Friday, 31 May 2013

Learning Intentions

I have been thinking a lot about Isaac's Tuesday morning presentation on learning intentions, and in particular on making the learning intentions explicit for the students at the beginning of every period.
Isaac made some comments that are worth keeping in mind.
1) When he was told he HAD to have the learning intentions written up for the students to see, he did his best but did not see much purpose to them.
2) It wasn't till he grasped hold of the idea for himself, read Hattie's research "Visible Learning", did some serious research on what the intentions should look like, that he actually started to see the value.
3) Even when he could see the value it still took him another 6 months of practice to actually reap the benefits with his students.
The value for him now is that -
1) The explicit learning intentions give him a clear direction for his planning.
2) They direct the feedback he gives to students.
3) They give the students a clear sense of purpose for the lesson.

There are a great many lessons we can draw from this but one thing is for sure  -- learning does not happen by chance. It happens with 'intentional' teaching.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

You are so wise !

I was chatting to a group of students yesterday and the conversation made me laugh. Our quote "It's not if you are bright it's how you are bright" came up. One young woman said "I LOVE that quote . It's going to be my quote till I die." Another young woman looked a bit shamefaced and she said "I was with a group of my friends and we were talking about all the bright kids so I said 'It's not if you are bright it's how you are bright." She said the whole conversation stopped and one of her friends said "Oh you are SO wise !!!!" She said "I didn't even say that I hadn't just thought of it."
The reason I laughed is because I 've been to a conference where the quote was put up and it had my name under it. Like this young woman I didn't own up either. I think, like her I just wanted everyone to think that I was wise.
Actually we got the quote from Jane Gilbert's book and I'm sure she got it from Howard Gardiner. In the end who cares - we have all said it and it belongs to all of us and what's more if we really believed it and acted on it our schools would be very different.
It's a very cool saying and the kids love it. We are all wise.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Who is the teacher ?

Currently the students are presenting their impact projects to their communities. Yesterday I sat in on one community and I was fascinated again by the way students learn in this technological age.

Jonah is studying sculpture. He said "Because I am an artist I want to learn as many skills as I can" - His project is called BUSTING CAESAR. He got the idea for making a bust of Caesar from his classics teacher. (He joked that he had considered busting the principal - thought it would be cool to have the bust at the top of the stairs where the students come in -mmmm the kids laughed with gusto - not me however - the horror of it !!!!!!) He has used videos off YouTube to teach himself. He said he likes the pace of the videos and the fact that he can go back over and over the instructions until he gets it right. He has teacher mentors and he has valued the input that the teachers have had but his main learning has come from the videos. An issue for him was the hair - he could find nothing on YouTube about how to make the hair so he had to improvise. He is very pleased with his result. I asked him whether he would enter his work for NCEA credits. He was emphatic in his reply - this was about learning for himself - he is already getting enough credits elsewhere. The final comment of his presentation was "I have achieved a lot more than I expected of myself ".

Kenneth, a year 11 student says he LOVES making films and it is what he does in his spare time. The impact project is a dream for him because he can do what he loves all day. He is into 3D animation. He learns online how to use programmes. The first one he tried he found in the end was too difficult for him so he went searching and found one that was easy for him to manipulate. He has ended up with a 3minute, 35second film which he says he is very satisfied with . He says the video is smooth and the colour flawless. He is very excited about the next project because he won't be wasting time looking for the right programme and he is ready to complete the movie he has started. He likes the tutorials on line because he can go at his own pace.

Queenie and Anneke are choreographing CABARET. This is a different genre for them from the last year show and they have had to come to terms with the style of burlesque. They said it had been pretty easy because they just googled it and they had been able to watch heaps of dances on YouTube that they could get ideas from.They said that so far they have choreographed eight dances and they have found the best way to teach the dances is to record themselves doing the dances and making the video available for all the students. They expect when the students come to the rehearsals that they have a pretty good idea of how the routines go.

What a fabulous world we live in !!!! Learning can be done in so many exciting and engaging ways.

All this confirms for me that for us to be truly a 21st century school we must provide space and opportunity for students to learn without the restrictions of the teachers, the curriculum and the assessment.

Drama Design for Impact Project

It's Wednesday again - an opportunity to talk with students about their impact projects. Today I spoke with Sarah, Tara and Sam who are producing a working set for the cast and crew of CABARET. They talked of their pride in achieving something that had such an obvious impact. Last year they designed the set for RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET, and they chuckled when they described how much more organised and well prepared they were this year. They knew exactly what to expect and were able to mitigate against potential disasters. It was their reflection on last year that supported their success this year. For example this year they have spent a lot more time reading through the play and working out the transitions. Sarah said she had spent two whole Wednesdays doing that and how hugely important that was in getting the stage work exactly right.
They are also very aware this year of sustainability. They are thinking hard about how they can use what they are preparing for this production for the next production - SWEENY TODD --AND they are keeping records to make it easier for students who pick up the project next year.
When I asked about what they had learnt for their future all three were quick to talk about the value of their learning about working in a team. They know they have different strengths - Sarah is the organiser, she HAS to have all the paper work exactly right - she is the paperwork queen. Tara is into the construction and design - she is delighted to have Sarah managing the paperwork. Sam is mainly interested in the design and like Tara is very happy that Sarah is taking care of the stuff he has no interest in. They have learnt the value of playing to everyone's strengths. They know when to lead and when to follow. They are happy to challenge each other and through the challenge their personal relationships have become stronger. They are excited about how the experience has increased their self confidence. A big challenge is having to renegotiate when a design that they have come up with does not work and getting feedback that they have to work with. They can see that all these experiences have given them confidence in dealing with people who do not always agree with them. ( They don't know it but they are talking about the KEY COMPETENCIES ).
Sarah, Sam and Tara are very, very excited that they have had this opportunity and I am delighted for them. The students shared their tumblr account with me so I could see exactly what they have been working on and I think it is worth sharing with you. Just click here to see the progress of these very professional set designers

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Teaching IS inquiry.

Our teachers have just presented the first round of their professional inquiries. In their inquiries they take the time to talk with a selection of their students who have not achieved and work with the students to come up with an intervention that will work. How times have changed.
I remember in my first year of teaching in Rotorua. I had a year 11 class ( the fifth form then ).
At the mid year exams which were a practice for School Certificate at the end of the year my top student gained 82% and my bottom student gained 27%. I carried on teaching till the end of the year and lo and behold in the actual exam the marks were identical - 82% at the top, 27% at the bottom. I clearly remember my HOD calling me up and saying to me that I was obviously very good at marking because I had got the marks exactly right at the half way mark. I believed for quite some time that that was true. I was a very good marker. Dear me ! What he should have said was " Good God woman you might just as well have stayed home for six months- you have not made a blind bit of difference for either of these students."

It's no longer good enough to ignore the data that is in front of you. Teaching IS inquiry - As a teacher you have a duty to find success for every student and to always check with the students why it is that what you taught they did not learn, to find out from them what it is that they need from you in order to find the success that they are owed.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Why ChallengeED ?

In New Zealand, principals go to conferences and DPs go to conferences but there is no conference where the full senior leadership team can go together. What we have done three times now is go together to the ACEL conferences in Australia. ChallengED aims to fill the gap in New Zealand.

Vivianne Robinson in Student Centred Leadership says this:
  "I was asked if the five dimensions would be a good framework for evaluating principals. I replied that I would prefer they were used to evaluate the strength of leadership across the school and in particular departments or units. The scope of the work is too great and the expertise required too broad to reasonably expect a single leader to demonstrate high or even moderate levels of competence in all five dimensions."

It makes sense to have an organisation where a whole senior leadership team can gather together to discuss and share and have conversations that matter with other senior leadership teams.

 1) There is outstanding research in New Zealand on leadership. Obviously the Best Evidence Synthesis stands at the top. As senior leadership teams we need the time and space to discuss the five dimensions of leadership that have the most effect on students outcomes. How do we clear the decks so that "Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development " which has double the effect size of any other dimension becomes what we spend most of our time on ? It is not easy. What is easier is to have a quick read and then file away the document because it all just seems too hard. And it is too hard if we as principals see it as our lone task. ChallengED will give us that space to talk with each other and our colleagues about how we make it work. We all want the best there is no doubt about that but how do we do it ?

2) There is also a mountain of research on learning in this century - the huge impact that the internet is having on the role of the teacher. Students no longer need teachers to provide them with information - they have all the information they need right there on those cellphones that drive us bananas. How do we harness the technology in a way that engages, excites and supports our students? At ChallengED we can share what we have learnt works and use that knowledge to develop great practice in our own schools.

3) We need the opportunity and space to act as leaders of education in New Zealand. Right now charter schools are being promoted, and the review of the Teachers' Council is underway. We need to have an informed view on these issues and any other issue that is being promoted politically. How often do we, on our own, respond?  ChallengED gives us the opportunity to have a collective voice, a voice that represents a wide group of informed leaders.

ChallengED will give us the opportunity to challenge the way we do things in a supportive and challenging environment.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

It's what we do

I had a very heartwarming discussion with two of our head students today. The students are planning a day which they have called Young Leaders' Voice @ASHS where they are inviting head students from a group of Auckland schools to come and discuss issues that are important for them. Nicky Kaye will be the guest speaker. (Nicky is the new second Minister of Education in new Zealand.) We were discussing how the day would go and who would do the introductions etc etc. One of the students said  "When we welcome everyone here we need to speak in Maori first " - I was quite taken aback - it is usually me who suggests that. Before I could answer the other student said "Yes we do , we need to show the other students that that is the way we do things around here."
 How cool is that ! And yes it is the way we do things around here.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Wacky PD

I have been reading a great deal lately about PD for teachers that is the most likely to lead to improved student outcomes. All of them are very clear that one off PD days for an individual teacher serve no purpose whatsoever. Gosh I remember the days. They were so exciting. It meant a day off from teaching where you could meet up with all your mates, the food was always great and you could have a good moan about everything that was wrong with the world. Student outcomes did not feature at all. I have no recollection of ever discussing student outcomes.
Perhaps my most bizarre was a writing course with a woman called Mona (I can't remember her surname). She was an expert on teaching personal writing. So there we were on our day off ready to learn about how to get our students to feel more comfortable writing a story from personal experience. She asked us to sit on the floor facing the wall. We had to think of a story and then tell it out loud to the wall. We all did exactly that. At the time when we were all teachers together it seemed reasonable even if somewhat strange. I couldn't wait to try it with my Year 12 class with whom I was doing a writing unit. I organised the room and when the students came in I explained the process to them. The students were compliant and down they sat facing the wall. All seemed to be going well until a young woman called Claire suddenly rolled back and cried out, "Ms Cavanagh, this is ridiculous, this time you have gone too far !!! " The other students all chimed in with great whoops of laughter "We're not doing it! " they chorused. To be honest I was a bit taken aback to start with but I could see their point. I just wished I had seen the point a bit earlier.
Not all the days were as crazy as that but a lot came close. They were certainly fun but they bore no connection at all to raising achievement for the students sitting in front of us.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Charter Schools? Why not?

I have just listened to two TED talks - one by Geoffrey Canada and one by Bill Gates. Both these educators have set up charter schools in the States and both have had huge success. Geoffrey Canada talks about the school he went to himself that had a 48% failure rate and now so many years later still has a 48% failure rate. Bill Gates talks about feedback for teachers and that the only way to improve teaching is by making the feedback more sophisticated than just 'satisfactory' or 'not'. None of this is rocket science but the point I would like to make is that as a schooling system in New Zealand we are not catering for 1 in 5 of our students. The PISA results are very clear about that. If we carry on doing what we are doing, then for sure we will be having the same conversations in 5 years, 10 years and 20 years. Why not try charter schools ? They don't have to be "bad' schools - maybe we could see it as an opportunity to model some excellent and effective practice for our 1 in 5 students. Let's set up 'great' charter schools. There's enough high quality research in New Zealand to guide us. It could quite possibly be the best solution.

Friday, 10 May 2013

It's not like a school

I was talking yesterday with a young man who has been in the school only three days.I wanted to check with him how he was settling in. It was great to see him so excited. His big thing is music and he had already sussed out the potential for himself of impact projects. On Wednesday he had met with the itinerant music teacher who will be his mentor and he had decided on a project in which he will compose his own songs and then design a cover for an album. He knows he will need support for both but he is very confident about achieving both tasks to industry standard.
"This is just so amazing, "he said." It's not like a school - it's just like a place you come to learn stuff."
Obviously for him there is a difference between the two - a school and a place you come to learn stuff.
For me the pleasure is that this was the dream - a place that kids would be excited by.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

In Other Words - by Glenn Colquhoun

I read this poem today in INGENIO, the university of Auckland Alumni Magazine.

In Other Words

In other words
a poem is a way
of knowing you are alive
as shocking as fish leaping out of deep
as sharp as
light stabbing
through a row of trees,
as bold as
opening up your eyes during prayer
as simple as
lying awake in the middle of the night
listening to the sound od people snoring.
Every minute
of every day
of every life
is a full library.
        Glenn Colquhoun

I Love the idea of every minute being a full library. It's just cool.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

We banned cellphones - we did what ?

I received feedback today about my graduation speech from a young woman who is teacher training. She was particularly inspired by my comments about the use of technology in schools. It reminded me of comments I heard at a principals' conference a few years back. It was at a time when we really thought we had to ban cellphones and there was huge pressure about it.
One principal boasted that he had taken a cellphone into an assembly and placed in on a stool. He told the students to watch closely and with a great flourish he picked up a sledgehammer and slammed it down on the cellphone, smashing it to bits. Obviously  there was a shocked gasp from the student body. "That," he said in his stern principal's voice, "is what I will do to your cellphone if I EVER see it at school."
Another principal followed up with his story. He told us with great relish how he had taken a bucket of water in to assembly, held a cellphone over the bucket and said "this is what I will do to your cellphone if I ever see it at school"and with that he dropped it with flourish into the water. Of course, there was an equal gasp of horror from the students.
It really is pretty funny because it won't be long before all of us will look back in horror and say -- We did what ?????