Marsden Professional Learning Session 8

If this afternoon’s session was at all coherent or useful, I really owe it to my PLN. I was presenting on ‘UDL’ (Universal Design for Learning), which I have been growing in understanding of over the past six months or so. Nevertheless, I was struggling to know how to do the concept justice in a 20 minute slot. Luckily though, Claire Amos had covered UDL in a #hackyrclass blogpost earlier this term, which also led me to Chrissie Butler’s blogpost. This latter post in particular I found invaluable. My own presentation shamelessly plunders her links and ideas.

My own ‘spin’ was that I attempted to follow UDL principles in putting my presentation together. For the ‘Engagement’ phase I started with the opening minute of the ‘Failing Superman‘ YouTube clip and then posed a question which groups could discuss, or jot ideas down on post-it notes. For the ‘Representation’ phase I gave an overview of UDL, and then gave various options as to how people might like to access more information on the topic. Choices included watching a video, reading blogposts or discussing a document with a partner. Finally, for the ‘Action and Expression’ phase, staff had the choice of three workshops to attend based on their needs and interests (which is standard for our professional learning sessions). Sessions also end with reflection time, which staff can complete in a way that suits them.

Furthermore, I made explicit my intention in using UDL guidelines in framing the presentation. I hope that this allowed staff to both understand UDL better, having realised they had seen it in practice, as well as demonstrated that technology is a powerful tool to allow for a range of supports to be offered. Overall I feel pleased with how the presentation worked.

Image credit:
Image credit:

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!

Reflections on a professional reading – Take 1

I am in the process of reading through this research report: Supporting Future Oriented Learning and Teaching – NZCER.

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.

Now, to keep reading…

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.