Archive for Learning Community

Curating a classroom for a culture of thinking.

Over the last six months I have been reading Ron Ritchart’s ‘Creating a Culture of Thinking.’ This book has transformed my approach to both leading and teaching in a classroom. One aspect I have been experimenting with is leaving out equipment to generate students thinking and questions.

This is my first attempt,  with the thought of creating a hands on ‘museum’ display that could be left set up for any student in any class to use and explore.


Which beach has the best sand?

Four microscopes were left set up each with a sample of one of four different local beach sands in labeled and sealed petri-dishes. A pile of post-it notes and pens where made available under the heading ‘Which beach has the best sand?’


Viewing the different beach sand.

I have seen a variety of students across the high school and primary school take time out of their normal learning to investigate and  converse about the different sand. Not all the questions, thoughts or statements generated have been captured by the post-it notes, but what has been is encouraging.
Often to get students to record their thinking has required my intervention. When I have heard a good question or observation I have stated ‘how valuable a students thought was,’ this has then enabled students to value their idea enough to record it.


Post-it note observations, ideas and questions.

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Reflections on ACEL2012

At the start of October I had the privilege of attending and presenting (about Experiential Narrative Learning) at the Australian Council of Educational Leaders annual conference (ACEL2012). I am not sure what I was expecting, but I came away thinking that it was better than expected. In fact I came away with my concepts about my role as a teacher and educational leader challenged and in some ways transformed.

Some thoughts on the conference as a whole.

I really appreciated the attempts at interactivity, including feedback from the twitter stream.  There were times I had thought ‘if not for twitter I would be bored out of my brain.’ Hearing the thoughts questions and feedback of collages brings an interactive dimension to a conference that deepens thinking and learning. The conference rooms themselves were a barrier to better interaction. Rows and rows of chairs is so ‘industrial age’ and does not promote the collaborative learning we are attempting to demonstrate and implement.  There is a place for rows in a keynote, but a workshop should be set up with some kind of natural grouping structure.  How do you get conference presenters to be better at interaction, well it’s probably the same as for in the classroom, model it.  Finding good workshops was hit and miss, but finding the best ones was heavily influenced by the tweets of others.

So what did I learn?

The first two keynote speakers did not tell me anything I had not heard or read before.  Education needs to change from an industrial model to something more engaging. Unfortunately I did not hear what that was from the keynotes. One message I did take away from Dan Pink was we don’t need to be looking overseas for best practice “The best examples of change in schools (for the conceptual/creative age) is happening right here in Australia and NZ.”  We need to look at connecting and collaborating with schools within our own context and culture. The answers we seek are probable happening in the school down the road. This was observable in many of the workshops I attended. The best of the workshops were from practising teachers that are seeking to implement student focused learning that strives to get their students motivated and thinking deeply about their learning.

The message that transformed my thinking as a teacher/leader was from the third keynote by Tim Costello.   I have been teaching globalisation to year 8 students in an integrated science/ geography unit called Quest, for the last three years.  But I now know I did not fully understand the concept or its implications until it was unpack by Tim Costello in his skilful use of telling stories. We are preparing students for a global community, but must help them to develop and nurture their own local communities. Thinking globally but acting locally has taken on new meaning for me. I will strive to get kids to think about their actions on a global scale but ensure they learn to act and connect within their own communities/ families.  I will be striving to get my students to connect and collaborate in classroom activities in a more meaningful way, encouraging all connections within local communities and the wider world. And finally Tim Costello reinforced for me the power of teaching/leading with the use of story. I will be striving to use thick and not thin stories from now on.

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The Class Mascot Experiment. 1.0

Several years ago a colleague  of mine made the observation that the previous year 12 group had come together as a collaborative group after one of their  year group had been diagnosed with leukemia.  The whole grade had got behind this one student  and as a group started sharing study notes and other resources. It was my colleagues belief that the collegial nature of that particular year group was due to a shared adversity and was the reason the whole group finished with better than expected results.

Class Mascot 1.0

At the time this got me thinking about how you could replicate the adversity without having a student develop a life threatening disease. Thus I conceived the mascot experiment. Where I organized my Senior Biology class to get a mascot, a recycled stuffed toy from an op-shop, with the plan of allowing the class to bond with the mascot before causing some adversity to occur to it. So that I could develop a collaborative online space for the sharing of resources. I set the whole task up as a series of missions.

For example:

  • Your mission is to go to an op-shop and buy a stuffed toy for $5 or less.
  • Your mission is to name the mascot.
  • Your mission is to take the mascot on an outing and record the trip  in some way.

This all started as planned, but a real adversity occurred before  I could introduce my planned one.  The mascot was kidnapped by a member of another senior biology class. This caused  indignation in my class and they did devise a number of plans to rescue the mascot (none that succeeded). The other class sent ransom requests  (for party food) with a variety of threats to the well-being of the mascot.

At the time I though it was a bit of a failure as the collaborative sharing of resources did not eventuate.  What did develop was a collegial class atmosphere. Which in retrospect may have been just as valuable

After reading and reflecting on the benefits of cooperative learning I am thinking it might be worth another try.

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Learning Communities

At the beginning of this year I read an article by Darling-Hammond & Richardson (2009) that summarised the current research on professional development (PD) for teachers.  The ideas in this article have been circling around in my thoughts and starting this blog  has been one of the developments in my thinking. The research presented in the article suggests that while short term training will always have a place in schools, a long term approach to PD is required for the transformation of teaching that produces improved student outcomes.  I know I personally have attended a number of one off PD days that have had little or no effect on my teaching once I’m immersed back into the rigours of a busy school.  Darling-Hammond & Richardson (2009)  argue that PD needs to not only be sustained over longer periods of time its content needs to be student centred, integrated into the context of the school and designed with thought into how teachers learn. This PD needs to allow teachers time to experiment with and develop new teaching approaches and paradigms. It needs to give teachers opportunities to reflect individually and collaboratively on their teaching methods and the engagement and outcomes of students.

Darling-Hammond & Richardson (2009)  go on to argue for the need to develop professional learning communities that produce sustained, job imbedded, collaborative learning opportunities.  The question I have been asking myself since reading this article is how do we do that? One of the answers suggested in the article is the development of study groups, where professional communities can study practice and research together, developing understanding and supporting each other as they implement new ideas. With the restrictions on available time in schools this idea throws up a number of its own challenges.  How do you find time to reflect with others about your professional reading, classroom experiments, successes and failures? How do you do it in a meaningful way so that  as a teacher you are involved in deep reflection of your practices?

I’m not sure if a blog will provide all the answers to these questions but it does give me the opportunity to record my professional thoughts, investigations, trials and reflections for others to read, reflect and comment on.  So maybe it is one way to start developing a professional learning community that is not restricted by the limitation of timetables, classes or even the isolation of individual schools.

Darling-Hammond, L., & Richardson, N. (2009). Teacher Learning: What Matters? Educational Leadership, 66(5), 46-53.

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