Future Learning Theme: Technology allows for different kinds of collaboration
Today was our second-ever ‘Future Learning’ staff session. As you can see, I initially presented on the overall theme of ‘collaboration’, and then co-ran a Google Docs/Google Drive workshop.
What I’m super-pleased with is that, contrary to the first session, I found this workshop far more successful, and indeed, even feel energised at its conclusion. I think there are several contributing factors to this. Firstly, there were quite a few people in the workshop, so the desire to learn and participate was there. Having a co-presenter meant that there was more than one person who could help those who needed it. Also, having a very concrete ‘step-by-step’ help sheet (as attached) meant that people could work through at their own pace, with support from the presenters, or their peers around them. I think sometimes we need to remember to start off right at the beginning so that everyone can join us on the journey. If there are already experts, then they can go off and explore while the person to their immediate right is still looking for gmail on their browser.
The initial feedback from staff confirms that they were easily able to make connections between the workshop content and the future learning theme of collaboration, and that there seemed to be a real desire to explore the possibilities of Google Docs even further. Hmmm … I hope they share their learning with me!
I do love Haiku Deck – beautiful presentations, guilt-free Creative Commons images, minimal text means avoiding inflicting ‘death by PowerPoint’.
And my reflection will simply consist of saying that I was worried that I was presenting to a crowd who weren’t that thrilled to hear the message – especially with numerous network, server, internet and printing issues at present – but the staff seemed genuinely receptive. I am so grateful for the positive feedback I received 🙂 The next presentation won’t seem so daunting!
My fabulous co-presenter and senior manager and I understand from staff that they are pleased to know there’s a clear vision, that time and resources are being devoted to carrying that vision through, and that there is genuine choice for them as learners. Hopefully that’s role modelling for ya 😉
Hmmm perhaps this should have been my very first blog post, but better late than never, right?! I thought I’d just share a little bit of my journey – how I got to be in this metaphorical boat, sailing uncharted seas where the maps available may only warn ‘here be dragons’.
In a former life (i.e. last term ;)) I was HOD English. Now that was the ultimate goal for me in becoming a teacher. I wanted to teach English (mostly Shakespeare) and I wanted to be the Head of an English department. Mission accomplished. Happiness to follow? Not necessarily…
It was when I found myself actively applying for non-teaching jobs (a massive wrench for someone who always wanted to teach) that I realised something just wasn’t adding up. While still applying for jobs, I started listening to myself. What messages was I relaying about my days at work? I always had a funny or warm anecdote about something that happened in class. I really like my colleagues. I really didn’t find satisfying the constant war on how best to spend my time. The hierarchy went: stuff with parents; stuff that affected colleagues; senior marking; junior marking; planning lessons; department strategic stuff. Very rarely did that ranked list lead me to do the things that I felt would make a difference. Something needed to change – but the teaching wasn’t actually it.
In amongst this, it was announced that the school was going BYOD. Even me, with a severely limited understanding of what this meant in real terms, could see that this required a massive shift. What was the school doing about this (in case I don’t make this point later on – behind the scenes there was lots of really good thinking going on, I was just unaware of it at the time) to prepare staff?
I could spy an opportunity. Land ahoy?! I presented myself as a ‘willing skeptic’ – I could write a blog, and present some ideas to staff about how to teach ‘BYOD’. I had some ideas about the 3Cs of creativity, communication and critical thinking. I convinced the principal. Job mine. Go to ULearn.
Bam! I was suddenly adrift on an ocean of amazing ideas and opportunities – uncharted yes, but exciting in its very openness. Overnight (OK over the three days of the conference) I was converted – no longer ‘willing skeptic’ (how I cringe – who would go for that idea anyway?!) but raving zealot!
So, no longer HOD English, but Future Learning Leader. The seas remain uncharted, but the way forward is becoming less mirage-like. I will co-lead staff learning around the WHY of e-learning/BYOD with a strong emphasis on future learning principles and strategies. I will not jump up with a new app every day. I will work alongside departments to follow through an inquiry process into what they’re interested, and what might work technology-wise to support student needs for them as 21st century citizens.
I am no expert. I am but a learner, and hopefully we can all work together to learn more. Lifejacket anyone?
Ok! Sound the trumpets! I’ve finished reading the whole NZCER document – it’s here if you need the link again 🙂
Overall, I have to say my head is full and that I have a lot of thinking to do. Luckily, I like thinking!
The final section of the report document reinforces the idea that I’m already a strong supporter of – that technology is just a tool, and that it can be used to teach ‘old school’ if the thought behind the tool isn’t there. I like the diagram on page 56 which outlines that thre must be four interlinked strategies in order to support transformational change through using technology:
providing inspiration and articulating the big picture
providing enabling tools and infrastructure.
Without all four of these things, meaningful, sustainable change is not possible. And these four must be linked to future-oriented learning.
So, in terms of my final thoughts, I’m struck by the following:
That teachers must be helped to ‘unpack’ their current classroom practice, and the philosophical ideas behind these (e.g. why do we have assemblies – what learning comes out of these? e.g. what is the purpose of teaching English – what is the use of it in the ‘real world’?).
If teachers are encouraged and supported to think in this way, then they are likely to recognise that there is a need – a pressing, genuine need – to do things differently (p. 62).
That there are a lot of things that almost need to happen altogether – the strategies above, the engagement with the six themes of the report…and that’s massive. And maybe even a little overwhelming. But the important things usually are!
That while essentially systemic transformation is needed, there are some steps we can begin to make right now towards the big picture.
Ok, so I’ve found it challenging to find the time (or, perhaps, more truthfully, prioritise the time…) to continue to read NZCER’s report “Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective”. But! I’m nearly through, so I thought I’d take the time to reflect on the five further themes which the report links to “contemporary views of learning for the 21st century: (p. 9). And as a reminder, the full six are:
New views of equity, diversity and inclusivity
A curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity
‘Changing the script’: Rethinking learners’ and teachers’ roles
A culture of continuous learning for teachers and educational leaders
New kinds of partnerships and relationships: Schools no longer siloed from the community (pp. 9-10)
I’m intrigued by the idea of ‘diversity’, which, as the report rightly captures, has been dominated in New Zealand schools by definitions of equity, or reducing disparity between different ethnic, in particular, groups. The report doesn’t downplay this approach, but rather, I think, shifts the focus from a negative to a positive perspective, calling for ways in which differences are seen as valued as they allow for ideas and problems to be seen in different lights, from different points of view. Overall, the concept of educating for diversity, I think is key. We must be able to engage with “people from cultural, religious and/or linguistic backgrounds or world views that are very different” from our own (p. 25), and we must be able to engage with a diversity of ideas (p. 25). I love this, and find it sits comfortably with my personal values and beliefs.
Theme 3 is centred around shifting the concept of knowledge from one of knowledge as “content or ‘stuff'” to “something that does stuff” (p. 31). I think this is a huge challenge for secondary school teachers, in particular, whose core business has been imparting knowledge – filling the empty vessel analogy. The idea of knowledge as a verb, or that “knowledge is about creating knowledge and using knowledge” (p. 32) may be comfortable in theory, but to put into practice is less straight-forward and clear-cut. This is where inquiry-based learning, learning how to learn, and learning how to work with ideas and people, seems to me to come into play. Working in a cross-curricula fashion in order to learn transferable skills will become important.
The fourth theme, focused on the shifting or rethinking of teacher and student roles, I’m gratified to see, is something I’ve considered already on this blog here. I actually really like that this entire report seems only to use the word ‘learner’. I think we should remember that this applies equally to ‘students’ and ‘teachers’ as we all seek to embrace learning about, in, and through a ‘future-oriented’ lens.
Indeed, this feeds well into the fifth theme of continuous learning. The NZC speaks of creating ‘life-long learners’, and many schools have adopted this into their vision for their students. However, equally, teachers must see themselves as ‘life-long learners’ – and not just in terms of their specific knowledge, or learning, area, but of pedagogy as well. “21st century teachers need to be able to think about knowledge as a tool to do things with” (p. 46). This strikes me as being akin to the extended abstract end of the SOLO taxonomy that Marsden has been working with for a number of years. Teachers, with their subject-specific expertise need themselves to be able to think in a meta-cognitive kind of way about their subject and the ways in which the knowledge can be accessed, categorised, and linked.
Finally (for now ;)) is the sixth theme of forging community partnerships. I like the two-fold rationale here – firstly around providing authentic learning contexts, but also because these school-community connections will help to stimulate “real community understanding of and support for future-oriented ideas” which will be needed “if schools are to achieve the required shift in focus” (p. 49)
This (along with the previous blog post) form my reflection on the six themes outlined. There’s still a wee bit more to go, so bear with me as I explore the final ten pages…!
I have read the executive summary twice, and find the ‘teacher friendly’ curriculum update really accessible: NZC Update 26. I actually read the executive summary as almost the first piece of initial exploring I did into this area and upon recently re-reading it, it’s amazing how much more sense it makes now! Thus, I’ve been inspired to read the whole kit and caboodle.
The introduction seeks to define ’21st century’ or ‘future’ learning and to capture what the current educational situation is like in New Zealand. While only being a third of the way through the report as a whole at present, something I’m finding consistent and striking is a call for a “system transformation” (p. 9) in order to support every single student to “develop the skills, competencies, knowledge, and understanding required to participate in, and contribute to, our national and global future” (p. 9).
The metaphor that is used to capture this need for systemic shift is that of ‘unbundling’ – taking apart structures in order to reassemble them in newer, more meaningful ways.
I like that the report directly addresses the why of change, and that this response is not just about economy or changing careers, but also about the fact that more is known about how learning occurs, and that there has been a fundamental shift in the way “knowledge is thought about and used” (p. 11). The two supporting tables which explore these latter two concepts on pages 13 and 15 I find particularly useful.
For example: “It is no longer possible to accurately predict exactly which knowledge people will need to draw on as they move through life in the 21st century. It has been argued that students need, among other things, opportunities to build their sense of identity, become self-reliance, critical and creative thinkers, be able to use initiative, be team players and be able to engage in ongoing learning throughout their lives” (Table 2: Old and new views of knowledge, and the implications for schooling, p. 13) for me, this is real confirmation and justification for my focus on what I’ve been calling the ‘3Cs’ of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
And: “To learn, people need to be actively engaged – they need to be doing something, thinking something and/or saying something that requires them to actively process, interpret and adapt an experience to a new context or use.” (Table 3: What we know about learning, p. 15). This is calling for thinking and having experiences to think with.
Speaking of thinking – something I need to do more thinking about is the concept of ‘wicked problems’ – I almost certainly will come back to this at a later stage.
Finally, I have just finished reading the section on ‘personalising learning’, which is the first of six “themes” that the report deals with as those “linked with contemporary views of learning for the 21st century” (p. 9).
The distinction that is made between ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ practice of personalisation has struck a chord with me. I can see that staff in my school are genuinely making steps towards the ‘shallow’ end of personlisation pool: offering “choices about which activity(ies) [students] will undertake to master the knowledge determined by the teacher” (p. 19). This report suggests, of course, that we should be working towards ‘deep’ personalisation where “students’ learning activities and the curriculum/knowledge content they engage with are shaped in ways that reflect the input and interests of students, as well as what teacher know to be important knowledge” (p. 19).
My gut reaction to this was one of guilt – I’ve been kidding myself that offering ‘shallow’ choices to students was allowing for the personalisation of learning. However, I see that we all have to start something – and the intention behind the choices is a genuine one. We can’t go from zero to hero in one fell swoop (to mix a metaphor). I’m also reassured – but need to make sure I don’t use this as an excuse to try ‘deep’ personalisation within my classroom – by the concrete examples of deep personalisation supplied in the report from two New Zealand schools. I particularly like the model outlined on page 23 that comes from Albany Senior High. Here we can see the recurring call for a transformation at a systemic level in practice – ultimately this is what is needed to create genuine transformation.
I’ve been asked to do a presentation to the English Department on future learning and how my role as Future Learning Leader might help the department tackle the shift to BYOD next year. I thought I’d use the opportunity to try some new presentation software.
Getting into haiku deck was a drawn-out process, and I found I couldn’t quite do everything I wanted to – but the final result is, I think, beautiful. As a learning tool, I think it would be powerful to get students or teachers to really synthesise their ideas down to the core.
As I’ve blogged about before, I really like this framework as an overview of future (or 21st Century) learning skills. So, I thought I would have an initial play with the framework and adapt it to better suit the context in which I work.
Thus, it reflects the New Zealand Curriculum, particularly its values and key competencies, as well as the Marsden pillars. Because the framework is very much a first draft (if for no other reason that my techie skills are pretty darn limited and it just doesn’t look that good), I’ve also thrown into one corner three verbs that I’m playing with as words that I feel best reflect the various visions and values and goals that Marsden articulates.
I’d really welcome feedback, advice and suggestions – I reiterate that this is very much at a fledging stage, and may yet be used only for myself as I conduct some teaching as inquiry into my own pedagogy and classroom practice. Just putting my work and thoughts out there… So, what do you think?
I had a fellow teacher friend who was really interested in the area of gifted and talented education. He completed a paper in it, and as he was studying, he joked that all he needed was to find a new shape to present the same ideas in, market it as something new, and hey presto! Millions! Now, I don’t think for a minute that that’s true, but it does seem that teachers and educators like their shapes, models, scaffolds, frameworks or (new take on same thing) infographics.
Cynicism aside, the framework below is actually one I think that has the best potential. What I particularly like, and what I think will have resonance for the staff at my school, is that it does acknowledge the ‘traditional’ subject areas that high schools are generally still quite committed to. I also like that I can see where our NCEA and formalised assessment slots in. Furthermore, I think there is clear potential to use the words of our school’s vision to adapt to our specific context. It’s a great find.