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…

Teaching repertoire to learning repertoire

Unknown

Visible pedagogy

One of my most memorable responses when I asked, “What do you like most about these lessons?” was the reply from a Year 7 pupil who answered without hesitation, “I like the plenary that Miss always does.” On hearing this, a wave of excited reassurance washed over me and I followed up with, “That sounds great, so what happens when you have the plenary?” Just as quick, the pupil confidently said, “That’s the bit where we get to pack up.”

By thinking of pedagogy and the design of learning activities as akin to the exoskeleton of lessons, we can share the relevance (the ‘so what’?) of the learning by pointing out to learners exactly where the joints, connections and overall structure of the learning is and how it all fits together. In doing so, we offer a chance for them to grab on to the bones of the lesson and find their own way around complex knowledge, difficult concepts and new applications with each other.

Making our pedagogy visible to  learners is a fantastic way to deliberately involve them in the process of learning. It provides a great opportunity to introduce and establish a shared language of and for learning. It also offers a chance to share effective practice across the school.

Jim Smith (@thelazyteacher), often talks about creating a sort of bingo card for learners to record all the different activities and ways they are asked to show their learning that they encounter during a series of lessons. Such a card could include presentations to the class, extended writing, role play, posters and so on.

Building on this idea, the table below is an extremely generalised mix of activities and pedagogy that could make up a reflective tool. From this, you can refine the table into the way in which you design learning so that you use specific strategies for specific purposes, a sort of ‘What Works Well AND WHEN’ for learning design…

  • Launching new topics
  • Checking progress
  • Deepening understanding
  • Clarifying misconceptions
  • Gathering feedback on progress
  • Assessing the security of understanding

Screen Shot 2013-05-11 at 13.28.31

A learning script

To squeeze even more learning out of adopting a visible pedagogical approach, we can ask learners to do more than just record what they experience. We can encourage them, as part of regular reflections on their learning, to demonstrate their understanding of how these activities help them learn and, most importantly, how confident they are in learning as a result of thinking in this way. From this point, learners could create their own activities for each other according to what will work BEST for the topic and phase of learning they are in.

By deliberately integrating this as part of on-going self-reflection, we also avoid straying into the soul-destroying conversation many of us will have experienced over the years which goes something like, ‘I am a kinaesthetic leaner, so I can’t write any of this down.’ Instead, learners will become more discerning about what activities work best for them, when and why. Learners will  become aware that some activities are more challenging for them than others and so they need tom consciously can invest more effort to become better at these. They will become more involved in their own learning process and gain access to what is often referred to as the ‘secret garden’ of the curriculum and the ‘so that’ of learning outcomes.

Conversations with learners can then be informed by the card as a ‘script’ to help them reflect on the learning skills they are developing. The essential aspect of this is that the learners themselves use this to:

  • Recognise what, how and why activities are designed for them to learn in particular phases of a topic
  • How effective these activities are in helping them make progress
  • How effective they are in learning in these different ways and what they need to do to improve
  • The rationale for why certain ways of organising learning are used at specific times
  • Start making suggestions as to how learning might be organised in light of their increased self awareness and understanding of what helps them learn

Making the untypical typical  

By having a prompt card such as this, learners have to be flexible and adaptable when we introduce a new way of doing something because this will be typical of what happens in all their lessons. We will avoid the, “Oh no! You’ve moved the room around!” statement of horror as thirty stunned faces enter what has become an alien landscape because this is the first time in 5 years that the furniture in the room has ever moved. Instead, you should hear, “Oh, are we doing hot seating / continuum line / talk partners / secretive…today?”

One of the additional benefits of this approach is that we too can keep a record of the range of activities and approaches we have used with particular topics and groups. This can then be used to:

  • Remind us of our own teaching repertoire and ensure we adopt a relevant, purposeful learning design for each specific aspect of the topic
  • Ensure that we regularly reflect upon, refine and adapt the way in which we design learning opportunities
  • Open our teaching repertoire to self-reflection and peer scrutiny so that it is always ready for refinement
  • Share different approaches across teams, departments and whole school, learning new strategies as small, manageable chunks of expertise

A Marginal Learning Gains Repertoire Card

The repertoire card can also become a handy teacher prompt to refer to during the lesson and focus on a specific strategy as part of a Marginal Learning Gains approach. I’ve had a go at an Marginal Learning Gains version below:

MLG Repertoire CardOnce our pedagogy is visible to us, we can challenge ourselves to reflect on the very specific strategies we have tested and identify the impact on learning and develop ways to further develop these.

A Pedagogical Platter upon which to feast

Cross-departmental collaboration: We can collaborate with our colleagues both within and beyond our teams to create five new activities or strategies or try an existing one in a new and unfamiliar context.

Student representatives: If you have student representatives in department meetings, this approach provides the students with a script of learning to which they can add, share experiences from other subject areas and teachers and authentically contribute to the development of teaching and learning across the school.

Self-efficacy of learners: Imagine a time when learners have such high levels of agency that they feel confident enough with their language of learning and pedagogy to select from their own learning repertoire effective strategies to develop their knowledge and understanding. Or a time where they come to their lessons and point out that they have ‘done’ card sorts in their last three lessons, so please could they use a different technique today? Then you can invite them to decide what strategy/ pedagogical approach would enable them to best meet the success criteria of the task. And, once the activity is completed, with you, they can self and peer assess their outcomes by reflecting on whether the strategy they chose was the most effective based on how well they met the success criteria. The next step could be to design the way they will organise the next task, giving them an opportunity to lead their own learning for the outset, anchored by the assessment criteria against which they will measure their progress.

Hope and Wisdom and the Via Negativa

This a strange post, so forgive me. I think it must be what happens when you’re trying desperately hard not to stray into something that you’re not yet prepared for, but can’t help thinking about, and yet keep recognising that it is evident in everything you do, how you think and certainly, how you view the world and always have. And after that introduction, I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to click away…but if you don’t, just to let you know, this post is about HOPE.

I had the pleasure of hearing Baroness Estelle Morris speak last week at the Institute for Effectiveness in Education Conference 2013 hosted at York University. I do not intend to go into the evidence, research and practice debate here as there’s many others doing just that extremely well right now.*

One thing Ms Morris said really struck a chord with me.  In her response to her introduction, and after she had said, “Please call me Estelle”, she reflected on how she had been introduced. She said that she felt that she needed to define herself as what she was not.** She  acknowledged that in a room full of educational researchers and a very small number of teachers, she was not…

  • a teacher
  • a researcher
  • a politician

But that what she was, or rather, where she was, was in ‘the gaps’ in between these things:

“…it is because I’m not these things, what I hope to bring…is an attempt to fill the gaps between all the things I’m not.”

She went on to say that wisdom is required to ensure that the connection between these things is made strong so that the gaps in between the three are reduced. This is something that definitely informs my thinking about the research, practice and evidence debate.

But back to this post…

Sometimes, I come across an idea, a quotation, an approach, a picture, a piece of text, a film or a sound that sits in the gaps between what we do, what we think and what we hope for. The job for us, then, is to make sense of it and in doing so, bring it closer to our own lives through our values and expertise. This is how our wisdom gets exercised and this is the wisdom of teaching. Because once we make those connections, we get to offer the very same opportunity to our learners.

So here is one such stimulus.

For me, this 3:14 minute trailer could be shared with learners in pretty much every subject area and chime with any theme connected to resilience, grit, learning, determination and aspiration. In doing so, it offers leaners the opportunity to forge their own connections between the subject of the film, their ideas and actions and thereby offer them the chance to reduce those gaps and develop their wisdom. By exploring the many different ways in which they can connect the film to the subject, topic or theme, they are learning about, they get to generate quality questions and begin to create their very own links that in turn will connect to their prior and present learning.

Because it is such a rich resource, if nothing else, at the end of the day, projects like the one outlined in this film give us all a much needed and refreshing dose of one thing that lies at the heart of everything that drives us in education, research and, I would like to think, politics too: hope.

If you want to really immerse yourself in hope and, given the times, why wouldn’t you? Then there’s also this inspirational 18 minute TED Talk all about the origins of the Barefoot College and where the concept of solar electrification first evolved. I’ll be posting it on my TEDUCATION site to sit alongside similarly inspirational and education-applicable TED Talks, with some of my own reflections soon.

*NB If you want to find out more about the evidence, research and education debate, I strongly suggest you sign up for The ResearchED 2013 Conference (@researchED2013) being organised by Tom Bennett and follow the twitter stream and fabulous blog posts that have been stimulated by the debate.

AND...There’s also the fabulous work of The Coalition for Evidence Based Education CEBE. They’re already set up to create one of the proposals that Ben Goldacre calls for…the equivalent of a ‘dating service’ to enable educators and researchers to develop projects together.  I’m saving specific references to it for another time, after some careful reflection (regular blog readers wouldn’t expect anything other than that from me, I am sure).

**I am probably biased here as this is one of my favourite philosophical approaches, the ‘via negativa‘, if you’re interested. It is always a fabulous stimulus for any ontological debates for the existence of…well, anything, really.

Learning with SOLE – take 20 minutes and watch this

Sugata Mitra gives his TED Prize Wish Talk

“Onstage at TED2013, Sugata Mitra makes his bold TED Prize wish: Help me design the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can explore and learn from each other — using resources and mentoring from the cloud. Hear his inspiring vision for Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE), and learn more at tedprize.org.”

(from www.TED.com)

My last post suggested that all educators have three duties:

  • To be curious: educators couldn’t do much more in fostering their curiosity than to subscribe to www.TED.com. If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know that I am always keen to recommend TED Talks and the TED sister sites such as TED-ED as a powerful repository of learning and resources. If you want to ease yourself in gently, have a look at www.teducation.com (which I am in the process of importing to WP) to find a selection of cracking Ted Talks with some of my own and guest-bloggers’ learning-focused reflections. If nothing else, they’re ready-made for INSET sessions and T&L groups to spark debate…
  • To share: once you’ve watched Sugata Mitra (@sugatam) explaining his Prize Wish, you could share the talk itself with a colleague or your team or you whole school. The next step would be to see if you could devise a SOLE project of your own, building on the principles of BROADBAND + COLLABORATION + ENCOURAGEMENT & ADMIRATION. There’s a SOLE Toolkit available to download that’s well worth a look
  • To acknowledge: tell others about ‘The School in the Clouds’, about SOLE and about TED Talks. Tell them by sharing informally, using an AOB at a team or staff meeting, asking people to join you to develop SOLE learning, leaving the SOLE Toolkit available for people to read / putting a copy in every pigeon hole, posting on the VLE…you get the drift. PLUS: as they ask on the TED site where get the toolkit from, sharing your feedback with them.

Over to you…

A Mēlée of Mistake Monsters

Risk-taking and Mistake-(Monster)-Making

In high quality learning environments, risk-taking and mistake-making go hand in hand. Establishing a learning community that is both safe and challenging represents a fascinating tension. We know that encouraging a risk-embracing culture in any organisation is critical to the effective growth of a productive community of learning. The challenge is to find ways to make it okay to take risks; where mistakes are welcomed as learning opportunities rather than failures. In practice, however, this presents us with complex tensions.

We need to explore those times when taking a risk may simply be recklessness. After all, to become an effective risk-taker, we need to employ sophisticated skills of discernment and analysis of the situation. We need to use our ability to think through the consequences of the potential outcomes but this is a tough call when we may be trying something entirely new and the possible outcomes are, by definition, unknown. That’s where we need to be clear about our intentions and expectations.

Similarly, making mistakes may or may not be the result of risk-taking. A mistake may simply be indicative of carelessness, lack of time or stress, rather than an overt effort to take a risk. For a mistake to be a learning opportunity, we need to be able to communicate what the expected intended outcome was going to be. This is particularly true for us when we find ourselves staring at the disastrous wreckage of our Great Plan. If we don’t know what we want to achieve, it is hard to know how we can learn much from it when it goes catastrophically wrong.

Is there any such thing as a mistake?

One of the first conversations worth having with groups involves interrogating what we actually consider to be:

(a) a risk

(b) a mistake

After all, one person’s risk is another person’s ‘piece of cake’. For one, working independently is a massive risk whereas for another, it is a dream to be able to work alone and develop ideas without having to defer to group consensus. We need to develop a shared understanding of the individual risk-parameters present in any group, whatever the age.

And what exactly do we consider to be a ‘mistake’? It is worth thinking about how many ‘mistakes’ have become ingenious discoveries. Take the humble yet powerful sticky note, as just one example. The result of ‘inventing’ a glue that didn’t stick very well is now at the top of the list of every stationery order in almost every business and school around the world. So how many mistakes can never really be considered to be anything other than a mistake, and, therefore, worthless? You could argue that every time we do something wrong, we actually get closer to doing what is right (or so St Thomas Aquinas would argue  with the ‘Via Negativa’ approach to learning)…so is there ever any such thing as a mistake?

There are some other questions worth consideration and that could form the basis of co-constructing a risk-taking culture where it is acceptable to make mistakes in lessons:

1. What is our PERCEPTION of risk?

Creating a continuum line of risk-taking is a helpful way of asking learners to assess what level of risk they are either (a) prepared to take in their learning and/or (b) have taken as part of their learning. Encouraging them to discuss what we actually mean and understand when we talk about taking a risk is integral to agreeing a set of qualities of risk taking behaviours that we would, as a group, either encourage or discourage.

Screen Shot 2013-02-10 at 12.51.46

(Painting excerpts from Edvard Munch)

This also works as a handy progress measure as the group can keep a record of the level of risk they are prepared to undertake over a period of lessons and try to increase it OR see if, by developing their levels of confidence, their perception of risk is reduced.

2. What is an ACCEPTABLE mistake?

Discussing examples and scenarios where making a mistake results in such catastrophic fall-out that it cannot, under any circumstances be ‘understood’ and, thereby, forgiven is a valuable aspect of developing a culture of risk-taking. For example, we have all experienced the highly developed, some might say over-developed, sense of justice that young people often hold. When it comes to confronting and commenting on mistakes during a self or peer assessment session, agreeing the expectations and etiquette of what actually constitutes a ‘mistake’ is a crucial part of ensuring purposeful comments and feedback.

3. What are the implications of encouraging an all-embracing mistake-making culture?

Aren’t there some situations where there really is a ‘right’ answer, a correct way of doing things which basically means that the time it takes to make a mistake is wasted time?

Well, perhaps the time-element is the crucial factor here. Perhaps if we respond to a wrong answer’ or a ‘mistake’ by simply stating that it is not right this time, then we can overtly communicate that this particular mistake does not represent the end of the world and doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to get it right or that you are rubbish at this and always will be. Instead, we can reassure that although this time, it’s not right, there’s a chance to learn from it, do it differently and get it right next time. This approach digresses slightly from the effort-focused conversations endorsed by Professor Carol Dweck in that it confronts and uses the mistake itself as the focus for the learning conversation. In this way, the inaccuracy, misconception or gap in knowledge and understanding that has lead to the mistake becomes the learning opportunity we want it to be.

4. Mistake response: What was your INTENTION?

In establishing a culture that embraces mistakes and expects risk, being both specific and overt (you would expect me to say that, I am sure) works well. Being overt about what we, as a group, understand and expect to see in an environment where learning stands proud and tall on the foundations of error, mistakes and misjudgements will enhance the quality of reflective learning conversations.

Perhaps the answer to all of this is to define mistakes as the product of intentional risk-taking i.e. ‘having a go’. This means that mistakes can simply become learnable moments. A bit (very much, actually) like all learning. This is a sort of silver-lining approach to thinking about mistakes. It also needs us to recognise that in the grand scheme of things, there is almost always something we can salvage from the embers of a ‘failed’ endeavour. If only to agree to never do it like that  again.

5. MAKE A MISTAKE MONSTER AND FEED IT!

The inspiration for this post came from a conversation I had recently where the concept of creating a ‘Mistake Monster’ or ‘Elephant of Errors’ was being discussed. A colleague had set a challenge to the students to actually design and create a personal mistake monster. During the term, they would ‘feed’ the monster with their mistakes. At the end of the term / unit / topic / lesson, the students can have a critique the mistakes they have made rather than discarding them. They would employ the pre-agreed criteria for what actually constituted a ‘mistake’. From this, there would be discussions and classifications of ‘good mistakes’ ‘helpful mistakes’ and so on, to the point where the process of learning (progress) was truly at the heart of the conversations between students and teachers.

As we discussed the possibilities of this, I started to imagine students and teachers creating their very own actual ‘Mistake Monsters’ and installing a ‘Mēlée of Mistake Monsters’ (for that is, I am sure, the collective noun of Mistake Monsters) as welcomed members of a risk-taking community of quality learning.Inevitably, this made me wonder what my own ‘Mistake Monster’ would:

(a) Need to Know and Understand

(b) Be Able to do

(c) Be Like

Mistake Monster