Thursday, January 19, 2017

Modern Learning Environment or Modern Learning Pedagogy?

St Joseph's Oamaru - start of 2017

Bearing in mind the extensive feedback gathered last term from parents and students we have promised that we will:

1. Provide every child will have a desk / workspace of their own and the children won't be out working in the corridors or sitting on the staircase.
2. Technology-use will be limited and purposeful.
3. We will have strong structures for learning

1. Every child has a workspace
It is not MLE that makes a difference it is MLP (pedagogy).   For a good example of MLP have a look at this blog post:   The underlying pedagogy behind this is the same pedagogy that our systems were built on which is nothing to do with chairs and desks but with ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING.  The key text for this is Michael Absolom's book, "Clarity in the Classroom" which we have at school and which I encourage everyone to read.  For teachers who were around between 2005-10, pd in this was provided through the three year MoE AToL (Assessment to Learn) contract which was the most powerful pd I have taken part in. This sort of pedagogy is the basis for our practice at St Joseph's it can happen and has happened in our school and the classroom described in the blogpost above has happened here. This was the model that we hoped to spread through all classrooms/hubs at the start of 2015.  So we should not be putting any energy into "desks or no desks," "corridor or no corridor" - its irrelevant - we should be putting our energy into assessment for learning.

The reason for limiting the desk-type classroom furniture in the first place was to get the children to think about what they needed for different types of learning, and their own style e.g. have space to have a round table for group discussion, space for single quiet work areas, beanbags for relaxed reading, floor space to make a whole class circle, or dance as required.

Our energy is much better focused if we are teaching children to use learning progressions, manage their next steps, evidence their learning and develop agency.  An example of this is self-timetabling which needs needs to be purposeful and can only be done if the children have a really good grasp of learning to learn strategies.  Skipping that stage leads to chaos.

The rooms will be fuller if each child has to have a desk/table-space to sit at.  But then we have to teach the children to vary their space, move the desks effectively, rearrange the room for different learning needs at different times and be flexible.

When you're planning your hubs remember the MAIN INTENTION for having collaborative learning was so that one teacher could focus on the direct teaching of curriculum skills and knowledge and one could focus on the learning to learn aspect - being a mentor/coach to help children evidence their learning and supporting them to co-construct what going deeper looks like and help them achieve it (in our school scaffolded by SOLO).  That was the one thing that would add such huge value to our system that it was worth going out on a limb for.  

We can still focus on that, the chairs and desks or class layouts make no difference, you are grouped in teaching pairs and finding ways that can work for you and your children so that at least one teacher can be explicitly teaching key competency development and learning to learn strategies, on the coalface, as needed - that's the main goal.  Its also our focus for 2017 so if you're not sure what this really means now I hope you'll feel more comfortable to develop it as the year goes on.  It can be done in a single-cell class as our intermediate department will prove and if it works better that way sobeit.  But let's try and explore what collaborative teaching teams can add to this.

The corridors and stairwells are through-traffic areas and not designed to be effective learning areas.  The standing leaners can be used as intended but within reason.  Of course the corridors are still good places to practice plays or role plays where children need to be noisier and away from the class group.

2.  Technology-use was always intended to be limited and purposeful.  I think most of the time it is.  Some points to consider:

For what I think is sufficient technology-use in a classroom focused on assessment for learning, I analysed all the different activities in my class over several weeks and this is the time breakdown.  Also see "A Day in the Life of a BYOD classroom" tab above to see how little technology was actually used.

Children do need to learn to do effective searches on the Internet but they are not expected to be able to evaluate bias and compare texts fully until level 4 so they don't have to have free Internet-access until level 4.  They do need scaffolded access before this to build up the skill.  They have to learn to do effective note-taking etc.  When they're ready to practice finding and comparing texts for usefulness, to avoid getting side-tracked they need a time limit - e.g. 30 minutes - to find the notes they need to address the question.   If it takes a lot longer than this or they need to troll through the Internet for two hours, they haven't got the skills and need to step back and have more direct skill-teaching before they can do this. Prior to level 4, the skimming, scanning, note-taking skills can be done on a teacher-given text or two or three texts for comparison and they don't need to be able to find these themselves.  Similarly with presentation - if they are going to use Google slides for presentation, make sure everything is already planned and prepared and limit it.  With an open timeframe a lot of time can be spent choosing pre-made colour schemes and slide transitions - which is not adding to learning.

Of course there are really useful apps that you can use prior to this stage of literacy development.  For the early years, BookCreator, an ipad app, is an example of a good use of the class ipad for creating multimedia books which can be published to Itunes.  An app like Aurasma can add a virtual reality element when students present their work.  For those things we need to think not in terms of gimmick but what does it add to learning?  If a child can present a piece of learning with the potential of a virtual reality movie added where they explain their learning intention and how this work meets the learning intention and provides evidence of them being a Level 2 writer - then its a worthwhile use of technology.  

The ipads can help students to record and evidence learning through Seesaw, or Explain everything or Educreations.  If it helps us with our primary goal of deepening assessment learning practice and student agency, then its a good use.  Help them be creators using Tinkercad or Scratch or teach them how to make and program a robot.  We don't have to be experts ourselves but its all out there to investigate and bring in and we're all capable of it.  I don't know how to make or program a robot but I've promised myself by the end of this year I will.    
Remember how addictive the technology is for our children and how they seem to slump into lowest common denominator, semi-comatose symbiosis with their devices.  We can't solve that by putting the devices away and never touching them again - we won't be preparing the children for the world of 2001 (that's not a typo) if we do that.  We have to teach them to be masters of their destiny.  If we are going to let them touch this technology, it has to be for a higher purpose with complex and creative problems to solve. OK I know they need to practice things in order to get mastery and technology can be good for that too but let's not kid ourselves we're using technology effectively if that's all we're doing.  I managed to learn my times tables and how to spell (up to a point) without it and so did you.  So let's add value.

Our focus moving for 2017-19 is developing how we can use technology to TRANSFORM learning, for children to be CREATORS not consumers of technology.  

3.  Strong structures for learning:
The teachers are still the adult in the mix.  We set the tone, we model the behaviour, respect, courtesy and gratitude expectations we wish our students to show.  If the room or corridor is messy or excessively loud, we are responsible for that.  Yes, its the children's job to speak at a reasonable volume, stay on task and clear up after themselves but we are responsible for making that happen.

Our children need to clearly know what is expected in class and around the school and have that consistently and fairly enforced.  We want them to become self-managing and do the right thing but that needs to be structured for them.  The best way to hand it over to them is to be explicit about your teaching practice, explain why you're doing things a certain way and coach them to take more and more responsibility for that.  A simple example is a teacher saying, "Johnnie you're talking to Freddie please move yourself to the front next to me."  The progression from that would be, "Johnnie I can see you're having trouble concentrating, is there a better place you could sit?"  Even better is the conversation with Johnnie that helps him understand the things that distract him so he takes pre-emptive action himself.  But that won't just happen without your help, because Freddie is actually really funny so there's not much incentive unless Johnnie has some help.  So what's the incentive for Johnnie?  His learning.  But only if he owns it.

In classrooms where there is a strong and embedded "Learning to learn" focus based on assessment for learning there is no behaviour to manage, no incentive schemes, and no consequences needed - no matter what the mix of children or potential for disorder.