Tag Archives: dispositions

Sabbatical – Part 7

What have we been working on at school? Vision & Values

The purpose of this sabbatical was to compliment and support where we were already headed as a school.

Significant work was already planned or had taken place leading up to my time of learning and reflection. This sabbatical was to reflect on how the assessment and reporting arms would contribute to and compliment (or not) our work.

So what have we been up to and why? Here is an overview and some background.

1. Pre-ERO conversations…

As part of our preparation leading up to our last ERO visit, I posed a question to the rest of the leadership team: How can we show ERO that we know how are learners are progressing in what we really believe is important? (I was also new to the school having been in the principal’s hot seat for about a term).

We knew that we could show this in reading, writing and maths but we couldn’t in the areas that made up our school vision at that time: agency, creativity, excellence.

But it was not all doom and gloom! There was a massive light at the end of the tunnel. Throughout 2016/17 the school lead a Teacher Led Innovation Fund (TLIF) project that focused on learner agency. One of the last acts of this project was to develop a tool to support learners in self assessing themselves against the key elements of agency.

The Agency Wheel as this was known, was a solution the very question I had posed the team. I knew they would be on to it!

2. The Agency Wheel, Maths Dispositions and the Key Competencies

The emergence of the Agency Wheel kick started a whole lot of other conversations. These came about from a range of noticings in our learners and a desire to pull into the wheel our school values, the NZC through the Key Competencies, and a maths dispositions framework which was gaining momentum through involvement in the Maths Specialist Teacher (MST) programme.

What is shown below is when a few of the leadership team sat down and started trying to map out all of these threads and align them to the Agency Wheel.

So what happening next… not much; summer holidays and 2 key members of the leadership left for higher honours.

The Wheel got parked, but not forgotten.

3. Our Vision & Values

At the same time as the Agency Wheel emerged, the school was also wrapping up significant community consultation regarding our school vision, values and strategic direction.

This resulted in 2 changes:

  1. The vision changed from Inspiring agency, creativity & excellence both within and outside the four walls of the classroom to Empowering agency, innovation and leadership. There is so much more to the why of these changes – if you want to hear it, please just get in touch.
  2. Our values changed to the 10 shown below. Yes – there is another story behind this…

4. Beliefs around Learning and Assessment

As a staff we took a day to explore the following concepts:

  • Learning – what are our core beliefs?
  • Assessment – Perform and audit of what we do & why.
  • Our Context – Identify our learners and explore global impacts on learning?
  • Assessments – What do we need to keep/develop?
  • People – What type of learner, teacher, parent will make it all happen?

We made the following realisations:

  • That we needed to get the balance right between the front end (vision, values & competencies) and back end (curriculum area achievement objectives) of the curriculum.
  • That we needed to reframe our approach to assessment and the tools we use in order to align these to our core beliefs.
  • That we needed to clarify and develop our understanding further about these things called dispositions.

5. Learner Behaviour

(Not learning behaviour, in old speak this is about behaviour management…)

As far back as 2017 it was clear that the way we managed inappropriate behaviour required a bit of a refresh. Not a huge refresh but to align documentation with practices and to make it consistent and consistently understood across out school and community. Initial conversations centred around maintaining our positive approach strong in the pastoral care of children and how we can better use our values as the foundation of a positive behaviour programme.

Coming together as a staff we focused our discussions around the following 5 areas to help us review our practice and start designing a refreshed way forward.

  1. Summarise our thinking so far
  2. Complete self-assessment & summarise
  3. What do we know works in other schools?
  4. What innovative ideas do we have?
  5. Agreed actions moving forward

Through unpacking and sharing these areas we recognised needs in the following 4 ways

  • Our school values underpin our expectations for behaviour
  • Our values need to be broken down into observable behaviours
  • Our current systems and documentation are outdated
  • We need to explore other approaches eg Restorative practice

The first 2 points became very apparent. Our values outlined the types of expectations and behaviours we want in our children BUT they currently were not deliberatly incliuded in our approach and more importantly, were not brokenm down with clear descriptors to enable staff and learners to compare their behaviour to.

Creating these descriptors was clearly a priority moving forward for our school.

6. Exploring Dispositions

The purpose of these discussion and work was to follow up and act on our previous need; to clarify and develop our understanding further about these things called dispositions.

This started with an activity designed to bring out what dispositions our learners need, prompted by the following questions:

What is it about your students that makes you think they need to learn how to think? 

What do you see them doing, hear them saying, and what are they feeling?

How would you like them to be?

Take a group of teachers and ask them to contemplate these questiosn and record their thoughts in their section of the template. Then they discuss, debate, compare, contrast and agree on a set of areas their learners need to grow in. Shown below.

Now take that set and list them on the left, now try and align this on the right to the disposition/competency/thinking/attitude that may need to support them overcoming the problem identified. Shown below.

What did we learn from this process?

  1. There is a very strong link between what our learners need and our school values
  2. There is also a very strong link between the underpinnings of the agency wheel and what our learners need.

So what does all of this mean?

Well, there is a plan of how we can bring this altogether. Read on for Sabbatical Part 8…

Sabbatical – Part 3

What are these things called dispositions?

Dispositions are a bit of a edubuzz word currently and one that has increasingly been cropping up in our discussions, greatly due in part to the school’s involvement in the Maths Specialist Teacher (MST) programme where a set of mathematical dispositions are integral in developing effective mathematical habits and mindsets in our learners. Our MST teachers have a very good understanding of these dispositions but the rest of the staff are catching-up. So what are dispositions and do they fit in with a learner driven approach to learning and assessment? 

But dispositions are nothing new. Reading the text Dispositions: Reframing Teaching and Learning (Costa & Kallick, 2014), provided a wealth of information and answered many questions. It clearly outlines what dispositions are, why they are important, provides examples of different disposition sets and provides guidance for deciding on what dispositions are important for your school and learners. It also, and importantly for the context of this inquiry, devotes a chapter to Observing and Assessing Growth in Dispositional Learning which provides insights into how you might gather evidence in relation to learner progress in dispositions.

So what was learnt from this book?

  1. In essence dispositions should be thought of as thinking dispositions, “…a tendency to think in a certain way under certain circumstances” (Costa & Kallick, 2014).
  2. Literacy and numeracy (and all other traditional areas of the curriculum) continue to be important for our learners however at least equal time should be spent planning for and actively teaching dispositions.
  3. Time spent teaching dispositions (or capabilities, attitudes, tendencies, competencies… whatever you want to call them) will in turn enable learners to more effectively access the curriculum content.
  4. Prioritising dispositions within learning and curriculum design is about realigning our focus. This includes 3 reframes:
    • From knowing the right answers to knowing how to behave when answers are not readily apparent
    • From transmitting meaning to constructing meaning
    • From external evaluation to ongoing, formative self-assessment
  5. Dispositions will be different in every context and what one school may focus on will be quite different from the next and even this will change due to the changing learner profile. Just like a school vision is personal to each school, so too are dispositions. 
  6. Simply adopting an off the shelf dispositions set e.g. Habits of Mind, short cuts the process of establishing what is really important for your school’s learners. What you notice about your learners’ learning habits are a crucial to establishing what your focus is.
  7. The role of the teacher is crucial to take dispositions from words on a page to being internalised in a school’s culture, learners and learning talk. There are some key strategies that can underpin this process outlined in the book.
  8. Learner growth in dispositions cannot be assessed using traditional content based approaches. It should be continuous and ongoing, formative, rich in self-assessment. There is a great Spirals of Continuous Learning graphic that illustrates this perfectly (reminds me of my thinking back in my e-fellowship days with the ePortfolio Learning Cycle – if only I had known about this!).
Spirals of Continuous Learning, Costa & Kallick, 2004
ePortfolio Learning Cycle, Nick Rate, 2008

Finally, focused on how we might assess growth in dispositional thinking, here is a rich summary of what is required.

There are plenty of other good reads regarding dispositions including the following with an NZC or Te Whariki context:

But to be honest, I think that if you just read these or any other disposition focused text you are only getting half the picture. You need to also to read or re-read anything that outlines the essence of formative practice. Remember the good old AtoL days? Remember Shirley Clarke? Inside the Black Box? Identifying what your core set of dispositions is and embedding these in your school will fall over unless these pedagogies are deeply embedded in practice.

So beyond the list of learnings above, 2 big picture takeaways in order for us to move forward in this area…

  • Teachers need to facilitate learning rich in the underpinnings of assessment for learning where:
    • learners are involved
    • learners self-assess and receive specific descriptive feedback about learning during learning
    • learners collect, organise and communicate learning with others
    • teaching is adjusted in response to ongoing assessments
    • a safe learning environment for risk taking and focused goal setting supports learning. (Davies, 2000)

and…

  • Teachers need to provide the opportunities for learners to engage in deep thinking. They need to be sufficiently challenged to have to draw on the thinking dispositions. This may involve (Costa & Kallick, 2014);
    • making decisions
    • strategic thinking
    • long-term planning
    • creating something new
    • testing theories etc

I think I will add much more to this last list when it is compared and contrasted with a number of other texts in my reading list.

Lastly… soft skills – you have heard of that term right? People may refer to things like communication, empathy, team work etc as soft skills. Aaaaaarrrggghhh! This goes against everything I believe (and the authors of the book). Soft [dictionary definitions: easy to mould, weak and lacking courage, subtle effect…] implies that dispositions are not important where we know they are crucially important! Please join with me in banning the term sift skills!