Managing the tipping point (part 2) without losing sight of what’s important…


It gives me great pleasure to support our curriculum leaders and teachers to achieve our goal of “Using data to inform teaching and enhance learning”. Our latest PD looked at ways to gather data using the “now literacies” of twitter, back channeling and blogs, to name a few. Our curriculum leaders are big ideas people and know other big ideas people so our PD was of exceptional quality. Thanks, @whatedsaid and @langwitches. Each teacher will have got something out of the sessions- depending on their entry point. And based on their responses over the week, I feel they will be able to take the next steps through the sharing and collaboration process that has started to happen from this PD. But more so if leaders in our school manage the tipping point by looking out for and recognising the signs. Even better would be to avoid going over the tipping point altogether by giving the time needed.

I feel that teachers now need time to process and practice what they have learned in this recent PD where for some a big shift in their thinking has started. In our various leadership roles we now need to give teachers the time, space and support to do so without tipping the scales to the point where they feel overwhelmed and stressed and stretched too thin. Sam Sherrat (and others) have stressed the practise of giving time to the things we value. We have got much better at this at our school, but sometimes we can get so enthusiastically caught up in what’s happening that we lose sight of the what else is happening for our teachers. The last two weeks of term are going to be super busy with annual school events in addition to the regular meaningful stuff that needs to get done.

Looking ahead what does our time budget need to allow for?:
*Next term there are Parent Teacher Conference nights at the start of term.
*We are also introducing a new report format to all and this needs some facilitation.
*And we are in the final step of shifting to creating digital portfolios for and of student learning, which for some teachers means big changes.
*Every unit in maths and units of inquiry is new to our new teachers and our inquiry pedagogy is brand new to some.
*Each year level team has at least one new staff member and so are still adjusting to the new dynamics that come with that.
*In addition, teachers are supporting the social and emotional well-being of their students and needing to communicate with parents and do the usual daily essentials.
*In their efforts to lead balanced lives we encourage our teachers to look after their own well-being and our Learning Team Leaders to also look out for their teams’ well-being.

This week I felt it was timely to remind our leaders that if we create the time for ongoing discussions and sharing, more people will be more inclined to take action and embed great practise as a result.

How can we create time to maintain the momentum started in our PD?
*Maybe LTLs can set aside 10 minutes regularly for reading and maybe leaving a comment on our shared teachers “Pictures of Practice” blog or or or any other blog teachers have found relevant and engaging.
*I could set aside times in a morning briefing for teachers to briefly share the next step in their journey or a blogpost they have read which has influenced their practice.
*The “now literacies” and the skills needed for embedding them in our teaching and learning practise could be revisited in future PD sessions.
*I welcome more suggestions.

Our teachers want to be the best they can be but we need to set them up for success. By the end of last week some felt close to their tipping point. Excited but also pressured. Tension is good but too much and it can become counter productive.

What ways do you have for managing the tipping point and creating time for your teachers?


Asking the right kinds of questions…

I love inquiry. I truly believe that inquiry pedagogy (along with other vital ingredients) promotes learning and have embraced it.

I came across an interesting blog post “Do you have the personality to be an inquiry teacher?” and it got me thinking about what I do well and what I still find challenging.

This year I have been noticing, reflecting and acting particularly on ownership of learning. I am trying to become conscious at all times of who owns the learning and shift the ownershift onto my students as much as possible. I sabotage myself sometimes because one of the things I don’t always do so well is respond to some student questions in a way that will encourage students to want to own their learning.

I need to be more encouraging as sometimes I can be a bit dismissive of the “simple” questions – but I am realising more and more that students ask simple questions for different reasons:
– they genuinely want to know the answer
– they don’t know how to articulate their thinking and it comes out as a simple question
– they are unsure what to think
– they don’t have a question and go with the first one that comes to mind
– they need more time
– they need more provocation
– reasons yet to be discovered.

Next year I want to respond more openly to the simple questions and become more encouraging by developing my questioning skills. By this I mean that I want to learn to ask the right kinds of questions to scaffold student thinking and help them to grow their simple questions that have a yes/no/ amount/ name answer to ones that involve more conceptual thinking and build a deeper understanding. Most importantly, I want to ask questions that helps them to articluate what it is that they are really curious about.

I could ask questions like:
What did you see/ read/ hear that made you wonder this?
Once you find this information – is there more to your question that you are curious about?
Does your wondering connect to other wonderings that you may have?
What are you passionate about – is there a connection between your passion and this wondering? Or this unit? How could we make a connection between your passion and our learning in the classroom?

I need to do more reading and thinking. I need to observe others who are skilled at this.
Feel free to give suggestions for questions, blog posts, etc.

Students teaching students… powerful learning for students and teachers.

Setting the scene…

Over the last four weeks, Charlie (a colleague) and I have been teaching “Time” to our Year 4 students. We realised from the pre-test that student understanding varied from very basic to extensive. We decided to combine our students to allow us to more successfully differentiate our teaching.

Differentiating across two classes really helped us to manage the learning. Charlie was able to consolidate and extend her group’s understanding of time. I was able differentiate within my group again and target teach to their needs. I was also able to work at a pace that suited all of my students. As different students grasped time I regrouped them again according to their needs.

Towards the end of the four weeks, Charlie’s group became very confident in all aspects of time and we decided to let them teach 24 hour time to my students. This would provide them with an opportunity to apply their learning in a meaningful way and would give my students an opportunity to have one-on-one teaching and guide the teaching by stating their needs.

Students teaching students

In discussion with Charlie, her students came up with the best ways they could think of to teach their peers. Some decided to do a pre-test to see what their peer already knew about 24 hour time and time in general. Several gathered concrete materials to use, such as mini clocks and mini whiteboards. Some created teaching aids. They prepared all of this in one 40 minute lesson. In the next lesson, we paired students up and the video shows the teaching and learning happening.

Student feedback demonstrated that they found this way of learning enjoyable and successful. They felt they learned a lot from each other by learning in this way.

What the students taught Charlie and I:

*It didn’t matter who paired up as they were so engaged in the experience.
*Purposeful learning happened for both the student teacher and the student being taught.
*Students know what works to support their teaching and the learning.
*Student teachers adapted to the needs of their student without needing to be told.
*Students applied many skills in addition to the mathematical ones.
*This was differentiation and target teaching at its best!!!
*Giving students ownership of their learning supports learning.

We should look for opportunities for students to teach students more often.

“How can I develop authentic reflective learners?” take #5

In an earlier post I shared about my plans for developing authentic reflective learners who move towards taking ownership of their learning.

At first my students’ reflections were quite simplistic and focused on their behaviour, which was relevant but I wanted them to go deeper. We have now been through the “River of Learning” reflective process three times. Bearing in mind that reflection happens on an ongoing basis for my learners, the students’ weekly reflections now show greater insight into their efforts to be reflective and to take ownership of their learning.

The weekly “River of Learning” reflective process is being owned more by them too. They ask to do it and most don’t need me to support them anymore. They are engaged and the sharing is purposeful and sincere.

I love reading their reflections and their goals. I am so excited for my students and for myself. I am learning to let go and they are learning to take ownership.

Keeping quiet makes room for students to think and share.

Last week I had five minutes with nothing urgent to do or planned. I had been thinking about taking Bruce Ferrington’s idea and decided to see how my students would respond. I simply threw out the question and then kept quiet. “Jina and I were wondering who has the tallest class. How could we find out?”.

Hands went up. I acknowledged them and they began to put forward their suggestions with growing interest and excitement.

“We can ask our parents how tall we are, bring that information to school and add it up.”
“We can measure each child using two metre rulers and use a calculator to find the total.”
“We can go outside and lie everyone down in a long line and see which class makes the longest line”.
“We could even measure the lines with a long measuring tape.”
“We could get Jesse to stand against the wall – he’s the tallest. Mark how tall he is. Then we can mark each child’s height on the wall and take the difference away from Jesse’s height to work out theirs. Then add them all together.”
“We could mark each child’s height on paper. Measure it using a ruler and then total them all up.”
“I’ve got a height measuring chart at home. I could bring that in and we can use it to read off our heights. And add them up.”

By this stage I was very excited and so were they. I had kept quiet – something that doesn’t come naturally to me as I usually get very engaged and can’t stay out of the discussion – and they came up with 7 different ways which we could use to work out the total height of our class!

I commended their thinking and creativity and suggested we use all the methods they had put forward and compare our findings and discuss which was most accurate, fun, quickest, etc.

Tomorrow is the start to our latest maths inquiry into who has the tallest class. I can’t wait. Based on the fact that some have been asking me when we will get started – they can’t either.

I am going to ask questions and keep quiet a whole lot more!!! Keeping quiet makes room for students to think and share. Keeping quiet gets students engaged naturally. Keeping quiet allows students to direct the inquiry and own it.

Where is each learner at? … Start with the learner…

Start where each learner is at every time!

Start where each learner is at every time!

Start with the individual learner…

I have 22 students, each different to the other. Each entered my care from their own starting point.
Each personality has their own way of…
doing things,
reacting to situations,
seeing things and

Each individual has been shaped by…
their past experiences of learning,
their interactions with other teachers, students, family members,
their world.

Each of my incredible students has their intellectual and emotional strengths,
each has skills they are learning to master,
each has their interests, dreams and hopes.
Each student has their own goals.
Each student lives what they have learned thus far.
Each student has their fears.
Each student has their expectations.
Each student looks to me as a role model.
Each student will live what they learn from their interaction with me.

I have …
my way of viewing the world, communicating with my students,
my expectations,
my dreams and hopes,
my plans, my aims and goals for myself and for my learners.
I have a curriculum to guide my students along.

My plans and intentions for each learning engagement need to be open to meeting each child at their starting point.

I regularly get caught up in the moment and slip into the mindset that my students start that learning engagement at the same entry point. I forget…
that they have not all processed the instructions in the same way,
that they may have other priorities and concerns at that point in time,
that they don’t all learn in the same way,
that they can’t always get started/ finished just because I have said “Let’s begin/ continue/ finish off!”
that they don’t always have the skills (thinking, communication and self management) required.

When my students…
don’t get it,
don’t know what to write,say or think
haven’t started,
have misinterpreted instructions,
are doing it differently to what I expected,
claim to be finished…

I need to remember that each is an individual and meet them where they are at without judgement, with care and thoughtfully. Set them up for success.

My students and I are a work in progress!

Constructing meaning through talking…take #2

Constructing meaning through talking and listening to each other.

Constructing meaning through talking and listening to each other.

In an earlier post , Circle Time I had an “Aha!” moment and endeavoured to set my students up for success. Today I did!

Inner circle / outer circle…

I shared with my students that I had thought about our “Circle Time” lesson and realised that they were engaging in private conversations because they had their thoughts to share and using one large circle only allows one person to speak at a time. I then introduced the inner/ outer circle structure and we had our “Why are we doing it” conversation. The photopeach captions sums up our conversation.

They were keen to give it a go…

We got into the inner/ outer circle structure, I explained what their focus would be and the thinking and sharing began.

I know it worked…

I noticed everyone was focused, on task, cooperating, collaborating when they got stuck (even though this was not in the instructions), thinking, sharing, learning from each other, engaged and taking ownership of their learning.

They thought it worked too…

Later in the day, in their bubble catcher books, when they reflected on how they were doing during this learning engagement – they had come to the same conclusion as me. They will also be commenting on their experience on our class blog on Monday and I will insert the link so you can hear from them.

I can’t wait to spend time learning with them next week…