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

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