Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Most Important Muscles of Them All - Learning Muscles

We took some huge risks this year.
Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. Brene Brown Daring Greatly. 

If we want our learners to have courage and take risks in their learning then we need to have courage and take even greater risks in our teaching. And as leaders we need to give people permission to take these risks.

Twelve months ago Jono wrote:
“I like the idea of learning muscles. It tells me that we can get better at these things if we 'work out' with them. We're basing our classroom around these learning muscles next year. We're trying to gear our kids up for the 21st century that they are going to go into and we want them to go in with confidence.” Jono Broom December 2013.

Learning Muscles- curiosity, courage, investigation, experimentation, imagination, reasoning, sociability and reflection. We added stickability and empathy.

So on the first day this year we said to our kids (50 learners ranging in age from 9 through to 15) “This is our curriculum for the year. If you leave here at the end of the year better in some, or all, of these ten things then we will all- both us and you-have done our jobs.”

We have not “taught” reading, writing, maths or any other “subject” all year.

Whenever our learners set goals they were in relation to the learning muscles. When they reflected on the learning they had been doing they reflected on their learning muscles rather than the “content specific,” or “process skills” they had been learning or practicing.

We have freed our learners up to “inquire.” They have inquired into things we suggested, and more and more they have inquired into things they were developing passions and interests around. (See inquiry posts-linked below- for more detailed information on this.)

When reflections and evaluations of learning (theirs and/or ours)  identified the need for direct instruction in a specific skill, or development of some content knowledge then we provided this.

Student accountability developed.  Student involvement in and responsibility for their learning increased. Then student engagement started becoming evident. Student achievement using measures such as standardised assessments was skyrocketing by the time we were half way through the year.

But most importantly these learners ended the year with so much more confidence than they started the year with. Most of them contributed to a video book for a teacher leaving- these were the same students who lacked confidence and refused to be recorded on video at all in February when I tried to take some initial impressions of them and their ideas about learning. 
Another teacher who taught a  lot of the same students in 2013 and had been away all year visited on the second to last day. He couldn’t get over the difference in these learners confidence and general bearing. The way they interacted with each other and with adults. The way they held themselves and had a belief in themselves and each other.

Our end of year reports were learning stories based around the learning muscles.

They spent the last morning at school for the year reflecting and clearly articulating the learning muscles they had developed significantly this year.

These learners wanted to be at school. They were still at school in the last week this year working on their inquiries. A Year 10 boy got so far through his inquiry and realised he needed some more understanding to be able to do what he wanted to do. So 24 hours before school was due to close there he was with a teacher re-forming his inquiry questions. He can just come back to school and continue with this next year. 

Learning isn't restricted to neat and tidy 3 week units, or even 10 week themes any more. Learning is truly ongoing and on its way to becoming life long for these learners.

We’ve had such great success with the learning muscles as a trial in our Middle Years Learning Community (Years 6-10)  this year that we are going to be focusing on them school wide next year. We’ve incorporated them into the Mason Durie Tapa Wha model and these two concepts have become our graduate profile. 

How we do this with our foundation class students, who often come to school with the behaviours and knowledge more like three years olds than five year olds, and how we do this in our early years- where we know some of the basics of reading and writing are so necessary and how we do this through NCEA are some of our ongoing inquiries for the year. We have our initial plans for how we are going to do it and I’m sure they will be modified and change as the year progresses just as ours did this year.  

The learning muscles  are the most important thing we will measure our students progress in, from when they start school at 5 through to when they leave us at 18. We will assess reading, writing and maths as we go, and we will be continually evaluating and reflecting on what skills and concepts a learners needs help developing. But we will always remember that our aim is to help each learner to progress their learning in an ongoing quest to become a well rounded  lifelong learner. And we believe the learning muscles are the key to this. 

As has been said for many years- what you value is what you measure. 

We are determined to make the learning muscles the things we measure the most as a school- because they are the thing we want to value the most. Follow our journey as we strive to keep ourselves honest to this vision.

Useful Links:

My Story of Change- Jono Broom (the original post that started the learning muscles journey.)

Inquiry Learning

Web of Inquiry- Jono Broom

The Link In The Chain-Jono Broom

Self Directed Learning

Give Your Learners True Control- Karyn Gray

Do We Need a Bell to Signal Learning?- Karyn Gray

Curriculum Change

Throw off the Shackles and Turn the Curriculum Upside Down-Jono Broom

Saturday, 13 December 2014


A few weeks back I posted this message on my facebook timeline;
Life can get confusing and at times you can lose sight of the person you wanted to be. Your motivation is going to fluctuate and at times you'll feel like giving up....but those problems you thought were so big in your life..aren't really that big after all. And that courage you've always wanted you've always had just needed to get in the game. With a little bit of hardwork and with the right support you can be that person you've always wanted to be! So whatever it is you're after...just make the conscious decision to get in the Game!......and go get it!!! Just decide who you wanna be what you wanna do where you wanna go and go for it........what have you got too lose?

Now at the time that post, was directed towards my passion of bodybuilding since then I have come to believe that maybe indirectly and unconsciously I may have been thinking about my teaching this year aswell so with that in mind, the dispositions I would like to touch on is Stickability and Empathy.

2014 has definitely not been without its challenges. I would be lying if I didn’t say stepping up and teaching fulltime in the Senior Learning Community has been a smooth ride and at times I would question my ability to be teaching at this level…at times I wondered what the hell was Senior Management thinking placing me in there. I have never been one not to accept new challenges and embrace change. However,  I was also aware that this challenge just didn’t affect me alone but it would have major implications on the students I directly and indirectly interacted with.

This year I have learnt to be flexible with the many learning and teaching pathways we have been shown and trialled. Like my post at times  I was confused and lost sight of the teacher I thought I was supposed to be. I believe this was because like all new experiences and changes it not only highlights ones strengths but also reveals ones weaknesses. It is in our weaknessess that our fears are unveiled and
when our fight or flight response is activated.  Not one to fly, that courage you’ve always wanted you’ve always had it But with the right support so thaks to my colleagues in the SYLC and some hard work on my behalf  I have managed to work through it.
I can honestly say despite the ups and downs of working with our seniors, and what seemed like moving mountains to motivate and or to inspire them towards their passions and to get them through NCEA has been fulfilling.  Knowing what a slow and uncertain  process learning can often be, this last term has shown when we as Teachers persevere, channel our energy of frustrations productively and go beyond our job descriptions anything can be achieved.
Matua Henare enlightened me on one of our many conversations and reflections of the working day ..”sometimes we need to stop listening with our head and we need to follow our hearts, teaching is all about relationships.”

We are all familiar with the korero “don’t judge a man  untill you have walked in his shoes.”  Which refers to the importance of empathy and its moral values. When we empathise with another person we are able to see things from their point of view. This year we have tried to develop this even more by providing our students opportunities and encouraging them to work independantly and follow their passions.

I don’t normally agree with Henare most of the time, so pride aside he’s right, its quite a simple concept and I think sometimes as teachers we can analyse and over intellectualise what we are trying to achieve with our students that at times we get lost and forget why we wanted to become teachers in the first place.

When I think about Empathy and relationships the word Rangatira comes to mind. My understanding of this word isn’t based on status, position, money or popularity its based on the deeper meaning of the word.
I recall the late Morvin Simon breaking the word down for me as student at Hato Paora Catholic Maori boys School as "Ranga" which derives from the word raranga to “weave” then "Tira" which is a travelling party of which he defined as a person who "weaves" a "travelling party " together.

Bringing people together and weaving all those whom we interact with on a daily basis through the many twists and turns in peoples lives is what we have to work with.  No matter what the context or the kaupapa you are dealing with if you are unable to have a good working relationship with your students, their families and your colleagues you are more than likely going to struggle to weave that travelling party together.

Rangatira didn’t work alone aswell, having those support networks around you is vital and I know for a fact even though it maybe deemed as a sign of weakness asking for help…a problem shared is a problem halved so pull up your socks put your pride aside and if you require help just like I said at the beginning “ GET IN THE GAME” and ask, what have you got to lose?

Na Matua Sol,

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Learning Through Play- Tara O'Neill

Kids learn through play and play is a fabulous way for kids to learn.  It is as natural as breathing. Vygotsky says, “the influence of play on a child’s development is enormous”. Barbara Rogoff also suggests that children supporting each other and learning together, a key feature of play makes a powerful contribution to mathematical learning. Bishop emphasises the playing of games. He notes that playing is “indeed a most serious business” as well as a significant adult activity.  “Play is not just an activity; it’s a state of mind that brings new energy and sparks creativity”(Lundin, 2002).

Is Play a valid way to teach academic skills to children in their first year of school?  What skills do students need as they enter school and engage with the New Zealand Curriculum?  Both early childhood and the NZ curriculum are based on social-constructivism.  Both have moved away from the old Behaviourist theories where teachers imparted knowledge and children repeated tasks to gain proficiency.   No longer do these curriculums direct that rote learning, repetition and discipline help children gain new skills and knowledge.  Instead they embrace a combination of Piaget and Vygotsky and beyond. Piaget where a child is not taught new skills until they show readiness and Vygotsky where a child is taught by a teacher or peer skillfully supporting their new learning thereby helping the child to learn more by sharing the background thinking about how to solve a problem, breaking it down step by step.  

Next year I am heading up a foundation class, a class for students to come into as they begin school.  At its base, it uses Te Whariki the Early Childhood curriculum combined with the NZ Curriculum.   The class environment will look like an Early Childhood center. The main reason for this is to embrace play as the main context in learning.  Coaching is probably the best word to describe how the teachers will interact in the class. We will be coaching social, emotional and academic skills.  We will be looking for indicators that each student has sufficient skills to be able to progress onto the next steps in their learning life. These will largely be seen in the following areas – Social skills, Emotional and Academic readiness. Some of these indicators will be the ability to use emotions appropriately to support their learning. For example, we might see patience from a child as they learn to manipulate blocks in their play, or the ability to focus on a book leading to engagement in an area of learning.  It may be turn taking where the learner is able to take turns in order to play a game with their peers.  It might be being friendly where they are able to use this skill to solve a learning problem with a friend. 

Vygotsky explained that through play, children learn skills for how to control their bodies, develop communication and thinking skills and learn how to relate to others in a social environment. Some of our learners at Te Karaka Area School enter not having had many opportunities to play especially with a trained teacher to coach and assist them in their learning.  This is one reason why they haven’t developed the emotional and social skills necessary to support further learning. The other reason is that for children up to the age of 7 play provides the best instructional environment.

At a conference this year, I listened to Nathan Mikaere Wallis share about research on 5 year old boys and brain development.  The acquisition of social and emotional skills are the most important skill for this group of learners not cognitive skills.  If we get boys at 5 and they don’t achieve, they may develop a disposition of failing and not wanting to achieve.  Most boy’s brains are not physically ready to read until 7 years old.  This knowledge about brain development is crucial if teachers are to know their learners readiness for certain academic learning.

Further to this, learning needs to be in the Zone of Proximal Development.  If we force them to be outside of this they can feel incompetent and we may risk stopping the development of the brain.   In order to think and learn, you need the other parts of your brain to be functioning.  1.  Survival brain.  Brainstem – this is in charge. You need warmth, food and security from loving relationships.
2.  Movement brain or the Midbrain – sports brain  You need to exercise and experience movement.  3.  Mammal brain or the Lymbric system – emotional brain. You need emotional support and safety.  4. The thinking and learning brain is built on the above.  The thinking and learning brain’s ability to function rests on the above 3 brains.  What happens in early childhood impacts on brain development and continues to influence further learning. 

 This is an interesting discussion by Nathan Mikaere-Wallis - Radio New Zealand “What 3 to 7 year olds need to learn”

The Incredible Years Programme outlines three developmental levels of social skills needed by children as they progress towards being able to focus on more academic learning.  Child Developmental Level 1 – The child plays alone.  Level 2 – Parallel Play where a child plays alongside another child.   Level 3 - Interacting with others. The Incredible Years describes how the ability to control a child’s body needs to be taught just like we teach academic skills.  Learners need to firstly understand what emotions feel like and then be able to identify these using words.  Finally they will learn to use their emotions as a tool to support their learning.  Just as we allow learners to make mistakes in their academic learning, we also need to allow mistakes with social and emotional learning.  And just as with academic learning we provide an environment every day for practicing in. Just as we support learners to learn how to write a re-count we can scaffold learners to learn how to control their anger.  We can explain the thinking behind restorative practice and why we say sorry to someone we have wronged.

Te Whariki the Early Childhood curriculum links in with the NZ curriculum the focus of the Primary Years.   Under Development of Learning and Capabilities it says "There is no developmental cut-off at school entry age.  During the early school years, the principles and strands of the early childhood curriculum continue to apply and can be interwoven with those of the New Zealand curriculum statements for schools".   Pg 21 of Te Whariki Curriculum Document.

Not all students are ready for cognitive, academic learning when they start school.  They are not all ready to sit down in one place for more than 10 minutes and have a lesson with a teacher.  There is no magic that happens when a child turns 5 that allows them to be ready emotionally and socially.    By providing a foundation class we are providing a smooth transition and acknowledging that for our community, the children sometimes need a melding and transition of the two curriculums.   We also acknowledge that play is an important context for early learners to experience and that as educators we act as a deciding force to seeing the environment set up to support learning.  This includes noticing when a learner is ready to learn the next step and how we will set up learning experiences to enable them to learn.  

I think that one of the greatest mistakes we make as Educators is thinking that direct instruction is an effective way for young children to learn.  And sometimes we think it is the only way.  We believe that if we control the knowledge and tasks, the students will learn.  We mistakenly believe that the structure of direct teaching is the very structure needed for our learners to feel safe in and learn. 

Next year, we are starting a class which will focus firstly on emotional and social skills and secondly on cognitive skills.  In most Year one classes in New Zealand, children are expected to come to where their teacher sits to take part in a formal skill based lesson.  Instead of this, in our foundation class, the educators will go to the children and like in Early Childhood, will engage with the child in play, listening, asking and answering, questioning, challenging ideas and concepts teaching social and emotional skills.  They will respond quickly to learner’s needs and passions, providing resources to enable their learning to progress in the very best way needed for each individual.  Creativity will be encouraged and enabled.


Vygotsky, L.S. (1980) “Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes” pg. 96.

Minstry of Education. ( 2009) “Mathematics, assessment for learning: early childhood exemplars” pg. 2.

Bishop, A. (1991) “Mathematical enculturation: A cultural perspective on mathematics education.  Pg17

Lundin, S. (2002) “Fish Tales”. 

Naysmith, R. (2011) “Implementing the New Zealand Curriculum: understandings and experiences from three urban primary schools”. 

The Incredible Years Teacher  -

Te Whariki - http:/

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Good That Comes from a Camp- Lanie Wilton

Some parents and teachers were a bit baffled by the notion that our Middle Years students were going to be having not 1 but 3 camps this year. It can be seen as a bit of a treat or a fun time. I’ll admit, it is both of those, but it can also create huge leaps in learning when students get to really experience new things first hand.  In the words of Guy Claxton - “Immersion in experience is the most fundamental learning mode throughout life”.  Equally the trips have given the students and staff a common ground, a basis to form respect and relationships that comes back to the class room and the community.

In term 3 we took our Middle years students on a trip around the East Coast. This was their second trip this year and my first real camp away with students as a teacher. I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to get to know the students more personally so was looking forward to it. After more fundraising, planning, learning and researching we geared up for our longer end of year 10 days camp to Cape Reinga. It was amazing – for staff and students.

I had hoped that camp would be fun for our students. I had no idea that due to the preparation and planning it would be so full of monumental life learning experiences. Our students had the trip of a lifetime where they saw things that amazed them (wild horses, dolphins, islands, 2000 yr old trees, culture and picturesque landscapes). They also learnt how to dance (traditional style) they learnt more about each other, and most importantly they learnt about themselves. – Their limits, and how they handle new experiences.

Seeing kids settle down after several days without sugar – and eating well was awe-inspiring! If only we could have our students eat foods that assist their learning all the time. On day 7 we were on a bus trip back to camp and didn’t want our campers falling to sleep on the bus (otherwise they would have been up all night) – so we gave each student 2 pieces of chocolate. Well! Within 20minutes the bus was a hive of racus noise, laughter, pranks and energy. It was scary to see how quickly and dramatically that small amount of chocolate affected them.

Our last night of camp (a beautiful formal) dinner was set up with sparkling grape juice for toasting in each wine glass. The sugar rush (from just one small glass of fizzy) was instant and incredible. It was amazing to watch and realise what had affected them. Some of these kids drink and share a 1.5 litre bottle of fizzy before and during a normal school day.

TKAS uses very modern approaches to teaching. I found it interesting how at camp we ended up using some traditional teaching techniques (that we don’t use day to day in TKAS) such as lining up for the bus and when we were in public. At TK we don’t get kids to line up, they simply go from one place to the other as you would with your family when you’re up town. Now, when I visit other schools, and see kids walking in lines I realise how archaic it is. As adults, we do line up for movie ticket ques, but we wouldn’t walk anywhere in two orderly lines!

 “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn, and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” – John Dewey.

I believe these kids have had an amazing year. The expense of travel related costs can put off some schools from even attempting an annual class camp. What those schools don’t see is the learning that can be gained, the engagement of youth – particularly when it can all be linked back into inquiry learning.  “Education is what is left after you have forgotten everything you were taught at school” – Albert Einstein. These kids will never forget this last trip. It is something you can’t put a price on.

Now, some of them have travelled further than their parents have ever been. They have set new boundaries for themselves, “wow now we need to go to the bottom of the south island”.  I believe prior to the trip that possibility would not have entered their minds. They have seen what traffic in a big city actually looks like – “wow is that the traffic you were talking about?” one student referring too 4 cars waiting in a cue was a lot – that was before he saw spaghetti junction and a 8 lane highway in Auckland!

Before these experiences I saw a bunch of kids that need help. Now I see students with their options expanded and individuals with a future.  My job is to help them reach and even stretch them beyond whatever positive future they see in their adult lives

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The link in the chain. Jono Broom

Some of you may remember my previous blog post about the web of inquiry that I wrote almost a year ago now.
This is a follow up to that post. 

We have been using the structure of the web of inquiry in our classroom for the last 8 months and it has been working incredibly well. Learners have become settled and into the routine of the process and it seems to flow quite naturally for them. We have found though that something was missing, something quite crucial to engagement, and crucial to the learners having purpose in what they are doing. This is the story of how we implement the web of inquiry into our classroom, and a proposed 5th step added in. 

Experiment: As this is the first step, learners are exposed to different aspects of a topic. We found this imperative, especially for our students as they have a limited view on aspects of their world. Say for example our topic is Northland, New Zealand. Learners are exposed to different aspects of Northland: Tane Mahuta, The Treaty of Waitangi, Maui Dolphins, The hole in the rock, Cape Reinga, etc. Tasks are provided for the learners to do, to let them experiment and experience all different parts of Northland

Engage: Learners choose one section of the Northland inquiry that really speaks out to them, and that they would like to explore further. Say for example, a learner would like to inquire into Maui Dolphins. Learners then start to plan their own inquiry. They first need to answer 3 questions which will ensure we get good coverage for our big, “ungoogleable” question. 

“What do you already know about this topic?”
“What would you like to know about this topic?”
“Why do you want to know this/What could you do with this information?”

From these they write their own (teacher facilitated) big, ungooglable question; for example: 

In what ways can I improve my knowledge about how the Maui Dolphins are dying in order to attempt to save them from extinction?

This big question will lead into four smaller subsidiary questions which are considerably easier to answer, but if the student answers them all, they should have an answer to their big question. For example:

Where do the Maui Dolphins live? 
What kinds of things are impacting on the Maui Dolphins lives?
What is being done already to save the Maui Dolphins? 
Is there anything that needs to be done, or could be done to try and save the Maui Dolphins?

Explore: Once these questions have been created, an explore plan is completed with the learner, including where the student could go to find the information out, what kind of help the student might need to find the information, and a timeline of when the student will have different parts of the project completed. 

The learner can then independently research his or her questions, and can come to the teacher for advice or help as needed. 

Establish: This is the new stage, which I think is important for students to do to help them get some real purpose in their inquiry, and to make it really meaningful. They have found out how they can help the Maui Dolphins in their previous stage, but now it is important that they actually put that into action and establish a plan of what they are going to do. 

If they came to the conclusion that Maui Dolphins are being caught in fishing nets, and what is needed is education for fishermen about the Maui Dolphins then what are they going to do to help them? Are they going to make a video and put it on Youtube? Will this actually reach the audience they want to reach? Or would it be better to make a poster and put it into fishing shops? This stage is about taking action, and creating change in the world from their research. 

Explain: Explain is still our last stage of the inquiry. They need to explain what they have done, what they have changed, and what they have learnt. Can they link this project back to all areas of the curriculum? Can they link it back to how the inquiry challenged them and made them a better person? We workshop at this stage and back-map our curriculum. We also look at Guy Claxton’s learning muscles, and see how the inquiry has challenged, developed and changed them as a person. This may be where presentations come in, if the inquiry lends itself to that kind of explaining. 

Obviously this is how we implement inquiry into our own classroom and it will be quite different for others who are attempting it in different situations, but this model gives and overall framework for people to work around. 

This is all the learning we do. We run three different inquiries simultaneously that our students are constantly planning through and winding into one other. We let our students collaborate for some parts, and work independently for others. 

Our reading and writing comes into them all the way through, but specific teaching comes through our experiment stage. Our maths we could not integrate very easily, but has also come through the experimenting stage in the form of a maths workbook (which we just call a workbook to the students). This allows those who are interested in maths to look at the maths side of things when it comes to engaging. 

It has been a challenging 8 months, where not everything has gone according to plan and has been very stressful at times, but we have watched young men and women develop such amazing independence, awareness of themselves as learners, and skills which they will continue to use for the rest of their lives. 

Through the Establish stage, I would love to develop further a knowledge of just how much power they could have to change the world. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Loving Monday Mornings Now!

Monday mornings used to be really difficult. Students came to school after 2 or 3 days away from the routines and expectations, and often agitated about weekend events. Getting a learning focus established used to be a big part of our job on a Monday. But this has gradually evaporated and all of a sudden this week I realised we no longer treat Mondays as any different day to prepare for than any other.

It was a beautiful sun soaked Monday November morning in Te Karaka earlier this week. Sitting in our Middle Years Learning Community this is what I saw:

8.30am A teacher is uploading apps onto iPads while having a conversation with learners about computers and iPads. Other students are talking with other adults and each other about their weekends. Other adults- teachers and teacher aides are poring over the school forum looking at the messages about what was happening today- both in the school and in their learning community.

8.45am- when learning officially starts for the day I saw a group of Year 9-10 boys open their iPads and find the google site that lists the days workshops and suggested learning experiences for students to choose from. I hear one 15 year old say to another I just need to have  a look at the site and see which adult I need to go and work with to plan my day today. Off they all started to move to whichever adult they had been allocated to plan with for the day.

8.45-9.15 Groups of 8-10 learners are working with an adult to plan their day and write goals of what they want to achieve each period. These learners are Year 6 through to Year 10. 5 minutes into the block 12 Year 4-5 students also arrive to work in this space on their individualised inquiries for the first half of the day.

9.15-9.45 some groups of learners turn up to the middle space (we have four different learning spaces that all open onto each other) for scheduled workshops and adults come and work with those groups. 
One group is working on creating a display of a reflection about an activity from a recent camp. Another group is busy tweeting for the current gigatown competition. Some students and a teacher from the immersion class have joined in this workshop so that they can go back and pass it on to the rest of their class.

Another classroom adult is roaming around students working individually checking they have understood feedback on some recent writing about camp that has been added to each learners documents on google drive.

There are students out on the verandah writing lyrics and trying them out on a guitar.
Others are completing a piece of art.
Other are investigating their individual inquiry questions.
Some are completing a photography follow up task using camp photos.
Some are on an online forum checking the learning tasks outlines.
Others are on the forum checking the feedback that has been given to them on previous learning tasks. 

A parent turns up because her 10 year son was reluctant to come to school this morning and asks for an older boy who has a good connection with her son to go and talk to him. He goes off and soon comes back with the younger learner and helps set him up for the day.  

There is another parent who has come in to support her child in a restorative meeting at morning tea time. She s joining in with learners in their workshops and wandering around seeing the learning that three of her children- who are all learners in this community- are doing.

9.45-10.15 Workshops change over- some students move in for scheduled workshops, others move off and find a space to carry on with their independent learning.

Everyone knows what they are doing, everyone has a goal to meet and everyone is focused, but collaborating and enjoying their learning. 

A couple of Year 12 students come to see a teacher to ask if they can talk to them about an incident from last week and quietly arrange a more suitable time to come back.

10.15 a short piece of music plays and everyone gets up and puts their technology away without being asked and returns to the group they were in at 8.45am for planning their day. Learners pair up and share with each other what their goal was and how well they met it, using a number rating system and backing up their rating with explanations. Adults check in with each student about how effective their learning has been for the last 90 minutes and what their priority is for the next block of learning, and as they finish each group heads outside for a learning break.

What’s Different?
There have been over 60 learners in this space this morning. At no time have all the students been sat down and told to listen to instructions or demands. But all knew what to do. Instructions are available for all in written form online- some check these before they even leave home in the morning. And these are supported by an adult 1-1 as necessary

Most of the learning they were completing was self selected- individualised inquiries that have been negotiated with adults in various ways.

No bell rang to start or finish anything. This is because are actively facilitating the art of self regulation. 

There is an age range of 7 years. Year 4 students- some still only 9- were working alongside Year 10 students- many of whom are turned 15.

Technology supports and assists learning- it would be difficult without it, but its there to support, not drive the learning.

There is real engagement. These learners are controlling and leading their own learning.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Question........Do we need a bell to signal learning?

Did a bit of a social experiment this afternoon. Don’t really like to use the word experiment when referring to our learners, but a respected colleague has been encouraging me to do just that all year- saying if we are not experimenting then how can we be innovating.

So today I suggested a wee experiment.

We have not used bells all year. When we started three years ago we used a bell to indicate the start of school, the end of morning tea and the end of lunchtime.  This year we went to no bells at all. We talk about a language of learning. We hear kids reminding each other when its time for learning to start again, and we hear duty teachers gently reminding learners its time to head back to their learning. We consider this a much more brain friendly, calmer way for students to return to their learning than the sharp disruption of a bell which can actually foster feelings of fight or flight or other destructive feelings- things we don't want to set our learners up for before they even start the learning.

Today 5 minutes before the end of lunchtime the adults in our middle years all happened to gather in the community space together preparing for the afternoon learning. We sat having a bit of a chat about kids and the learning that we were seeing. And I suggested we see what happened if we didn’t remind the students it was learning time. We left the outside door to the classroom remained shut. 

By 1.05pm when the learning is meant to start we watched students who were out playing games on the court directly in front of the community turn and look, see the door closed, and continue playing for another minute, continually turning and watching for the door to open. Individuals and small groups of students started to gather on the verandah outside the door. No duty teachers were in sight reminding students about it being learning time and the adults inside kept “chatting.” 
Over five minutes larger numbers of students kept looking with puzzle at the door and then returned to playing.

About seven minutes after learning time should have started I casually got up and opened one door, returning to the circle of adults sitting on the couch and ottomans in the middle of the large space. Learners started roaming through the door, a few making comments on their way past about their learning starting a but late this afternoon. 

We have 45 learners aged between 10 and 15 who all work together in this learning community. 
Within three minutes every one of them was inside the learning community and within five minutes all were actively engaged in their learning for the afternoon. There were students who had gone and selected their piece of incomplete art work and set themselves up with pastels to complete it. There were a group of learners who came and got their inquiry folders and music gear and were outside on some beanbags singing and composing for the band that is their self selected inquiry at the moment. There were other students finishing some assigned writing tasks, and others working on some teacher directed inquiry tasks. Other students were researching their own inquiries previously negotiated with teachers. Another group were working in a team finishing a video presentation. 

At no stage was any signal given- apart from a door being opened- or any adult speak to any student and ask them to come inside or ask them to get on with their learning. 

In my experience often teachers think they have true self directed learning happen, but it all falls apart as soon as the teacher stops quietly directing from the side. Take a class where the teacher says the kids can operate by themselves completely and take that teacher out for the day and see what happens.

This little experiment  showed me that we have truly moved way down the continuum of self directed learning. 

These kids were not easy to manage or engage at the beginning of the year. But this was the vision we had and slowly we have moved students towards it. What is happening now would not be happening without the strategic steps we have taken on the way. It couldn't have happened in one step. But it is real self directed learning. And it is real engagement. And its very exciting to be part of a team that has worked very hard, alongside these learners to give them the skills and the space to take the lead in their own learning. 

As a team we started off the year by reading the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I love many quotes from this book but this one has always stood out:

“We want to show up, we want to learn, and we want to inspire. We are hardwired for connection, curiosity, and engagement. We crave purpose, and we have a deep desire to create and contribute. We want to take risks, embrace our vulnerabilities, and be courageous. When learning and working are dehumanised—when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform—we disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs from us: our talent, our ideas, and our passion. What we ask is that you engage with us, show up beside us, and learn from us. Feedback is a function of respect; when you don’t have honest conversations with us about our strengths and our opportunities for growth, we question our contributions and your commitment. Above all else, we ask that you show up, let yourself be seen, and be courageous. Dare Greatly with us.”