Posts Tagged feedback

What should learning look like?

I currently have responsibility for a team of teachers implementing an integrated (science & geography) year 8 course.  A large part of the learning that occurs in this course occurs in an open learning space with up to five classes being present at any one time. Our school has a bring your own device policy (BYOD) and all of the learning tasks are available via the online learning portal.

Two question that I have been contemplating as we reprogram this year are what is “the role of the teacher?” and “what should learning tasks look like?” These two questions are interrelated, both effect the other. Neither can be properly answered without a clear idea about what learning should look like.

The role of the teacher in one sense has never changed, that is the teacher is the guide for the learner. Expert teachers have always been a guide, but many have also acted as the font of knowledge that was poured into empty minds.  But students don’t come with empty minds and they lose attention after 7 to 10 minutes of teacher talk. Having all our learning online allowed some teachers to go too far in another direction, allowing students to just get on with it and stepping so far back that they became absent in the minds of some students. This is not new either, it’s just the teacher who set work in a text and left the room.

Good teachers are active in the learning of their students. To be active they need to know ‘the what next’ for each learner. To know the what next, teachers need to have obtained feedback from the learner about what they already know, what is their current understanding or misunderstanding and how big a next step the learner is capable of taking. Teachers need to be good at building relationships with students to build the trust that allows for the honest feedback from student to teacher to occur.

How then do you build tasks that help facilitate teachers to be active participants learning?

One answer that I have found useful is one in which a common language of learning is developed around obtaining a deep understanding of a concept.

SOLO Taxonomy is a common language for learning.

SOLO Taxonomy helps both students and teachers identify ‘the what next.‘ It is based on the science of how we actually learn and is simple enough that it does not get in the way of learning. SOLO is about understanding, connecting and then extending ideas.  It  allows both teacher and student to quickly assess what stage they are at and identify what the next step is.

SOLO Taxonomy

SOLO Taxonomy via http://www.pamhook.com

Not heard of SOLO?

SOLO stands for Structured of Observed Learning Outcomes and was proposed by Australians Biggs and Collis (1982).  I will not go over what it is here but will direct you elsewhere. The best source of information on SOLO and its implementation is Pam Hook @arti_choke  via her books and website HookED. I have also benefited from reading about the experiences of others including Chris Keipert @keipertc and his blog Chemisty Chris.  Finally checkout GlobalSOLO @globalsolo for some great ideas about how SOLO is being implemented.

Biggs, J.B., and Collis, K.F. (1982) Evaluating the Quality of  Learning-the SOLO Taxonomy (1st ed) New York: Academic Press.

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How does what we do compare to how the research says it should be done?

This week I took a step back and looked at the big picture of the why, how and what.  That is; why we exist as an organisation, how we go about obtaining our vision and what it looks like in practise  (the three rings of my diagram).

The inner ring, the why …the schools vision and focus statements for 2011, were developed by the principal, his executive and school board.

My focus was to compare how what we do in day-to-day teaching at my school compares to the research into how students learn (Darling-Hammond, 2008; Donavan & Bransford, 2005) and the research into what teaching practices work  (Hattie, 2009). Thus the second ring is made up of the four elements described by the research. That is the need to personalise the learning of students, to help them to develop the deep thinking and metacognitive skills required to become autonomous learners, to incorporate cooperative learning as a way of developing students thinking and metacognition, and to enable teachers to actively gain feedback from students and applying that feedback to help students take the next steps on their learning path.

When examining what the practices occurring at my school are, as noted in the outer ring of the diagram, I saw that many of them aligned to and supported the development of one or more of the elements identified by the educational research.

While this is  encouraging I would add that we still have a long way to go.  When we go about these day-to-day activities I am unsure how many of my colleges are conscious of the how, that is, how do these activities align to the research and to the school vision. I know myself I need to stop and make some more conscious decisions about the tasks I chose and the way they are delivered to ensure they actively support the learning of my students.

I was also part of a discussion earlier in the week  which was questioning how far in the shift from an industrial model to something new we had come, and if we would ever reach the end of needing to transform our practises.  The consensus was for the foreseeable future change will be the norm.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2008). Teaching and learning for understanding. In L. Darling-Hammond (Ed.), Powerful Learning: What we know about teaching for understanding (pp. 1-10). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Donavan, M. S., & Bransford, J. D. (Eds.). (2005). How Students Learn: Science in the classroom. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

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What is 21st century learning?

What is 21st century learning? This is a question I pondered all of last year. My thinking started around what skills will be needed by our students when they leave school, and I was recommended 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times (Fadel & Trilling, 2009), but after reading through this book I was still stuck with the question of ‘what is 21st teaching and learning?  How do I do the teaching and how do I help my students do the learning?  I was left feeling there must be more than teaching a whole new skill set, as these skills could be taught in the same old way, of direct instruction from the teacher.  Surely more has to change than just the skills or content we covered.

Fadel & Trilling  (2009) did help me with my thinking by pointing me towards research into how people learn.  In particular Powerful Learning: What we know about teaching for understanding (Darling-Hammond, 2008). This led me to ask the question ‘what is the best learning and teaching based on research?’  It is a very different question to ‘what is 21st century teaching and learning?I don’t think we should limit our description of teaching and learning to a ‘time stamp.’ A decade into the 21st century the moniker already sounds dated.

Combining the research on how we learn (Darling-Hammond, 2008)  with research on what teaching practises work, collated by Hattie (2009), I had my thinking about successful learning develop around some key concepts.21st C learning

  • student centred personalised learning paths
  • learning tasks that produce and enhance deep thinking and metacognition
  • collaborative / cooperative learning involving open-ended problems
  • active teacher involvement which most importantly involves formative feedback

Each of these is supported by research to effectively improve student outcomes, but should not be treated as separate elements, rather as a set of integrated, interdependent  areas that support each other in the goal of enhancing student achievement.

These elements will be what I will be focusing on this year, as I evaluate my approach to what I do in my classes.

Darling-Hammond (Ed.) (2008). Powerful Learning: What we know about teaching for understanding. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fadel, C., & Trilling, B. (2009). 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Wiley.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

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