Friday, January 31, 2014

Who Are Schools For?

Want to be Queen or King of your own little kingdom?
Have total control over 30 young people every day?
Have complete domination over what happens in the four walls of your classroom when the door is closed?

Be a teacher. Or at least that's how it used to be.

Today it's not, or it shouldn't be, about the teacher having control or about the teacher being comfortable. And it certainly shouldn't be about change in pedagogy and practice happening at the rate the teacher is ready for.

What should it be about?

It should most definitely be about the learners.

If we know that, without doubt,every child learns at a different rate and in a different order than each other, then how are we possibly meeting their needs by teaching them all the same thing, in the same way at the same time?

If we know that we learn from a range of other people- old, young, similar, different to us, then how are we meeting our learners needs by putting them in a classroom with only people of a very similar age?

If we know that we learn best when the learning is relevant to ourselves, why is so much of what happens in schools "just in case" learning?

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?

At Te Karaka Area School these are all things we are doing.

Teams of teachers work together to plan and meet the learning needs of a group of multi-year students.
Learning has been de-privatised. Teachers don't own a classroom at TKAS. Learning spaces are multi functional and continually being re arranged. They are for learning, not for teachers to claim ownership of. There are no four walls to an individual classroom that can be closed off to give a teacher unlimited control and power.
Furniture and spaces are flexible, students constantly rearrange furniture to suit the purpose of what they are doing.
Technology is used to support learning anywhere, any place.

It's not about waiting for teachers to be ready. It's not about teachers needing control over their own space.  It's about learners, what they need, and how to empower and support them to get there.

Want to see a community with 50-60 students ranging in ages over five chronological years all learning together?
Want to see how students, even those with limited literacy skills, can take real ownership of their school day and week through constructing their own learning and timetables?
Want to see what it looks like when 60 students in a community are all inquiring into different things?
Want to see teachers truly collaborating and taking collective responsibility of student learning?

Take some time out and come and see TKAS for yourself.
Or enter into an online discussion with us about why and how we think this is the best possible way for our young people to be learning.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Real World Web of Inquiry

I cannot remember another time in my adult life when I've learnt as much and as fast as I have in the last little while.My learning might not have been miraculous or world changing for other people, but it has been for me.

1. I learnt to read a map.

One of our TKAS colleagues has been travelling around Europe for the last few months and it's been really interesting hearing him reflect on the places he's gone, the things he has learnt, and how he thinks he will apply that back at school in the classroom.
After he spent the day at the Louvre a few weeks ago, Jono had an inspiration about a web of inquiry.

Read about it here:   The Web Of Inquiry

Experiment, Engage, Explore, Explain

I've been teaching using an inquiry philosophy and a lot of different processes for many years now but was immediately struck by the simplicity of this web. And we quickly agreed we would base our learning programmes in our middle  years learning community at TKAS around this web in 2014.

Over the last fortnight I met up with Jono and we have done some travelling together. I don't read maps well and he knew that. In fact I read them really badly. I was quite happy to rely on him to do all the map reading. But as we started walking around a strange city I started getting the questions: "Do you know where we are now? Work out where in the map we are?"

Now to be honest I didn't really want to know. I didn't really see much purpose to learning my way around a city I would be in for six days. And I know I can't read maps! I've got through nearly 50 years without it, why start now?

So I made a half hearted attempt to answer and was quite happy really to just follow his directions. But over the next couple of days every couple of corners he continued experimenting with the same questions, talking about landmarks, planning where to go next and slowly and irresistibly I was drawn in. I was actually engaged. I actually sincerely started wanting to know how to do this and believing in myself that I could. The encouragement from someone else and the belief that I could actually learn this helped. From there came true exploration. I was willing to ask questions and truly learn, and I enjoyed it and I got satisfaction from it. I was learning for myself, not to please someone else.

I'm still not great. And when left to myself I did get lost, but that's because I managed to get myself completely off the map. But by then I had learnt enough skills and pointers to gradually get myself back on the map.And later I could look at the map and explain where I went wrong, a positive step in not making the same error next time.

2. I also learnt to set up and administer an online forum.

Jono talked to me at length about the possibilities and advantages of using an online forum more than 6 months ago and I didn't really see the advantage over what we were currently using.
But as we started planning for the next year ahead- both for our classes, and for school wide events and information, Jono kept exposing the possibilities of a forum.

So about 6weeks ago we started experimenting with setting one up. Over the next few weeks I experimented every now and then, trying out different things. Gradually I became more and more interested in what they could do, and how powerful they could be. I was engaged. From there exploration happened quite naturally. Looking up how to do something, asking Jono to show me some things and linking back to experimenting at times.

 Two very different learning experiences with a common thread that has actually changed significantly the way I am going to approach inquiry in the classroom.

I always thought engagement had to come first, but how much engagement do we get that is true engagement as opposed to learning something to please someone else?
I had to experiment before I could get true authentic engagement. And I would suggest adding expose in there as well. Sometimes experiment might be difficult but we can expose our learners to the possibilities in something in order to engage them.

The fact is I've had these two powerful learning experiences and we haven't actually been talking about Jonos web of inquiry at all, it just occurred naturally. But when we were chatting about the highlights of the last couple of weeks before I left yesterday, and I started thinking about why this learning had been powerful we both realised how closely it aligned to his web of inquiry.
I was already fully committed to using it as the base of our teaching this year. Now I am truly excited by the possibilities.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reflection- A Powerful Tool

Whether something goes right or something goes wrong.....reflect on it and learn from it.

I've always been a strong believer in the power of reflection for empowering our learning. This morning I experienced first hand the power of reflection in a real life learning situation.

I'm travelling at the moment. I'm not an experienced traveller, and for me, that makes me not a very confident traveller. And I got completely lost while in transit. I was in a foreign country, I couldn't understand the signs or the people, the airport was huge and I had become separated from the person I was travelling with. It was early and none of the information desks were manned.
And I quickly became overwhelmed and panicked. Everything I should have done went out the window for a little while. I just shut down and couldn't think or operate. 
After quite a while, I settled my thinking enough to work out a plan and pretty soon all was okay. I figured out a place to go to and we met back up. The story might have ended there, with me feeling like I'd really mucked up and feeling embarrassed and pretty small.

But the powerful thing was that maybe an hour later, when I'd calmed down enough to have a rational conversation, the person I was travelling with asked me some questions that made me reflect, not just on my actions but my reactions. Just a few  powerful questions, that made me reflect on what had happened and what I could learn from it.

After that incident but without that conversation I would be feeling even less confident as a traveller now. But because of that reflective conversation facilitated by a couple of well worded questions, I've learnt from it in a positive way and probably have even gained in confidence in my ability to handle a similar situation in the future.

How often do kids feel overwhelmed  like this in our classrooms and we don't even realise it?

How often do we have good intentions to reflect with students in our classes but it gets dropped off the end because we run out of time? How  well do we develop and use the right questions to help our students reflect on their experiences and learn from them?

I've always known reflection was really important in a classroom. This morning I realised how much reflection is important for real learning, and I also realised reflections can be even more powerful if completed collaboratively. And that to make an honest reflection you need  to have trust in the person facilitating the reflection.

We need to teach everyone- teachers and students- to question other students in ways that will make them confront their own actions and reactions.

"Learning to learn, or the development of learning power, is getting better at knowing when, how and what to do when you don't know what to do' It is about unpacking, understanding, constructing a response to a situation or problem. Reflection is also about developing, building upon, and in some cases, changing existing behaviour and practice."  Guy Claxton

Without that reflective conversation this morning I could easily face the same situation and do something similar. Now I'm pretty sure I won't because someone took the time to have a collaborative and reflective conversation with me about my actions and my reactions.

How do we ensure we do this for our students both after their moments of clarity and/or their moments of overwhelming panic? How do we ensure we give them every opportunity to reflect about not just their actions but their reactions as well? And ultimately to learn from them?

Something to think about as we start preparing for the new school year. I am now thinking about how I can make our classroom reflections more collaborative and honest. And I'm  going to remember to focus reflections as much on reactions as on actions. And the implications from these reflections for further learning.