like to use the word experiment when referring to our learners, but a respected colleague has been encouraging me to do just that all year- saying if we are not experimenting then how can we be innovating.

So today I suggested a wee experiment.

We have not used bells all year. When we started three years ago we used a bell to indicate the start of school, the end of morning tea and the end of lunchtime.  This year we went to no bells at all. We talk about a language of learning. We hear kids reminding each other when its time for learning to start again, and we hear duty teachers gently reminding learners its time to head back to their learning. We consider this a much more brain friendly, calmer way for students to return to their learning than the sharp disruption of a bell which can actually foster feelings of fight or flight or other destructive feelings- things we don't want to set our learners up for before they even start the learning.

Today 5 minutes before the end of lunchtime the adults in our middle years all happened to gather in the community space together preparing for the afternoon learning. We sat having a bit of a chat about kids and the learning that we were seeing. And I suggested we see what happened if we didn’t remind the students it was learning time. We left the outside door to the classroom remained shut. 

By 1.05pm when the learning is meant to start we watched students who were out playing games on the court directly in front of the community turn and look, see the door closed, and continue playing for another minute, continually turning and watching for the door to open. Individuals and small groups of students started to gather on the verandah outside the door. No duty teachers were in sight reminding students about it being learning time and the adults inside kept “chatting.” 
Over five minutes larger numbers of students kept looking with puzzle at the door and then returned to playing.

About seven minutes after learning time should have started I casually got up and opened one door, returning to the circle of adults sitting on the couch and ottomans in the middle of the large space. Learners started roaming through the door, a few making comments on their way past about their learning starting a but late this afternoon. 

We have 45 learners aged between 10 and 15 who all work together in this learning community. 
Within three minutes every one of them was inside the learning community and within five minutes all were actively engaged in their learning for the afternoon. There were students who had gone and selected their piece of incomplete art work and set themselves up with pastels to complete it. There were a group of learners who came and got their inquiry folders and music gear and were outside on some beanbags singing and composing for the band that is their self selected inquiry at the moment. There were other students finishing some assigned writing tasks, and others working on some teacher directed inquiry tasks. Other students were researching their own inquiries previously negotiated with teachers. Another group were working in a team finishing a video presentation. 

At no stage was any signal given- apart from a door being opened- or any adult speak to any student and ask them to come inside or ask them to get on with their learning. 

In my experience often teachers think they have true self directed learning happen, but it all falls apart as soon as the teacher stops quietly directing from the side. Take a class where the teacher says the kids can operate by themselves completely and take that teacher out for the day and see what happens.

This little experiment  showed me that we have truly moved way down the continuum of self directed learning. 

These kids were not easy to manage or engage at the beginning of the year. But this was the vision we had and slowly we have moved students towards it. What is happening now would not be happening without the strategic steps we have taken on the way. It couldn't have happened in one step. But it is real self directed learning. And it is real engagement. And its very exciting to be part of a team that has worked very hard, alongside these learners to give them the skills and the space to take the lead in their own learning. 

As a team we started off the year by reading the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I love many quotes from this book but this one has always stood out:

“We want to show up, we want to learn, and we want to inspire. We are hardwired for connection, curiosity, and engagement. We crave purpose, and we have a deep desire to create and contribute. We want to take risks, embrace our vulnerabilities, and be courageous. When learning and working are dehumanised—when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform—we disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs from us: our talent, our ideas, and our passion. What we ask is that you engage with us, show up beside us, and learn from us. Feedback is a function of respect; when you don’t have honest conversations with us about our strengths and our opportunities for growth, we question our contributions and your commitment. Above all else, we ask that you show up, let yourself be seen, and be courageous. Dare Greatly with us.”

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Wandering, Exploring, Reflecting, Refining

."Not all those who wander are lost." 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
When you try to innovate, when you do something that is different you have to wander a little bit. You have to experiment. You have to expect it to include failures, and you have to expect it to take time. 
We said good bye to Term 3 last week and I've had a bit of time to reflect on the last three terms. I've been teaching full time in our Middle Years learning community this year. And we've certainly wandered. We've tried new things, refined some, discarded others.
We've been wondering for a while how do we prove it's working? What is IT? What is success?
Is it success as it would be judged in a traditional environment? What does that look like? 
Is it achievement? How do you measure that? Some test scores on a few standardised tests that represent a very small portion of what it is we hope these learners are developing.
Is it engagement? I've had the privilege of participating in some amazing PLD this year and one thing that has stuck with me was a comment made about confusing compliance with engagement.
I think that many schools, classes and teachers have compliant children in them and teachers are mistaking that compliance for engagement. Just because a student doesn't cause trouble and hands in everything they are asked to does not mean they are engaged. Just because classrooms look structured and/or there is a quietness or a "busy"ness does not mean real learning is happening. 
What do we know is different for our learners than from 9 months ago?
We have done a series of standardised assessments over the last few weeks. They show some tremendous growth in nearly every young person we have the comparative data for from last November. Some are still below where they should be for their age. But many of those same students they have shown two or three years growth over the last nine months. A few have shown four or five years growth. 
We know that engagement is a lot higher than it was six months ago, and tremendously more than it was two-three years ago. We feel that and see it every day.
We haven't got it all right and we haven't got it right all the time. But we have courage to wander, to get lost a little and to constantly search for what will make it better. We have built a strong capacity for reflection. And a measure of the strength of this is the openness with which it occurs.All teachers, the trainee teachers, the teacher aides all contribute a lot to ongoing reflections on an electronic forum. That strong reflection allows us to wander, to innovate, to try new ideas and then to reflect and refine on these ideas.

The data shows a lot, the feel in the classroom shows a lot more. The genuine joy the learners show in learning naturally with other students within a significant age difference. The genuine joyful but purposefully learning focused relationships between adults and students in the community. 

Our students aren't quiet nor are they always compliant. Sometimes they come to school carrying personal burdens or big questions from things they have witnessed. And sometimes that means a whole lot of other things have to be done to help them so they can focus on learning. They don't always wear their uniforms correctly or remember not to swear at school. Compared to compliant kids in a traditional setting some may not like what they see in our community because it doesn't fit into their image of how school should look. We've deliberately wandered far away from that.
But these learners are engaged. They can plan their own timetables every day, including writing specific goals for each period. They can hold each other accountable for whether they met those goals or not. They know where to go to, and who to go to, if they have problems. They have moved great distances over the course of the year. It may not be easy to define or to measure. But there is success. There is joy and laughter in the learning that is happening
They have control of their learning which emulates real life every day, and they can articulate how this learning ties back to the NZ curriculum. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Four Years On

Just over 12 months ago we started this blog as a staff. The last 12 months has seen many exciting steps on our journey as a school. 

  • We have said goodbye to some key foundation staff, but we have also welcomed other staff.
  • We have moved into our brand new buildings, after three years in temporary and less than ideal physical conditions.
  • We have continued to evolve our thinking and our practice.
  • We are in the process of reviewing our curriculum delivery programme, as we have now been operating as a school for over three years.
  • We've taken part in some exciting PLD.
  • We've had visitors from throughout New Zealand.
  • Our achievement results continue to grow, as does the understanding of and engagement with their learning from our learners.
  • We've attempted to share our evolving thinking and practice with the world with this BLOG.

Here's some key statements staff have made over the last 12 months in various blog posts.

How can an (extremely) average student, of seemingly average intelligence, see the pitfalls of our current system; where highly intelligent, highly educated people cannot? (Because of the highly political use of education?)  I have absorbed so much in the past 4 years and I know where the changes need to be made. There is no one answer and there is no sombrero that will fit every head. Education needs to be a living organism that can grow, evolve and adapt to fit the nature of its environment. 

Fundamentally it is the parents responsibility to raise their children, but it is the teachers responsibility to know their learners, and to ensure everyone feels comfortable in their own space. When I say know your learners I don't mean just know their name. I mean know them. Look at them in the morning and from that one glance tell if something's wrong. Tell if they had breakfast that morning. Tell if they've been forced to come to school sick. Tell if they feel like they haven't been treated as an individual at home, and do your best to make sure every single individual feels respected at school.

They are the kids. You are the adult. We're all humans.

Our students thrive learning in this environment.  Learning and teaching at the same time. Teachers learning from students and vice versa.  Students sharing with parents. 

Why would we continue to imitate- and poorly because of our size- a secondary system that has dismally failed some of our most vulnerable learners for years? 
Why would we, when our kids live such whanau based lives, continue to segregate kids by year groups?

You require respect, but so do they. Don't treat them like they're the scum of the earth, because they're not. Respect them for who they are, respect them for what they could be, respect them as individuals, and they will do the same to you

Here I am sitting in this classroom of really engaged collaborative learners on a Monday morning and remembering how difficult Monday mornings used to be with them. 
Whats the difference? They have real control over their day. As teachers we have set up those systems and we are here to facilitate the learning and help the learners link that back to learning areas but they are definitely the ones in control. And so they should be. Its their learning, and when they have control over it, true control, then maybe we really will see the life long learning that the NZ curriculum aspires to.

It's time for teachers the world over to throw off their ideas of subjects. It's time to stop trying to invent new ways to make the curriculum more engaging, and to turn everything upside down. Take ideas or themes that engage individual students and see what parts of the curriculum you can link them to. Have discussions as a staff on what the actual idea of school is in the 21st century. Is it to educate people into a job or career path? Or is it to help learners become better people?

Preparing children for the future is not only our job, but our duty as teachers. Our school is determinedly focused on what is right for students learning, not what feels most comfortable for the teacher

May we as teachers too, create our own enchanting reality, expose our students’ beauty and intelligence and transform their lives with the gentlest of corrections.

Do we give our young people enough credit when it comes to their ability to learn?

I feel inspired everyday. The children in my class give me so much more than I could ever imagine. Love, acceptance, inspiration, drive, respect and more than anything, they like me for who I am, and I like them too.  I never really understood what being a teacher in a school like this really meant. Not only are we role models, we are Mum, Dad, a shoulder to cry on, tell secrets to and dream with. Our students really believe that they can be the best they can be and we really try to encourage them to reach far beyond what they believe they are capable of.

And take a look at it from another perspective, we can see that Education IS perturbation.
We welcome our students into our learning spaces and although they are quite happy to cruise along through life, we as teachers are the outside influence, we create all those activities and learning opportunities that force our students to challenge what they know, or think they know, and often times the learning is fun and exciting, and sometimes it is dramatic and highly pressured.

From our first notification of closure, to now, it’s been tumultuous at times and its been exhilarating at times, but whatever it is…I’m so glad I decided to go on the journey, what an adventure its been!

If we know that we learn best using multiple strategies and with different people at different times, why do we insist on putting 30 students together with one adult and creating a dependency on one person?

  • How would it look if we had learners from multiple years together?
  • How would it look if the learning was based primarily and significantly on learners inquiries and the teachers role was to facilitate the learning and help the learners focus on their next learning steps, on an individual basis?
  • How would it look if we had multiple teachers working with larger groups of students sharing responsibilities for all learners as appropriate?
  • How would it look if students had a real say in constructing their school day, week and year?
We developed our whole school- including our senior curriculum- very intentionally and unashamedly around what was best for our students and their learning. We fit the timetable and physical structure of classes around our student’s needs and best practice. The results are quite a different approach to learning in the Secondary School.

I won’t miss the individual classrooms with the teacher’s desk that was once a staple of a New Zealand education. I’m excited about continuing to team teach with other teachers; of being collaborative and cooperative in our planning and teaching; the sharing of ideas, practice, and passion for learning. It’s certainly not the ‘one size fits all’ approach I had going through school.

For us at TKAS helping our young people develop an understanding of their identity- past, present and future, the ability to be inclusive with all other people ( accept and have positive relationships with a range of people)  and doing things differently (being innovative) is the cornerstone to what we are doing (and are the three main points on our school logo).

I am trained as a Secondary teacher and the best PD I have ever done is teaching at Primary level. I can hear all you subject specialists throwing your hands up in disgust, but its true! 
Our school is not normal and for that I am eternally grateful. I have been exposed to a plethora of left field, educational tools and strategies that have challenged me in so many ways. 

Area schools have the advantage of being able to group years of students together. But in reality so does any school. It takes courage and it takes daring to buck a system! And it takes time to prove it's working to all those doubters who rely on what has been the way its done for so long.

If you are Interested in finding out more, have a read of the Blog entries or enter into a conversation with us on this blog or for an even deeper conversation register on this forum one of our staff is starting up and discuss some or all of the above with us.

Grass Roots Education Forum

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Give your Learners True Control

It’s Monday morning 11am and I’m sitting in a classroom in a remote New Zealand village with 50 adolescents from Year 6-10 who are becoming some of the most engaged learners I have worked with in 27 years of teaching. They are all learning about different things and they have each planned their week and their day. I have just watched them all come back in from a morning learning break, no bell was rung, they just all wandered back in after their 30 minute break and got on with their learning. There were adults drifting around but not a single learner was asked to get on with anything. Within 3 minutes all learners were working. 

There is someone playing a guitar in the corner using a youtube clip as a teacher. There is a learner meeting with a teacher to plan how to explain his learning from his latest inquiry. There are a couple of sets of learners sprawled together on couches using Minecraft to map out the East Cape before a community learning trip around the area next term. There is someone sprawled on the floor completing a piece of highly intricate art. There is someone completing a video for their youtube channel. There is someone else taking some notes about proteins and carbohydrates. There are a group of learners poring over an iPad together interpreting a graph and writing some summary statements about it. There’s a small group of students out capturing some images from around the school on a camera.  And thats just a small sample. Each of them has their own planner for the week and for the day which they completed when they arrived at school and they hold themselves accountable for following this.

@cleansweep_ wrote a piece comparing two different learning scenarios with the same students. 
For many the second scenario might seem the ideal to work towards. For us it is the reality we see happening every day.

@ClaireAmosNZ                posted this morning about handing power over to the learners 

It was fabulous and has inspired me to write about how that is happening in our Middle Years at TKAS.

It didn't happen overnight, but it is happening now. Some of these students were extremely disengaged with learning at the beginning of the year. 

Slowly during Term 1 we set them up; learning muscles from Guy Claxton. We started introducing a simple inquiry process they could take ownership over and gradually led them to establishing the things they would really like to inquire into.(

Our learners have three different inquiries happening on the run all the time: Flow inquiries are their opportunity to “inquire into the stuff you are interested in”, Zone inquires are their chance to “inquire into the stuff we think you need to understand about the world you live in”, Groove inquiries are a chance to explore the world outside of the classroom with a link to learning trips.” 

This is their entire learning programme. Its not something they do a period a day, or in the afternoons. This is their whole programme.

We set up the experimenting phase of their inquiries for zone and groove, they still have ownership over the other three stages. In their flow inquiries they have ownership of all four stages. The balance between flow, groove and zone inquiry learning is up to them and can differ from day to day and from learner to learner.

We meet with learners and help them reflect on the learning areas they have engaged with and what level their achievements are at. We use SOLO taxonomy within our school progressions to help clarify this learning with our learners. 
But we do all that from the basis of the learning they have completed, rather than setting out our expectations first. When some math or science or literacy learning has occurred out of their inquiry that needs facilitating to the next level we schedule a workshop with that student, and offer that workshop for other students to attend.

A statement Claire made in her blogpost about what stops true engagement rings so true:  
“It is the teachers need to maintain power and control in the classroom.” 

We have worked hard to give that power back to the kids. 
When our students who range in age from 10 through to 15 arrive at school they use technology to go to a google site and check any significant instructions for the day. If they have a required meeting with an adult, it will be listed there, so will any workshops that it might have been identified they need to attend. 

They then plan their day. Some of them still check this plan with an adult. About half of the community of 50 learners do not need to check their planning as they have been identified as completely self managing.

And then they get on with their learning. They might see an adult and request some assistance or meeting to clarify the next step of this inquiry.

Before they go to a midmorning and lunch break some music plays in the community and learners use this as their signal to stop learning and reflect on a school electronic forum about what they have done, what they have learnt, what their focus level has been and what they are going to focus their learning on in the next learning period. (They use their daily plan and review it through the day as necessary.)

Claire asks: “Why on earth would you bother to get to know your learners, if you weren't in a position to actually be responsive to their learning needs and their interests?”

We still teach, all the time. but we teach individuals and we are completely responsive to their individual needs. 

I agree Claire. Saying we know our learners and then continuing to teach them off our own long term plans developed from some curriculum documents and aiming for curriculum coverage is not engaging our learners. 

All educators need to be finding small and large ways to challenge the status quo. 
Do not accept that you are working in an environment that won’t allow this. Find small ways to challenge every day. 

And for those of us fortunate enough to be in environments where we are allowed to change the face of teaching keep going, and keep sharing.

Its hard, and its tempting to fall back to the ‘known’ when things don’t work - and they won’t always. 
Put yourself in the position where you are working with someone else who won’t let you accept the status quo and will pull you up when you want to drift back to what you've always done because its just easier.

Here I am sitting in this classroom of really engaged collaborative learners on a Monday morning and remembering how difficult Monday mornings used to be with them. 

Whats the difference? They have real control over their day. As teachers we have set up those systems and we are here to facilitate the learning and help the learners link that back to learning areas but they are definitely the ones in control. And so they should be. It’s their learning, and when they have control over it, true control, then maybe we really will see the life long learning that the NZ curriculum aspires to.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Dont Limit Yourself

Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do.

We've just returned home from four days at a school camp.

We took our entire Middle Years learning Community away. There were 45+ kids ranging from Years 6-10, two teachers and three teacher aides, and a couple of parents.
Our youngest Year 6 is still 9 years old. Our oldest Year 10 has already turned 15. These learners learn together in a home room in a shared learning hub all day every week Monday through Thursday. (On Fridays they combine with the Year 11-13 students and our full immersion students for whole day option classes called Inspire.)

We have come back to school as a true community, a whānau, a family.

We have watched 15 year olds interacting positively with 10 year olds and accepting help from them. We have watched 12 years olds interact with 10 year olds and 15 year olds at the same time.

Sure there were disagreements and fall outs at times. Isn't there in any family?

And that's what we are. Our own family of sorts. We are a learning community. We don't use the word class or classroom. We are a community together. We will support each other and help each other. Care for each other and provoke each other. And most importantly for a school learning community we will learn with and from each other, recognising the value every learner brings for us all- be they 9 or 15. Our learners experiences and lives will be richer because of the range of ages and experiences we have in our community. Being in a learning community is mirroring real life, in a way only having 15 year olds or only having 9 year olds in a classroom just cannot do.

When we were setting TKAS up as an area school to cater for Year 1-13 back in 2010 one of the biggest concerns was having young students interacting with older students. Our biggest response was why? Why would we set up zones where younger or older students couldn't go, or separate playground areas? Why would we try and emulate a secondary system that we did not have the numbers to do, and actually didn't believe served our specific learners, of perhaps many learners at all, in the way we believed schooling should be serving them? Our learners interact with a range of different ages in their whānau, and on marae. Why should schooling be different?

Schooling is the only time where we segregate students into narrow groups based on when they were born. Why do we do this? It is not preparing them for real life. In my real life some of my closest friends and colleagues are of a completely different generation to me, not by 1 or 2 years but some of them by decades- both younger and older. Why then, do we insist on what Sir Ken Robinson refers to as the "conveyor belt of education," where learners are put with students who have similar birth dates and restricted to learning with those people.

"We still educate children by batches: we put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are. It's like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture. Well I know kids that are much better than other kids at different disciplines; or at different times of the day; or better in smaller groups than in large groups; or sometimes they want to be on their own. If you are interested in the model of learning, you don’t start from this production line mentality.” Sir Ken Robinson

I'm so fortunate to have had the opportunity to teach and lead in a school that is both an area school and a new school. We were not bound by historic and traditional systems but were able to set the school up taking into account thinking of people like Sir Ken Robinson.

Area schools have an opportunity, and perhaps a moral obligation, to reduce this dependence and reliance on a system that is outdated and one that has out-used it's usefulness.

Kids learn naturally together in all ages outside of school. When we restrict this inside school we cut them off from so many learning opportunities.

Area schools have the advantage of being able to group years of students together. But in reality so does any school. It takes courage and it takes daring to buck a s system! And it takes time to prove it's working to all those doubters who rely on what has been the way its done for so long.

Do you have the courage to support  this in your educational setting?

This year at Te Karaka Area school we have four learning communities.

Year 1-5 of 60 students with 3- 4 teachers in the pod at any time.
Year 6-10 of 50 students with 2 teachers in the pod at any time.
Year 11-13 of 50 students with 3 teachers in the pod at any time
Full immersion of 25 Year 1-10 with 2 teachers in the pod at any time.

If you are interested in how we are making this work get in touch with us at any time.

“Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, you can achieve.” Mary Kay Ash