Written by Brian Annan and Mary Wootton.
This post provides the backstory into our thinking about supporting kids in schools who find academic learning hard. That thinking gives you an insight into the design of Learning and Change Networks and Infinity learning Maps.
Many people are now asking us about the design features of those two developments because they are such compelling concepts. They contribute to lifting kids standards in academic learning and the pace at which things change for the better is remarkable. We know the x-factor elements within those strategies and we want to diffuse them into our schooling system and out into families, communities and the wider world.
We would do your heads in (and ours!) if we tried to squeeze all those ideas into one post. So this post gives the backstory. Subsequent posts will share the gems that will be useful to schools trying to collaborate around addressing academic achievement challenges and growing student agency.
Up until three years ago, we were having such comfortable career progressions. We had moved from teaching and leading in schools to providing PLD to schools and linking research and policy into the mix. Then our thinking got tipped upside down when we started delving into some global trends that we were told were going to change things in the schooling system whether we liked it or not. Global trends? You know, the education ideas that OECD and other gurus discover and then tell governments and regular humans like us how things are unfolding around the world.
A trend that caught our attention was the amazing growth of interest-based learning among kids around the world and the increasing boredom around academic learning. Learning interests just keep broadening. Many humans are now learning in diverse ways from the moment they wake up through to bedtime. They are also joining knowledge dots that were never before considered possible let alone of interest to anyone, like ‘lego connected to braille’ and ‘combining visual art and engineering’ and ‘purchasing real estate and DIY renovations as a virtual game’ – the mind boggles.
Meanwhile, schools were dealing with a lingering belief that it was OK for academic learning to be boring. It was a ghost-from-the-past belief that sat in many educators minds that all kids had to learn academic basics, boring or not. Kids who struggled with academics had to just suck it up, work harder and longer and get the job done. But that approach wasn’t working.
Forward-thinking schools, teaching professionals and new player organisations figured out that if they merged formal learning with interest-based learning they could turn the tide of disengagement. Innovative and entrepreneurial developments started sprouting such as passion learning days and digital learning connections between schools and families. A classic winner was rap singers going into schools in the South Bronx in New York to get kids who hated learning science to record their own rap songs using science content. Now the music labs are full and science results are much higher.
Those and other outlier examples modelled a way moving towards future-focused learning environments. Our definition of future-focused learning environments can be found in our article about Infinity Learning Maps.
It was a tall order, however, for entire schooling systems to transform quickly. They are, by nature conservative, and it would take time before they fully transformed to keep abreast of the learning explosion. To the credit of educational leaders and teachers around the world, they did sit up, take notice and start adapting, which avoided massive turmoil.
We were fortunate to be connected to GELP; Global Education Leaders Partnerships programme (http://gelponline.org/ ) at the time those events were unfolding. So we got an early warning about the potential turmoil alongside leaders from 13 countries around the world. It shook us out of our career comfort zones and we knew we and others had to come up with some new and different thinking. Our first thought was to bring home and immediately introduce the global trends to teaching professionals, kids and families. We believed those groups were capable of co-designing strategies to merge formal and informal learning and create future-focused learning environments. Design of the Learning and Change Networks and was the perfect opportunity to put that thinking into action.
A critical principle for our design, therefore, was to get connected with global education trends and take them directly to those that needed to know about them the most. In this case it was the kids challenged by academic learning and their closest supporting adults – teachers, mums and dads – with support from school and community leaders.
It was a no-brainer to take on the challenge of merging formal and informal learning in our design contribution to the Learning and Change Networks strategy and the creation of Infinity Learning Maps. Academic learning has to survive in some form as a gateway for all kids to succeed in future-focused learning environments. We believed that form had to activate greater responsibility among kids and their families to grow their learning environments. They had to flip from passive receivers of learning to active partners with teaching professionals and their families.
Keep your eye out for our next post where we concentrate on moving from passive to active learners. Still lots to do in that space.
Overcoming disadvantage is a tough ask. But it is a job schools are battling head-on as they seek to help all students achieve their potential. Kirsty Johnston reports in part three of our series looking at the great education divide.
Infinity Maps workshops. Auckland and Wellington or contact us to set one up in your region.
Infinity Maps are a vehicle to grow student agency by connecting students, teaching professionals, families and whānau with one another and to global trends in learning. They are also a useful evaluative tool to review the growth of agency and the movements towards future-focused learning environments. Read more about the CREATION AND IMPACT OF INFINITY MAPS
Blog Link http://aonteachers.blogspot.co.nz/
Learning Map group in Naenae. Akoranga o Naenae: A passionate learning team in an innovative learning environment. See how one group of students, families and teachers are making the Learning Maps come alive.
Here is there latest blog. Find more here
http://aonteachers.blogspot.co.nz/ They also have a twitter account @akoonaeane
Posted: 22 Mar 2015 11:16 AM PDT
I was sitting at my kitchen table with a fellow educator a couple of weeks ago. She asked, “What does your planning look like? It probably doesn’t start fitness then maths etc”.
She was right. It took us a good conversation to work out a flow that we thought could work and certainly a place to start. I particularly remember a question around break times. I felt we should let the kids eat when they were hungry and if they ate everything by 9.30, there was some learning in that. Clare and Tash felt they may need some support to manage timing of physical breaks and eating, and we needed to help bridge the place where they were coming from and a more self-regulated environment. And I agree that kids deciding they needed a physical break in the middle of a learning task wouldn’t always be helpful (one of the break choices is a playground outside!) So as with many things, we agreed to come up with a plan that helped develop more active learners and assess at a later date.
We knew that we wanted to develop the six traits of active learning that we had developed but we also knew that we needed to develop each one in depth to ensure kids were really getting what each one was about. We knew we needed to have a good chunk of time for learners to work on their passion/hobby/project. We knew time for reflection was going to develop this trait which we have found is a more challenging one to go deep with, and our reflection tasks would be part of the assessment that showed whether what we are trying to do or working or not.
So this is how our planning looks for now. Thanks to Tash for coming with the alliterations, we think they’re cool and capture exactly what we are trying to do.
We have a part of the day which we call ‘Activate’. This is where we have specific tasks to develop an active learning trait (or as in these early weeks, perhaps a range of activities to cover and begin explore all the traits).
Then we have some ‘Action’. This is dedicated time where learners are applying their skills as an active learner to their personal project. In the first couple of weeks, we used that time to get experts in to share their passions, and hopefully give some ideas to those who may not be sure what are they want to go deeper in or learn more about. We have a learning process/inquiry style direction we will get each student to work through to capture what they are doing and why. This is still under construction.
‘Analyse’ is reflection time. Mostly it will be on their blogs, but as Clare mentioned, we are still struggling to get these underway as students can’t always remember how to spell their name, their school name, have a dot in the wrong place etc. Remembering where to put a dot, dash or capital letter in your email address; and understanding the symbols associated with the online world is a learning task in itself. But active learners are resilient, and this definitely goes for the oldest learners in the room at these times! Part of what we want to capture during reflection time is how they use AoN learning beyond AoN, and what skills from other learning places do they use here, as well as how they are developing as active learners.
‘Afterwards’ is how we are supporting students to make explicit links between their learning with us and everywhere else in their lives but without making too much extra work for anyone.
The far right column are the roles of the teachers. Part is actively planing for the different co-teaching strategies that we are using. Another is behaviour support where students who need more support to make good choices for learning have some choices removed from them (such as who they work with) for that block. Each part of the day is a new chance to make great choices.
The order and timing of the day is flexible based on what may be happening, like when visitors are coming in to share their passions. Being able to go with our flow and not worry about lunchtimes, cross grouping, assembly and all those other school – wide events has has been really nice.
We have our planning projected up on the wall, as well as an advance organiser on the whiteboard. We share what’s coming up the following week via email (where we also sum up the week that has been and remind them of their ‘afterwards’ job).
So that’s how are planning for now. Having recently read a very interesting blog post from Kath Murdoch, I think we will need to keep thinking about how we actively plan for and capture all that we are trying to achieve. But that is what it’s all about. A constantly evolving programme with constantly evolving learners.
And by the way. Tash and Clare were probably right about the more structured break times. We slot in times for eating and moving with kids choosing the order of their break (eat, move, toilet, time on a device, play etc). But gauging by the amount of kids with a sandwich hanging out of their mouths as we start the next learning block, a little support is still required!