Learning Centred Classroom

As a part of my lecture this week, I encountered the notion of a learning-centred classroom. This differs from current educational language which talks about shifting from a teacher -centred classroom to a student/learner-centred classroom. Well what about changing the language to a learning centred classroom?

It is a subtle shift in language, yet quite powerful.

A learning-centred classroom seems like a ‘well, isn’t that what the point of education is?’ kind of thought. Yet in a time of cramped curricula, ‘good’ educational opportunities and high accountability, it is all too easy for learning to take a back bench to curricula coverage, getting through the list, achieving results and ‘teaching’.

Well as we all know, teaching does not necessarily equal learning (nor does it necessarily preclude it). Results can be achieved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean learning has occurred. Students can look engaged but again, this doesn’t mean learning has happened.

So what prompted this thinking? I know you have been dying to ask. As usual, this does not come from me. I have included below an extract from a useful website which addresses this topic. The site can be accessed via this link: Link Alert!

“Many of the ways we have of talking about learning and education are based on the assumption that learning is something that individuals do. Furthermore, we often assume that learning ‘has a beginning and an end; that it is best separated from the rest of our activities; and that it is the result of teaching’ (Wenger 1998: 3). But how would things look if we took a different track? Supposing learning is social and comes largely from of our experience of participating in daily life? It was this thought that formed the basis of a significant rethinking of learning theory in the late 1980s and early 1990s by two researchers from very different disciplines – Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. Their model of situated learning proposed that learning involved a process of engagement in a ‘community of practice’.”

As I look back I can see myself as a practitioner who has had both a teacher-centred and then learner-centred classroom. I have certainly tried to promote learning (achieving both success and failure). But, can I definitively say I have had a ‘learning’ centred classroom? Can you?

I’m signing off now to do some more reading. Enjoy!

“I’ve got nothing to write about!” Turning thoughts into text

Over the years I have repeated met the ‘I’ve got nothing to write about’ kid, the ‘stare at your page for the whole writing session’ and the ‘start crying because my page is still blank and it’s nearly playtime’ kid. It has been with some frustration that I have carefully scaffolded the child’s writing, provided a variety of prompts, guided the child through a plan and conversation only to leave their side and come back to find a page that has nothing more on it than when I left. I have also tried taking away part of their playtime where I thought it was mucking about (often with the same result) and even once having a student record their ideas using an iPad then transcribing it.

The children in this scenario are not necessarily mucking about, developmentally delayed in an way shape or form and sometimes are fluent writers of dictated text. They have ranged in age from five to 14 years of age. So I am seeking to understand why this is happening.

I am still working my way through a variety of articles for my assignment on this topic, and will provide more detail at a later point in time. So far I have found four common themes in my reading which impact on these; Continue reading

The rise of racism

“Can we learn something from the past that helps us see more in the present?” asks Timothy Snyder, right, onstage with historian Rick Perlstein, during TED Dialogues, February 23, 2017, at TED’s offices in New York. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED Timothy Snyder grew up in America, but as a historian of 20th-century Europe at…

via Step away from the internet, and other ways to fight tyranny: A conversation with Timothy Snyder and Rick Perlstein — TED Blog

Female educators to follow – a small way to take action for equality?

A few weeks ago, I helped to prepare a document for my school. The document had lots of photos of children. As part of the final proof, the principal went back and counted up the children appearing to check for gender diversity. It was a small action but something that communicated a bigger idea – equality […]

via #internationalwomensday – instead of platitudes take action — Teaching the Teacher

Fake news and the need for critical thinking

This is not a political article, but a look at critical thinking. I recently popped online and caught up on some American news, watched a couple of news based comedy shows then watched the original press conferences they had referred to. I looked up President Trump’s twitter feed and had a look just to check out the original source, not because I distrust my news sources, but because I am aware that an ideology sits behind everything impacts reporting. Later I opened up my Pinterest account and in my feed sat an article entitled ‘fake news’. It was an example of a contextual teaching unit on critical evaluation of sources.

Politics is what it is, and I absolutely believe that critical thinking is a must, as long it is critical thinking which includes consideration of the position you are based on.

What an opportunity though, for in the moment critical thinking. Is it fake news? Is it true? Is it somewhere on the spectrum in between? How does it represent, position, silence or give voice to people? The minute we stop questioning is the moment we have a problem.

But aside from taking lessons in critical thinking (please in context, not in isolation) what do we as educators or people in general teach about critical thinking? In a high stakes education system, are we privileging compliance at the expense of thinking and questioning? If all we do is provide minimal opportunities for deep questioning, or model questioning of surface knowledge in the name of time are we not teaching students to soak up the message given by authorities without question? Is this not being consistently reinforced through the hidden curriculum?

I do not advocate for there to be no order, compliance at the expense of order and management. There is a degree of this necessary for a functioning society and classroom. But is there room within this structure for kids to ask why or disagree with you? One way I manage this is by teaching kids when to come to me because they feel they have been dealt with unjustly. Never try it when I am speaking to a large group. Come up to me after and we will discuss it then, I will apologise if I was wrong or explain as appropriate. If a new rule must be instituted without consultation, explain why it is being instituted. Allow them to question it respectfully, and if they don’t know how too do that teach them. Model it in your interactions with them. Use think alouds give children opportunities to question why j they are doing a task and get them to offer alternate suggestions if they find it boring. Sometimes things are the way they are and that’s fine, but these small changes can be the start of critical thinking without changing your planned curriculum.this is something that cannot be learnt through a book, but needs practice and modelling.

How can we expect critical thinking when so many of our actions shut it down? Critical thinking and questioning can be disruptive but does not need to be disruptive in the way handing out energy drinks to children and expecting to sit still and quietly once they had been drunken. If we can’t expect children to learn to critically question society, should we be surprised when they take news commentaries and Facebook news as unquestioned truth?

Engaging with families

This week semester one at university began. I am doing a paper based around engaging with families. One reading I had to do was the BES (best evidence synthesis) on the complex nature of influences on achievement from community and families. It was a long read, but worthwhile. If you don’t have the time to read the whole thing (I just skim read most of it) it is worth looking at the summaries of influences right at the beginning (a couple of pages long) and the table 8.1: ‘Synopsis of conclusions from evidence about what major influences and their degree of impact on children’s achievement.’

The paper highlighted the challenges of separating out what factors caused what, Continue reading

Barbara Brann: Building blocks for literacy – a year on

A year ago our school implemented Barbara Brann’s framework – building blocks for literacy – which looks at identifying and addressing the skills necessary to be ‘curriculum ready’. This means that a student is ready to take advantage of the school curriculum, and has the skills necessary for this. Any gaps that existed prior to the programme have been addressed, similar to plugging the holes in a bucket before trying to fill it with water. 

Toys used as writing prompts, sorting prompts, oral language prompts, science prompts, play prompts…

This framework was started in its entirety by a very talented teacher at my school, after some PLD was provided to myself and her courtesy of the RTLB (resource teacher of learning and behaviour) service. I incorporated aspects of the programme with the older children I mainly focussed on, and tried to implement it later on in the year when I shifted to working with younger students. 

Now, a year later, the framework is still in use, although less intensively than it was a year ago. It has been incorporated far more naturally into our daily programme, with key aspects still being applied. 

  • Blocks for teaching spelling
  • Blocks/counters to help young students hold a sentence in their head as they write it
  • Blocks/counters to help students visualise a target number of sentences for writing
  • Casey Caterpillar – teach letter shapes and the order they go in to turn into letters – when kids are ready
  • Casey Caterpillar – Use a means of teaching skills such as differentiation and patterning 
  • Have physical objects handing as prompts for writing (and let the children handle them as they talk and write)
  • Develop fine motor skills and oral language – these are essential to success in writing
  • Explicitly teach oral sentence structure and questioning techniques – in a practical context
  • Shore up the foundation before adding to the building
  • Look at the stage not the age

Has it been successful?

This depends on your view of success. In terms of academic achievement gains it has a two year span, so the jury is still out. It has definitely not harmed/limited the students’ learning. In terms of teacher gains, it has been an outstanding professional development tool which has vastly improved my understanding of how students develop their literacy and what potential blocks or ‘holes’ are preventing their learning for moving forward. From that view alone, the training is worth goin through. 

Am I convinced? 

The jury is still out on that one too. The framework is absolutely valuable and worthwhile. I would be interested to see the results further down the track. 

I think adopting the framework in its entirety is outside my current headspace of working with year 0-3 students (pre-k to 2). In a situation where students were of a closer age/stage I can see myself implementing this in more detail. However halfway through last year we introduced play-based learning, which I believe complements this framework and has provided a means of covering the framework more authentically than previously. 

The Casey Caterpillar leaves me with no doubt whatsoever of it’s benefit. I wouldn’t want to teach it any other way (unless it was a rose by any other name).

I hope that this has been of some help to you if you are interested in building blocks. Even getting the giant chart which identifies all of the skills would potentially be helpful as a PLD tool.