FutureSchools Review: Darren Mallett on Differentiation for Gifted Students and Dr. Janelle Wilson on Metacognition
"We have an overly crowded curriculum."
- Darren Mallett
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools was under a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
Following Blake Seufert's presentation, I switched across to the Special Needs and Inclusion conference stream to hear Darren Mallett speak under the title inclusion strategies for highly gifted students. Darren began by commenting that the current national testing regime and the associated pressures and demands for continuously improving results dictates that we teach somewhat to the test. This does not work for highly gifted students, Darren continued, as they become bored much quicker, retain information for longer and are often able to solve problems quicker. Highly (academically) gifted are often not sport-inclined and are regularly, according to Darren, the last students to be chosen in sporting teams.
Darren's research has been around the adapted mastery model and through that research he has found that for all the pre-assessment teachers conduct, ostensibly to determine students' current understanding prior to a topic, it is typically not acted upon, with no changes being made to pedagogy, content, or teaching focus.
Darren spoke about the need to engage with cross-curricula learning, as it is the only way to 'cover' content but that far too often, especially in secondary, the various key learning areas are taught in highly discrete ways, separate from other areas. The testing that is typically utilised in schools, whether it be end of unit, or more formal testing such as NAPLAN and HSC, often results in students freezing, especially when they a question worth big marks. They can, in an ordinary classroom context, answer the question very well demonstrating a solid conceptual understanding, however, the testing context does not work for these students.
That is all the tweets that have been captured by Storify yet I feel that there was more said by Darren. I would have liked to have heard more practical suggestions for strategies around including these students from Darren, or more information about the adapted mastery model and what it looks like when it is implemented well.
Following Darren's presentation, I moved back to the FutureLeaders stream to hear Dr. Janelle Wills, Director of The Marzano Institute speak about metacognition for leading and learning. She began with a story about her Aunty and how when she was growing up, all the gifts that her Aunty gave her were for her glory box. At the time, Janelle spoke about how said thank you for the gifts, but that she did not know or have a genuine understanding of the purpose and context; she was unable to consider the underlying purpose of the gift as the concept of a glory box either had not been explained to her or at the age she was when it was explained, it was too abstract.
Metacognition is the gift that keeps on giving, once we explicitly teach and model it. Janelle made this a very clear and important point in her presentation that was seeded throughout. It is also something that Janelle believes suffers from definitional issues and that carries a range of preconceptions for different people in different contexts. It is also suffers from not being contextualised for students, whom are often told it is thinking about thinking without going deeper into what that may look in various contexts and how it may be used beyond simply thinking about thinking.
Janelle defined metacognition as being about the self; a system of inter-related beliefs and judgements which influence our motivations and therefore our actions. Humans, according to Janelle, are driven by goals and a purpose, with metacognition being no different. Expanding on this point, we were reminded that there are many schools which mandate an explicit learning goal for each lesson. This is a seemingly strong position to take, rather intuitive, however, a learning intention needs to be linked to a purpose, to a why. Further to that, an individual needs to be aware of their own place in relation to the learning goal and to have strategies in place or available to them to assist them in reaching or achieving the learning.
This seems to be the heart, in my understanding, of what metacognition is really about. An awareness of self, of a goal and purpose for the goal, and awareness of available strategies to achieve the goal. This applies not only to explicit learning tasks such as learning a new skill or piece of knowledge, but also, I believe, to reflection on completed tasks and reflection on the self. Without an understood purpose, what is the purpose in the task?
Janelle related that our notion of 'self' is typically based upon three things; our hopes, our fears and our fantasies and that the relationship between how we embody and realise these three characteristics of self can point towards why things like makerfaire appeal to some people but chess, knitting, sport, or yoga appeal to others.
The challenge in life is in managing the difference between the tension and anxiety that can stem from the variation between the actual self and the desired self and this is where providing explicit teaching around how to engage with and use metacognition can help as it facilitate an awareness of the variation between real self and the desired self as well as potentially identifying strategies to bridge the gap. This flows onto engaging with appropriate learning tasks (or professional development opportunities for teachers) to bridge the gap between the desired self and the real self, increasing self-efficacy as success and growth is observed. This is important as Marzano identified an effect size of 0.82 relative to student performance (uncited).
Janelle spoke next about inspiration and that it is important yet often undervalued facet of education. Great teachers can inspire students and colleagues through their ability and willingness to look outside their own context and see what is possible. This includes within change management contexts, and she quoted Dr Jane Kise by saying that "there are no resistant teachers, just teachers whose needs in the change process have not been met." This sounds, on the surface, like something of a throwaway line, however, when considering it more carefully and various changes that have taken place in schools I have taught in thus far, I can see how the resistance, sometimes quite vocal and sometimes more passive, has been a case of the concerns and needs of those teachers not having been addressed to a degree that has alleviated their concerns and met their needs to understand how the change will impact them.
Janelle closed her session out by challenging the audience to consider their legacy. Who are we inspiring by our practice? What messages are we sending to our students and colleagues? I was very glad that I made it to Janelle's session. It was mentally stimulating and challenging with some very good points raised and judging by the buzz in the room and the activity on Twitter (it was one of the busier sessions in regards to the back channel) I was not the only one who thought so.
If you have missed any articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series, you can find them here.