End of the Road

There has been a lot of hype recently about one word- experiment. It has been used to describe what is being done at St Luke’s Catholic College Marsden Park.

Why all the fuss over this one word?

By definition, an experiment is a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact.

In reference to the use of this term as applied to the work happening at St Luke’s, I have summarised my thinking:

With this lens, what is happening at St Luke’s definitely is an experiment. The testing of new approaches to teaching and learning, based on sound research and built on the foundations of explicit teaching of literacy and numeracy in order to demonstrate a known fact- that schools have to change. As Sir Ken Robinson so clearly puts it in the foreword of the book ‘Learning Transformed’ (Shenniger and Murray 2017): “Given how quickly and profoundly the world is changing, there are few more urgent challenges that the transformation of our schools and education systems”.

The danger is not in risk of the experiment, but in the complacency to sit by and not be willing to test out new hypotheses in response to this great need. An experiment is only a failure if there has been insufficient evidence or research, or lack of skill and expertise of the experimenter(s). When teachers put students’ needs first, are highly skilled and have good pedagogy based on evidence and research, the results of the “experiment” cannot be anything but favourable.

In this light then, the word does not carry the weight of the negative connotation with which its use intended. To defend against the use of the term ‘experiment’ only gives credence to an otherwise baseless argument. However, to embrace it shows the courage of risk takers trying to establish a “new normal” in education. In the spirit of inquiry and innovation, welcome the use of the term proudly for what it is.

As an educator first, and scientist second, I have done my research and gathered my evidence. I am confident that I am highly skilled in my practice. With these elements, I have attempted to test my hypothesis and  have enjoyed participating in the experiment. I am proud of the improvement, increased learning and growth I have witnessed in my students during my time at St Luke’s. My contribution to the experiment has been both profound and rewarding. With many bumps and hurdles along the way I have now reached the end of the road. It’s time for a new adventure.

In search of Flow

It is always difficult when people just cannot seem to get fulfilment out of what they are doing, be it at school or work. As educators, the central focus of all we do is our students and their learning. We are always looking for ways to enable them to achieve their personal best, and they are at the heart of all decisions we make in our work. Our aim is always to design teaching and learning experiences to best meet the needs of the diverse range of students we have in our charge. So when, despite all our tireless efforts, we are faced with apathy, it leads us to question why this is so, and to consider how we can overcome this.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as long ago as 1975, proposed a way to conquer this issue with his ‘Flow Theory’. He describes a situation where a person is sufficiently challenged and able to apply a high level of skill to the task at hand, that they may enter a state of ‘flow’. This is often characterised by a person being so engrossed in what they are doing, that they will lose all sense of time as they engage and become immersed in the task. It is believed that in these moments, a person is “in the zone”, experiencing a true sense of purpose and fulfilment.

Conversely, when someone is faced with tasks that are menial and not sufficiently challenging for them, which additionally do not require them to utillise a high level of skill, the result is someone who is disengaged, unfulfilled, and more importantly APATHETIC.

The diagram below clearly illustrates this link between skills level and challenge.

Modified from original https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f6/Challenge_vs_skill.svg/472px-Challenge_vs_skill.svg.png

It can be seen that the way to move someone from apathy to experience a state of flow, and consequently a sense of purpose and fulfilment, it is imperative to provide opportunities to stretch them in both their challenge and skill levels. Increasing challenge level alone results in worry and anxiety. Addressing only the skill level without sufficient challenge results in boredom, or just a state of relaxation. If someone is in a state of arousal or control, the modification to the task needs only some tweaking for the person to achieve flow.

Giving an apathetic person more to do, at a challenge and skill level below their capabilities, will do nothing to assist them to achieve the sense of fulfilment we all seek and deserve. Just because they can get the work done and do it well is inconsequential, not to mention doing them a great disservice. To get the best out of someone, it is therefore necessary to be aware of the signs of apathy and imperative that we seek to ensure that they are provided with opportunities to engage in sufficiently challenging tasks suitable their capabilities, as well as giving them the chance to apply a high level of skill at mastery level.

 

 

On the same road, travelling in different cars.

With the new year has come a new dimension to my role here at St Luke’s. We are implementing self-paced learning in Stage 4 Languages, Science and Maths. This lies in perfect harmony with the goals of Pathways. That is that students will be able to clearly articulate their purpose through a program which develops reflective practice and introspection in order for them to develop their own learning pathways, and to  plan for a future of fulfilment and contribution.

Through participation in Pathways, it is hoped that  by the end of Stage 4, students should have well-developed understanding of who they are as individuals (their strengths, interests, motivations and values), how they can contribute to the broader society and their part as members of God’s family. They should also have established a clear idea of how they can use these personal qualities in service of others and to fulfil their purpose. As they head into Stage 5, this means having  a greater level of autonomy, and a greater say in the direction their learning will take.

Self-paced learning fits this Pathways vision. So, in order to assist in the implementation of this approach, it has been important to develop a clear picture of what this looks like in our context.

 

Definition of self pacing. What does it look like here at St Luke’s?

  • Self-paced learning is initiated, led and driven by the students. It is a way of designing the teaching and learning sequence using diagnostic data to meet students at their proximal zone of learning. This means students will progress along a continuum of learning at different rates.

 

  • Through the use of online learning platforms; they being Maths Pathways for mathematics and Education Perfect for Languages and Science, students will be able to drive their learning, receiving immediate feedback that will allow them to self-correct and progress without the need for immediate teacher intervention.

 

  • Targeted, teacher planned workshops designed to address students’ specific needs are offered as an opt-in or compulsory activity throughout lessons so help them along the learning journey. This is informed by the diagnostics provided through the different platforms.

 

How can students self assess their learning?

In the various subjects we are using the self-paced learning approach, we are exploring different ways of doing this. This ranges from students tracking and assessing their own learning each lesson through a shared spreadsheet in Science, which includes a combination of online learning through tasks on Education Perfect, various practical experiences and experiments, as well as opportunities to engage with teacher-led learning through skill and content focused workshops. Students also have the opportunity to elect areas of interest they would like to explore in more detail at any time throughout their learning progression, with the choice of the format they will use to demonstrate the evidence of their learning.

In Maths, student agency is increased through the self- selection of the modules they are able to complete through the Maths Pathways online learning platform, as well as the opportunity to opt-in to teacher led workshops on content covered.

In languages, choice is evident from the outset within a multilingual classroom setting. Students have elected to study French, Italian, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. They are self-pacing through online learning modules via the Education Perfect platform in each of their target languages, and once again, they have opportunities for participation in teacher led workshops to develop, practice or extend their language skills.

There is also the plan to implement self-evaluations for students in all three subjects, to allow them to take stock of where they are at in their learning journey, as well as to gauge their interest and engagement throughout their learning.

The process is all at once exciting, daunting, overwhelming and satisfying. In the end though, allowing opportunities to authentically differentiate student learning by allowing them to self-pace their progression, is EMPOWERING them to take charge. This too is empowering for the teacher, and incredibly rewarding too.

 

What happens when they’re all travelling at different velocities?

Following the success of Adventure Learning in Term 3, we here at St Luke’s are giving it a go again. This time, I’m supervising a group of students in the course “Choose Your Own Adventure”. The students are doing exactly that- designing their own project and final product following some interests and values exploration and some brainstorming (Passion Project style). They’ve mostly chosen their topics and are now on their journey.

I was very keen to supervise and mentor these students through the process, however was struck with a very real problem which is not too dissimilar to what we face in the classroom. However, I was dealing with the added complexity of overseeing projects for two students in Stage 1, one student in Stage 3 and eleven Year 7 students! They’re all travelling at different velocities! (NB- my use of the term velocity here is very deliberate here, as I’m not only referring to the different speed at which the students are travelling, but also the various paths and directions they each take to reach the same end point). All of these students have the same final destination, but how they get there, and long it takes them to complete each leg of the journey is unique to each student. How could I manage this to best support students and meet them where they’re at? How can I make sure they are aware of where they’re at in the journey, whilst having a clear vision of the where to next?

 

Keeping track of progress.

After what I felt was a disastrous first week of the project, I wondered how could I get students who were still stuck at the starting line. After some thinking and researching (some useful sites here, here and here), I decided to try a tangible pacing chart. I explained to the students the purpose of the chart was to help me and them keep track of their progress in the project. I simply printed the digital version that I’d gone through with them the week prior with the checkpoints for the progress of the project. It was the same as in their own digital learning log that they have each got a copy of to document their thinking, research and learning throughout the process. I made little cars with their names on them, and ask each student to place their car where they thought they were at in their journey. All but one student accurately portrayed their progress,  so I had a discussion with him so we could revise his position.

Following the articulation of the goal for the lesson, students were sent to set themselves to work. I was able to touch base with a couple of the younger students to work more closely to guide them through. I was so pleased to see how they were more focused and willing to move to the next step. As I was checking in with students individually, they were excited to tell me which stage they were at and the progress they’d made, asking me if they could move their car along. Looking at the photos taken at the start of the lesson to compared to the end, the students had definitely moved a little more along their journey. With 4 of the students absent, there are still 4 at the start. Hopefully, this will help motivate them to get moving when they return to class.

BEFORE

 

AFTER

 

Where’s the universe taking me?

A couple of weeks ago, a few things came across my desk around the same time which all had a common theme. I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something, so I started listening.

It started with a brief article “The Power of Collective Efficacy” (Donohoo, J., Hattie, J. and Eells, R., 2017) which was passed on from a friend. The article explored group dynamics within workplaces, highlighting that when teams of educators believe they have the ability to make a difference, exciting things can happen within a school. Essentially, the article presents the idea that overall performance relies on a team’s cohesiveness and shared vision- not really groundbreaking, right? What I found particularly useful was the data presented from different contexts which supports the claim that teacher belief in students’ ability improves student performance and achievement of learning outcomes. This resonated with me.

Through shared understanding, consistent practice as well as both self and peer evaluation of our practice, we can improve together; learning from one another, growing together and maximising learning for our students. It takes trust, respect and an agreed common goal.


Clearly, collective efficacy has a ripple effect. It makes us better educators, spreads to those around us, and ultimately increases student achievement of learning outcomes. Isn’t that what we all ultimately want as teachers? I was then sorting through my Twitter bookmarks when I came across this short video which I had set aside to watch a later date. It was an interview with Hattie, one of the co-authors of the article I’d read, and complimented the ideas presented. He posed the question:

What are the three most important things I can do in my classes to improve learning?

This is an important question, and one that I continually ask myself as I reflect on my practice. In the interview, Hattie didn’t even make it to three, because really, there is only one thing that is crucially important. That is, to know your teaching impact. Hattie suggests that in order to achieve this, we need to have a clear understanding of our impact, know the magnitude of that impact, and consider the equity of our impact. Namely, there needs to be consideration of whether all students are able to benefit from our impact. He then suggests that after determining our impact, it’s important to realise that we can’t do it alone. If the answers you give to the questions about knowing your impact differ to the other teachers that your students have, then it is going to be incredibly difficult for these students to have an understanding of (and adhere to) these expectations. If every time they come in contact with a different teacher there are different expectations, then it will be difficult for them to meet them. This is where the link to the article comes in.

Collaboration is important because it challenges each of us to be better teachers. We are our own BEST critics of one another’s work. The saying “two heads are better than one” couldn’t be more apt. Together, we can set clear and high expectations, which are consistent across all classes. We can work together to better understand our individual and collective impact in order to help the students in our classes. To be able to do this, we have to BELIEVE that our students are capable of meeting these standards, and we have to respect each other enough as professionals to develop agreed and shared expectations which we all clearly communicate to students. When we think of the times when students are working at their best in our classes, it’s when all teachers are on the same page. They have collaboratively designed an agreed task which allow all students access. They have planned a teaching and learning sequence to enable students to complete this. They have set clear guidelines as to what is expected of them throughout a unit which they have communicated to students .

My favourite quote from the video is “Teachers who have low expectations are among the most successful in the world… at getting kids to have low outcomes” (Hattie, 2015). This forces us to consider our own mindset, and the IMPACT that has on the ability of our students to demonstrate learning outcomes. We have to set high expectations. We have to put systems in place to support students to meet those outcomes. We have to BELIEVE in our students; know that are able to meet the expectations we set. If we don’t believe in our students’ ability to achieve, how can we expect them to believe in themselves? We have to make sure that we don’t accept subpar quality from our students, whether it be in their application to class, their behaviour or the demonstration of their learning outcomes.

So, what did I take away from this article and clip? It truly wasn’t anything brand new, however it did serve as a good reminder to get back to basics. As I wrote at the start, it was like I was meant to see them and take from their message. I needed the reminder. Put simply, it’s about clearly articulating the vision for our students, and setting clear and high expectations them whilst maintaining a belief that whilst our students may not be there yet, if we maximise our collective efficacy, we will be able to move them on to improve their achievement of outcomes. We also need to clearly understand our teaching impact and to share with one another. If we have a warped sense of who we are as teachers, that is, what we do and the effect this has in our classrooms, we’re not going to have a positive impact on student learning. We need to continually and HONESTLY reflect on what we do, both as individuals and as part of a team. It is impossible to achieve this alone. For students to get the message, to know what our expectations are and how to meet them, the message needs to be clear and consistent across all their teachers in all their classes. We need to be open and willing to receive and act on feedback from others, and learn from one another. If we do this, we can improve our collective efficacy and improve student achievement of outcomes.

Who’s in the driver’s seat?

Formative Assessment and effective use of feedback.

Over this last term so far, I have been increasingly aware of the importance of focusing more on the process of learning, rather than the end product. Of course, we need to have the end goal in mind: we need to have a clear vision of what we expect students to know and what they should be able to do by the end of a unit. As the experts in the room, we as educators need to carefully consider the teaching and learning sequence to help students get there. In order for this to be done effectively, we need to provide opportunities for continual formative assessment, along with feedback to inform us as teachers about our learners and any specific targeted needs they have. For students, it helps them be aware of where they are at as learners:

Our Learning Coach- Leadership Years, Kelly Bauer, has printed cards for each students to put on their computers so that it serves as a constant reminder. These are some of the questions we ask students as we monitor and assist them in their learning. These informal check-ins, along with any formative assessment tasks (such as lightning writing, quizzes, exit tickets, written reflections, concept cartoons, brainstorms etc.) provide us as teachers an insight into where they are at, and help us to consider what we have to do to help them get to where they are going with their learning.

 

Getting the students to respond to and act on feedback

It takes a lot of time and effort to provide students with effective feedback. As educators, we take this task very seriously. For all the time and effort this process takes, we would hope to get a good return on our investment. For us, it only seems logical that our learners would want to do better on future tasks and would use the teacher feedback to help them accomplish that goal. However, the reality is that many of our students may show little to no improvement in meeting learning outcomes in summative tasks, despite all our efforts and good intentions. What can we change?

I’m still reflecting on why students don’t make better use of the individualised feedback we provide on their  projects, presentations etc., or even the whole class feedback we offer after we have marked a common quiz or exam. It is true that there may be some improvement as we look over a course, but often the same errors are continually repeated.

I think our challenge is to help empower students to take more ownership and control of their learning. Through all our efforts to assess and provide feedback continually throughout their learning, we are gaining and insight into the learners before us. However, how often have we considered this question:

HOW WELL DO OUR STUDENTS KNOW THEMSELVES AS LEARNERS?

One way I’ve tried to empower students to take ownership of their learning is through a process I was introduced to about 10 years ago- Conceptual Mediation. This is a practice developed by Dr Harry Lyndon (University of Adelaide) with whom I was most fortunate to meet when I was part of the Science by Doing Pilot Program from 2007 to 2008. This paradigm provides students with explicit strategies that they can use to manage their learning. It is definitely requires a partnership between students and teachers, as we have the responsibility to carefully plan the formative tasks which will allow us to effectively gauge understanding of key concepts and essential skill acquisition. This process starts with an elicitation task which helps get a clear picture of what students know prior to the teaching and learning cycle, as well help identify any lurking misconceptions students may have which will ultimately inhibit further learning. Rather than just providing feedback highlight what has been done well, and what needs further attention, Conceptual Mediation works to acknowledge and override these misconceptions. This is especially important in learning science [To read more, there is a whole host of literature (Rosalind Driver has led a lot of this research) as well lists of common misconceptions of ideas in science- try here, here and here as starting points].

At the start of our current Art/Science unit, I facilitated a workshop on Conceptual Mediation with the students, going through the why and how (see slides). Students were introduced to the practice following a short spelling test of 5 commonly misspelled words from the unit we were about to cover. They were then asked to choose one of those words that they wanted to mediate (ie re-train their brain) and a volunteer from the group called to model the process on the whiteboard in front of their peers whilst I stepped them through the process (see scaffold). We then discussed how students could then apply the same steps whenever a misconception has been identified in their learning. This is one strategy introduced to help students make more effective use of the feedback they have received.

I feel that without such explicit strategies, we are perhaps leaving students out of the evaluation process to the point where they don’t have the self-assessment skills they require. They are not able to recognise what is good about work they have completed, they don’t see the problems, they may not even realise that they haven’t addressed all of the criteria on a rubric. More importanly, without being taught HOW, most students won’t have the skills to know what TO DO when a problem has been identified in their learning.

I am a realist, and most certainly acknowledge that some student just don’t care (yet), but even so, we need to think of ways to help students gain develop the ability to assess their own learning. We need to teach students the skills in assessing work which we have gained through years of practice, marking countless assessments both formal and informal. We are the ones who have marked more samples of student work than we could ever possibly count. We could rattle of a list of common misconceptions in our fields of expertise, and communicate exactly how this knowledge shapes and informs the way we approach teaching those concepts. 

I think that if we can shift the balance so that we look at formative assessment as a two-way dialogue, and we help support students to focus on using the feedback  to help them answer those reflection questions, we would most certainly see an improvement in the demonstration of outcomes by students. Conceptual Mediation is only one way. We could also encourage more practice by marking work samples as a class/small group using marking criteria or rubrics, or by encouraging peer feedback with guidance for the ‘types’ of statements to use to give feedback. Following this, we could try modelling to students how to make positive adjustments to work in response to feedback given. Additionally, students need time to continually reflect on this process- this is definitely something we have to plan for. It all comes back to explicit teaching- in this case the HOW to self-evaluate and WHAT to do once a problem has been identified.

As a goal, I’m going to consider a way of integrating into teaching/structuring these practices so that it eventually becomes second nature for the students. To set them up so that they will know themselves very well as learners, and will have the skills to be self-reflective AND able to take on as well as RESPOND to feedback provided by teachers and peers. Maybe students would make better use of our feedback if they used it to develop an action plan for the next task? For example, “Based on the teacher’s feedback and my own assessment of this work, here’s the three things I plan to improve in the next assignment.” Maybe students should not get the mark or grade for a task until the action plan has been submitted for consideration by the teacher. Further, perhaps that action plan should be submitted along with the next task.  These strategies works hand-in-hand with our goals in Pathways here at St Luke’s, so that students know themselves well enough as people and learners to make informed decisions about the direction of their learning. That is, to put them in the drivers seat when it comes to their learning.

These are all ideas to consider and trial to see how I can best support my students to make effective use of feedback. I am simply exploring different options and ideas in this blog. I very much welcome any feedback (which I will respond to and act upon 😉 ). 

Helping students showcase their learning journey

Over the last few weeks, I had the opportunity to be part of student-led conferences with some of the students in Year 7. In previous contexts, I’ve attended literally thousands of 5 minute parent/teacher/student interviews, discussing students’ reports and generally how their work, performance in assessment tasks and behaviour translated to the grades achieved. It was largely teacher led, with opportunities for parents and students to raise any questions/ request clarification.

The process of student-led conferences here at St Luke’s was quite refreshing- to put it back on the students to select evidence of their best work, articulate how they are meeting the learning outcomes and the 6 pillars, and identify areas of strength and improvement.

Seeing the sense of pride on some students’ faces as they showcased the best examples of their learning to their parents and teachers was nothing short of joyful to experience as an educator.

However, there were still a number of students who were unprepared for this meeting. They did not have evidence of their work to talk to. Their reflections were either lacking or non-existent, and they had not taken heed of the feedback they were given on their drafts. In fact, many of them had no presentation at all, and simply spoke to the draft.

Furthermore, when trying to search for the evidence of their work on SeeSaw to assist them in the presentation, not much was there. This led me to think. What could I do to help them so that there is no repeat episode of this next semester?

I thought of a way to reinforce the importance of publishing evidence of their learning was through Pathways ,where an exit ticket for the end of each session was for students to upload an example of their work for that lesson with a reflection to SeeSaw.

I soon realised after the first attempt, that students were not really reflecting/or not reflecting deeply. Many of them were just posting a sample of work without reflection. I offered very extensive feedback on each post to help students improve this. Next lesson, the situation got worse. Not only were students not reflecting on their work, the quality of their work samples had diminished. How was this possible? Had they read the feedback? I immediately answered my own question. No, they hadn’t.

So how could we get students to understand the importance of carefully considering what they publish as EVIDENCE of their learning? How do we get them to understand the importance of publishing their BEST work samples? How could we authentically foster reflective practice?

My next step was think of a real-world, relevant link. What could they relate to that would help them to UNDERSTAND the importance about carefully considering what they post?

Then it hit me… selfies posted on Instagram! Would they just post anything on Instagram? Do they take a selfie and post the first one?

So, with that, I came up with the following slide set to go through in class. Let’s see if we can get the message across with these examples and hopefully improve the quality of the work samples students PUBLISH as evidence of their learning so that that they are PROUD to share it.

Choose your own adventure

Since coming to St Luke’s, there are a lot of things that have pushed me out of my comfort zone (or into the Panic Zone as recently described by Dr Louise Stoll at the Anne D. Clark lecture attended by many St Luke’s and CEDP staff). Teaching music (which is not my usual subject area) is one such thing. Although having had experience in this, the prospect of programming a unit of work from scratch to suit the unique teaching and learning environment here at St Luke’s was daunting to say the least. Where was I to begin? I called on the insights of my 12 year old self, casting back to when I was starting to study music at school in Year 7.

I still remember learning the Concepts of Music- copying notes on duration, pitch, texture, structure, dynamics and timbre, then completing drill worksheets to consolidate our ability of apply (?) them. I recall learning mnemonics to name the notes on the treble clef, and clapping back rhythms played by the teacher on the piano. I also remember our assessment task, which was to learn the simplified version of J.S. Bach’s Minuet in G Major on the keyboard- treble clef only (played with the right hand only) which we were then to perform in front of the class.

Now, this seemed like a reasonable task, considering where the teacher thought we all were the learning continuum and what the syllabus described students should be able to do. My question was had she really considered where we had all been been before we got to Year 7? My own music education had started many years earlier, having a father who strongly encouraged and fostered studies of the arts. I was blessed to have been able to start formal training in piano and singing from a very young age. In fact, four years before that assessment task in Year 7, I had learned to play the same Bach piece as it was originally written (both hands, trills, entire piece- although on the piano, not on the harpsichord).

This experience is from around 20 years ago (I’m being conservative, I know) when it wasn’t as common for students to have had this much early exposure to formal music tuition. Today, the situation is very different. With both parents working in many families (and working longer hours to boot) opportunities for after school activities are more readily taken up. Naturally this creates an even greater diversity of skills in the classroom than twenty odd years ago. Add that to the fact that many students access video tutorials via YouTube and are self-taught musicians, and we now have an even wider range of starting points to consider. These particular students have some practical skills without the understanding of musical concepts.

This then prompted me to consider:

How could we effectively differentiate learning when students are coming from a range of musical backgrounds and interests?

The first step was to survey students. Two weeks out from the end of term 1, I sent out a survey to students in order to gauge what they knew about the concepts, as well as what they liked and enjoyed most about music. Just as I’d expected, the results indicated a lot of diversity amongst the cohort. I had some thinking time over the Easter Break to reflect on the student responses and consider how to best address the vast differences in their starting points.

I started to explore different pathways to approach music learning and teaching. Having found an engaging entry document (below) and allowing students different access levels for the composition of an end product, students were made aware that this was going to be a ‘pick your own adventure’ unit. Whilst the they were all composing music for a specific purpose, they could chose HOW they got there.

In consultation with my wonderful co-teacher Bec, we decided to try out a ‘learning playlist‘ approach, allowing them to explore the six concepts of music at their own pace. This then gave us, as teachers, the opportunity to run a series of workshops for students who were only just starting out on their musical journal, and masterclasses for those much further along. Additionally, giving students opportunities to ‘practice’ applying the concepts on music in a range of mini composition activities they could self select allows for continual feedback to be provided by both teachers (and peers), giving students many opportunities to further refine skills and explore the concepts more on a needs basis.

We are still in midst of the unit, gradually building student skills so that they will be able to compose a piece of music and explain how they have employed the concepts of music in their work. This is only the first step in engaging students in learning music and meeting them where they are at.

As a next step, I’m starting to consider how we can move beyond individualisation and differentiation:

How can learning be personalised? 

This is what we are preparing students for in Pathways here at St Luke’s- giving them the opportunities to explore their strengths, interests and motivation to determine their purpose, and be able to design their own learning plan accordingly. Despite holding a strong belief in this vision, not ever having seen this in action, it was hard to imagine what this could look like. Would it really be possible to realise this dream? During a recent trip to some schools in Victoria (Bundoora, Mt Alexander and Templestowe Colleges) I could see where this vision could go. Buoyed by the amazing work already happening here at St Luke’s, as well as seeing the personalised learning dream in action at these other schools, I am now even more motivated to think outside the box and move even further out of my comfort zone in order to see this vision realised. Exciting times on the road ahead! No need for panic.

As learners on this journey ourselves, I know that whatever we can do to meet students where they’re at on their path and guide them so they can to progress along in their learning, is a step in the right direction. In music, we’ve tried to do that with differentiation and introducing as many opportunities for students choice in both their modes of learning and demonstration of their learning outcomes in the product. I’m excited to think how this will evolve in the future, not only in music, but across all student learning. Just as in those novels where readers could choose the ending and how they got there, students will be able to do the same. Whatever path they choose, let’s hope it pushes each and every one of them outside of their comfort zones. It’s an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling place to be.

 

Changing direction

Using student feedback to alter the path of learning

Our first unit in Year 7 Pathways, “Inside Out”,  has been all about introspection for the students. The broader aims of Pathways (the why? ) have been made clear, as well as how what is covered in the unit is anticipated to help students in moving towards becoming motivated, autonomous learners, who are content, fulfilled and driven by their purpose.

Through the use of the the Gallup Strengths Explorer for youth aged 10-14 years, students have had the opportunity to identify their strengths, and through a series of guided activities, they have been able to explore their top 3 strengths in more detail, and considered how they can use them to their bet advantage. Additionally, they have explored the importance of goal setting, and have worked on articulating clear SMART goals as well as the creation of Vision Boards which visually represent these SMART goals.  From the very outset, students knew that this unit was all about them, and consequently, it would be very different to their other classes where they were working on projects, largely in groups.

In my last post, I wrote of the importance of obtaining student feedback to help inform and modify my approach to teaching them and to best engage and meet their needs. Regular use of student evaluation allows us, as teachers, to give students a voice to drive the direction of their learning. We can gauge whether they see the relevance to what they’re learning, in addition to communicating whether what we are doing works for them.

Based on the response from the first round of evaluation in Week 4, I was able to gauge that students had a really good idea about what the aims of Pathways were. They could articulate how they understood it to be relevant to their lives, and the majority of the students indicated that they enjoyed their learning in Pathways. However, there was also feedback received from students which indicated that they would prefer working more in groups and not do so much individual work.

The summary of responses to the student evaluation were addressed in class as a whole group, and we broke down their responses, discussing the common themes and general trends. In retrospect, I think that going through the feedback in this forum was probably not as productive as giving the students the data to analyse, unpack and draw conclusions themselves- then regroup as a cohort to discuss what the data said.  

In relation to the desire to do more group work, we discussed how the unit was essentially  all about each of them (articulated at the start of the course in the why?), therefore it was not really conducive to a lot of group work. However, I was welcoming of the feedback, and set my mind to finding a way to slightly modify what was covered in the remainder of the term. I decided to change slightly the direction of the program to try to accommodate this desire to participate more in group work. Whilst still meeting the same intended outcomes outlined at the start of the unit, I have modified the way that these outcomes are able to be met through the introduction of group task which requires students to demonstrate their understanding of the Six Pillars of St Luke’s through the production of an informative video to be posted on out school social media platforms, in addition to being shown to future students of the College.

So far, students have been introduced to the task, and have been given the opportunity to brainstorm their allocated pillar (incidentally, their groups were allocated according to their top 3 strengths and how these related to the pillars). They were presented with an entry document which enabled them to view examples of student produced videos from other schools, and as a group, they came up with co-constructed criteria for success so they knew what they needed to do in order to produce a professional quality product. In our next session, we hope to unpack the different group roles in order to make this task successful for them.

Overall, I don’t feel that this change of tact in any way compromised the intended outcomes, which were initially to develop a clear understanding of the Six Pillars of St Luke’s and to demonstrate how the Six Pillars of St Luke’s are evident in our day-to-day interactions. By using feedback from the students and communicating this with them to let them know that he process was altered to accommodate their opinions gives them an added sense of ownership to the project. At the end of the day, whether this was completed as an individual exercise, as a simple research activity, or more of a guided inquiry project as it has become, students are still able to achieve the intended outcomes. Stay tuned to hear how it works out. 

Navigating the path

As reflective practitioners, we are always asking ourselves how we can improve student learning in our own contexts. Starting out the year at St Luke’s, it has been a steep learning curve, adapting to a different learning space and larger classes with multiple experts in the room at the one time. In planning prior to the commencement of the new school year, knowing about the differences was one thing, but living it has been something entirely different.

 

When considering how to tackle this to the best of my ability, I look to research. A good starting point is Hattie’s meta-analysis of factors which have the greatest impact on student achievement, Visible Learning (2008). Some key factors can be summarised as follows:

 

  • What’s bad? Retention, summer holidays
  • What’s neither bad nor good? Team teaching, open vs. traditional classes
  • What helps a bit? Class size, homework
  • What helps a bit more? Cooperative learning, direct instruction
  • What helps a lot? Feedback, Student-teacher relationships

 

So, what could we as teachers be focusing on to maximise the potential of the fantastic opportunities afforded to us and our students?

 

Student- teacher relationships. Get to know our students and make sure they know they we care about them and their learning. Greeting each other outside the classroom, asking about their wellbeing and interests and making them feel supported tobe able to take risks in their learning. Students learn teachers before any subject matter. To know my students and build rapport with them is something I continue to work on.

Feedback. One of the most important tools we can have under our belt as teachers. Formative assessment gives us opportunities to continually relay to students their progress in their learning. But what about the other way around? I find one of the most informative sources is regular student evaluations. Having students give their feedback on whether they see the relevance to what they’re learning as well as the opportunities to let me know what I am doing that works, or what doesn’t work  so well, to help them in their learning.

A simple Google Form sent out periodically helps me gather this information efficiently. It’s not enough to get the information though. It’s what I do with it that makes all the difference. Recently, I issued a student evaluation of Pathways. It has helped me see where we have been hitting the mark, and where perhaps we could improve our approach. I believe most teachers will agree with this idea that effective instruction cannot take place without proper feedback from student to teacher on the effectiveness of the instruction. After all, that’s what we are here for. 

Seemingly contradictory?

Team teaching and the open learning space according to Hattie’s meta-study has neutral impact. My question is how can we use the flexibility of the learning space and the multiple teachers in the classroom to facilitate this?

If we look at the impact of cooperative learning and direct instruction in this light, we can see opportunities to use these to positively impact students’ learning. The space alone won’t improve opportunities for learning- it’s how we design our teaching and learning sequences to USE the space. Likewise, having another expert in the room is not going to have an effect on student learning unless they have a specific role or purpose. This is definitely something I am focusing my attention on in my planning of classroom time.

 

The effectiveness of direct instruction is also interesting. Teaching increases when teachers act as activator instead of as facilitator. I find this a refreshing view. Approaches to teaching such as in a problem-based learning environment have often left the role of instructor as a person on the sideline rather than as active participant in student learning. This is a challenging task, and requires time to rethink and challenge what I’m used to.

 

Final thoughts

In retrospect, I was unable to fully grasp the different context until I was actually living it. In terms of the larger physical space, it offers a flexibility that it goes hand in hand with collaborative teaching. I definitely don’t think I’ve got a complete handle on this yet. What I do know is that I am committed to continue to try to design teaching and learning experiences to maximise the potential of each student achieving their personal best.