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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When students own the learning they are motivated…

Skills and attitudes demonstrating ownership of learning.

Skills and attitudes demonstrating ownership of learning.

“When can we do our mapping learning, Ms J?”
Various students have asked me this question since our mapping inquiry time on Friday and Monday. I love how excited many of them are.

During Monday’s mapping session, my students demonstrated ownership of learning throughout. They were totally engaged and noticed and named behaviours, skills and attitudes that relate to ownership of learning. I heard students saying things like, “We talked about it and now we’re back on track”; “I need to make that decision”; “I need to ask myself that question before going to ask Ms J”; ” We’re ready to move on to part 2 – we’ve thought about it and made a plan so we are ready.”

Some students worked independently and collaborated as needed. Others worked in groups and made an effort to compromised fairly when making decisions.

When we reflected using What Went Well? and What challenges did you face? Many groups responded that they faced no challenges on Monday – things went smoothly because they communicated and cooperated with each other.

I noticed how students used their strengths and knew who to go to for support with a skill they lacked or for feedback,etc. I noticed some students being mindful and reflective.

I can’t wait for our next mapping session on Friday either.

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.

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!!!