Thursday, 28 May 2015

Student agency: small steps, giant leaps

We are now half way through our second term of ELS's ( engaging learning spaces - our very own MLE's modern learning environments) and we need to remind ourselves of our purpose. We aim to "Engage every student in deep learning for success" within our special character Catholic school.
Yesterday I joined our Senior Hub 2 (Year 6, 7 and 8) team meeting. It was encouraging to hear the team ask the same question to each other at different times during the meeting: How is this activity providing student agency? The meeting began with staff sharing ways that they had adapted their own practices to allow student agency.

A quick reminder on what student agency means as sited in the elearning infusion blog by Nick Rate :
  • Teachers use planned pedagogical approaches that engage students and enable them to take charge of their learning leading to high achievement (Mark Osborne).
  • Students are empowered through curriculum approaches that; engage them, are respectful of and seek their opinions, give them opportunities to feel connected to school life, promote positive and caring relationships between all members of the school community, promote wellbeing and focus on the whole student, relate to real-life experiences, are safe and supportive (Values Centered Schools).
These were some of the ways that our senior team have adapted their teaching practices taken from Senior Hub 2 minutes (thanks Becci, Morgan and Thomas).

Actually involving the learners in decisions and structured choices can be challenging. It means that teachers have to move out of their 'being in control' comfort zone. It starts with small steps. Here is an example. Last term the learning hubs introduced Learner Licences. This was an idea adapted from our visit to Myross Bush School. Our staff created their own rubrik linked to the key competencies.
Key competencies are an integral part of the NZ Curriculum and TKI online describes them in this way: Key competencies are the capabilities people have, and need to develop, to live and learn today and in the future.
St Joseph's SH 2 Learner License rubrik

At the start of the year, the teachers directed the students to the appropriate level of the learner's licence. One of the questions that our recent visitors asked was: "Do the children or the teachers move names on the learner license board ?" Now that the year is well underway and the teachers have built quality relationships with the learners, they arranged a whole hub meeting yesterday.The students were able to express how they were feeling in relation to the learner license levels. They looked at the rubrik in their learner groups and discussed the indicators and where they felt that they saw themselves. They were then given the opportunity to move their names to where they believed they should be. They shared evidence for their decisions. Further teacher support and next steps were suggested for those students who felt that they were still at the learner level and wanted to move to the restricted level.
Student agency began with little steps. However, giant leaps were made during the course of this meeting with learners in response to student voice.
Minutes from the SH 2 meeting in response to student voice leading to student agency
Learner License display in SH 2
Listen to Kaleb and Joseph share their thoughts on the Learner License process.
Cushla and Trish share their thoughts as well.
As staff take small steps towards increasing student agency, students begin to make giant leaps in their learning.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Going OPEN : Visitors from Invercargill, troughs, growth mindset & student agency

Going OPEN, is an authentic way to reflect on the resiliency of our systems and processes and ensure that engagement in deep learning continually underpins everything WE do at St Joseph's in Oamaru.
We have just completed our thirteenth week of going OPEN in our Engaging Learning Spaces (ELS's). Our ELS's evolved to meet the needs of our learners after several years of pedagogical exploration as a staff.  A desire to have our learners passionately drive their own learning has been the catalyst for our deep inquiries. It is the "WHY " for us.
If we imagine this "WHY" as being at the innermost heart of an onion, then we have spent the past few years peeling away the outer layers. WE are steel peeling away. WE are doing that together with each other, our students and their families. It is the WE that is important. WE are all committed to our WHY: To engage EVERY student in deep learning for success. 
How do WE move from I to WE ? How do WE ensure that WE are all peeling back the layers together. How do WE survive the troughs? 
Recently, we welcomed Deputy Principal Helen Kennedy @HKKH18 and colleague Carolyn Williams from Waverley Park school, Invercargill into our (ELS's). They visited during our twelfth week of teaching and learning in the ELS's and the very first week that we experienced teacher absence due to unforeseen circumstances. One of Helen's first questions was: "What have been your troughs?" Our visitors from Timaru a couple of weeks earlier, were also keen to know about our challenges. 
Adapted from images
Another word for trough within an educational setting is a learning pit. If we never find ourselves in the trough or pit, then we aren't being challenged in our learning.
During the seventh week of a nine week term, some of our staff found themselves in the learning pit. For team teaching to be successful, continual collaboration is a must. This is where our school values the 4 R's come in: respect, reverence, resilience and good relationships. We have to understand, apply and live out these values if we expect our students to follow them. Understanding that the quality of engaged learning that we are providing for our learners is amplified when we teach collaboratively rather than individually helps. Applying our values as we work closely as teams also helps. Luckily, deep reflection and collegiality supported our staff to climb out of the pit and we continued on until our next trough. 
This coincided with new part time teachers and relief teachers coming into our ELS's for very the first time this term. We thought that collaborative team teaching would make it easier for new personnel to teach in our ELS's. The children still have the consistency and familiarity of their regular teachers but we need to ensure that they aren't relied upon to carry the full teaching load. We need to actively support new personnel to engage proactively in the ELS's. Our teachers have worked hard to set up systems that allow space and flexibility for learner agency and engagement, within a respectful and well organised environment. Due to the fact that our ELS's differ in some ways to single cell, traditional classroom environments, we need to ensure continued success for our learners across the school. This has led to an induction process and some explicit guidelines around environmental expectations for relief teachers. 
All teachers have immediate access to timetables and planning on our public Teaching and Learning site. This site includes an overview of our school systems and process. This means that any relieving teachers can get a full understanding of the environment that they will be working in at our school. As a result of further reflection and our learning from the twelfth week trough, we have added in a section for relieving teacher to our site under the communication tab.
You can access these guidelines via this link
Growth Mindset
It's the resilient attitude that we apply during these times that helps us to move forward and deepen our learning. It's about having a growth mindset. 
Each of us our committed to the WHY. It is about our learners. It is about all of us believing that we are all learners : children, staff and families. We all have gifts and talents to share. We share these with humility, dignity, trust and respect. We are OPEN to new learning. We have a GROWTH MINDSET. We believe that our abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication. 
I first heard about the term growth mindset during a discussion with @MarkMoorhouseMM on my visit to Matthew Moss school in the UK. I explored Professor Carol Dweck's growth mindset work as part of my sabbatical study and included reference to it in this video.
Passion and a growth mindset feature in this video
It was a genuinely awesome surprise to be presented with Dweck's book:Mindset - The new Psychology of Success as part of an extremely thoughtful thank you gift from our Waverley Park visitors. As soon as I finish my ongoing reviews of OPEN: How we'll work, live and learn in the future by David Price I will devote some serious blog reflection time to this new book and share it with our staff and community.
A generous and unnecessary but greatly appreciated gift from Helen and Carolyn, our Waverley Park visitors
Having a GROWTH MINDSET attitude to the learning for all of us that comes from going OPEN and welcoming visitors from other schools, means being prepared. In order to ensure that the visit was well worth their while, I asked Helen to email us with exactly what they were hoping to get out of the visit. Waverley Park are also part of a Learning and Change network and Helen encapsulated their Big Ideas in this innovative poster.
Helen's poster captures Waverley Park School's Big Ideas for their learning environments 
Helen also shared the following: Brenda and myself have started teaching collaboratively this year with 60+ students.  We ability group our students for maths, reading and writing. We share the teaching for the arts, maori, fitness, PE.  Inquiry is an area that we will work on this term as a large group.  Because we have a traditional building footprint the students move between our spaces throughout the day.We would like to observe how you go about this in your school, looking at facets such as timetabling, movement of students between spaces, collaborative teaching and workshops,  student agency, groupings, collaborative planning, integration of ICT. 
To make the most of their time during the visit, our staff collaborated to create opportunities for our visitors to experience as much as possible from the above list.
Student Agency
I also asked if any of our senior students would be willing to share their thoughts about learning at St Joseph's in our ELS's with our visitors. Everyone was keen !! Joel (Yr 8) and Rhea (Yr 7) were given the opportunity to be interviewed by our visitors. 
Here are some video vignette's from the interview that capture student agency and deep engagement in learning.

                                     Joel shares about ELS's : 3 minute vignette
                    Rhea shares about google docs and inquiry projects : 1 minute vignette
          Joel shares about home learning and extended abstract SOLO learning : 1 minute

As part of our Whitestone Learning and Change network, we invited six of our Year 8's to prepare a slide show presentation to share with high school teachers at a combined staff event. I was fortunate to get to work with these students as we collaborated in real time together on a google slide show about their learning. We were able to adapt a slideshow prepared by our colleagues from Weston School who will also be presenting at the Whitestone Learning and Change event. 
I look forward to sharing the outcome of these presentations where student agency comes to the fore as students are given a chance to drive their learning. Where going OPEN, ensures that engagement in deep learning continually underpins everything WE do together at St Joseph's in Oamaru.
Our six Year 8 leaders working collaboratively on the presentation for High School teachers.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Authentic transforming learning relationships between adults and children blossom during Family Learning Hui Number 7

After twelve weeks of learning in newly redesigned Engaging Learning Spaces, our students have confidently been able to step up and support families to extend their thinking skills. During Family Learning Hui Number 7, our students became the teachers, as they guided families through the different levels of the SOLO thinking taxonomy with the goal to move from relational to extended abstract thinking. Families had to demonstrate how they could transfer their learning to new situations and apply it to different contexts.
Image Produced by Pam Hook (@arti_choke) 
Our Family Learning Hui's (FLH's) evolved as part of a commitment to support families to actively participate in deep learning experiences with their children. Being part of a Learning and Change Network (see this video link to learn more) motivated us to review our existing partnership with parents. Last year, we began to focus firmly on learning relationships. We held four FLH's and numerous parent workshops and forums. You can go to this link to learn more about our Family Learning Huis. Our huis enable families to be immersed into informal, social, collaborative and engaging learning environments that mirror our school wide teaching and learning practices.
Image from
Our goal as educators has been to move from the 'sage on the stage' to the 'guide on the side' in classrooms and when running events. We have had to pull back from a natural tendency to stand at the front and speak to our family audience during our FLH's. These FLH's replace our traditional staff meetings and so all teachers and some support staff attend.They sit with families to participate and learn along side them.

FLH Number 7 was a chance for some of our senior students (Yr 6,7,8) to share their project based learning experiences, followed by group work around the SOLO taxonomy ultimate level of extended abstract thinking. 
One of our Year 8's shares his project and applies extended abstract thinking.

Families participate in an icebreaker activity to determine areas of importance in learning for them and their families.
Students work with families to apply their project learning into new contexts and help parents to understand higher order thinking.

There was a definite transition from teacher led to student led direction during this event. It happened naturally in this informal learning environment where trust, support and integrity allowed space for authentic transforming relationships between adults and children to blossom (Burford,2005).
This has provided the guiding light for future FLH's. Teachers will be able to take a back seat while students take the lead. We are already planning our next FLH with our students.