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

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.

The learning revolution: an opinion piece

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 11.02.22 PM.png Among other things I have been rereading Ken Robinson’s & Lou Aronica’s book : Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education. As part of my course I have been reading this that and everything paradigm and research methods/methodology related (with a current focus on questionnaire design at present)with a of John Hattie’s meta analysis work and a few bits and pieces on literacy (and another fantastic book about killer bananas rising up for dessert…moving on quickly).

These, along with my wandering thoughts, have brought me back once again to the learning revolution. What constitutes a revolution? Is there one happening? Should there be?

The key word that pops up in literature is not revolution but transformation. John Dewey transformed our understanding of education by putting the child at the centre. Vygotsky transformed our thinking with the ZPD (zone of proximal development). Freire transformed thinking with the notion of the banking pedagogy: deposit, deposit, deposit. Literature surrounding digital technology use (write back to its birth) discuss how it will transform education. But where is the evidence of that transformation?

Yes, in New Zealand we teach in groups. There has been a shift to MLP (modern learning practice  e.g. team teaching in open plan classrooms). Learning is more individualised and child centred. We have newer, flasher whiteboards and computers – portability, wifi and indoor-outdoor flow. Amazing people break the boundaries of possibility with these tools. But is this consistent? Has education transformed or has it just been those pockets of individuals and teams? It has changed, but change is not transformation.

The ever reliable Google defines transformation essentially as a form of change. However when the word transformation is entered into a thesaurus, synonyms such as metamorphosis and transfiguration appear. This implies not just a shedding of a skin or donning a new top but a complete and irreversible change. And it is with this view in mind that I would argue that education has not transformed. Simply changing an appearance or the language is not enough when the core of education remains the same.* At the core of education is politics, economics and culture. Yet the rhetoric is that children are at the centre, that the people are at the centre.

 

*I am not referring to core subjects such as learning to read, write and do maths, rather the notion of what counts, or rather, is discounted. What kind of world would we live in if we could all read, write and do maths but could not manage ourselves, our behaviour, our impulses, our relationships or understand the consequences of your actions? These are extremes – it does not have to be one or the other. The trouble is it is almost presented as that dichotomy – this or that, and that the core subjects are the be all and end all. They aren’t. If they were, a child could have their entire learning programme presented by a computer with very intelligent, adaptive AI. But then we would be putting out machines not people and aren’t people the most important thing at the end of the day? How have we come to think that being good at literacy and numeracy is all that matters? I have heard the argument that that is what home is for – to teach those other things. And if that happens in your home fantastic! But what about all of those people who are not in a home where they have those are opportunities. Yes, some will survive and thrive despite their circumstances, but others won’t. Others will become yet another statistic, something which doesn’t seem so bad when its positive. The trouble is that people aren’t statistics.

 

 

Evidence…the new four letter word?

The current globo-political climate (in the West anyway) calls for evidence for what seems like everything. We need evidence for climate change, evidence for  new medical treatment, evidence of the best ways to raise children, evidence of the best ways to teach, evidence which proves that what you are doing works and even evidence to find a person guilty!

Evidence in of itself is not bad. Do I want to take a medicine that is not proven to be safe? Not particularly (although there may be times when it is necessary). Do I want to remove the requirement of evidence from the justice system or the education system? Absolutely not. Evidence has its place in many facets of life. I become frustrated when I feel required to find evidence for evidence’s sake or when there is no obvious point to it, now or in the envisioned future.

Denzin (2009, p.142) puts it quite well:

 “And evidence is nevermorally or ethically neutral. But, paraphrasing Morse, who quotes Larner (2004: 20), the politics and political economy of evidence is not a question of evidence or no evidence. It is rather a question of who has the power to control the definition of evidence, who defines the kinds of materials that count as evidence, who determines what methods best produce the best forms of evidence, whose criteria and standards are used to evaluate quality evidence?

It is amazing how much comes back to power – how much frustration powerlessness (perceived or real) causes.

Denzin’s article is written in the context of the qualitative v quantitative paradigm debate. Continue reading

Accelerating Literacy Learning

We are currently a part of the ALL PLD (advanced literacy learning professional learning development). This has helped to put the teacher as inquiry concept into a new light. Coupled with some university papers I am currently doing I am beginning to see it as having a purpose beyond another piece of paperwork to justify my practice. I am beginning to understand it as a means of interrogating practice with the ultimate goal of leading to social change. I have also come to see inquiry in loght of practitioner research. This is where a split is seen. Practitioner research as a means of interrogating practice and action research as practitioner research with a outcome of action which addresses social discrepancies.

Cave teacher

I am very aware that I am not currently discussing research. That is on my mind, and I will get back to that presently. 
Regardless – Cave teaching. 

I come to the end of my two weeks teaching in the cave. I have thoroughly enjoyed this. School activites are settling into a more normal routine as I am sure they are around the country. The students at my workplace are beginning to get a handle on the concept of coming to the cave for teaching in their groups.  Our wonderful, skilled teacher aide has been assigned four groups to take during whole class times (although I generally do the planning). 

Initially I walked away from most sessions considering my pedagogy a joke. I considered myself hauling students out, chasing them up to get them there and then rushing through a lesson so I could ‘tick the box’. Some sound advice from my team leader and team mate helped immensely. I began getting through less groups, well, and being extremely specific about the routine of coming out to see me.. As those routines have become more established I have felt less like a shepherd and more like a teacher. 

I have been using modelling books with the students. With all three of us taking turns in the cave as well as a teacher aide taking groups on alternate days, these are allowing communication between the teachers. Students are also able to take the modelling book through with them to the clearing/the glen to work with. As I have an apple TV in the cave I do most of the session sung the app Notability, printing it at the end of each day and sticking it into the modelling book. This allows me to capture evidence from our whiteboard table and mini whiteboards  rather thn getting students to squish around  scrapbook. 

 The planning itself is on a google doc (colour coded of course).
Larger groups can be taken for each subject, with a much higher quality lesson taking place. I am really thrilled. Additionally, as the cave teacher, there are less behaviour issues to deal with. Those are the domain of the other two teachers (generally) so groups can keep having their deliberate learning. 
I have found that I have to be constantly on the ball, but I have more thinking energy at the end of the day. I discovered that I still dislike worksheets considerably, but can see the value of them. 

All quiet on the writing front…almost

I sit here a very excited teacher. My writing lesson not only worked, but it worked well! I was thrilled with the quality of the writing produced.

What changed?

I used a planning template (Sheena Cameron & Louise Dempsey – The Writing Book), and spent a writing lesson teaching children how to fill these out. Shockingly, I then insisted that they use this planning the following day to do their writing. Finally I got them to peer-assess each other (although that’s another whole story  and lesson to be taught).

All of this is fairly basic pedagogy. I am excited because it has actually pulled together  – something I haven’t achieved in the past when teaching writing in this way.

I am continuing recount writing according to the model established by one of teachers in the team-teaching situation I work in. She of course did an awesome job, so it was really easy to pick up on and work with.

Yolanda Soryl follow up.

I was going to put up my notes from Yolanda Soryl‘s course, but they contain multiple pages of a workbook from the course that I photographed and annotated as part of my learning (un unavailable for purchase unless you do the course). I think that it would be a breach of copyright for me to put these up. Frankly I don’t want to risk it. The course was well worth attending, and would be again, in a year, once I have taught the material for a while.

One of the biggest benefits has been learning to teach phonics: strange, I know given I have worked with year two and threes for the past few years, but I was not teaching with any kind of systemic approach. That (the systemic approach) is one of the key things I have taken away from this programme. Yolanda Soryl seemed to have a ‘bang, bang, bang’ keep it moving approach.

Additionally I was teaching reading today (in the Cave – small group teaching room). I took the ‘bang bang bang’ approach (or tried to) and kept reading moving. That was the goal anyway. My aim was to bring in a degree of urgency. I did. The kids were really focussed and engaged. I will definitely keep going with that.

I also used Yolanda’s method to teach the letter ‘s’ today. I missed a key component of it though – the hook with the story and the picture. We had a song which we sang, but I did it out of order. I will follow Yolanda’s advice (insistence really) and teach with the lesson plan open. I also need to get some form of assessment done for this as there are a couple of students who are using initial letter sounds already. Regardless, students all got what the letter ‘s’ was and the sound it makes. They had a little more trouble with the shape. I did ‘dge’ with an older group and need to do some revision there.