Unlearning, relearning, and growing

Over my teaching career, there have been many things I have changed over time. I have moved from an environment of direct teaching to an environment where inquiry and learner agency is expected. Some practices have fallen away, some are revisited and others are evolved over time.

One such practice is the Must dO,Should do, Could dO,Want to, or MOSCOW method.  A few years ago, a friend suggested I try Must, Should and Could do centers as a way to manage learning centers. I tried and failed. I felt that learners were not accountable for learning, I had not mastered the art of documentation ( a skill I am still working on…) and it was just not working for me. Moving from teaching in older grades in an environment that relied on direct teaching to a play based PYP inquiry model was quite a challenge for me. Upon reflection, I can say that I had been pushed way out of my comfort zone; I was not in control. As Sascha Heckmann (@sascha_heckmann) recently pointed out to me, I had not made the shift to understand that learning happens within the learner. I can provide an environment to promote learning and thinking, but I cannot control the learning.

Recently, I was inspired by Taryn BondClegg (@makingoodhumans) and another member of my PLN, David Gostelow (@davidgostelow1) to try again. In his post titled From Learners to Leaders,  David shared how he was using this method in his early years class. 

“Students learn best and work harder when they are excited by what they are working on. And when they design their own work, they understand why they are doing what they are doing and engage much more deeply with their learning.”

David Gostelow

I shared the idea with my colleagues and we had several decisions to make. We decided to keep our language teaching as stand alone. Though our program is quite structured, we have seen the amazing progress our learners are making. Furthermore, we know that our learners love writing because any day we have deviated from our structure, we have had complaints about not writing! So, we decided to start with changing our Explore time to  Choose, Act, Reflect, or C.A.R. time. 

We began by running 3 workshops in rotations to tune into learners’ understanding of the concept of form. These included exploring the form of a story, the form of circles and the form of a computer as they identified computer parts.

Exploring the form of the story ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,’ by Michael Rosen.
Exploring the form of circles. What is it like? What is it not like?

Then we asked our learners what they would like to learn, and to consider whether each experience would be a must do, should do, could do or want to do center. If we could not accommodate an idea in the following week, we added it to the parking lot, to revisit in the future. We also considered if some learning experiences were better as workshops.

Our CAR time choice board.

Workshop about drawing a Wild Thing inspired by a learner’s question- ‘How do they put pictures in books?’
A workshop to develop and share our understanding of the early number sense relationship: part, part, whole.

Using this information, I matched learning experiences to our learning outcomes. I decided to use a template that had been shared by Taryn in her post titled Getting Parents Onboard, to map both learning and our conceptual understanding.  Following Taryn’s example, I shared this with families via Seesaw because I have learnt that by keeping parents informed, they stay involved in our learning community.

As we are trying to promote a free flow environment with lots of choices, we wanted to ensure learners took accountability for the centers they had decided to be must do centers. To support this, we have a printout with every learner’s name to highlight as they complete their learning. 

Now that we had the choose and act elements of CAR time, the next step was to add the reflection. This again was inspired by a tweet sharing an idea from Sonia Wright (@MsSoniaWright31.)

The original idea post asked learners to share:

  • What did you do?
  • What did you learn?

Making this change to our day has given us the opportunity to be more present with our learners. We are learning more about our learners through observation and our interactions. As a result, we are now ready to take a risk that we were not ready for before. We are moving from a structured language program to giving learners more choice and ownership over their learning.

Our day will start and finish by coming together for our morning meeting and our closing circle, when we will interact with stories and songs. Math talks and phonics will be done in smaller groups at the same time allowing us to differentiate as needed. Guided reading will continue with small groups, but our timings will be more flexible. Writing will be promoted through our continuous provision, inquiry and as a tool to document learning. We can also engage in modeled, shared and interactive writing during our morning meeting, phonics, guided reading and through play. We will also continue to offer workshops when we feel they are appropriate. As we plan for the following week with learners, we will select games and learning experiences that develop literacy and numeracy skills. Another change we are planning is to have our reflection time in smaller groups utilizing all the staff in our learning hub. This will reduce group sizes, allow us to check in with learners to and support them with their accountability. It will also enable us to honor learners who would prefer to reflect in Portuguese.

I strongly feel that this model will give us more flexibility, and allow learners to make authentic connections as learning will not be broken down by subject area. It will also give us the time to observe and interact, without feeling like we have to stop to move onto the next thing in our timetable.

time tableTeaching and learning in a collaborative hub continues to be a journey with many bumps along the way. Each of those bumps is a learning experience and an opportunity to #risk&reflect, and grow. I am grateful for both my #PLN and colleagues for their support, ideas and for continuing to challenge me as I unlearn, relearn and grow.

Reflection, goal setting and TIM

We have been working towards helping our Kindergarten learners develop an understanding of who they are as learners.  A key element in supporting our learners to take ownership of their learning are the skills of reflection and goal setting.

As part of our writing workshop, we conference with our learners during and after writing.  We encourage them to identify their sunshine, things they did well, and their areas for growth, what they still need to learn. Initially, this required lots of modelling, and now most learners confidently engage in these reflections.

We decided to use the same model of sunshine and growth for our three way conferences. As teachers, we created a Seesaw activity (link) and decided the criteria. However, after being challenged to consider what choices we as teachers were making for our learners that they could make for themselves, our plans changed. I asked my collaborative team if I could lead a lesson that would result in the learners making the decision about the criteria.

With their support, I planned a three part lesson using the Torrance Incubation Method (TIM) and I incorporated some elements of Creative Problem Solving (CPS.) The TIM model is based around incorporating a creativity skill, or approach to creativity as I prefer to call them, into each part of your lesson: heightening anticipation, deepening expectations, and extending the learning. I found the following this resource useful when trying to understand the model myself.

The approach to creativity I chose to integrate into this lesson was ‘putting it into context.’ As we heightened anticipation, we explained the why behind the conference and asked learners for help to decide what learning they wanted to share. As we deepened expectations, we used the creativity tool ‘stick ’em up brainstorming’ to generate ideas of what learning we could share. Finally, in the extending learning, we converged our ideas because we had to take into consideration the length of each conference. We supported learners, by grouping ideas or creating clusters. Then we voted on some or rephrased a few more. We found that the criteria developed and selected by learners was very similar to that of the teachers. The difference was, that they seemed to expect more from themselves!

As a reflection of the conferences, I found that they were the most productive conferences I had been a part of. Most learners were honest with themselves and everyone had goals to work towards. As a teacher, we just need to ensure that we revisit these goals and use them to guide our learning.

To take this further, I decided to plan a series of TIM lessons to focus around goal setting in writing. I decided to work with a group of emergent + writers, who are demonstrating readiness by applying initial sounds and more to their writing.  using a variation of the the gradual increase of independence. The tool was introduced to us by Taryn BondClegg (@makingoodhumans) and designed by Suzzane Kitto (@OrenjiButa) who has shared her resources here.

My variation to the gradual increase of independence was to make it more visual for younger learners and link it to our sunshine and growth model.

KG gradual increase of independence

I chose to turn the success criteria for writing that our learners have been generating into visual, movable cards. I was also able to personalize the process by the number and content of the cards.

You can get a copy here.

KG gradual increase of independence (1)

The learning outcome for the lesson was for learners to self assess themselves as writers. The creativity goal was to ’embrace the challenge.’  We heightened anticipation with a word hunt that we then had to puzzle together as a sentence. In the deepening expectation phase, I we explored the metaphor of seeds needing lots of help and sunshine being something that helps seeds grow. I then challenged learners to self assess their learning. The final part of the lesson, extending the learning, was the challenge to find evidence of the criteria in their writing books. This led to interesting discussions about what we were really doing well and things we needed to work on to improve our writing.

For the subsequent lesson, I decided to help learners narrow their focus, by choosing one goal to work on at a time. The creativity goal I chose to integrate was ‘making it swing, make it ring.’ First, I integrated a lot of kinesthetic whole body movement into our phonics lesson prior to writing. We also played a hand mirroring game to heighten anticipation. To deepen expectations, we referred back to our gradual increase of independence and took our discussions from the previous lesson further. Learners began to realize that they could keep doing the things they did well, and spend more attention on what they thought were shared or guided goals. I suggested working on one of those goals at a time might be more productive. Finally, to extend the learning, we came up with actions for each of the criteria we had chosen. The great thing was that each learner had ownership over the goal they chose.

I have begun to see that some learners are really supported by focusing on one goal at a time and are keen to prove it to me during our conferencing.  As I conference with learners, I ask if they want to share their goals with their family. As learners share their goals, they are adding an element of accountability to their learning.  Some have felt ready to do this, and I have embedded the creativity skill of ‘highlighting the essence,’ as I support learners to share both the process and their goals with their families. With permission, here is a link, to one learners’ goal sharing.

Through this series of lessons, I have been embedding approaches to creativity using TIM and I have been applying my own learning to promote learner agency. I found that identifying and embedding the creativity skills or approaches to learning, made lessons more engaging. My next step is to make these approaches to creativity more explicit in our teaching and learning.

I have moved from co-constructed success criteria with learners to learners have interactions with their success criteria and developing a much deeper understanding of how the success criteria supports learning. Learners have made choices and have begun to take action. For those who have not taken action yet, they are beginning to see the need to take ownership for their learning as we reflect and conference, and I am confident they will when they are ready. In addition to engaging in goal setting, learners have been learning about goal setting. With lots of opportunities to choose act and reflect upon goals, it is my hope that our young kindergarten learners will have the skills they need to make informed choices, take risks and continue to grow and learn.

As a final reflection about learner agency, I do not want to say that I am releasing control of the learning, as that is not something I ever had. I would say that am making a conscious effort to support learners to have ownership and accountability of their learning.

Learning to Find Our Own Way

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.

I’ll let you know how it goes!You learn at your best when you have something you care about and can get pleasure in being engaged in.