Agency – teaching jargon destined for overuse?

I have blogged about the concept of student agency before as I continue to explore what it means to me, my practice and in terms of leading a school.

I have to be honest and say that I am disappointed that it seems as though agency and agentic have become the new trendy phrases in schools destined for overuse and misuse. Reminds me of the term life-long learning or 21st century learners which was dropped into every conversation and used to encompass everything associated with current effective approaches to teaching and learning. It got to the point where many cringed when the words were used.

So now the urge to do so is back with teachers describing their practice as supporting agentic learners, a point which I would question. I would suggest that perhaps a lack of professional learning has led to this happening with the phrase being coined without a full understanding behind it. Perhaps that is a little harsh and on a continuum of developing agentic learners they are simply at the initial developmental end. Maybe my understanding is what is a fault or I can’t get beyond the pureness of agency.

This post has been prompted by a couple of discussions where people have described their agentic practices. For example, Teacher A having a ‘Must Do Can Do’ approach in their classroom suggesting this is student agency, or Teacher B stating a ‘reading contract’ type approach (filled with teacher generated activities) as being agentic. I do not see that simply providing an element of choice = agency, especially when these are secondary often unmonitored activities that play a distant second place to instructional learning directly with a teacher.

So here is my attempt to define what makes agentic learning from my perspective, not based on any research, just a what’s on top, Friday evening, as I dig deeper into this area.

Firstly, a couple of key concepts that guide my thinking.

  1. The foundation for student agency is teaching and learning grounded in assessment for learning practices.
  2. We need to remove the assumption that quality learning only happens when students are working directly with a teacher.

Let me take a little time to unpack those further.

The foundation for student agency is teaching and learning grounded in assessment for learning practices. In order for any student to be agentic they need to know what they are learning and why, what success looks like and what they need to do to get there. To take it a step further in order to be agentic, this process is directed by the learner, for the learner, but not in isolation and not without the act of supporting other learners and learning. Something like this…

Standard Practice Agentic Practice
  • Teacher using data to determine next steps in learning for students
  • Teacher finding examples/exemplars of learning that demonstrates expectations, goals, focus points
  • Teacher co-constructing success criteria with students
  • Teacher identifying teaching points and addressing them throughout learning.
  • Teacher and peers providing feedback and next steps.
  • Self-assessments by learner.
  • Student uses data to determine next steps in their learning.
  • Student sources examples of the learning or expertise to focus and guide.
  • Student develops their own personalised success criteria.
  • Student identifies where support is required and seeks support/feedback from the best person to guide them
  • Self-assessments/monitoring embedded throughout
  • Student recognises other students’ learning and supports this through effective personalised feedback/forward, questioning

It would be fair to say that many teachers, certainly that I know of, implement parts of the 2nd column, but I don’t know any (myself included!) that have reached the stage where all of it is happening consistently and is the norm. Maybe because the following concept was not in place..?

We need to remove the assumption that quality learning only happens when students are working directly with a teacher. Most educators are familiar with the concept of a flipped classroom, where content is provided prior the lesson enabling rich discussion and learning activities that use rather than learn the content. Take that concept and adapt it to working with the teacher/working independently in class. Traditionally we would place emphasis on time with the teacher, with the independent activities practicing and reinforcing already learnt content and skills.

What if that was flipped over and teachers instead emphasised and prioritised the independent activities? Is this not when the teacher truly becomes the coach and facilitator of learning, deliberately allowing for agency to be developed? This approach is a fundamental change, and one that I would suggest requires a very knowledgeable and effective teacher, with the ability to design independent contexts that are personalised, challenging, that require the students to make decisions about their learning, in an environment or culture where everyone is supporting each other to develop their own process of agency.

I am not an expert in this area but the concept of agency is something that fits very comfortably with my beliefs on teaching and learning. My thoughts may be at odds with others in terms of what agency is.

However, I just hope that when the terms is used it is used appropriately and knowledgeably, otherwise I fear it will join the scrap heap of overused education jargon before the full potential of the concept has been given the time to embed itself if the everydayness of teaching and learning.

Sometimes I wonder if the removal of professional learning programmes such as Assess to Learn (AtoL) was a big step away from the foundations and principles of what we want our students to do and become.

Our Approach to Managing iPads and Apps

This post provides a summary of our school’s solution to managing our mobile devices and apps. It is appropriate for both school owned and students owned devices and deploying both free and paid apps. It is also a very simple way of easily maintaining a record (i.e. an asset register) of all your computers and devices including their serial number, model, OS’s etc and additionally being able to perform actions remotely to them.

In our situation we have school owned iPads, ASUS netbooks and iMacs in classes, a range of iPod Touches and iPads through BYOD, and MacBook teacher laptops. We wanted to monitor school owned devices and be able to deploy apps to school and BYOD iOS devices. This will outline what we do to achieve it. There are probably better ways, but when you are just a small school with no technician and the principal assumes the role network manager, service manager… you find something that saves time, you go for it. Is it perfect? No. Has it saved time and centralised control of devices and apps? Yes. Any advice is welcomed.

What you need:

What we did:

  1. Create your school Apple Store Apple VPP account. We created two school email addresses (and Apple IDs) for this purpose, one for the VPP Manager (e.g. vpp@yourschool.school.nz) and one for a VPP Facilitator (e.g. vpp-fac@yourschool.co.nz). The VPP Manager gives the authority for Facilitators to purchase apps for the organisation. This could be an existing email/Apple ID but we created another specifically for this purpose. The Facilitator Apple ID is the one you used to make Apple VPP purchases and we also use it for our  Apple Push Certificate registration.
    • Tip: When setting your Apple IDs, make sure you uncheck the Apple News and Announcements, New on iTunes and Other iTunes Offers, always enter the same security questions and answers, DOB etc
  2. Create your free Meraki Systems Manager account. Just use your normal school email address (i.e. principal@…). When you have access to your Dashboard, navigate to the MDM (Mobile Device Management) section and to Add devices. Download the software installers for Windows and OS X and also note down your Network ID for enrolling your iOS devices.
    • Tip: Don’t use a name based email address (i.e. nick@…) as these do not always have a life beyond the user who may not be around for ever.
  3. Create and set up your Apple Push Certificate. Step by step instructions are provided via the Meraki Dashboard (go to Organisation then MDM) and the Meraki Knowledge Base.
    • Tip: Use your VPP Facilitator Apple ID for this purpose.
  4. Set up your OS X and Windows devices by installing the downloaded software from Step 2. Once installed, the devices will appear in your Meraki Dashboard under Monitor and then Clients. After a while all the machine’s details are visible in the list and you can then explore the additional functionality of Meraki. This is all you need to do for your OS X and Windows environments.
    • Tip: For OS X machines, this software can be installed and deployed when you re-image a machine. Rather than plodding around and installing this one by one, just wait for the next re-imaging.
    • Tip: Unfortunately, for Windows machines, it’s not so simple as it doesn’t work from an image and you need to remotely/manually install it.
  5. Use Apple Configurator to create and set up your school owned iOS devices. There is plenty of online support for this as well as the the built in Help. We have one profile for all devices which includes a range of free apps and settings etc that are common to all devices.
    • Tip: One thing we do in Apple Configurator is to assign each device/iPad to a ‘user’. The user names are sequential (i.e. ODS iPad 1, ODS iPad 2 etc) and have a user profile picture (the school logo). What this means is that when you turn on/wake up your device, it displays the school logo with its unique name – a really simple way of labelling devices.
    • Tip: To keep the iOS device management separate from other uses for our computers, we set up a new user/account on one of our laptops exclusively for using Apple Configurator. This keeps it clean and tidy and avoids clashes between personal Apple IDs etc.
    • Tip: If you don’t have a syncing dock/cart for your devices, get yourself a decent USB hub that allows you to configure multiple devices at once. Being restricted to do only one or two at a time is not good!
  6. Create an email address for each of your iOS devices which will be used for their Apple ID. Super easy in GAFE by uploading the template .csv file with multiple user info.
    • Tip: Keep your emails aligned to your device name e.g. if you named your devices iPad 01, iPad 02 etc then logically emails will be ipad01@…, ipad02@… etc.
    • Tip: An extra step, not absolutely necessary but in the long term will save time, set these email accounts up so they forward all emails to a catch-all address. We use the VPP Facilitator email to receive all the forwarded emails.
  7. Once you have prepared, supervised and assigned your iOS devices we need to setup their unique Apple ID. The best way we have found to do this is by manually completing the process on each iPad. This way you can avoid the step of having to enter in any credit card details. Simply go to the App Store on the iPad and find a free app you want to download (or any free app as you don’t actually have to download it). When prompted for an Apple ID, follow the prompts to create one, using your email address created in the previous step. You need to authenticate the email address, so log in to your catch-all Apple ID email and complete the process.
    • Tip: As already mentioned, when setting your Apple IDs, make sure you uncheck the Apple News and Announcements, New on iTunes and Other iTunes Offers, always enter the same security questions and answers, DOB etc.
  8. Now we need to enrol the devices in Meraki Systems Manager. Open up Safari on the device and navigate to m.meraki.com and follow the prompts to enter in your Network ID and install your Meraki profile (if you want to deploy apps to student owned devices you need to complete this step on those devices too). Once this process has completed, the device will appear in your Meraki Dashboard under Monitor and then Clients. You can then edit the device details by adding tags, owners etc.
    • Tip: There is also a QR code in Meraki Systems Manager to enrol devices.
    • Tip: Tags are really important as this is how you deploy apps out to devices. Take the time to think about how you will tag them. We tag them predominantly by room, as our iPads are based in rooms but also tag them individually for finer deployment as required.
  9. Now you are all set to go and manage your devices and deploy apps both paid and free.
  10. To deploy free apps, simply go to your Meraki Dashboard, MDM and then Apps followed by + Add new. Search for and then add apps and assign them to iPads using tags. Meraki will push these apps out to the assigned devices. The devices will automatically prompt for the Apple ID password and the download will commence.
    • If the process doesn’t work for any reason, you can re-push out apps to the devices at any stage.
  11. To deploy paid apps, purchase them through the Apple VPP site. We exclusively use Managed Distribution which enables us to assign apps to individual Apple IDs/devices. That way we retain ownership of all apps, allowing us to revoke and reassign them as needed, even to BYODs. Once a VPP purchase is confirmed, it will appear in your Meraki Dashboard under MDM and then VPP. Then you can assign it to an Apple ID, add it to your apps list and push it out to the devices.
    • Tip: On the devices you can also go to the App Store app and find your list of purchased apps (i.e. those assigned to you). They will be listed there and you can initiate the download manually.

That’s the basic outline of what we do. Hopefully you may find it useful. As mentioned, any advice as to how we can streamline the process further would be great!

Teacher Inquiry – have we got the right timeframe?

We made a deliberate decisions this year to split our professional inquiries into two distinct parts, aligned to the professional development we were engaging in as a staff. Term 1 & 2 – an inquiry focused on literacy, Term 3 & 4 – an inquiry focused on maths. As we have wrapped up our literacy inquiries and transitioned from one inquiry to the next, the conversations have centred around the legitimacy of short term inquiries vs annual inquiries and whether either of these approaches are an authentic approach that really enables teachers to inquire into an aspect of their professional practice and result in embedded change. The question I pose is:

Are we limiting the effectiveness and impact of our inquires by constraining them to set timeframes?

Some background first… When I reflect on the professional inquiries I engaged in as a teacher, these were tied into the annual process of appraisal, starting in Term 1 and concluding in Term 4. The following year a new inquiry commences and so on. Similarly, as a principal I have facilitated teachers inquiring into their practice on an annual cycle as part of their performance management. I would suggest that this is a common approach in many NZ schools.

Constraining learning to time limits is a habit in education… but one that is increasingly being challenged in a more flexible and personalised approach to learning and how learning is managed. Not sure what I mean? Just think of your classic daily timetable in a classroom, 10 minutes silent reading, then 45 mins for reading, followed by 15 minutes of handwriting after which we go out for 15 minutes of fitness. Or perhaps think of the times your students are so engaged and focused on their learning only to be interrupted by the bell or ‘needing’ to move to the another area.

Sometimes time is the enemy, it constrains or limits what we can do. What we can learn.

Let’s transfer that thinking to our professional inquiries which generally go from Term 1 to 4, aligned to a similarly scheduled appraisal process. It makes sense, an individual inquiry is often focused on a target group of students which are in your class, its relevancy is based on the now, related to recently collected and analysed data. Its convenient, it fits with how we organise the school year, works with fixed term positions, allows us to come together as teachers on the same pathway and summarise our findings at the end of the year.

I just wonder though that we are pushing through inquiries too quickly and that changing the focus on an annual basis takes away what could be a richness and depth of inquiry leading to greater outcomes of effective teaching and impacts on student learning. That is not to say that a Term 1-4 inquiry does not have depth and impact, it is a prompt to consider what would happen if we keep building on our developing knowledge over time and at the saturation point we move on, not just because it is the end of the year.

So this may lead to a diversity of inquiries, with agentic teachers driving and managing their own learning. There would be multiple inquires, starting and finishing at different times, adapting to needs, responsive to mastery.

Sounds pretty much like our expectations for learners and learning in our future focused classrooms…

More questions than answers here but a good space for further thinking and investigation. Thanks to Bede for a conversation that prompted some of the thoughts above.

Curriculum Development and the MLE

Our school is currently in the process of developing a localised school curriculum. Strategically this is recognised in our goal, “To ensure the diversity of our school and community is reflected in our curriculum” and will also capture and clearly outline our collectives beliefs around teaching and learning for our students.

It would be fair to say that our school is catching up in this area with various documents that have unpacked certain curriculum areas but no concise, collective and aligned document giving full effect to the NZC…

Curriculum is designed and interpreted in a three-stage process: as the national curriculum, the school curriculum, and the classroom curriculum. The national curriculum provides the framework and common direction for schools, regardless of type, size, or location. It gives schools the scope, flexibility, and authority they need to design and shape their curriculum so that teaching and learning is meaningful and beneficial to their particular communities of students. In turn, the design of each school’s curriculum should allow teachers the scope to make interpretations in response to the particular needs, interests, and talents of individuals and groups of students in their classes.’ (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 37).

The process will go well beyond the 4 walls of the staffroom and involve ongoing conversations with the school community, parents and most importantly, our students. To support this process there are a wide range of other models from schools to review. While these have value and are a great reference, a local curriculum is a unique document and needs to reflect our students, community, beliefs and direction aligned to the NZC.

There are also a variety of collectively researched and documented approaches from schools, especially by ERO, through their National Reports and also by others such as in some aspects of the BES series. Additionally there are also some great stories and case studies featured on New Zealand Curriculum Online. These are all very helpful in seeing how other schools have successfully developed their curriculums i.e. through collaborative approaches from teachers, a clear focus on students and student achievement, and strategic professional leadership.

Over time the NZC Updates have also provided ongoing support for curriculum development. One of particular focus has been the NZC Update 26 – Future-oriented learning and teaching a summary of the NZCER Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective, outlining the key themes that will underpin future-oriented learning for young New Zealanders.

The 6 themes from this report are; personalising learning, new views of equity and diversity, rethinking learners’ and teachers’ roles, a culture of continuous learning for teachers and educational leaders, a curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity, and new kinds of partnerships and relationships.

It is this last theme, new kinds of partnerships and relationships, that I would like to explore a little more where schools are:

…no longer siloed from the community.

Some of the key words associated with this theme are:

resources, expertise, collaborate, community, public, learning, knowledge, innovative, partners, wider community, access…

What we want is for our students and teachers to engage with expertise from our communities and expose our learners to the “messiness” (p. 49) of real life situations and learning.

Exploring these concepts as a staff we did a quick drawing exercise. I use drawing quite a bit to explore ideas and concepts with staff (a bit of a fan of Patti Dobrowolski). Our drawing task was to draw a diagram/picture that showed the teachers beliefs and concept of a modern learning environment.

Here are a few of the outcomes from the drawing and what I noticed in these drawing of these teacher’s concept of their MLE. Note that these were drawn independently with no front-loading and while there are only three here, others had similar themes.

mle1
The student sitting on top of the big demolition wrecking ball labeled ‘breaking down classroom walls’. Students ‘learning from different people at different times’.
mle2
The concept of a school as a ‘base’ for learning. The community as a ‘resource’. Working independently, collaboratively developing social learning opportunities.
mle3
Pushing down the four walls of the classroom. Opening up learning to the real world. Using a variety of tools/people/environments.

Collectively, some strong themes emerging. Breaking down the four walls of the classroom will enable our students to engage in real life learning experiences while engaging with and creating partnerships with the people and community. Wahoo, a great starting point.

The key questions is how will we make that happen? Our developing vision and curriculum will capture this on paper and this will inform other areas of development, especially our property plan. We know, from the previously mentioned research, case studies and research that through collaborative approaches from teachers, a clear focus on students and student achievement, and strategic professional leadership will provide the platform.

But… my thoughts are still revolving around the key areas of our curriculum and property development (in particular the modern learning environment) and the need to ensure they are both future focused and aligned.

So a couple of quick of “what ifs” to prompt thinking…

  • What if your curriculum defined a MLE quite differently from the standard flexible learning space/breakout space/outdoor learning space approach?

or

  • What if your curriculum and MLE definition included a focus on real life learning situations that weren’t actually based at school?

I guess this is where my tension/internal dilemma revolves. That is… that no matter what walls are knocked down, what new furniture replaces old, increased access to breakout spaces etc. all of which sit beside the pedagogy of flexible, student directed, self-regulated and personalised approaches to learning… they are still based in a school which is, whether we like it or not, still removed and somewhat isolated from the community.

I am absolutely not knocking the pedagogy of the MLE approach, I am questioning or perhaps just prompting discussion around the real nature of what a future focused property looks likes especially when it aligns to a strong authentic real life community partnership model of learning.

If your vision and curriculum were to be built around the concept of immersion in the community, exposing our students to the “messiness” of real life learning is that really going to happen with the current MLE construct?

Perhaps this quote from Stephen Heppell from this EdTalk of “we know how to make schools that don’t waste energy, but not schools that don’t waste learning” is of a similar line of thinking.

Finally however, the last word goes to Mark Osbourne from the team at CORE Education who summarises the relationship between a vision for learning and the environment for learning quite succinctly:

What is your vision for learning, what’s your school’s vision for learning, and what kinds of environments, what kinds of strategies, teaching processes, learning activities, do your students need in order to achieve that kind of learning.

 

 

Teacher Inquiry, Appraisal and Portfolios for Staff

This year we have recrafted our approach to teacher as inquiry (TAI) and its relationship to the school’s performance management process for teachers. There had always been a relationship between the two but now rather than being two separate systems and/or sets of documents, they are one in the same with a professional blog/portfolio being the container for all the important bits such as reflections, evidence and next steps.

Why have we done it this way? The approach is based on the underlying philosophy that a well planned and responsive TAI allows all teachers to demonstrate, first and foremost, the attributes of being an effective teacher of their students, and secondly, to show how they are meeting the various Professional Standards, Registered Teacher Criteria and Tataiako Cultural Competencies. So our starting point for an effective performance management process is an effective TAI, not a checklisty/compliance approach. It is strongly embedded in a ‘teacher agency’ professional autonomy approach too.

What does it look like? We retained all the successful things that were part of the previous inquiry approach. These included:

  • Three in-school PLG meetings each term dedicated to teachers sharing progress towards their TAI targets
  • Funding for each staff member to purchase professional texts and resources to support their TAI
  • Personal Learning Opportunity (PLO) release for staff to research and/or visit expertise and sites of best practice related to their TAI

We also added in some additional components to inform our theory of action:

  • Release for staff to deliberately gather student voice.
  • Videoing of teaching for analysis.

Finally, we clearly set out the timeframe so that Term 1 was put aside for the focusing and teaching inquiry, terms 2 and 3 for the learning inquiry, and term 4 is all about summarising, sharing and celebrating progress.

You can check out this diagram to see what the process looks like over the first couple of terms in the year.

What did we get rid of? Nothing has been removed completely i.e. appraisal meetings, observations and walkthroughs still feature, it is just that hese have been streamlined and aligned to TAI. The major change that we have made is that the focus of the teacher’s TAI is the focus of their goals – their are no unrelated goals. Additionally, the term ‘goal’ is used quite broadly – there are no actual documented goals, rather there is a theory of action and falling out of that are the actions (i.e. goals) a teacher is working towards achieving.

So how does fit with performance management/appraisal? Individual teachers still have an appraisal document (overseen by the school’s  Teacher Performance Appraisal Procedure) which like any, summarises the process, their position at the school and provides a timeline. But that is all it does, everything else, including reflections, observation notes and professional learning  is in the portfolio.

The ‘usefulness’ of the TAI blog i.e. its ability to show how teachers are meeting their inquiry expectations, professional standards (PS), registered teacher criteria (RTC) and cultural competencies (CC) – all for their ongoing development, appraisal and registration purposes, is based on the approach that every time they post to their blog (evidence, a reflection, student voice etc), teachers critically reflect on which of the PS, RTC, CC they are meeting and show this in their blog.

tchr-inquiry-web

This is done by using the labels feature in Blogger (our logical tool as a Google Apps for Ed school). Labels are like tags or key words related to a post. Teachers can use labels to show which of the PS, RTC and CC they are meeting. By approaching and setting up a blog in this way, teachers will essentially create an index, allowing them and their appraiser the ability to find evidence of progress and achievement against the PS, RTC, CC as well as their inquiry. The appraiser can also jump in there and add comments, post observation narratives, images and video too.

Tbroughtout the process, teachers need to ask themselves these questions:

  • What professional standards am I working towards/meeting/demonstrating in this post?
  • What Registered Teacher Criteria am I working towards/meeting/demonstrating in this post?
  • What cultural competencies am working towards/meeting/demonstrating in this post?
  • What aspects of TAI am I working towards/meeting/demonstrating in this post?

There is a full breakdown of how to set up a blog as described above and also how to make it private and readable by only those you choose.

What are the implications? This process puts the PS, RTC, CC into the everydayness of a TAI. Therefore teachers need to have a good grasp of what the PS, RTC, CC  are, what they mean and what they look like in practice. For us that means unpacking certain elements of these and listing the everyday teaching and learning approaches and strategies that reflect that areas to bring them to the forefront of consciousness.

To date the other major implication, which is not at all exclusive to this context, is the questioning of staff to each other to encourage us to continue, to force us to be honest, to suggest alternative interpretations and to prevent us from getting stuck.

Finally, this has not been an issue at all for us, part it has been questioned how this system would work if there was a question of competency with a staff member. While this has not been tested I do not see it as an issue. The process includes a ‘measure’ against the professional standards and other relevant criteria and when combined with the day to day observations and conversations that take place in a school, there is plenty of scope to identify an issues of competency.

What have been the outcomes to date? Here are a couple of screen shots of the portfolios to date.

TAI-blog

TAI-blog2

What next? The system is established and time is required to allow the portfolios to develope and show their potential as teacher use them to show progress towards their TAI targets.

The challenge for me is to ensure that I regularly get into the blogs and provide encouragement and feedback/feedforward to teachers, supporting them and acknowledging the great work that they are doing.

More on Student/Learner Agency

In a follow up to a previous post, my old colleagues at CORE Education via their 2014 10 Trends and their EdTalks portal, have shared two valuable resources re learner agency.

The first features Derek Wenmoth giving a great overview of learner agency. This extended my thinking and made me reconsider the scope of learner agency beyond just the student and their self-regulated ‘power to act’.

Ten Trends 2014: Agency from EDtalks on Vimeo.

In particular, that agency is interdependent and has a dimension of social connectedness. i.e. It is:

…not just about a learner in isolation doing their own thing and what suits them. Learners must develop an awareness that there are consequences for the decisions they make and actions they take, and will take account of that in the way(s) they exercise their agency in learning.

Every decision a learner makes, and action she or he takes, will impact on the thinking, behaviour or decisions of others – and vice versa. You can’t just act selfishly and call that acting with agency.

I had not considered these areas within the domain of agency. I had only really considered agency from the learner as an individual – thanks for prompting me to make these connections! Thanks for the new word too – agentic.

A second resource via the 10 Trends site is Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice, with the Executive Summary being a quick and easy read. The graphic on page 3 captured simply the degrees of student voice in school activities – an easy starting point for professional discussion and review. Where would you place our school on this continuum? Where would you place your classroom? What changes would you need to make in your practice to move from Expression to Partnership? From Participation to Leadership?

sv-spectrum

A challenge for me from this report was the discussion based around students having the ability to disengage with digital distractions.

Recent research has shown that the “noise” of myriad digital distractions threatens productivity and cognitive complexity in learning.

Recent brain research reveals that our brains are indeed capable of doing many things simultaneously as long as those things do not require much complexity and the costs for making errors is low… …In short, multitasking hinders the deepest forms of engagement our brains need to learn complex things.

Challenging because of my firm beliefs around the effective use of technologies in teaching and learning. It would seem as though technology is taking the blame here for students being unable to develop their own self-regulatory competencies. Surely though, students have been distracted from their learning long before the prevalent use of technology in schools? The key for me is that there is still a need for the deliberate teaching and/or supporting of students to develop these skills and awarenesses but not, I would suggest through strategies such as “…outside restrictions via teacher (and parent) monitoring”.

I think that a read of the full report may shed some more light on this area.

A good connection though was the the discussion around “…helping students to experience their own minds in this way is one of the most powerful contributions we can make to their development and learning.”I can see some parallel threads of thinking here from another current read, Quiet Leadership by David Rock, who asks, “How can I best help you with your thinking?”

So what/now what? Currently as a staff and community we are heading into some deep thinking about our core beliefs and approaches to teaching and learners i.e. those foundation principals that drive a school’s curriculum design and approaches to making our students develop the knowledge, skills and competencies for life-long learning. To me, learner agency, and everything that is required to scaffold students to get there, is one core belief/approach that will enable our students. These resources will be a great starting point for discussion and direction.

Student Agency

Our writing PLD for this year is based on the underlying principal of student agency driving an improvement in student achievement. At the beginning of this development when Brian Annan was discussing the approach I was familiar with the term but not conversant nor had a deep understanding. So I needed to connect some of the dots and clarify what it was all about.

Isn’t it funny too that when an idea is emphasised like student agency, that it seems to appear everywhere now that your awareness of it is heightened. e.g.

So what is student agency? Some quick definitions:

Russell Burt:

Agency – the power to act – informed/empowered/enabled learners

Mark Osbourne refers to the Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES):

In summary, sustained higher achievement is possible when teachers use pedagogical approaches that enable students to take charge of their own learning. Such approaches do not leave the students ‘to discover’ in an unstructured environment. Rather, they are highly structured in supporting student agency and sustained and thoughtful engagement. For example, they foster students’ abilities to define their own learning goals, ask questions, anticipate the structure of curriculum experiences, use metacognitive strategies when engaging with curriculum, and self-monitor. Pedagogies that emphasise, embed and enable metacognitive strategy-use throughout curriculum engagement for class groupings, are associated with much higher achievement and enable marked improvements for low achievers.

Raikes Foundation:

Student agency is a cluster of academic mindsets and learning strategies that have been demonstrated to advance learning and achievement. Academic mindsets are more evident in students who feel a sense of belonging in a certain subject, class or school; believe that they have the capacity to learn, and see value in their participation. Learning strategies include study skills, meta-cognition and goal-setting, competencies that help individuals persist when learning becomes challenging.

Values Centered Schools:

Student agency refers to empowering students through curriculum approaches that; engage them, are respectful of and seek their opinions, give them opportunities to feel connected to school life, promote positive and caring relationships between all members of the school community, promote wellbeing and focus on the whole student, relate to real-life experiences, are safe and supportive.

These definitions illustrate to me that agency is about student learning and teacher teaching. It is about the teacher providing the right environment, support and approaches to learning that enable learners to develop the skills and attitudes for agency to occur, and about the student being engaged in, and empowered by assuming responsibility of their learning through reflection, goal setting and a range of other self-monitoring behaviours.

Some of the key words that describe student agency for me are therefore; enabling, empowering, self-monitoring, goals, feedback, meta-cognition, active, responsive, self-directed and meaningful.

A further look at some student agency research unpacked the following Approaches to Learning Model. You can clearly see the relationship between the approaches and agency. These are further supported by additional definitions of student agency:

  • the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices
  • since meaning-based tasks fail to proscribe the use of particular structures, learners have to take an active role in sorting out exactly what they are learning
Student Agency and Language-Learning Processes and Outcomes in International Online Environments Olga Basharina University of New Mexico

What strikes me about this model though is that it does not take in the role of the teacher in to the equation (or maybe it does… I would need to read the full explanation from Entwistle himself). As I have stated above student agency isn’t just the responsibility of the student, the teacher and school must provide the conditions and support/model/teach in an way that provides all students with the ability to learn and demonstrate agency.

So bringing it back to where this post started, with our writing PLD. Our facilitator Rita Plamer has introduced us to Ralph Fletcher’s work and she dug out this reference to agency from the text  A Writer’s Notebook – Unlocking the Writer Within You. Being in control of their own development, i.e. their own learning – great! This surely is the core of what student agency is.

agency

 So what does all this mean? A couple of reflective wonderings…

  1. Deliberate vs accidental… A few of you may be saying that this is what happens in your classroom all the time. Yes my students set goals, yes they are reflective. But how much of that agency is a deliberate approach i.e. If I looked at your planning and a see how you have deliberately structured your teaching to ensure the conditions and strategies are student agency productive?
  2. If student agency is a way of empowering our students, then teacher agency is just as important (through the principal leading and providing the support/conditions/opportunities) which makes principal agency equally as important (with the Board providing the support/conditions/opportunities). Is this being overly simplistic? Seems to make sense to me.
  3. One aspect that has surprised me was that there was little to no reference to student voice in the information read to date. I would have thought they go hand in hand.
  4. Most of the definitions/examples are about the individual learners, but like the excerpt above from Ralph Fletcher’s book, the social learning aspect is really important. Meaningful action could just as well be the outcome of collaboration and teamwork. If the action is a result of feedback, then that is a partnership in learning too, or does agency count when the thinking and action is done as an individual – not the process leading up to it?

Much to ponder… and more reading required.

Observing and Feeding Forward with Staff

One of my developmental goals for the year is to develop effective strategies for observing and feeding back to staff. My aim is that the resulting observations and feedback strategies contribute to growth in teacher effectiveness.

I plan to:

  • Undertake professional readings related to goal.
  • Explore possible approaches to undertaking classroom observation & providing feedback to staff.
  • Seek regular feedback from staff as to the quality of observations/feedback.
  • Visit other schools to observe and discuss observation/feedback systems.

In my mind I already had a starting point or a vision for the initial approach. This revolved around the learning walk concept, more specifically Cheryl Doig’s Future Learning Walks thinking and framework combined with the integration of elearning tools to capture the evidence during the observation and forming the foundation of the reflection. Another link in the chain was the Taxonomy of Reflection described by Peter Pappas to provide the structure for the reflective discussion.

Let’s briefly unpack each of these:

Future Learning Walks

The purpose of a future learning walk is to generate deep conversations about learning. It is an adaptive approach with the process co-constructed within the staff to meet the needs to the school. In practice it is a focused and regular walk through of classrooms/learning areas for a short period of time, with observations and data gathered, which is then discussed, reflected and projected on. Not just from a classroom teaching/learning level, the process can impact of school wide systems and organisation.

The key philosophies for me that guide a learning walks are:

  • based on a culture of sharing and trust
  • intergal to whole professional learning approach
  • it involves students
  • aligns to the teacher inquiry approach of reflection and continuous improvement
  • agreed upon and co-constructed method and focus

Taxonomy of Reflection

A progressive framework, based on Bloom’s hierarchal taxonomy, for prompting reflection and discussion. It could be used very effectively after a walkthrough when either the observers and reflecting amongst themselves, or when the observee is reflecting on their own lesson/learning.

What do I like about this?

  • Flexible framework for prompting reflection. You don’t need to start at the bottom and work up, rather ask any questions that will develop deeper reflection – in response to what you are hearing.
  • Can be used in a huge range of situations, well beyond a professional observer/observee relationship. Student-student, student-teacher, self-assessment etc.
  • Coach/mentor can use the taxonomy to ensure coverage of a range of questions but most importantly, HOT questions and thinking.

eLearning Tools

My thinking here puts the iPad squarely in the tool of choice category – portable, connected, reasonably unobtrusive, easily captures video, voice and photo. An all in one device for all phases of the process. Nothing new in using iPads for walkthroughs, maybe not in quite the same way I have in mind…

On the whole I was underwhelmed by all of these examples, which essentially turned the iPad into a digital clipboard, through using Google Forms or specific apps like Teachscape with a list of predifined criteria that was checked off during the walkthrough. My vision is a little different. I want to capture a digital narrative of the teaching and learning, enriched by multimedia, capturing authentic voice and examples.

So where to next?

  1. Future Learning Walks, as mentioned above, have an agreed upon focus which forms the basis for a observation/walkthrough. As part of our redevelopment of our school’s curriculum plan, we are currently unpacking and redefining what writing looks like at KHS. This involves clearly stating our shared beliefs of writing and the characteristics of an effective writing classroom. Once co-constructed and confirmed these will form the focus of a walkthrough during writing.
  2. While I like the Taxonomy of Reflection, I have been recently re-introduced to the Question Matrix, a framework for asking questions from basic recall to higher order similar to Bloom’s. I can see this as being an equally valuable framework to use for the same reasons as listed above, but perhaps more user friendly and a tool that is commonly used by students in their learning. The matrix layout means that you could also populate it to suit a particular focus or target.
Image courtesy: https://nli2012.wikispaces.com/Online+Reading+Comprehension

 

Getting to Know our Learners

The teacher inquiry and knowledge building cycle critically ask us: What are our students learning needs?

  • What do they already know?
  • What sources of evidence have we used?
  • What do they need to learn and do?
  • How do we build on what they know?

In our data driven, numbers rule, National Standards world the answers to these questions run the risk of being data driven and reducing students to a numbers game. Thank goodness for the final question prompt: How do we build on what they know? This squarely directs the focus back on to the student as an individual and opens up learning to be personalised and build on student voice and identity.

This was the focus of our most recent literacy PLD session which targeted our underachieving writers. More specifically it broke it down into 3 sub questions, leading us towards thinking about the impact this would have on our teaching practice:

  • What are our students strengths?
  • What are our students needs?
  • What are the student practices that may contribute to underachievement?

It proved to be a worthwhile activity which focused directly on the learner with not a percentage sign or OTJ in sight. I took this back to school and adapted the context to fit in with the work we are doing unpacking and the reflecting against the cultural competencies as outlined in Tataiako.

With a focus on critically examining how well we know our Maori learners staff noted and articulated their thoughts. This is what it looked like, sorry just the template due to student privacy:

Inquiry Cycle What are our students learning needsI have already mentioned that I thought this was a valuable exercise, especially as teachers have already taken some of the discussion outcomes and put them into practice.

However on deeper reflection, what it lacked was a more thorough focus on the ‘impact’ to teaching practice and simply going on what we know as a teacher would be the ‘next sep’. So below is a new updated version for the next session.

Inquiry Cycle What are our students learning needs v2

Added in are 3 columns which align to our teacher’s inquiry into practice:

  • Craft Knowledge: What ideas and strategies you know as a teacher
  • Mentor Knowledge: What ideas and strategies your mentor or an expert knows
  • Research Knowledge: What ideas and strategies research tells us works

With this extra layer of thinking, proactive engagement in professional dialogue and research, a teacher should have a range of approaches to explore and implement to better meeting the needs of their learners.

Consistency and Cohesion vs. Teacher Autonomy

Together as a whole staff we had the privilege of visiting two schools in Palmerston North today. Throughout my career I have highly valued the opportunity to visit other schools and have been lucky enough that the schools I have been involved have also valued this and have embedded it into their school culture and professional learning.

Firstly a huge thank you to the schools we visited. We were warmly welcomed and impressed by your openness to deprivatise your practice. Our focus was looking at deliberate strategies to raise achievement in literacy and we came away with lots to think about.

School A shared with a specific school wide approach to lifting achievement in literacy known as the Daily 5 supported by the Daily Cafe. What struck me about this was the cohesive and consistent approach of the Daily 5 across the whole school. There was a common language seen, heard and followed in all classrooms. Staff had clearly agreed to implement this approach across their school, deliberately setting specific expectations and explicitly teaching self-management approaches. Great stuff.

Contrastingly School B stated their belief that there wasn’t a one size fits all approach to teaching and learning. Teachers had the professional autonomy to adapt their teaching to best suit the learning needs of their students. While there are agreed upon guiedlines and expectations, teachers had the ‘freedom’ to adpot strategies, use resources and group children as appropriate.

Now both approaches are successful, both schools are well led, both have effective management teams and self-review in place. Both approaches can find a strong base in research and best practice e.g. professional autonomy is a recognised feature of the highly ranked Finnish school system. I was impressed by both schools but as I reflect on the day the contrast between the two approaches, while over simplified in this post, made me think a little deeper and out rose a number of questions…

  • Do you need consistency and cohesion before you can go to a state of autonomy? i.e. Do you need to ‘enforce’ a state of consistency to embed behaviours in teaching and learning thus laying the foundation for professional autonomy? What happens then when new staff transition in to the school?
  • Can the two coexist within the same school/team and they still function effectively? i.e. Do you need to be consistently consistent or consistently autonomous? Or is being flexible the name of the game because there is no one size fits all for our teachers? Or… is there a consistent way to implementing an autonomous environment?
  • Is the experience of a teacher a factor that determines their ability to manage an autonomous classroom? Similar to the first question… Could a beginning teacher hit the ground running and operate autonomously?
  • Is it simply a case of teachers teaching to their preferred teaching style? e.g. Not a school decision but a personal preference to operating and managing a classroom of learners. Or is professional autonomy the preferred ideal approach?
  • To what extent does school leadership influence the consistency/cohesion or teacher autonomy approach? A school principal has a strong influence over the direction of a school. Is their belief structure reflected in the schools approach, their confidence in the staff, their leadership style? Is it not about that at all but the student demographic?

Too many questions. What are your thoughts?