"Friends and colleagues are very sustaining. They're the people who get you through it... It's no good to be on your own."
- Attributed to Dame Judi Dench
When has a lesson you've planned out not worked? Did you scrap it midway through or persevere? How did you move past that moment of failure in practice? What was your learning?
My regular readers would be aware that this year I am working in a team teaching context. Four weeks in and I have to say that it is working out fantastically well. On a daily basis I am learning new strategies for different needs; negotiating with challenging students, getting alongside students with low self-efficacy to build them to undertake the learning task without doing the task for them, different strategies for whole-class reading, strategies for managing assessment of learning and using it as data for the next phase of learning and am very slowly building my own self-efficacy as a Stage One teacher.
It is a completely different world to Stage Three. The strategies are different, the questions you ask and the questions you answer are different. The learning tasks are different.
Yesterday I was leading a whole class maths lesson focusing on place value. It seemed to go well to start with, but when we got to the guided learning part, it fell apart a little. I think where I went wrong was that I brought in the the number zero and started including that in our discussion (it had been our focus in the previous) and I think that it confused students as from their perspective it seemed like I had changed topic. I had been asking questions such as if i have 421 sheep, how do I write that number? We were talking about the need to write 421 rather than 400201 or 40021 etc. When I brought in zero it was on the back of if I have 100 sheep why do I write 100 and not just 1? which generated some very productive discussion about why zero is important as a digit.
The next task was where I got things wrong. I split the class into three groups and asked them to use their bodies to represent the three place values we were working with for various numbers (hundreds, tens, unit). I.e. I gave them 342 as a starting number, modelling this with one group, and asked for three people to stand together to represent the hundreds, four to represent the tens and two to represent the units. They struggled to get past the hundreds as they each wanted to form that group, then they each wanted to form the tens group. We got through one number successfully, eventually, and then tried it as a class. It did not work. I pulled them all back in as a single group and we moved on to a different activity.
I asked my colleague afterwards if it made sense what I was trying to achieve, and he said he could see exactly what I was trying to do but that it was perhaps a little too abstract for this particular age group. It may have worked with Stage Two students, or if it was just a group of Year Two students, but not with this particular cohort.
It was a valuable lesson in reminding me that I need to spend more time thinking activities all the way from through from start to finish and consider ways to bring it back to the focus if things start to go off the rails to ensure that the students are achieving the lesson focus. It was also a reminder of how valuable having a colleague in the room can be to not only remind you that are a capable teacher after failed lessons, but to pick up on questions or ideas that you have missed or forgotten or to help manage a small group of students who need additional support.
Education Nation | Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson - Encouraging students to become active participants in their learning
“We need to till and fertilise the soil before we can harvest the growth in our classroom.”
– Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson
Peter Mader’s session led into lunch (which was fantastic), after which I headed off to The Learner to hear from Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson (@prue_g and @ed_cuthbertson) about how to encourage students to become active participants in their own learning. It promised to be an interesting session, which was unfortunately poorly attended, but from which I learned a lot. Prue and Ed have kindly made their slide deck available and you can find it here.
They began by providing some context for the audience, indicating that they came from a low socioeconomic status (SES) area called Conder in the ACT. They qualified it by saying that low SES in the ACT is not the same as low SES in NSW or other states, but that they are, relatively speaking, disadvantaged and isolated from the rest of the region. They added that they have both been in the school, together, for some years, which is actually an unusual situation. Apparently the ACT used to have a policy in place to ensure cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices that a teacher moved to a new school every two years. The unintended consequence of this was that staffing in the school was fluid and there was constant change, resulting in it beign very difficult to build or change school culture. The practice has, thankfully, fallen by the wayside and has resulted in vastly improved relationships between staff members and between staff and students
We began by considering that we cannot empower students when teachers are not themselves empowered and were asked to consider and map on a Cartesian Plane, school practices that were low or high quality and were empowering or disempowering for teachers.
The audience spent time collaboratively filling in their own Cartesian planes and then came back together and shared the ideas. They related to us, as they added groups ideas to the plane, that they were shown this tool by Dan Meyer and that it provided a usable tool for helping a school move from across the plane to the top right-hand quadrant.
They explored the idea that it was impossible to teach the curriculum if a teacher too busy managing behaviour issues and how teachers need to sit down at the same level as students as part of the behaviour management process, conferencing with them to discuss the root cause of the behaviour. This goes back to the theory that all behaviour has a reason or purpose behind it. The school began using the mini-conference process as a way of addressing behaviour issues constructively and that as it gained traction and acceptance from teachers, students and parents, that they were then able to use it not only to assist in resolving teacher:student issues but also in resolving teacher:teacher and student:student issues.
The school invested time in helping staff develop their professional development plans (PDPs), identifying development opportunities that met both staff and school needs and used action research to gather data on what practices were and were not working and to be able to determine the level of impact that practices were having using data.
They spoke about the need to value the passion and knowledge of teachers and to invest in and then leverage that, compromising as needed logistically. The example they gave was that a science teacher wanted to run a particular program and had built up the interest in science to the point where students wanted to engage in that program. The school leadership was able to recognise the passion and knowledge of that teacher and gave the go-ahead for the program, with a quid-pro-quo of taking on an additional class.
The school also uses collaboratively teaching and have placed all Year Seven mathematics classes on the same line, allowing for team teaching, planning, programming, and assessing.
Another aspect of the school which I believe is fantastic is that every teacher in the school, including the Assistant Principals and the Deputy Principal, are expected to observe and provide feedback to two other teachers, as well be observed and given feedback about their own teaching practice. I have heard this concept given many names, but the underlying spirit is brilliant and promotes growth, learning, and best-practice and that it has resulted in significant growth throughout the entire teaching staff.
The school has also worked hard to remove useless and wasteful staff meetings consisting of items that belong in an e-mail. They map out the agendas for staff meetings for the full year and make them visible to the entire staff, creating an environment where e-mail meetings are reduced and promoting genuine discussion and debate on substantive issues. One of the issues examined was the use of funding and the recognition that data and accountability for the use of funding go hand in hand. To this end, funding began to be targeted to specific purposes and programs, which needed to be evaluated and the data used to determine success and the impact thereof through action research. One outcome of this was that the way rubrics were used to judge assessment tasks was changed. They are now structured and given to students indicating that by the end of the unit they need to be able to answer specific in-depth questions, rather than simply writing a report that uses a few keywords.
In order to improve the level of teacher wellbeing, the school instituted a family week wherein staff are encouraged to not arrive at school prior to 0800 and to not be on premises after 1530. In addition to this, once a week, each subject block (the school is grouped into three cross-faculty blocks) has a staff lunch. During that staff lunch, which is cooked by the staff specifically to share with each other, students are not allowed to go to that staffroom and all playground duties are taken care of by the other two faculty-blocks. I have written previously about the benefits of sharing a meal with colleagues, and they have held consistently for Lanyon High School staff.
One area that was identified as needing improvement was in collaboration with other schools. To this end, a learning community was established with nearby primary and secondary schools. As part of this, joint assemblies are held on a regular, but not interferingly regular, basis so that when students transition from primary to secondary, the school they attend is already relatively familiar due to the community environment that has been established.
At this point, we were asked to consider what an empowered student looked like and in our table groups, discussed and explored this with some consistent themes emerging in the room.
Prue and Ed also noted that if it is easy to measure, then it is probably not worth measuring, which led to a discussion about how do we measure if our students are empowered. Some tools that they use as a school include attendance rates, especially for those with historically low attendance as well as reading student reflection journals.
The discussion then moved onto an explanation of the merit and reward system that was being used across the school and that while it was working well and having positive effects, there was an awareness of Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards theory and the negative potential of extrinsic motivation. There was a discussion of the fact that some schools physically cannot get through the whole curriculum and that one way they were working through that issue was to utilise the learning by design methodology in their planning and programming, as well as peer feedback on practice.
They discovered that students were working on assignments outside of school hours, collaboratively, and diving into deep discussions on concepts that were being covered in class.
We are often told, as educators, that we need to leverage a student’s interest and teach to it. However, Prue and Ed argued that if a student likes bikes, do not give him a book about bikes and teach everything through bikes as that will only destroy the love of bikes. It is also, they said, our job to expose students to other ideas, concepts, and interests rather than allow them to become single-minded about something.
Closing out, Prue and Ed spoke to us briefly about the Giving Project they run through Years Seven, Eight and Nine, the use of a genuine student parliament which has input in the school and issues that affect students, and the last comment was from Prue; “that what works is not the right question. What works somewhere does not work everywhere.”
I enjoyed the session with Prue and Ed, their passion shone through and we heard some interesting ideas about engaging students in their own learning, stemming from a focus on improved school culture. The session was not well attended, I thought and did them a disservice, however, their enthusiasm was infectious and they engaged the audience well.
As always, thank you for reading. If you have missed the other articles in this Education Nation series, you can fidn the full list here.
“Recognizing George Miller’s information processing research showing that short-term memory is limited in the number of elements it can contain simultaneously, Sweller builds a theory that treats schemas, or combinations of elements, as the cognitive structures that make up an individual’s knowledge base.”
– Sweller, J. 1988.
As you read through today’s article, I would like you to consider how you go about teaching multiplication and the times tables to students as that is the focus of today’s article. I am basing on my post today on my (admittedly limited) understanding of cognitive load theory (CLT) from my recollections of the educational psychology course that was part of my Initial Teacher Education (ITE), so if I err in my understanding, please let me know so that I can correct it.
One of the things that I have been doing with my class is Timetables Clocks.This is the first thing that I do with them when we commence our Mathematics block straight after our lunch break. The simplest explanation of this is that students draw a jumbled clock face, with the multiplier going in the centre, as in the image below.
Students are given up to one minute to complete the twelve questions, and they write down their time. The students really enjoy this activity, and there is fierce competition to be the one with the quickest time, as they receive a bonus under our class economy program. I have only brought this program into our mathematics block recently, and on Wednesday I had them complete their four-times tables, and the results were abysmal.
My understanding of CLT is that our memory is divided into working or short-term memory and long-term memory, with only a small amount of what is in our working memory being retained and transferred into our long term memory. Our working memory can only process a certain amount of information before some of what is in our working memory must be either transferred into our long term memory or dropped from our conscious memory.
When answering a question, if part of the question can be answered by drawing upon our long-term memory than our working memory is able to bring a little bit more of itself to bear on answering the question. For example, if a student has a question such as 6×4(3-6 x24) and they can draw upon their long-term memory to know that 6×4 is 24, then their working memory is free to focus on the remainder of the question. A rather simplistic explanation and I hope it articulates clearly enough my understanding on this.
Times tables are embedded into daily life, from estimating the groceries, to budgeting, to planning a holiday, knowing and being able to easily recall times table facts is something of a basic skill, and any question or problem or problem involving multiplication is going to be significantly more difficult to solve mentally (or in writing for that matter) if you are required to utilise your working memory solving those aspects of the question than if you are able to simply recall those facts from your long-term memory.
Indeed, from the conversations that I have had with secondary mathematics teachers, and correct me if this is not your experience, it appears that students’ being unable to recall multiplication facts from their long-term memory is a source of stress and frustration for both secondary students and teachers. As an example, it seems that when algebra is introduced, or when teachers are dealing with conversions between fractions, decimals and percentages; that students are struggling to deal with the multiplication aspect of the question, and are therefore unable to process the skills and knowledge needed for the particular mathematics concept being dealt with at the time and transfer that knowledge into their long-term memory causing a flow-on effect.
So, and this is where I am looking for feedback from my PLN, my thinking is that this is one instance where rote-learning still has a place, and to my mind and understanding of CLT it seems logical. By memorising those multiplication facts, ensuring they are in students’ long-term memories, students will then be able to focus more on the remainder of any question of problem, rather than becoming stressed about multiplication issues (which is an issue for some students).
Is my understanding of CLT reasonably accurate, and more specifically, accurate for the purpose I need it to be accurate for? Additionally, what other strategies have you found successful for ensuring multiplication facts make their way into students’ long-term memory? As always, thank you for reading, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback on this topic.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
– Simon Sinek
Last year I wrote two articles examining the SAMR model (part one, part two) where I wrote, rather naively, about what I understood the SAMR model to be and how it could be implemented within schools. Yesterday I received a tweet from a fellow teacher and Twitterer, Aaron Davis (@mrkrndvs) with a link to an article that he had written, Did someone say…SAMR. The article prompted a proverbial dive down the rabbit hole, as I read through a few additional articles linked within his original article, and also watched a very interesting TEDTalk by Simon Sinek.
I would rather you read through Aaron’s article yourself, and I will not be posting a recap here of it, as I believe it to be an important article for anyone who considers themselves au fait with technology in the classroom as it may change the way you think about the way it is used, and more importantly, the why of its use. Also within Aaron’s article are a number of other variations on SAMR and models for thinking about why technology is used in the classroom, which are well worth examining in their own right.
In addition to the article, I would encourage you to read the article that Aaron wrote regarding Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk, which can be found here.. The video included the video of Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk here.
An interesting article to read in tandem with Aaron’s is An End to “21st Century” Learning Tools by Richard Wells, a secondary teacher in New Zealand, which discusses the separation of digital learning and learning. Richard challenges us to stop thinking about twenty-first century learning tools and to think simply about learning tools, and to stop thinking about digital learning tools with modern learning technologies and instead to think about learning tools with learning technologies.
“I will not let an exam result decide my fate.”
– Suli Breaks, Vanity Fair, 2009
I recently wrote an article discussing the need to redefine our roles as educators titled Redefining Content. As I was scrolling through my Twitter Feed recently I stumbled upon a link to a YouTube video titled Why I Hate School But Love Education. It is a spoken word video, delivered by a young gent, and is an exposition on his views on schooling and education and it is rather thought provoking.
On my first view, I am rather unsure how I feel about it, and am left with a certain feeling of cognitive dissonance, and feel affronted and as if my own philosophy towards teaching has been challenged, a feeling which I quickly quashed as being silly. The underlying principle of this man’s words is one that, on the whole, I think I agree with, that being the principle that we need to redefine what schooling and education are as they are not what they were even a generation ago, let along being the same as the early years of the nineteenth century.
I’ll post the video below, and I would very much like to hear what people’s thoughts are.
“As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”
-Attributed to Amy Poehler
No single teacher, on their own, causes great things in the classroom or motivates students. That may sound odd, given that most classrooms are operated by a single teacher, but we do not cause great things to happen in isolation. The great moment in a lesson occurs because we have brainstormed how to deliver a particular lesson/skill/concept with a colleague, we have asked our partner or children for their feedback, we have sought feedback from our own students on how we can be better teachers for them and put that into practice, we have been to a professional development session of some description that has lit a fire under our tail and ignited a passion we were heretofore unaware of, the office staff have printed and distributed notes for any number of reasons.
In other words, we have collaborated in a variety of ways and with a variety of people. We do nothing in isolation. Ultimately, if we do not collaborate with our students, it will be irrelevant how amazing and inspiring our lesson plan is. Without their collaboration and buy-in, nothing is achieved.
I had a conversation this morning with a colleague who delivered my program to some classes on Friday, and her feedback was very useful. She pointed out that attempting to have students save a filed onto a communal USB was very time-intensive, and recommended simply using a class list as a tick and flick sheet, with a particular competency noted at the top of each column, and a tick if the competency was achieved. That was the initial idea, and somehow in the transition to using the class laptops as opposed to small groups, the method was cast aside. I used that method this morning, and it was much easier, and much simpler to put into practice in the classroom, and also when entering the data on the spreadsheet that my records are being kept on.
Collaboration with colleagues, especially around sharing what works is vital to a teachers success. How do you collaborate?
As always, thank you for reading, and I look forward to hearing from people about the collaboration that is going on.