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.