| This week\'s blog comes from Narelle Wood. Narelle is our Australian Curriculum expert and has worked extensively across a range of schools in supporting powerful learning in the literacy and English domain.
An indulgence of mine is jigsaw puzzles. I will sit for hours trying to complete a particular section and it has got to the stage where I have sat at the table for 2 days straight to complete one. I recently completed one of penguins standing on a sheet of ice; there is not much colour in Antarctica. By the time I had completed the puzzle I had the usual self-satisfied feeling of solving a problem but this was muddled with feelings of frustration and annoyance. It’s safe to say the lack of clarity in what I was trying to achieve diminished the normal enjoyable experience. I have come to realise completing a jigsaw puzzle is much like learning; fitting smaller pieces together to see the bigger picture. Where we sometimes fail as educators is in not giving our students sufficient information to complete their learning jigsaw puzzle.
I’ve came to this realisation when I was teaching Literature in 2010. I had a small and reasonably capable class. What was new for me was that the students knew how they learnt and demanded, nicely, that I teach them in the way they knew worked best.
Early in the year I had spent some time with the Year 11 Literature teacher and we had mapped out a very detailed scope and sequence chart. Walking into each class I knew what outcomes needed to be addressed and how they related. The route altered occasionally to respond to the needs of my students. But the students were demanding me to share that curriculum map with them. They wanted to see the big picture as well as the small details on each individual piece, and they wanted to know how it all fitted together.
The demand first appeared as; “what are we learning this for?” I refrained from biting and explained the benefits of deconstructing poetry; we were skill building. Each lesson I faced similar questions. Exasperated by the seemingly constant challenges I finally took in the scope and sequence chart and all the other curriculum documentation, sat down with the students and explained it.
The exercise, initially, was really a way to shut them up, but to my surprise and delight, they were generally interested. The questions asked about the curriculum were intelligent and insightful, and in most cases questions that we had posed ourselves in developing the curriculum documents. I also found it interesting that the students were surprised we had gone into so much detail; we had mapped out when and what meta-language they would learn. When I explained that meta-language was a significant component of Literature, you could see the pieces fit together. No longer was euphemistic language something that Miss Wood just liked to talk about, it had a purpose.
I thought, initially that the interest was because of the stereotypical students that take Literature – the more bookish or academic types. So I decided to experiment on my Year 9’s; in a completely ethical and educationally sound way of course. I did the same activity. I had a greater range of the so-called academic ability and I was curious to see their response. It sparked much debate and we did get stuck on “why write essays” for about 30 minutes of the 45 minute lesson. They too had some very interesting and well formed arguments about their learning and its purpose in their lives.
What both experiences showed me is that students are interested in their education but we, unwittingly at times, limit these opportunities by limiting the information we give them. This is like asking them to complete an extraordinarily detailed jigsaw puzzle with no pictures, instructions or clues - an overwhelming task for even the avid jigsaw puzzler.
So, why do we not share the curriculum with students? Why do we not involve the students in writing the curriculum? Surely if we wish our students to take more responsibility in their learning we need to give them some ownership over what and how they learn.
The results of Robert Marzano’s 2003 research on school effectiveness strongly supports that a clearly documented and workable curriculum at the whole school level is the most important factor in student achievement. The documentation is worth doing for a large number of reasons. It provides:
an understanding of where the students learning is going
allows the students to make explicit connections between subjects
can allow them easier access to past learning by seeing the skills as accumulative rather than replacing old knowledge with the new
it provides them a framework for reflection by asking them to self-assess where they are at in the learning sequence
it is a practical demonstration that planning matters
Granted, it is a daunting task, especially if all the documentation needs to be student friendly. So, how do you complete a giant exceptionally complicated jigsaw puzzle? One piece at a time. I know the work I did made a profound difference to the way I approached my teaching. And I now live with hope that after students have long left the classroom they continue to ask “what am I learning this for?” and keep adding pieces to their jigsaw puzzle.
|March 25th, 2012 @ 7:29PM | 0 Comments | Post a Comment|
| The most challenging, rewarding work we do in schools happens when we have the opportunity to build a partnership with the school over time. We really love this aspect of our work. Through these partnerships we gain a deep understanding of the school’s culture and priorities, develop meaningful relationships with teachers and often we act as a consistent, driving force for change.
The advantages of having a relative outsider come into the school community are many – but one in-particular stands out to me. At a number of schools, I have reached an optimum level of integration into the landscape of the place. That is to say, I am known and familiar but am still objective enough to see the ‘big picture’ of the school. Because of this, I am able to ‘connect the dots’ of its people and culture in order to design suitable curriculum, engage teaching teams in effective planning and map the actions that will lead to culture shift over time. When speaking about this to a fellow coach recently, I referred to it as ‘standing across the street, looking into the school.’ Close enough to see everything, but with a wide enough perspective to see the whole picture. I strongly believe that there is not enough perspective in our schools – and that there is an urgent need for it. No matter how competent and skilled the internal personnel of an organisation may be, the fact remains that schools are like bubbles encasing small, intense communities that can become all-consuming to those inside them.
Our role as consultants who are practical and passionate about learning and teaching is clear in this scenario:
Bring perspective and clarity to the development of school-wide initiatives
Model positive, effective relationships with both leadership and teaching staff
Bring global education experts and initiatives into the school’s sphere for discussion and application in relevant areas
Promote a shared language of learning throughout the school community that reflects a highly consistent approach to culture and pedagogy
Facilitate substantive conversations about developing evolving practice
Skill the teaching team to provide progressive, differentiated challenges to students across a range of disciplines
Support and facilitate exploration and application of teaching strategies that align with the general capabilities of the National Curriculum in order to promote deep, practical understanding of these transferable concepts
View ourselves as lifelong learners who have as much to discover from working within a school community as we have to impart.
By modelling these practices, reinforcing the pedagogical beliefs and language that the school wants to build and nurturing real relationships with teachers, we are able to make a definitive difference. The relational aspect of teaching is often emphasised by classroom teachers and educational experts alike – and trusting relationships are undoubtedly at the core of education. But trust must also mean challenge, measured risk-taking and a strong sense of shared responsibility. This is vital when building a high performance school culture – both in terms of teacher-student relationships, and teacher-teacher relationships. As facilitators and coaches on this journey, we need to be deeply empathic towards those who are finding change confronting, but also to send high-expectation messages about accountability, openness to change and developing resilience in the process of dynamic culture shift. We are able to play this critical role because we occupy the space between school and society - and it is this ‘big picture’ view that can sustain schools through transition from what Sir Ken Robinson refers to as ‘industrial-age education’ to a twenty-first century learning community.
The final, critical piece of the coaching for change puzzle is to develop classroom teachers as coaches. One of my colleagues refers to this process as ‘doing ourselves out of a job’ and this is the ultimate indicator of our effectiveness. As we know, the best teaching is that which achieves genuine transfer of the skills we want students to build so that they can apply them to a range of real-world situations. To do as this a coach means being skilled in assisting teachers to develop the skills of meta-cognitive reflection so that they can monitor their mindsets and stay vigilant in evaluating the conscious and unconscious habits and practices that they bring to the learning space. Additionally, it requires us to be able to teach the critical skill of design to teachers so that they become strategic, innovative planners of curriculum.
At present, this seems to be the ‘missing link’ between organised professional learning and implementation of new teaching strategies. The professional conversation often ends after a ‘one off’ session and the ideas discussed remain ideas, nothing more. We must change the way we offer and access professional development so that we see consultancy as a partnership in moving the school forward and give teachers the real, ongoing support they need to be able learn, trial and reflect on their practice. If we can do this, the ‘bubble’ will burst and schools will become empowered places where people can not only see the possibility of change, but with supported, consistent effort, can embrace it with enthusiasm.
|March 13th, 2012 @ 8:16PM | 0 Comments | Post a Comment|