Tag Archives: Learning Environments

Trend One: Diversity

13 Mar

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Designing for difference is impacting the way we organise and govern our societies and prepare for the future. In education, this “difference” imperative is also becoming a catalyst for change:

  • findings in cognitive neuroscience are confirming that there is significant variability in how we each learn (OECD 2010).
  • international reports focus on the need for schools to develop acute sensitivity to individual learner’s differences and to use that knowledge as a driver for the design of physical and blended learning environments and flexible teaching approaches (OECD 2012, 2015)

Diversity work on school campuses takes many forms, and at their best, learning communities build on this existing work. The diversity I want to focus on that is of the Learning Community.

Learning communities can also become places where teachers develop powerful pedagogical strategies that support the learning of all students.

In short, the three central elements for approaching diversity through learning communities are as follows:

1) Designing learning communities for groups of students;

2) Using learning communities as sites for curriculum transformation;

3) Developing pedagogical practices that support diverse learners. Reflecting on these three elements is at the core of connecting the widely-recognized power of learning community structures with the rich work that has been done around diversity issues over the past two decades.

The broad range of experiences and perspectives brought to school by culturally and ethnically diverse students offer a powerful resource for everyone to learn more—in different ways, in new environments, and with different types of people. Every single person in this enormously diverse and ever-changing system has the power to serve as an invaluable resource for all others—students, teachers, and the community. Rather than constituting a problem for students and educators, the growing diversity in U.S. classrooms necessitates and encourages the development and use of diverse teaching strategies designed to respond to each student as an individual.

 

We are fortunate for I believe as a culture we embrace diversity. This boundless diversity has resulted in the inventions, discoveries, ideas, literature, art, music, films, languages, political systems, and foods that enrich our culture. This needs to reflected in our classrooms for this diversity has the potential for enriching our classroom. Our students bring us opportunities to be explored and treasures to be appreciated, and they help us challenge the status quo.

Adopting a truly global perspective allows us to view culturally diverse students and their parents or guardians as resources who provide unparalleled opportunities for enrichment. However, we need a greater repertoire of approaches to teaching and learning to cope with varied styles of learning. Teachers and students alike must cultivate interpersonal skills and respect for other cultures. The new world economy demands this global view. After all, our markets and economic competition are now global, and the skills of intercultural communication are necessary in politics, diplomacy, economics, environmental management, the arts, and other fields of human endeavor.

Surely a diverse classroom is the ideal laboratory in which to learn the multiple perspectives required by a global society and to use information concerning diverse cultural patterns. Students who learn to work and play collaboratively with classmates from various cultures are better prepared for the world they face now—and the world they will face in the future. Teaching and learning strategies that draw on the social history and the everyday lives of students and their cultures can only assist this learning process.

 

Teachers promote critical thinking when they make the rules of the classroom culture explicit and enable students to compare them with other cultures. Students can develop cross-cultural skills in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. For such learning to take place, however, teachers must have the attitudes, knowledge, and skills to make their classrooms effective learning environments for all students. Given the opportunity, students can participate in learning communities within their schools and town and be ready to assume constructive roles as workers, family members, and citizens in a global society.

Pedagogy and Student Achievement

29 May

Vision Road Sign with dramatic blue sky and clouds.

More and more teachers are giving students projects to do, whether at school or at home. They often have complete freedom of how to present the final outcome. Common examples include a PowerPoint presentation, report, poster or physical model. A few, may go for a more creative option such as a video. However, digital technology, when used, is often limited to presenting passive information without any interactivity. The type that doesn’t encourage any engagement. We must remember the tool should not drive the presentation just like with teaching.

It must be said that some teachers do encourage students to take advantage of digital technologies. Examples include blogging or other forms of presenting content, e.g. social media, or wikis. Even then though, for those who engage with the content, it‘s still mostly passive (reading/watching). Sometimes it increases a bit to up/down-voting or commenting as the ultimate engagement. Tools like spellasaurus or Mathletics are fine but it is the pedagogy behind it which is key.

Years ago, in an effort to understand the students we served and the role of teachers in creating spaces where learning can happen, we created a list of what we believed these conditions were:

  • Knowing our learners
  • Creating a safe community of learners
  • Having something meaningful for students to learn about
  • As teachers we have to have a deep understanding of the content, the learner and instructional practices
  • The notion of teacher as learner and actually doing the risk taking, being open to make mistakes

We spent some time discussing as a staff what resonated with us most and what caused us the most dissonance. It was an incredible insight into the thinking of our staff in our collective and individual impact on the learners in our care.

I believe that supporting learning at the classroom level is no different than supporting innovation and learning at a staff level.

We need to be able to do what we are asking our teachers to do. We have to create spaces where creativity, innovation, risk-taking in learning, and experimentation are welcome.

A Vision A Memo

11 May

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Integrating meaningful learning experiences that promote critical thinking skills is essential in cultivating a classroom of 21st Century learners. One way we do this is by actively involving the students in their learning through collaborative work. This helps the students take ownership of the learning and think critically about issues. Yes collaboration is key.

This month I have been thinking and have had time to think. My vision in schools then would be this. In our perfect school our student-centered learning environments are varied and flexible to accommodate the needs of learners and provide ongoing opportunities to build a collaborative community of students and staff. Our environments promote collaborative, individual, small and large group learning.

Students learn in collaborative flexible groups based on need. When students collaborate together they learn how to communicate with others effectively, work as a team, practice self-discipline, and improve social and interpersonal skills. Through collaboration, students are able to have a better understanding of what they are learning and improve critical thinking skills. This reality is not far away

Thinking about eLearning

14 Apr

eLearning offers educators and students alike opportunities for creating meaningful learning environments. eLearning enables different types of social interaction, provide ready access to information and can overcome some of the difficulties presented by time and space. Students and teachers alike can create new materials and new knowledge with the media tools now available to them. These tools are constantly evolving as individuals and companies create and refine new software.

Including eLearning in teaching and learning requires a re-conceptualization of the curriculum and how it can be taught. Using eLearning to simply replace blackboards with whiteboards and pens with computers and word processors does not constitute a re-conceptualization of teaching and learning, nor the nature of school education. Bluntly PowerPoint is not eLearning. Such an approach will not support students to ‘learn, unlearn, and relearn’. I read somewhere this year that eLearning is just a tool to improve pedagogy.

Parental Engagement

8 Jul

In “Visible Learning”, John Hattie says that the inability of parents to ‘speak the language of learning’ can be a major barrier to student achievement.

If we are adopting new ways of learning and teaching, then perhaps we need new ways of engaging parents. If we were to develop some universal protocols then my top five would be :

  • engagement with parents from the beginning. I found sending a letter or a phone call can make a huge difference.
  • regular community forums and walk-throughs (parents need to see learning in action) – what about the use of blogs as a way of educating and engaging  parents in the conversation. Our own Open Day this year was an example of this success.
  • involve students in giving feedback to their parents on their learning. Student voice is always a valuable tool.
  • demonstrating the difference new approaches to learning are making
  • finding ways of celebrating good learning and teaching
  • ensuring an outlet for parent feedback

Learning in today’s world is a journey, not a destination. As we build on what we know works and respond to teacher ingenuity and innovations from their own learning we need to ensure that the whole school community is on the same journey.

Know Thy Impact Teaching, Learning and Leading

PD or PL that is the question?

28 Jun

Is there a fundamental difference between professional development and professional learning? We often define professional development as a one-off activity that takes place outside of classrooms.

The appearance of professional development is shifting. No longer is effective PD going to a course and listening to a speaker. The 21st century learner (the teacher in this case) demands more. At present we have in many cases we have a remnant of the 20th century when perfecting routines and tasks (productivity) were more important than collaboration and innovation (creativity).

I believe that tooling teachers does not necessarily transform teachers. Effective teachers are life-long learners. Ministry documents emphasize this time and again. Our goal this year is addressing this. I have written here about a desire to create Professional Learning Network in schools. This is a desire for creating a better teaching and learning environment. This point was made in my professional reading by Fullen last week.

“Leaders who are most effective in their own organizations and beyond are

those who can connect to the bigger picture.”

In moving from professional development to professional learning, teachers will inevitably take greater responsibility for their own and their students’ learning. School leaders take greater responsibility for teacher-learning and systems provide the necessary support and condition to enable this to happen systematically.

Evaluating performance, seeking feedback and asking questions of students and colleagues happens on the job – as part of the process of improving teaching. This itself is professional development.

The final point for me is that professional learning demands reflection. How well we reflect on our learning is a crucial question which influences how we move forward?

 

Professional Reading:

Fullen – 8 Forces for Leaders of Change

“This is an extremely useful reading, and links in very well to developments within New Zealand regarding leading change in schools. It would be helpful to use at the beginning of a change phase within a school, and to share with staff so that they come to understand the various stages in the process of implementing change in a school.”

I highly recommend this.

21st Century School

10 May

https://mountain2surf.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/4fa7d-21stcentury.jpg

In many of our documents we are encouraged as teachers and leaders to be lifelong learners. It is known as the 21st century school model. This term is one that is worth debating but that is for another week and another blog.

Does it really surprise any education professionals to read how online technology has not helped people to become lifelong learners? And how the childhood experiences about learning and education are the most significant predictors for the future interest in learning?

“Learning in later life appears to be primarily linked to positive attitudes to education that are usually formed during compulsory schooling. This means that young people who experienced early educational failure or felt alienated by the school system are very unlikely to participate in education as adults regardless of the opportunities available or potential benefits.” says Dr. Patrick White.

Don’t get me wrong. I love (learning) technology, and am hopelessly hooked to my computer and iDevice. Not a night goes by when I don’t catch up with my PLN on Twitter. What worries me, though, is how different gadgets or software programs are presented as the ultimate answer for fixing education and mending the problem of falling grades and detached students. Technology is just a tool – how we use it makes all the difference. This is a real soapbox of mine.

Providing meaningful learning experiences for students takes the power struggle away from classrooms. This can be done with or without the technology. Sometimes it doesn’t help to have a fancy building with all the latest gadgets in every classroom if I don’t have teachers. But having my teachers willing to make learning a meaningful experience for students my school would be operational even without classrooms or any equipment. Teaching IS a contact sport. Learning IS a contact sport. Sometimes my students forget this also.

If we wish to foster lifelong learning our students must be involved with worthwhile activities so that they can find learning interesting and rewarding. The negative attitude is the biggest challenge for lifelong learning. Empowering students to use their thinking skills (with or without technology) caters for positive approaches to learning. This is already a recognized and valid practice in Early Childhood Education where I notice my daughter with her friends recognize play is an important way for making learning an adventure student wants to repeat.

Source: Information superhighway ‘bypassing adult learners’ — new study

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