Timetable Mentality

While not originally conceived of as a companion piece to my most recent blogpost, this does work alongside quite naturally. Again, this is not intended as a criticism of any particular school nor teacher. This is my own personal opinion, and I invite your comments, thoughts and suggestions.

Ah, the timetable. I’m in awe of the immensely hard-working teachers who construct these. I love getting my timetable in the last week of school seeing what’s ahead for me in the new school year. I love to colour-code my timetable. See when my non-contact lessons are. Check out what I’m teaching Period 6 on a Friday. And Period 1 on a Monday.

Image Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/Stundenplan.PNG

As a thoroughly Type-A personality, the organisation and structure of a timetable brings joy to my heart. By this means I can figure out what’s happening when, how to allocate my time, my efforts and energy. I know what classes I’m teaching, and I can know where any student or colleague is meant to be at any given moment of the school day. What a thing to behold.

Of course, the timetable is far more than the piece of photocopied paper in front of me. It is a whole system. In a timetable, students are allotted their chosen subjects, and are organised by their age, and sometimes by their ability. In a timetable, teachers are allocated their classes for the year, which places them within subject disciplines and departments. A timetable files people very well.

And by this ability to file people, a timetable becomes more than a system. It becomes a mentality – and possibly a fixed mentality at that. A timetable can limit the way both students and teachers see themselves and see their learning. Whole schools of thought are broken down into terms, weeks, and lessons. Learning only happens in 55 minute slots. Science and English are discrete subject areas. It is lunchtime and learning must stop. A timetable can be as rigid as the ‘cells and bells’ of traditional (secondary) schooling. Learning becomes assessment driven in a timetable. It is much easier to teach via direct instruction as a time efficient method of conveying the required content.

A timetable is a completely legitimate way to deal with these immense pressures. But I would like to pose a key question. Does a timetable suit an adult or a learner best?

What if…

  • We saw the barriers (timetable, assessment, university requirements) as enabling constraints?
  • We put learners at the heart of the system and built our schools genuinely and authentically around them and their needs?
  • We worked within the flexibility afforded by the New Zealand Curriculum and possible under NCEA to find creative, innovative structures and systems?

Because ultimately I believe that the big picture of education is really the small picture: start with the learner, not with the timetable.

Marsden Professional Learning Session 3

Today’s theme: Technology allows for personalised learning

I’m definitely becoming more comfortable with presenting to the whole staff. What I particularly liked about this presentation was that I considered modelling the less ‘teacher-directed’ or ‘direct-instruction’ and more ‘personalised’ approach. This meant outlining the concept of what personalised learning could incorporate; acknowledging that there is still a place and a need for some proportion of direct instruction; and showing how technology can allow learning to be personalised more readily. As always, the presentation includes numerous hyperlinks so that staff can go off and explore their own learning and interests themselves, but this time I specifically included a slide which catered for audio, visual and text-based preferred learning styles. In this way I was attempting to model one aspect of personalised learning.

A shout out to @GeoMouldey, @grantwiggins, @edutopia, @edudemic AND @coreeducation who provided me with content for this session!

I also ran a blogging workshop. I’m less sure how this was received – perhaps it would have been useful to find out what aspect of blogging teachers were interested in, as I referred to the possibility of having a class blog, a personal blog, a professional blog anf getting students to blog themselves all together! Hopefully my Blogging Workshop ‘help sheet’ is useful enough so that all those various possibilities are catered for…

(In addition to the list above, thanks to @mattynicoll too.)

In a slight aside reflection, looking at the rows of ‘@’s above – I must thank all the witting and unwitting members of my Professional Learning Network for keeping me up-to-date, informed and in-the-know!

Degrees of Engagement

Being an English teacher, and placing great importance on words (see my post on students as learners here as an example), I love this post from Dan Haesler on ‘engagement’.  I’ve some more thinking to do on this – so watch for another edit/revision on this post perhaps, but I endorse the provocative questions being posed here.

Engagement in Schools: A Case of Mistaken Identity?

Collaboration v. Plagiarism

Really useful blog post here on the trouble teachers feel trying to reconcile the concepts of ‘collaboration’ and ‘plagiarism’ – when does sharing become cheating?

The post picks up on some of the ideas I reflected on here in a previous blog post/reflection on a collaboration podcast I had listened to.

I agree with the author, Jennifer Carey, that we need to come back to the activity at hand.  If learning is key, then collaboration contributes to this.  If assessment is key, then collaboration is cheating.  We must reflect carefully on the questions we pose and hold as central that the purpose of any task is to promote learning.


Reflections on a professional reading – Take 3

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:

  • supporting innovation
  • improving capability
  • 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.
  • And that these steps are beautifully supported by the teaching as inquiry model of the NZC.
  • We (students and teachers) are all learners, and all want to be life-long learners.
  • Oh, and it’s still fun to continue to wrestle with all of this 🙂

Reflections on a professional reading – Take 2

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:

  1. Personalising learning
  2. New views of equity, diversity and inclusivity
  3. A curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity
  4. ‘Changing the script’: Rethinking learners’ and teachers’ roles
  5. A culture of continuous learning for teachers and educational leaders
  6. 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…!

20th vs. 21st Century Teaching

Content may no longer be king – and teachers may need to learn to put their ego aside in order for this kind of powerful, student-centred learning to take centre stage.

My Island View

This week’s #Edchat was about teacher-centric learning vs. student-centric learning. It is a topic that often gets teachers actively involved in discussion. The reason why so many teachers are so passionate about this subject is unclear, but if Twitter chats and tweets are any indication, it is obvious that many of our connected educators strongly favor student–centric learning. Many view it as 20th century education vs. 21st century. In fact we have been having the “sage on the stage” vs. “ guide on the side” argument for quite a few decades.

Direct Instruction and Lecture are methods of education that have dominated our lessons in education for centuries. They are probably the lessons that most Americans imagine when they are asked to think of what a typical lesson in school should look like. It is the way that most content experts often deliver content to their students. Lecturing is…

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“We should be a little less afraid of miracles”

There are some powerful thoughts in this blog post on Student Choice.

A highlight (in addition to the quote above): “To paraphrase Chris Lehman (@chrislehmann), if we give students an assignment that produces 25 copies of identical work, we’ve given a recipe, not a thought-provoking, opportunity for growth.”


Students as Learners

Maybe this is me, the traditionalist teacher, kicking back against all the wonderful reading, researching and thinking I’ve been doing about future learning and e-learning that re-inspires my passion for teaching, but something that’s playing on my mind is all the emphasis on the need for teachers to shift.

There is a recurring theme which gets phrased in a multitude of ways about teachers having to shift to being ‘facilitators’, or ‘designers’ or  ‘learning coaches’ … the need to move from being the ‘sage on the stage to the guide on the side’.  Now, I’m seriously not disagreeing with this.  One of e-learning’s greatest potentials, I believe, is the self-directed and personalised learning that can be unlocked.  And this does require a fundamental change in teachers’ pedagogy and practice.  However, it strikes me that just as teachers need a mind shift, so do students.

This little nugget of an idea, which refuses to leave me, was sparked by a comment by Terry Heick: “Students hopefully learn, but the word ‘student’ connotes compliance …. As a teacher I wanted a class full of learners, but the grading process was giving me a lot of students who were learning to play the game.”

In other words, not just teachers need to move and adjust, but students need to move and adjust to become learners.

There is an automatic tension here, particularly for secondary school students who are trained by assessment practices to credit-count and prioritise activities that ‘count’, rather than value learning as its own, never-ending goal.

Similarly, this blog post from Katrina Schwartz seems to me to really honour the skills that successful teachers have, regardless of their embracing of technology or not: “No matter what kind of technology is being used, classrooms are full of rambunctious kids who need a teacher with strong classroom management skills and the ability to set a positive classroom culture.”

Perhaps a useful concept which might serve the purpose of embracing these two shifts, and one that is pertinent to a New Zealand context is ako: which can mean both to teach and to learn, and thus can equally encompass the teacher and the student simultaneously.  We need to foster mutual, reciprocal relationships whereby ‘teachers’ and ‘students’ can learn with and from one another.