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…

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…

Interested in MARGINAL LEARNING GAINS for Teaching and Learning?

Check our the dedicated blog for Marginal Learning Gains for Pedagogy..see tab above or copy this address into your browser:

www.marginallearninggains.com

…and previous posts on this blog

..and the Learning Goggles page has a downloadable PDF covering the underpinning thinking, beginnings and first FIVE Marginal Learning Gains posts.

Marginal Gains #5 pt1: High aspirations and expectant thinking

As I came back from London earlier this week, I reflected on the last remaining signs of the Olympics and Paralympics still in evidence around the city. I remembered the feelings I had experienced as the entire summer of sporting excitement had gained momentum starting with Wimbledon, The Tour De France, the Olympics, the Paralympics, The US Open and the Ryder Cup. I reflected on how the sense of hope that we shared grew into something new, as one outstanding sporting achievement after another hit the headlines. Hope morphed into expectancy. In particular, I started to wonder about the mindset of those performing.

How ‘hopeful’ was Dave Brailsford on the morning of the first leg of The Tour De France or on the morning of the first cycling competitions in London 2012? Did he hope that Bradley Wiggins would win or did he expect it? Did he hope that Team GB Cycling would reach their targets on the medal tables or did he expect it? More to the point, did he and his team communicate an expectation of success to the riders, or simply pat them on the back as they cruised to the start line and then say that they hoped they would win? This got me thinking about the relationship between thinking and speaking. The language in our heads and the language we use to communicate. There’s probably a heap of NLP stuff I should be reading up on about this, so I’ll add it to my list. For now, I’m just going to work this through here and see what you make of it. The question this raised for me was this:

How would our actions as educators change if we adopted a mindset and, therefore, a language of expectation rather than hope? And these musings led me to think about many conversations over the years with teachers during planning and reflective sessions…

Conversations in particular about how to incorporate and communicate high aspirations for learning in the design of lessons. Always, however, it has been incredibly difficult to unpick exactly what aspiration looks, sounds and feels like. Trying to actually establish an aspirational learning environment is dependent on knowing exactly what characterises it in the first place and then being able to design the environment according to those characteristics. We know that when we meet people who have high aspirations, we feel it, sense it and, therefore, we know it. They are inspirational and energising to be around. But replicating exactly what this ‘aspiration thing’ is so that we can both feel, communicate and teach for it through the learning we design is a massive challenge.

So here goes my attempt to give it a go. And as always, I begin with questions…

How do we establish a culture of aspirational learning through the language of learning that we think in and use?

What practical strategies do we need to implement in a culture of aspirational learning?

How can we deliberately develop learner aspirations through our teaching?

How do we know when it’s working?

Well, one thing I have been trying to do lately is be much more conscious about the language I think in. A tiny thing to try, hence it sits within our suite of potential marginal learning gains. I have had a go at removing the word hope from my language when I am thinking about and discussing learning intentions, objectives, success criteria and outcomes. Instead, I have tried to replace it with ‘expectation’. Admittedly, this feels a little uncomfortable. It puts you on the line and suggests a certainty in what you are intending to happen. But I wonder if it is a case of ‘fake it ’till you make it’? If we think in terms of high aspiration and use words that reflect an expectation that something will happen, then maybe that’s worth trying?

Whenever Year 10 and Year 12 students embarked on their courses, fresh new exercise books at the ready, I used to say to them that that they should get to a point during the course when they couldn’t wait for the exam itself to happen. I told them that they should feel excited and energised about it as opposed to dreading it and fearing what was about to happen. They always looked at me quizzically at this point (well, they did so most of the time, to be fair) but I would reassure them that if they knew and understood everything that we were about to cover and could articulate their thinking, ideas and arguments with confidence, then there would be nothing to fear when it came to the examination itself. In fact, they would see it as an opportunity to show off their immense knowledge, skill and understanding and hence be fidgeting with excitement at what they were about to encounter.

In thinking and talking in highly aspirational ways and trying really hard to avoid using the word ‘hope’ and with it, ‘might’ and ‘should’, I am in no ways advocating ‘hopeless‘ teaching or, indeed, a strict, no-compromise rigid and inflexible all-or-nothing succeed-or-fail approach to teaching and learning. Far from it, so please bear with me as I think this is where our marginal learning gains will come to the rescue…

Marginal learning gain: The language of expectation frames our thinking.

Often, when planning lessons together, teachers state that they hope that the students will get to the (x) task. When reflecting on lessons, teachers often say that they had hoped that the group would have achieved (x). But I wonder what might change if instead of hoping, we very deliberately thought about expecting the learning we intend/plan for to happen? What effect would that have on:

(a) How we plan and select learning activities

(b) How we deliver and structure learning

(c) How we communicate our expectations to learners

What if we thought in terms of expectation and then overtly communicated this through the language we use, as opposed to hope/ might/ could SO THAT we can create a ‘culture of expectation’ and foster a sense of agency for all our learners?

I’m still working on this, so I would really appreciate any feedback on this if you want to give it a go. There’s another post to follow, where I will share with you what happened when I noted how thinking in expectations directly informed the structuring of learning.

Marginal Gains: “SO THAT” we can squeeze the learning out of LOs (Part 2)

In my commitment to refining and developing my thinking as a reflective practitioner, here’s a couple of additions to the previous post as a result of Tweacher feedback:

@charte shared some learning from Cramlington, where, “…LOs were usually stated as Content…Process…Benefit which I found helpful!”

And @rachaelkp who tweeted,  “..interesting and useful, could be followed by a question to take learner to next LO?” followed by, “…it also puts the learner in the driving seat, great for motivation.”

Which made me think of this as a type of LO equation, which is great for showing progress over time…

[Today’s LO] SO THAT [next lesson’s LO]

or for links to the wider world or longer term

[Today’s Learning] SO THAT [BIG PICTURE OUTCOME: “You understand/ make informed choices/ contribute to…”]

or for connections to a specific skill…

[Today’s learning] SO THAT [application of skill: “You can…”]

or for a differentiated outcome

[Today’s learning] SO THAT [all can…] [some can…] [most can…]

I’m sure there’s much more in this and I hope you understand that this blog post is my attempt to test out and share my thinking. But it seems that if we dissect the LO so we think about it in terms of exactly why and how the learning will result in the intended outcome, “Learning = Outcome”  then we have a chance to be explicit and concrete about why ‘learning this‘ or ‘learning in this way‘ or even why ‘learning this right now‘ is important, relevant and meaningful. I also really like the Cramlington approach tweeted by Chris Harte which puts the process of learning into the equation.

If students can take the opportunity to reflect for themselves why they think they are ‘learning this’, ‘learning in this way’ and ‘learning this right now’ then they’ll be able to give us some invaluable feedback about the level and security of the understanding they have about their learning which we can then use to inform our teaching adaptations.

If there’s a way to really use LOs to drive the learning and work for us, then I reckon that it could well be yet another marginal gain well worth aggregating.