Sunday 30 September 2012

Be A Master Learner

The more I think about it, the more I realize that "Why School" by Will Richardson provides a perfect frame for our thinking as we begin the second year with the "Through A Different Lens" project.  The continuous references to the way in which our world is changing only reinforces the need for teachers find new ways to meet the needs of learners. As Tony Wager states, "There's no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn't care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know".  In response to this, Richardson states: "We need adults in classrooms who can serve as outstanding role models for learning".  If our goal is to prepare our students for a world of abundance where they must constantly “learn, unlearn, and relearn” then we as teachers must also model this concept.   I’m going to share 3 quick examples of teachers in my school who are demonstrating this mindset. These three (among many others) are willing to take risks,  try new things, and embrace different approaches to classroom instruction  to make the learning for their students as meaningful as possible. 
Students using Comic Life to explain safety rules in Science 9
Tim teaches science 9 and recently decided to try a software program called Comic Life. Tim identified a need for a more active and hands-on way to start his class so he designed lessons that had students collaborating, visualizing, taking photographs and then using the software instead of just answering questions out of a textbook. The lessons were very successful and Tim noticed that many students who had not previously been engaged were now taking an active role.  The success of these new ideas led Tim to explore further options in his classroom such as the use of flip cameras in class and adding active, hands-on components to his unit tests. He reflected on his results and shared his ideas with others during collaborative time and through his personal blog. 
Building 3D globes in Socials 9
Within the first week of her Social Studies 9 class, Shauna was tired of complaints about how sick students were of colouring and labelling maps, so she searched for something different. Shauna has a background in art, so she applied her knowledge of paper mache and designed a project for her students to build globes  instead of the traditional maps. Students collaborated to identify correct regions on the globes and then demonstrated their understanding of geography in a 3D format.  The project gave the students a unique understanding of scale and proportion, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. 
Across the hall, Melissa is always looking for ways to make her math 9 class more active and engaging.  When her school ordered a class set of whiteboards she was one of the first to ask to use them.  Melissa designed a lesson where students would work in teams and move around the room constantly interacting and consulting with one another in order to problem solve. She wasn’t sure how the whiteboards would work out,  but she was willing to take a risk. The lesson was successful, and she reflected afterwards that she just needed to adjust the timing of a few of the activities before she tried it again.
Using whiteboards for the first time in Math 9
A finished globe

What these teachers have in common is that they are all learners. They aren’t afraid to learn a new concept, apply it to a new situation, reflect on what happens and then tweak the results. They each saw a situation where what they had been doing previously was not as successful as it could be and they changed course. They looked at their classroom through the lens of their students and made adjustments to allow for a different way for students to explore their understanding.  To be clear, what is important is not the technology, or the whiteboards, or the hands-on activities. What matters it is that the teachers involved determined there was a need to try a different approach (whatever that approach might have been) in their classrooms and they replaced a previous practice with something different. They were willing to learn and unlearn and relearn, and model the attitudes that we need our students to embrace. 

A final key component is captured by the following tweets (from the #whyschool chat last Tues).

The teachers described earlier are also all willing to share their journey with others. Through the use of cameras, video, blogs and face to face conversations they share their ideas and get feedback from students and colleagues. By documenting what happens in their classrooms (which includes successes, failures, and student feedback) they are not  only evaluating their efforts for their own students, they are also contributing to the experiences of their colleagues. Those teachers can in turn apply and adapt the ideas to their own contexts, and return the favour by sharing their own experiences.  The result is a professional culture where teachers are constantly exploring their own practice and engaging in professional conversations with concrete examples of what it might look like in classrooms. Students don't just reap the rewards of individual teachers improving their own practice. In our building students will benefit from a staff working collectively to enhance the learning environment of an entire school.