Learning by Design and Studies of Asia

Last week a number of teachers from Bonython Primary School, Gordon Primary School and Lanyon High School, who are involved in a national Becoming Asia Literate project, funded by the Asia Education Foundation, presented their work to the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP) reference group.

The aim of the NALSSP program is to increase opportunities for students to become familiar with the languages and cultures of Australia’s key regional neighbours, namely China, Indonesia, Japan and Korea. The rationale of this program is that ‘Asian languages and studies will equip the students of today with the skills to excel in the careers of tomorrow in our increasingly globalised economy. A greater cultural understanding and the ability to engage with our regional neighbours in their own language will help to build a more productive and competitive nation. This is beneficial for our economy, community and individuals, creating more jobs and higher wages and overall better opportunities for all Australians.’ It is interesting that the dominant factor in this rationale is related to the economy!

In this project we developed a range of learning elements using the Learning by Design framework. They include Japanese cultural studies for kindergarten to year 2 and a historical study of Hiroshima for years 5-6; in years 7-8 teachers developed learning elements on Chinese and Japanese masks in visual arts, shadow puppets in woodwork, and Asian food studies. Learning elements about the Vietnam War in years 9-10 history and a novel study of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie in year 9 English were also developed. These complemented learning elements developed for years 9 and 10 in 2009 on Chinese ancient history, the Indian Ocean Tsunami in geography and Japanese textiles.

Learning by Design was a great tool to develop our learning elements in this project. Through experiential learning students were exposed to enrichment activities, stories, literature, films, excursions and presentations related to their focus area. They could also draw on their prior knowledge of the topics. In conceptual learning, students developed deep knowledge about Asia, including knowledge of Asian history, geography, society and culture. Analytical learning develops deep understanding and is essential in order to embed the conceptual knowledge. Through analytical learning students challenged stereotypes, examined a range of perspectives and viewpoints, and developed informed attitudes and values based on an appreciation of the diversity of the people of Asian countries. In applied learning, activities were designed for students demonstrate their learner transformation.

The teachers were inspirational as they described their learning designs and told their stories of student learning. The NALSSP reference group members were suitably impressed and I felt very proud of the work our teachers and students in the Lanyon Cluster of Schools are achieving.

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Welcome to Teacher Blogs: Professional Reflections on Learning by Design

This network hosts the following blogs, written by teachers participating in Learning by Design. If you would like a blog in this space, please contact us.

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Collaborating on The day the sky exploded learning element

Teachers at Gordon Primary School and Bonython Primary School in the Lanyon Cluster of Schools, Australia, recently developed a Learning by Design learning element for students in grades 5-6 (ages 10-12 years). This was an interesting collaboration as it really started out as two separate projects.

Hiroshima

Firstly three teachers, Emma Ross, Les Longford and Shane Carpenter volunteered to participate in a national Becoming Asia Literate project. This involved developing a learning element and participating in action research. Their learning element, Hirsohima – an empathetic look or The day the sky exploded, focuses on developing empathy and respect in students as they study the Japanese involvement in World War 2 and the effects of the atomic bomb on the Japanese people. Japanese is studied by the students for an hour each week and the learning element is designed to develop a greater understanding of Japanese culture and ultimately develop a more positive attitude by the students towards learning Japanese. The action research is being documented on the Lanyon Cluster Teaching and Learning wiki.
A the same time as this learning element was being developed, teachers at Bonython Primary School, led by Robyn Kiddy, were developing Learning by Design placemats which focused on reading. These teachers were also participating in action research as part of the Lanyon Cluster Teaching and Learning projects. They developed a series of placemats, all focusing on different reading strategies. To support the Japanese teacher at Bonython, Robyn Kiddy and I developed a placemat based on the picture book, Photographs in the Mud by Diana Wolfer and Brian Harrison-Lever. Set on the Kokoda Trail in Papua-New Guinea in 1942, it tells a story from the point of view of two soldiers, Jack and Hoshi, who meet in battle and discover how much they have in common. Its main theme is the personal human tragedy of war for the soldiers and their families.
In our design we wanted to focus on the inferring reading strategy and also included other strategies such as connecting self to text, predicting and codebreaking. These were embedded into the learning design using strategies based on Cooperative Reading developed by Dr Glenda Raison. As the text is a picture book we could focus on both the visual and linguistic grammar of the text. This was highly engaging for the students as they could infer from the choice of colour, especially the soft pastel colours and the change in mood once the soldiers are injured. There are frames within frames to emphasise the importance of photographs for memories and for survival. Also the framing reflects how the characters become closer. In the linguistic text, the words used to describe the actions of the Japanese soldiers are very aggressive while the verbs to describe the actions of the Australian soldiers are not. The cumulative effects of these choices by the author subtly position the audience to be more positive towards the Australian soldiers.
The Japanese teacher at Bonython Primary School began teaching the placemat and commented how engaged her students were and how the placemat took away so much pressure in lesson planning. I also trialled the placemat with a couple of year 6 classes at Charles Conder Primary School and realised how powerful the text was. After talking to the Gordon Primary School teachers they decided that all of the year 4, 5 and 6 teachers would also teach it to complement the Hirsoshima work that the Japanese teacher was doing. At this stage we decided that it would be highly useful to add the placemat to the Hirsohima learning element.
Collaboration is a powerful way of developing a learning element, firstly in the creative design process and also in ensuring the documentation is completed to a high standard. Including purpose and teaching tips on the teacher side ensures the communication to teachers using the learning element is clear and detailed. The learning element provides so much more information than the placemat, making the design explicit, including objectives and assessment, and providing teaching tips to support implementation.
This learning element was taught to 16 classes in three Cluster primary schools so the effort in designing and documenting the learning element has paid off already and will be of value in future years. Further it has supported the high number of early career teachers in our schools by showing them how to address diversity, create student agency, focus on multimodality by explicitly teaching the grammar of texts, and ensure learner transformation.
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Moderating a wiki for teachers

This year teachers in the Lanyon Cluster of Schools have access to a wiki to document and share their work in the Lanyon Cluster Teaching and Learning projects. This is a Cluster initiative in which all teachers conduct action research in their classrooms.

Four times a year the teachers in the Lanyon Cluster meet. These meetings help us to fulfil our system professional learning requirements. The main idea of the meetings is to promote professional dialogue about our Cluster work. We focus on curriculum, pedagogy and assessment – teachers’ core work. Over the years we have used the meeting to discuss issues such as engagement, diversity and technology, system initiatives such as the ACT Curriculum Framework and the Quality Teaching model, Cluster work such as Learning by Design, assessment for learning and CQ rubrics, and national initiatives such as values education, Studies of Asia and sustainability.

Approximately 120 teachers attend these meetings; there are always about 20 or so absent and quite a few teachers attend feeling quite stressed because there is so much to do back at school which they see as more important and/or more pressing.

So engaging them in the meeting is always a major challenge. We try to vary it, eg collaborative planning for Peacemaker and Earthsaver Cluster days, annotating learning elements and this year we have used the Lanyon Cluster Teaching and Learning Projects.

There has been some amazing data collected which will enrich the change stories which teachers will be compiling in July. One great example isJen Dennehy’s data in her project, Losing Hearts and Minds: The Vietnam Conflict Fought at Home, as she incorporates written comments by students as well as you tube interviews to demonstrate knowledge and attitudes, and maps to show geographic knowledge.

The action research has encouraged some amazing reflective comments by teachers. My favourite is one by Veronica Rapp who is studying Japan and teaching year K-2 students about writing information reports in their project, Kaizen: Global Connections:

The journey so far has been humbling. I have had many a discussion with peers about the intensity of the learning element and the fact that we are expecting high quality intellectual engagement from students as young as 4. We have debated whether or not we are expecting too much and or trying to put too much into our days. I have been so inspired by my students to continue this journey. I did not expect the students to retain as much as they have or to be as engaged in the project as they are. This is going to be one amazing term. If the students are producing quality of work now, what will they produce at the end of the term? Never underestimate the power of your students they will give back what you give them.

And of course the student data contains their insightful comments too – sometimes even in Japanese as Christie’s Harvey is investigating students’ Japanese language and intercultural communication skills through Global Connections using Epals and Skype, a project in which Lanyon High students are emailing students in Niigata in Japan.

Teachers at our term 2 week 5 meeting learning about the wiki at a BarnRaising event.

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Using Learning by Design to explicitly teach reading strategies

I have been working with a colleague, Robyn Kiddy and teachers at Bonython Primary School, to design placemats which focus on teaching reading strategies. This has been part of our Lanyon Cluster Teaching and Learning Projects in which teachers are using action research to investigate how and what they teach impacts on student learning. The placemats represent the ‘interventions’ of teachers who are in the reading project and focus on the explicit teaching of reading strategies.

So in designing the placemats we are finding that the knowledge processes of Learning by Design do support teaching reading strategies. I have synthesised about 12 placemats and found this is typically what teachers include in their designs.

Experiencing the known

  • Baseline data – interview students about what they do when they read, give students a text and ask them to infer/synthesise/ question etc (whatever the reading strategy you a re focusing on), do a reading running record.
  • Predicting (a reading strategy – this is what good readers do!) from the title/cover/blurb, a walk through/talk through, a picture flick, by thinking about other books by the same author.
  • Building background knowledge (also called frontloading) about the subject matter of the text.
  • Connecting self to text (this is also what good readers do) – asking students about what they know about/experiences/other stories, films etc related to the subject matter.
  • Write key words/draw pictures of connections to the text.

Experiencing the new

  • Read/view the text
  • Stop at various points to check predictions and make new predictions.
  • Stop at various points to practise the focus strategy eg creating images (through visualising and/or through drawing) , making inferences, predicting, scanning, summarising.
  • Ensure students can respond to the text in an open-ended way – discussion, drawings.
  • Look at/decode new/ interesting words/sounds and discuss.

Conceptualising by naming

  • Define the reading strategy
  • Modelling of the reading strategy by the teacher, eg what students can see and what they can infer from this, skinny and fat questions for Cooperative Reading.
  • Define interesting /new words (eg Interesting Words Chart).
  • Identify/highlight and model key teaching points, eg compound words, repetition, patterns, punctuation, letter identification, rhyme, onset and rime, contractions, verbs, adjectives, synonyms, antonyms.
  • Sequence events of the story.
  • Word sorts.
  • Identify and define key themes.
  • Draw illustrations of key themes, eg Sketch to Stretch.
  • Identify key characters and their traits.

Conceptualising by theorising

  • Using ‘what if’s to generate discussion and more thinking about what has been defined in Conceptualising by naming.
  • Consider the impact of eg changing the sequence or the onset or rime or patterns through text innovations or word innovations.
  • Students independently practise what has been explicitly modelled in Conceptualising by naming.
  • Act out key concepts eg synonyms for said or showing characters’ emotions through role plays.
  • Extending word sorts.
  • Guided reading activities to practise what has been named/defined/modelled.

Analysing functionally

Use Mode – Example – Effect retrieval charts to examine the ‘grammatical’ choices of authors/illustrators in context:

Look at the impact of linguistic words/sentences/adjectives/verbs/poetic devices/ punctuation/rhyme/ rhythm/juxtaposition/intertextuality/contractions/tense/ antonyms/synonyms.

Look at impact of visuals – colour, framing gaze, vectors, line, layout, shot types, juxtaposition/intertextuality.

Look at structure of texts in context.

Consider purpose of different sorts of questions (fat/skinny, Four Roles).

Analysing critically

Consider the significance/relevance of the issue/theme/strategy in real world contexts.

Who gains? Who loses? in relation to the issue/theme .

Consider the audience and purpose of the author/illustrator.

Consider the message of the author/illustrator use inferring strategy.

Look at different points of view/stereotypes/bias.

Use journal reflections/cause and effect wheels, text innovations, illustrations, retrieval charts pros/cons/questions , what ifs, T-charts, placemats.

Applying appropriately

Students decode effectively.

Students read to the teacher, using reading strategies to read fluently.

Students apply the strategy independently, e g make an inference, summarise, synthesise predict, create images etc based on a selection of text.

Apply the reading roles of Cooperative Reading independently.

Students articulate the reading strategies they are using in teacher interviews or in reflections/journals.

Students apply understandings in text innovations.

Create a class book of students’ understandings.

Applying creatively

  • Apply the reading strategy when reading independently at home and in other learning areas, eg research.
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Reflecting on Learning by Design

Documenting the Weaving a narrative information text in Wolves by Emily Gravett learning element has been important for me to learn about CG Learner and to use this knowledge and experience to support other teachers as they learn about Learning by Design and also use this new documenting tool.

We have been working with Learning by Design for about eight years. I believe Learning by Design values the professionalism of teachers by emphasising their roles as designers of learning; this ensures that we have a design to achieve identified outcomes rather than a set of activities. These designs are captured in learning elements.

Up until now we have mainly used word based tools to document our learning elements. These were often unstable and frustrating to use so we were very excited about CG Learner. As a web based tool it is very stable, enables collaboration even after the planning stage as more than one person can be documented a learning element at the same time, prompts us to include important things such as purpose and teaching tips to make our designs shareable, includes links to resources on the Internet as well as worksheets we create ourselves, and aligns activities with our objectives and assessment – the holy grail of curriculum development!! Even though CG Learner is still in the development phase, it has already made documenting so much easier.

As my first learning element in CG Learner, I wanted Weaving a narrative information text in Wolves by Emily Gravett to be an exemplar for other teachers so they could use it as a model. Hence I designed it so that it included all the knowledge processes, moving sequentially through experiencing, conceptualising, analysing and applying. Not all learning elements follow this sequence as you can work through experiencing, conceptualising and analysing many times before asking students to apply.

So the learning element starts with experiential learning, valuing prior knowledge about wolves and rabbits and libraries, and frontloading the text by exploring their perceptions about wolves and rabbits in ‘Experiencing the known’. It even includes students creating a visual so is multimodal.

The students read and respond to the text in ‘Experiencing the new’. Here the text is multimodal, both visual and linguistic, so it taps into life world interests by presenting varied information and also by presenting it in different modes – multimodally. Exciting and engaging input at the ‘Experiencing the new’ stage can really make a difference to the success of the whole learning element. It is also important in ‘Experiencing the new’ that students can respond to the text, enabling them to bring their own knowledge and experiences to the text before going into asking teacher directed questions which I believe is conceptual learning. It is important to include ways of describing/ retelling/sharing aspects of the text in ‘Experiencing the new’ so that students use their own language/versions of English. Lisa Delpit in Other People’s Children (1995) stresses the need for students to have access to the language of power but still have their own ways of speaking and thinking, including identity, valued in non-deficit ways.

In ‘Conceptualising by naming’ the students work in groups to identify the features of either the narrative or information text. Working in groups, promotes speaking and listening as well as shifting the balance of agency from teachers to students. It also provides a metalanguage for students so they can participate in the learning, hence addressing diversity. To ensure students have some scaffolding as well as accountability, they record ideas on a Venn diagram and then have to share their work with another group and other people’s ideas to record in one part of the Venn. Using cooperative learning and thinking tools ensure students do the thinking rather than depending on the teacher to do the thinking for them so more shifting of the balance of agency.

After naming the features, students theorise about what happens when the two texts combine. This activity is scaffolded using a PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) chart and students then record their reflections in journals or on a class wiki – another way of linking to students’ life worlds. More and more as we use the knowledge processes of Learning by Design, we see that a good design incorporates all knowledge processes, especially so that students move from knowledge to understanding. For example ‘Conceptualising by naming’ is about gaining deep knowledge while ‘Conceptualising by theorising’ moves this knowledge to understanding. It also moves knowledge from short term memory to long term memory as students have a connection for recalling the knowledge they have gained.

Analysing functionally is where we focus on the grammar on texts. In Weaving a narrative into an information text in Wolves by Emily Gravett there is visual and linguistic grammar to explore at the word and sentence level. We have already explored the structure of texts in the ‘Conceptualising by naming’ activity so we don’t need to explore that again even though it could be included in this knowledge process too. Basically this activity looks at the visual and linguistic modes, using examples in context (the field) and then looks at their effects (tenor). Our new Australian Curriculum includes a lot of emphasis on teaching grammar and the media have been denigrating English teachers because supposedly we don’t teach it….hmmmm. Here is evidence of it happening very explicitly!

Providing a knowledge of the grammar of texts in ‘Analysing functionally’ supports students so they can create their own texts in ‘Applying’. It also enables them to understand the choices authors make to position readers in particular ways in ‘Analysing critically’. So by presenting the wolf as fearsome through the shot type, colour and adjectives, the author is able to build tension and then present an engaging twist in the new ending of the story in which the wolf is a vegetarian. This also presents other perspectives, rather than a stereotype of a wolf. These perspectives are pursued in more detail in the ‘Analsying critically’ activity in which students investigate a range of perspectives from hunters to animal lovers and even Indigenous people. They can then value a variety of cultural knowledges and perspectives.

When we ask students to apply their knowledge through a report, essay, PPT or multimedia presentation or in the case of this learning element to create a narrative, images or information texts, , they have to be able to move beyond responding to creating and becoming knowledge producers. ‘Analysing functionally’ and ‘Analysing critically’ provides them with the tools to do this.

‘Applying appropriately’ and ‘Applying creatively’ allows students to present their understandings/ learning in different ways. Encouraging students to present their learning in different modes provides them with choice, another form of agency, as well as linking to their technological life worlds and subjectivities.

Overall when you work through the knowledge processes you are scaffolding for increasing agency for students – so when you ask students to apply their understandings and learning, they will be more successful.

Other aspects of the learning element include the objectives and assessment. The objectives were the initial part of the planning process and I identified the Essential Learning Achievements of our curriculum framework, Every Chance to learn, at the Later Childhood band of development (approx ages 8-10years). The teacher and learner sides of Learning by Design, enabled me to document this following our assessment tool of CQ (criteria/quality) rubrics developed by Rick Owens who has worked with us at Lanyon High School. Criteria – what is important in this task, come directly from the Every chance to learn. Quality – what does it look like when it is done well, is using learner talk to describe the best quality students can produce. In this way the assessment is made transparent. In these rubrics, there are no shades of grey through 5 levels of achievement being described; only the highest quality is articulated. Two CQ rubrics are included in the assessment section of the learning element.

So after this long reflection I want to go back to the learning element and make my design choices even more explicit! As I don’t have my own class I would love someone to teach this and add comments to the reflection section on CG Learner. I’m sure it would improve the learning element significantly.

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Understanding Learning Part 2

In my earlier post I commented on a lesson observation of a colleague who was teaching a year 7 visual arts class. This is what happened next……..

Being a very committed educator in her first year of teaching, the teacher was very keen to explore ways of making the lesson better. In fact she had two other year 7 visual arts classes that she intended to present the same lesson to, so immediately took up the opportunity to meet with me and reflect on the lesson. We discussed how she could use the knowledge processes of experiencing, conceptualising, analysing and applying to engage students and include everyone in the learning. We talked about explicit teaching and developing knowledge and understanding so that students are supported to produce high quality work. We considered how students needed agency in learning and how talk gave them more agency and scaffolded their thinking and understanding. We also explored inclusive cooperative strategies to support this classroom talk as well as build in accountability.

Picture4So in the next lesson she presented the images of Japanese art without the conceptual questions. She ensured that she valued the prior knowledge, experiences and opinions of students by asking them to look at the images and discuss what they liked or disliked, what it reminded them of or had seen before. This combined experiencing the known and the new. It engaged students in the learning by valuing their lifeworld experiences. The teacher used Think-Pair-Shares to ensure accountability, to use talk to scaffold thinking and to give students agency as they were doing the thinking and talking.

From this the teacher moved to conceptual learning where the students identified some of the artists’ techniques which had been explicitly taught in previous lessons. She used Think-Pair-Shares again to ensure inclusivity.Picture7

How has line been used in this artwork?

How has colour been used in this artwork?

How has tone been used in this artwork?

Look at the composition? What do you notice about the buildings compared to the landscape?

This was conceptualising by naming. This naming was vital for students to develop a metalanguage to enable further thinking and discussion and in fact is inclusive in that, once acquired, it enables all students to participate. She then presented some factual information about how Japanese landscapes present universal themes and depict sky, mountains and water as proportionately much larger then human beings. Images were shown that represented these facts and the students were asked to discuss them.

Then by examining how these techniques can be used to represent nature and the environment, the students moved into conceptualising by theorising. They could consider different tones, lines and colours and what happened when the indications of human life were much bigger. By using a placement activity, the teacher could ensure engagement, talk, deep thinking, and agency and accountability.

The analytical activity involved discussing the Japanese attitude to nature and how this affected the way people lived their lives. It enabled the teacher to make direct links to the values of respect and tolerance for others and for the environment. The students then moved from having deep knowledge about Japanese art techniques to developing a deep understanding about how it affected their art and their relationships with each other and the universe.

Here are some of their reflections:

Japanese artists show the unity of the landscape and show that Japan is more than advanced technology.

It shows us how they care for nature. And they have a different point view of nature than we do. They have a good relationship with nature.

They don’t use life much because that defeats the purpose of looking at nature.

The Japanese respect nature very much.

They don’t feel people are as important as the landscape.

It tells us more about how the art work shows the culture and the beauty of Japan.

The teacher then introduced an applying activity before the major applying activity of students creating their own artworks.

Which two images do you like the most?

Write down two points why they are similar and two points why they are different?

Use the language of colour and tone and composition to describe them.

What do the images tell you about the Japanese attitude to nature?

In this activity there was high agency as students could select from seven different images and use their metalanguage and the knowledge and understanding they had developed to describe them.

Here are some examples of the students’ artworks. Applying appropriately and Applying creatively are where the learner transformation is really evident.

japanesemountains Students were also asked to create a water colour of a Canberra landscape and incorporate the Japanese attitude to nature. Here is what they created:

canberra water canberra mountains

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Understanding Learning Part 1

Last week I visited a year 7 visual arts class to observe one of our teachers in our cluster values education project. The teacher has designed a really interesting learning element about 2D art, including printing and painting techniques such as acrylic and water colour. By looking at Indigenous, Japanese, and African art she is also developing students’ tolerance and understanding of other cultures.

Part of the lesson I observed was about Japanese art and tone. It involved experiential, conceptual and analytical learning. Using an interactive whiteboard, the teacher showed some images of Japanese art. The students looked at the images and considered the conceptual and analytical questions which were shown with the slides.

Picture1The questions that were presented with this slide were:

Why do you think the Japanese only use small indications of human life ( a little house, person or boat?)

Looking at this painting, what does it show you about the Japanese and their relationship to nature?

How does the information you just read give you some insight into Japanese landscape work?

About three students responded to the teacher when she prompted them with the questions. No wonder – they are very hard questions! Nevertheless these three students presented some good ideas, showing they were really thinking deeply about the subject matter of the paintings. It seemed to me that the majority was not engaged; Vygotsky has taught us that when things are out of our proximal zone of development we tend to switch off, as these students did. However because the teacher had such excellent student management skills, using proximity and gentle encouragement to get students to settle, they complied with her request to look at the slides, albeit passively. Most were probably just waiting for this part of the lesson to end so they could go and paint.

Picture2Students then moved into the art room to apply their learning by creating water colours, incorporating some of the Japanese artistic techniques.

By including experiential, conceptual, analytic and applied learning, the teacher was incorporating a range of pedagogies and ways of knowing to cater for the diversity of learners in the class. However the experiential, conceptual and analytical learning was covered during the first 20 minutes of the 90 minute session. These knowledge processes provide opportunities to engage and excite students about the learning, to explicitly teach concepts that you want students to understand and analyse so that they can apply them in the artworks or knowledge they create.

By covering them so quickly in order to ensure time for the students to create their own watercolour paintings, only a few students were able to engage and develop any understanding of the concepts. So naturally the final products of the applied learning did not reflect these understandings. Creating their artworks was really a form of busy work for the majority of students and intellectual quality was lacking.

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A reflection

As we get closer to the end of our current unit in the New Learning, New Literacies course, Knowledge, Learning and Pedagogy, I’ve been thinking of how further study motivates and provides opportunities for reflection on our teaching practices. So here is my latest reflection…..

A teacher’s day is generally very busy – teaching classes, playground duty, preparing materials for lessons, being reactive to students’ needs, organising excursions, sports carnivals, parent evenings and then in the evenings there’s marking and lessons to prepare. No wonder it’s so hard to prioritise strategic thinking about your practice through designing and documenting curriculum.

Last week I received a call from a colleague who had done some initial work with Learning by Design a couple of years ago but didn’t take it much further. Last year she completed a graduate certificate about the Quality Teaching framework which is based on the Productive Pedagogies (Qld) and Newmann’s ideas of authentic teaching and learning. She told me that with time to reflect on her learning in the course, she kept making connections to Learning by Design and how it enacted the dimensions of quality teaching – intellectual quality, quality learning environment and significance; she kept thinking, ‘That’s what Rita was talking about!’ Now she’s ready to go further and I’m meeting with her next week.

To really get to the crux of what is quality teaching and learning, as I feel we are doing in our University of Illinois masters program, I think all teachers need to complete some postgraduate study or a masters of education like the Finnish teachers. Treating them as professionals would be much more productive for our students’ learning than the blame game.

Of course we would also have to educate our politicians to understand learning a lot more, especially to understand the role of standardised testing; but that’s another discussion.

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Towards an inclusive school and cluster

In another life (I mean another job but is seems like a long time ago), I wrote a paper, the Inclusivity Challenge, to promote discussion in schools about how to become more inclusive. On reflection I only had a narrow view of what inclusivity was. I understood about valuing background knowledge and the prior knowledge students brought to their learning. I also knew the importance of intellectual quality, non deficit approaches to students, treating them as individuals, the importance of leadership, collaboration and student agency. I had all the talk although agency is a newer addition to my vocabulary – a wonderful word!

My manager at the time was interested in doing more work with inclusivity and that’s when I first met Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis. As a way of addressing inclusivity, they gave us the gift of Learning by Design. Now the focus was on pedagogy and there was new metalanguage – learner belonging and transformation. Eight years later here am I still learning more about inclusivity through the New Learning, New Literacies course and through the work we are doing in the Lanyon Cluster.

Every day I hear a good news story – something great a teacher is doing that addresses diversity and is inlcusive. With 10 of us from the Cluster doing this course, the discussions in and between sessions, in blogs, wikis and in Moodle (amazing how we have a new metalanguage which enables us to participate confidently!), we are already making a difference in our Cluster work. For example to connect learning to students’ life worlds is one way of including them in their learning. As technology is central to the life worlds of many adolescents, in particular, using techology is enaging for them and makes learning more relevant.We have wikis appearing all over the place and last week Prue ran some PD for teachers on wikis – about half the staff came. We are also using Moodle and wikis in two action research projects we are running so other teachers in our Cluster schools are also learning about new technologies and ways of engaging their students in learning in inclusive and purposeful ways.

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