Tag Archives: curriculum inquiry

My Inquiry Continues

28 Jul

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As a classroom teacher I am always looking at how I can become a better teacher. I constantly question how I could improve instruction so that tamariki I am teaching can learn at high levels. It is important for me to improve my craft so that I could help my students maximize their potential. Recently I became I began thinking about my teaching in a different way.

How do I influence teachers change instructional practice? As a leader, how do I help teachers learn and adopt new skills and instructional practices?

In his book Transforming School Culture, Anthony Muhammad reveals teachers have been socialized in the field where they will practice since they were five years old. He calls this “apprenticeship of observation.” Empowered with this information, I began to reflect on what practices would be so deeply ingrained in teachers? What experiences had teachers had as young learners that were impacting the learning of their students 20, 30, or even 40 years later?

It was during this period of reflection that my two goals merged as one. I was working diligently with teachers to help them transition their frame of mind around assessment practices while trying to improve my instructional practices as their leader and guide. It was time to apply best assessment practices with teachers, so that they could personally learn to value and deeply understand the purpose and process. I had years of “un-doing” the early training they had for their entire schooling career, but it was the most powerful way to help teachers learn to value best assessment practices.

It was important to start with a task that was of critical importance to teachers: their evaluation tool. In my desire to communicate to teachers the critical importance of helping students understand the clear criteria for which they would be assessed on any given task. This topic was deeply personal and it was evident that teachers were quickly engaged by having ownership in establishing the criteria. When things are personal conversations are often difficult.

I need to consider a process for this. This needs to be formulated working with teachers. You can enhance or destroy students’ desire to succeed in school more quickly and permanently through your use of assessment than with any other tools you have at your disposal. Through the practice of using best assessment practices with teachers, mindsets began to change about what best assessment practice really means in the development of our tamariki. More to come on this.

 

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Curriculum Inquiry: Lets Do It

17 Jul

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For the past three years our community has been looking at curriculum change. Adopting a new curriculum takes commitment and patience from everyone. It can be stressful. I have learnt a great deal about change so this week I thought I might share some of the things I have learnt with you. Transitioning to new curriculum can cause stress and (sometimes) friction for everyone. Teachers who’ve been in the profession for a while know when changes are authentic and best for students.

Here are six things that I have learnt to ensure that major curriculum shifts go smoothly for teachers, students, and themselves. Note I often come back to these.

  1. Be open and transparent about change.

This has been frustrating for some as many think there is some hidden agenda. Staff and students need to know why major changes are occurring. We are all part of change. Whether it’s adding something major, like project-based learning, or something more minor. While people may not be receptive to the shifts at first, being clear about why they are happening is a great place to start.

  1. Embrace mistakes as room for growth.

Real and meaningful change takes time and almost always comes with challenges. Build in space for setbacks. Anticipate obstacles and meet them with a cool head. Various models have helped but when they do not it is ok to say we did not get that right. I found this useful.

  1. Celebrate every success in making changes.

Start staff meetings with success stories. Ask teachers to share them. Send out emails about encouraging breakthroughs and stories of staff and students making strides. Change can be hard work, and everyone needs to be aware of where that hard work is paying off.

  1. Provide professional development for new curriculum.

Give people time to implement this.  This is effective at giving an overview and maybe even drumming up excitement about the new curriculum, but this is often all the training teachers receive. This leads to the new and exciting practices being quickly abandoned or ineffective implementation. What the staff really needs is ongoing professional development, resources, and training to make sure that new ideas and practices are not just introduced but used regularly.

  1. Trust your staff’s professional opinion and listen to them about the changes.

Innovative programs and curricula can be wonderful assets to a school committed to meeting the needs of their students.

  1. Don’t change what isn’t broken, if you can help it.

This was a key learning for me. Sometimes in our rush to adapt and evolve, we lose sight of what already works. Use data, stories, and wisdom to discern when something needs to be replaced and when it should be kept. For instance, literacy can be taught in new and innovative ways that have merit and are worth exploring. But sometimes the most effective way of teaching this skill is to drill-and-kill or have students practice over and over. This practice should not be abandoned because you are trying something else as well. If a method is working and resulting in success, change is not needed.

Enjoy your journey in this watershed time of change. Please note exhibit 3 below. It was a useful tool.

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An Inquiry

17 May

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I have been reflecting on the idea that student become anxious and lack self-belief in the classroom. I did some rereading around this idea. Inquiry should underpin our teaching – if students are going to believe that they can be successful, they need to experience success.  So, we need to provide the opportunities for this to happen.

The following report, ‘What Makes Great Teaching? ‘ provides a good starting point when thinking about planning learning.  It identifies content knowledge and quality of instruction as key components of great teaching.

Content knowledge. Teachers with strong knowledge and understanding of their subject make a greater impact on students’ learning. It is also important for teachers to understand how students think about content and be able to identify common misconceptions on a topic.

Quality of instruction. This includes effective questioning and the use of assessment by teachers. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding) are also found to improve attainment.

Innovation and Key Learning

17 Feb

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I look out my office window on a Sunday (I know please do not judge!!) and I reflect there is so much to do so much to learn, and it all keeps changing. It can be overwhelming. As a leader I want to be innovative, creative, and make a greater impact. As I reflect on the data of our curriculum inquiry I identify three main areas that are “work ons” for me:

Less hui and more doey

We spend too much time spent thinking, reading, and watching what might change your teaching, your school, education — and not enough time spent doing the work. It is great the I now have evidence but the key is the next piece of mahi.

I read a lot of twitter chats, blogs, books, and TED Talks on how to innovate in education and transform learning. So much so, that a few years ago I felt overwhelmed just by the amount of reading. After taking a break from reading, I realized that there was a reason I wanted to get it right. Like my student I didn’t want to fail. Yet, unless I started taking action, there was not going to be any change that was made.

Don’t get drowned out by the information highway and not make time for creating and growing your people.

Focusing on the shiny instead of what works.

Yes, I am still recovering from years of worrying about the newest, latest, greatest thing. Whenever a new product, or new release, or new phone would come out, I would jump on the bandwagon immediately. I like the “new” part of innovation, but not the “new ideas that work better” piece.

Trying to do everything

There is lots of material out there about leaders going out by themselves. You are not alone wolf. Use your network. Ask others to help.

What mistakes have you made in doing innovative and creative work? What lessons have you learned along the way?

Supporting Middle Leaders

5 Nov

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To talk about teaching without considering what is being learned, is just strange. Curriculum leaders provide a system that supports teaching and learning. In the absence of a system, students will enter class each day, participate in lessons, and at the end of the year, each student will be promoted to the next grade level. Instructional leaders must strive to identify the focus for each grade level or course and then work collaboratively to ensure that each student is challenged and provided with scaffolding as needed. Hattie suggests that principals are engaged in instructional leadership when they “have their major focus on creating a learning climate free of disruption, a system of clear teaching objectives, and high teacher expectations for teachers and students” (2012, p. 83).

The word ‘curriculum’ derives from the Latin ‘currere’ meaning a race or a course on which a race is run.  The Latin verb ‘currere’ means to ‘run’ or ‘proceed’.

I like this idea of running for many reasons. First, it underlines the importance of the journey: to take a short-cut would be to miss the point. The specified ground must be conquered or the race can be neither run nor won. All the running matters. If we tell the runners to practise only the final sprint, we not only miss the point of the whole race. In schools we seem to miss this point. We are always rushing to the assessment. Second, it reminds us that curriculum is not a mere aggregate of things. Its character is a key. Curriculum is content structured over time. Third, it points to the curriculum as continuous. Not just a sequence it’s much more like a narrative.  Curriculum is content structured over time with all the parts talking to each other.

So often our curriculum is not coherent and lacks a smoothness. How does this absence of curricular focus happen? And what can we do about it?

It happens because at the level of a whole school, the pull of the generic is strong and understandably so. Schools must be led and managed as coherent enterprises. Parity must be found across a school’s spheres. To ascend the ladders of school leadership, subject specialism must, to some degree, be transcended.  Whole-school leaders contribute in vital ways that transcend subject. They must communicate strategy, distribute resource, facilitate collaboration, align systems, review pupils’ progress across differing spheres, build policies for behaviour… In short, they must create the best environment possible for all teachers to make things happen.

Therefore, built into the culture of staff development is a sense of subject specialism as transient.  Each subject area empire building. Built into the structure of a school is an imperative for common proxies – from assessment to resourcing – removed from the actual substance what is being taught and learned.

How easy, then, to slide into the assumption of equivalence, especially with generic terms such as ‘learning’, ‘progress’ or ‘skills’. Senior Leadership Teams need to provide leadership talking about teaching and attainment, a language which, because of its curricular character.  Such a language cannot be empty of substance. It must be rooted in a shared knowledge base, one that makes curricular communication possible.

I have learnt this year to support and grow our middle leaders. When curriculum leadership becomes the priority for our kura student understanding will grow. A kura without clearly defined pathways for these people is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).

Learning and Teaching

12 Jan

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Teaching is a specific skill. It is in our country undervalued. The instructional core values of the role of the teacher in the ever-changing educational space is complex. There is a need to focus on good teaching, and in this comes from reflective practice. In New Zealand, Our Teaching Standards are working to make teachings standards actually living documents and focus points for lifting the esteem and productivity of the profession. The most important work of the standards, as I see it , is their advocacy for building learning communities; teachers as learners.

I have been thinking deeply about the core teaching business. Like all educators I have had good lessons, great lessons and some unsuccessful ones too. Good and not so good inquiry. Indeed some real failures. I mentioned earlier the idea that we want to unpack as Leaders of Learning this year is  the concept of the instructional core, in preparation for classroom observation.

Teaching of content clearly leads to learning but we can look at this framework as the core business, where good teachers affect learning by building relationships with their learners and a deep passion for the content. It is the teacher who makes these connections sparkle.

I agree that PBL/ Inquiry is key to ‘education’, the joy in learning the specifics of our world and the ideas of fellow people are awesome and certainly, an understanding of such siloed concepts is taken higher when students are guided in inquiry and cross curricular discovery. When students have agency it goes through the roof.

I suppose as I conclude two things are central to my thinking:

What is Learning?

How do I know it is successful? (It must be more than about formal assessment also)

What are your thoughts?

Teaching as Inquiry

11 Aug

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The culture of inquiry is so important in our school among all ako. By that I mean students and teachers. As part of our annual plan I have been thinking a great deal about these. For a superb summary of this please click here.  Here some thoughts on the topic:

A Good Question

Questions are an effective way to frame a unit of inquiry. When students struggle to find the answer, it raises the level of inquiry. Questions encourage students to think outside of their class/content area. The inquiry needs to be framed up by this.

Five Benefits of Good Questions:

  1.  Essential Questions establish a learning focus for students.
  2.  The process of identifying Essential Questions helps educators clarify their intended purpose.
  3.  Essential Questions promote critical thinking.
  4.  Essential Questions support integrated instruction (i.e., teaching and learning across disciplines).
  5.  Essential Questions help students see the Big Picture, while allowing each student to connect prior knowledge to new understandings.

Reflection

Reflection is a lost art in classrooms and by teachers. We are constantly battling paper. With the push to cover more content and standards, teachers often make a choice between coverage or pausing for reflection. Reflection comes in many forms: reflective journals, group work, whole class, silent reflection, reviewing yesterday’s work, reflecting on an essential question, or creating a product that shows your thoughts on a previous lesson or understanding.

How often do students feel like the pace of schooling is rushed? Once a unit is finished, the teacher moves to the next unit. Reflection involves slowing down to share what we learned. In the absence of reflection, it is unlikely that a classroom is a Culture of Inquiry. How do students reflect and make meaning out of their experiences?

Learning takes place when inquiry is present. As you meet with your teacher team to develop lessons and assessments, analyse the amount of time students have to question, talk with their peers, and reflect. Career Readiness is not a score on a test or NCEA. Readiness means that students graduate with the skills that provide them with opportunities for success beyond high school. Here’s a thought. Contemplate how the courses in your school foster critical thinking, problem solving, and application of academic knowledge.

 

Friday Thought: June 9

10 Jun

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This week I have been thinking about how I can stay on task. That is keep our year long inquiry going. Sometime it can be difficult especially in June, its cold, people are extra busy with reports and coughs and colds are kicking in.

How to Stay focus on your goals then, it could be about the following?

  • Concentration

If you have set many goals, focus on the important one first. Don’t bother yourself with the other goals. It is much better to set 1 goal at the time. 

  • Create a big picture

Cut out pictures that will remind you of your goals- gather them and paste them on a board, wall or poster.

  • Take a break

Feel the air- breath! If you feel you have given too much, then take a break, pause for a while.

Don’t stress yourself so much. Take it easy. You will reach the end. I am sure of that as long as you have started it.

 

Curriculum for the Future

30 Apr

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The future of teaching in schools is a current, very complex education issue. Teaching is being informed that it must change and retain a focus on core skills to develop students who can participate in our 21st century society. Transformation of practice is often cited as a key goal for teachers’ and their curriculum to achieve these expectations.

Last year I attended an online webinar around future curriculum. This in-turn set underway our future curriculum review.

There are 3 important drivers of this conversation;

    1. LwDT; over the past 25 years technology has been used to amplify our teaching methods, engage students with their learning and make educational infrastructure more efficient. Today, technology can transform teaching, classrooms and schools in ways we never considered possible 25 years ago. Individual teachers and some schools are exploring breathtaking innovations…educational innovation is as diverse as it is spontaneous and irregular currently.
    2. Brain science; growth mindset, mindfulness, the science of learning has revealed significant new insights into how students learn best and the unique nature of each students learning. We need to focus on developing the intellect of each individual and concede that the teach content and test content academic model falls well short in the 21st century.
    3. The future needs of students; to ensure they can be active participants in a 21st century society where citizenship, career and communication are envisaged to be so different to existing contexts.  We need to understand and cater for students, perhaps our brightest students, can now genuinely consider creating their own job rather than go to university or follow a traditional career path.

In order to develop students who are best equipped for the future a new core set of skills have been identified as being essential for successful participation in the 21st century economy and society. They are usually identified as;

1. being creative and innovative in their thinking

2. being able to collaborate, sometimes over distance

3. being able to problem solve

4. being able to communicate well in a different modes

5. being entirely comfortable and innovative with LwDT.

A key to this thinking has been Michael Fullan’s work around the 6Cs. Watch this space.

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