Friday, 7 August 2015

Reflections on Round 1 - Natasha

My reflections on my experiences at AoN may take a slightly different angle than Kelly and Clare’s, as from next Term I will no longer be going out of my classroom to The River of Life Centre. I will continue my learning back at school with what we have termed the 'AoN satellite class'. On a Friday, I will co-teach with another Year 4 teacher back at my home school, with students exploring a passion, whilst developing the skills of active learning. We see this as a wonderful opportunity to track the learning dispositions of students who have been to AoN (of whom I have 3 in my class) over a longer period of time. I will continue to post my reflections on this blog and will continue to learn alongside Kelly, Clare and now Kerry. 

If I look back to my wonderings at the start of AoN, it really is exciting to see how much has happened in that space of time. Working in this environment allowed me to explore my thinking with the advantage of 2 other perspectives, provided by Kelly and Clare. I don't believe that without the collaborative planning, challenging of ideas and rigorous discussions I would have been at the place I am now at in terms of my thinking. Working in this collaborative way has proved to be a first class professional learning experience!

Now that I am ready to continue to take my learning back into my classroom, it seems like the ideal time to take stock of where I'm at...

At the start of AoN I had this wondering: 

What might teaching, planning and assessment look like if the Key Competencies were used as a starting point, rather than a by-product or an add on to other learning intentions? What if the Key Competencies were the main road instead of a side street? The Key Competencies go across all learning areas but what does this look like in practice?

Exploring this wondering through the lens of active learning, rather than Key 
Competencies was not a problem as there was lots of overlap. In terms of teaching and planning, much of our explicit teaching in the initial stages was around the six active learning traits. Kelly, Clare and I spent a lot of time prior to starting with the students discussing and debating the active learner traits. After brainstorming, sorting, grouping and re-grouping we agreed on six traits. We agreed that active learners: question, choose, reflect, are resilient, know learning has a purpose and connect. From there we unpacked what each of these traits looked like in practice, which gave us our success criteria.

Once we had a clear understanding we were ready to design some explicit teaching around the traits with the students. Initially we spent some time helping them to understand what each of the traits looked like in practice. We then gave them some specific examples of what it would like if they were using displaying these traits. Following this, students came up with examples of where they were using or could be using the traits at home, at school or anywhere in their lives.

In the first few weeks of AoN we spent a lot of time discussing and modelling these traits to, with and by the students. Many of the learning opportunities were designed in a way that students could specifically focus on these traits. This meant that when students embarked on their passion projects they had a thorough understanding of the active learner traits and these were a pivotal part of all of our learning. The passion projects provided the context for students to continue to develop and apply their skills in active learning. This started me thinking about how at the start of the year we spend time focusing on Key Competencies with our class and then they take a back seat so that we can get on with the ‘real’ learning. At AoN, the active learner traits were the starting point and the students' passions provided the context. They were not an 'instead of', but an integral part of the learning.

What was it about the set up that enabled active learner traits to take centre stage?  
Firstly, all of us valued the active learner traits. We all believed that if students could be active in their learning this would make a difference to their engagement and in time, to achievement.
Secondly, in our Active Learner success criteria, we had developed a clear framework which we constantly referred to in our planning, discussions and evaluations.
Thirdly, our planning framework wasn’t structured by curriculum areas but by student need in terms of how they would learn about active learning and how to BE an active learner. The day was divided into a 4 parts; a session that was more teacher directed with explicit teaching around the traits; a session where students would use the traits to explore their passion; a session where students reflected on their learning using a given framework; and a session where students had chance to think about how they would use and continue their learning throughout the week. This of course doesn’t mean that structuring a day using curriculum areas is exclusive to teaching students about active learning. Guy Claxton’s split screen approach whereby learning intentions are twofold and students learn both ‘about’ (knowledge) and learn to (skill based) could be one framework for ensuring active learning traits are central even within a day structured around curriculum areas.

In terms of assessment we used a range of tools to gather information on how students were developing their skills around being an active learner: 

Learning maps - a visual tool whereby students drew what their learning environment looked like. 

Active learner self assessment


Information gathered from students and Whānau gave us a rich insight into how students were transferring their active learner skills in various contexts and what they had taken from the experience. 

Another wondering I had was: If the skills involved in being an active learner are explicitly taught and valued will this transfer in all contexts, i.e. from AoN to home and school. Are there instances where this is or is not the case and what are the key factors at play in these instances? 

There were many instances where skill transference was evident. This was shown in different evaluative tools including learning maps, self assessments and perhaps most powerfully in video clips of students and Whānau

There were some factors that we believe enhanced the transference of the active learner traits:
Attendance: In some cases, where students were absent for some of the sessions, they found it difficult to catch up. Given that AoN happened once a week, missing sessions meant that it could feel like they were away for a long period of time.
Consistency of approach in all places; at home, at their home school, at AoN: Where teachers were invested in AoN and the thinking behind teaching active learner skills; and alongside this parents were also using the language of active learning, we found a higher degree of transference.

In stepping into the unknown I had this wondering too: What are the benefits and challenges of working in a collaborative environment?

For me this was my first experience of teaching in the same space as two other teachers. In speaking to others who have co-taught, I know that it isn’t always as harmonious as what I am fortunate enough to have experienced and this got me thinking about why this was:

  • Kelly, Clare and I all have differences in terms of our personalities however our philosophies around teaching and learning are closely aligned.
  • Where there were disagreements: it was usually around how we were going to go about something rather than why. We always challenged the point and at no point the person.
  • We were open and honest about how we were feeling: in the set up stages of AoN we spoke about the importance of being open and honest and I feel that at all times we managed to do so.
  • Finally and possibly most importantly we really valued and respected each other's practice, thoughts and feelings. Also, we were all totally open to learning from each other.
Given the above reflections, do I believe co-teaching could work effectively where there are differences in teaching philosophies? I see it as a continuum. If there are points of difference I don’t believe that this would be counteractive and in fact may make for some great discussions which could ensure clarity of thinking. For me the bigger things would have to be aligned; those are around the importance of student agency, research driven and research influencing practice, and in terms of the co-teacher - a real openness to learning would be pivotal.   

The last term and a half has been an incredible learning experience. It has broadened my horizons in terms of who I can connect with and learn with. The opportunity to collaborate in designing learning opportunities with students where the skills of learning are explicitly taught, valued and assessed has been inspiring. I cannot wait to continue the learning and to see how we progress with our 'AoN satellite class' and 

1 comment:

  1. I M interested in the idea of Guy Claxton’s split screen approach where learning intentions are twofold and students learn both ‘about’ (knowledge) and learn 'to' (skill based). I also like the way AoN divides the day so there is some explicit teaching of the active learning traits, some practice of them through their passion project, and some reflection on what they have done, and some planning of how they will be an active learner in the next week. It helps the kids understand how/when they are being active learners. I will be very interested to read your blogs about how you transfer this exciting way of learning back into your own class.