Teaching Learning Behaviours and Why the Process Matters.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” ~ Albert Einstein

A revolution in modern education has brought with it an increasing change in mindset amongst many educators in regards to the purpose and direction of learning. Having broken away from the shackles of a traditional mindset in regards to education I have found myself questioning and evaluating my purpose as an educator, driven by the questions, ‘How can I best serve my learners?’, and ‘What if?’

During the last academic year in particular I have been inspired by my classroom neighbour and friend @artwithron. Ron is our school’s visual art teacher and a strong advocate of the philosophy of teaching artistic beviour (TAB).

‘Nothing in education is more powerful than authentic, student directed, student centered learning experiences constructed from the bottom up. The TAB art education concept allows students opportunities to take ownership of their art experiences from conception to completion with teacher acting as classroom manager, environmental designer, art expert, facilitator, and student mentor.’ Clyde Gaw

Having been a regular visitor to Ron’s classroom I have been witness to the whole process and outpouring of independent creativity and exploration of the students. Ron spends less time teaching the specific skills of art rather than allowing students to recognise themselves as artists. The students were completely in control of the process from idea to creation. I began to wonder if these same principles could or should be transfeered to other areas of the curriculum e.g. spend more time exploring the process of becoming a writer rather than specific skills involved. In particular skills that had little significance or importance to the creation of writing.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 2.10.45 PMWe were provided an opportunity within the year to allow the students to create and design their own learning environment. We discussed the various areas of learning and the resources that we would need. This provided the chance I needed to allow the students to see themselves as part of the process rather than a passive bystander. A writing table was created with discussions around what resources we would need as writers rather than what resources we would need to learn. Most of these would have been the same but it is how we approached the problem that was significant. It allowed the students to see themselves as writers and involved in the process rather than just learners. Yes we would need letter sound cards and displays, yes we would need whiteboards to write but these were now resources that we would require as a writer rather than just for learning. We were encouraging the students to develop the mindset of a writer rather than just as a learner. For myself in particular this is a very important point. I believe that when we are discussing changes in modern education the most important step is the change in mindset of both educators and learners and how we approach stituations rather than complete change. A change in values and of what is important to the learning process. These would obviously be different when considering the individual learner so it is vital that we create flexible learning opportunities that allow for personalised goals.

With development of technology within the modern world it is clear that the acquisition and demonstration of traditional skills is becoming increasingly less important than the adoption of positive learning behaviours. When developing these learning behaviours it is therefore important that the students become part of the process, mapping out, recognizing and implementing what is important to them. Involving the students within the process allows opportunities for them to personalize and take ownership whilst developing a natural curiosity and motivation to learn. The process and the active participation within it therefore becomes much more important than teacher expectations. There should be no end goal in learning other than the joy of learning. By helping to develop positive learning behaviours within our students we are helping to support a life-long learning journey.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 2.12.23 PMIf we take creative writing as an example we clearly see that correct letter formation or even a good understanding of letter sounds can play little importance in the grand scale of things in the creation of a classic novel. In fact I am sure that if Oscar Wilde or Lord Byron had become preoccupied with handwriting rather than a creative outpouring then much of the creative endeavour may have been lost. This is not to say that good letter formation or spelling play their part but arguably play an insignificant role in the creation of great literature compared to creativity. Unarguably great literature would survive messy handwriting and bad spelling but without the love of writing or the spark of imagination it would be lost.

It is not the writers main concern to produce neat and accurate spelling but the story or idea itself. This is only part of the process as the work then goes to draft, numerous editing before the final piece is made available. This is not to mention the increase and availability of auto-correct and voice recognition technology that allows writers to create great work without the need of neat writing or correct spelling. So what do we really want our learners to become? Creative and imaginative writers or part of the editing team? The answer matters as the skills required for each position are different.

The acquisition of knowledge and skills should no longer be the driving force of modern education but the development of a love of learning. Forced conscription to traditional ideals can quickly dissolve the love of learning but if a love of learning is developed then the acquisition of knowledge and skills will occur naturally. Desire to learn should come naturally and motivation should be intrinsic and seem from deeper roots. If the children enjoy what they are learning they need no artificial motivation. Conformity to learning only leads to conscription and will not lead to authentic student action. Teaching skills as standalone and outside of the learning process develops a mindset of conformity. It also does not support the transfer of skills to a real-life experience. Allowing our learners to become part of the process rather than passive observers of it creates a learning environment that allows personalization, ownership and creativity of learning to happen. This in turn supports our learners in taking positive action.

Quality learning is risky and stressful and requires much more energy and effort from students than the passive learning that is so common in schools’ (Baird & Northfield, 1992).


Adopting a Flexible Approach to the Curriculum

Edna Sackson – ‘What if we liberate ourselves from the traditional curriculum prison and explore new vistas?’ 

Tania Mansfield – ‘What if we were brave and daring? What if we put learners and learning before curriculum and standards and paperwork?’

This blog post has been inspired by conversations I have read online recently regarding ‘time’, or the perceived lack of, and the development of flexible units of inquiry. I have come to believe that these conversations are closely connected with one directly effecting the other.

I have especially been interested by the conversations surrounding Edna Sackson’s blogpost, Liberating the Programme of Inquiry, and Tania Mansfield’s response, Those Beautiful Questions. Both these educators are asking some truly ‘beautiful questions’ that are pushing the boundaries and challenging the traditional ideas about our approach to education. Both represent a growing number of modern educators that are beginning to ask ‘What if…’ with regards to teaching and learning. It is an exciting time to be an educator as traditional barriers in education are being seen to be taken down. We seem in the midst of an educational revolution led by educators and administrators that dare to ask, ‘What if….’. It is a time to be ‘brave and daring’.

‘Time’ seems to be a continual challenge for many educators. The beginning of each school year signals the start of a new race to meet numerous deadlines of learning outcomes, expectations and assessment. With all the other distractions that school life brings (e.g. holidays, sports events, celebrations etc) it seems that we are in a constant race against the hands of time and many of us feel that we are always on the losing side. This yearly up hill struggle provides needless stress for both educators and students alike. I was once part of this yearly struggle but things became much easier when I came to the conclusion that ‘time’ is not the issue but rather how I approached the curriculum. Authentic learning is not somethings that we can compartmentalize into convenient timeframes and boxes. To attempt to do so creates an unnatural learning environment.

The timetable below represents my traditional approach to inquiry. As you can see the 4 units of inquiry have been placed neatly into set timeframes. Approaching inquiry in this manner also has an effect on the specific subject learning within each of the inquiries e.g. Maths and Language etc. So not only are we putting self imposed timeframes on the inquiries themselves but also to the other areas of the curriculum that are connected to each specific inquiry. Are we really saying that authentic inquiry and learning has a clear start and end date? This approach seems too neat, tidy and regulated for any real authentic, deep or personalised learning to occur. Approaching the curriculum in this manner also begins the clock ticking on many of the self-imposed deadlines.

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I feel our traditional approach to teaching and learning has always been to neatly arrange our curriculums within specific blocks of learning. If we are continually working within a set timeframe we are placing unnecessary pressure on both educators and our students to complete tasks and meet objectives. We are also restricting authentic learning and exploration as our students learn at an unnatural time and pace. We create timetables that are ‘repetitive and predictable’ allowing little flexibility for new and authentic inquiries that may occur.

The arrival of the Enhanced PYP has gone some way in offering some flexibility in the implementation of the programme, but it is going far enough?

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The PYP states, ‘Greater flexibility on starting points and time frames for your units of inquiry will create a range of learning opportunities, for example, one unit could run throughout the whole year, while others could be revisited once or numerous times, with some overlap where appropriate.

This year I have made greater attempts in creating a more flexible approach to inquiry. This has been my third year working with this specific curriculum and each year I have been able to make moderate changes to allow the inquiries to flow more naturally and offer greater opportunities for student agency. Many of these changes have so far only been able to occur on a personal level as we are still to have these conversations on a whole school level.

Below I have placed an example of my own implementation of the inquiries for this year.

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Even this approach seems to suggest a beginning and a start time to inquiry when in reality the inquiry for many of our students has already begun long before they enter the classroom and will continue long after. If we take ‘How We Express Ourselves’ as an example. I would be naive to believe that most, if not all, children had not developed a sense that stories are a means of communicating meaning and that they can be told in a variety of ways. In most instances they may not be actually aware that they acquire this information but it is there. In all sense and purposes their inquiry has long begun and it will continue long after the date that is penciled into our yearly calendars. So what are we need to ask ourselves what we are actually doing within these timeframes of inquiry. We need to consider that we are using these time periods to assess, develop and push our students understanding of subjects that may be all too familiar with already. We need to be clear that we are not the ones that have started or will finish our students personal journeys of learning but are on hand to steer and support when the time demands it. This is also the case for each of inquiries for the year. 

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So if we begin to think more in terms of continuous inquiry, rather than ones with a beginning and an end, then our curriculum begins to look at lot more similar to the image above. All transdisciplinary themes, all inquiries and all learning running simultaneously throughout the year. This will in turn allow for a flexible curriculum that allows for new opportunities for learning. Approaching the curriculum in this manner provides the opportunity for our students to choose the when, where and how they learn. It is important that for modern education and the need for student agency that we provide our students with these flexible systems that allow for choice in learning.


From Learners to Leaders

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I had been eagerly awaiting my new unit of inquiry for sometime. Since changing the Central Idea and Lines of Inquiry from the previous year I quickly recognised that the new inquiry was a perfect opportunity to allow student-agency to flourish. Like many I have been impressed with many of the approaches to teaching and learning already demonstrated by many schools that have allowed student-agency to flourish. I have been looking forward to an opportunity to implement, adapt and create these kinds of opportunities within my own practice. It has not been an easy decision working within an early years setting. What changes were possible? How would the children react? I also needed to be clear of how the changes would benefit the students rather than using this as an opportunity to experiment.

In the end I am a committed believer in the necessity of student-agency to flourish and the benefits it brings. And so, I made a commitment to both my students and myself that I would allow the new inquiry to be driven solely by student-agency allowing for changes in systems and structures that would remain for the rest of the academic year. 

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 6.31.02 PMThe central idea to my new inquiry is ‘A School Community is Organised to Meet the Needs of the Learner. I had changed last years Central Idea from being concerned with the local community to being centred on our school community. One reason being was that due to traffic in Bangalore and the location of the school it was quite difficult for us to engage with or visit many of the places that I would have traditionally taken my class e.g. hospital, fire stations, libraries etc. Due to these circumstances, and the early finish of my students, it was difficult to create authentic engagements with many aspects of our local community. It is important for the students to learn through doing rather than just by pictures and books. I also saw the change in the central idea as an opportunity for the children to recognise their place as learners within the school community and to develop greater independence and responsibility for their learning. I saw the ‘Why’ of our inquiry as the children beginning to recognise themselves as learners and the processes they went though.

Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 8.38.07 AMIn the week before our school holiday and a week before we were due to start our new inquiry we had begun to discuss what the children enjoyed about our school and our learning environment in particular. We thought about what a classroom Must, Should, and Could have. These would become the driving choices throughout our inquiry and also provided a pre-assessment of the children’s knowledge and understanding of their learning environment. The children’s ideas were then written on different coloured post-it notes with the intention that they could be re-visited and moved throughout the inquiry and provide a visual record of the children’s changing perspectives with regards to their learning environment. The work could also be used as a reflection during future learning experiences.

Working within an IB World School I have been motivated by the increased importance of student-agency within our curriculum. Believing that agency is something that cannot be given but only taken away I have increasingly thought about the barriers within my own practice that are restrictive to student-agency. Since the start of the school year I have been fascinated to watch other educators begin their year with an empty classroom and allowing students to create their own learning spaces. This would have been something that I was eager to do from the beginning of the year but I considered that it may be too challenging for such an approach within an Early Years class. I believe that with our young learners it is important to develop relationships and make connections before we can move on. And so I waited until my second inquiry before attempting such a bold move. We even waited until the Friday of the first week back to completely empty the room. We had started to take down displays and move other items throughout the week which worked quite well. It helped to develop conversations and discussions as the children started to notice the changes. Throughout these discussions we were able to reflect back on our previous thoughts about what a classroom must, should and could have and develop our ideas.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 7.30.29 PMAnd so after days of clearing the classroom item at a time the children arrived to school on the Friday to find a completely empty classroom. We had removed all the furniture and resources to the garden outside. We had thought that if we had simply moved everything to one side of the classroom it would have influenced the children’s decision making with regards to the new organisation. We thought that it would be better to start with a blank canvas.

Throughout the day we engaged in conversations and decision making about how to best to organise the classroom. It was really interesting listening to even our young learners making decisions based on logic e.g. “We can’t put that there because we won’t be able to see our board”. It was also a wonderful experience as we explored our classroom resources. It provided an opportunity to explore each of our resources and how they could be used to support learning. In the past, without such an investigation, many resources would have remained on the shelves due to either the children not knowing we had them or not knowing how they were used.

Even though I had been excited to begin our new inquiry I did have some reservations. It would require us all to really step outside our comfort zone by beginning from scratch months into the new year. I suppose if we always do what is comfortable we would never do anything of value at all. I also had concerns about the children creating a classroom environment that was difficult to work in and had visions of weeks of rearranging furniture and resources as we re-evaluated our choices. Now after several weeks being in the newly organised classroom I have been pleasantly surprised with the arrangement. A lot of the worries I did have were needless.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 2.10.45 PMOnce the children had finished organising our classroom we began to think of the specific needs of the learner. We started by asking questions like, ‘What do writers do? What do readers do? What do Mathematicians do? For each of these questions we concentrated on the process of each rather than the specific skills needed. Through these discussions we created specific learning areas to support the needs of the learner. We have had a wonderful response from the children. They began to think of themselves as writers, readers, mathematicians and enthusiastically engaged in independent and guided learning activities. They clearly demonstrate greater pride and accomplishment in their work in a setting created by the students for the students. True ownership of learning was happening and it was exciting to be a part of.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 2.12.23 PMI have since been talking with our schools visual art teacher who follows the teaching strategy ‘Teaching for Artistic Behaviour’ (TAB). The concept being that students learn about art and the art world by assuming the role of artist and directing their own learning. I wondered if this strategy could explain the success that I had been witnessing within my own class, especially within language. The children have learned about writing by assuming the role of the writer and directing their own learning. By the results I have seen in the classroom I would strongly argue this was so. Students learn best and work harder when they are excited by what they are working on. And when they design their own work, they understand why they are doing what they are doing and engage much more deeply with their learning. The time taken to allow the children to create their own spaces as proven to be extremely beneficial and developed an increased sense of independence and enthusiasm.

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 2.43.16 PMAnother important aspect of learning is goal setting and reflection. As our inquiry was being driven by student-agency we also wanted the children to take ownership of these important aspects of learning to but how to make this appropriate to an Early Years setting? We revisited the roles of writers and readers and asked the children to reflect on their own ability. We then supported the children in choosing their own learning goals e.g. Do they want to develop their Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 6.31.21 PMunderstanding of letter sounds? Write words? or even sentences? A lot of our discussion had been around next steps. What are we confident about and where to now? Soon I found myself having really meaningful conversations about goals and next steps that I had not found possible with an early years class before. Especially after the initial setting up of the area many of the children were enthusiastic about demonstrating their knowledge and understanding. So when they approached with their papers containing lines of scrambled letters we discussed the where to now with reflection on our learning goals.  This has been a work in progress and we are looking at ways to improve the idea with a view to extend this into other areas of learning.

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 2.55.27 PMSince the beginning of our inquiry I think that one of the biggest game changers in allowing agency to flourish has been our approach to our daily timetable. In the first week of the inquiry we had given ownership to the children to choose when they did specific learning activities like Maths or Language. We felt that this too was still restrictive and they needed greater ownership of their daily routine. We changed our daily timetable to follow our choices of Must, Should, Could. The first creation of our new timetable was completely teacher driven as we wanted to model how the new timetable would work. We discussed the restrictions to allowing complete freedom e.g. we must go to specialists, certain activities outside our control and as a teacher there are certain things that I must do. Then there were the activities that we should do to support specific learning outcomes e.g. we should spend time developing or writing or counting. There are also other activities that the could do to develop their understanding of the world that may not have specific links to our daily learning e.g. use block to build a castle etc. After the first week of the new modelled routine we allowed the children greater choice in its creation. The timetable has now become more visual to support the Early Learners and the children are able to express their opinions of activities that can be included in both the should and could. Eventually we would like to give full control in the daily schedule, with teacher guidance of course.

The inquiry will now continue until the end of the year and we will continue to modify and change our practice to benefit our learners. We will also continue to search for more opportunities for student-agency. This is just a part of the journey but it is clear that the journey has certainly begun. The experience has demonstrated excellent results so far in terms of student engagement, independence and enthusiasm for learning. They are clearly beginning to understand how they can express their choice and voice to make a positive impact in their ownership of learning. They are quickly making the transition from learners to leaders of the learning, recognising their own contribution to the process.




What if Agency was our only approach to learning?

Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 8.38.07 AMI have recently begun a new unity of inquiry with my Early Years class, Central Idea, ‘A School Community is Organised to Meet the Needs of the Learner’. It has been an inquiry that I have been looking forward to for some time. I have watched with interest as other educators have begun their year with an empty learning space and allowed their students the opportunity to create and develop the space for themselves. I had contemplated the idea at the beginning of the year but considering the age of my students decided against. Maybe it was my own insecurities but I thought that maybe with the age of the children they needed to arrive at a place that was already prepared and could begin to make connections, familiarity, feel settled and develop routine. I held off with my ambitious plan until our second inquiry which presented the perfect opportunity to take risks. I could hear Taryn BondClegg’s rally cry at the end of Summer that ‘This was the year to take risks!’

I believe the ‘Why’ of the new inquiry should be to develop the children’s understanding of themselves as learners within the school community. Developing a sense of how, where and why we learn. Students beginning to recognise themselves as independent and responsible learners who can take ownership of every aspect of their learning experience. Placing themselves at the centre of their learning.

What if instead of pre-planning approaches to learning I allowed student-agency to be the sole driving force of our learning? Reflection of learning has to be at the centre of our practice so throughout our inquiry there will be ample time to reflect on the specific skills used, needed and supported within our activities but they will no longer be the driving force, student-agency will. Surely throughout the course of the inquiry all the skills will be addressed in a more natural way rather than being prepared and planned for at the beginning of the inquiry? 

Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 8.37.44 AMAnd so with student-agency being the only driving force we have begun our new inquiry. After completing our first week I have been pleasantly surprised with the level of ownership that has already been achieved. From an empty classroom the children have made huge progress in developing their learning space. Communication, thinking and social skills are evidence in abundance. The class conversations and decision making when creating their space has been impressive. To listen as the young learners voice their opinions and explain their thought processes has been a wonderful experience. 

Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 8.41.32 AMThe students have also been given ownership on how and when they learn. They had originally been given choice of activities based on a more traditional timetable. After some discussion we came to the conclusion that even this was still restrictive to the children’s learning. We have since created a new approach which will provide greater opportunities and choice for the children to take ownership of their own learning. A central theme within our inquiry is that choices can be made on what we must do, should do or could do. We have then decided on creating a timetable for the day based around these choices. Our next step in our inquiry will be developing the children’s understanding of setting personal goals. There is so much more to go with this inquiry but I was just to excited to share our learning journey so far. It has been amazing to witness the children demonstrating so much ownership even at these early stages of our inquiry. Who knows where it will lead but it will definitely be student-agency that will be leading they way.




It Takes a Village: Empowering in Support of Teacher Agency

I have been inspired to write this blog after reading an interesting articleIs the era of management over?‘. It argues for the end of the ‘management era’ within business but I made many connections to modern educational settings.

‘The bottom line is that the hierarchical management mode is no longer suited for the challenges of the modern economy. Every pillar of a traditional organization is now in flux, as was brilliantly conceptualized by Tanmay Vora.’

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When we place this same model within the modern educational setting it begins to make a lot of sense. It “Takes a Village’ to educate a child but how are we ensuring that all the voices are heard and valued? The school ‘village’ is full of introverts and extroverts, talkers and listeners, those with the plan and those with the ability to make it happen. Hopefully, like many new business models, our school settings are moving beyond the hieratical approach in leadership and are becoming much more inclusive. 

Teacher’s thrive within their personal learning networks. It is a community that they have created themselves and are comfortable within it to express their thoughts and opinions without fear of judgement. This choice in networks is ideal for the introverts amongst us who now have a chosen outlet to express themselves. This may be within small groupings within work or like many of us through the use of social media. It is where we feel comfortable and in control. I myself have found social media to be a fantastic opportunity to connect with like minded educators and a means of expressing myself in a more open and honest way that I may not always feel comfortable doing within meetings. It is an outlet that I feel comfortable within and I am forever thankful of my personal learning network.

Within my school this year there has been an excellent initiative to create ‘Communities of Practice’. As educators we were given agency in our choice of groupings based on a shared interest. Within our groups we worked together to create a statement that will frame the inquiry and direct purposeful, ongoing learning. Time has been allocated within the calendar for the groups to meet on regular periods for us to create and follow a personal agenda of learning. Not only is this system providing opportunities to follow personal interests but it also provides an opportunity for teachers like myself to have a voice, choice and ownership in an environment that is comfortable for me. Such a progressive move forward provides a voice for all.

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Teachers like myself need these opportunities to be able to thrive. It provides value to our position within the school environment. Providing opportunities for developing networks within the school will ultimately lead to greater empowerment. As professionals it is important that we develop a sense of empowerment rather than being controlled. We need to know that we can make a difference and that our voices matter in the decisions that are being made. It takes a village to educate a child and it can only be of benefit to the children that the power is in the hands of the many rather than the hands of the few.

I am thankful to be able to work within a school that does not fear mistakes. Mistakes are valued as learning opportunities for both the teachers and the students. If everything is always going to plan within the classroom it means that we have not challenged ourselves. I have personally worked alongside teachers that will pull out the same planning year after year because they know it works and it is the safe approach. I personally need to feel challenged, I need to be pushed out of my comfort zone in order to progress and provide an exciting and vibrant learning environment for the children. How can we expect the children to challenge themselves if we do not demonstrate the same?

Openness and transparency is beneficial for any social environment. It creates an atmosphere of trust and understanding. Not all decisions within schools can be open to a vote but they are made more acceptable with open dialogue and discussion. Teachers need to be able to voice their concerns, worries and issues even if they cannot be addressed. The decision process needs to be clear so that it can be more easily accepted. 

We are seeing the era of agency but that must not only extend as far as the students it must also include the teachers as well. Thankfully we are seeing a change in which all voices are beginning to be heard. Teachers are being given an increasing voice, choice and ownership of their own destiny. It takes a village to educate a child but we must first make sure that the village is listening to everyone.