The Power of the SDG’s

This was originally posted in authors personal blog Empower 2 Be…

Now, let me start by highlighting a few embarrassing admissions…1. I am not a vegan or vegetarian but fully believe we all should be, 2. while I believe in the fair treatment for all living things I do NOT do enough to make this happen! 3. I know I should recycle and do everything I can to protect our environment but I am often LAZY and don’t make it a high enough priority! I don’t mind people being on their “soapboxes” about the above issues because we need more of the world to be sharing those boxes if we want to improve the mess that we have made!

In short, I am the biggest factor as to why the world is in the physical state it is in. Now I am not saying that I am the singular cause for all the devastation but I am part of the problem…the reason being that I am not an anomaly…in fact, I will put it out there and say I think I may be a sad example of the norm. I WANT to do more, I KNOW I should do more, BUT I DON’T!

As an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IBPYP) teacher for the last 15 years, action has always been part of the plan. Getting our students to take action and DO SOMETHING from what they have learned in class. My big issue with this has always been that this action has normally been teacher initiated OR forced OR superficial OR a one-off event OR inauthentic OR ABSENT altogether! It has always been a challenge for me…how do I bring this great learning that is happening and enable the students to recognize the action they can take that is both authentic and sustainable?

In 2015 the United Nations did educators all around the world a HUGE favour! They released the Sustainable Development Goals…the SDG’s! At first, I wasn’t aware of the power that these 17 ambitious goals had but 3 years later (has it only been 3 years?) classroom teaching has changed forever!

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What started off 3 years ago as forcing connections between what we are doing in the classroom to the SDG’s is now a case of units changing and evolving as we see ways that we can make more authentic opportunities for our students to see the power that they have as leaders in helping the world achieve these goals! What started off being a blanket decision of “all grade levels will connect at least two units to an SDG throughout the year” has now resulted in many grade levels connected all of their units and representing ALL of the 17 SDG’s throughout the school year.

I am lucky to work in a school that has adopted the SDG’s as a leading force to all that we do. The SDG’s are up around the school, EVERYWHERE! We hosted the first IB Regional Conference that was themed around the SDG’s and ALL students, from the 3-year-olds in Discovery to the 18-year-olds doing the diploma, are exposed to them. The result is that 3 years in I am no longer having to “introduce” my 4th graders to the SDG’s as they already know them! We are now able to take our knowledge and build on it and use our voices to work towards them.

Here are some ideas that my students wanted me to share:

  • start up a group of “SDG Guardians” in your school! Warriors, who come together every week and discuss and implement ways to spread the word of the SDG’s throughout the school and local community #SDGguardians
  • challenge your students to implement Teaspoons of Change
  • facilitate the inquiry of your students learning about the SDG’s! What can they find? What do they connect with?
  • have your older students make SDG board games to play with your younger grade levels that will teach them about the goals and what they can be doing
  • connect with Teach SDG’s to find more ways to embed the SDG’s into your classrooms #teachSDGs
  • have your PYPx students work towards an SDG for their exhibition! Challenge them…can their work lead to a sustainable change?
  • empower your students to look around the school and find changes that can be made towards different SDG’s (for example…is your school still laminating? What is all this plastic doing to the ocean?)
  • connect with NGO’s and organizations in your community who are working towards one or more of the SDG’s…how can you work together to make a bigger impact?
  • incorporate the design cycle and inquiry cycle into their learning process…can the design cycle be part of the “taking it further” with the inquiry cycle?

What I have noticed in the last three years is that the more student agency I enable the more sustainable and meaningful the connections the students are making! Last year our 4th graders were able to choose the SDG they felt the most passionate about. They created a social enterprise and used their profits from their market day to work toward making their action proposal a reality! (see my previous blog post for more information!) This year it has been incredible to hear that some of these students have continued on with what they started, in grade 5 and are running bake sales and lemonade stands at school and in the local dog park, to continue working with the NGO they connected with in grade 4.

 

I have noticed that each year the students come in with a greater understanding of the SDG’s and a more heightened motivation to take action! We have students advocating for equal rights for girls and boys on the soccer pitch and meeting with the athletics department, students convincing peers to purchase bamboo straws as prizes for their SDG game rather than candy because the candy is wrapped in plastic, making recycling boxes for the classrooms, marching in the local LGBT parade to support equality for all…the list grows every year! To me, this is the power of a “whole school approach”! If the message is the same every year and the approach is through empowering self-initiated action NOT forced teacher-driven tasks, our learners will learn what power they actually possess to make a change!

As an educator and a facilitator of learning for my class of little humans, it is MY responsibility to ignite in them a passion to take action and make changes so that they don’t become another me! They need to DO more, ACT better and INSPIRE the older, and younger, generations to make a change!

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Parents + Student-Directed Learning = ?

Originally posted on my personal blog empower2b.

So this week I was faced with the challenge of introducing the unfamiliar approach of student-directed learning to the families in my class. I knew many had heard about it through their children and was already getting many questions about it. I assured them that all would be answered and addressed at my Back To School Night presentation before the students were too far into the process of establishing their routines.

I know my class this year and their excited little selves were going home exclaiming things such as:

  • I don’t have to do any math if I don’t want to!
  • I get to do what I want, ALL of the time!
  • Ms. Mel TRUSTS ME to take responsibility for my learning, I am in charge!

Now I am not a parent but I KNOW that if I was and I was being told these things by my 4th grader I would be wondering what the hell was going on up there at the school! So I had to make a plan and address a few key points at Back To School Night that would reassure them that I have not devised a plan that would allow me to sit on Facebook (NB.I don’t even have an account) while the kids had free reign over their day!

STEP 1: What are the key takeaways that I wanted all parents to leave understanding at the end of my 30-minute presentation? This is what I decided were the priority…

  1. The purpose of student-directed learning.
  2. What SDL looks like in the classroom.
  3. How the curriculum requirements are met.
  4. SDL allows me to meet the individual needs of ALL of my students.
  5. SDL enables the students to gain a deep meaning of concepts.
  6. SDL is an authentic way for students to develop skills such as time management.

This is a lot of information to cover in a 30-minute presentation which also requires me to ensure that the parents “get to know me” and the different aspects of the school day. It was time to get creative!

STEP 2: Putting together the presentation.
Over the previous two years, I have presented on how I am creating a student-directed learning environment. These were my starting points of what I was going to put into the presentation. I included many photos of the students during the different stages of the week as well as some clips of the students explaining what their week looks like (last year this was a “Could” do activity for them to include in their portfolios and have come in useful for me as well!).

STEP 3: Creating a hook.

So we always teach the students to “hook their audience”, wouldn’t it be better if I tried to do the same thing? When thinking about explaining the purpose of SDL I took to Twitter to see what I could find that other people were doing and I saw that a teacher had asked their parents to fill out a graph where she was tracking the age the students in her class first started walking. What a fantastic idea (I wish I knew who it came from so I could site this great idea!)! I HAD FOUND MY HOOK!

STEP 4: Presenting to the parents

On the night of Back to School Night, I asked the parents when they arrived to put their child’s name on the graph. It was a great way of explaining to the parents about the value of differentiation. Why is it that we are ok with the students gaining skills as babies at different stages yet we want them to all be learning at the same pace and time when they get to school? The graph enabled them to see that their children all learned to walk, talk, and crawl at different stages.

I highlighted that by allowing the students to be directors of their learning in the classroom they will be able to schedule their tasks when it suits THEIR learning styles. If they find a task challenging they can schedule this at their prime learning time of the day (we have spent a lot of time discussing whether they are morning or afternoon people and how this affects their focus at these times). I also was able to show the parents the different structures in place that the students will be using to help them with the process.

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I then showed them some of the reflections from the students from last year, including a video of them that a group of students put together for their portfolios at the end of the year. The parents were able to see the ability I will have to offer a more individualized program for their students.

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Step 5: Parent Feedback

Following back to school night it has been exciting to hear from some parents who came along. Here is what two of them had to say…

“Thank you also for introducing your way of teaching and your ideas about it. I was really impressed and love the idea of being responsible for the students own learning. As a trainer for life balance and relaxation I  – of course – appreciate the idea to somehow adapt the schedule to one’s own biorhythm! It is a quite progressive idea and I LOVE IT and support it!!”

“Thank you for the great presentation you gave on Back to School night. I really appreciated hearing more about your approach and I am excited to follow … development of his schedule and learning this year.”

The most exciting part for me though was the feedback from my students the following day. They were so excited to have been talking with their parents about the different things that they have been doing in the classroom and the new understanding that they have of themselves as learners. This is the best result for me, to have the students connecting with their parents and sharing the learning journey with them.

Step 6: The future

I have invited parents to come in and be involved in the classroom and see how it all works. I believe that an “open door policy” is the best way for the parents to feel included and informed about how their students are learning. I look forward to seeing how the year progresses and am hopeful the parents will be with us for the journey…and now understand that their students are still doing math every day 😉

Agency…Empowering students to direct their own learning

Originally posted on my personal blog empower2b.

In a world that is constantly changing, how is the education system going to evolve? Senge et al. (2012) suggest it is time to move away from the traditional schooling system that originated from the industrial era. This is an opinion is evident in the movement seen in education recently. According to Holland (2015), “…2016 may be the year of student agency — the ability to act independently within a given environment and assume an amount of control and empowerment” (Holland, 2015, para. 1). In the second half of 2018, this self-directed learning movement is gaining momentum as schools and organisations, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), make student agency the main focus. Pushing outside comfort zones as educators and looking at how to elevate the learning environment for each individual learner is the first step to innovative teaching. (Couros, 2015)

In order to enhance opportunities for students to develop a skill set to enable them to be successful in employment that may not currently exist, educators need to be risk-takers and push past boundaries of the familiar. It is no longer possible to offer the “same” experience that has always been provided and be satisfied and successful professionally. Classroom diversity is also a realistic norm in today’s schools with class populations offering a range in academic level, cultures, beliefs and the life experiences children have had. This is particularly the case in the international school setting and educators need to cater to class populations that do not fit the one-size-fits-all mould. So how? How do schools encourage their educators to create a learning environment that provides individualised programs to ALL students, no matter their needs? When preparing for lessons, how can students be guided to take more responsibility for their learning journey? The answer is agency!

“Students have a sense of “agency” when they feel in control of things that happen around them; when they feel that they can influence events. This an important sense for learners to develop. They need to be active participants in their learning.” (NZ Ministry of Education, 2016)
Couros (2015) states that students “…must learn to collaborate with others from around the world to develop solutions for problems. Even more importantly, our students must learn how to ask the right questions – questions that will challenge old systems and inspire growth.” (Couros, 2015.) The concept of ‘agency’ is not a new educational term; many may argue that teachers have always been looking for ways to individualise learning for their students. John Dewey talked about the importance of student-directed learning in 1938 when he highlighted “that students should assume an active role in their learning process so as to develop the skills for becoming successful members of their communities.” (Holland, 2016, para. 6)  Agency enables all of this to happen!

The IB is currently releasing a series of enhancements to their Primary Years Programme (PYP), and one of the major changes for the programme is the inclusion, and indeed focus, on student agency. The PYP defines agency as being  “… the power to take meaningful and intentional action, and acknowledges the rights and responsibilities of the individual, supporting voice, choice and ownership for everyone in the learning community.” (IBO, 2017) Stevens (2016) believes that creating opportunities for students to have a voice and choice towards their own learning journey enables them to “…feel that that their opinions and ideas are heard and valued by their peers and teachers, they’re much more likely to be engaged with their education.” (Stevens, 2016, para. 1)

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Figure 1. IB PYP enhanced organizing structure. This figure illustrates the structure the PYP will take beginning in 2019.

Through voice and choice students are empowered to have a say in what their learning journey should look like, resulting in them believing that they are in control of their growth. It is difficult to see how you can have agency without empowering the students; in fact, Kearns (2017) suggests that “empowerment is synonymous with agency.” (Kearns, 2017, para. 9)

Levinson (2016) suggests the students of today are using the knowledge and skills that they are developing outside of the classroom to move them forward and often beyond what their teachers are aware of. Enabling a self-directed approach in the classroom allows students to have the agency to use skills to further develop inside the classroom and possibly assisting those they are with.  One goal of agency is student action. Action is an essential element of all IB programmes and can take various forms, such as: social justice lifestyle choices, participation, social entrepreneurship, and advocacy. (IBO, 2017)
Agency can take many different forms and like its purpose with students, enables educators to create an individualised environment in their classrooms. However, in ALL cases where agency is the goal, student-directed learning should always remain the focus. Students will have increased choice and voice throughout their day or in the way they organize their learning. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Personalising learning through individual schedules
  • Teacher- and student-led workshops that students can sign up for
  • Creating physical learning environments to support the social, physical and emotional well-being
  • Creating a culture of respect in the classrooms in which students feel supported to take risks and be accountable, even when they make mistakes.
  • Collaborating and co-constructing learning and learning goals.
  • Genius Hour / iTime / 20% Time / Passion Projects

Opportunities to create agency in the classroom

When changing the climate of the classroom into one that is focused on being student directed, a fun and empowering place to start is the physical environment. Merrill (2018) states, “Flexible spaces, educators agree, alter the fundamental dynamics of teaching and learning, giving students more control and responsibility, improving academic engagement, and undermining the typical face-forward orientation of the traditional learning environment.” (para.15) When establishing a class climate at the beginning of the year, task the students in the class to “create” their classroom environment (Refer to figure 4 for an example of the classroom environment one class created during a mathematics geometry unit.).

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Figure 2. Taylor (2017) Flexible learning space.  This figure illustrates the results of a student-designed classroom during a transdisciplinary mathematics unit.

 

When teachers create a flexible learning environment the students will be empowered with the agency to develop their weekly goals and to sign up for focused teaching groups with the teachers or with students who believe their enhanced level of understanding will enable them to teach their peers. This will assist them in gaining a greater awareness of their strengths and weaknesses academically and also encourage them to be proactive in deepening their understanding. To assist students in gaining a more accurate self-awareness, they reflect on their learning of the literacy and numeracy achievement standards. They explain their decisions of where to place each standard by providing of their evidence of learning.

 

In his presentation at the Learning 2 conference Sam Sherratt (2018) discussed the importance of moving students away from being compliant and, instead, empowering them to take the lead. Stephen Downes (2010) states, “We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.” (Couros, 2015, p. 31) In an upper elementary school classroom, students are taught how to create their own weekly schedule.  Using their weekly goals the students decide upon the focused workshops and tasks that they will undertake throughout the week. With guidance from their teacher students focus on ensuring they have a balance of curriculum areas, a range of independent versus group work opportunities, and also meeting their individual needs with focused instruction.

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Figure 3. Empowered to create. This figure illustrates the student’s taking responsibility to schedule their weekly lessons and sign up for workshops.
Senge (2012) highlights the importance of students learning by being “alive”, and not compartmentalized into subjects that are looked at in isolation. In the IB PYP the focus is on providing the students with a transdisciplinary curriculum where different subjects are taught and connected simultaneously.  “Understanding a world of interdependency and change rather than memorizing facts and striving for right answers” (Senge et al., 2012, p. 65) is the goal. Through the units of inquiry undertaken throughout the year, the focus on content is overtaken by the importance of teaching concepts and skills. It is through the transdisciplinary inquiry that students get to take true control over their learning and achieve a level of learning that is authentic and connected to the wider world. Through asking questions and making connections between the key concepts and the different curriculum areas, the students can gain a realistic understanding of the unit. Assessments are no longer based purely on the content being addressed but instead a reflection of the learning they had made. This learning could be in literacy or maths but also the skills they developed and the connections they had made.

A real example of how agency can lead to authentic action

As students of the United Nations International School (UNIS), there is a level of responsibility to take action and help make improvements in the wider community.  A culture of student-directed learning and agency helps make this process of taking action a more authentic one. As students set their learning goals for the week, throughout the units of inquiry they set action goals that refer to how they can apply their new understandings practically. With teacher guidance, they are encouraged to look to the broader community, outside of the school, and gain different perspectives on the topics they are looking at.

It is through the transdisciplinary inquiry that students get to take true control over their learning and achieve a level of learning that is authentic and connected to the wider world. Let’s consider a real example. Fourth-grade students are looking at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The teacher introduces the unit and the students ask questions that highlight their wonderings about the topic. Through these discussions and inquiry, the students begin to make connections to the rights of the Vietnamese children that they see outside the school every day. What rights are the local children accessing? What are the different circumstances that affect the rights they have compared to the students at UNIS? Soon the students are exploring a range of different avenues, all connected to the UN convention. They are working individually, in pairs or in small groups. They are emailing the local embassies and UN headquarters asking for information and interviews. They are working with a member of the Vietnamese staff in the school, to organise and attend field trips to the Hanoi Old Quarter to talk with local kids and find out more about them.

All of a sudden their “learning” is real and connected to where they live. They have popped their international school bubble and are seeing the world through a more realistic perspective. Then one day the teacher asks them: “what are you going to do now you have learned all of this?” Brainstorming begins, ideas flow and the excitement levels rise. All of a sudden the question, “As students of the UN, what is my responsibility?” makes sense, and an answer is achievable!

By the end of this unit of inquiry, the students in grade four were taking authentic action! They created social enterprises with a goal of achieving their desired actions towards giving Vietnamese children less fortunate than themselves, access to their rights. The following six weeks, as they worked on their new unit of inquiry, focused on building a small business (in their case, a social enterprise), and keeping in mind their end goal.

Following a successful Grade 4 Market Day, the students jumped straight into planning for their actions. They organised pencil drives for a local charity, went shopping with the school gardener, made gardening kits, and then delivered them to families living on the banks of the Red River; they purchased a Lifestraw water filter and gave it to a small rural community school, and they purchased teddy bears for each of the children in an orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City. The classroom was buzzing and the students were driven!

Upon reflection, students stated that they felt that they had gained more than just an understanding of the content about children’s rights. They stated that their time management skills, communication skills, and collaborative skills developed significantly and allowed them to take more risks. When reflecting on staying with the transdisciplinary, student-directed approach, they unanimously requested to stay with the new classroom approach. The students want to be held accountable for their learning; they want to be in control of their education journey!

For many educators change inevitably brings a sense of loss to those involved and evokes a number of different positive and negative emotions (Fullan, 2001). For innovation to be successful there needs to be collaboration and buy-in from the entire school community. (C. DeLuca, personal communication 2018) By empowering teachers and other members of the school community to have input and a certain degree of voice and choice, more support for the change will be achieved. (A. Richardson, C.Stander, and M.Taylor, personal communication 2018) Transparency and clarity are necessary in order to ensure that students are meeting the requirements that the school asks for. Inviting teachers into those classrooms where the innovation is in operation is a way for them to visualise the reality, see for themselves what it “can look like”, and to give them the opportunity to ask questions and inquire into the possible concerns they may have.

When communicating with parents, an open-door policy is also a strategy that Taylor (2017) suggests is successful. Provide the background and research for the change with an open invitation for them to come and witness the changes for themselves. Ask for feedback prior to the parents coming into the classroom so that you are able to address these areas during the open house. The key is to remember that parents want what is best for their child and their child’s future. Show them the big picture and the evidence of results.

“If innovation is going to be a priority in education, we need to create a culture where trust is the norm.” (Couros, 2015, p. 69) and to do this, educators need to be comfortable playing with the unknown and be ready to make mistakes. As a school community, it is important to value a shared vision that is centered around student learning being current and according to the latest research. The priority should always be on preparing the students for their future, not for a future that is now in the past.

References

Couros, G. (2015). The innovators mindset empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a Culture of Change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Holland, B. (2015, December 9). The Year of Agency. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-year-of-agency-beth-holland

International Baccalaureate. (2017, November). The Learner in the enhanced PYP. Retrieved from http://blogs.ibo.org/sharingpyp/files/2017/12/2017-December-The-Learner.pdf.

Kearns, G. (2017, December 11). Why student agency already exists. Retrieved from https://www.renaissance.com/2017/06/01/blog-why-student-agency-already-exists/

Levinson, M. (2016, April 11). Next Generation Learning: Bringing Student Agency Back to Schooling. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/next-generation-learning-student-agency-matt-levinson

Merrill, S. (2018, June 14). Flexible Classrooms: Research Is Scarce, But Promising. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/flexible-classrooms-research-scarce-promising

New Zealand Ministry of Education. (2016, November 15). Learner agency. Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-resources/NZC-Online-blog/Learner-agency

Senge, P. M., Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Kleiner, A., Smith, B., & Dutton, J. (2012). Schools that learn.: A fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents and everyone who cares about education. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Sherratt, S. (2018, April 09). Already breaking moulds: Studio 5. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcM2Sos091Y&list=PLOkeXFURWAFpzz-uzQ-nG-HTv0kq-iy_x&index=7 L2 Talks Europe

Stevens, K. (2016, April 22). 5-Minute Film Festival: Student Voice and Choice. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/film-fest-student-voice-agency

Taylor, M. (2017, December 15). Exciting, authentic, connected…transdisciplinary learning! Retrieved from http://blogs.unishanoi.org/mtaylor/

Where Do I Start????

Changing the way I approached the classroom environment last year completely changed the way I approached my teaching. Letting go of the control I had over where the students sat and how they worked was the first step to me recognizing the power in giving over some control to the students and allowing them to take responsibility for their own learning. By December 2017 I was teaching in an entirely new way that saw less structured scheduling and more voice and choice for my students. I became OBSESSED with reading other peoples ideas and trying them out in my room and I was a skipping record that only talked about the one topic with anyone who would listen to me.

Fast forward to August 2018 and I am STUCK! I have NO IDEA where to begin! I continue to read and see other peoples ideas and love all of them…but where do I start with this new class of students? How do I start the year in the way I closed the previous one? I have to admit I am struggling not to go back to my old ways. I am seeing blogs and tweets about amazing experiences teachers are having in their classrooms as they have their students start on their next learning journey. Disheveled classrooms being created and designed by the learners, tasks being written and undertaken, workshops being offered…the inspiration is endless and I find I have replaced my Facebook (I deactivated my Facebook account over the summer and haven’t looked back!) time suckage with Twitter and blogs…but instead of inspiring me on what I can be doing in my own classroom it is often causing PANIC! Why does it look and seem so easy for these incredible educators and why do I seem to be blocked in finding a way for it to work with my class? I would literally be failing at that point…myself and my new, enthusiastic class of students.

This blog post is not going to be a great one, in fact, I may not even post it…it is me trying to sort out where I am at and where I want to get to, and most importantly, HOW do I get there? On moving up day last school year I sold a great sell to my new class and they have come back raring to go on the student-directed learning journey! My struggle has been how to incorporate the student-directed approach into the community building sessions. How do I introduce the students to the different routines that we will be following and building our new class community while preparing them for a successful transition into a classroom structure that is entirely new to them?

I decided to place a greater focus on the students looking at themselves as learners and who they are as learners. Instead of talking about general aspects of their lives with each other they had a great focus on who they are in their role as a student. The students completed a MICUP (Multiple Intelligence Checklist for Upper Primary) and identified the different categories of intelligence that are their strengths and those that are more challenging. They interviewed each other about their learning preferences when working in the classroom (asking questions such as what time of the day do you feel more focused?). They then used the answers to create “Learner Profiles” of themselves.

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As a class, we brainstormed what we believe our roles are in creating a successful learning environment. We looked at the UN values and the school values and used our understandings in conjunction with what we brainstormed about the ideal classroom and we wrote our own list of values that we will strive to achieve (the students decided to use values rather than work agreements, rules or essential agreements).

 

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As we worked through all of these tasks and activities we continued to reflect on our key learning objective of “I can explain who I am as a learner and how I will work in my class community to achieve success in grade 4.” At the end of the second week of school, we did a class health check where we reflected on how we were feeling as a class. It was a great math lesson where we created criteria and then followed the data handling process of collecting data, recording data, analyzing data and drawing conclusions. The class thought we are doing a great job as 90% rated themselves as feeling between a 7 and 10 out of 10, however, we quickly agreed that it is not a success until everyone in the class are feeling this way. By looking at our class values they quickly came up with an area of focus for next week and possible ways we can help everyone feel emotionally safe in the classroom.

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As I sit here and procrastinate planning for the week ahead I am thinking of where to next…pre-assessments are 90% done, the classroom community is established and now just needs time…but what is the regular school week going to look like? What I am realizing is that I am needing to practice what I preach in my class…I need to be the open-minded one and I need to be balanced when I am preparing for the week ahead. Most importantly though I need to be the risk taker!

How are you going with your start to the year? What has worked and what have you learned to do differently next time?

Student Led Conferences…are they?

Originally posted in my blog https://empower2b.wordpress.com

Wow…so last week I was in a spin! Student led conferences are NEXT WEEK! As usual (as I am sure many of you can relate to) this made me shudder a little. You see student led conferences have always been a fine tuned production. The full week leading up to them is filled with whole class discussions in which I LEAD the students to remembering all the different tasks they have done, places they have seen and units they have studied. Once we have remembered everything it is time to make sure we have reflected…portfolios…are they done? Have the students been using their time wisely when they have had time to work on them? Then we finish the week with rehearsing. What are the students going to do and when are they going to do it? How will they explain it all to their parents? Will they show growth?  Will the parents be happy?

When I stopped and thought about all this I realised one very important point…none of this is about the students! None of it allows for me to find out what they think…what they are proud of….what they want to reflect on…what they want their parents to know. Isn’t the purpose of Student Led Conferences to allow the students to take their parents on a journey that helps them understand just a little of what their school year has been? How does this happen if I am the one telling them what the journey needs to be?

How can I possibly guide the students through a process that will do justice to what they have been working on this year? Phrases and words like “student agency”, “student directed learning”, “reflection”, “self-awareness”, “goals”, “scheduling”, “ownership”, “responsibility”, “accountability” and “growth mindset” are not just words anymore! They are part of the classroom vocabulary. The students use them to describe their school day and what they are doing well and what is a challenge for them. So if we have worked so hard on these things all year how can I change how I have approached “student led conferences” in recent years to reflect who we are as a class now?

IMG_3705Helping each other come up with ideas on what to share and how to share it? These two boys ended up coming up with a task that they would do together for their parents as they are scheduled at the same time.

Then a blog post is published about exactly this! On the Making Good Humans blog I read a post about “Upping the Agency is SLC’s”!!!  Woo hoo!!!!  Just what I needed! Once again Taryn is guiding me to the light that will allow my students to be in the drivers seat. I loved when she said “Instead of giving students our why for SLCs we supported them to come up with their own personalized why.” And she shared a template that they used. I had a starting point!

To cut the process down so I am blog friendly….The students have spent time discussing what Student Led Conferences are and why we have them. Why do they need to be the ones to take their parents? Why are they important? Then I asked them….if you could do them anyway you liked how would you do them?

Once again it surprised me how hard some students found this question to answer…what did I mean, how would they like them to be? Didn’t they have to do them all the same? In the end the students each wrote their program for their 40 minutes in the classroom. They had work out from the start of the year and were comparing it to now, they were preparing reading workshops that they had led their peers through so they could repeat it with their parents as the students, they were writing equations so they could do a number talk with their adults…the ideas they were coming up with were endless! And the buzz in the air was exciting! And one thing was clear…they were nothing alike! Every students plan was different to the others, both in what they were sharing and reason why they were sharing it. 

IMG_0152We are ready to go Ms Mel!

One student said he wanted to share a mistake he made…what this ok? The other students were surprised! Why would he want to? Isn’t he embarrassed? You see, we tell our students all the time that it is good to make mistakes but when do we give them the chance to celebrate them? Now was their chance! It became a challenge for some of them and pushed many of them out of their comfort zone but all of a sudden mistakes were being written into the program!

Snip20180417_7 An example of the Student Led Conference program for my beginner EAL student.

As they finished they started talking amongst themselves about the differences between this years Student Led Conferences and those they had done in the past. Observations about the lack of “sameness” and the fact that there weren’t any “stations” set up were made. When we discussed this as a class my resident wise reflector said “You know Ms Mel I just feel like this is my conference, not just me doing what you want me to do. It is like our year has been!” Some asked if they could blog what we had done…all of a sudden they all were!  So, I asked them…convince me! “Convince me on the way that I should do Student Led Conferences next year with my class.” It was when I read these that I noticed how powerful the changes had been…

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It is currently Tuesday afternoon and Student Led conferences are tomorrow. I am not worried about my students. I am not scared they won’t impress their parents or that their parents will be concerned about what they have learned. But more importantly I am not worried for individual students who are nervous and scared to show their parents. You see at the end of the school day today my students have left feeling PUMPED! They have smiles from ear to ear. When we had our closing circle time this afternoon we talked of being proud of our work, of what we have learned about ourselves as learners. Students who were a little concerned were convinced by their peers that they are good and ready…that they have got this! Will there be blunders and mishaps tomorrow? Most probably but I am confident the students will roll with it.

 

Student Led Conferences should NOT panic the teacher! They should EMPOWER the student! They should be a time the classroom teacher is in awe of their incredible class of students. A time where classroom teachers are amazed at the learning that has happened…and some that hasn’t but that has led to a self awareness of what needs to come next! Student Led Conferences should be a HIGHLIGHT for the school year where teachers and students are so proud of the year that has been so far and students are celebrated and praised for their ENTIRE journey! Fingers crossed that tomorrow is the day of celebrations that my inspiring group of learners deserve!

IMG_3710 The class telling me how stressed they feel about the impending Student Led Conferences – 1 = NO stress just excitement –> 5 = huge stress won’t sleep tonight

Exciting, Authentic, Connected…Transdisciplinary Learning!

As part of my professional inquiry for this year I decided to focus on student directed learning and student agency. The explanation of this is an entire blog post of its own (next one on my list) but in short I was looking at how I could play with my classroom logistics in order to stay true to what the school were requiring but still allowing the students to have agency.

Part of my process was to keep the parents of my class informed and aware of these changes. We are a team and it is important that there is complete transparency between us in order for the students to truly succeed.

Below is an edited blog post that I wrote to parents in December of this school year. The purpose of the post was to explain the changes that had started to happen in their child’s classroom. The response was extremely supportive and positive and resulted in many parents coming to visit and have a look.

PLEASE NOTE: the ideas that I have been implementing in my classroom are by no means my creation! I have adapted ideas received through observations of other amazing teachers and readings. The ideas are constantly changing as the students and I work together to make them the most successful for our class of learners! It is often messy and not always successful but there has been one constant result…learning!

Teacher to Parent Blog Post; December, 2017

At the moment in the education world, and specifically in the PYP, there is a big push for student agency and for educators to encourage students to be more in control of their own learning. The IB PYP is focusing on introducing student agency in a more focused way. They highlight the following advantages about increasing student agency as…

“Students with agency:

  • have voice, choice and ownership; and a propensity to take action
  • influence and direct learning
  • contribute to and participate in the learning community.”

As part of my own professional learning, I have been researching and looking for ways to create a learning environment that allows for greater student agency. For the last 4 weeks I have been introducing the class to new structures and concepts and giving them time (and a lot of guidance) as they learn what it all involves. This week was the first week where the students really saw it all come together, and I am so happy to witness the enthusiastic way that they have tackled the new approach!

Every morning the students come in to read an overview of what the day has to offer. Below is an example.

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IMG_2670An example of a completed weekly goals sheet that highlights not only the goal but also what success will look like and strategies to use to get there.

During the “Where We Are In Place and Time” unit of inquiry, the students did a range of tasks that were related to the unit but targeted specific math and literacy skills. They started to talk about their learning in terms of “I learned about… through the lens of math/reading/writing”. The content was focused on the unit of inquiry however the “skills” that they were learning were specific from the English and Math curriculum. At the end of the unit the students expressed that they felt they had a better understanding of the unit as they were looking at it from many different perspectives. They also highlighted that it allowed them to strengthen skills such as time management, reflection, cooperation and commitment.

IMG_7876An example of the Transdisciplinary Inquiry Journals that all students use to document their learning process.

img_0638.jpgThe list of Transdisciplinary Tasks students were required to do over the course of the unit, including a time management plan.
This week we have focused on developing our understanding of child rights, what they are and what they mean. Students have selected a range of tasks to undertake (each through the lens of either data handling, writing or reading) and began to work towards finding ways that they can take action towards to enable more children access to their rights.

At the beginning of each week they will reflect on their past week’s goals and look at how they are achieving them. They need to provide evidence of their learning and create their next plan of action, do they continue with the same goals or do they create new ones?

Snip20180331_2.pngCreating her weekly goals on Monday morning using her reflections to help her.

They then create a schedule for their learning. The class schedule is now broken into three sections;

  • student directed / transdisciplinary inquiry
  • whole class lessons
  • specialist classes
  • teacher and student led workshops on specific learning objectives

It is through the transdisciplinary inquiry that students get to take true control over their learning and achieve a level of learning that is authentic and connected to the wider world. They decide what they are doing when (with teacher guidance!) and sign up for teacher OR student led workshops or independent inquiry tasks. Their key focus is on what they need to do to deepen their understanding and to have a balance of reading, writing and math. I help them with gaining this self-awareness and guide them to understanding what their needs are, if I recognise that they have not signed up for a workshop that I believe they would benefit from.

IMG_0848.jpg Signing up for teacher led workshops and recording these sessions on his personal schedule.

                    IMG_0583.JPGAn example of the workshop sign up sheet. Students have this information when developing their schedules and goals.

IMG_8552.JPGStudents deciding on the tasks they will undertake for the week ahead.

Overall, the classroom has become invigorated by the thinking that has been involved. The students are excited by the chance to shape the way they inquire into our classroom focus.

Snip20180413_43  An example of a planning document for individual workshop focus. Homeroom teacher (Mel), Teacher Assistant (Huong), EAL teacher (Nicole) and Learning Support teacher (Sara).

 

Authentic, Sustainable Action…How?

This was originally posted on the blog Empower 2 Be…

As an IB educator the whole concept of action has been a baffling one to me! I love everything it embodies, in concept, but I have always struggled with the idea that I am manufacturing opportunities for action for my students. Surely, if I am truly embedding the IB principles and inspiring my class of learners to be masters for change they can discover these opportunities themselves?

Over the years I have seen some great examples of action that different teachers and schools have accomplished and, while I walk away so impressed, I leave wondering what I am doing wrong…why can’t I achieve this with my learners? I don’t believe in being inauthentic in order to tick a box and say “we did action”!

Of course there have been moments over the last 15 years where opportunities have been grasped and success has been achieved! Such as my 5th grader who was EAL and learning support and struggling to grasp the idea of having to tackle the exhibition. A project that seemed so out of his reach was achievable by allowing him voice and choice and the freedom to cater to his strengths not his challenges. His aunt was in a wheelchair and when he discovered my mum too was in a wheelchair he decided this was going to be the focus for his exhibition. He focused on interviewing via telephone to do his research and he channeled his research into how Germany (his Aunt) and Australia (my mum) accommodated for disabled citizens. He did a fantastic job and on the day he set up a course in the gym and had wheelchairs available for people to “have a go” at operating in order to gain empathy towards those physically challenged. It was GREAT and the pride and tears of his parents was heart warming. Yet as his teacher it was his action that I was the most proud of. He requested to come to school for the day in a wheelchair. To use it for the entire day and to see how well the school accommodated for the disabled student. He video’d, photographed and noted his experience and then wrote a letter to the school board and head of school to highlight the areas of the school that were wheelchair friendly and those that needed improvement. The school took notice and by the start of next term ramps had been installed.

This seems so long ago…15 years in fact, and yet it is still in the forefront of my mind! It is only now as I reflect on action that I realise what was probably a key factor for his success…voice and choice and working to his strengths. I didn’t force book research or essay writing, he journalled via video recordings and explained via photographs. As soon as taking the reading and writing focus away he was truly able to allow himself the freedom to explore him passion.

15 years later I have once again been able to see this authentic action again! Our Sharing the Planet unit of inquiry focused on “Children’s rights and responsibilities exist to enable equitable opportunities.” It was going to be followed by our small business unit for How We Organise Ourselves so we decided to merge them so that the small businesses would actually be “social enterprises” and therefore an action for the Sharing the Planet unit.

 

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The students started by owning their roles as students of the UN…what did this mean? What did it currently look like? What COULD it look like?

img_2992.jpg At the end of the Sharing the Planet unit the class brainstormed ideas for taking action towards helping children in Vietnam access more of their rights.

 

IMG_4961Students broke up into small groups focused on one of the child rights that they felt passionate for. They researched different NGO (non government organisations) and service learning projects within Hanoi and the school that would be a good partnership for them to work with. The made connections to one or more of the UN SDG’s (sustainable development goals). AND finally they created their social enterprise company name, slogan and logo!

All of a sudden 4A had 6 operating social enterprise’s that were addressing 5 different SDG’s and collaborating with 6 different NGO / Service Learning Projects. The impact that this had on the students was fascinating to watch. The small business unit always was a fun one that the students LOVED, but by adding this extra layer of purpose to their businesses the students were inspired and worked that much harder to be successful. They were writing to different people around the school to meet with them and discuss action ideas and were excited to use money (that was once used for a class party) that they raised to help children less fortunate than themselves.

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There were definitely the groups that needed more help than others, groups that had students who were less committed and needed more guidance but even these individuals and groups were learning. The skills that they had been honing in on throughout our student directed year (such as group work, communication and time management) were being put to use and they were EXCITED!

At this current point in time the groups are working with their partner organisations to arrange how their profits will be spent. We have the Great Green Gardeners heading off to go shopping with the school gardener, for items to create gardening kits to then distribute to families who will be able to grow their own food. Teddy Paws are purchasing the materials they need to make 25 teddy bears to take to an orphanage where one of the class members started her life in. Others are making clothing, blankets and toys for children in rural Vietnam, making stationary kits for schools in Sapa, organising a years internet subscription for a rural school who has 1 computer…the class is a buzz. No longer have the students wanted to donate the money and say they made cookies and that was their action!

Before we left for Spring Break we sat together as a class and discussed what we learned from this experience. That they explained what that because they knew they were going to be creating social enterprises based on a child right they started thinking about it from the beginning of the Sharing the Planet unit. They said that they felt special because they are lucky to be students at a UN school and that they hadn’t realised what that really meant before. One student said “I feel more socially responsible to help other kids that aren’t like me” while 2 others students asked if they could continue to work on their social enterprise in the future or if it was over now the unit was? Without realising it, these students were asking to create sustainable service learning projects! And I wanted to stand on the table and DO MY HAPPY DANCE!

Upon reflection I am seeing connections between this experience my class had with the year of self-directed learning they have had. They were able be successful because:

  • they had started to develop the skills they needed throughout the previous units
  • they had become more socially self-aware of what their role in society was as a privileged international school student
  • they were able to explore the area they felt the most connected to and passionate about
  • they were taking responsibility for their actions and were WANTING to do more for others

So after all of this I am left wondering…

  • How do we have this happen again?
  • For the Who We Are unit what will the students decide to do?
  • What skills can I foresee they will need in order for them to have the ability to authentically take action (whatever that may look like)?

All of a sudden planning is looking a lot different…