What Learning Looks Like…to me

A personal think-piece

Combining visualisation, design and systems-thinking, this is my visual response to the question,’What does coherent, evidenced-based learning look, sound and feel like?’.

Something to watch with a cup of tea…

(Created in Keynote, converted into Mp4 with a rather lovely Creative Commons soundtrack from Bensound found here: http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music)

‘6 UP’ – Leading change modelling leadership at all levels

up-graphics-002
David Jackson pointed me in the direction of this great talk from Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. In her TEDx Talk below on the ‘6 Keys of Leading Change’ there are loads of insights and gems that can be applied to a plethora of contexts.
  • Show-Up: Being visible, being involved and being able to understand every perspective and viewpoint in an organisation or project; to understand, develop empathy, make informed decisions and ultimately, ‘making oneself available’ and knowing that sometimes, just your presence and ‘being there’ makes a difference.
  • Speak-Up: The ‘Power of Voice’ is about shaping the agenda and being ‘thought leaders’. The example she gives of actively grading and giving students feedback on their participation in lessons both requires and supports each one of them to find and share their own voice. In this Key, she gives a clear definition of what ‘participation’ really means, where listening is absolutely integral to expressing your ‘voice’. She then illustrates the power this has by using the example of how a journalist’s ideas and his ability to use his voice to make suggestions about how to take action has created a ‘learning neighbourhood’ in Sao Paola and transformed the community.
  • Look-Up: To look up to a higher vision and clarify the principles that are needed to guide everybody. Leaders who do this are in a position to prevent what she refers to as ‘hollow leadership’. She gives a pragmatic, day-to-day application and description of what it means to live your ‘Vision and Values’ and what engaging in your ‘noble purpose’ really means. ‘Looking Up’ is all about deliberately designing and committing to giving everybody the space and time to discuss, clarify and revisit your shared purpose. Embedding the act of revisiting your vision and values as an organisational habit will, ‘lift the spirits like nothing else’. Only when this is in place can you be assured that your vision and values are genuinely lived in every part of your organisation.
  • Team-Up: ‘…nearly anything worth doing is very difficult to do alone’ and the best projects are those which have a ‘sense of partnership from the beginning’. To intentionally grow and deepen connections through partners who share your vision and values and draw them into your ‘nobler cause’ is highlighted as fundamental to the next step of deliberately aligning your partnerships, to develop and behave as ‘one big team’, to deliver your vision and values.
  • Never Give-Up (aka Kanter’s Law): Only by stopping will you fail. This Key is integral to delivering your ‘noble cause’. Being aware and genuinely ready to dig deep as individuals, as leaders, as whole-teams and as learning organisations is underpinned by the requirement to persist, be resilient and resolute all the way through the implementation dip(s) which she refers to as ‘the messy middle’. The time it takes to develop and design a project, shape and refine it, align partners around your vision, values  and purpose is time well invested.
  • Lift Others-Up: Sharing and giving back to others is fundamental to ensuring the Six Keys are part of a sustainable cycle of development, innovation and ensuring we can all be part of a system that makes a difference.

Here’s the Talk itself…

The Keys offer a great way to structure a modular leadership/ leading change development programme. The ‘6 Keys’ similarly provide a simple and practical framework ready to be adopted when assessing leadership competencies, mindsets and effectiveness. This framework could then be used to shape coaching conversations and programmes. I’m really interested in any thoughts and considerations for how they could be used in other contexts.

Considering how to see what learning looks like – conceptual change

On concepts & narratives of learning

In keeping with my commitment to post-as-I-think as opposed to posting-when-I’m-finished-thinking, here’s what I’m working on at the moment, and still working on. I have created the diagram at the bottom of this post to aid discussions around the design of the curriculum in relation to models and narratives of learning.

All this began a very long time ago, starting from my exploration into what is meant by ‘conceptual thinking’ and how we structure learning so as to deepen ‘conceptual understanding’. For a very long time (and we’re talking years/ decades here) I have been interested in:

  • The cognitive development of conceptual understanding: How abstract concepts become tangible to learners so that they gain a secure understanding of them

and

  • The metacognition of conceptual understanding: The actual process involved in developing the understanding of these concepts so that learners have a greater understanding and awareness of how they acquired this new knowledge so that they might draw upon this in the future

This poses questions for me as to how (if it is indeed possible) we might identify specific moments within a learning session when metacognitive skills have been or could be deliberately developed and, at this moment, consciously recognised by learners. I am particularly interested in how this self recognition occurs authentically and beyond surface-level awareness of teacher-defined expected metacognitive skills. So that a learner becomes consciously aware of their deepening understanding of fundamental concepts either as they happen or as part of a reflective dialogue, taking place within particular subject domains or contexts.

I’m also intrigued by the emotional aspect involved in this process – how it feels to be faced with–>then grapple with and then–> finally–>grasp a difficult concept to the extent where it can–>then be applied to new contexts and/or connected with existing knowledge.

Anyway, this is where my need to draw and visualise thinking kicks in.

The diagram below is a synthesis of my current thinking about this. It is an interpretation, a visualisation and an integration of a number of sources, ideas and inspirations from:

  1. At the heart of the diagram is my interpretation of an article by Esther Zirbel, adapted from, “Teaching to promote deep understanding and provoke conceptual change” (2005)
  2. Above the dotted line (in blue) a sequence of metacognitive skills that I’ve been using as reference for learning dispositions for the past few years
  3. On the lower dotted line (in orange) I’ve integrated a highly simplistic reference point from one of my favourite sources of inspiration which I’ve been using to help my thinking about curriculum design and learning models from Martin (@Surrealanarchy) Robinson’s book, “Trivium 21c
  4. On the arrow along the bottom of the diagram, the interrelationship between curriculum, pedagogy and assessment (mentioned previously)

Visualising Learning

I have attempted to indicate a non-linear pathway with a fat dotted line. Imagine this is one single learning sequence, whereas in reality, it is likely that it will loop or spiral back to previous stages, depending on the level of security the learner has at any given stage. I am by no means suggesting that learning is linear but wanting instead to map the experiences of a learner as a system or process.

The metacognitive skills are developed through the sequence (in blue) and the process of knowledge acquisition and transference through the three elements of curriculum-pedagogy-assessment which I’ve written about here) are depicted under the thin dotted line.

How is this of any use…?

We’ll, here’s how I’m using it…

  • Seeing learning as a narrative: I am using this visualisation as a way to describe learning experiences as narrative. Which is beginning to have some additional applications beyond the formal curriculum provision on offer in school settings.
  • Curriculum & Lesson Design Tool: I am hoping that this will be particularly helpful as I continue working on the deliberate design of the curriculum (longer sequences of learning) and any series of lessons within a fixed-term project or even individual sequences within lessons.
  • Project & Enrichment Learning Design Tool: It may also be of use when planning field trips, enrichment activities or end-of-term excursions, when seeking to ensure that as much ‘learning value’ as possible can be squeezed out of any organised visit to a museum, place of interest or gallery.
  • Self-Reflection Tool: This visual description is also useful in sharing with learners to VISUALISE their own learning and identify moments to either reflect on or expect it to be hard and difficult, and see any moments of struggle and challenge as an integral and necessary element of the process of learning. By using the diagram as a self-reflection tool, learners can identify the moments when they encountered struggle, challenge and success and use this as a script to articulate their own learning processes, the strategies that they used and how this might inform their approach to learning in the future.

Anyway, I’d be interested in any feedback and thoughts you have on this. Let me know if you can see a use for visualising learning in this way, perhaps if only to make the people we are working with (adults and young people alike) aware that we KNOW what we ask of them when we ask them to ‘learn’ and we are ready to support them in what is about to come…that they are about to place their unique footprints into the wet sand of a well-worn path. Or something like that…

Professor Dweck at TED earlier this year

This TED Talk by Professor Carol Dweck provides a good catch-all summary and introduction for anybody wanting to start doing some thinking around Growth Mindsets.

I’ll be adding this to the Core Professional Curriculum iTunesU course we have at school. This talk is only 10 minutes, so we’ll be using it as an introduction to the start of an EduBook Club Meeting. It also works well as a stimulus for a departmental meeting with a team wanting to undertake some subject-specific action research or a staff meeting in a smaller setting where you want to start focusing in on the big hitters such as motivation and engagement.

Here are just a few prompt questions I have posed in the past when using Ted Talks and other short videos and podcasts of educational thinkers in this way:

  • What do I know about the perceptions my pupils have of their own ability and how can I find out?
  • How does this relate to me, in my subject area, for the groups I teach?
  • How can I use the information from this research to refine my questioning to encourage pupils to refine, redraft and act on feedback?
  • In what ways does this prompt me to consider the way I design learning activities?
  • How does teacher-mindset influence verbal and written feedback?
  • How can we develop a shared language of learning that explicitly promotes the belief that learning is a developmental process?

Dweck’s earlier book, Self Theories is well worth a read (be warned, it’s quite pricey!) as it gets right into the different ways that pupils perceive their own ability, respond to praise, feedback and criticism, based on years of research undertaken by Dweck and her team.

A Pedagogical Model for Excellence & Growth

I have drawn together some ideas to form a first draft (very EoE) of a Pedagogical Model for Motivation, Growth Mindsets and Excellence. It also incorporates a Marginal Learning Gains approach as an integral part of developing Growth Mindsets for teachers and students alike.

This work is in its infancy in terms of a fully workable pedagogical model but I am hoping it my serve to start conversations and give practitioners some of the following:

  • The Why – Rationale and research to underpin the aims of the changes that are sought
  • The How – Strategic ways of thinking and designing learning to bring about those changes
  • The What – Practical tools and approaches to test out to increase the teaching repertoire to achieve your stated aims

It may will be that I need to provide the narrative that I would use to accompanies any work around this document if so, please let me know! I certainly see it as the start point for:

  1. Some very focused action research linking into the Marginal Learning Gains approach
  2. A design template for learning where we can truly wrap the curriculum around the pedagogy.

If you want to find out more about what schools are doing around Growth Mindsets, then please get in touch with the EG Schools Network via the blog and follow on Twitter @EG_Schools. There’s already a fantastic bank of ideas, blogs, resources and approaches being shared by the Excellence & Growth Schools’ Network,

In the meantime, I’ll be updating this in time once I’ve had a chance to collaborate and reflect on the model…so here it is:

EG Culture

 

Quality Teacher Talk

In this typically engaging short video piece from Hans Rosling, the world-renowned data visualisation and data-entertainment guru (see his brilliant TED Talks for more), identifies the power of explaining using props. He emphasises that although video can be used to explain some concepts, (see Ted-ED for examples to use if you’re looking to implement some flipped learning in your lessons), nothing replaces the teacher and their ability   to make learning fun through the explanations they can offer. For teachers and presenters alike,  being able to draw upon a vast repertoire of explaining is fundamental to being able to meet the needs of all learners/ listeners. As a result, there’s a great opportunity to keep refreshing ‘explaining techniques’ and consider the many ways we can employ quality teacher talk to differentiate, challenge and encourage learners to understand new concepts and think in new ways.

 

 

I’ve included a screen shot of an observation format I use very regularly for you to have a look at: ‘Explaining – Improving the Quality of Teacher Talk’  The original version plus others that I regularly use, adapt and tweak can be found in “Full On Learning”. You’ll notice that this is a very focused observation tool, as it ONLY looks at the quality of teacher talk in relation to EXPLAINING. Hence it can be used as part of a developmental coaching approach..which is just how I use it.

I use this particular one as part of my pedagogical coaching toolkit. I’ve got others that focus on questioning and a more generic one that looks ONLY at ‘Pupil activity during the lesson’. They’re all developmental in design as they are limited by their focus on a very specific element of pedagogy. In practice, they work as a simple tally sheet during the lesson. You can add additional layers of complexity, according to what the teacher wants to focus on, but my watchword is and always has been to keep it SIMPLE when it comes to observing the complicated world of teaching and the similarly complex world of learning.

The strength of this tool is:

1. When you work with a group of teachers to create and amend the observation format you get into wonderful discussions and sharing of expertise. In fact, it’s at THIS point when you get the really crunchy discussions about ‘quality teacher talk’ and how various concepts can be explained and what else could be used to aid the communication of complexity, of topic fundamentals and of core concepts so that learner understanding is secure.

2. When used as part of a pedagogical coaching programme, the results can be put into a simple spreadsheet to generate a visual chart (Hans Rosling would be proud!). This then forms the basis of your coaching discussion, as it places the focus of the discussion on the teacher, enabling them to reflect and consider their own practice.

3. Coupled with a skilled coach possibly also with video, you get rewarded by by using this as part of a MARGINAL LEARNING GAINS approach and find that you get those sought-after MULTIPLE GAINS from one simple pedagogical focus.

Teacher Explanations and the Quality of Teacher Talk

Teacher Explanations and the Quality of Teacher

 

Creating Learning Events

We’ve had an amazing couple of weeks at school where as a staff community, we have all been part of ‘Operation Challenge-All-Areas’. This has led to some cracking learning conversations both in lessons and beyond with a plethora of ideas being shared daily throughout an always-buzzing school. Our Challenge-All-Areas approach is a way to communicate our determination to our students that they must:

Invest as much as possible in every aspect of their school day

SO THAT

they get as much as they possibly can in return.

We discussed how students’ work is often only ever seen by one person: their teacher. Not only that, when the work is submitted it is within a familiar, comfortable and established ‘expert-novice’ relationship. Where peer assessment is regular, it can often occur once the work is well underway or even as part of the final editing and checking stage. As such, any opportunity to show work to someone other than a subject or class teacher or a familiar peer is incidental and it certainly isn’t something that is explicitly planned for and worked towards in a deliberate way. As such, it misses an opportunity: to create a ‘Learning Event’.

Contrast this instead with the emotional, intellectual and logistical preparation required for an art exhibition, a dance, drama or music performance. Here, the expectations are high from the outset as every participant knows that the final outcome will be seen by an unknown, unfamiliar and potentially hard-to-please-audience. This means that everybody knows that they had better provide a quality experience. Similarly, the preparation required for a school netball tournament or a county cup final, where the stakes are already high in terms of  achieving a  win or a loss, but even more than this, is the knowledge that the performance will be seen and scrutinised by others…so, again, every team member knows that they had better put in a good performance. This means getting the preparation right, using training to make any adjustments and refinements they need and make sure they are absolutely focused ahead of the moment the first whistle blows.

How differently we all behave and apply ourselves when we know, from the outset, that what we will do will be seen, scrutinised and consumed by others (just think of any presentation or interview scenario). Our frailties, any short-cuts or lack of planning are only a breath away from exposure when we face an audience. So much of our energy goes into making sure those frailties are eradicated as far as humanly possible.

These conversations led us to consider whether we could use the idea of an audience to drive up expectations, raise aspirations and make it clear, from the start, that this work is destined to be viewed by others. All of this also brings into play one of current action research questions: “How do we prepare our students for linear exams?”.

Using the lovely tool of VideoScribe (@videoscribetv) aka the presentation tool for introverts and quiet leaders (!), here are nine ideas for creating an audience of more than one SO THAT you can communicate high expectations from the outset. It is a great way to celebrate and evaluate student work. It involves all students, members of staff, parents and carers in critiquing and engaging in learning throughout the school.

This work follows our most recent INSET day, where staff inspired each other with ideas and approaches showing different ways to provide CHALLENGE. This included taking intellectual risks, supporting students to develop their own learning toolkits and asking every student to reflect on success criteria in answer to a pre-submission question, ‘Is it good enough?’

So the last two weeks have given us the opportunity to be really explicit about our expectations, overt about quality criteria for tasks and deliberate in communicating our desire for students to experience the best possible learning outcomes in every part of the school day.

Operation Challenge-All-Areas starts first thing in the morning. We aim to share a ‘good morning’ with every student on the gate (challenge to connect), design higher order question sequences in lessons (challenge to go deeper) and require students to use quality criteria for themselves to refine, edit and polish work before they hand it in (challenge to meet their own high expectations).

One thing is certain, Operation Challenge-All-Areas is here to stay.