My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Falling in love again...

I think I've gone and done it again, I have fallen in love with PEEL, although it's probably more honest say falling more in love with PEEL.
The reason is simple, the alignment of their good learning behaviours and Graham Nuthalls research. 
1. Checks personal comprehension for instruction and material.  Requests further information if needed.  Tells the teacher what they don't understand.
The idea here is, linked to his idea that teachers can not tell if students are learning or not from the wherewithal of classroom activity, this is a call for students to be OK with not knowing, and to share this with the teacher. Thereby granting us access to the third world of students private world.
2.  Seeks reasons for aspects of the work at hand.
This is a classic strategy to find out how and where to connect the ideas being learned to bigger questions or problems. This is Nuthalls third premise of effective activities being built around big questions. 
3.  Plans a general strategy before starting.
and this is Nuthalls fourth premise that effective activities are managed by the students themselves.
4.  Anticipates and predicts possible outcomes.
Two systems operate simultaneously when learning. One is the working memory the other is a reasoning system inferring and deducing information. It's why learning can happen even if students have only been exposed to the full set of information about a "concept" a couple of time, but have had partial a couple of times too. Check out page 126 of Hidden Lives. 
5.  Checks teacher's work for errors; offers corrections.
Is this the epitome of students managing their own activities? 
6. Offers or seeks links between
     - different activities and ideas
     - different topics or subjects

     - schoolwork and personal life
Nuthall talks at length about the schema formed in the long term memory, and how these are intertwined with "how" we know it. This is often a good start point to begin to tackle alternative (mis) conceptions. 
7.  Searches for weaknesses in their own understandings; checks the consistency of their explanations across different situations.
For learning to happen students must meet the information in different guises and contexts. Again, I feel this useful in undermining alternative conceptions ( I have been corrected both times I have met Ian Mitchell from PEEL, who deeply understands that these errors in understanding may well be rooted in observation and logic),which can be challenged by developing students' skills in a variety of contexts, e.g. using questions during fieldwork and practical demonstrations.( from Jane Dove) 
8. Suggests new activities and alternative procedures.
Ditto, fourth premise. Indeed this is a category used in the research, as students manipulate the task presented to them by teachers. 
9.  Challenges the text or an answer the teacher sanctions as correct.
Ditto, students managing their activities. 
10. Offers ideas, new insights and alternative explanations.
11.  Justifies opinions.
12.  Reacts and refers to other students  comments. 
The final three all tie in with the first premise that social relationships determine learning. Nuthall, does indeed highlight many of the detrimental aspects of social relationship and offers this. "Some teachers have overcome this, by developing powerful learning communities". If the interactions of my students were peppered with these three behaviours I'd really think I was onto something...

I am not on  commission with PEEL, although I should be.  You can find them here www.peelweb.org it is a bargin to subscribe and gain access to the 1500 articles and ideas on offer.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Two Types of complimentary pre-assessment.


Broad PA (eg a multiple choice pre exam)
Specific PA (eg a hinge question or task.
Time period effective
Long Term
Short Term
Number of Learning Intentions examined
Well before a module is designed
End of a lesson in time for next lesson
module design
lesson planning
direction of a lesson
Quality of information
Yes or No or maybe information on learning intentions
detailed information on student ideas of specific concepts- narrow and deep
ease of Demonstrating “progress”
difficult - need to be  subject specialist to spot
Ease of demonstrating learning
Don't make me laugh
yes we are getting there
Ability to identify misconceptions
not really, although debatable if its useful for the students
Ability to reveal how students use knowledge
Who is this really for
Teacher and the System
Students and Teachers
Number of times each “concept” is tested
More than once
May be a single antecedent
will look like
A mess of ideas
Ease of interpretation
More than likely requires PCK
Useful as an interim check
Useful for “observers of your lessons”`
Who cares, the observer must be more skilled.
Who cares, the observer must be more skilled.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Cultures of Quality

We’ve all seen those wonderful adverts from one of the unscrupulous banks that are designed to make us think that the bank understands humans. They feature Japanese business men falling asleep on the shoulders of New Yorkers,  much to their alarm and a lambasting French drivers removing their cars from too small space betwixt two pristinely kept and parked German “Autos” . Amusing as these are, they do remind us that we are all rooted in a pervading cultures, and that these cultures are local and on a human level. If their advertising has any sense of truth,  then it is sensible and natural to  allow the culture to influence and guide how we operate.  Our schools should do the same.

On a recent trip to Portland, Maine to visit two Expeditionary Learning schools, I was fortunate enough to be confronted by one such culture.  Hungry, I walked into a diner, specialising in Seafood and not least lobster. Portland is a lobster town. The fishing fleet there has never been conglomerated, the licences and boats are still family owned,  it is what they do. Sitting down, I noticed a ring-bound and laminated book upon the table.  The book was about the science of lobsters; their lifecycle, their anatomy etc.  The book, written by third grade students from a local elementary school, clearly grasped the right sense of culture.  Students were learning science and literacy through their community’s culture.

Ron Berger argues that "The only way to understand a school culture is to understand what students experience in being part of it". These students and their families “do lobster” so using this educationally  is rudimentary in connecting them to their town and its cultures and adds a potent relevance to engage the students in what they are learning.

The Culture of Quality that Berger  so eloquently writes about is an all-encompassing one, that can be found "in all domains......[and has ] standards for kindness, integrity, industriousness and responsibility."  These standards do not just apply to the classroom but to the hallways, the dining hall and the community. They are for every student and member of staff.  So what might cultures that obsess about quality have in common?

“Self esteem from accomplishment, not compliments” Berger

Firstly, the people in these cultures have a great sense of pride in what they do.  Therefore students need to routinely experience of success. David Grant of Expeditionary Learning states that building a culture of student engaged assessment is best started by a school adopting methods that celebrate success. This gives students positive, emotive experiences that allow them to show what they know and what they can do. They can be passionate about learning.  Exhibition of project work is the perfect vehicle for this. As the exhibition progresses it becomes less about the product the students have made and more about the students themselves and their sense of achievement.  This feeling and the confidence or esteem it brings can have long lasting motivational effects, with students wanting to recreate that feeling, with everything they do.

The power of the (school) culture rests in community.”School culture must extend beyond the school walls.” Berger

The second factor is the involvement of the community. This is what I experienced in Portland. Through the involvement of experts, community members and from a strong sense of classroom community students engage in education, produce work of note and achieve highly.  Involvement of the community provides opportunities for the students to be purposefully challenged in authentic local issues, matters that are of their and their families concern. Whether it is raising awareness of the impact of poor diets here in the North East or if it is Ron Bergers students surveying Radon levels in their town,  the students and school can act on behalf of and with their community.  These projects not only have a very interested audience, providing motivation, moreover, they provide the context for learning content and developing your maths and literacy skills. It all has significance, it all matters. Which leads us nicely to the third commonality of cultures of quality.

This is the process that adult professionals go through (when designing), they go through a lot of drafts, get lots of critiques and its public.” Berger

Thirdly, cultures of quality also work hard at getting things right. They sweat the small stuff and are always open to feedback. Critique and drafting are central tenets to success.  Purposeful practice and rehearsals combine with thoughtful reflection to ensure quality is achieved. Fortunately students see the benefits to this way of working instantly, but require a safe and supportive environment so that risks can be taken and criticism is seen as helpful. The classroom norms of hard on content, soft on people, and being kind, specific and helpful are fundamental in establishing the right environment, that can then affect the attitudes and beliefs students hold about learning.
Imagine a school in which to be cool, to fit in and be regarded as popular, you have to do quality work and treat others well.” Berger

Finally, cultures of quality know that the individuals in the culture are important. They spend time defining and developing the desirable character; dedication, resilience, hardworking and courage for example.  As individuals we all operate as part of a team, and our individual success is inextricably connected to the success of our teams. The expeditionary learning edict of “Everyone-every teacher and every student,regardless of beginning levels of preparedness-must work together as a team to get to the top of the mountain.” is not only a goal but an essential operational condition for their success.

The relevance of these elements of culture to schools is beautifully summed up in this quote from Warren Simmons (taken from the preface to Ron Bergers book “A Culture of Quality”.)

"There is a common perception that today's schools are in crisis. People are grasping for solutions- longer days, new management structures, alternative assessments, and fresh curriculum, even a return to curriculum from the past. Though I support many of the initiatives being proposed, I think there is a real danger in assuming there is any quick fix or single strategy that will " save schools." It is in this context as Simmons puts it " it is worth [considering] improving quality of practise in individual classrooms by creating a culture of quality in the entire school."

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Some ponderings from Maine

The philosophy of “It is not enough to get yourself to the top of the mountain, we must strive to get everyone in the crew there” should be a tenet central to any education institution. Communities of practice should be established for teachers, to have the opportunity to
1. Use time to meet the needs of student learning.
2. Plan specific activities for specific groups of students, This is not the same as setting
3. Utilize subject expertise in different subject areas.
4. Have a shared understanding of the individual students strengths, weaknesses and next steps.
5. Own the learning taking place, exerting some choice over the how and the what is learned.
The schools role is to establish the operational conditions to allow this.

Communities of practices should be established for students to have the opportunity to
1. Support one another.
2. Build aspiration.
3. Learning from each other.
4. Develop a sense of identity, community, and be part of something.
5. Share a direction or purpose.
6. Develop student literacy by placing the word rich and the word poor together.

These communities should be both academic and character building.
The teachers role is to establish the operational conditions to allow this to happen.

There should be opportunities to develop and maintain each community as well as develop the character and the skills of the individuals within. Time spent working on the community pays dividends in the long run, as this can normalise academic success, provides a supportive network of people all working towards the same goal.

To share goals effectively the use of rubrics and standards should be aligned with every activity and every task. Students must have multiple opportunities to be able to demonstrate learning. Assessment should be focussed on the most important aspects of a subject whether this is
1. A concept that will lead to further learning.
2. A concept that we know to be difficult.
3. A concept that is inherently interesting.
4. Separate Academic and Character Assessment, while be able to be used to show how Character affects the academic.

(A concept could be a fact, an understanding, or a subject/discipline  specific skill)

Students should be in the habit of collecting work as evidence of current understanding, so that they know where they are in concrete and manageable ways. Supporting materials and time should be available linked to all learning targets, in order that students can decide what they need to do next in a scaffolded and logical way. This should help develop independence in the individuals before any school remedial work is required.
Making key statements of learning intentions public will change the dialogue between teachers,parents and students to a much more concrete one. Traditional examinations could also provide long term assessment of learning (over performance) and also help develop individual exam technique. Progress within topics could be shown using  simple pre and post tests. This data could be used by students and teachers to reflect and determine next steps

To prevent this approach from reducing the curriculum to the assessed points. Learning should be presented connected to bigger questions or problems. This should sometimes be within subjects and sometimes go beyond it. Long term goals and short term goals should be used to show how knowledge and ideas fit together. Time spent placing knowledge into context also  helps with this and furthermore it may provide motivation, in the form of a reason, to learn.

The content of the curriculum should serve future public examinations, the development of  an understanding of how our world works and allow students to work out who they are and what they would like to do with their future selves, and ways of getting there.

The curriculum should sometimes aim to be broad and sometimes be allowed to go deeper into key topics. The deeper parts of the curriculum could allow students to make public their work and understanding to a wider and more expert audience.  This should happen at least twice in an academic year. This should be a celebration of student learning and success. This culminating event should demonstrate for all the competence achieved in all content areas, in the skills developed, the process of completing such important work and the implications that this work has beyond the classroom. These should be timed between year groups so that other students get to see the work of others,and consistently share the ethos of the institution.

A biannual opportunity to reflect on both positives and negatives should also be undertaken, and be focused on next steps and based upon the evidence at hand. The evidence and the process should help make the student well to teachers and what the students need to do for students and their families.

Teachers need to have professional development that ensures that the conversations we have with students and with peers are positive, solution focused and develops student independence and thinking. Teachers need to work in ways that allows us to become role models of learning and being a community member for our students. Teams of teachers should design and develop lessons, projects and activities that allow the students to develop successful work habits and perform handsomely academically. By getting better at sharing the how and the why  we increase the likelihood that students will follow  us on these journeys.