Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

Forest for the trees

Have we over-complicated schooling so much that we can’t see the forest for the trees?  In our attempt to make schooling relevant have we discounted something so fundamental to human nature?

Sometimes it takes someone like research professor, Dr Peter Gray to put it into perspective.  His exceptional article on children and play is a salutary lesson for us all.

Use by date for schools?

This week I’m in South Africa for the second part of the CSCLeaders conference. While en route to Johannesburg, I had time to think about whether schools have passed their use by date.  And if so, where do we go from here?  I don’t believe the answer lies in dissolving or deconstructing schools but rather morphing them into something smaller, more organic, innovative and community based.  It’s more evolution than this long awaited education revolution.

In 2008, I heard Stephen Heppell talking at the Curriculum Corporation Conference about re-designing schools.  He was in the throes of co-designing a school with students in the Cayman Islands.  Heppell spoke about the need to move away from these industrial factories of 250+ students to small communities of learning with 10 or less students.  He explained how agile learning spaces could be re-configured to meet particular learning needs but what if schools were re-configured to meet students interests?

This is the evolution of schooling.  It is the convergence of personal interests, partnerships and technology (think big data and the ability to personalise learning).  Last week Dan Pink was in Australia at the EduTech conference talking about the rise of specialist schools.  He mentioned something called Big Picture Learning or Big Picture Schools, which have sprung up across America.  Even President Obama has recently announced an initiative that challenges school districts across America to redesign high schools and ‘transform the high school experience’.  The initiative is underpinned by a strong desire to prepare students for a knowledge age and a global economy.

What is interesting about the High School Redesign initiative is a focus on personalised learning and on providing career related experiences or competencies.  This is about taking PBL out of the classroom and into the real-world.  It places greater focus on developing partnerships with community, business and industry to enable students to complete internships and/or mentorships.  This is the evolution of schooling as John Dewey saw it – schools as microcosms of society.  The US Department of Education states, ‘students learn best when they are engaged in complex projects and tasks aligned with their interests.’

This is the foundation of  schools.  As Dan Pink explained these schools configure the entire curriculum around each student’s interests. Pink gives the example of a student who say was interested in martial arts.  One component would involve an internship at a martial arts studio and then the academic component would be learning about the origins of martial arts, the Japanese language and the physics behind the martial art.

I found a podcast of Elliot Washor, co-founder of Big Picture Learning and collaborator Charlie Mojkowski discussing their educational philosophy.  They pose an interesting question – we have expectations of students but what are their expectations of schools?  In addressing these expectations, Washor and Mojkowski believe levels of student engagement will rise.  Rather than developing students interests, schools have traditionally developed skills and knowledge.  Is this radical change or have we must missed something really fundamental – developing a sense of who students are?

The concept of bringing students into the real-world to deepen their learning is why partnerships with business and industry will become critical in the evolution of schooling.  In this model, I envisage schools as conduit between identifying students’ interests and connecting them with their ‘adult-world’ tribes.  In this sense, nothing is fixed.  In an article on Innovation, Washor and Mojkowski reflect that they are:

‘learning what variations of our design contribute to student success and we are adjusting the design and its implementation on the fly in order to realize immediate benefits to students. Big Picture is legitimizing the creation of fundamental alternatives in teaching and learning. That the Big Picture Company, advocating a design that substantially pushes the envelope of what a high school should look like, has been invited to work in so many districts testifies to the potential for true entrepreneurial behavior.

There’s that word again – entrepreneurial.  Perhaps it’s the reason why innovation and entrepreneurial behaviour aren’t the hallmarks of our educational systems.  When we talk about student-centered learning is it in the context of a modernised industrial model or in the context of schools adapting to students?
According to Washor and Mojkowski, if you want to create disruptive innovations rather than merely sustain mediocre ones, you need to have ideas that are ‘crazy enough’ at the edge to make a difference to what happens in the middle.  There is value in looking at the Big Picture model especially in how we create valuable partnerships that bring students into the world and the world into schools.

Schools of inquiry

In March the NSW Government announced its blueprint for improving schooling.  The action plan includes raising entry requirements for teaching courses at universities and ensuring the quality of initial teacher education is regularly assessed.  This is a positive move.

Attracting the best and the brightest is something that all education systems desire. Yet attracting is one thing, retaining teachers is something else when we continue to operate as Richard Elmore says as a profession without a practice.

I believe the most important work is preparing teachers to teach in today’s world.  The demands on schools are great, the work of teaching is complex and the needs of students are diverse.  Add to this the ubiquitous nature of technology and the need for a rigorous teacher education model is apparent.

Some time ago on bluyonder, I raised the idea of an apprenticeship for teachers.  Students would be able to connect the theory in practice by continuous exposure to models of good teaching in classrooms. Observation, inquiry, reflection, analysis and collaboration become the norm.  As knowledge and skills develop, student teachers under supervision either by a teacher educator or mentor actually learn to teach.

Coincidentally the British Government is promoting ‘higher apprenticeships’ for professions such as law, accounting, engineering and possibly teacher education. British Education Secretary Michael Gove has recently said he was keen to move away from higher education providers determining how teacher education was delivered:   “The best people to teach teachers are teachers.”

The best people to teach teachers are effective teachers.

Kevin Donnelly also reflects that since “former teachers colleges closed and education become the preserve of university-based faculties of education, teacher training has become overly theoretical and divorced from classroom realities.”

Linda Darling Hammond in her excellent paper asserts that schools of education must design programs that “help prospective teachers to understand deeply a wide array of things about learning, social and cultural contexts, and teaching and be able to enact these understandings in complex classrooms serving increasingly diverse students; in addition, if prospective teachers are to succeed at this task, schools of education must design programs that transform the kinds of settings in which novices learn to teach and later become teachers. This means that the enterprise of teacher education must venture out further and further from the university and engage ever more closely with schools in a mutual transformation agenda, with all of the struggle and messiness that implies.”

I can’t help but notice how many educators refer to experts who are either providing ideas or visiting schools. Why aren’t we looking to our teacher colleagues for guidance, support and ideas?  Elmore says you do the work by doing the work not having experts do it for you.  I wonder whether this is a symptom of below par teacher training courses? Are we training teachers they way we want students to be taught as they do at Singapore’s National Institute of Education?

The Australian Institute for Teaching School Leadership (AITSL) is about to begin assessing the quality of instruction at universities to ensure that all graduating students meet common standards. AITSL chairman Tony Mackay has flagged that new national standards for accrediting teaching courses would see a “shake-out” of programs offered by higher education institutes.

If the work of teachers is to be continually re-evaluated and shaped in response to the needs of learners and a changing world, then so must teacher training courses.  It is absolutely essential that the next generation of teachers are proficient practitioners; good clinicians and diagnosticians.

We must move away from a commonly held view that anyone can teach fairly well.  Teaching is highly specialised and complex work. As Darling Hammond says teacher training programs must help teachers “develop the disposition to continue to seek answers to difficult problems of teaching and learning and the skills to learn from practice (and from their colleagues) as well as to learn for practice. These expectations for teacher knowledge mean that programs need not only to provide teachers access to more knowledge, considered more deeply, but also to help teachers learn how to continually access knowledge and inquire into their work.”

In a previous blog I reflected on leadership from the inside out.  This is another example where this maxim applies. We have never needed better teachers than we do now.

In moving towards a culture of wide-spread excellence, perhaps we need to stop referring to schools of education and start referring to them as schools of inquiry.  Afterall, isn’t this what learning and teaching is about?

Re-phrase it

One of the things that I enjoy when attending conferences is meeting like-minded and passionate teachers.

Last month I presented at the Re-think and Re-imagine Conference at Deakin University and ran into Thom Fraser.  Thom is a Year 6 teacher at Warrnambool Primary in Victoria and has developed a literacy program called Re-phrase it. The program allows students to set and track their own learning goals. Tom says it’s in response to thinking about how 21st century students learn.

I see Thom as a teacher who has not only taken up the challenge of improving the learning outcomes for all students but who is learning and sharing about his practice along the way.  He tells me that he has done several radio interviews on how the literacy program works.

What you see when Thom speaks is his passion and his energy for teaching and his commitment to challenging each student. Could Thom could be our benchmark?

Building Professional Capital

Recently, YouTube in partnership with the Khan Academy put the call out for educational content creators to train and mentor a growing online learning audience. In many parts of America, mandated participation in online courses as part of students’ K-12 schooling is on the rise. Massive online open courses (MOOCs) are emerging in the higher education sector, challenging traditional approaches to tertiary education, which is evidenced by declining enrolments in some tertiary courses. Senator Stephen Conroy last week challenged Australian universities to rethink their business models to incorporate MOOCs or risk becoming irrelevant. This raises alarm bells for me about the quality of instruction and students’ engagement in learning.

If we agree that teachers make the biggest difference to student learning outcomes, we need to ensure online learning models are not harnessed in such a way as to reduce education to a self-serve product.

While the proliferation of online educational content certainly provides an opportunity to influence the delivery and engagement of contemporary learning and teaching, we cannot lose sight of the important role that teachers play in engaging students in deep learning. We know the relationship between the teacher and the student in the presence of content (Elmore, 2009) – the instructional core – is paramount to the learning and teaching process. If technology supplants teachers and students become learners in isolation, this is not only detrimental to the development of critical thinking skills, but also for their capacity for deeper learning and understanding.

Andy Hargreaves and myself at the 2012 ADC lecture.

The focus for education, then, needs to be in building teachers’ capabilities: individually and collectively. We were privileged to have Andy Hargreaves deliver Catholic Education’s annual Ann D Clark lecture recently to over 300 educators. He warned of the increasing prevalence of the ‘business capital’ approach to education i.e. short-term investment (e.g. online delivery models) for quick return, saying the education sector had become a lucrative market for investors.

‘When we begin to move the whole profession of education to serve the short-term interests of business capital, it comes at an immense price and carries dangerous assumptions about the nature of the teacher and whether or not this is even a profession,’ (Hargreaves, 2012)

In their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) identify three components of ‘professional capital’ – human, social and decisional – which he says, when developed in concert, will build the teaching profession.

  • ‘Human capital’ refers to highly qualified teachers having the content knowledge and an understanding of child psychology, individual pre-service training and preparation, emotional intelligence and capability in relationships
  • ‘Social capital’ refers to trust, collaboration, collective responsibility, peer pressure and support, mutual assistance and networks
  • ‘Decisional capital’ (a term coined by Fullan and Hargreaves) refers to the teacher’s judgement, in case experience and lots of practice, in a teacher’s ability to reflect alone and together on their practice and to adjust their practice to improve students’ learning accordingly.

Building professional capital needs to take place throughout a teacher’s career in various ways at various stages because Hargreaves suggests it takes around eight years or 10,000 hours to develop expertise in the profession of teaching through practice and concerted effort.

Hargreaves says quality teachers need to:

  • understand that teaching is technically difficult
  • know cognitive science
  • understand a range of special education abilities
  • know about differentiated instruction
  • be able to assess in a sophisticated, diagnostic way
  • have massive emotional intelligence
  • have high levels of education and long periods of rigorous training
  • be able to use judgement, wisdom and discernment to know what’s in the spreadsheet of data to connect it to the students and to the knowledge they’re trying to acquire.

Teaching is not an individual task, but is something that is done collectively with other people as a community that takes time, investment, conditions and support. These human capabilities and the collaborative aspect of teaching (social capital) cannot be substituted with an online learning system alone.

I was pleased to read Khan Academy founder, Salman Khan, tackle the concern that the Khan Academy was a way to replace teachers:

‘Human teachers will become far more valuable in the future because [the classroom] will be a more interactive place and they are going to be doing the things computers cannot do, which is form bonds, motivate, mentor, diagnose,’ (Salman Khan, 2012).

I couldn’t agree more. There is, and always will be, a role for teachers.

A student’s take on learning and teaching

I’m often asked what 21st century learning and teaching looks like for teachers and students.

When I was speaking at the 2012 Technology in K-12 Education National Congress in Sydney recently, I had the chance to sit in on the student panel and was impressed to hear our own year 12 student, Mark Elias, from Parramatta Marist High School speak so thoughtfully about his learning.

Four years ago, Parramatta Marist introduced the Project Based Learning (PBL) approach which, in Mark’s opinion, radically changed his learning journey from year 9 onwards.

Mark Elias and myself at the Technology in K-12 Education National Congress earlier this year

I’ve met Mark a few times now and thought he had some great views to share as a learner in one of our schools about how learning and teaching has changed for him and the skills he has developed as a result:

Learning has changed dramatically over my years attending Parramatta Marist. I started at the school in 2007 and was educated ‘traditionally’ which meant a teacher dictating information and the students reciting and regurgitating information.

After spending two years learning under this pedagogy, I was then exposed to a 21st century approach to education. This approach placed perfect emphasis on the three main aspects of a classroom: the students, the teacher and collaboration.

Students were taught the importance of adaptive thinking via discussing ideas in groups; not only strengthening their ability to think but also their ability to work effectively in groups.

The change was abrupt which forced the teachers to learn with the students, eliminating the tension between a teacher who knew everything and a student who knew nothing.

As the school and the teachers progressed with 21st century learning pedagogies, students’ learning was shaped positively – not only could they know the content, they could understand and apply it.

Using technology is imperative in this learning approach as it breaks down all barriers around what a classroom is, where it starts and ends; learning takes place via Skype discussion and emails with students constantly wanting others’ perspective on answers to help shape their own thinking and approaches.

Building connections for a sustainable framework

The prevailing model of schooling is so deeply embedded in our collective psyche that it’s often difficult to imagine alternate models.

New Tech Network Visit to Parramatta Marist

New Tech Network’s Lydia Dobyns and Tim Presiado with myself and Br Patrick Howlett at Parramatta Marist in March 2012

Last Friday, my colleagues and I visited New Tech Network’s president, Lydia Dobyns and senior director, Tim Presiado to look at ways to build a sustainable framework beyond their 100 schools in the US and to identify opportunities to extend their approach to interested schools within our own system.

New Tech Network is a non-profit organisation working with schools, school districts and communities to reframe schooling by creating innovative learning environments using a project based learning (PBL) approach. Students not only acquire subject matter knowledge, but the skills needed to thrive in today’s world such as critical thinking, collaboration, work ethic, content literacy and communication.

One of our own successful secondary schools, Parramatta Marist, has been involved with the New Tech Network for over three years and as a result has reshaped its curriculum offering, invested significantly in the ongoing professional learning of teachers and demonstrated sustained improvement in student learning. Lydia and Tim visited Australia in March this year to announce the inclusion of Parramatta Marist as the first school outside the United States to become part of the network and to share their approach with over 300 educators within our system.

It is important to understand that PBL is not a solution that can be simply taken and imposed on any school. It is a construct to support school communities committed to reflecting on and improving student learning and teacher practice in a contemporary world. Lydia describes the heart of New Tech’s work as building the capacity of teachers and students as part of an educational network through a focus on quality, sustainability and growth. It is through the network – the collaboration within and between schools – that the approach is strengthened and refined.

From our meeting, we identified several issues critical to reframing schooling, including resource implications, a blend of support incorporating coaching and teacher shadowing, the adoption of rigorous application criteria as a starting point for engagement, opportunities for the creation of a PBL professional learning community and an overall commitment to working together to build a sustainable framework.

New Tech Network Logo

It is great to see we can broker connections with partners across the globe who are so willing to share their expertise and experience as we meet the challenge to look beyond standardised, off-the-shelf solutions and engage in a process of discovery and learning to improve schooling.

The human dimension of schooling

Last Thursday, our system hosted French Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès OP, the Vatican’s Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, who is responsible for Catholic educational institutions around the world. While speaking specifically to more than 1,000 leaders about the nature and purpose of Catholic education, I believe his analysis of the challenges schools face today, is not only relevant to Catholic schools but has universal application for all schools.

Archbishop Bruguès OP

Archbishop Bruguès OP

Archbishop Bruguès called on Catholic schools to adapt to pedagogical evolutions and even anticipate them, saying pedagogy ‘is by nature in constant evolution: one can no longer teach today in the same way as 40 or even 20 years ago’ and to aim ‘at excellence: excellence of knowledge, excellence of its pedagogy, excellence in transmission’.

The pursuit of innovation and excellence should be the aim of all schools as we work to reframe schooling to meet the needs of today’s learners. The digital world is dramatically reshaping the way we live and we need to respond creatively as educators if we are going to keep pace with our students and provide them with the knowledge and skills to navigate and contribute to the world.

This requires new skillsets for both learners and teachers and the Archbishop encouraged educators to engage both curiosity and reason in the way forward.

‘A Catholic school is essentially a school with a sense of curiosity, interested in all the various forms of knowledge and the multiple dimensions of human culture… one in which reason is given a privileged role in the quest for truth, the moral good and beauty…’ Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès OP, 2012.

The ability to incorporate human reason in navigating both digital and physical environments is essential to effectively prepare young people for the unknown challenges our world will face. We can harness the insatiable curiosity of our students, and aligned with innovative pedagogy, guide our students in the pursuit of knowledge about the world, about learning, and about ideas. This is achievable and should be a hallmark of all good schools.

Our own Bishop, Anthony Fisher OP, addressed our principals the following day and made the point that in a world marked by secularisation, consumerism, family dysfunction and values disorientation, many – even outside the church – recognise the challenge we have to transmit vision and values.

This is not a specifically Catholic challenge but applies to all schools in the modern world and lies right at the heart of learning and teaching. As educators, we need to approach our students with compassion and understanding of the diversity they bring into the classroom. When we know each of our students as individuals and tailor learning and teaching to meet their needs, we are valuing each student as a distinct person worthy of dignity, trust and respect.

Often the focus on schooling is around economic value, but as educators we need to shift our thinking to see the broader dimension of the human purpose of schooling. In modelling core values to students, educators – regardless of faith background – play a key role in forming the hearts and minds of the young people they teach and enabling them to thrive in an increasingly complex world.

Bishop Anthony expressed his desire that our young people be formed into young men and women of ‘principle, purpose and passion’. We need teachers with principle, purpose and passion, who in the doing and living out of these qualities will strengthen them in their students.

In today’s world learners need good teachers more than ever. Archbishop Bruguès nailed it when he said, ‘the time of teachers has a bright future’. Indeed it has.

The science of learning

The work of cognitive scientists is becoming increasingly important to the work of teachers as we seek more effective ways to engage learners.  This week, I’ve started reading John Medina’s book Brain Rules.  Medina writes in the introduction that if you want to ‘create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom.’  It speaks volumes about the historical chasm between brain science and teacher practice.  While we are moving towards understanding how people learn, we still see as Hattie says the essential nature of our profession in terms of autonomy – teaching they way we know best, choosing resources and methods we think will work etc.

One of the most illuminating chapters is on exploration.  Medina explains why understanding how babies learn gives us insight into understanding how humans learn at any age.  Babies and young children are naturally curious about their world and they learn through a process of  observation, hypotheses, experiment and conclusion.  As he says if children are allowed to retain their natural curiosity about the world around them, they can ‘deploy their natural tendencies to discover and explore until they are 101.’

The problem is our traditional model of schooling often breaks this cycle of curiosity.  Sir Ken Robinson believes this model of schooling dislocates people from their natural talents. Medina supports this by adding that by the time children get to school they understand that they can acquire knowledge about the world around them not because it’s ‘interesting, but because it can get them something.’  The ‘something’ is a higher grade or test score.

The good news is that many people retain their curiosity and remain life-long learners.  The challenge is how we cultivate this in workplaces and schools. Medina actually proposes a ‘learning laboratory’ where brain scientists and education scientists would investigate learning in real-world situations.

This lab would be similar to a medical school in that it would have a teaching facility, research program and staff who work in the field as well as teach. It’s probably no coincidence that Richard Elmore et al has taken the instructional rounds from the medical rounds model. This is the process of  observing, analysing, discussing and concluding.  For Elmore et al, this process is designed to bridge the ‘knowledge gap between educators and their practice’ in order to improve student learning.

What I found interesting about this idea is that teachers would be learning about brain science in learning spaces. They would be learning from cognitive scientists, applying it in real world settings and then working with researchers on what works and why.

In many respects, this idea reflects the early work of John Dewey who established a school for educational experimentation at the University of Chicago in the late 1890s.  Dewey’s lab was an opportunity to learn more about ‘the process of education and ways of improving the conditions of teaching and learning.’  It is a goal we are still committed to perhaps more so in a knowledge age where we have the tools and the opportunities to ensure learning is personalised, relevant and engaging for every learner.

I think Brain Rules re-confirms why it is critical that the art of teaching be informed by the science of learning.

Art of teaching

Over the course of the year I have written about a range of issues but the central theme has been about learning and teaching in a contemporary and connected world. The more I write about this, the more I recognise that improving student learning is about improving teacher quality.  It’s not pie in the sky stuff, it’s achievable when we get teachers working and learning together, opening their practice up to critical reflection and setting high benchmarks for themselves and their students.

I know this has been the road less travelled in our profession for the past hundred years and I suppose it can be difficult to imagine how teacher practice could change.  Opening your teaching up to comment is a huge risk but when done in the spirit of continuous improvement, the rewards are great.

I am fortunate to be able to see this in practice when I visit schools.  When I hear teachers talking about Helen Timperley’s inquiry cycle as a framework for reflection, it not only changes practice but culture.

Recently, I was asked to view the art work of students at Caroline Chisholm, Glenmore Park.  These students are being taught by teachers who are part of a professional learning community committed to improving their own and their students’ learning.  I know I often say I was wowed by student work but I don’t think I can capture the standard here in words.

What is impressive is that the art teachers expect their Year 1o students to produce Year 12 quality work – and they do.  By the time this cohort gets to Year 12, the standard is extraordinary.   Out of a class of 30 this year, 10 were nominated for the NSW Art Express  and 7 have been chosen to exhibit. The teachers are charting the progress of their students from Year 7 through to Year 12.

I spoke to several of the students who acknowledged their teachers and were supportive of the stretch their teachers provided.  The teachers didn’t think their practice was out of the ordinary and this is when you know you there’s been a cultural change.

Learning Conversations Caroline Chisholm

It’s a great base from which to build and I look forward to continuing the learning conversations with teachers and leaders next year.


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