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.”