Thursday, March 24, 2022

Return to normal?

There is no question that Covid has disrupted the status quo in education. Schools have had to adapt to new challenges about how we deliver our programmes, how we support student wellbeing, how we assess and a whole lot more. Across the country and across the world, different populations, people and families have all been affected differently too, whether it is due to days, weeks or months of lockdown, extended periods of illness, or the financial ramifications of covid exacerbating inequity even further. However, when speaking to many of my teaching colleagues, they frequently identify that perhaps one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge that we have faced as a result of Covid, is the large amount of uncertainty that covid has introduced.

One might argue that for some time now, in many contexts, teaching has involved large degrees of certainty. We have steady salaries and steady timetables. We are able to make assessment plans and exam timetables because of the certainty we have in our routines. We have been able to plan ahead because we knew what to anticipate from year to year. In fact, many of us even plan our bathroom breaks ahead of time because we know where those busy blocks in our week are! While schools often bring in new changes and initiatives, these are usually cumulative small changes over time, rather than distinct disruptions that result in sudden systemic or radical change. We might have a new open-plan building, new curriculums, try new pedagogies, but students still came to school five days a week. Student to teacher ratios stayed similar, assessments were carried out in fairly similar ways. (Think first order vs. second order change - "First order change relies upon step-by-step incremental learning, expansively building upon previous capabilities while simultaneously modifying what has been learned before. In contrast, second order change demands fundamental shifts in students' thinking, a reframing of previous learning which serves as a springboard for a transformation to new levels of comprehension" (source).

Nek minute...* Covid happened.

Some schools had months of operating online. Schools that were still device free at the start of 2020, suddenly had to start teaching and learning online completely, for weeks (if not months) on end. Assessments that were usually done in class, often under test conditions, suddenly had to be done from home, on a device. Students used to come to school 5 days a week for about 40 weeks of the year. Yet for some Auckland students, they had no school on-site from August 2021 right through to the start of February 2022. Some of us went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning to find that while we slept, we entered another snap lockdown and there would be no school for the next week. Even school holidays were moved suddenly. 

Of course, this doesn't even touch on the degree of uncertainty in our personal lives. There is the constant question of will I or won't I get covid? Will my loved ones and I be okay if we do get covid? Can my family financial support ourselves with such rapid increases in the cost of living? Does my incredibly mild sore throat mean I should stay home, or that I just talked too much with my mask on? Taken together, for many of us this uncertainty seems to have led to more stress and anxiety. In fact, there is research that has shown links between uncertainty and mental health outcomes. 

While the uncertainty generated from covid has in some cases felt novel after such long periods of stability in many parts of the world, experts have long called our attention to an increase in VUCA, that is an increase in volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in the world. In the last few years we have seen everything from the current situation in the Ukraine and the fear around nuclear escalation, the election of Trump and consequent capitol riots, Brexit, and even an increased numbers of natural disasters. This doesn't even begin to touch on the uncertainty generated from climate change that will only increase if we remain on our current trajectory - increased risk of additional pandemics and diseases, increases in food scarcity, loss of land leading to escalated conflicts about land, climate refugees, more natural disasters, etc. 

As we navigate this uncertainty, I keep hearing myself and others talk about "when things are back to normal...".  And despite hearing myself and others talk about the "new normal",  I can't hep but wonder if either subconsciously or consciously, we are waiting for things to return to a "normal" closer to what we were used to? Are we waiting for a return to the predictability that we had gotten so used to? I know that I have caught myself in this particular waiting around mindset a few times. 

However, I think it is time that we ask ourselves; just how useful is it to be waiting around for the 'old normal' to return?

  • Many times I have caught myself thinking "when things are back to (old) normal, I will...[insert designated activity, plan, etc.]". Unfortunately, I suspect that that the constant postponing and waiting for things to be able to happen 'as normal', leaves me with a greater sense of uncertainty. Some things definitely needs to be postponed, concerts, international travel, etc. And some things that keep being postponed is definitely beyond my circle of influence. However, I have noticed that the "when things are back to (old) normal, I will..." thinking is often an excuse for postponing something that I find difficult, uncomfortable, frustrating, boring, and so forth. Other times, I have found that my postponing is an excuse for not being willing to do the mental work of rethinking an activity - how could we change this activity to make it feasible in our current conditions? 

  • Next, in the "old normal", many of us had stability, predictability and routines that made use feel safe and secure, financially, emotionally, physically, etc. However for many people, the 'old normal' sucked too. Long before Covid came along, we have been surrounded by racism, poverty domestic abuse and epidemics of mental health. While the "old normal"  might have been a comfortable place for myself and my immediate family, this is definitely not the case for large parts of our population. So it is only right to ask myself whether my wish for a return to "old normal" is really preferable to a wish to move to a "new normal" that might be better than the old? In other words, perhaps I need to stop wishing for things to go back to how they were, and instead wish for things to be radically improved in a new normal?

  • Third, yet perhaps the most important question I have been asking myself... What opportunities am I missing by waiting for a return to (old) normal? There is a tendency for complex systems to maintain their momentum along a particular path until sufficiently disrupted by competing phenomenon. One might argue that schools and the education system is enmeshed in significant amounts of system momentum - while there are small fluctuations, mutations, disruptions, etc. these rarely change the whole system. Just think about the LONG list of school and education initiatives that have been discontinued, rather than becoming fully embedded and changing the way the system operates. For example, there is overwhelming evidence that our education systems are not equitable and in many places, racist. There are numerous initiatives to address this, yet gaining sufficient momentum within these initiatives to overhaul the whole system often seems an insurmountable task. Covid has managed to disrupt numerous systems at various levels. So while I could focus on "when things are back to normal...", I wonder how instead we might focus on what opportunities for radical change has been created through large scale system disruption?

  • Following on from thinking about opportunities created by disruption and uncertainty, I have to wonder, are we just making things harder on ourselves by waiting for things to go back to the 'old normal'? By waiting around in limbo, are we stopping ourselves from truly adapting to our 'new normal' because subconsciously (or consciously) we are still waiting for things to return to the stability we were used to? Perhaps it's like a breakup? If we are still waiting around for and ex partner to change so that we can be better together, we stop yourself from really being available and open to finding better possibilities with a new partner. 

In summary, when I consider how often I have found myself thinking about a return to normal as I navigated the uncertainty brought about by covid, I have also had to question my capabilities for managing this uncertainty. What skills and habits do I need to develop further to better cope, and perhaps thrive in uncertainty? What opportunities can be found in uncertainty? 

I'm curious, have you experienced this 'return to normal' bias? 

*If you are not familiar with 'nek minute', it's a New Zealand thing. It just means next minute.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Reflecting on the practicing teacher criteria 2021

To have spent so many months working from home in a job that usually involves so much face to face time, has made 2021 feel like a bit of an odd year for msot Auckland based teachers. So many of my usual patterns and routines as a teacher was disturbed, and so many plans were disrupted. And while supporting student learning from home is certainly not the norm, it doesn't change the professional responsibilities we hold. In fact, as I reflected on the practicing teacher criteria for 2021, I was reminded once again of just how flexible we need to be if we are to support our learners effectively in such uncertain, and somewhat volatile times. 

What follows is a brief reflection about how I attempted to address the practising teacher criteria in 2021. I have included some examples of my practice, as well as a brief reflection on some of my next steps for 2022. 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Ghostbusters! - Dealing with ghosting students in lockdown (and the classroom).

We are back in lockdown thanks to COVID and the delta variant. As the days pass while teaching remotely, it becomes increasingly apparent that some students struggle to engage in lockdown more than others. And some of them try their best to ghost you. As always, it is often these disengaged students that are the most vulnerable and at risk. So how do we get them engaged again? 

What became overwhelmingly clear as I sifted through the research, teacher, and student feedback is that good practice is good practice - regardless of whether you are teaching in person or remotely. All of the recommended practices, strategies, tools, etc. reflect the key messages from the OECD's The Nature of Learning report. (If you haven't read this yet, do so urgently. It provides a really great summary of research to inspire good teaching practice.)

Of particular relevance are the 8 basics of student motivation that this report summarises:

This post is a list of ideas, recommendations, and best practices compiled from teacher feedback on Twitter, reports from ERO (New Zealand Education Review Office), the Education Hub, as well as a student survey done at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. 

How do you know if you have a ghost?
The Responding to the Covid-19 crisis: Supporting Auckland NCEA students report clearly identifies that the longer a student is disengaged, the harder it is to reengage them. Hence, it is important to reach out to disengaged students as early as possible. Additionally, focussing on the relationship first appears to be a key aspect of getting our ghosts engaged, and keeping them engaged
  • Setting up tasks that 'self mark' so that it is easy to track disengagement with minimal effort eg. Google Quiz through Google Classroom, Quizizz, Playposit, Education Perfect, Pear Deck. 
  • Using the assignment function through Google Classroom to make it easy to see when students have turned in work or turned work in late. 
  • Using the grade book function in learning management systems (eg. Google Classroom) to track overall engagement. 
  • Doing a roll in synchronous video calls. 

How do you stop them from being ghosts in the first place?
As with so many other things in education, relationships are at the heart of the matter. Hence, we need to think about how we might maintain our focus on relationships, with students and between students. This is also great for helping students to manage their well-being in lockdown as the absence of their peers can have a detrimental effect on their mental health.  Some ways to do this include:
  • Smaller group asynchronous video calls rather than large group calls.
  • Personal emails to check in with students. 
  • Collaborative tasks that require students to reach out to their peers. 
  • Pastoral group meetups for fun. eg. quiz, pictionary, etc. 
  • Private comments through Google Classroom as reminders.
  • Email telling them I am thinking about them and miss them in class will often do the trick, especially with higher year levels. 
  • Email whanau. Call whanau if still nothing. 
  • Organising a one on one video call to check in and help problem solve any issues acting as obstacles in proceeding with learning. 
  • Organising small group synchronous video calls specifically for students who are struggling. 
  • Connecting students who need extra support with a counsellor, teacher aide to help as appropriate.
  • Support students with building self-regulating skills. Eg. helping them to fill in a daily planner, teaching them productivity tools eg. single-tasking, quick writes, kanban, etc. 
  • Don't give up. Keep emailing and calling, keep getting in touch to check how the student is doing. 

How do you set ghost busting tasks?
During a lockdown, it is much easier for students to opt-out of tasks that are boring, busy work, too hard, etc. Hence, the quality of the work tends to have a much bigger impact on student engagement than when we are in their faces at school actively nagging them. The research and student voice is really clear about the kinds of tasks that help to keep students engaged and as a result, motivated. As a result, we should focus on designing tasks that are:
  • Set tasks that are clearly linked and matched to the intended learning outcomes that students know and value - aka. moving beyond low-level tasks and “busy work” to tasks that students feel are important and meaningful. 
  • Scaffold. Scaffold. Scaffold. Students don't have access to the teacher or peers in the same way as at school so making sure that the tasks is broken down in a way that is easy for them to make sense of is key. 
  • Shorter instructions, which broke tasks into chunks, tended to be more effective in scaffolding students through the learning.
  • Ramping up the difficulty level in tasks as you go along to ensure that all students feel a measure of success when completing tasks. (SOLO works really well for this - see example)
  • Using Universal Design for Learning practices eg. 
    • Supplementing written instructions for tasks with short video explanations.
    • Offering personal 60 second video lessons for question messaged in the private chats.
    • Mixing up the type of tasks eg. hands-on.
  • Reduce the fear of failure such as by using gamification eg. Kahoot.
  • Providing students with a degree of choice over how they completed a task typically led to greater engagement in the learning and a higher probability of the task being completed. 

How do you help the students manage themselves in order to avoid ghosting?
Despite 'managing self' being one of the key competencies of our New Zealand curriculum, lockdown really highlights our short fall in helping students develop self-regulation skills. There are a number of ways that we can help students improve their self-management, and as a result, improve their engagement and motivation during lockdown and at school. Additionally, maintaining high expectations and holding students accountable for meeting these expectations is also critical for maintaining students’ motivation and engagement and facilitating learning. 

  • Ensuring flexibility in when students can do work. Too many set times reduces engagement and opportunities for self-management. 
  • Setting realistic amounts of work. Don't fall into the planning fallacy (a prediction phenomenon, all too familiar to many, wherein people underestimate the time it will take to complete a future task, despite knowledge that previous tasks have generally taken longer than planned.)
  • Set work at the start of the week so that students can plan out how they will do their learning for the week. 
  • Setting tasks that are truly independent as parents and caregivers are not always able to support.
  • Don't overload students with too much information or communication - keep it simple and concise with a clear and easy option for following up if they have questions.
  • Make videos for students to watch in their own time. 
  • Must do/Should do/Could do tasks to ensure that workload can match student context, but also to provide a sense of agency. 
  • Setting deadlines and time limits of tasks, and following up with students who have not met these. 
  • Supporting students to complete a daily planner to help them identify deadlines and prioritise their efforts (see student example from Hobsonville Point Secondary). 
  • Providing regular formative assessment and feedback that was connected to the expectations set by the teacher was crucial for motivation and engagement as well as for ongoing learning.
  • Students who established some form of routine or daily structure were more likely to stay up-to-date with work and to maintain their engagement. eg. daily small group check-in, daily planner. 
  • Use coaching conversations (eg GROW coaching) to help students problem solve and self determine their next steps. 

Hopefully, there are some helpful ideas in here to help with your ghosts. If you have more ideas of things that have worked for you. Please leave them in the comments too!

Further reading

Sunday, August 23, 2020

A day in the life of a quarantined teacher

2020. What a year! As we sat planning our courses and curriculums at the end of 2019, could any of us have predicted how much of it would be delivered in lockdown, from home? I started this blog as a provisionally registered teacher in 2012 and have kept it up ever since. It has been a wonderful resource to show the development of my thinking, professional practice and knowledge over the years. I thought it was only right to capture some of the this latest development in practice too, that is, teaching while in quarantine.

9:30am - 10am Live Google Meet with Learning Hub in pyjamas

Every morning I have a live session with my Learning Hub. At our school, Learning Hubs have replaced form classes and tutor groups in favour of an advisory model. In a nutshell, this means I take more of a 'life coach' role than just monitoring student attendance. 

These daily hub sessions involve having a quick conversation with each of my 17 hublings (an HPSS term that has evolved to refer to the students in our Learning Hub) to check how they are doing, pass on any messages from the school or other teachers, help them set goals for the day/week and keep them accountable. We also go over their daily planner. 

The daily planner is a key piece of the puzzle for HPSS students. This helps students to manage their learning while off-site by helping them identify the learning tasks that should be completed for the day. As the hub coach, it also helps me identify when a student is not regularly checking in with what learning needs to be done. For students who do not yet have great self-managing skills, our morning check-ins involve me helping them to complete their planners for the day to ensure that the students know what they should be doing. It is important to remember that students don't all come to us with self-managing skills - we have to teach them how!

It's also worth pointing out that we tend not to turn our cameras on for this morning meeting. It's perfectly acceptable to plan your day while in your pyjamas you see...

10am - 11:30am Get dressed, check emails, schedule jobs, have coffee in the sun

After our daily hub check-in, I tend to get dressed in my lockdown work clothes. This involves some variation on my onesie, track pants, and sometimes a slightly tidier looking shirt if I have meetings where I have to be on camera. I then make a cup of coffee and sit in the sun (or under a blanket if no sun) to check my email. Email, despite being the bane of my existence, is also a key part of what helps schools function these days, whether we are together or apart. 

This part of the day also involves tending to various leadership responsibilities. For me, this involves dealing with various NCEA queries in my role as Principal's Nominee and updating my own to-do list accordingly. I also check in with my various Across School Lead tasks for our Kāhui Ako and follow up on any aspects of this work that need my attention.

11:30am - 1pm Planning time

Next, I like to spend a bit of time checking how my students are progressing in the tasks that have been set for them. To do this I use the Google Classroom grade book function to help me do this quickly or other websites that let me track student engagement. I tend to set at least one activity each week that 'self marks' so that it is really quick and easy to see who is engaging with the activities in the Google Classroom, but also who might be struggling with the basic language, concepts or skills we are dealing with. Tools I use for this include the auto mark Google Form Quiz, Quizizz and Playposit. During this planning time, I will also notify other hub coaches if their hublings are not keeping up with classwork so that they can notify their parents. 

As well as a quiz type activity, I also set an additional set that requires students to keep working on it for a more sustained period of time. This task is usually based on a SOLO Taxonomy scaffold to ensure that all students will be able to complete at least some of the task (see example task). Instructions are communicated to students in the same format on Google Classroom that I use when we are at school. I have found that using really consistent practice when in school and out of school sets my students up to be more successful for when I am not there to support them. 

Student voice that we collected during our previous lockdown indicated the students liked having:

  • Tasks set at the start of the week that they can work on for the whole week.
  • Must do, Should do, Could do tasks
  • Video instructions
Hence, I make sure to include the student requests in my planning too. 

1pm - 1:30pm Lunchtime

Since we can't travel the world right now, I am using my meals to reminisce about vacations past. Crepes have been a lockdown favourite as they remind me of the wonderful time I had exploring the streets of Paris this December just past. So much has changed in the world since then and I am incredibly grateful that we got to have one last holiday before the pandemic. Other travel food favourites include homemade pizza from scratch (because you have time to make the dough from scratch when you are home all day) and fancy European cheeses and bread. 

Of course, 1pm is also when we watch the 1pm Daily Update show - you can read the reviews on IMDB! The storyline on IMDB reads:

"Set in a dystopian world where autocratic and populist leaders are in charge of the USA, China, UK, Brazil and many other nations. 1pm Daily Update takes place in the imaginary island nation of New Zealand, a utopian society where science, facts, strong leadership and a genuine care for its people and environment take precedence over money and big business."



1:30pm - 3pm Teaching time

During this time of the day, I like to actively engage with my students online. This has involved everything from running Kahoots and running a 3 minute Art History Challenge. Most of the time, however, live teaching time is reserved for one of two things:

  • Drop-in question and answer sessions: During the regular class time, I let my students know that I will be online if they have any questions or if they need any help. Attendance is not compulsory and essentially this is just a chance for a face to face conversation if a student needs it. 

  • One on one sessions: One on one slots are usually reserved for my senior students working on assessments. Students are asked to book in a one on one session for us to check in on how they are going with their assessment. This can help the student overcome any obstacles they might be encountering and help keep the student accountable. Additionally, it has the added benefit of helping me to feel confident about the authenticity of any student work done at home as I can hear students talk to their work. We use a Google Sheet for students to make their appointment times.


3pm to 4pm Feedback and marking

As well as the usual marking of NCEA work, I spend quite a lot of time giving feedback to my students. Before beginning an assessment, I give my students a practice task. For the practice tasks, I give them an abundance of feedback that I ask them to address before beginning the assessment. This means that rather than just resolving my comment, they actually have to 'fix' things to ensure that they really take the feedback on board. Google Classroom makes giving feedback a whole lot easier these days. I love the comment bank which lets me upload common statements that I use again and again so that it is faster and easier to get through big classes. Sometimes I will come back to marking after dinner too. Usually with a hot toddy for motivation! 

4pm onwards

From 4pm I have device free time. So much of the day is online at the moment in in reality, I'm finding this quite difficult. Hence, I make sure that when I finish the workday, I try to get off my computer for a few hours. During the many weeks of lockdown this year, non-screen time activities have included flexibility training, circus training and conditioning, drawing, reading, sewing facemasks and cooking.

What about the next day?

I'm not really a creature of routine. So while the above might be one day's schedule, it is definitely NOT every day's schedule. Our daily 9:30am hub meeting happens every day (to help our whole hub get out of bed and get to work at a reasonable time), the other things shift around in the day based on meetings, my motivation levels and when the sun is out to go for a walk. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Self-managing learners. Yeah right.

The New Zealand Curriculum demands that we develop 'self-managing' learners, yet how many of our students were unable to do so without our constant hovering, timekeeping and nagging in lockdown? How many students were 'missing in action' and just had an extended holiday instead of learning from home?

What does it take to help students become truly self-managing? What does it look, sound and feel like? I am of the opinion that it doesn't involve quiet compliance and meeting every deadline. Instead, I imagine something a bit more like Jimmy Neutron - creative, resilient, self-motivated, sets their own personally relevant goals and challenges, capable of complex problem-solving, empowered. The process involves a lot of trial and error, is usually quite messy, and takes a 'nuanced' view around deadlines. In other words, deadlines that work to the teacher's schedule take a back seat to authentic deadlines set by alien kidnappings and the like.

The Jimmy Neutron self-managing learner example raises some important questions:
  • How might we develop learners that are confidently and competently self-managing, who will continue to learn successfully without us hovering over them?
  • Once we have successfully developed more self-managing learners, how might we continue to engage and support them on their personal learning journey?

image source

So what does it take to turn an unmotivated Bart Simpson into a Jimmy Neutron? 

Well, for a start, you wouldn't. Bart Simpson is his own person and needs you to recognise and respect his mana and rangatiratanga (his spirit, his agency, his right to self-sovereignty). We should not be trying to turn Bart into anyone. Instead, we need to think about how our classrooms, schools and online environments, might create the conditions in which Bart Simpson wants to, and can find ways to engage in the learning on his own terms, in a positive way. How might we help Bart be his 'best self's so to speak, instead of asking Bart to be a Jimmy, and forever failing to do so because he is not Jimmy.

If we couldn't engage Bart Simpson in class, what are the chances that we engaged him during lockdown? What are the chances that Bart would have self-managed and continued his learning at home? Probably quite well if you are talking about skateboarding, but less so for algebra. So what do we need to do differently at school to help Bart realise his best self, capable of self-managing his learning around skateboarding and algebra?

To start with, Bart's teachers first need to overcome years of his mistrust in teachers who have profiled and distrusted him. They will need to overcome years of him feeling like his work is never good enough, that his teachers don't value him, want him in class or respect him. He will need teachers to see past his rebellion, to a child who is probably hurting because he is made to go to school every day - a place where he feels unwelcome and no sense of belonging. As it turns out, the first step to starting to build Bart's self-managing around algebra has very little to do with algebra. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Power and art

Just three months ago I was hopping across Europe visiting museums and art galleries. It seems unthinkable that so much has changed as a result of covid-19 in such a short space of time. We are now on day three of lockdown in New Zealand. And all of a sudden, I find that I have time to finish a blog post I started in January!

This past holiday I had the pleasure of visiting numerous art galleries, listening to art history podcasts and completing Adobe Illustrator tutorials online. I also had a solid week of super intense practice while I prepared for a group aerial circus performance (that's me on the right!). While I am a science and sometimes maths teacher, I often find that the arts is where much of my inspiration comes from.

I have learned that taking the time to be creative and appreciate the creative arts, makes a huge positive difference to my personal wellbeing. It is also more often than not, a catalyst for deep thinking and reflection in my day to day practice within education. Recently for example, I learned about artist Lisa Brice from listening to a great podcast by art curator Katy Hessel. 

Source: Women in Art - Tate via Khan Academy

As some of you may know, female artists are remarkably absent in art history (go ahead, make a list of all the artists you know about and then see how many are women). Women are primarily present as the subject of paintings, and hence, are always represented through a male filter, or 'male gaze' as Hessel calls it. Lisa Brice, the artist mentioned above, recasts women from art history. This 'recasting' means that historic portraits of women where they are portrayed as weak, vulnerable, where they are in positions of disempowerment and hopelessness, are reinvented to give the women power. 

Take for example the famous "Parting at Morning" by Sir William Rothenstein (see below left). The women featured in the portrait was described in his journal as destitute. She attempted to sell him paintings. He could not afford them however instead, she posed for him to complete various drawings. He describes the women as "not without a certain cadaverous beauty" and included with her portrait a poem modified from Robert Browning:
Round the cliff on a sudden came the sea,
And the sun looked over the Mountain's rim:
And straight was a path of gold for him,
And the need of a world of men for me.
In essence, this painting casts this woman in a 'walk of shame'. The painting and the inclusion of the poem immortalised this woman in her state of destitution and shame. What's more, there is a more convoluted message about objectification captured here, about how this woman is still pretty even if she looks like death warmed up.

Photo on the left from Tate, and photo on the right included here without permission from Ennigaldi

On the right, however, Lisa Brice has recast this woman. Instead of the vulnerable, destitute, cadaverous women who Browinging implies is reliant on the men in her world, she is recast to have a certain "I don't give a f*%$# and don't mess with me look about her. Brice essentially attempts to restore some power to this woman.

So why does this matter in education? Well, the redistribution of power in these two artworks paint a stark contrast of how the same person can be represented. If we could hold up Lisa Brice's lense to education, would such a contrast be revealed there too? For example, almost every New Zealander would recognise Marcus King's famous representation of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (below). How might this painting be different if Māori were recast to have more power. Would there by more Māori standing rather than sitting on the ground? What else might be different? 

Image form Archives New Zealand

There are those who would argue that yes, women, indigenous peoples, and other minority groups are represented in ways that diminish their power within education and academic contexts (Ann Milne re. Māori, and  Jane Gilbert re. women in science, being just two names that jump to mind). With this recasting in mind, I am wondering what education might look like if power distribution was fairer. Which aspects of my classroom practice and leadership would look completely different? What knowledge and skills would be prioritised in schools instead? And most important, what can we do to ensure that our own biases don't cloud our view when we consider power distribution in education? 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Using science capabilities for assessment

Recently, a teacher in a Facebook group asked how others set targets and measure progress in the junior science curriculum? I mentioned that at Hobsonville Point Secondary we have developed curriculum level rubrics around the science capabilities. Over the next few days, I was swamped with emails from various teachers at various schools wanting to see what we do. So I have put together a little summary for anyone interested.

First things first... Every term, the whole school designs their junior courses around one of eight whole school concepts. These eight concepts were pulled out from an analysis of the New Zealand Curriculum. Since our year nine and ten courses are combined, these whole school concepts go through a two-year cycle.

Each term, we have matched the whole school concept with a science capability based on the literature in TKI and the work of Ally Bull and Rose Hipkins. Every science course bases their learning and assessment around the selected science capability for the term. From here, we then developed learning objectives to further unpack the science capabilities. Each learning objective has a corresponding rubric which is used for tracking and reporting.

Our science capability informed learning objectives
Gather and Interpret data
  • To explore by investigating to provide evidence for [key concept] in [context].
  • To make sense by analysing and interpreting data to provide evidence for [key concept] in [context].
Using evidence to make meaning
  • To make sense by analysing scientific evidence for [key concept] in [context].
  • To generate by constructing scientific explanations for [key concept] in [context].
  • To evaluate by critiquing scientific explanations for [key concepts] in [context].
Interpret models and representations
  • To generate by constructing a representation or model for [key concept] in [context].
  • To evaluate by critiquing representations or models for [key concepts] in [context].
Combination of skills to support science, technology and society
  • To generate by responding to a socio-scientific issue.
 Finally, we decide on the context of the course. For example, we might decide to focus on astrobiology. Students might learn about current theories about aliens and their locations, and then critique representations of aliens based on their new knowledge. Or, students might learn to design investigations to better understand the organisms in their local environment. We might have a civil engineering context where students might analyse and interpret data about the properties of materials. They might then use these to make recommendations for building a bridge. My personal favourite learning objective is "to generate by responding to a socio-scientific issue." We have redeveloped this learning objective for project-based learning, ensuring that at least once a year, students will immerse themself in a socio-scientific issue, synthesise key science ideas about their chosen issue, and then take appropriate action. 

The video below was made by a group of students that were learning to model and represent forces in a circus context. (Thanks to The Dust Palace in Auckland for teaching us to use the equipment!).


Finally, students are assessed against the rubrics we developed to unpack each of the capability-based learning objectives. The rubric below is for "to generate by constructing a representation or model for [key concept] in [context]." Assessment might involve students submitting portfolios, student interviews, videos, etc. The sky is the limit!

CL 4
4 Developing4 Proficient 4 Adaptive
Construct a range of simple representations and models to make meaning. Scientific ideas are communicated by beginning to use a range of scientific symbols, conventions, and vocabulary.
Use scientific vocabulary and conventions

Constructs simple models or representations that make meaning by describing data or scientific ideas

I am able to:
Construct a simple model or representation that describes scientific information

Make meaning by connecting scientific ideas or data to a simple model or representation
Consistently use scientific vocabulary and conventions in a range of contexts.

Constructs simple models or representations that make meaning by explaining data or scientific ideas

I am able to:
Construct a simple model or representation that explains scientific information

Make meaning by relating scientific ideas or data to simple models or representations in a range of contexts.
Consistently use accepted scientific vocabulary and conventions in a range of contexts

Constructs simple models or representations that make meaning by discussing data or scientific ideas

I am able to:
Construct a simple model or representation that discusses scientific information

Make meaning by considering the application of scientific ideas or data to simple models or representations in a range of contexts.
Clarifications/Explanatory Notes/Links:
A model or representation may be physical (e.g., diagrams, flow charts, maps, scale models), mathematical (e.g., equations, graphs) or conceptual (e.g., imagery, metaphor, analogy), and it can be specific to a discipline. There are symbols, notations and terminology that are appropriate for specific types of representations within a discipline.
Accepted scientific vocabulary and conventions appropriate to level 4 of the curriculum.

CL 5
5 Developing5 Proficient5 Adaptive
Construct a range of representations or models to make meaning. Scientific ideas are communicated using a wider range of science vocabulary, symbols, and conventions (including visual and numerical literacy).
Use scientific vocabulary and conventions

Constructs visual and numerical representations or models that describe by:
communicating scientific concepts/ideas
showing patterns in data.

I am able to:
Construct a visual or numerical model or representation that describes scientific information

Make meaning by connecting scientific ideas or data to a visual or numerical model or representation
Consistently use scientific vocabulary and conventions in a range of contexts.

Constructs visual and numerical representations or models that explain by:
communicating scientific concepts/ideas
showing patterns in data.

I am able to:
Construct a visual or numerical model or representation that explains scientific information

Make meaning by relating scientific ideas or data to visual or numerical models or representations in a range of contexts.
Consistently use accepted scientific vocabulary and conventions in a range of contexts

Constructs visual and numerical representations or models that discuss by:
communicating scientific concepts/ideas
showing patterns in data.

I am able to:
Construct a visual or numerical model or representation that discusses scientific information

Make meaning by considering the application of scientific ideas or data to visual or numerical models or representations in a range of contexts.
Clarifications/Explanatory Notes:
A model or representation may be physical (e.g., diagrams, flow charts, maps, scale models), mathematical (e.g., equations, graphs) or conceptual (e.g., imagery, metaphor, analogy), and it can be specific to a discipline. There are symbols, notations and terminology that are appropriate for specific types of representations within a discipline.
Accepted scientific vocabulary and conventions appropriate to level 5 of the curriculum

CL 6
6 Developing6 Proficient6 Adaptive
Construct a range of representations or models to make meaning by beginning to connect scientific theories, models and investigations. Scientific ideas are communicated by beginning to use accepted science knowledge, vocabulary, symbols, and conventions (including visual and numerical literacy).
Use scientific vocabulary and conventions.

Connect simple scientific theories, models and investigations by describing visual and numerical representations or models when:
communicating scientific concepts/ideas
showing patterns in data.

I am able to:
Construct a visual or numerical model or representation that describes scientific information, by using supporting evidence.

Make meaning by connecting scientific ideas or data to simple scientific theories, models or investigations
Consistently use scientific vocabulary and conventions in a range of contexts.

Connect simple scientific theories, models and investigations by explaining visual and numerical representations or models when:
communicating scientific concepts/ideas
showing patterns in data.

I am able to:
Construct a visual or numerical model or representation that explains scientific information, by using supporting evidence.

Make meaning by relating scientific ideas or data to simple scientific theories, models or investigations in a range of contexts.
Consistently use accepted scientific vocabulary and conventions in a range of contexts

Connect simple scientific theories, models and investigations by discussing visual and numerical representations or models when:
communicating scientific concepts/ideas
showing patterns in data.

I am able to:
Construct a visual or numerical model or representation that discusses scientific information, by using supporting evidence.

Make meaning by considering the application of simple scientific theories, models or investigations in a range of contexts.

Choose appropriate and conventional visual or numerical model(s) or representation(s) to support an explanation of a concept, and discuss limitations of chosen models or representations
Clarifications/Explanatory Notes:
A model or representation may be physical (e.g., diagrams, flow charts, maps, scale models), mathematical (e.g., equations, graphs) or conceptual (e.g., imagery, metaphor, analogy), and it can be specific to a discipline. There are symbols, notations and terminology that are appropriate for specific types of representations within a discipline.
Accepted scientific vocabulary and conventions appropriate to level 6 of the curriculum

A few key things to note
  • These rubrics, learning objectives, etc. are not perfect. We are constantly adjusting and refining them to ensure that students gain the necessary skills and knowledge to be informed citizens and capable of success in senior science. Given the pace at which science is advancing, however, I would argue that evolving assessment and learning is the way to go...
  • You will notice that our focus in science is not on students learning about. Instead, there is a much greater focus on students learning to. This is in part as a result of the science capabilities that make some attempt at reconciling the perceived gap between skills and knowledge in the curriculum. 
  • The work of developing learning objectives and progressions is just as important, if not more so, than having a completed rubric. This is a difficult, sticky and usually confronting process. However, this process is a fundamental building block of shifting assessment away from historical modes of end of topic tests. It requires us learning to use the curriculum rather than achievement standards to dictate what and how we teach our students. It requires us to really ask 'what is science?', if it is not a unit on atoms and another on electricity. 
  • Many secondary school teachers know that there is never enough time and that we are in a constant race to 'cover all the content'. The only way of getting out of this content rat race is to let things go. If you just try to fit in more 'stuff', you end up doing more things, but worse. Instead, we are trying to do less, better. We have chosen the science capabilities because we believe they offer both access to the niche-specific knowledge of senior science, as well as providing life worthy, relevant learning for all students living in our modern world of exponential technology. Many science teachers might be alarmed that our school does not provide the stock standard introduction to the periodic table unit, and not all students will have learnt about parallel and series circuits. However, all our students will have had to explore and analyse a socio-scientific issue, and designed and prototyped an action accordingly. All students will have to use scientific evidence in some way, and be able to distinguish between what makes something scientific or not. 
  • The students in our class come from culturally and socially diverse backgrounds. They learn new skills from MOOCs and YouTube, and communicate using augmented reality (think IG filters!). The science capabilities offer enough flexibility that we can design courses around student interest while maintaining the integrity of science as a discipline.
  • We have been using this system/process for about four years now. In 2020, our plan is to extend our rubrics to include senior science courses. 
Any questions? Comment below! 

PS: If you are planning on redoing your science progressions, I highly recommend first reading the following:

Monday, October 21, 2019


Post number 3 for my 10 posts in 10 days challenge...

PS: Whatever you do, don't read half of this post. Read the whole thing. 

Learning Hubs at Hobsonville Point Secondary School forms an important part of our curriculum. They use an advisory model to take pastoral care to the next level. In term 3, our learning in these advisories centred around the concept of manaakitanga.

I was very aware that building the term's learning around manaakitanga came with some challenges. Firstly, in New Zealand, we are often guilty of pretending to be culturally responsive by slapping a te Reo Māori name on anything. Calling a Community of Learning a Kāhui Ako is not what makes it culturally responsive, the same way that giving the unit, theme or topic that we are studying a te Reo Māori name would not make it culturally responsive either. This lands us in the treacherous territory of tokenism. 

A second risk I identified was around cultural misappropriation. This can be described as when "one culture, most often one that has a historical record of oppressing other cultures, engages in the unauthorised taking of some aspects of another, most often a minority culture" (Metcalfe, 2012). Our schools are saturated in Eurocentric thinking, systems and bias, and as a result, I can't help but wonder if our dominant culture has 'taken' this concept, potentially without authority. 

And finally, my biggest concern, without understanding of the genealogy of the concept we were studying, its cultural meaning, and significance, was I at risk of misrepresenting this culturally significant term to my students? In particular, it seemed to me that by misrepresenting the meaning of manaakitanga through my own Eurocentric bias and unintentional ignorance, I could surreptitiously be erasing the cultural significance and supplanting it with covert Eurocentric cultural ideas instead. 

So what did I do? Well, the only thing that seemed appropriate to do. Don't represent my view of manaakitanga, but instead seek out ways to represent the Māori view of manaakitanga. Inspired by the work of famous writer and psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés, and great NZ educators like Heemi McDonald, I looked to stories for help. 

I stared by reading students a story of Te Pura, the guardian taniwha of Wairoa as told in Pūrākau: Māori Myths Retold by Māori Writers. I then asked each of my students to look for a story connected to their family, culture, heritage or identity that somehow represented manaakitanga. I encouraged my students to speak to their parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and more to help locate an appropriate story. I hoped that by encouraging students to seek out their own stories, that this might provide an opportunity for students to build their own cultural capital while ensuring that I don't just accidentally teach my own version of manaakitanga.  Finally, we also watched a movie, selected by the students for its portrayal of ideas related to manaakitanga. After examining these three stories, we then discussed what the shared attributes or themes were of the stories that in most cases, spanned multiple shared cultures. 

Student's sketchnotes of manaakitanga stories. 

Of course, it is early days in my journey towards culturally sustaining pedagogy and there is a lot about the approach above that needs improvement. Although the above shows an example of me 'trying', it is simply not enough that we try. If we are to truly restore the harm that has been done by two hundred years of colonisation and its effects, it is essential that we try, and then evaluate, learn more, iterate, seek feedback, repeat. Our efforts towards culturally sustaining pedagogy are like taking a step in the wrong way on a travellator. We need to take enough steps, and take them in fast enough succession if we hope to overcome the direction that history's travellator is sending us in.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Digital Citizenship Cranium

Post number 2 for my 10 posts in 10 days challenge...

How is your school supporting students to become good digital citizens?

We live in a time where successful navigation of digital technologically is a critical part of success. Don't believe me? Did you use any form of digital alarm this morning, including a digital clock or phone? Did you call or text the school when your child was sick and you were keeping them at home? On your lunch break, did you pay for your coffee with EFTPOS, credit card or Apple Wallet? Perhaps you used a GPS to find your next meeting. In the meeting you may have showcased some of your latest work using a presentation or augmented reality. Chances are that you used Spotify to get you in the zone at the gym, while out running, or in that fitness class you've been taking. When you're ready to crash tonight you might watch a show on Netflix before a quick scroll through Facebook to see the birthdays you should have remembered today. Before you go to sleep, you might turn off your phone, and settle in for a little bit of quiet reading on a Kindle before doing it all again tomorrow.

While digital technology is ubiquitous in our life and the lives of our students, it is important to remember that is only increasing. Already self-driving cars are on the increase, as are autonomous drones. An increasing array of wearable tech is also augmenting our lives. Just think Apple watch, Fitbit and bluetooth headphones. All of the above doesn't even begin to address the wide range of digital skills that our students already need (and will need) in the workplace. Additionally, the students who are in front of us today do not remember, a time before the internet, or even a time before YouTube. For some of them at least, there may not be a separation vs. online and real world, instead, it is just the world.

The explosive and exponential pace of change in digital technology means that we are essentially in a new Wild West, characterised by new frontiers, rapid expansion, and some degree of anarchy as law and order struggles to keep pace with the rate of change. It is my belief that any school that intends to prepare and support students in the world in and beyond school, needs to help students navigate the challenges and pitfalls of digital technology, as well as enable students to seize the opportunities and benefits on offer.

In response, I ran a short professional learning activity today with our staff to help promote discussion about the many elements of digital citizenship - it's a lot more than just cyber bullying! I designed the activity to help build our staff's vocabulary and awareness of the scope of digital citizenship.

The activity is quite obviously inspired by Cranium, however I have made a few tweaks to allow you to play it with large groups. 

Digital Citizenship Cranium

You will need:

  • One piece of paper and pencil for each group. 
  • One set of playing cards for each group (see below). 
  • Timer for each group.
To play:
  • The object of the game is to guess as many correct answers answers as possible in the allocated amount of time. (We played for 10 minutes today.)
  • Split into small groups of 3 to 6 people. You can have as many group as you like, however each group will need their own set of cards.
  • Assign one person from each group as the game facilitator. This person will read the instructions on each card to the group and start a 1 minute timer. Groups can take turns to be the facilitator or keep the same one the whole way through.
  • When the timer runs out or when the group guesses correctly, go to the next card.
Click here for the high resolution cards.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Rediscovering student agency

I realised with a shock yesterday how little I've blogged this year! So, I have set a personal challenge for myself, 10 posts in 10 days. It shouldn't be too hard to turn all of my draft posts into complete ones, right? Or post a quick vlog reflecting of my day? Or share a strategy that I have tried? Maybe you're keen to try too?

It seems that not too long ago, everyone was talking about student agency. Many a tweet talked about self managing students, blog posts were written, and there were probably multiple sessions about it at ULean. I know Claire Amos did a great talk about it, and Steve Mouldey did a great presentation. Lately, however, I have found myself looking at these resources in a new light. I have always believed that student agency is a key ingredient for success as it helps students to become self-managing, life-long learners. I still think this a worthy goal for success in a rapidly changing, fast-paced world. However, student agency has taken on a new sense of urgency and importance in my practice of late. Prompted by my Spiral of Inquiry in 2018, I wondered whether student agency might contribute in restoring some of the power to those students and families for whom colonisation and embedded system bias has led to feeling disempowerment?

In schools, command and control models dominate in so many ways. We tell our students where to be, when to be there, and how to act when they get there. We tell our students what to wear, what not to wear, and in some cases, what their hair can and cannot look like. We tell them when they can eat, when they may use the restroom. We tell our students what they should learn, and how they should learn it. Whether inadvertently or not, we decide what our students should value through deciding how they should spend their time, what we assess, and what qualifies as "justified" reasons for missing school. The trouble is, every decision that we make FOR students rather than WITH students is another instance where we are removing agency and power.

Once I began to notice all the ways that I remove agency from my students, I was alarmed to discover that in my own practice, despite priding myself on a student-centred philosophy’ I was constantly enacting my power over the students. I began feeling uncomfortable that 17 and 18-year-old students felt the need to ask permission to go to the toilet. If we cannot even trust young people with going to the toilet, then what kind of messages were we sending about trusting them with their learning? And while we might argue that some students misbehave and cannot be trusted to go and come back in a timely manner, why is it that we feel justified to mistrust the majority because of the actions of a minority?

Building on my learning from 2018, I started this year with a focus on rediscovering, revisiting, refining and kickstarting student agency in my classroom (again). I am hoping to move from the 'false choice' model (where I give students a choice between tasks I designed) to one where the power is truly shared. In framing this thinking, I found Hart's Ladder of Participation really helpful. Below is the description of one of the experiments I tried in my teaching this year in response.

The students and I started the term by unpacking the rubric that would be used to assess their learning in our module called Star Trek. Together, we identified the skills and knowledge we would need to gain by the end of the unit.

Students then split into small groups to design their own lesson (or a small series of lessons) around a learning objective they had written (I had to teach them how to write these first). They researched their chosen area of focus, designed and made activities, made and found resources, as well as identify success criteria, keywords and ideas. Once students had completed their planning, I worked with each group to 'quality assure' their lesson and to allocated badges for each lesson. From here, each lesson was loaded as a mission on our Starfleet Mission Tracker (see image below) aka. kanban board. If you are not familiar with kanban, it's a super simple project management tool that really helps visualise workflow, prioritisation, etc. I 100% recommend using this with team, students and yourself! I created the video below to help my students understand kanban.

Using Trello, we set up a kanban board where each card serves as a mission. A click on each mission reveals the instructions and resources for each lesson. As students completed the various parts of the lesson, they would mark items as done on the To-Do list also included on the mission card.

Expanded view of a mission.

Over the course of the term, students started each class by selecting from the AVAILABLE MISSIONS what they would complete that day and moving it into the TO DO column on their personal mission tracker. As they were completing the lesson, the mission would be in their DOING column, and finally, when they have completed all items on the checklist, they would move the card into the DONE column.

To help students make selections that would support them gaining all the skills towards the rubric, we also created specialisations using the badges that we allocated. Each student thus played an active role in designing the class' lessons, choosing their specialisation and choosing the lessons to help them achieve their specialisation.

So did it work?
It was great to see that students responded well to this teaching strategy. As the teacher of this class, it was remarkable how easy this class became to manage. Every student knew what they were doing and what their next steps were. My stress levels and planning time was significantly reduced! (This was an added bonus, I hadn't planned on this). Students' reported experience of this approach also showed that students really felt that their learning was personalised.

However, what was particularly interesting about this approach was that out of the five Maori and/or Pasifika students in this class who completed the in-class survey, three out of the five students gave themselves the highest possible score for the three indicators in the survey:

  • I feel proud of the work that I did in this class.
  • I feel confident that the work I did in this class is good quality.
  • I did my best in this class.
Interestingly, the other two students still identified in the survey that the learning was new and free (Student A) and that they linked the learning (Student E). 

Forms response chart. Question title: This class was personalised. I was able to make decisions about how I approached it.. Number of responses: 13 responses.

All in all, I think this was a pretty successful experiment and next step for my Spiral of Inquiry. This year I am continuing my focus on "How might we develop assessment that enables success for academically ‘at risk’ students?" I look forward to further experiment with this approach in senior classes next...