Sunday, May 29, 2011

Risk Taking and Mistake making

Do we need to take risks (or as a member of our discussion group this morning said "Have a go") to learn?
We debated this point this morning. It was an interesting discussion. We did agree that we needed to talk to our children about the learning process and aspects of their learning that involved taking a risk- in fact discuss what "taking a risk" means. We reflected on the NZ Curriculum and the key competencies of participating and contributing and of managing self. Both involve taking risks (with the chance of making mistakes) to learn and grow. Certainly once children leave the compulsory schooling years they will be in an ongoing range of situations where they have the choice of taking a risk (having a go) with the possibility of making mistakes and the consequences of this or of staying in their comfort zone.
If they do not learn to take risks and make mistakes in the safety of the schooling environment when will they? Will they venture an opinion in a group discussion with the risk that their opinion could be perceived as wrong (Participating and Contributing) if they are scared of the consequences. How do they learn to manage self if they are not put in the situation where they can "have a go"?
Will their experiences through school encourage or discourage them from taking a risk?
Do our classrooms and schools have a culture of encouraging risk taking and accepting "making mistakes" as a critical part of the learning process?
Time to observe, talk to our children and our staff and find out!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Integrated Learning, Questioning and Assessment

I was having some great discussions with a group of principals (critical friends) yesterday regarding integrated learning and assessment. In particular we are interested in what is meaningful and useful to assess, what we do with that information, how it will inform teaching and parents and be of value to the child. We looked at a number of approaches. At Windsor we have experimented with the knowledge aspect, the skills strand and the application of PRIDE Values.
This year we are exploring the Key Competency of Thinking and in particular the ability of children to explore into their world and the concepts/ contexts we are studying through effective questioning. We have developed a questioning matrix and are looking to see the children develop their ability to ask questions, (closed first) then use the seven servants to broaden their inquiry followed by the use of key words and then the ability to pursue a course of inquiry.
What we have found out along the way is that while children enter school at 5 with non stop questions about their world that these appear to reduce in quantity and quality as they progress through our education system. This is a real concern if their are to be lifelong learners and are act as active rather than passive learners. In fact it appears that the one who asks the most questions in the classroom in school is the teacher....
Do we want children exiting school only able to answer questions (i.e. find the correct answer) or ask their own questions and then explore, inquire and find some solutions?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hands Up - IT Solution

Matt Bush read my blog and suggested that while ice cream sticks were good the Randomizer is better- check this out!

Hands Up!

Why do we ask children to put up their hands to answer a question in class?

A very short observation will show you that:
- One or two children typically get their hands up before the question is even finished because they love to talk and can think on the spot
- Those who take time to process the question (as all should) feel pressured by the fact that child A and B have their hands up already (now trying to process and cope with added pressure)
- Those who were not wanting to answer are relieved and sit back thinking "Thank God I didn't have to answer that one"
- Others who have their hands up waiting for their turn to answer cannot listen to others contributions because they are busy trying to remember what they were going to say!
- and others might not even want to answer as they have realised this is a "Guess what is in the Teachers head" at times!!!!

What to do?
Have a "no hands up policy" in the classroom.
Instead discuss with the children
"When I ask a question I will give you time to think, then I want you to share your idea with a partner then I will choose anyone, or two or three to share with the class" (Think , pair, share)
Use icecream sticks with the children's names on. Each time you ask a question wait 10 seconds and then draw a name from the pot then everyone will listen, think and be ready to contribute.
Remind children there are many possible responses and that there is not usually just one correct answer.
Ensure that the question prompts thinking and generates discussion.
Do not repeat their answer/ response your children are probably not hearing impaired so let the response be theirs.
Provide meaningful feedback to their response.

Whatever you do try to get rid of the "Thinking stopper" of hands up!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Schoolwork, homework or learning?

Do semantics matter? I believe that they do. Consider "learning" and "work" in the school context.
When children come to school to learn there is a implicit expectation that their is an effective learning environment for them, that the learning opportunities are relevant, appropriate, provide a suitable challenge and that the children will know when they have succeeded or otherwise. The message will be "What are you learning at the moment?, Make the most of the learning time, Do you need assistance with your learning?" etc. At home the "learning" they do should support what was learnt at school- it should not be work or a chore- homework very often leads to family stress and turns children off learning. School (the 8:30-3:15 place of learning) should be an exciting journey of learning not a daily grind of going to work! Likewise Home Learning should be an enjoyable experience for parent and child (yes this is possible!!)

When children come to school to do schoolwork the message is often "get on with your work", "Let me see your work". There is also plenty of room for "busy work" that is, activities that do not challenge the learner and in fact do not encourage learning at all.
We do not have time at school for busy work, or time filling work (worksheets another example) we only have time for powerful, meaningful, exciting learning!

Do semantics count? Most definitely- I challenge teachers, parents and school leaders to try switching to "learning" in place of "work" you will quickly see a difference in yourself as well as the opportunities you provide the learner