Letting go!

Shift control!

This year I have been doing my own inquiry into letting go of controlling students’ learning.

(By letting go I mean handing over ownership of the learning to the student – where it belongs. I have blogged about this a few times and you can get a sense of my efforts to do so by reading about them here, here, here and here, if you wish.)

A few weeks ago I had another epiphany about letting go. There are many reasons why I have been able to let go but what’s has made it easier to let go THIS year is that I moved into a new year level and so have had no prior ownership of our units of inquiry. Instead, I went on a journey with my students and was open to discovering things along the way. My head wasn’t already full of ideas for where I wanted to lead them and what I wanted them to do, etc. I was free to listen to where they wanted to go and how they wanted to get there. I was not attached to anything and so I followed their lead. This year, I have purposefully made the time and space for their thinking to take form. Because I had very little in the way of preconceived ideas, I have been more open to noticing my student’s thinking and wonderings. I have been getting better at listening very carefully to understand what my students were trying to tell me.

The more I let go, the better I am getting at letting go.

I used to be the kind of teacher who…

Over the last two years I have changed and grown professionally…

I used to be the kind of teacher who…

knew exactly where my lesson was going from start to finish, from introduction to plenary, from activity to activity, did most of the talking, was the conduit for student talking, controlled who sat where and who spoke when, made all the decisions, expected students to respond to the engagements in the same way, controlled the time and space for learning, made a lot of assumptions about student learning and owned the learning.

Fortunately, I am also reflective and have always wanted to do what’s best for my students’ learning. I just didn’t always fully understand how to teach so kids can learn. My understanding has grown exponentially and I have undergone a substantial paradigm shift.

Now, when I’m at my best, I’m the kind of teacher who…

knows where I want us to focus conceptually, plans thoughtful and purposeful engagements to this end, notices and listens to my students’ thinking and follows their lead, caters for differences in learning styles and abilities, values and is mindful of making the time and space for learning, talks less and listens more, encourages students to make their own decisions, focuses on developing skills and attitudes to enable student decision making and independence, looks for evidence, makes student thinking explicit, actively encourages collaboration and student ownership of learning.

I have some way to go and I’m excited to go there. I look forward to who I will be in a year’s time…

Big understandings realised in my own learning…

Since the last time I posted, which was nearly two months ago, I have been tuned into my own learning like never before. My learning during this time can be compared to being on a roll when building a puzzle and several pieces fall into place in a short space of time and a bigger picture emerges. 

What has caused this avalanche of learning? A combination of things: my own intrinsic motivation driving me to get better at noticing and naming what was happening, reflecting on and refining my teaching pedagogy, professional learning with Sam and Chad, positive responses from both my students and Charlie’s students to our team teaching efforts, positive responses from my own students to the changes I have implemented in my teaching, talking to colleagues, professional reading and probably other things I haven’t yet identified.

So much has happened…

Essentially I have been trying to live the following quote as I realised the importance of doing so more than a year a go but it’s taken me this long to understand what that looks like and how that feels – and I’m still learning… “Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you understand well, perhaps teaching will be different from before. “ Lori Malaguzzi

Some of the things I have learned from the changes I am implementing in my teaching practice…

  • team teaching opens up opportunities for me to notice things about my students’ learning while they are learning and allows me to meet individual needs more effectively
  • creating purposeful engagements and asking pertinent questions saves me time as I can support my students to make connections to knowledge and skills they have acquired which they can transfer and use in that context
  • creating simple learning engagements that tap into the essence of the learning and doing so in a way that students can connect to the concepts on a personal level, sets students up for powerful learning
  • taking the time to set the mood for learning saves time as students begin the task with the right intentions (sustaining the mood is not always easy though 🙂 )
  • knowing my students interests, strengths and insecurities enables me to takes the steps necessary to engage them in their learning
  • creating space for other options and possibilities that I may not have considered opens up learning for my students and for me
  • only teach students what they don’t know and can’t teach themselves
  • investing time in reflection empowers students to understand themselves as learners

Some of these understandings I have known and lived for a while, but in the last two months they have all  come together and as a result I have gained a different kind of clarity and my understanding of the familiar has grown.

On Friday we held a mini exhibition in Year 4 for the first time. To me it seemed like a logical culmination to our latest unit which falls under the transdisciplinary theme “How We Express Ourselves” (PYP).  Fortunately for me, my colleagues were open to the idea and prepared to go with the flow. Even more fortunately, our students loved the idea.

In the creative process leading up to this day, and in every opportunity that presented itself in other curriculum areas, I tried and tested (not always intentionally)  the changes I shared above.  I learned so much (as much from my mistakes as my successes) and have been so excited.

I felt it was time to write this post so that I could clarify my learning and capture the big understandings for my own benefit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ownership of learning – a big step forward!

The Inquiry Cycle  by Stephen Kemmis The Inquiry Cycle
by Stephen Kemmis.

I am participating in an action research project with a few other enthusiastic colleagues. The idea behind it is to inquire deeply through the cycle of noticing, reflecting and acting.

We are connecting our inquiry to our school’s learning principles. Thus far we have unpacked some of the learning principles, identified the area which really interests us, created our action research questions (these are refined on an ongoing basis), watched engaging youtube videos, referred to relevant blog posts and been highly engaged in thinking, questioning and discussion.

On Thursday it was my turn to share my process thus far. The protocol for sharing is: the speaker shares their process without being interrupted. Next, the members of the group respond through directing questions to the speaker and they are only allowed to ask questions. Following this kind of protocol puts all the focus on that individual’s inquiry and for me it was deeply satisfying and hugely encouraging. I left our session with an even stronger sense of clarity, purpose, motivation and was on high for the rest of the day.

This is the first time I have experienced a discussion taking place in this way and I found it to be an incredibly powerful tool for deepening thinking and eliciting possible areas for further investigation. I didn’t feel anxious or defensive and admired my colleagues’ restraint and commitment to the protocol as it is our tendency to have messy discussions (which are also great for promoting thinking and developing understanding).

What next…

1. I am refining my question for now as the original version incorporated several parts and the essence of my inquiry is clearly ownership of learning. Thus my question has been refined to:
How can I promote ownership of learning in my learners?

2. I realised the need for mindfulness on my part and planning with this intention in mind so I will be asking myself the question: “Who owns the learning?” all the time. I will also be using the Gradual release of responsibility continuum as a means to clarify who really is owning the learning in the learning engagements when planning.

3. I am going to notice and name the behaviour and highlight to my students and myself when ownership of learning is happening .

4. I am going to hand over control of the learning at the beginning of the lesson and set aside time at time at the end of the lesson for reflecting on what happened.

What happened later in the day…

I found myself consciously noticing and naming behaviours that demonstrated ownership of learning. As I was doing this I realised this is happening more than I initially thought. I also realised, once the students had gone home and I was reflecting on the day, that I had missed a few opportunities for naming ownership of learning and I can’t wait to start the day by celebrating those behaviours with my students.

What happened during the night…

I thought about the location lesson I had in mind for today and put it to the litmus test: “Who owns the learning?” Not my students.

What to do?…

As this is the start of a new numeracy unit I grappled with my concern that some of my students might not know enough to manage their learning and my genuine desire to hand over control. I thought back to Jocelyn’s observation that messy learning is learning and her reassurance that students find their way through the mess. I decided that this was a golden opportunity to believe in my students.

So, I have decided to re-schedule our guided reading session and give my students a big block of time (4 lessons today and more next week) so they can work at their pace to construct meaning according to their learning style.

I am trying to use the “flipped classroom” model as a guide for letting go.I came across this graphic on twitter last night and thought I would use it as a visual for my students when introducing the task.

The flipped classroom model.

What do I plan to do:

Ask an open question and set an open task:
What makes a map great? Show your thinking in any way you like.

Use what you have learned about maps to create your own map for visitors to our school to use to find their way from our reception to the kitchen garden.

I will let them decide if and when they want to collaborate. And, of course, I will let them decide everything else.

As I write this my excitement is growing exponentially and I can’t wait to hand over control.

Students teaching students – Part 2

How can I get my students to revisit their writing in a purposeful way and rework it to make it even more engaging?

I had been sitting with this question for a long while.

It then occured to me (again!!!) that if I valued this, I would need to set aside the time for this to happen.

I decided to use the students own work to promote good writing techniques as this would engage them more than examples from authors who are usually adults anyway. I wanted them to see that each student’s writing had elements in it that could be celebrated. I was also hoping that they would then see what they were capable of.

We started by referring back to their journal rubric. (My colleagues and I had put one together to give clear guidelines for what is required for a good journal text in Year 4.) Each student had been given their own copy of the rubric from the first journal writing session. When the rubric referred to descriptve words and imagery, we then looked for examples of this in their writing. Next we shared these and discussed the power of their descriptive words and images. When the rubric referred to writer’s voice (and defined what this meant) we then looked for examples of this in their writing and discussed their effect on the reader. And so on.

I was so excited by their response… they felt proud to share their efforts and were very appreciative of examples taken from their peers’ writing. And what’s even more exciting is – they enthusiastically asked for time to have another go at working on their piece to make it more engaging for the reader.

I can’t wait to read what they write…

Start with the positive…

Video

Start where each learner is at every time! Start with the positive.

Today I watched Rita Pierson’s TED Talk: Every child needs a champion I drew great pleasure from her very important message to build relationships with all of your students. In my role as teacher, one of my responsibilities as I see it, is to advocate for each and every child under my care. (Sadly, not every teacher agrees.)

2+ versus -18
I don’t always succeed at focusing on the 2+. I can become frustrated and focus on the -18 instead. I can forget to understand what’s happening and focus instead on not being understood.
I totally agree with Rita, focusing on what the child can do and using that as a starting point for the conversation about where to go next is crucial to that child’s self belief. To quote from the TED talk, “-18 sucks all the life out of you. +2 says I ain’t all bad!” Starting from the positive tells that child you believe in them and in their potential.

You won’t like every child…
I also agree with Rita when she states that you will not like every child that comes under your care, BUT it is important that they never know this. For obvious reasons. I work hard at building positive relationships with my children, but being human, I don’t always get it right. Negative reactions (even small ones) can undo a lot of positive groundwork when students are feeling vulnerable.

2+
Tomorrow, as a reminder to myself to focus on the positive first, I am going to put up a few signs around my learning area which simply says 2+ . No doubt my kids will ask why and I will share this story with them. Maybe they will want to use the 2+ as a reminder to focus on the positive first in their interactions with others.

Why have I changed?

Last week a collague asked me, “Why do you think you have changed?” She was inquiring into the reasons for my change in my attitude and approach to learning, not doubting that I had changed 🙂

In my last post I reflected on how I had changed (in my teaching practice) and how my students had changed and the connections between the two. But my colleague’s question really got me thinking about how and why I have changed/ grown. I have thought about this for nearly a week…

I no longer feel I have to be in control or be the expert, instead I have taken ownership of my learning…

This may seem like a contradiction but, simply put, I am owning my learning – I consciously take on board the new learning and I consciously decide how I will manage that new learning. I realise I have changed significantly in the way I approach new learning and this change has impacted on my attitude to trying new ways of learning with my students. Up until about a year ago, when I was presented with a new resource or new program or new web tool we were going to learn to use in our teaching, my default setting most of the time was to panic about the time required to become knowledgeable and the time required to implement it properly. I would then feel frustrated that I was being forced to learn something new when I was still trying to embed recently acquired knowledge or skills.

I don’t panic anymore. I am comfortable with just exploring and seeing what I learn, see what others learn. I am comfortable with not having to do something exactly as presented. I am comfortable with adapting it to meet the needs of my students or my own. I am comfortable with letting things percolate until I’m ready.

Guiding questions for my learning…

Another factor contributing to my change, I think, is because I am now approaching new learning using the key questions, “What am I doing?” and “Why am I doing it?” I learned to think this way because of the explicit discussions my class and I have around these two questions this year.

I have always asked these questions but because I have let go of the need to be in control or be the expert, I approach new learning with a curious attitude and an open mind. I try and enjoy it for what it is.

What this has made me realise about my learners…
I’m not sure that I’ve been articulating my thoughts well, but the point of this reflection is this: I have been trying to encourage my students to become authentic, reflective learners who want to take ownership of their learning. (I have written a few posts about my attempts). BUT it’s just hit me that they may be resisting learning sometimes because…

*they feel the panic I used to feel because they feel pressured by a lack of time,
*or they may not be ready, or interested in what I am presenting them with at the time.
* or I haven’t given them control of their learning – (I’m not 100% comfortable with doing this yet because I’m still learning how to)
* or they may feel frustrated because I am limiting them with my expectations
* or I am not appealing to their learning style.

If I want my students to take ownership of their learning then I need to be mindful of how they may be feeling about their learning. I also need to question whether what we are doing and how we are doing it is setting them up to take ownership of their learning.

Which brings me to the other stuff…

Last term my class and I regularly considered our learning. One discussion really stands out for me. I had asked them, “When you are learning about something, what else are you learning?” I then gave them a few examples to make my question clearer. For example, when you are learning how to draw a graph, or learning how to do something with a group, what else are you learning?

After a few hits and misses, they got what I was referring to. One student suggested we refer to the two types of learning as formal and informal learning.

This is what they thought…

Formal learning is: the content or the task, what the teacher is trying to teach, what the students are working on.
Informal learning is: the other stuff, learning to work collaboratively, learning to solve a problem, learning to use technology, getting better at making decisions, learning to take turns, learning to communicate, learning to take risks, being on task and most importantly, who owns the learning.

As a result of days of reflecting about why I had changed, I have realised that I need to ensure that the “other stuff” my students are learning, doesn’t contradict or undermine our goal for them to take ownership of their learning!!!