I shared this video about the Learning Pit with my team last week as the professional development part of our meeting as I was very impressed with the positive responses from the teachers. I absolutely love the concept and want to promote it further within our team and the wider school.
The video generated a great deal of discussion and as a result, I am wanting to have a look at how we could implement this question everything type approach in to our final two ‘theme’ units.
I can hear my lecturer from the 300 level Human Development paper I took, from over a decade ago, rejoicing at the fact that I am about to write about Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky was well before his time and had, in his day, unique ideas about the way individuals learn.
Vygotsky’s four principles around how individuals learn, known also as the Vygotskian Framework are as follows:
1 Individuals construct their knowledge.
2 Development can not be separated from its social context.
3 Learning can lead development.
4 Language plays a central role in mental development.
How is the Vygotskian Framework applied in classrooms today?
Lev Vygotsky believed 4 basic principles underlie learning. Principles that wouldn’t sound to out of place in a classroom today where educators encourage agency, autonomy, contextualised and authentic learning. Fortunately, Vygotsky taught in a classroom setting. (Wertsch, J.V, 1991). This expereience undoubtably gave Vygotsky an insight into how to connect his theories with practical application in the classroom. To better understand Vygotsky’s theories we must think about principles that underpin many educators philosophy towards teaching toady – agency, autonomy, contextualised and authentic learning.
Student Agency – Students live, learn and play in a media saturated world. Often students are told what to think, how to act by the media. As educators, surely we are wanting students to have the a clear understanding of what they know and how they can construct knowledge for themselves – moving themselves forward as learners (Briceño, E, 2013).
Briceño, E (2013) Mindsets and Student Agency. Unboxed online. A Journey of Adult Learning in Schools.
Wertsch, J.V. (1991) Voices of the mind: A sociocultural approach to mediated action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
During our second Teacher Only Day, Anna Stephenson who was our facilitator gave out a reading by Watkins (2009) entitled ‘Learners in the Driving Seat’. The reading looks at who is responsible for students’ learning and how young students can take the lead in their own learning. You can view the article here: Learners in the driving seat – Watkins (2009). I am looking forward to trialling an idea with my class on day one – Ask the students to point at the ceiling with their index finger and then ask them to point at who is responsible for their learning. I am looking forward to taking pictures of this that we can, as a class, reflect back on later in the year. It is my hope that some of the students that I had last year point at themselves, but time will tell:-)
Watkins’ reading was a confirmation of sorts that the professional development/leadership that I had been planning for my team was heading in the correct direction. Last year, after reading about student agency, visiting various schools that promote student autonomy and attending educamp2014 I decided that I wanted to give students greater control over what they learnt in my classroom.
During Term 4 I trialled running small groups where students could opt into what was being taught. If the students decided to attend the small group and realised that they new the content they were free to leave. Of course, there were varying degrees of autonomy depending on the student; however, I felt that this approach worked very well. It was interesting to anecdotally note that motivation of the class improved as a result of being able to choose when and what they studied within the context of a wider topic.
Following on from this, I decided that I would like to try this approach on a wider scale. As part of our team teacher inquiry, which each teaching team has control over, I decided I would like to look at creating greater student agency/autonomy in 2015.
Aa part of the session with Anna, we were asked to think about what our team inquiry would look like. I was conscious of wanting to develop interest and motivation for the topic with the rest of my team members rather than telling the team what we would be inquiring about. I think that team ‘by in’ is massively important when looking at new initiatives/ideas.
Realising that this could be a massive inquiry for a team which has a third year teacher and a PRT 1 we decided to narrow our approach to the maths curriculum. Hopefully this would be beneficial from two aspects, firstly it will give us a more focussed approach and secondly it will give us concrete data to use and compare when studying the effectiveness of our inquiry.
I am thoroughly looking forward to implementing some of the ideas, readings and thinking that I have done over the Christmas holidays within my class and team.
PS: I tried the activity today from Learners in the driving seat (Watkins, 2009) with the students in my class and interestingly there was a correlation between the contributing schools my Year 7 had attended previously and who/where they ended up pointing. I was pleased that about 80% of my Year 8 students pointed at themselves. When asked to discuss who they pointed at and why, one of my Year 8 girl’s said that she pointed at herself because “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” which I thought was very insightful comment/reflection.
As Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) are reasonably recent, it is difficult to find quantifiable research that suggests MLEs lead to raised student achievement. Mark Osborne from CORE Education suggests that “this is one of the drawbacks of working in a relatively recent area of education.” So, although robust research isn’t readily available into the effects of MLE’s it is easier to identify what won’t change student achievement.
Changing classroom environments – knocking down walls, creating ‘break out’ spaces, adding bean bags and funky furniture and introducing devices is all relatively straightforward. However, MLEs are pointless if the teacher still leads from the front of classroom and doesn’t change his or her practice. The challenge will be to explore how MLEs can be used to genuinely change how and what we have been doing. In this respect, there is plenty of research available. The following is taking from the Virtual Learning Network and sums up the type of change and pedagogy we should be aiming to implement.
“When looking at how a learning environment might be used well, we should look to the research around pedagogy. Attention should be paid to work such as the Best Evidence Synthesis on pedagogy (Quality Teaching for Diverse Learners), Te Kotahitanga and John Hattie’s Visible Learning to identify teaching strategies that are most likely to make a difference for our learners. Providing an environment that offers as many learning settings as possible to promote these kinds of powerful pedagogies (peer tutoring, reciprocal teaching, mastery learning, student agency over learning etc.) is crucial and for many schools this variety is offered through modern learning environments. To summarise the thinking in this area: MLEs make a difference because they give teachers more opportunities to use pedagogies that make a difference.”
Mark Osborne, CORE Education.
e-learning is clearly identified as a powerful means of supporting effective pedagogy in and beyond the classroom. As the NZC states:
Information and communication technology (ICT) has a major impact on the world in which young people live. Similarly, e-learning (that is, learning supported by or facilitated by ICT) has considerable potential to support teaching.
For instance, e-learning may:
- assist the making of connections by enabling students to enter and explore new learning environments, overcoming barriers of distance and time
- facilitate shared learning by enabling students to join or create communities of learners that extend well beyond the classroom
- assist in the creation of supportive learning environments by offering resources that take account of individual, cultural, or developmental differences
- enhance opportunities to learn by offering students virtual experiences and tools that save them time, allowing them to take their learning further.
Schools should explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning.
We live in an ever-changing world where the majority of students now use devices outside of school to communicate and learn on a daily basis. I would like to see devices being used more prominently within schools to further enhance teaching and learning.
My vision for schools is that they begin to innovatively blend the use of technology into current programmes, as well as adapting current practice to include the use of devices. By doing this, we will develop connected, life-long learners, who are actively involved in the global community.
Many educators would argue that the term e-learning is twee or outdated, as it should be about learning full stop. Some educators prefer the term ‘blended learning’ to ‘e-learning’.
Hopefully the term blended learning allays the fear that schools are trying to replace pen and paper, traditional modes and methods of teaching, and instead suggests that we simply want to ‘blend’ the pen and paper with electronic modes and methods.
While blended learning is the ultimate goal for teaching and learning in schools, we are clearly in a period of transition and it is timely and important that the “e” is highlighted to remind us that we are wanting to see a greater and more effective use of electronic devices in classrooms.
Given this reason, it is appropriate, that both terms are used with the ultimate goal of having a blended approach to teaching and learning embedded in every teacher’s daily practice.
The danger, when thinking about iPad pedagogy, is to fall into the trap of looking at a range of apps and consider how they might be used in the classroom. While this is very important I think it is important for schools to get their ‘Why’ right. Why use iPads? Why not use another device?
Fundamentally, I believe that iPad pedagogy stems from your pedagogy about education and where you think it is heading. I believe that we need to prepare how students for a future where everything will be changing rapidly. People will no longer worry how much information you can contain but what you can do with the information that is available to you.
I believe that Education 3.0 is where we are heading.
With this in mind, as educators, we need to ask ourselves which device is going to best meet the needs of this type of environment. An environment where students will be required to create, evaluate, analyse, apply, remember and understand. I believe that the iPad best suits this approach to education.
The biggest benefit to using iPads, that I see, is the ability to be able to create and construct more effectively and easily than you can on other devices. Students can also connect with others more easily as they have two cameras instead of just one, like many other devices.
Once you have a clear vision about ‘Why’ iPads you can then begin to look through this Education 3.0 lens at the plethora of apps that are available to meet your teaching and learning needs. Below is an excellent ‘pedagogy wheel’ to help you decide which apps most effectively meet your requirements.
Mark Osbourne quoted Seymour Papert, an MIT mathematician, computer scientist, and educator, during a presentation he made at an L@S Roadshow. It stuck with me ever since. The danger with the rapidly changing world that we live and teach in is that it becomes increasing easy to ‘jump on’ the latest elearning ‘band wagon’ and think that it will change teaching and learning. It won’t.
One must consider a range of factors when implementing new elearning initiatives in schools but student learning must be paramount. If the technology isn’t used by teachers to effectively shift learning then the technology becomes redundant.