Archive for the ‘Leading Learning’ Category

Simplicity and reliability

Essa Academy

Six years ago, Hayward School on the outskirts of Manchester in the UK was considered a failing high school.  A new principal arrived with a new vision, new leadership team and an expectation that every child can learn and succeed.  It was turned into an Academy, renamed Essa and today it is lauded as a school with a 90 percent pass rate.

Last week, one of its directors, Abdul Chohan was in Parramatta to share Essa’s learnings.  Reflecting on Essa’s learning journey, Chohan said that changing beliefs led to changing behaviours.  Starting with a clear vision, they began encouraging and resourcing teachers who were willing to try new approaches.  These teachers were asked to find another teacher in the school who could try out the idea and if it worked, they brought it forward to the wider community.  This approach to building critical mass had the advantage of teachers leading the change and the professional learning.

Not surprising, the Academy operates within an anywhere, anytime, anything learning environment.  However, Chohan is quick to point out that Essa has no technology plan only a learning plan.  The talk is always on the pedagogy and the tools are in place to enable and deepen the learning.  One of the big lessons for Essa was the move away from learning management systems (LMS) and virtual learning environments (VLE) to an iOS platform.  Simplicity and reliability are the criteria because it allows teachers to maintain a relentless focus on the learning not the tools.

All students have an iPad and the Academy uses iTunes U (the largest repository for educational material in the world) for teaching and Showbie (app for assessment and feedback) for learning.  Using the Open University model as a framework for delivering engaging content, the Academy’s teachers work together to plan, develop and assess coursework.  Chohan mentioned that they now have students demonstrating their learning by creating course content for iTunes U!

Sharing learning is deeply embedded in the vision of Essa Academy: All Will Succeed.  The Academy’s vision underpins everything they do and is inclusive of everyone. It is a great example of one school sharing its experiences and learning so that other schools and students can also succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remixing schooling

If you’ve been watching the series Redesign My Brain with Todd Sampson, you’ll be familiar with the work of neuroscientist Dr Michael Merzenich.  Dr Merzenich is a world authority on brain plasticity – the idea that the brain can continually re-wire itself.  Hence, the term ‘soft-wired’.

Sam Seidel, author of Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education also believes that understanding how minds work and how people learn is critical to the current discussions on innovation and education. Re-wiring or as Sam posits ‘remixing’ education is the ability to take what already exists and create something new and relevant for learners.  He uses the example of hip-hop because it illustrates how young people re-mixed creative elements to create a dominant music culture in the US.  Sam argues that innovative education is the remixing of ideas, practices and data points collected by teachers to create a personalised and relevant learning experience for students.

Since his appearance at PBL World Australia in 2013, Sam has been working with Students Design for Education (SD4E) which is leading a group of Rhode Island students through the design process to create a new ‘student-centred’ school.  According to Sam, human-centred design or design thinking is the next wave in education because it aims at empowering students and teachers to drive change from within by becoming ‘designers’ of the learning space and learning experience.

Sam was in Sydney recently to work with students and teachers at Parramatta Marist High and to talk about the student-designed school project.  He said that design thinking demands the same skills as project based learning (PBL): think critically, work collaboratively and communicate creatively.  Sam was impressed with how quickly younger students (Years 7 and 8) at Parramatta Marist adapted to new learning experiences as a result of the skills they’ve acquired through their PBL work.

Reflecting on the critical skills and qualities needed by teachers in today’s world, Sam believes resourcefulness is important along with compassionate listening, thorough planning and adaptability. These are the cornerstones of design thinking – an organic process requiring empathy, insight, flexibility and experiment. Teaching is essentially human-centred design work – creating something  for students and with them.

Remixing schooling is about continually re-designing learning and teaching. That’s what distinguishes a soft-wired experience of schooling from a hard-wired one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missing a teachable moment

As educators know, extraordinary opportunities for learning come from those often unpredictable and unscripted teachable moments.  Those moments that are not ‘text-book’ and yet provide students with valuable occasions for critical thinking, reflection and deeper learning.

On Friday, our government missed a teachable moment when the Prime Minister rejected appeals for the resettlement of Rohingya refugees stranded at sea in South East Asia.

The aim of government policy is ultimately designed to improve the lives of citizens whether it be access to universal healthcare or quality education. Our politicians are elected community leaders. They are also teachers – reflecting our values, sense of identity and hopes for the future.

This generation of Australian students will be key to solving future challenges including how we aid and assist those fleeing war and persecution.

I’m not sure what values were imparted or what lessons our students learned from Friday’s response but I am reminded of the second stanza of our National Anthem:

For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.

With refugee week coming up in June, perhaps the word for our politicians here is – courage.Delaney College Granville

There are government and Catholic schools across western Sydney who have welcomed children from around the world (many from war-torn nations) into its classrooms and communities.  These students are all contributing to a more inclusive and diverse society.

These students have stories of courage to share – and something to teach our politicians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the journey

It is always good to listen to students and staff talk enthusiastically about their individual and collective learning. Last week I visited St Oliver’s Primary, Harris Park and saw first hand how their data walls are working and how it has helped sharpen their professional focus and thinking.

While many schools adopt a holistic approach to capturing and measuring data on student achievement, St Oliver’s has narrowed the focus to two key areas: reading and vocabulary.  Principal Anthony McElhone explained they could have just as easily measured spelling or structure but this gives them a precise focus on what they see as the critical areas for their students’ growth.

Data walls capture the process and progress of student learning and the effectiveness of teacher practice. It becomes a shared learning journey for every member of the learning community.  This was illustrated when I visited an elementary school in Canada.

Every inch of the parish hall was being used as a living data wall.  As you walk around the hall, you can follow the growth of each and every student.  The data is transparent –  teachers share accountability for student learning while students accept responsibility for their own learning path.  What is so impressive is when parents visit the school and effectively cut out the ‘middleman’ by listening to their own child explain, track and describe their learning. They know where they are at, where they need to go and how they will get there.

It is visible learning in action.

A coherent pre to post policy

St_Michaels_CELC_wide

You may have seen some media coverage earlier this week about early years learning and how children as young as two could benefit from structured play based learning as part of a pre to post school continuum. I’m not talking about putting two year olds in traditional classroom settings, sitting silently at desks listening to the teacher talk (that’s not our idea of quality schooling anyway). I’m talking about authentic play based learning experiences for toddlers that include age-appropriate activities like singing, dancing and even learning to play an instrument or language.

It’s about rethinking the entire pre to post school structure, to create a more aligned and coherent schooling framework.

Last week, business leader Catherine Livingstone called for a ‘philosophical change’ in the way we think about education, noting that the traditional separation between schooling and work is no longer relevant for today’s world. Increasing numbers of educators believe the traditional model of schooling is no longer meeting the needs of students today, which echo Livingstone’s observation. Business and industry leaders are constantly telling us that students do not have the skills they need, and youth unemployment has hit a 15 year high, with one in five people aged 15-24 unemployed. There is also a talent mismatch with 18 of the world’s major economies experiencing talent shortages.

We can no longer ignore the growing gap between formal schooling and success in the 21st century. We need to make a fundamental change in education. Moving away from artificial constructs like preschool, primary, secondary and post-school is a start, as these are artefacts of an age long gone.

These distinctions result in short term and narrow funding decisions directed towards separate parts of the system, instead of the whole. The Federal government decision to only guarantee funding for early childhood for the next two years, and only for four year olds, is an example of this type of constrained thinking.

Federal governing structures for education are disjointed: early childhood is within the Social Services portfolio, whereas schools and post school are within Education and Training. It’s the same story in NSW, with early childhood, schooling and TAFE all in different departments. This results in policy and funding decisions that treat early childhood, school and post-school as discrete units. Instead, we need to think about how all aspects of the sector work together to gain greater continuity in learning and teaching frameworks.

We’re a few days away from the Federal Budget – we need aligned policy and funding decisions that address the holistic, long term needs when it comes to education.

Making circles

Stephen Heppell wrote recently that schools of the future must be “places in which difficult, exciting, challenging, engaging, complex learning happens, rather than being where uniform education is delivered.”
In Tokyo, there is a kindergarten that has been designed as a place for exciting, difficult and engaging play (learning).  Its circular design literally places students at the centre.
In Asian cultures, the circle is a powerful symbol.  It represents unity and perfection.  In contrast, the square/rectangle has sharp corners representing laws and regulations.  Is this the reason why we still build schools as rectangles seeing them as places of regulations and uniform learning instead of seeing perfection in complexity, chaos and creativity?
The kindergarten is one of the best I have seen because the principal and architect dared to think outside the square.  I wonder what our schools symbolise?  Are they spaces for passivity or play; spaces for listening or living?

Making maths meaningful

Why is it that so many students struggle with numeracy?  Is it coincidence that Asian countries out perform the rest of the world when it comes to maths?  Do we as teachers perpetuate the view that maths is intrinsically difficult?

Seven years ago, the National Numeracy Review recommended greater emphasis in the early years be given to ‘providing students with frequent exposure to higher-level mathematical problems.’  It went on to state that it should be in a context that is relevant to the learner. I still hear adults say that learning algebra or long division was a complete waste of time.

Central to deconstructing the myth of Mathematics is about contextualising the learning.  How can teachers make mathematics relevant to each learner and therefore more engaging and challenging?

Professor Peter Sullivan from Monash University says we have a fundamental problem with teaching Mathematics and we need to think differently about the way we teach maths in primary and secondary.

As a result of the Review, we introduced three system initiatives which invest in the professional learning and competency of teachers supported by leaders. Our approach has always been that improving teacher understanding and learning improves student understanding and learning.

We are forSt Clare's Catholic Collegetunate to have partnered with Professor Sullivan on the EM4 (English Mathematics Stage 4) program.  It began last year as ‘first wave’ teaching in English and Mathematics in secondary schools.   It is about creating opportunities for students to enhance and extend their skills and knowledge.  These strategies all rely on data and professional learning to inform good practice. For me, these should be evident across all key learning areas not only English and Mathematics.  However, without a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy, we cannot build upon a student’s learning.

EM4’s premise is to get students to think creatively about problem solving by posing questions that they don’t know how to do.  Professor Sullivan makes the point that we have taught maths by telling students what to do and then getting them to practice what they are told.  However, in this model, students create the maths not the teachers.

It’s a move away from the one approach fits all in favour of the many paths to the top of the mountain. According to the data being collected by Professor Sullivan, student-driven learning is leading to a deeper understanding of Mathematics.

I have been amazed when visiting these classrooms by the rich mathematical discussions between students.  Very different from my experiences of school maths.  Many of the teachers I speak to acknowledge that these strategies have led to a shift in practice and a new way of seeing their role in supporting rather than driving learning.

This “open to learning” approach by both the teacher and the student is the powerful engine driving a very different schooling experience . What is not made explicit, but is at the core of this approach is the shift of responsibility for the learning. For the teacher it is recognising that the curriculum requirements but then engaging in designing learning experience for each student. For the student it shifts the focus from one right answer to the process of how they arrived at that answer. Ultimately they both take responsibility for their learning.

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