Teaching as Inquiry

This is the next post in my series on effective pedagogy from the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum. These have all been written for the purposes of provoking thinking at Lynfield College.

The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum introduced Teaching as Inquiry as an important teacher practice. It stated “Since any teaching strategy works differently in different contexts for different students, effective pedagogy requires that teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students.” (NZC, pg 35)

This is supported by Graham Nuthall’s (Hidden Lives of Learners) research that showed how students assimilate new information differently because of their prior learning and experiences. It also links well with the adage: “Just because you have taught something, doesn’t mean the students have learned something.” Essentially, we should be taking notice of how each individual learner is progressing through their learning programmes.

The NZC then set out the following diagram as to how this inquiry could be visualised:

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Enhancing the relevance of new learning

It is not surprising to see relevance of learning in the effective pedagogy section of the New Zealand Curriculum. A lot of research was undertaken in the 1990’s in New Zealand on this and hence teachers in New Zealand have long discussed how relevant and meaningful learning will increase interest, engagement and motivation for learners. What is of interest here though, is that the NZC explanation expands from just relevant contexts for learning to include ideas such as curiosity and learner agency.

Effective teachers stimulate the curiosity of their students, require them to search for relevant information and ideas, and challenge them to use or apply what they discover in new contexts or in new ways.

Curiosity is a bit of an enigma in schools. Speak to any teacher and they will say they value it, but often it is not high in our priorities when designing learning experiences for our classes. Susan Engel’s research found that students’ curiosity decreased as they grew older. She does believe that adult influence is a factor in this. This paper by Engel suggests 4 ways that educators can help students become more curious again.

Sparking curiosity in Science

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Providing Sufficient Opportunities to Learn

This is the 3rd post in a series exploring what the New Zealand Curriculum says is effective pedagogy. The first posts were about Creating a Supportive Learning Environment and Making Connections to Prior Learning and Experience.

Now that we know our students and where their knowledge is at, we can think about our learning design.

Students learn most effectively when they have time and opportunity to engage with, practise, and transfer new learning. This means that they need to encounter new learning a number of times and in a variety of different tasks or contexts. (NZC p34)

Graham Nuthall’s research in the early 1990’s found that students needed to encounter information 3 times to understand a concept. This also applies for skills based subjects as the Maths BES states: “To achieve fluency, meaningful practice opportunities include significant variations each time, providing students with a sense of the range of possibilities in a topic” (Effective Pedagogy in Mathematics Best Evidence Synthesis, p125).

“The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit and the stronger, faster and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.” (Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code)

Neuroscience supports this by explaining how the more often we practice a skill, the more myelin grows around our nerve fibres. Continue reading

Making Connections to Prior Learning and Experience

It’s Week 2 of the school year. We have set up a supportive learning environment so next we go about finding out what students already know. This will include results from last year, other data we can access but will also likely include other in-class activities. We already have our curriculum and course guides in place, so why do good teachers spend time finding out what students already know? This post looks to explore the research behind our practice.

Students learn best when they are able to integrate new learning with what they already understand. (pg 34 of the New Zealand Curriculum)

Image from pg 71 “Hidden Lives of Learners” by Graham Nuthall

This figure is Graham Nuthall’s explanation of how our brains make sense of new information. All experiences, learning activities, discussions etc. are stored in our working memory which then attempts to make connections with our prior knowledge and related experiences. The working memory then evaluates this information, integrates the new experience with our prior knowledge and changes (or maintains) our understanding. (Hidden Lives of Learners, 2007). Continue reading

Creating a Supportive Learning Environment

It’s the start of another school year and we are running around organising getting to know you type activities, collaborating on class rules etc. Why?

  1. we are people and people like to make connections with others. 
  2. because research has proven that creating a supportive learning environment has a positive impact on student learning.

This is why creating a supportive learning environment is included in the Effective Pedagogy section of the New Zealand Curriculum. This approach recognises that learning takes place in a social and cultural context.

From a student perspective this means that learning occurs best when they:

Positive relationship building and active learning happening as Year 9 students enjoy their first days at Lynfield College this week.

Effective teachers will: Continue reading

Effective Pedagogy and the NZC

This year as part of my portfolio as Deputy Principal at Lynfield College, I have been asked to look into how well the learning taking place here is reflecting the intent of the New Zealand Curriculum. I am really excited about this, as curriculum and learning design is a real passion of mine.

To get my head into this for 2018, I am starting by going back to have a close look at what the NZC actually says about teaching and learning. Whilst, this is primarily to help shape what is happening at Lynfield College, there is plenty of this investigation that may be helpful for all teachers (in New Zealand but also globally). Hence, I will write a few posts over the next while sharing what I find.

Looking forward to spending some more time unpacking my coffee stained NZ Curriculum

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Lessons from Term 2

While playing with family over the first week of these holidays I have been reflecting back over last term. This reflection has led to me finding 5 key takeaways to remember in future.

1. Name the Elephant in the room

If you can name the issue/concern that is bugging you at the time it arises it allows your team to move forward together much quicker. An effective team has healthy working relationships and can deal with these situations, not get stuck on taking things personally.

2. Take the time to get students defining the problem

An extremely important step in problem solving is actually defining the right problem at the start. So often students are given the problem by the teacher. This term Pete McGhie and I really found out how powerful it is to get students defining the problem themselves. More time consuming but incredible learning ensued!

3. Teach less and teach it better

Page 34 New Zealand Curriculum

Page 34 New Zealand Curriculum

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How Might We develop a culture of critique?

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I regularly try to develop my students’ ability to critique each other’s work. If collaborative learning is to work effectively, this ability to praise the right parts and challenge other ideas is critical for progress to be made. But, I am now wondering if we as adults are even modelling this for students?

Two tweets from people whose thinking I greatly admire have raised this point recently:

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I have written previously about how empowering the New Zealand Curriculum is. There is however, the flip side of this where as schools adapt the NZC to fit their needs, do not take the chance to think critically and just make it fix what they have always done. The Education Review Office add to this as they congratulate different schools on their interpretation of the NZC even as they have interpreted it wildly different – from Grammar style schools doing things very traditionally to Hobsonville Point Secondary School redesigning things and everything else in between.

This to me, says the critique of the New Zealand Curriculum must first happen by looking at how it has been implemented. This means that teachers and schools must develop a culture of critique towards each others’ practice and external visitors must be able to join in that critique to remove the blinkers. Is there a gap between the espoused approach and the reality in classrooms (or open learning spaces as the case may be?).

My approach with students to critique has been along the method of Rose, Bud, Thorn

And I really find this is a great method for starting critique: It encourages you to find praise points, opportunities and to be critical. If any of these are missing then I don’t believe you have set your bias aside to truly critique.

Now, how about we get started on really critiquing each other for the benefit of the education system and especially for the benefit of our students futures.

 

This post was Day 7 of my Question Quest.

How Might We Best Manage the Tension Between Personalisation And Curriculum Coverage?

Day 1 of my Questioning Quest, is a question constantly in my mind this year.

I truly believe the tension between personalisation and curriculum coverage can cause amazing creativity to occur in learning. Our vision of Personalised Learning must also ensure students have the required skills and understandings to succeed as seniors. To do so we are currently developing tools and checks to evaluate student coverage and progress amongst the high level of choice students have in their modules.

Many schools are investigating personalisation as a future focused curriculum or modern learning practice. How do you negotiate this tension?

Personalised Learning at HPSS

After many months of planning, today was the day that personalised learning really took flight at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. We have tussled with the tension between curriculum coverage and personalising learning for the past few months and today students saw what this has resulted in.

Most New Zealand Secondary Schools place students in form classes for the “core subjects” (English, Maths, Science, Social Studies and Physical Education/Health) whilst allowing some measure of choice over the “option subjects” (Technology, Languages and The Arts). All of these Learning Areas are compulsory up to Year 10 in the New Zealand Curriculum, so we had set out to avoid the ancient hierarchy of subjects that dominates NZ schools.
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