I have been really enjoying reading Kath Murdoch’s latest book, ‘The Power of Inquiry’. It is both affirming and challenging my thinking about Inquiry in its many guises. I have created this visual as a prompt for me to think about the different types and origins of great Inquiry learning for students (and ourselves!)
Do you have a balance of different types of Inquiry in your classroom?
My goal for term 2 in my work as a school advisor is to be curious about what I see, hear and read! To refrain from judgement and instead to ponder and wonder –
why might that be so?what thinking might sit behind this?how might we move forward from here?what might my role be here?why do I think that way?how might I find out more?
My experience as a teacher has taught me that people, communities and teams are complex and there are many reasons for why things are the way they are. There is much to be learnt by stepping off the judgement pedal and taking the time to pause and wonder, think and reflect instead. Will keep you posted on what this process reveals for me …
Recently, whilst exploring the flexibility and usefulness of Google Forms, I used one to seek feedback on my teaching and our classroom from my students. What a great, easy way of getting feedback that was easy for the students and me! What did I learn from this …
What works well:
My students like the use of Whole Brain Teaching to engage them in their learning, especially the ‘teach’ instruction, which apparently allows them the opportunity to ensure they know what we are focusing on, explaining this to others to confirm they are on the right track.
My students enjoy the enthusiasm I bring to my role in the classroom, from my gestures to my voice! Good to know that my antics are valued!
My students perceive that I love teaching. This feels like such high praise and I am delighted that the love I have for my job is evident in the way that I engage in my classroom. They also commented that I care about their learning – this was wonderful to read because it is SO true!
My students experience learning as dynamic and fun. ‘Fun’ came up repeatedly and I am pleased that the effort and creativity I put into my teaching helps my students to enjoy their learning.
Even better if:
I had time to spend one on one with each student every day. This would be fantastic and is a mighty challenge. I hope that I do engage with each student individually each day although what I think they are after is something more lengthy. This is valuable feedback and something I can try and be more aware of.
Several students commented on wanting more group work. I find this a little surprising as we do work in teams a lot but we could certainly do it even more. There was an even split amongst the students of wanting to choose their own groups and having groups chosen for them which was interesting.
My favourite; “It would be even better if Mary went to less meetings, but I don’t suppose there is much you can do about that.” Out of the mouths of babes …
The best thing about being in 5/6 MK:
Overwhelmingly, there were two key themes here. The students are really happy with their teachers and I believe Krystyna and I are a very balanced and effective team. The students also acknowledged the respect, trust and care that exists within our classroom. Many students commented on feeling accepted in the room and always being able to get help when needed. They commented on the non-judgmental tone of the classroom and on how well everyone got along. As a teacher, reading this, my heart swelled! It is this exact atmosphere that allows students to take risks with their learning and feel supported as they do.
This exercise in seeking feedback has been immensely valuable to me as a teacher. Certainly it has been affirming of the way in which I try to operate as a co-learner within our classroom and use energy and creativity to engage the students. But it has also challenged me to try and squeeze out some extra moments of one on one time for every student, not just the ones who so overtly need it. Not to mention the meetings …
What kind of feedback have you sought from your students?
As part of our REL Network, each leader has taken on an Inquiry project. Mine is centered around student thinking. I have observed that many of my students are fairly happy to give the ‘stock standard’, expected answers in RE discussions and I would really like to see them pushing their own thinking more deeply and make those connections that will make their faith relevant to them in their lives. Our current unit is about the concept of relationships and whether having a relationship with God impacts the world.
To stimulate the students to think about how relationships work, I used the following clip:
Students were asked to post on our class padlet their thoughts on where God was in this clip. This is what they came up with;
There were some interesting thoughts posted but most were fairly predictable. I wanted them to go further so I grabbed my copy of Visible Thinking and looked for a thinking protocol I could use with this clip. I decided to use I See, I Think, I Wonder to see where that would take my student’s thinking. This routine prompted some really meaty discussion in the class as each student responded to the prompts. The wonderings were the most interesting with students coming up some surprising and challenging statements. We then got into groups and students collated their responses and came up with their top ‘see, think, wonder’ statements. The groups then set about creating posters. One student asked me “What should the title of the poster be?” to which I initially replied not to worry about a title. Then I realised that creating a title would make their thinking even more visible to me and the other students. Some of the titles they came up with were great!
So having stretched the students thinking, what next? I know I want to go further with them, and having had a conversation about this with our RESA, Deirdre, I have been challenged to now put something provocative before the students to challenge them to think about the situations where God is not so readily visible. As we are doing Natural Disasters at present, that should tie in quite nicely. I think I also need to go back to Visible Thinking and find some other thinking routines that will enable students to view the stimulus in a different way. And I also need to check in with the students again. I wonder if I used the initial video clip again, whether their responses may be deeper already having thought about it in a different way??
This is the second post written after completing the AITSL Self Assessment Tool for teachers. This post is my reflection on the section of the tool titled Professional Engagement and my areas of strength and areas for development. For me, this really prompted me to think about how I see myself as a learner and how am I enabling and supporting the learning of my colleagues.
Areas of Strength:
6.3L Initiate and engage in professional discussions with colleagues in a range of forums to evaluate practice directed at improving professional knowledge and practice, and the educational outcomes of students.
As part of a dynamic 5/6 teaching team this year, I have many opportunities to engage in collegial discussion about how to improve learning opportunities and outcomes for our students. Sometimes these discussions are data driven, using the data collected to plan a pathway forward for our students. Other times, these are idea sharing dialogues where each of us can contribute our thoughts, resources and plans for discussion and consideration. As the Religious Education Leader in our school, I believe it is my role to provide opportunities for staff to engage in rich, collegial discussion and have worked hard to build this into every meeting that I lead. In planning meetings, this discussion may take the form of personal reflection on the ‘big question’ we are using for inquiry with our students. The discussion may other times be based on some professional reading I have shared, or on specific issues such as the integration of ICT into our RE units. I have posted about the development of our ‘culture of dialogue’ previously. This has been a worthy pursuit as a leader and staff now value these times as opportunities to build knowledge and gain from the insights and experiences of one another.
7.4L Contribute to professional networks and associations and build productive links with the wider community to improve teaching and learning
Many of the connections built in this area have come about through my PLN on twitter which has afforded me opportunities to participate in twitter chats (#teacherwellbeingchat #summerbookclub #ozprimschat), attend TeachMeets, exchange ideas and resources and ask questions. I am hopeful that I am able to contribute to the professional growth of my twitter PLN as they do over and over again for me. I am a member of the Executive Planning Team for the Eastern Region Religious Education Network and have had the opportunity to have input into the Professional Learning offered to the network and be a presenter on several occasions. My students have also benefited from my twitter PLN as we are now participants in initiatives such as quadblogging which not only build connections for the students, but also for me as a professional.As written about in the previous post, I am currently exploring a partnership with LLEN and continue to work hard to maintain our school’s integral links to our Parish and wider local community.
Areas for Development
6.1P Analyse the Professional Standards for Teachers to plan personal professional development goals, support colleagues to identify and achieve personal development goals and pre-service teachers to improve classroom practice.
One goal that has come out of completing the Self Assessment Tool is my intention to address the Professional Standards for Teachers on this blog. I would like to set up a new page where I can keep a record of how I am meeting the Professional Standards, highlighting the areas of focus for me each term. I would love for each member of our Leadership Team to complete the Self Assessment Tool as I believe once completed, the possibilities for future learning and development become so much clearer. This may give the team the impetus to start using such a tool with the staff and committing to Personal Learning Plans for each staff member. This will build a pathway towards more personalised learning for the staff, something we strive to achieve for our students but not often for ourselves!
7.1G Maintain high ethical standards and support colleagues to interpret codes of ethics and exercise sound judgement in all school and community contexts.
At Holy Spirit Community School, our ethical stance comes directly from our Vision Statement which opens with the quote from Galatians which calls us to live out the fruits of the Spirit in every aspect of our lives:
“… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22
Whilst this quote obviously has a very specific context, the values it espouses are ones that many people would aspire to in their interactions and relationships. This is very challenging in any context, but particularly in a school where so much diversity exists. I think it is vital that our Vision Statement is placed before all of our community regularly, to remind us of what is of value to us, to challenge our decisions and behaviors and to guide our policy making.
Once again, the Self Assessment Tool has provided me with much food for thought as well as some concrete actions I would like to take to further my own learning and journey as a professional educator. I can highly recommend the process as both affirming and challenging and would love to share in some other’s experiences and reflections.
Stay tuned for the next post coming soon on ‘Professional Practice’.
Our Inquiry and RE units this term have focussed on the concepts of community and our place within the community. It has been a rich and diverse unit and we are now at the stage of expressing our learnings about what community is and how it can be built. This video was tweeted over January and as soon as I saw it, I knew I would use it.
After watching this video, students unanimously wanted to try something similar in our own community. We had also watched the Kid President video and are reading Wonder so the students’ minds were full of wonderful phrases (or in the language of Wonder, ‘precepts’) that they thought would be valuable to others. And away they went – busily creating posters with slogans to welcome people into our community. There is nothing much more rewarding than students asking if they can PLEEEASE work on something for longer or at home!
The day we planned to share our work with the community dawned and I had most of my students at school by 8.30am to prepare. They were very excited to say the least and the reaction we got from the community was truly awesome. It was wonderful to see the smiles on everyone’s faces as they read the student’s signs and the horns were honking so much, our lovely Julie in the office wondered what on earth was going on.
Students wrote heartfelt reflections on why they had chosen their particular slogan and the impact they felt it had had on our community. We could have talked for days about ways we can build community but actually getting out there and doing it was so much more powerful. Here is a Smilebox of our experiences:
Slideshow design made with Smilebox
It seems to me this was connected learning in so many ways. Through the inspiration of others who have built community in unique ways, to a class novel that is challenging our perceptions of community, to students taking on a project and making it their own, and then blogging about it on our class blog – so many levels of connectedness. These are the times when it feels great to be a teacher, when some of my learning is truly impacting on my students and we are all walking the walk together.
If you were to make a sign for your community, what would it say? How do you build community in your classroom, your school and your environs?
As part of the planning team for the RE Eastern Network, we spent quite some time last week talking about the place of dialogue in Religious Education. Our first discussion was about what constituted dialogue. We talked about what dialogue IS and what it IS NOT. This is what we came up with:
Dialogue IS: participatory, open, acknowledges difference, respectful, purposeful, seeks understanding and multiple perspectives
Dialogue IS NOT: prescriptive, closed, dominated by one person, casual, incidental conversation
We then participated in a ‘Guiding a Dialogue’ protocol where we considered some possibilities dialogue enables for the participants. There are a variety of ways to contribute to dialogue including:
playing with ideas – possibility thinking
affirming and building on others’ ideas
following the ideas as far as you go – giving in to the ebb and flow of different directions
making links with others’ ideas
considering multiple perspectives or various viewpoints
offering questions and paraphrasing as well as your own thinking
The protocol enabled us to practise our dialogical skills and challenged them also.
At Holy Spirit Community School, we have worked hard to embed collegial dialogue as an integral part of the planning process in Religious Education. All staff are encouraged to participate in this phase of the planning, not just classroom teachers. This brings diversity and richness to the discussion. We have found that staff enjoy grappling with the ‘big concepts’ central to our RE units at an adult level. The dialogue is often loud, enthusiastic and hard to wind up! Staff value the opportunity to sort out their own thinking and ask their own questions about the key concepts we are going to be working with. This stage of the planning also helps us to resist the urge to jump in with great activities and focus on developing deep understandings ourselves before we try and do that with our students.
Some of our staff have reflected on the value of collegial discussion in our RE planning. Here are their thoughts:
How is dialogue used in your school to improve student outcomes?
Once a fortnight, I meet with a great group of women, my Mother’s group. We have been meeting every fortnight since our eldest children were born over 13 years ago. This week, the topic of much animated conversation was the use of iPads in schools and Challenge Based Learning. I have to say it was a hard gig defending both of these !
In general, the conversation revolved around the issue of time management and how teachers manage the use of the iPad in class for educational purposes. The majority of the students are at schools which have used iPads 1:1 for quite some time now and the mums were particularly concerned about the amount of game playing and messaging or skyping going on in the classrooms (and at home). The general feeling was that students driving their own learning and taking ownership for it was great for the small minority of students who are motivated and bright but that for the vast majority of students, it was simply an excuse to do as little as possible and waste time. Challenge based learning was also viewed in a similar way.
WOW! I was unsure where to start beginning to defend either the use of the iPad or CBL. I have never used CBL in my own classroom in a formal way so I decided to tackle the iPad issue as best I could. It seems to me there are a few important considerations that schools have to make in implementing these, or any other device:
any device is only ever going to be as good as the teacher who is planning for its use. iPads, laptops, netbooks etc are only a TOOL to enhance learning and the use of them needs to be embedded into the planning and delivery of the curriculum. This is challenging for teachers but a most important facet of enabling contemporary learning in our classrooms.
we need to communicate our purpose and intentions for the use of these devices in our school to parents very clearly, and often. Although education has changed immensely over the past few years, many parents are not aware or abreast of these changes and how modern classrooms facilitate the learning for students. It seems that many parents expect or assume that apart from using Word/PowerPoint or Publisher, things are pretty much as they were when they went to school. We must help parents to understand new pedagogies and current educational thinking so they can support teachers and their own children as they learn in new and different ways.
managing devices is difficult for many parents and they are unhappy that schools requiring iPads or other devices are adding to that difficulty! One mum was delighted that her son’s school required the laptop to be left at school each night as it was one less thing to manage at home. Whilst managing devices and their access to them is definitely a matter for parents in the home, parents may appreciate the opportunity to have conversations around how this may happen. I know from experience with my own family there are many issues to consider, and having the chance to share ideas and strategies can be helpful.
From a teacher’s perspective, I have found having a classroom blog a powerful way for parents to have a ‘look inside’ the classroom and see the learning that is happening. Being able to share videos and photos quickly and having students guest post about particular lessons, sessions or experiences has helped open the lines of communication between home and school and given parents an insight into what their children are actually doing at school.
It is so important that our schools have the support and understanding of the parent community so that learning and engagement can flourish. In this time of great educational change, we have a lot of work to do to enable parents to feel like they are part of the learning of their children. We must take as many opportunities as we can to share what is happening in our classrooms and with our students, so that our parents can feel confident that their children are being well prepared for living well in this rapidly changing world of ours.
How have you supported parents in their understanding of current pedagogy and educational practice?
Having participated in two more ETMOOC sessions this week, the conversation has returned often to the notion of ‘connected learning’. We have talked about Personal Learning Networks, the place of social media, how much sharing is too much and accountability vs responsibility.
There is another essential element in the connected learning framework and that is our own connection to the learning itself. We all know how our students respond when they are working on something they are interested in or love. They are engaged, motivated, eager to learn and intrinsically rewarded by the learning itself. I think it is the same with teachers and experienced this keenly in the last semester of my Masters last year.
I had two subjects to complete during Semester Two last year. One subject, Leadership Spirituality was one I was innately interested in and the other, Culture and Religion was the ‘lesser of two evils’ that I had to select from. Obviously, I was pre-disposed to enjoying the Leadership subject more but I did go into both with an open mind.
The lecturer for Leadership Spirituality was engaging and very knowledgeable. She was able to get through an amazing amount of content in 4 days, exposing us to many aspects of the subject and coaxing us into wanting to find out more. The classes were very interactive and the cohort was lively and keen to participate and try out ideas. Both assignments allowed us to follow up on particular areas of interest within the subject and for one assignment, the format was completely open to negotiation (a first for the entire course – I did a blog post!)
The Culture and Religion subject was online and part of it involved posting ideas online. This was a task that had to be completed rather than one students seemed to enjoy. There was little interaction and no useful feedback at all from the lecturer (not classifying ‘good’ as useful). The material had the potential to be interesting, particularly in the area of delving into indigenous spirituality and what it contributes to Australia’s religious landscape but the readings were extremely academic and not very accessible. The assignments all revolved around responses to quote from the articles or books read and took the form of three essays and a powerpoint.
You may be able to guess which subject I did better in? Of course it was Leadership Spirituality and I got a HD! Why … because I felt completely connected to the cohort of students, the lecturer and the subject material.
Connected learning is about PLN’s and twitter and MOOC’s, but is also about finding your interests and loves, and being given the opportunity to learn with and be challenged by others who share them. The beauty of this is that this form of learning can take you to places you never dreamed of …
How do we make space for our students to be connected learners?
Students from my class of 2012 working on their Author Studies – do we have to stop now?