Assessment-Capable Learners – Making Report Writing Easier and More Exciting

Recently one of my colleagues saw me sitting at a table writing end-of-the-semester assessment reports for the elementary Visual Arts students. “Listen to this,” I said, and proceeded to read to him a couple of the reports for the students.

“I think you’re the only teacher I know who enjoys writing assessment reports,” he commented with a laugh. “How do you collect this information?”

Like most teachers, I used to dread writing assessment reports. I used to ask myself how I could write so many reports and make them all sound different. And like some teachers, I sometimes copied and pasted a report from one student to another, rearranging a couple of sentences and being careful to change the name. Honestly, it wasn’t always easy to distinguish one student from another. 

Now I enjoy writing reports. Oh, it still takes a lot of time and patience to produce so many reports. That part continues to be a challenge. But the writing part – trying to compose something different for each student – is easier. The secret, I discovered, is to focus on developing assessment-capable learners in the classroom.

I know that I still have a long way to go to better support my students to be assessment capable learners, but, by targeting two key things, I’ve made report writing easier and, well, more exciting!

Reflection

In order for students to be capable of assessing their own learning, it’s important for them to have regular times to reflect on their learning. They need time to talk about their learning with peers, to reflect on their process, and to explain their thinking for their projects. In our Visual Arts class, that is usually a brief partner share time to discuss the projects at the end of class. Since these students are often designing their own projects (alone or working collaboratively), they naturally discuss them with each other during the class, as well. Additionally, while they are working, I am circulating through the room and talking with them to ask about where they got their ideas, how they figured out how to do something, etc.   

Interviews

Each semester, I take time to have a brief one-on-one interview with each student. While it’s challenging to work this out during class time, the benefits are invaluable. (In our school we’re fortunate to have homeroom teaching assistants who accompany the students to specialist classes.) I ask the students how the class is going for them. I ask them to tell me about their favorite project. I ask them about what they are getting better at. I ask them what they notice that shows them they are getting better. I ask them about what’s challenging. I ask them about how they deal with those challenges. And I ask them what’s next. While they talk, I take dictation. I probe their answers and get them to go deeper with their thinking by asking follow-up questions. 

Their answers from those interviews are a treasure of information about how the learners perceive their progress in the class, how they feel about things, what they enjoy the most and what they’d like to do next. Their answers are humbling and inspiring.

Examples

I’ll give a few examples from some of these elementary students this semester so that you can see what I mean:

“It’s a place where I can be myself,” one student recently mentioned about the Visual Art class. “I can create stories about my feelings and show them to others. I can talk with them about their ideas and feelings, too. I like all the things I make. They show me being me. When I am happy I make things that look happy. This semester, I learned that artwork can show how you feel.” – Grade 4 Student

“We make things we have never seen before by thinking how we make it. I imagine how to make different things. When it is done, we can see it and we will know something new in our brain.” – Kindergarten Student

“I like designing my own projects. I can create new things that can turn into something big. If I make something today with cardboard, then one day I can make things with other materials like wood and metal. No one is telling me what idea I’m supposed to do. Something will come up in my own mind, maybe something I’ve never done before.” – Grade 2 Student

“When I have an idea, I am excited about it. There are a lot of materials to make my own things. If I do my own thinking it helps me, not only in Art, but in other subjects. I know how to focus on what I have to do. In art, if I make a mistake I can always find a solution. In Physical Education we had to design a game and it was easy to focus and design it because I do that in art!” – Grade 5 Student

When I make a mistake, maybe I learn something…I got the idea to solve a problem. My creative thinking got better because I made my own project.” – Grade 1 Student

“I feel like I am in the kitchen mixing different things together to make brand new things. I am using my creativity. I am using my imagination. When you are creative, it helps you discover new ideas. I have been trying to express myself more because I think it brings more joy to the picture instead of copying something.” – Grade 3 Student

“I feel very free to do anything I want. I can decide what to do. I feel more confident. I like to go back and look at the things I made before and that gives me ideas.” – Grade 2 Student

“I like the freedom. We think harder. Sometimes we do not even know what we will make when we start. I want to be an explorer. I planned an explorer’s suit. I don’t give up easily.” – Grade 4 Student

“[Designing my own projects] helps me because I am able to think back and talk about how I made something. I am working harder and making stuff with better thinking and faster imagination.” – Grade 2 Student

“Art helps me figure things out. I can draw it and then I get it.” – Grade 3 Student

“I like making artwork about things I like and sharing it with my friends. That way we learn more about each other. Now I am working better with friends.” – Grade 5 Student

“I like that we can use our own creativity. We can make things that are important to us. I am building skills so that I can design things like houses in the future. I’m using a lot of imagination. I imagine something, design it, and then make it.” – Grade 3 Student

“I like that I can [design my own projects]. I can do things on my own. I feel more confident. When I first came here I was shy. Now my confidence is growing and I can express a lot of ideas,” – Grade 5 Student

Ownership

Another benefit I have noticed with these one-on-one interviews is the confidence with which some of the quieter students approach me afterwards to talk about their work more often. I want each of the learners in my class to know that I am interested in their ideas and in their development as creative thinkers. But most importantly, I want to empower them to take ownership in their learning. Reflection and one-on-one interviews are two steps that we are taking to become more assessment-capable learners. I encourage all educators to involve learners more in the whole assessment process.

You’ll be thankful when it’s time to write your reports, too.

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Adopting a Flexible Approach to the Curriculum

Edna Sackson – ‘What if we liberate ourselves from the traditional curriculum prison and explore new vistas?’ 

Tania Mansfield – ‘What if we were brave and daring? What if we put learners and learning before curriculum and standards and paperwork?’

This blog post has been inspired by conversations I have read online recently regarding ‘time’, or the perceived lack of, and the development of flexible units of inquiry. I have come to believe that these conversations are closely connected with one directly effecting the other.

I have especially been interested by the conversations surrounding Edna Sackson’s blogpost, Liberating the Programme of Inquiry, and Tania Mansfield’s response, Those Beautiful Questions. Both these educators are asking some truly ‘beautiful questions’ that are pushing the boundaries and challenging the traditional ideas about our approach to education. Both represent a growing number of modern educators that are beginning to ask ‘What if…’ with regards to teaching and learning. It is an exciting time to be an educator as traditional barriers in education are being seen to be taken down. We seem in the midst of an educational revolution led by educators and administrators that dare to ask, ‘What if….’. It is a time to be ‘brave and daring’.

‘Time’ seems to be a continual challenge for many educators. The beginning of each school year signals the start of a new race to meet numerous deadlines of learning outcomes, expectations and assessment. With all the other distractions that school life brings (e.g. holidays, sports events, celebrations etc) it seems that we are in a constant race against the hands of time and many of us feel that we are always on the losing side. This yearly up hill struggle provides needless stress for both educators and students alike. I was once part of this yearly struggle but things became much easier when I came to the conclusion that ‘time’ is not the issue but rather how I approached the curriculum. Authentic learning is not somethings that we can compartmentalize into convenient timeframes and boxes. To attempt to do so creates an unnatural learning environment.

The timetable below represents my traditional approach to inquiry. As you can see the 4 units of inquiry have been placed neatly into set timeframes. Approaching inquiry in this manner also has an effect on the specific subject learning within each of the inquiries e.g. Maths and Language etc. So not only are we putting self imposed timeframes on the inquiries themselves but also to the other areas of the curriculum that are connected to each specific inquiry. Are we really saying that authentic inquiry and learning has a clear start and end date? This approach seems too neat, tidy and regulated for any real authentic, deep or personalised learning to occur. Approaching the curriculum in this manner also begins the clock ticking on many of the self-imposed deadlines.

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I feel our traditional approach to teaching and learning has always been to neatly arrange our curriculums within specific blocks of learning. If we are continually working within a set timeframe we are placing unnecessary pressure on both educators and our students to complete tasks and meet objectives. We are also restricting authentic learning and exploration as our students learn at an unnatural time and pace. We create timetables that are ‘repetitive and predictable’ allowing little flexibility for new and authentic inquiries that may occur.

The arrival of the Enhanced PYP has gone some way in offering some flexibility in the implementation of the programme, but it is going far enough?

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The PYP states, ‘Greater flexibility on starting points and time frames for your units of inquiry will create a range of learning opportunities, for example, one unit could run throughout the whole year, while others could be revisited once or numerous times, with some overlap where appropriate.

This year I have made greater attempts in creating a more flexible approach to inquiry. This has been my third year working with this specific curriculum and each year I have been able to make moderate changes to allow the inquiries to flow more naturally and offer greater opportunities for student agency. Many of these changes have so far only been able to occur on a personal level as we are still to have these conversations on a whole school level.

Below I have placed an example of my own implementation of the inquiries for this year.

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Even this approach seems to suggest a beginning and a start time to inquiry when in reality the inquiry for many of our students has already begun long before they enter the classroom and will continue long after. If we take ‘How We Express Ourselves’ as an example. I would be naive to believe that most, if not all, children had not developed a sense that stories are a means of communicating meaning and that they can be told in a variety of ways. In most instances they may not be actually aware that they acquire this information but it is there. In all sense and purposes their inquiry has long begun and it will continue long after the date that is penciled into our yearly calendars. So what are we need to ask ourselves what we are actually doing within these timeframes of inquiry. We need to consider that we are using these time periods to assess, develop and push our students understanding of subjects that may be all too familiar with already. We need to be clear that we are not the ones that have started or will finish our students personal journeys of learning but are on hand to steer and support when the time demands it. This is also the case for each of inquiries for the year. 

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So if we begin to think more in terms of continuous inquiry, rather than ones with a beginning and an end, then our curriculum begins to look at lot more similar to the image above. All transdisciplinary themes, all inquiries and all learning running simultaneously throughout the year. This will in turn allow for a flexible curriculum that allows for new opportunities for learning. Approaching the curriculum in this manner provides the opportunity for our students to choose the when, where and how they learn. It is important that for modern education and the need for student agency that we provide our students with these flexible systems that allow for choice in learning.

The signals within the noise…

Our discomfort has been in that we continue to struggle with the definition of ‘success‘. We are opposed to defining success of learning and the success of a child through one time and place statistics or data points, on standardised assessments and on what can be measured through numbers and graphs. We constantly battle with the question – ‘how do we measure what matters?’

In our model, we see learners living the PYP, thriving, growing in confidence and becoming more reflective and self-aware whilst developing skills to motivate themselves and their peers. We see learners, who although on our radar as students of concern, fly because in our environment of self-directed learning,  no one is putting them in a box or pre-planning their path for them – but rather allowing them time, space, freedom and, most importantly developing respect and relationships within the model to support them and their learning.

So we struggle – to answer the question “How do we know our model of self-directed learning is successful?” as we continue to resist against the needs of others outside the model, and advocate for the needs of our learners within the model.

In September this year our principal, (@peterson_kurtis), provided us with a provocation to help us unpack our struggle:

“Our gut says its good – but how do we KNOW?”

He introduced our Studio 5 team to a text by Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise.

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As a team we collaborated to record all the data we had collected last year, and compared it to the data we were planning to collect this year.

As you can see – we are not short of data.

We are literally drowning in evidence and data. Some of  the data is qualitative, some of it quantitative. Some collected and curated by advisors, others by learners. Some of it standardised, some of it subjective and collected through conferences, observations and conversations.

 

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Data Summary – HERE – Our gut says it’s good but how do we know?

But look at it – there is what Nate Silver calls, just too much ‘noise’. There is too much for us to decipher, streamline and present….. so Kurtis challenged us – so where are the signals?

This began more conversations and reflections, how could we decide on the signals if we didn’t know their purpose , how were these signals to be used?

There has been alot of time and energy invested in this pilot of self-directed learning so we are a little hesitant to move forward without purpose – a little wary of agendas and resistant to feeling we’re being pushed back towards traditional thoughts and ways of  measuring success, assessing and collecting data…. so we hesitated… and reflected.

adaptA few meetings later, our Head of School (@rebelleader18) added to the conversation.

He introduced the short video Adaptable Minds –  which questions whether we are focusing on what matters in learning?

He also sent out follow up clips for us to reflect on which included development and celebration of the character strengths from www.letittripple.com

 

 

 

purposeIf our gut did believe that this model was successful – and we had all this ‘noise’ – could we, as a school, a group of determined educators who were committed to change, could we come up with “an authentic system that shows growth of our learners in a self-directed model.” 

The challenge was set. Next meeting, we brainstormed some criteria for such a system:

A system that:

  • was applicable from our youngest learners through the PYP and MYP to our eldest learners in the Diploma programme.
  • showed growth of the learner over time
  • allowed next steps and goals to be set.
  • would be transferrable and valued across age groups
  • would be transferrable and valued in other schools
  • authentic and embedded in real life context and learning 
  • was suitable for all learners
  • meaningful to all
  • manageable 
  • simple, effective and purposeful for all stakeholders

We then went to the research. There were so many conversations globally, so many schools working towards change, there must be something we can use as starting block to give us some direction.

So we went to the research, took time to read, reflect, dig deeper, discuss and then sort what could work for us, and what would align with our criteria?

Our research included:

Through all of this research, we liked alot of the pieces, but some were more secondary based and thus not applicable to our early learners, and some were still driven by ‘subjects’ and curriculum needs instead of the learner needs.

atlsWe eventually came back to our PYP ATL skills. Sometimes time and space to explore and gain perspective leads us to appreciate what we had in front of us the whole time.

These 5 skills were what we believed learners needed…so how could we incorporate these into a system that fit all the criteria we had set for ourselves?

 

 

We continued to look at some of the tools and resources out there that could support us in our tracking of the ATL skills – but they were more about tracking rather than the learner….so we kept exploring.

In the weeks between meetings, 3 things happened.

  1. The IB officially released the 3 documents making up the newly enhanced PYP Principles to practice.
  2. Our Former Studio 5 colleague, Suzanne (@OrenjiButa ) updated her wonderful graphics incorporating the new PYP ATL skills.
  3. Our student success team shared with us their student developed learning portfolio for student reflection, goal setting and action.

These 3 events helped us move forward in our purpose:

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ATL;F01 Pg 27 Learning and Teaching (IB PYP Publications)

The document “Learning & Teaching” from the IB PYP included this graphic on Pg 27  to represent the 5  interrealted Approaches To Learning Skills.

It was so similar to our Studio 5 graphic, we were encouraged to move forward.

 

 

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Suzanne’s graphics helped us review and reflect on the changes to the ATL Skills in the PYP and compare and contrast to the MYP ATL Skills (graphics developed by @ndbekah)

 

 

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The template that our student success team have been using for our learner led ILP conversations gave us a format that was already proven, that gave our learners ownership of their learning and gave them a voice to set their own goals.

And this all helped us in formulating an idea…. however, if this idea was to meet all our criteria we needed to start a conversation with our MYP colleagues to see if our plan would be:

  • applicable for our older learners in the MYP through to our eldest learners in the Diploma programme.
  • would be transferrable and valued across age groups 

So we presented our plan…..

  • to develop a system orientated around the ATL Skills that gave learners choice, voice and ownership of themselves, their learning and their next steps.
  • to develop a continuum using both the ATL PYP Skills and MYP Skills that guided learners in their reflection and assessment of their learning and inform their next steps.
  • to have this system directly feed into the learners’ Evaluations of Learning as they reflected on who they were as learners.
  • to develop a system that followed our students as they advanced through to the MYP & DP.

This is what we presented to the MYP:

Learner’s Journey – Self-Directed Model

The MYP team, were very supportive and positive in response to our thinking and plans to move forward.

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They reflected that they had been working in Grade 6 individual google sites designed for students to develop reflective practices.

They had also come to the conclusion that the ATL Skills were the direction to head in, but they’d not yet got to discussions about an ATL continuum.

So this is where we now are: (December 2018)

  • We have our purpose and the criteria to meet support that purpose.
  • We have our signals – the ATL skills
  • We have a plan that this will feed directly into the learner Evaluations of Learning, so that learners will be reflecting on themselves as learners through the ATL skills and not through the traditional subjects in PYP & MYP.
  • Evaluations of learning will reflect learners as ‘Researchers’, ‘Communicators’, ‘Self-Managers’, ‘Thinkers’, and ‘Socialisers’ and will include next steps and goals to be shared with others.
  • We have already removed grades from our Evaluations of learning  – we believe the power is in the narrative and the conversatsions leading up to and following the development of the learner reflections.

Our next steps moving forward are:

  • To revise and review the ATL continuum that our ATL committee developed using the new enhanced PYP ATL Skills descriptors
  • To explore the use of a google site for students to use that will follow them through their ISHCMC life and can be transferred to new school contexts.
  • To explore and play with the potential with our learners and get their voice and feedback whilst assessing the best way to ensure the format is  manageable  and simple, effective and purposeful for all stakeholders (as agreed in our criteria)
  • To introduce to our lower PYP grades levels and begin the conversation with them is this something they could adapt and use developmentally?
  • To follow up plans to silence some of the other data that is creating ‘noise’ so that the data we collect continues to be learner owned.

We’d be interested in hearing from anyone who may be on a similar journey, or have found ways to manage student digital portfolios of learning for a whole school ( K – 12 system)  or have maybe found alternative ways to develop “an authentic system that shows growth of our learners in a self-directed model.”  

Agency in the Exhibition

‘Thinking beyond ourselves empowers us to act.’

This is the central idea for this year’s exhibition and it has been powerful in driving learner inquiries towards action. We started by asking students and teachers what they do to go beyond themselves in their school, in the community, and in the world. There followed a series of powerful, engaging provocations including a whole day conference with workshops led by NGO’s, charities and other social justice groups, a series of opt-in excursions to similar venues, short films, documentaries and guest speakers. Once immersed, students began to identify areas in which they felt they could explore going beyond themselves.

But this post is not really about the obvious learner agency idea of choice. I’ve come to understand that agency is more about learner investment. We tried to rethink the process of the exhibition this year to bring agency and action into its every aspect:

Examples of this included:

  • students ‘running’ the conference – catering, audiovisual aspects, welcoming guests, giving inspirational speeches, self-selecting workshops
  • opt-in guest speaker sessions throughout the exhibition process
  • mentorship with adults based on rapport and personal connections rather than an interest in a similar area
  • allowing students to plan, implement and evaluate peer-learning lessons and workshops with younger students
  • discussion groups run by students for students of the same year level – themes included Perspectives of Bullies, Bystanders and Bullied Students, ‘Exploring Fear and Coping Strategies’, and ‘The Masks we Wear to School’
  • cross-year level collaboration and flexible timetabling – teachers saying ‘yes’ to students turning up at their door wanting to interview other students or even the whole class (as long as it didn’t disrupt something terribly important)
  • one on one student sharing sessions throughout the journey with various thinking routines used to scaffold conversations and provide feedback structure
  • extended email engagements with primary sources and mentors
  • students organising their own immersive experiences
  • students organising and implementing food drives without teacher intervention

As a teacher, once again, I’ve tried to say ‘yes’ amidst the chaos. Let’s face it, the beautiful chaos of exhibition can push those teacher control buttons. Sometimes rightly so. There have been times where staggered sessions of high structure and teacher choice have been necessary for the well-being of all learners.

The externalisation of my thought processes about agency continues to be a strategy I use when negotiating learning experiences with students. It’s my way of modeling my own inquiry and has engaged students in conversations around this. When learner agency is high, students should be able to articulate reasonable justifications for their plans and choices.

This is a short post, sorry. There are eight days to go until the exhibition, nine days until the end of the school year, and I’m pretty well cooked. But I wanted to make a little space to remind myself that I’m still doing all of this with something bigger in mind.

When I ditched my lesson plan

Today I ditched my lesson plan, crazy ain’t it?

When I say it was a good day, I mean it! My coffee mug was filled to the brim and nothing could go wrong.

I had studied my lesson plan the day before and my students and I were going to inquire into number properties and how we could use them to create continuous patterns. Armed with all the thought provoking ideas from the student Agency training with Taryn, I realised and decided I would not be the “fountain of knowledge”

Because I have decided to take baby steps, I thought being transparent and sharing the plans and benchmarks would make me less of a benevolent dictator. The first thing we did was brainstorm what a benchmark was and what it meant. We concluded that it was a standard against which we would be measured.
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They were tasked to find what the Pascal and Chinese triangle was, and find as much as they could. Pascal’s had a lot of information and details which was quite easy for them to find.

When it got to the Chinese triangle, there wasn’t that much to find. They came back puzzled saying, “It is the same” “They aren’t that different” . So we decided to look at what made them similar. IMG_0821 2.JPG

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After all that inquiry, we decided to watch a TED talk about this triangle.

What we found changed our lesson, we discovered this triangle was first  used in the Indus valley and Mesopotamia. Puzzled, one student,  with fresh insights from the ancient civilisations unit asserted,

“Mesopotamia was one of the earliest if not the first civilisation. Why are we calling it Pascal who is French?”

Another jumped in arguing that the Indus Valley was the most advanced in maths and the French had not existed then.

So I whipped out some post it notes and asked them to write down why we should not call it Pascal’s triangle.

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Since we are now experts at finding facts and evidence to persuade others, finding facts to support the argument wasn’t a hard one.

Their reasons were not only thought provoking and reflective but they had me question my structure of teaching. What if I had stuck to the plan and taught them what I wanted them to learn so that I can tick off a box at the end of the unit? What if I had been the sole source of what they were learning?

Today we forgot about benchmarks, and had an unbridled inquiry.

Today was a good day…

Winnie is a lifelong learner who teaches grade 4 at the International School of Uganda.

Twitter handle: @kahubire

 

 

 

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!

Learners to Leaders. Taking Down Barriers to Allow Agency to Flourish.

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I had been eagerly awaiting my new unit of inquiry for sometime. Since changing the Central Idea and Lines of Inquiry from the previous year I quickly recognised that the new inquiry was a perfect opportunity to allow student-agency to flourish. Like many I have been impressed with many of the approaches to teaching and learning already demonstrated by many schools that have allowed student-agency to flourish. I have been eagerly looking forward to an opportunity to implement, adapt and create these kinds of opportunities within my own practice. It has not been an easy decision working within an early years setting. What changes were possible? How would the children react? I also needed to be clear of how the changes would benefit the students rather than using this as an opportunity to experiment.

In the end I am a committed believer in the necessity of student-agency to flourish and the benefits it brings. And so, I made a commitment to both my students and myself that I would allow the new inquiry to be driven solely by student-agency allowing for changes in systems and structures that would remain for the rest of the academic year. 

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 6.31.02 PMThe central idea to my new inquiry is ‘A School Community is Organised to Meet the Needs of the Learner. I had changed last years Central Idea from being concerned with the local community to being centred on our school community. One reason being was that due to traffic in Bangalore and the location of the school it was quite difficult for us to engage with or visit many of the places that I would have traditionally taken my class e.g. hospital, fire stations, libraries etc. Due to these circumstances, and the early finish of my students, it was difficult to create authentic engagements with many aspects of our local community. It is important for the students to learn through doing rather than just by pictures and books. I also saw the change in the central idea as an opportunity for the children to recognise their place as learners within the school community and to develop greater independence and responsibility for their learning. I saw the ‘Why’ of our inquiry as the children beginning to recognise themselves as learners and the processes they went though.

Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 8.38.07 AMIn the week before our school holiday and a week before we were due to start our new inquiry we had begun to discuss what the children enjoyed about our school and our learning environment in particular. We thought about what a classroom Must, Should, and Could have. These would become the driving choices throughout our inquiry and also provided a pre-assessment of the children’s knowledge and understanding of their learning environment. The children’s ideas were then written on different coloured post-it notes with the intention that they could be re-visited and moved throughout the inquiry and provide a visual record of the children’s changing perspectives with regards to their learning environment. The work could also be used as a reflection during future learning experiences.

Working within an IB World School I have been motivated by the increased importance of student-agency within our curriculum. Believing that agency is something that cannot be given but only taken away I have increasingly thought about the barriers within my own practice that are restrictive to student-agency. Since the start of the school year I have been fascinated to watch other educators begin their year with an empty classroom and allowing students to create their own learning spaces. This would have been something that I was eager to do from the beginning of the year but I considered that it may be too challenging for such an approach within an Early Years class. I believe that with our young learners it is important to develop relationships and make connections before we can move on. And so I waited until my second inquiry before attempting such a bold move. We even waited until the Friday of the first week back to completely empty the room. We had started to take down displays and move other items throughout the week which worked quite well. It helped to develop conversations and discussions as the children started to notice the changes. Throughout these discussions we were able to reflect back on our previous thoughts about what a classroom must, should and could have and develop our ideas.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 7.30.29 PMAnd so after days of clearing the classroom item at a time the children arrived to school on the Friday to find a completely empty classroom. We had removed all the furniture and resources to the garden outside. We had thought that if we had simply moved everything to one side of the classroom it would have influenced the children’s decision making with regards to the new organisation. We thought that it would be better to start with a blank canvas.

Throughout the day we engaged in conversations and decision making about how to best to organise the classroom. It was really interesting listening to even our young learners making decisions based on logic e.g. “We can’t put that there because we won’t be able to see our board”. It was also a wonderful experience as we explored our classroom resources. It provided an opportunity to explore each of our resources and how they could be used to support learning. In the past, without such an investigation, many resources would have remained on the shelves due to either the children not knowing we had them or not knowing how they were used.

Even though I had been excited to begin our new inquiry I did have some reservations. It would require us all to really step outside our comfort zone by beginning from scratch months into the new year. I suppose if we always do what is comfortable we would never do anything of value at all. I also had concerns about the children creating a classroom environment that was difficult to work in and had visions of weeks of rearranging furniture and resources as we re-evaluated our choices. Now after several weeks being in the newly organised classroom I have been pleasantly surprised with the arrangement. A lot of the worries I did have were needless.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 2.10.45 PMOnce the children had finished organising our classroom we began to think of the specific needs of the learner. We started by asking questions like, ‘What do writers do? What do readers do? What do Mathematicians do? For each of these questions we concentrated on the process of each rather than the specific skills needed. Through these discussions we created specific learning areas to support the needs of the learner. We have had a wonderful response from the children. They began to think of themselves as writers, readers, mathematicians and enthusiastically engaged in independent and guided learning activities. They clearly demonstrate greater pride and accomplishment in their work in a setting created by the students for the students. True ownership of learning was happening and it was exciting to be a part of.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 2.12.23 PMI have since been talking with our schools visual art teacher who follows the teaching strategy ‘Teaching for Artistic Behaviour’ (TAB). The concept being that students learn about art and the art world by assuming the role of artist and directing their own learning. I wondered if this strategy could explain the success that I had been witnessing within my own class, especially within language. The children have learned about writing by assuming the role of the writer and directing their own learning. By the results I have seen in the classroom I would strongly argue this was so. Students learn best and work harder when they are excited by what they are working on. And when they design their own work, they understand why they are doing what they are doing and engage much more deeply with their learning. The time taken to allow the children to create their own spaces as proven to be extremely beneficial and developed an increased sense of independence and enthusiasm.

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 2.43.16 PMAnother important aspect of learning is goal setting and reflection. As our inquiry was being driven by student-agency we also wanted the children to take ownership of these important aspects of learning to but how to make this appropriate to an Early Years setting? We revisited the roles of writers and readers and asked the children to reflect on their own ability. We then supported the children in choosing their own learning goals e.g. Do they want to develop their Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 6.31.21 PMunderstanding of letter sounds? Write words? or even sentences? A lot of our discussion had been around next steps. What are we confident about and where to now? Soon I found myself having really meaningful conversations about goals and next steps that I had not found possible with an early years class before. Especially after the initial setting up of the area many of the children were enthusiastic about demonstrating their knowledge and understanding. So when they approached with their papers containing lines of scrambled letters we discussed the where to now with reflection on our learning goals.  This has been a work in progress and we are looking at ways to improve the idea with a view to extend this into other areas of learning.

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 2.55.27 PMSince the beginning of our inquiry I think that one of the biggest game changers in allowing agency to flourish has been our approach to our daily timetable. In the first week of the inquiry we had given ownership to the children to choose when they did specific learning activities like Maths or Language. We felt that this too was still restrictive and they needed greater ownership of their daily routine. We changed our daily timetable to follow our choices of Must, Should, Could. The first creation of our new timetable was completely teacher driven as we wanted to model how the new timetable would work. We discussed the restrictions to allowing complete freedom e.g. we must go to specialists, certain activities outside our control and as a teacher there are certain things that I must do. Then there were the activities that we should do to support specific learning outcomes e.g. we should spend time developing or writing or counting. There are also other activities that the could do to develop their understanding of the world that may not have specific links to our daily learning e.g. use block to build a castle etc. After the first week of the new modelled routine we allowed the children greater choice in its creation. The timetable has now become more visual to support the Early Learners and the children are able to express their opinions of activities that can be included in both the should and could. Eventually we would like to give full control in the daily schedule, with teacher guidance of course.

The inquiry will now continue until the end of the year and we will continue to modify and change our practice to benefit our learners. We will also continue to search for more opportunities for student-agency. This is just a part of the journey but it is clear that the journey has certainly begun. The experience has demonstrated excellent results so far in terms of student engagement, independence and enthusiasm for learning. They are clearly beginning to understand how they can express their choice and voice to make a positive impact in their ownership of learning. They are quickly making the transition from learners to leaders of the learning, recognising their own contribution to the process.