Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Agency Kickers

Attitudes and values: How can we explicitly develop these? 

Amesbury School's 'Insider Learning Model' explaining learner habits.

Learner Habits at Amesbury School:

"I accept that interruptions can occur and flexibly get back on track again. I can share my time with others if needed, but still get all I need to do done."

"I am inspiring for others and seek to help others along their learning journey."

"I know that failure brings success.  I learn from my mistakes and know that I can overcome them."

"I can take a range of roles in a group depending on what needs to be done." (Ooo, I like this one!)

"I actively seek challenges because I know they will push me to 'raise the bar.'"

"I reflect deeply on my learning and goals, and make changes based on those reflections."

"I can put myself in the problem space purposefully because I know that is where good learning comes from.  I have strategies to then work through the messiness into clarity."

Related Links

Amesbury School. - School Website
Learner Habits - Russell Street School

Leading me through my thinking in this blog post is this epic album! I received a facebook notification the other day saying that The Chili's released this cracker album on that day in 1991! Wow!  

So how do teachers help to develop self-agency attitudes and values?

To me, the above statements (@AmesburySch) are some big kickers for learner agency. They're like, smack-in-the-face-I-am-a-self-agent-learner, or #smackinthefaceIamaselfagentlearner. Some students take to this style of learning like a duck to water.  However, others take a lot more coaching to get there.

So what makes the difference here with these types of learners?

When I first started teaching (coming up like 9 years ago), I had the mentality that I was supposed to know all the answers and ask all the questions. Well, I didn't. Therefore, I had to go through this "fake it 'til you make it" stage. Haha, you're laughing because it happened to you too!  3 years at Massey University College of Education and I was still scared s***less!  

My point is, is that even in that teacher-directed environment, the good kids were the ones who could sit still on the mat, listen, follow instructions, know what to do when they'd finished etc.  I would call them "amazing learners".  They would smile and carry on with their learning feeling happy...  In our MLE at Russell Street School, it is these same types of learners that are thriving at being self-agent learners.  They thrive because they are motivated by the teachers expectations.  Show them the bar and they rise to it every time. So is it the pedagogy?  Or the type of learner personality?

What about the other kids?  You know the ones! The unmotivated. The task-avoiders. The distracters. The can't-do-anything-independently kids. They require, extra coaching, extra explaining, extra support, an extra reminder, another extra reminder, an extra push in the right direction.  And that's what it's all about isn't it?

Going back to my initial question (sorry for rambling... there you go, I'm still doing it) one of the attitudes we chose to explore and explicitly teach is "The Learning Pit".  We first were introduced to the learning pit by @StonefieldsSch.  I thought it was awesome and I couldn't wait to get into it. We planned a series of different tasks for the children to complete. Each task had a choice; an easy task or a challenging task. The children had to make a choice of what to complete and stick with it before the timer started. Some of the tasks were to write the alphabet down forwards or backwards, write a sentence with your dominant hand or your non-dominant hand, catch a ball standing up or lying on your back etc.

Unpacking the results was fascinating.  Some only chose the easy tasks, some only the hard ones, some a blend of both. Check out Emma's explanation of her Learning Pit sample:


Self-reflection to help enlighten children is being introduced into classrooms worldwide

There are two jobs that have become a lot more difficult in recent years. One is being a teacher, which was never easy at the best of times. But in an age of virtually unlimited opportunities for distraction and shrinking attention spans, getting kids to focus on their schoolwork can be (with apologies to dentists) like pulling teeth.
I know: as a former school aide working with young children in inner-city schools, it was often all that I could manage just to break up fights and keep the decibel level below that of an international airport. Any learning that took place in such an environment was a small miracle.
The other job that has become harder nowadays, of course, is being a student. Believe me, I sympathise with their plight, too! Today’s kids are weaned on electronic devices to move between one website, text message, or video game and the next at lightning speed. Where does a child learn how to direct their attention to just one maths problem or reading assignment when there are so many distractions a click away?
Yet recently I watched a movie that gave me hope. Room to Breathe by director Russell Long was filmed in a public school in San Francisco. The Marina Middle School with 900 students is one of the largest in the bay area, and it has the dubious distinction of having the highest suspension rate in the city.
We see why in the opening shots – pencil-throwing kids, schoolyard squabbles and frenetic hallways. Children fail, we are told by guidance counsellor Ling Busche, not because they are stupid, but because they are unable to focus: ”There is this sense of nonstop entertainment and whatever is happening in the lesson often becomes secondary.”
So it is surprising, given this chaotic atmosphere, that Mr Ehnle’s home room has been chosen for an innovative new program in self-reflection called ”mindfulness”.
Actually mindfulness is not ”new” at all. It originated more than 2000 years ago in the monasteries of south Asia. This form of bare-bones meditation, in which attention is focused on bodily sensations, is now being introduced to classrooms from San Francisco to Sydney and scores of other cities worldwide, less as a path towards enlightenment than a practical method to help kids settle down and learn.
The idea, according to Megan Cowan, the instructor from the group Mindful Schools who worked with Ehnle’s class, is to give students ”tools and skills” to tame the disorder within their own minds.
A tall order, as Cowan herself discovers when her efforts to get the kids to sit still and focus on their breath are greeted with wisecracks and expressions of boredom. She wants to move these disruptive ones out of the classroom for the duration of the mindfulness exercises, but the assistant principal reminds her that in public education nobody is excluded.
So Cowan soldiers on with the full class and, surprisingly, by the end of the film some of her ”toughest cases” have come to value what these simple techniques offer them.
Where does a child learn how to direct their attention to just one maths problem or reading assignment when there are so many distractions a click away?
For example, Omar, whose older brother has been killed in gang violence, testifies that mindfulness has taught him to step back from potential fight situations without reacting. Jacqueline’s mother says on camera that her daughter has become more respectful of others and now gets better grades. And Gerardo, an aspiring artist, says that mindfulness helps him to concentrate better when he paints and draws.
These modest ”success stories” are backed up by a growing body of research.
In one of the largest studies to date, 2nd and 3rd graders attending an inner-city school experienced significant improvements in concentration, academic performance and social skills, which were sustained more than three months after the end of their mindfulness program.
Research has also shown that exercises such as listening to ambient sounds and focusing attention on breathing have a profound effect on human physiology, slowing respiration lowering blood pressure levels and reducing harmful levels of stress. The practice is not a panacea. Clearly lots of kids need more than a few quiet moments in their day to calm them down.
But for many who took part in the training at Marina Middle School it was a revelation. It showed the teens for the first time that they need not be puppets dangling on the strings of their own overactive minds. On the contrary, they can make choices about how to direct their thoughts and respond to their own emotions.
This is something that adults also need to learn. Mindfulness programs are increasingly being introduced into hospitals, drug treatment programs and even corporate boardrooms across the nation.
”Mindfulness does not make problems go away,” says Megan Cowan. ”But the way that you are meeting your experiences changes to allow more lightness and happiness.”
And kids who are calm and happy are disproportionately the ones who succeed at school.
Let’s hope that mindfulness training spreads to more of our nation’s embattled schools, where teachers and students alike can use all the help they can get.
This article appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald on October 12 2012 and was written by Richard Schiffman.
About Richard Schiffman

Monday, September 29, 2014

Term 3 Reflection: Developing Self-Agency

Term 3 has been a hugely successful term for Poutama.  Teaching and learning has really stepped to the fore as we have settled down into a great routine.  I am so proud to be part of this team! 

Wow, it has been a very busy term; Ki-o-Rahi Tournament, Winter Tournament, School Visits, Trip to Amesbury, Jugyou Kenkyuu, Mathex Competition, Northern Cluster Arts Festival, DanceNZ Made, Cup Cake Day, Book Character Dress Up Day, Presentation about Twitter @ , Parent Evening, Inquiry Sharing... Wow!  Us teachers are crazy!! It's all good though, one of these learning opportunities could be the spark that ignites a passion with one of our learners.

We are still continuing to develop "Self-Agency" (see here for a description) in Poutama and one of the major developments we have introduced is the "Learn It, Practice It, Prove It" model. We wanted our kids to make decisions about their learning based on their needs.  We introduced this to trial for our maths program:

Firstly, we had a pre-test to find out what our learners knew about fractions.  Then they put their 'basketball' onto the goal that they needed to work on. From there, learners chose workshops based on their goal and their needs.   We set up practice activities for each goal. Then we created a planning sheet where students would jot down practice activities they completed or learn it workshops they attended.  Finally, children would book in to see a roving teacher and prove that they know their goal.  If successful, the adult would sign off their goal and you go back to the beginning for the next goal. The model was hugely successful!

Check out Aye's explanation of how it works:

Now it's the first day of the holidays and we were back at school finalising our #ulearn14 presentation and implementing a similar "Learn It, Practice It, Prove It" model with writing.  Oh the possibilities!