Tuesday, 21 April 2015

You Don't Need a Pencil to Write...or Do You. Tara O'Neill

You don’t need a pencil to write or do you?

“As soon as they hit my class, they are expected to sit down and write,” said one teacher of New Entrants.   “Make sure your students know they are Writers from day one, get them sitting down, with a pencil and get them writing in their exercise book” said a person offering professional development.  These statements seem sensible enough after all that is what teachers do, they teach.  What are your thoughts?

I heard the statements, and I didn’t agree with them.

 Who said humans were ready to write at the age of 5 years?  Who said that the definition of writing includes a pencil and paper? Who said that you had to sit down to write?   Is writing defined by a picture of something you did in the weekend and then a sentence written by a teacher underneath?

Writing is about communicating ideas.  Physically writing words down is one way we can do this.   Many of the students in our learning community come to school without necessarily having used a pencil.  Consider the writing stages, shown here in this link from https://www.kinderplans.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Writing-Stages.png.

There are many such examples if you goggle them.   My point is children don’t all start school ready to write in books with a pencil.  

Consider this approach.  A group of children are interested in fire fighting.  Our teacher aide is a local firefighter.  He brings in helmets for them to use in play.  He talks to the students about different situations he has been called to.  He explains to them that after every call out, the team sits down and records what has happened.   The following day, another teacher walks past this group.  They are sitting around a table.  They yell out, “We are having a meeting about our call out”.  The teacher says, “You will need something to record it in, and goes and gets a book”.  One child takes charge, and starts to write in the book.  It doesn’t matter how she writes, the point is writing it is now meaningful.  Once students have ‘got writing’ and begin to understand the power of it, further instruction can be given to the particular skills needed to evolve their writing.   

Some writers in our learning community haven’t been exposed to story.  Some find it difficult to speak in sentences.  We believe that before a child can write, they need to speak or at least show understanding of communication.   What would happen, if you arrived in a foreign country, and on your first day, the tour guide said you were in charge of writing the request for breakfast, in the foreign language!  How would you feel? 

Writing is about communicating. You will be able to think of many cultures that have an oral tradition of passing down stories.  Are their stories any less valuable?  Of course not!  Writing reflects the ideas, sequence and logic of the writer. To communicate ideas that are important and rich orally makes the writer no less an author than those who write with pencil and paper.

Of course we want all our students to be able to write, it is very useful being able to record ideas even essential.  Lets face it, much of our paranoia over students sitting down with a pencil, and writing from day dot, is brought about by needing to met a summative assessment. That is expectations that all children write at a certain level by a certain age.  Having goals are important, but the goals must be purposeful, meaningful and show progress.  What happened to meaningful learning that is not parroting someone else’s ideas in a robot like fashion? 

Would it not be more purposeful teaching practice, to identify where the child is in their development of writing, and design learning to meet this need?   Developmentally, the child may need to learn to draw first.  They may need to be in an environment where they hear words and are spoken to.  The achievement objectives of the New Zealand Curriculum say “a school’s curriculum is likely to be well designed when – students are helped to build on existing learning and take it to higher levels;  – the long view is taken: each student’s ultimate learning success is more important than the covering of particular achievement objectives”  (TKI, 2015).   I guess that is my real concern, that young children are being expected to learn something before they are ready and in doing so we risk turning them off learning. 

Personally, I love walking into our learning community and seeing groups of children, self managing themselves, learning, some around white boards, writing, others with paper, drawing, others playing in the family corner, designing some clothes for the doll on scrap paper and still others on reading eggs on the ipad.

What do you think?  How do your students travel with writing?  What is their existing learning in writing?  Are they successful communicators of language?


TKI (2015) - http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum/The-school-curriculum-Design-and-review

Friday, 10 April 2015

MLE- A Returning Fad- or the Potential to Transform Learning?

I have some real concerns about some of the things I have been reading from teachers struggling in new MLE’s this year.

If nothing else changes except collaborative spaces and collaborative teaching then the end result will not change. You are just repeating the open plan experiments of the 70s and 80s and it will fall over sooner or later.

If you are still taking reading groups and writing groups and math groups in the same way, just on a bigger scale with more teachers and with several classes, then you are just streaming and making more work for everyone, because of the communication and organisation required. You are teaching traditionally in a shared space. You are using a MLE, but not practising MLP.  There is a huge difference. 

If you have not spent time seriously exploring pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy then you are going to fall into the trap of teaching the same way, just on a bigger scale.
Truly interrogating what you currently do requires some serious consideration of what is currently seen and accepted as best practice. Why is it best practice? Who decided? Is it best practice for all groups of learners? Is the numeracy project really meeting your identified student needs? Who says it is best practice? How well does it marry our curriculum? How well does it marry with BES? Is it moving your kids? Is there stages that they just roadblock at and need something different? Same for writing and reading? Where are the authentic links? Are they authentic for the actual kids in front of you? Or are they authentic in an adults head and world? According to what is what we are doing best practice? 

Is what you value being assessed with the same degree of importance attached to it? 
Or is it what you say you value but not what you really value? If we say we value confidence, then are we finding ways to evaluate, assess and report this just as vigorously as we do reading achievements or do we just measure what is easy to measure therefore giving strong messages to our learners about what we really value?

What is your graduate profile, and how are your day to day interactions and practices helping this? What do you do every day with your learners to explicitly move them towards this? Do your kids have true ownership of their learning? Can they evidence learning against your graduate profile? Or do they just know about their reading, writing and maths levels and next learning steps?

I believe one of the keys to MLP is self regulation. Kids practicing self direction are practicing for directing their own lives. Developing self directed learners requires us to design learning in some very different ways. If we are trying to get them to do the same old reading, writing and maths group follow up tasks and just putting them on a “must do, can do” list has our practice really changed that much, and is it going to affect any great different outcome? 

Self direction, coupled with infusing reading, writing and maths into chunks of deep learning- preferably driven by engaging learners in big problems and helping them develop real passions in learning that can take many paths over time is an important key.

This won’t fit into neatly packaged 10 week term overviews, and some of these archaic requirements from schools and leaders need to change from the top to give our teachers license to innovate. 

To truly personalise programmes means being responsive to individuals needs in an ongoing way. And you cant personalise programmes when learners are stuck in set, inflexible groupings. And you cant personalise learning if you are trying to fit it into neat 10 week packaged sets of learning intentions. 

MLE and MLP should not be just the return of another fad of teaching. But it runs the risk of being if there is not serious exploration and interrogation of pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy. And it will be unless schools change what it is they value assessing.

And this requires courage. Because the system will always be slower to change. So those that change first run the risk of failing the system. But isn't the risk of this better than failing our students? Many of them (even the ones showing so called success) have been failed by the system for a long time. 

Join schools like HPSS in having that courage. Their approach to NCEA needs to be lauded. Ive pondered the purpose of NCEA Level 1 ever since I began working with secondary learners. HPSS have  identified what is important for their learners and put a plan in place to meet that even though this will ruffle feathers and affect their short term “statistics.” Whats more their learners will be truly engaged in learning, rather than counting credits. 

We are doing the same by basing our foundation years on play. This will affect our national standard statistics for the first 2-3 years of school, but every indication we have been able to see tells us we will maintain learners engagement and as they are ready to begin more formal instruction their ‘statistics” will then truly accelerate. But its a long term fix not a short-term one. It’s about building on the natural enthusiasm and engagement in learning our kids come to school with. Not about assessing what kids cant do and then making them do more and more of the same thing in an attempt to improve them. And at the same time often unintentionally completely disengaging them from the learning process.

Isn't truly engaging kids in real learning what we all should be truly passionate about?

If you are not managing to find time to connect with learners in conversations focused on their learning individually on a very regular basis then you are not leveraging the opportunities MLE and MLP can provide. 
It could be you are trying to do everything you used to do in a single cell classroom on a big basis and that is not MLP or the purpose of working in a MLE. 

Start some conversations with your colleagues as to why you are using your current practices? And dig deep. Keep asking why