A creative way for my learners to reflect…

On Thursday, we had our last lesson in our number groups. I wanted to find a fresh, creative and purposeful way to get my students to reflect upon themselves as math learners – what had they learned about themselves in the context of learners in our number lessons? So I asked my students to make a prop that they thought represented themselves as learners in our number lessons. I asked them to explain why they created their particular prop and what it said about them.

Something quite simple turned out to be informative and fun. This turned out to be a great way to reflect.

And a great way to end out year together.

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.

How did letting go, go?

Letting go…

For background to this momentous step forward please refer to my post: Ownership of learning: a big step forward.

I apologise for a lack of visuals in this post, but I was so engrossed in the process of noticing and naming; and consciously engaging and interacting with my students in a way so as to promote ownership of learning, that I forgot to take photos!! I am still on a high from the awesomeness of it all!

Who has used a map?
This was my opening question to my students who responded with enthusiasm.

I then asked them to consider and record their response to this question: What are the criteria for making a good map?

I then asked them if there are criteria that a good map should include that they may not have considered – they agreed. To which I responded, “Let’s find out.”

I put the question on the smart-board: What are the criteria for making a good map? Show your understanding in any way you like.

I followed this with an brief explanation of my intention, “I want to hand over the learning to you rather than control it. Before you approach me with a question, please ask yourself: Who owns the learning?” I then wrote this question on another board as a reminder to them and to myself.

We then discussed the skills and attitudes they could need for the task.
I scribed their responses on the board:
problem solving,
decision making.
As they inquired and problem solved, I made a point of naming the skills they were using so we added these to our list as time went by.

Next I asked them to consider the attitudes they could need to demonstrate? They responded:
risk taking,

Part of letting go included allowing time for reflection. We used a familiar structure for doing this:
1. What went well?
2. What challenges did you face?
3. How did you solve these?
4. What attitude do you still need to work on?
5. What skills do you still need to work on?

Here is a collection of responses…
1. Finding information and organising it; we showed persistence; cooperated; finding pictures; confidence; helping each other; organising ourselves by dividing up the responsibilities.
2. When I got stuck I didn’t know what to do; no patience; no risk taking; concentration at times; technology and making decisions; at first we didn’t know what we were doing; cooperation; time limit; team work; when we all wanted to present in different ways.
3. Asked friends; worked with the teacher; tried a different way; we stuck to our agreement; asked the teacher; compromised.
4. Patience and risk taking; creativity; commitment; cooperation; respect; positive attitude; reflective; openminded.
5. Decision making; cooperation and communication; thinking; research; problem solving; computer skills.

What did I notice and what did I learn today?

* handing ownership to the students naturally differentiates according to needs and learning styles;
* my learners are engaged in their own learning and so stay on task
* they collaborate as they need;
* they find ways to solve their problems;
* asking a question to answer their question is more effective than giving them the answer;
* pointing to the question: “Who owns the learning?” was enough of a reminder for them to make the decision for themselves;
* I am more available for the kids who need more support.

Will I do this again?

For sure!


Ownership of learning promotes learning! Duh!

Sent from my iPad

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…

Big Ideas People


Big Ideas People

“The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway” The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr KM Keith

I came across this quote the other morning and a part of me cringed and another part of me smiled in acknowledgment. At times in my professional life I have been a woman with a small minded approach.

I collaborate with a variety of colleagues who are more big idea thinkers than I am. I also come across big ideas people in my PLN. I no longer shoot down big ideas. If the big idea seems too big for our context/ circumstances I now look for a way to take the essence of the big idea and adapt it to the context.
Big ideas now excite me. Big ideas have led to many interesting, sometimes surprising discoveries and great moments in my teaching and in my students’ learning.

I have always been a reflective person but I am even more so now. Because of the insights and successes I have had from taking the time to notice and reflect and then take action from this, I am learning more and more and more.

Tuesday is a unit planning session – bring on the big ideas!