29 November 2013

Three Teachers Better Than One

This sounds like a dream situation doesn’t it? Something you might have in a Special Education class or a well resourced International School.

Well I work in such a classroom!  I am lucky enough to be one of 3 experienced full time teachers in our class.

At this time of year with assessment, reports, prize giving items and end of year scratchiness I certainly appreciate the relief, the support, the jollying along and the flexibility this provides. In fact I can’t imagine how I managed Novembers pre Open Learning Space.

Last Thursday between morning tea and lunch, the whole class were creating brochures to inform and motivate next year’s Yr 6 Campers. This involved designing (pencil and paper), writing (google docs), drawing (sumo paint), illustrating (camp photos in picasa), displaying (google draw and spreadsheets), and publishing to print (pages and keynote). This took a fair bit of modelling, discussion, conferencing and feedback. But in typical fourth-termness there were a whole lot of other things going on as well.

Between the three of us we were also trying to complete the last GLOSS maths assessments, moderating some writing samples, re-connecting two angry parties that fell out over a morning tea game (kids not teachers!), taking a group of avid readers to the library to select and issue books,  coordinating a group of choreographers to come up with suitable moves for our item, visiting other classes to collect data, connecting with family to check on sick week old baby at home, re-wiring sound system to be able to listen to the school news in 30 minutes, re-imaging netbooks, tracking down missing charger......

Every teacher has these goings on. The difference is I have 3 of me to cope.

Now I’m just wondering how I can get 4.

10 October 2013

Setting up flexible Learning in an Open Learning Space -ULearn 2013 Presentation Notes

This is the open learning space I teach in with two other teachers and 96 Yr 5/6 kids.

This year we are in this 'T' shaped space that was divided into 3 pre-fabs in its previous life. 

The three teachers have a fairly fixed spot they teach from. It seems to work for our kids that they move around the large space where they need to for their learning, rather than the teacher.  Teachers take group sessions with small (4-8) or large (30) groups from these spots where we can 'eyeball' each other and between us monitor all of the open learning space.
Each child in the space is part of 3 group:
1. Home class:
This is administrative as much as anything. I am officially the teacher of Room 17 and there are 32 kids on my role. I take the roll first thing in the day and sit and read with them in silent reading time. At lunch time we meet again to eat together, and we go to assemble on Friday mornings as a home group. As home class teacher you are the first point of call for parents, you are coordinator for paperwork and reporting.

2. Literacy Group: 
For the first two hours of the day we teach our literacy groups. This doesn't mean we are only doing reading and writing, our teaching is very integrated. Each teacher has 4-5 reading and writing groups. We might work with them individually, in small groups or as a whole group. When kids aren't having explicit teaching, or reflecting or sharing they move off into the best place to be in the space. 

3. Maths Group:
From morning tea onwards we move into our maths groups. Again this doesn't mean we are just doing maths. Often in the middle block we take our maths group to ICT class or music, we do sport, maori, art or visit the library.  Math teaching often happens after lunch. 

It is also important to remember that just because the teacher is teaching maths, it doesn't mean the children have to be working on maths problems independently. They can access any of their learning off the class site.

The reason we decided to trial this open learning space this year was partly the accessibility of learning for the learners at any time. They don't need to be in close proximity to the teacher for their independent learning steps, tasks, goals, progressions or even feedback. With a focus on creativity in our Learn Create and Share pedagogy, along with the technology available the activities children were doing were being constrained by the four walls. Not enough space, and not enough flexibility of how the space is used. All this obviously is to increasing learning and achievement.

The beginning of the year was quite hectic, exciting, motivating, providing lots of options...but hectic. Much like driving around a busy round about in Vietnam. 
There were lots of interruptions in Term 1 like camp and 2 weeks of swimming  (see post Sat 6th April) but a big part of this feeling was the chaotic feeling of having 3 classes on one room. You had kids for a while then they moved off to another teacher. With so much coming and going it felt hard to keep track of you class.
Then it slowly dawned on us that we weren't 3 classes but 1. In our 1 class there are 3 teachers. A simple mind shift but important. Not all of the kids appreciate having 6 eyes watching them but it is a whole lot easier for the teachers. It reminds me of when you are lucky enough to have one of those wonderful third year final practicum students. You know the ones that are so good that they take learning groups along side you. They share the responsibility with you and add to the teaching capacity of the the class.
Then things started to feel a whole lot more like this:
We also realised that while many children were flying, taking advantage of the opportunities and flexibility, there were others that weren't able to access these opportunities. There were children who  weren't just unmotivated, they also didn't have the strategies to be successful learners.
So we re-grouped around key competencies.  See post Streaming For Key Competencies.

18 September 2013

Creating more that the sum of our parts

Collaborating is the interaction we have in our relationship with others. Collaboration between individuals in any institution can vary from incidental and diverse, to careful and deliberate. But teaching in a cooperative, supportive and open environment does not have to be a co-teaching pedagogy.

Cook (2004) defines Co-teaching as two or more teachers having shared guardianship of responsibility for students, shared use of space and shared responsibility for teaching and learning. The rational behind it is
1. it allows for more personal learning and individualised instruction
2. increase flexibility for use of space, and for scheduling
3. provides collegial support, and through this a positive model for social interaction

 Co-teaching requires an open learning space, and conversely effective teaching in an open learning space requires this definition of co-teaching.

Shaun Wood's Ignite Talk talks about his research and experience with co-teaching.
He explains several different Co-teaching models, some of them more suitable to whole class teaching, rather than the group instruction New Zealand Primary teaching of the core subjects is usually based on. The model that I am most interested in is 'station teaching' because it allows for an element of student choice.

Station teaching is where 2 or more teachers work with individuals or groups at different teaching spaces. These spaces or stations can be flexible depending on group size and activity. Workshops might be optional for students based on their learning needs or interests, set rotations, or based on teacher strengths.

In our Open Learning Space we are lucky to have 3 teachers with a shared vision, and strong structure to support intentional co-teaching. Most or our day is spent on small group instruction, with some individual conferencing. These guided teaching sessions are increasingly allowing students to have ownership of their learning and allow for them to opt into workshops. This means learners can learn what they need, when they need it. They don't have to wait for others, or be interupted when they just want to get on with it.

At a recent Manaiakalani Student Hui, one of the consistent themes that came through feed back from students across Primary and Secondary schools was; let us learn when we need to, don't stop us from learning! However, the ability and the belief that you can take responsibility for your learning is not universal. This is something we are trying to scaffold, teach and provide differentiated pedagogy to meet different needs of our students see post on Learning To Suit The Learner.

A co-teaching approach, which is enabled through our open learning space, has allowed us to have increased teaching and learning flexibility, creating more I believe than the sum of our separate parts.

18 August 2013

Learning to suit the Learner

We have a very strong focus on 'best pedagogy' here at Pt England School. It is a continually developing, and builds on evidence and reflection.
*There are key aspects that have remained constant over time, such as working from a good teacher-student relationship, the need for explicit group instruction, and a focus on literacy.
*There are elements that pertain to our community in particular such as the strong commitment of whanau to pay for digital devices, and emphasis on cultural performance and sport.
*Then there are new practices that reflect the digital learning environment. This would include children and teachers both working from a transparent planning and learning site allowing everyone access to learning anytime.

Collaborative Teaching  in an open learning space also allows for a divergence of pedagogy to suit the learner.

In our Yr6 space with three teachers we have regrouped to allow for the structure and scaffolding some students require, while also providing programmes with increased choice, flexibility around time and space, and independence to fly for others.

Although the backbone of out practice is based on common beliefs, there are increasing differences between the way the thee teachers teach and run their programme.

When we first set up our open learning space in January all three teachers took a spread of ability groups for literacy and maths. Part of what we set up our environment for was to allow for flexibility. The resources, physical spaces, access to teachers, choice around learning and learning times could be opened up. While some students thrived, and creative products were being produced left right and center by some children, it was messy for most, including the teachers. We all had students who could manage more self directed learning and could reflect on this with the teacher, but there were also groups who needed more explicit teaching, and management. It was like taking a duel programme.

In Term 2 we separated and defined the roles of the three teachers to suit different groups of students. The students were regrouped around Key Competencies and how much we thought they were Learning in order to Learn or Learning how to be a Learner. Now teachers' programmes and practices match the needs of the learners. This could be considered a light form of streaming.

Engagement - more than being on task.

At the risk of boasting, we seem to have really engaged kids. If you come into our learning space you will observe a high rate of on task behaviour. When I look up from the hub-bub of micro teaching my group, I am often surprised at how busy our kids are. Their discussions are predominantly about the learning task or the digital process they are using. If all we want is kids who are in class doing the right thing, then we’ve pretty well made it!

But what is engagement?
I have summarised these categories from the first Milestone Report on the Evaluation of the Manaiakalani Project (Jesson, McNaughton, & Wilson, 2013) .This is a report from Auckland UniServices Limited prepared by the Woolf Fisher Research Centre. The first level of engagement is behavioural. This requires actually being at school and participating in class, then being on task.
Affective or Emotional engagement refers to enjoyment and shared goals in carrying out the task.
Then there is Cognitive engagement. This is the learner hooked into the learning, not just the task. It would be indicated by specifically working on complex and challenging tasks, showing independence and agency which extends learning beyond 3-9 and the classroom walls.

According to the milestone report, observations across our cluster indicate high behavioural engagement compared with other studies of New Zealand classrooms.
Affective engagement is more difficult to measure, but student interviews show that overall the students were aware of and had beliefs consistent with the Manaiakalani goals.
But there was most variability in cognitive engagement when considered in terms of features of complexity and the depth of processing required. This was especially so for those children not working directly with the teacher. The activities they were involved in were either ‘practise’ type tasks or part of the ‘Learn, Create, Share’ process. Both had the capacity to be formulaic, or challenging and extending.

So while we have students engaged in the task, they aren’t necessarily engaged in their learning.

We need to further develop the conditions that lead to improvements in enhancing the learning experience, and the outcomes for the learner.

1 August 2013

Modern Learning Environments - Not A Thing But A Process

I heard Julia Atkin speak at The Modern Learning Environments Conference put on by Core Education . She was pointing out that there is no one thing that is a modern learning environment. Instead it is a process of striving for exemplary practice for our students.

In all instances this practice needs to be:
- Dynamic and responsive
- Informed by critical reflection
- Knows why
- Links design to beliefs.

Its our beliefs about learning and the nature of learners that needs to shape design (of both pedagogy and physical environment). This is a collaboration of what our community, children and teachers value.

What learning activities are going to happen?
What settings do we need?

In light of this, I'm looking forward to helping to set up a Home School Partnership meeting where I hope we can explicitly give our parent community a forum to contribute to the developing modern learning environment we are developing.

8 June 2013

Modern Learning Environments Expo in Christchurch

Check out some of these cool ideas

Students creating learning environments in minecraft

Children drawing what they want their learning space to have. Look at the research they are doing on ipads. The girl on the left was typing in  "How deep does dirt need to be to grow carrots".

Whiteboard tables

These are so comfy to sit in with book or device on knees. I had to talk fast to get kids off for the photo!

Engaging Learning Environments

      Core Education ran a Modern learning Environments Conference which I attended on 7-8th June. This was put together in response to requests for information and ideas from Christchurch leaders in education. Schools in Christchurch are going through changing times to say the least - merges, closures, rebuilds. But through this upheaval and rebuilding, many are leaping on board the opportunity to create more modern learning environments.

    The first speaker was Stephen Heppell from Bournemouth University.  
His premise was that kids don’t need to come to school to learn, but there will always need to be great teachers. So in order for them to come along, be engaged and take up the learning opportunities that (hopefully) are at school,  environments need to be playful, fun, productive, relevant.

   There are online learning environments that I think give some traditional teaching a run for its money.  There are collaborative environments where you can find out from others what you need to know, such as Facebook or twitter. There are community areas like playgrounds, beaches, home kitchens, zoos, libraries and the sports field.  Then there are You tube clips thT can teach us how to make a cake, write a haiku poem, or compare the Artic to the Antarctic. You can access these when you need to, pause, replay, then you can create your own content to share your learning. All this in the comfort of your bedroom, beanbag, library or friend’s house.

   At school we use an great online maths tool called mathswhizz, another learning environment which hooks the learner in. Students complete level based activities which have been explained with flying pigs, cute trolls, animated number lines, coloured numbers and any other trick you can think of. Then they get to practise this skill or knowledge item until the programme recognises they are able to sit the assessment task. The achievement levels, gaps, strengths and progress of students is all trackable by the teacher or parent.  All of this work goes toward credits which children get to save and spend in their virtual bedroom. They purchase virtual pets (which then need to be fed), games, posters, plants and any other manner of kids’ bedroom paraphernalia.

   Maths worksheets struggle to keep up with this!

   But, these playful and seductive learning spaces on their own lack a teacher who can guide the learner into what they need to do next, how they can get there, ensure coverage, plug in gaps and push to extent further.

    While there are many learning environments available,  schools are the place where learners have access to learning coaches ie teachers. These teachers are available for all, trained, can be free, and hopefully can access lots more learning for the student.

   So while children don’t need to come to school to learn, it would be a shame if they didn’t access it to extend their learning even further. To do this our schools need to be playful and fun.

26 May 2013

Learning To Be A Learner

This term we have embarked on an exciting journey in maths where our focus is on problem solving. This involves children learning to behave as mathematicians. They are taught to communicate their processes, justify their thinking, challenge and be challenged. The key competencies - managing self, communicating, relating to others, thinking and participating and contributing are all required to work in a more investigative mathematical model.

We decided that for teachers to get this up and running, and to allow those with key competencies to learn and adopt these mathematical behaviours, we would regroup in term two. We decided to stream our large learning groups around key competency levels primarily, and then ability.

The idea is that just as you ‘Learn to read” then “Read to learn”, children “Learn to be learners” then “Behave as a learner in order to learn”. These behaviours need to be taught more explicitly to some children, and may take longer to develop. This has become my challenge!

I have the lower children, who on the whole are the lower ability children. The other two teachers have the top streams. While the other two teachers run an adaptive,  problem solving approach in maths time, I have a far more structured programme. Rotations for seeing the teacher are frequent, tasks and follow ups are shorter, and times for taking part in different activities are managed. This doesn’t mean we don’t look at problems, we do. However these are teacher led in smaller groups, where the strategies and behaviours an be modeled and intensively scaffolded

We are learning to put pencils and maths books in our tote tray so they can be found the following day. We go around the group one at a time to share our ideas and have “How I behave” posters for working with the teacher, practising online maths, sharing our learning on ipads and completing follow up activities. What it looks like, sounds like and feels like is explicitly shown, discussed and reflected on.

 I continue to follow the cycle of Learn Create Share. Children are sharing and reflecting on their learning frequently, and posting these on their blogs.  They continue to thrive on having an audience and having their learning recognised.

This is going well. The higher groups are flying (both the teachers and the children) as they work in a more flexible programme. In my programme so far there is less flexibility. The challenge is to make sure that these children who most struggle with being a learner, aren’t  deprived of the very choice to opt into alternatives, that they most want. I am hopefully just providing more productive choices!

24 May 2013

Streaming For Key Competencies

As with any class of children there is a wide range of abilities. Our large open learning space is no exception. Initially the three teachers were responsible for a fairly mixed learning group in both Literacy and Numeracy. These were then grouped again into manageable guided teaching groups, mainly for ability. As in most New Zealand primary schools these small groups were rotated through times with the teacher, and the learning was targeted to their needs.

This meant that in one class there were groups of children thriving on an independent, and flexible programme, allowing them choice, challenge and ubiquity. This is one of the reasons we set up a flexible learning space in the first place. In the same class there were children who needed structure around times, consistent routines and more guidance in managing themselves, their belongings, their feelings, their interactions with others, their focus .....

Running a class programme catering for both, is what New Zealand teachers do every day. We are lucky though, we have the ability to group these learning needs while still taking advantage of the modeling and interactions being in a mixed group provides.

Regrouping all the children again this term wasn’t done lightly. Children and parents were just getting used to having different teachers for their home class, literacy group and numeracy group. The mind shift took some explaining at parent teacher interviews in February. Obviously some children adopted this more quickly and easily that others.

So to change these around after only three months ,was done tentatively. We regrouped to cater for the fact that some children thrived on flexibility, cooperative learning, choice and ubiquity, while others still needed set structures and consistent teaching to develop these learning behaviours.

Looking back this was probably the way we should have started the year. Children come in to a new class with a lot of information, not only about their academic level, but also more importantly to us, their ability to manage themselves, their learning and to relate to others. At the beginning of next year we are likely to stream around this type of ability. This allow for different types of programmes to cater for different needs.

12 April 2013

It Takes a Village

One of the unexpected advantages of our year 5 and 6 open learning space is the wrap around pastoral and learning support the students are getting from having 3 teachers. Yes there are more students, so it’s not as if there are more teachers per child, but there are more teachers overseeing each child.

It feels a bit like a village with 3 three elders leading and taking care of the students. Some students might be with one teacher for literacy, one for maths and another for their home class, but even if they are only in learning groups with two or even one teacher, we do see all of the students in the space as our responsibility. We know them all well by now, and between us are able to provide different strengths, interests and ‘eyes’.

This has worked really well in situations where there have been behavioural or learning issues. Three adults monitoring, problem solving, backing up or helping, has been able to provide more support for that child than one teacher on his or her own could provide. From the child’s point of view this could this really could bring truth to the saying that ‘teachers have eyes in the back of their heads’ - there is no escaping!!

7 April 2013

How do we minimise the impact of extra learning opportunities in an open plan learning space?

Eight weeks in and the learning space is finally running to more of a routine. What a long set up!
The ‘chaos’ was due to several factors:

1. We chose to do a 2 week swimming rotation in weeks 2 and 3 so that it was before camp and swimming sports, and fitted around testing and the end of term Fiafia preparation.   A class group at a time was to roll through different time slots to the pool daily,. This, like all ‘class’ opportunities provided us with a headache. Our learning groups aren’t in ‘classes’ so to take a home class would mean for that 3 hours a day of swimming no learning groups were complete.
To get round this we took our maths learning groups with the idea that when we weren’t at swimming (80 minutes from leaving school till return), the other maths groups could go ahead. This did help in terms of setting up our maths learning for the year, but routines were shot. There was no set maths times, children had to swap into other swimming sessions to allow for remedial classes, school ambassador or monitor jobs, performing arts sessions, sports coaching and sports days out. We didn’t ever end up with only our maths groups or all of our maths groups. 

2. Weeks 4 and 5 were testing week. A matter of only 3 asttle tests, and done in learning groups again (this time we chose literacy
groups), but not a matter of only 3 testing sessions. 
To make sure we are getting the most accurate picture we can from a ‘one point in time’ or snapshot assessment, we assign students to the most appropriate leveled test. Then depending on how well they do they may need to re-sit at a higher or lower level with more elements within their range of achievement level. For about 50% of our students this meant at least one other tests.
Then due to absences, remedial classes, school roles, and sports days there were many catch up sessions to ensure all students were tested.

3. Week 5 and 6 were then preparing and going on School Camp. Another interruption to setting up our open learning space.

These extra activities are an important part of schooling and something I think Pt England does well, as do New Zealand Schools in general. We provide learning opportunities outside of the classroom and extra curricular activities to cater for different strengths and interests. The tricky thing is to get a balance of these so that the learning is enhanced but not replaced.  However the impact of ‘interruptions’ in an open learning space has so much more impact just because of the number of children, groups and teachers involved.

We have always had a thorough testing regime, many clubs, groups, remedial groups and sports to add value to our teaching and learning but the management of this in a single cell class is a little easier. It is easier to keep track of who is where, and who has done what when you have only one group of 32 children. When this crosses 3 groups or 32 for each teacher it can get messy - for both teacher and student.

How do we minimise the impact of extra learning opportunities in an open plan learning space?

19 March 2013

Different Learning - Different Spaces

As part of The Manaiakalani Programme an  Innovative Teacher Accademy has been set up. This is to provide an opportunity for  teachers to form a network for support and mentoring as we follow areas of interest an innovation that we want to investigate further. I submitted my plan for an innovative project for 2013 and was lucky enough to be accepted. This was my proposal:

"Open classrooms were a fad in the 70s which didn’t survive, but here we are looking at this again in our planning for a new learning space to be built for the Yr5/6 students at Pt England School.

Based on the fact that we teach digital learners differently, and these students learn differently, the traditional single cell class space has more and more constraints. A new pedagogy is driving a new learning type of learning space.

These things are proven to make a difference in our schooling improvement journey:
*Group teaching, needs specific explicit teaching
*Relationship with teacher
*Digital engagement
*Personal voice

But these things are becoming increasingly apparent:
*Digital learners are connected to each other, the teacher and those outside of their classroom or community online. For Anywhere learners space becomes less relevant.
Teachers don’t have to be physically close to students to be able to give them feedback, keep them motivated or help them out. Furthermore the ‘teaching’ is done by more than the class teacher.
*Learning Anytime - defined curriculum/subject times blurred. Learning times no longer restricted and the pace in which students learn can be differentiated
*Personal voice, personal device, personal learning. Seating, style of learning, area, collaboration, choice, tasks... flexible
*Creators and creative - spaces for this

Flexibility to allow for digital learner pushing us into a different pedagogy and a different kind of space.

Changing practice for 21st Century learners is harder than changing technology or space, but new spaces and tools can inspire teachers and learners to change their practice.
( NLII Fall Focus Session, Learning Space Design in the 21st Century,)

I want to:

1. Investigate what an effective learning space that allows for any place, any space and any pace learning looks like.
2. Develop classroom organisation for our digital learning pedagogy.