Last week we began our unit of inquiry, Who We Are, with a provocation. We decided to use the Pixar Short Film, Piper. We used the visual thinking routine 10 x 2, to share what we noticed. During the first round, Learners noticed general details. It was at a beach, the baby bird wanted food, she saw crabs etc. In the second round, their observations focused around learning.
“The mummy wanted her to learn how to get food.”
“She was scared of the waves, but she tried.”
“She learnt from her friends the crabs”
and the thought that stuck with me the most, was:
“She tried different things and found her own way of finding food.”
These Kindergartners are beginning to understand that by following their own learning path, they will each make their own unique discoveries. They are beginning to unpick the importance of a growth mindset to fulfill their potential. They have given me another reason to follow the path of personalized learning to help each learner find their own way.
Our next step is the understand our own attitudes towards learning and find what helps and hinders each of us with our learning. Inspired by Shirley Clarke’s @shirleyclarke_ and John Hattie’s @john_hattie new book Visible Learning: Feedback, (on Amazon or AmazonUK) we are going to survey our learners to find out more about mindsets towards learning and inquire into zones of learning. After that we are going to explore learning through passion projects.
August has arrived and we are gearing up for a new academic year. With it comes a twinge of anxiety and a whole lot of excitement. After all, as educators we never know how far our impact will carry.
At this moment, my mind is buzzing with ideas, to do lists, organizing a combined learning space, memories of previous academic years, and it is just a tad overwhelming. Yet, when I take a moment, and think about those memories, I am reminded of how much I learnt last year.
Being a part of a collaborative learning community led to growth and learning I could not have imagined at this time last year. We began the year in two separate classroom as teachers who shared ideas, and ended it as a Kindergarten learning community, that knocked down walls, both literally and figuratively!
So, how did it all begin? It is probably a combination of many things, but the one that keeps coming back to me is our willingness to say ‘yes.’
Saying yes has not meant that I, or our collaborative learning community did everything that was proposed.
Saying yes is more about being open to new possibilities for the benefit of all learners.
Saying yes is about considering what we can achieve together.
Saying yes is about failure and learning.
Saying yes is about learners’ agency: both educators and students.
In the past year I have said yes to:
working as part of a collaborative team that was able to do more together than I could achieve on my own;
deepening my understanding of how young learners develop number sense;
becoming a Seesaw Ambassador;
writing a blog;
leading PD for my colleagues;
and most importantly of all, our learning community said yes to our young learners.
Our learners discovered their voice and felt valued;
They learnt how to plan and manage their own learning;
They learnt about listening and collaboration;
They learnt creative problem solving skills;
They learnt about failure, perseverance, resilience and grit.
And I’m sure the list could go on. I am reminded of this quote by Mother Teresa that came across my Twitter feed:
Being open to new experiences and learning will have an impact!
As we move towards the end of our academic year, I am in the process of collating data, writing reports and reflecting on the progress of the learners in our class. It is also an opportunity to reflect on my practice as a teacher. A year ago, I was doing the same thing and my reflection left me feeling vulnerable. Though I was working hard, I felt I could be more effective. By admitting to myself that change would benefit my learners, I had taken the first step towards becoming both a better learner and educator.
The first thing I did was to really look at the data. If I could identify my learners areas of strength and growth, it might be a reflection on my own strengths and areas for development. The two areas for development that I chose to focus on were writing and the development of number sense.
And then, I needed to dig deeper. I needed to understand why the learners in my class were not confident writers, nor did they show confidence when working with number. I realized, that though I had taught it, I had not ignited a passion for writing or playing with number. I needed give learners that sense of ownership over learning, so that they felt passionate about learning.
The next steps… the how?
Education is changing. As educators we need to be learners for two reasons. Firstly, as role models for the learners in our care and secondly, to give them the best education we possibly can. So when I felt like I needed to learn more about developing number sense, I looked for online courses and did something about it. I highly recommend Christina Tondevold’s (@BuildMathMinds) number sense courses.
Education is changing. The best ways to find out and be a part of these changes, is by being connected. Initially, I used educational groups on Facebook to keep me in the loop. Now, I am more of a Twitter fan. I find it is incredibly diverse and generally very positive. I share ideas and I get to see what other people are sharing. Reading the blogs of other teachers around the world, inspired me to start this one. Recently, I read a blog post by Adam Hill (@AhillAdam) ctitled ‘Sins to Avoid as Teacher Tweeters,’ that shares great advice about how you can use Twitter to build your Professional Learning Network.
So far, the focus of changing my teaching practice, focused on things I could do myself. However, to truly make a difference, it wasn’t just me that needed to change my thinking, it needed to be a team effort. I realized that collaboration was not just about attending planning meetings, sharing ideas and trying them out in our individual classes. It was about letting go of the culture of “my students in my class” and start taking responsibility collectively. The my learners became our learners.
Through the collaboration within our grade team, we are able to harness our creativity to problem solve together. We take our ideas and build upon them, hopefully making them better. We are open-minded and willing to try new things. Not everything we have done as been successful and that is how we have learnt and evolved as teachers. Combining our knowledge and experience means we can do better for our learners.
The biggest change in my role as an educator has been the shift from my learners, to our learners to we are learners. Our focus this year has been building our learning community. At the center of this is our students, our learners. We need to listen to them and support them on their learning journey, not direct their learning. What does each individual learner want to learn?How can we help them get there? And if educators are there to support learners, then so are their families, thus adding to our learning community. How can we build family partnerships?
By giving learners the ownership of their learning and by keeping their families involved, they have shown an enthusiasm and commitment towards learning that I have not seen before in all my years of teaching.
Finally, if I am truly shifting thinking towards a collective responsibility, then I have a responsibility to share my experiences. I’ll be honest and say that tweeting, writing this blog and leading PD, pushes me well out of my comfort zone. For myself, I do so as a way to clarify my thinking and hopefully get feedback from my learning community. For other learners and educators, I share because I hope I can help others, as so many have helped me.
Assessment for learning was the buzz word early in my teaching career.
Assessment Reform Group (UK 2002):
Assessment for Learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.
Our planning documents included our learning objectives and our success criteria. We would share our objectives and ‘construct’ the said success criteria with them. Differentiated copies would be stuck into books and referred to during lessons. We would give feedback during the lesson and students would peer and self assess their learning. At the end of lesson we used 2 stars and a wish to give more feedback, and the next day students would respond. Students also had targets and were expected to be able to share them and how to get there.
Upon reflection, I would redefine my early practice as ‘assessment for teaching,’ because I was doing the heavy lifting. The learning was still being directed by me. So how has my teaching and learning changed?
Well, to start with, my teaching partner Zoe Roles (also on Twitter @RolesZoe) and our collaborative team, have been on a journey to ‘let go’ of what does not work for our learners and focus on building a learning community.
At the beginning of the academic year we focused on building our community and ensuring our Kindergarten learners knew what a growth mindset is and why they needed to have one. We began to ask ‘What do you want to learn? What are your goals? What is the first step you will take? What do you need from us?’
We modeled giving feedback and then asked our learners ‘What did you do well? What do you need to work on?’ We listened and we learned together.
The changes we have made have been to shift the focus from teachers to learners. The result has been that our learners are motivated and constructing meaning for themselves.
For example, when our learners were ready, they constructed their own writing success criteria based on all the discussions we have had about their writing in the past. I supported them with the organization, and the knowledge cane from them. During a recent writing on demand writing assessment, they reminded me to have the checklist available. Some chose to use it, and others did not. They also began to help each other peer review their writing, without direction from me. Why? because they owned it!
This week, inspired by Zoe, I shared data with the students about their knowledge of phonics and sight words. They loved seeing how much progress they have made this year and set themselves targets.
Then, they shared these targets with their families via Seesaw. One learner said:
“Mummy, come home early, I want to learn these sight words.”
Returning back to to the earlier definition of assessment for learning, I am reminded that learners were put first. Let them take the lead in their learning.
This past week has been emotionally overwhelming for me. So much so that by Friday morning I had a migraine and could not lift my head off the pillow.
It is that time of year when are asked to assess our learners, so we have data for reports. It is that time when we are asked to plan for the future. It is a time of uncertainty in an international school as we prepare to say farewell and welcome new faces too. In this uncertainty, teachers begin to complain, and I think that this, along with a thunderstorm that got me.
I would say that remaining positive has been a challenge for me and and as a parent, I need to model positivity for my children. Over the last few years, I have been doing well, but at times, I could do better. So what can I do differently?
A few years ago, I found a bracelet with the following inscription:
It is a reminder for me to live in the moment. Yes, it is important to reflect on the past. But rather than identifying problems and then finding solutions, would it not be better to identify what went well and then find ways to improve?
Looking towards the future and making plans is also worthwhile, worrying about the future is not. I lost my way last week, and that is okay. Moving forward, I am going to make two commitments to myself.
The first, is to live for today and appreciate the little moments. Sunday mornings are for grocery shopping in our household. Each week, we usually see one or two learners from Kindergarten. At the beginning of the year, there is always a look of surprise as they spot me out of context. Today, I heard my name, and one little sunshine bug came up to me and asked “Ms Raana, would you like a hug?” And I have to say, it made my day because she is showing respect for herself and others, and I have had an impact.
One piece of advice in the book is to ‘find your people.’ Growing up in an international school setting as a ‘third culture kid,’ and now teaching in an international school, I have seen people come and go. Unfortunately, for me, this has made me reluctant to make new friends, as a way of protecting my heart. At the end of last year, my people moved on and I’ll be honest and say that I did not make an effort to put myself out there to make new friendships. This is something I need to change.
My second commitment to myself is to ‘find my people.’ I am going to make the effort to really connect with my friends around the world, and to grow my professional learning network, because as I continue to learn, I honor learners and myself.
A few weeks ago, I joined Twitter as part of a pilot program for our school. Initially, I was overwhelmed. There was so much to take in. Once I began to explore, I was like a kid in a candy store. I discovered an amazing network of educators who share ideas, wonderings, experiences and so much more.
I began to download books and was particularly struck by “The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity” by George Couros. I am an avid reader and usually read quite quickly. However, I find myself taking my time and have gone crazy with the highlighter. One quote stuck with me:
“I believe in my voice and experiences, as well as the voice and experiences of others, as they are important for moving education forward.” George Couros
I began to wonder if I had anything of value to share. At this point, I’m still not sure, but I am willing to take the risk to put myself out there. I hope that this journey will help me to believe that I am enough and to honor learners.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton