The School that Story built.

The stories that circulate in and around a school paint a picture of the school’s culture and values, heroes and enemies, good points and bad, animating the actions and intentions of leaders, teachers, students, whānau and community. By creating and sharing our stories, we define “who we are”. Our identity is intricately woven into the tapestry of the narrative.  Strong school leaders distinguish themselves by being good storytellers; voices that people listen to, are inspired by and respect.

We need stories in order to understand ourselves and communicate who we are. We use stories to help us make sense of the world and the experiences of others. By sharing stories, we can better understand the conflicts of daily life and find explanations for how things fit together in the world.

Paul Auster, once said that telling stories is the only way we can create meaning in our lives and make sense of the world.

My own learning journey has provided ample fodder through which one might understand how story can influence perceptions about learning, identity creation and identity affirmation. One thing has has been evident to me is the huge gap in our understanding of the lived realities of the kids we teach. Narrative influence how students are perceived and how they perceive themselves.

As educators, we collect copious amounts of data. In many schools, data practices are seen as Euro-centric and are rarely viewed from any other perspective. Data flows from every aspect of a child’s learning experience and plays an important role in the development of their learning story. However, data practices in many schools result in depersonalisation of information and these practices, once embedded, remain stagnant. In many instances, the challenge is centred on the notion that data, especially without meaningful patterns, is cold and with a lack of intrinsic meaning.

The problem is not with the data. The problem is with the stories. The ones we tell ourselves and our students and the stories our students figure on their own.

As a concept, storytelling permeates all cultures and is hardwired into us. We can’t help but make sense of the world through story.  Schools have yet to realise how their future might shaped by story and there is still a lack of critical insight as to how and why storytelling can make a difference. For most schools, storytelling remains an abstract concept, at best reserved for English teachers and Senior Leaders when working a crowd, at worst, wishy-washy claptrap with no real value.

For most schools, storytelling remains an abstract concept, most likely encountered in English classroom. What’s the point of telling stories anyway? What makes a good story? And how do you go about telling it so that it supports student learning? Concrete answers are few and far between.

Making storytelling more tangible is a step toward helping students, teachers and whānau further engage in Education. If stories are so fundamental to the human experience, we need to figure out how to better incorporate them into the educational landscape. The question I am left asking is how might schools turn abstract notions of storytelling into practical tools for the benefit of all? Perhaps the answer lies in the fabric of the story of each school, student, teacher and whānau. Perhaps story is the language through which learning may be explored and changed.

 

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Decolonising the collection, analyses and use of student data: A tentative exploration/proposal

Well worth considering in all educational settings.

opendistanceteachingandlearning

decolonising

Voices from the Global South* (*I know the term is contentious) increasingly demand to not only be recognised in the extremely uneven and skewed terrain of knowledge production and dissemination, but to actively take part and contest and reshape knowledge claims. I would like to use this blog to tentatively interrogate the potential of a decolonising lens on the collection, analyses and use of student data.

Disclaimer 1: I am intensely aware of the impact of my race and gender in thinking about student data through a decolonising lens. My race, gender and the fact that I write this blog in English should make me uncomfortable and I am. Whether my inherent complicity in notions of white superiority precludes me in taking part in the debate is for you, as reader, to decide. I constantly grapple with the intersectionalities of my gender, race and settler identity as an African. In…

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Data, Narratives & Indigenous Ways of Knowing – Rethinking Stories About, With and For Students

Two of my personal professional learning goals for 2016 are focused on better utilising data and accelerating Maori student achievement.

In exploring these goals, my inquiry has led me to consider that ways in which we share ‘stories’ or ‘narratives’ with our students and the impact this has on them. My spiral of inquiry is focussed on traditional Maori narratives and the potential they have to impact a students understanding of their own learning journey. Narrative is the means through which we learn from experience by reflecting upon experience, declaring what it means, and distilling it into a symbolic form to be expressed and remembered.

Narrative expression can involve a sort of critical reflection in which experience is recalled, considered, and evaluated in relation to a broader purpose. For indigenous communities narrative frameworks are about the importance of being able to tell their own story.

Traditional methods of storytelling focussed on accurately passing on knowledge, accuracy being paramount to the effective transmission of this knowledge.  For Maori, an oral history means that getting the information ‘right’ is essential for the dissemination and preservation of the story at the heart. If you don’t get it right, there is a distortion of what is or is not. The consequences of poor storytelling may have changed, but ‘getting it right’ is still an essential element when telling Maori stories today.

In a Maori context, three essential ingredients of the old forms of storytelling are the waiata – the song, whakapapa – the genealogy of the story, and the karakia – the prayer.  In a learning context these elements can provide a lens through which learner stories/narrative can be connected to indigenous ways of knowing. I am interested in exploring these concepts and the potential for them to transform the narratives we construct, with, for and about our students.

  • Waiata – What is the story that is being told?
  • Whakapapa – Where has the story come from?
  • Karakia – What might need to happen to increase the likelihood of favourable outcomes?

Our ability to tell a learning story from a Maori audience point of view, influences the conveyance of the story associated with the information. Therefore consideration should be given to a couple of questions:

  • In what ways can the currency of indigenous storytelling influence student learning outcomes?
  • What impact would ‘data’ driven narratives, within indigenous narrative frameworks, have a positive impact on Maori student learning outcomes?

My inquiry is the beginning of a story about the links between indigenous narrative frameworks and (data driver) learning stories. I am interested in where it might lead.

Students Observing Students – Developing personal and academic excellence through observation

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As a well established practice in the teaching community, observation has been used as both an evaluative measure and, more increasingly, a form of professional development aimed at improving teaching and learning practices.

In line with how we do peer observations and develop critical friendships, I had cause to wonder whether the same principles of observation could be applied to peer observations between students. In essence could students observing students lead to:

  • students observing each other’s learning in order to learn from one another;
  • a focus on students’ individual needs and an opportunity to learn from others’ learning preferences and offer constructive feedback to peers;
  • the sharing of learning habits and building awareness about the impact of own learning preferences in order to affect change. (Based on ‘How to Guide’ Peer Observation for teachers)

As a starting point, our learning hub (advisory) uses a critical friendship model. Using a critical friend model enabled students to develop a working relationship with a peer and students were comfortable with supporting one another and providing feedback/feedforward.

I developed the student peer observation tool from our HPSS Critical Friend Observation Tool. The tool allows students to determine the area of focus and Hobsonville Habits (learning dispositions) they might like to focus, connected to their learning. This might include other aspects of their learning they need support in developing. Students were encouraged to consider feedback from across their learning and suggestions from their critical friend.

HPSSPeerStudentObservationTool

As a part of the observation setup, students agreed on a time for the observation and the duration. Once the terms of the observation had been agreed upon, and the observation had taken place, a follow up meeting took place for the students to consider the feedback and work on what their next steps might be.

Feedback to their peers was occasionally ‘brutally’ honest and, on the surface, was readily received. In some cases, the feedback provided would have been negatively received had it been delivered by a teacher/adult (as per the students). As a side note, we had to discuss the ‘etiquette’ of observations including letting the teacher know why they were there and sitting quietly at the back (one student, when asked, announced to the entire class that they were their to observe …!)

As a result students had the opportunity to:

  • independently selecte their focus areas and developed goals for improvement
  • receive direct feedback about their learning from a peer
  • demonstrate that they were able to reflect on how their own learning habits might be similar or need improvement
  • to identify things they could improve on
  • became more aware about their learning preferences
  • begin to explore how they might affect some changes in their learning.

Students responded positively and demonstrated a high level of maturity when conducting observations.

 

Hobsonville Habits – Tracking Learning Dispositions

At Hobsonville Point we believe that personal excellence and academic excellence are intricately intertwined. A part of holding high expectations is that we have a set of ‘Hobsonville Habits’ (Habits) which we use explicitly to help students engage in deeper learning and develop effective life-long learning habits.  

One aspiration of the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) is that young people will be “confident, connected, actively involved, life-long learners.” The Hobsonville Habits have been developed as a way to actualise this mandate. As a school we aspire to create a “stimulating, inclusive learning environment which empowers learners to contribute confidently and responsibly in our changing world.” The Habits are integral in seeing our vision realised.

In ‘Dispositions: Critical Pathways for Deeper Learning’ Costa and Kallick explain that “we must all think anew about the important outcomes of education as we prepare students for a vastly different future than that we have known in the past. The first task is to identify what we believe to be the critical dispositions of deeper learning and then suggest ways to design instructional and assessment strategies intended to cultivate the growth of deeper learners over time.”

As our Habits are an attempt to unpack what it means to be a successful life-long learner they include contributive, responsive, resourceful, reflective, compassionate, adventurous, creative, curious, purposeful and resilient. In our effort to empower learners, it is necessary to consider methods for tracking and assessing the growth of these dispositions. Margaret Carr & Guy Claxton iterate that while “no single method is adequate on its own” it is necessary to develop “instruments and approaches that integrate” different assessment methods.

In an attempt to help students assess and track habit progression, I adapted a tool initially developed by Bill Lucas, Guy Claxton and Ellen Spencer. They created a framework for teachers to assess the development of young people’s creativity, and associated processes for trialling in schools. (see Progression in Creativity)

Students choose any number of Habit cards that best represent them. On each of the Habit cards are indicator statements to help students unpack what each of the Habits might look like in practice.

Habit Cards – PDF for Printing Habit Cards

Once students had chosen their cards they used the Habit Tracking Tool to ‘map’ their strengths and goals. From the centre of the tool they highlighted segments according to how they felt they exemplified their chosen habits. The scale moves from awakening (very little), accelerating (a bit), advancer (a fair bit/most times), amplifying (a lot/regularly) and adept (role model).

Habit Tracking Tool

 

Students were required to self assess and then to consider what evidence they could produce to support their individual assessment. As a part of this process, students will regularly update their progress, supported by their learning story.

The outer ring was used by students to write down specific examples or goals for each of the habits. Some students completed all segments as an ‘overview’ of their current state. Others only completed segments they were prepared to focus on over the next few weeks.

The tracking tool is an attempt to help students unpack what the habits look like and to determine how they might be progressing with each of the dispositions. With this trial students felt comfortable at identifying their strengths and confident to identify aspects they wanted to work on. We will regularly update the Tracking Tool, providing new copies as necessary. Understanding that while “no single method is adequate on its own” it is a starting point. Used in conjunction with other tools it may help students to further develop as life-long learners, determined to achieve both personal and academic excellence.

MLEs (Marae Learning Environments) – Lessons from the Marae for Modern Learning Environments

Being culturally responsive goes beyond understanding where someone comes from. Culturally responsive teaching is a pedagogy that recognises the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings,1994). Being culturally responsive enable educators to develop a deeper understanding of cultural practices which, when recognised and implemented, can support both learners and school communities. In this way the true nature of ako is revealed.

“In te ao Māori, the concept of ako means both to teach and to learn. It recognises the knowledge that both teachers and learners bring to learning interactions, and it acknowledges the way that new knowledge and understandings can grow out of shared learning experiences.” (Alton-Lee, 2003).

Cultural responsiveness is a crucial part of all learning environments and leads to enhanced practices and learning outcomes. The Modern Learning Environment (MLE) is no exception. Modern learning practices move beyond the learning space and seek to challenge the traditional frames of learning. These practices are for the enhancement of learning experiences but need to be infused with robust cultural competencies. For Maori, open plan, communal learning spaces are not new. In New Zealand, and particularly for Maori, the marae is one such place. It is a place of learning, where te reo, tīkanga and kawa provide a foundation for well-being and opportunities to enhance community involvement and cohesiveness. 

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Image retrieved from http://www.picton.co.nz

Consider what might occur if the ‘M’ in MLE (Modern Learning Environment) or MLP (Modern Learning Practices) is used interchangeably with a ‘M’ for Marae. A ‘Marae Learning Environment’ is a place anchored by distinct principles and practices (‘Marae Learning Practices’). The Marae Learning Environment acts as a focal point in the community and enables traditions and customs to be strengthened and values to be fully expressed. Understanding marae learning practices can offer insight and cultural references that may assist in developing cultural capital.

Marae Learning Practices Modern Learning Practices
The marae is the place where values and philosophy are reaffirmed. The school is the place where values and philosophy are reaffirmed. “Every decision relating to curriculum and every interaction that takes place in a school reflects the values of the individuals involved and the collective values of the institution.” NZC

@HPSS this looks like personalised learning, powerful partnerships, deep challenge and inquiry, excellence, collaboration, connectedness, inquiry and innovation.

The marae is socially integrative in that it fosters identity, self-respect, pride and social control. The school is a place which enables transformational future-focused teaching and learning, rethinking ideas about learning.

@HPSS this looks like a dispositional curriculum (Hobsonville Habits), mixed year levels, learning hubs, co-created learning and learning projects.

The marae is integrative in that all people are welcome. The school is a place for innovative teaching and learning practices that can be embedded through all levels of school which prepares every student with the kind of learning they need to meet the demands of the future.

@HPSS this looks like personalised learning, differentiation, student voice, learning design, curriculum development, common language, student agency, visible learning, learning to learn, collaboration and community engagement.

The marae is a place where we enter an encounter situation, where challenges are met and issues are debated. The school is a place which is future-focussed, with current and emerging technologies, creating opportunities to increase learner motivation, engagement and achievement.

@HPSS this looks like teaching as inquiry, critical friendships, warm and demanding, Individual Education Meetings, reflective practice and restorative practice.

The marae serves as the focal point for community sentiment. The school is visible and community centred. It emerges as a place which reflects the diverse community of learners and their whanau.

@HPSS this looks like consultation, parent workshops, project learning,  community consultation and HPSS Pollinator.

The marae is a place where young children have free reign. They are valued members as indeed everyone is. Children belong to the marae and are important. All adults are parents to these children and it is the responsibility of the closest adults to care for them. The school develops effective partnerships with parents, whānau, and communities. They focus on quality relationships and engagement, having a positive impact on students’ learning.

@HPSS this looks like staff children belonging and participating, whanau, hubs and family.

The marae is a place where teenagers have free reign and they learn by experience. However they are expected work and look after others. They move from someone who has total freedom to the apprentice, preparing for the role of elder. The school ensures the student is at the centre of all it does. It provides support for learners that is respectful of, and responsive to, individual learner preferences, needs, and values. The school provides greater opportunities for students to organise themselves and engage in learning. The shift is from a one-size-fits-all solution to flexible approaches that can be customised and adjusted for individual needs.

@HPSS this looks like student voice, module selection, co-teaching, integrated learning, student council, digital citizenship, assessment for learning, guidance, coaches, e-portfolios, FloorTime, academic excellence and personal excellence.

The marae is a place where the adults are the workers. The school is a place where teachers systematically and critically engage with professional development about curriculum content and pedagogy and use this to inform professional practice. They articulate the aims of teaching and professional development and the reasons for adopting these aims. The school encourages teachers to contribute to the development of an open and reflective professional culture by professionally generating and responding to feedback from members to their learning community. Teachers take responsibility for connecting online and face to face in an ethical and digitally appropriate manner to facilitate and enhance professional learning.

@HPSS this looks like reflective practice, teaching as inquiry, critical friendships, critical thinking, PTC, professional learning, differentiated professional learning, appraisal, observation, curriculum mapping, assessment, reporting and teacher portfolio.

The marae is a place where the mana of the elders is expansive. They are revered by the not-so-old because of their wisdom through experience, their wise counsel, their expertise and their guidance in all things pertaining to the marae and to life in general. Their role is to “front” the marae, welcome the visitors, ensure that the kawa (procedure) is strictly adhered to and generally or specifically pass on their knowledge to the young. The school is a place where senior leaders have a sense of moral purpose and a commitment to improved learning and social outcomes. The focus is not just about supporting and guiding students, it’s also about a commitment to the professional growth and support of other school leaders and teachers.

@HPSS this looks like Monday’s with Maurie, learning relationships, learning design, enabling learning, SLT observations, SLT walkthroughs, warm and demanding, deep challenge, inquiry and professional learning.

 

The Networked Curriculum Design

A network is generally a ​large ​system consisting of many ​similar ​parts. Each of the parts are ​connected together ​allowing ​movement or ​communication between or along the ​parts. The purpose of a network is to connect. Connections are made through a common medium for the purpose of sharing. Networks enable collaboration and connectedness. They open pathways so we can engage. The value of networks is in the potential for spreading opportunity and challenge. They enhance joint creation and innovation by enabling the competencies, knowledge and expertise of the collective.

When we consider the way school curriculum is traditionally designed, we might imagine a clear hierarchy, of subjects, literacies and numeracies. There might be a curriculum structure where time is allocated according to long established norms or conventions. This view of curriculum design is rapidly changing.

“Most educational initiatives focus on signs of short-term success: doing well on assignments and scoring well on tests in the course of the school year, without much thinking about the long-term return on investment.” David Perkins

Key to developing a future-focused curriculum is determining what we believe to be worth knowing and learning, then focusing on the practice that goes behind it. The goal of a future-focused curriculum is to addresses the needs of all learners and empower the reframing of curriculum to increase and enhance networked learning opportunities. A future-focused curriculum is a ‘Networked Curriculum’. Adaptive, flexible and responsive. It connects all the parts of a students experience and opens pathways between previously unconnected areas of learning. It freely allows for the movement and transferability of concepts and capabilities. The ‘Networked Curriculum’ enhances agency, visible learning, problem-solving, metacognition and personalisation.

At HPSS we value “personalised learning, powerful partnerships, deep challenge and inquiry as they enable us to innovate, engage, inspire and empower connected learners who can contribute confidently and responsibly in our changing world.” A set of principles underpins what we decide and what we do. These principles enable a Networked Curriculum to take shape. The principles of leading learning in practice include authenticity, inquiry, collaboration, future-focused, supported challenge, student centred, rigour, flexible and responsive.

 

Principles of Leading Learning

Principles of Leading Learning in Practice

 

In his book ‘Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World’, David Perkins explains that “a curriculum of much wider than traditional scope speaks more powerfully to the lives learners are likely to live.” His suggestion is to seek a flexible network structure that is more responsive and expansive in meeting student needs. He admits there is no ideal curriculum, however he suggests focusing on four big understandings in curriculum design. These understandings are:

  • Big in INSIGHT – reveal how our world works.
  • Big in ACTION – empowers us to take action.
  • Big in ETHICS – encourages us to be more moral, caring, and humane.
  • Big in OPPORTUNITY – comes up in significant ways in varied circumstances.

As we move from a traditional setting to a more networked structure in our curriculum design what is needed, more than ever before, is the time for conversations by educators around what we believe is worth knowing and learning, to map that sequence out so we articulate what we value and then to make the vision a reality.

“Knowledge is good to know only if there are occasions that call on it and keep it alive and available. To be worth knowing, knowledge has to go somewhere.” David Perkins