Teaching to the 100% – a model to help teachers and students move beyond surviving, to thriving.

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The teacher’s role of bringing out the best in everyone needs to be enshrined.

I was reminded recently about the impact my approach to teaching and learning has had in allowing all my students to achieve excellent learning outcomes on a consistent basis. This success all stems from my determination to ensure success for every child in my class. That is, 100%. But to get to this level of success I find myself having to forgo the familiar way of teaching, and instead, forge a pathway based on evidence and research.

The 100% target is quite an exacting standard to impose on a teacher but I have come to appreciate that it is only by having this target that best teaching practice will reveal itself. Solutions to seemingly intractable problems are available if one is willing to dig deeper and take on a long term problem solving approach. Unfortunately, this approach is neither common, nor encouraged. To do so requires blind determinationhigh levels of social and emotional competency and a willingness to explore the beliefs and biases that are a part of human nature. It’s hard. These human skills are not taught at teacher training school. And it’s easier to go with the flow, to not rock the boat. It’s easier to blame the students, or poor parenting skills, or social inequality. That is, blame anything and everything, other than teacher failure.

There would be very few classes I have taught since beginning teaching that have not included at least one child who is not “school ready”. The behaviour of this child (this is not a reference to a particular child, but a composite) is extremely disruptive and it displays behaviour that impedes the learning and (sometimes safety) of the other students. This type of child I categorise as the 1-5%. There are also students that I categorise as the 5-20%. The behaviour of students in this category may not be as severely disruptive or violent but they have a negative impact that is felt by the teacher and the other students. If left unchecked the behaviours displayed by these students will make the school year a less than pleasant one and will likely compromise the quality of learning that is able to take place in the classroom. And this is a failure that will end up costing us all. These are the students that help teachers make the decision to quit teaching.

The point I am trying to make here is that, the prevalent teaching model, even if it was effective, is only catering to 80% of the class. That is, every student’s learning is going to be compromised to some extent. I describe this as a model of surviving, rather than thriving. The day I decided to aspire to a thriving teaching model was the day my teaching practice changed forever. Targeting success for the 100% forced me to look for answers that were within my control; to keep questioning myself and asking those difficult ‘how and ‘why’ questions in order to get to a solution that dealt with the root cause. But once again, those questions are generally not welcome or well-received. Because to follow the best answers to their conclusion, ends up colliding with the status-quo.

I have discovered that the solution lies in focusing on social/ emotional learning first and foremost. The academic learning is not neglected but the social/emotional learning is given immediate priority. And the thing is, if you are a proponent of the power of student agency like I am, for that to happen, the teacher needs to be in control of the class to allow the students to be effective self-learners. Without that control, the teacher will have to rely on the “students learning despite me” model of teaching. To do so, the focus needs to be on the learning of all students. Built on a foundation of strong relationships, I ensure that behaviour and academic expectations for every child are high and consistent. Of course there is a need for variability. It’s progress in attainment that is the key metric being measured. Clear and consistent expectations are matched by my unwavering support and desire to see every student achieve success in self-managing. The students who are already self-managing rarely complain that they are given more self-directed learning time.

I am pleased to report that by the end of term one, the classroom culture is now strong and cohesive and there exists a secure platform in which to launch into effective academic learning. The social and emotional learning will be maintained continuously. I continue to give the students opportunities to practice engaging in pro-social behaviours. Slowly but surely all the students take on more active roles as directors of their own learning. I keep tweaking and modifying the learning environment based on the interactions that I observe and the evidence that it reveals. It is the future of learning.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Teachers as designers of learning – part 2.

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How do you know if successful learning is taking place in your classroom?

The 5-6 year old children in this photo were playing “addition snap”. It was an activity I introduced to them to encourage them to practice their basic facts. Each child flips their top card to reveal the number value. The winner is the first to add the two values together correctly. It was not uncommon for the children to choose to play this ‘game’ when they could have chosen to play with any of the wide range of toys available to them at the same time.

With reference to the previous post – Teachers as Designers of Learning, I want to explore 1. the rationale for introducing this game and 2. how I knew it was a successful learning activity.

The first part is pretty easy. I saw an opportunity to introduce this independent maths game based on my awareness of the work of James Gee. Although I had already been teaching using the principles that James Gee promotes, it gave me the confidence that I could reference his work if I was asked to justify my rationale for applying this approach to teaching and learning taking place in my classroom. At the same time, it wasn’t a radical innovation. There was very little input required from me. I knew that there existed a positive learning culture that would allow this game to be played independently. I had worked hard to establish that culture over the preceding weeks and months. I knew that the some students were developmentally ready and these students had already displayed some competence in basic addition facts knowledge. And I also knew that they would be motivated to practice and develop this knowledge.

All I had to do was introduce the idea briefly to the whole class and more specifically to a few targeted students. I then observed them taking on the task successfully and enthusiastically. Eventually this activity spread like a virus. I listened, encouraged and supported. Occasionally I offered guidance and correction but ultimately it became the students’ game. The feedback was positive. The children were motivated and getting better at adding numbers together. That was all the evidence I needed to confirm that it was a success. That is how I define the iterative process of evidence-based teaching. Implement, observe, reflect, modify…repeat.

The biggest value in this process for me was how it informed and improved my overall approach to teaching. Upon reflection, I realised that this learning activity fulfilled all the principles of effective learning as described by James Gee. That is, the learning…

  1. was authentic and clear
  2. gave opportunity to embed new knowledge
  3. was pleasantly frustrating/comfortably challenging
  4. was happening in a positive, supportive learning environment

Of course it was at this point that I started thinking about how I could apply this new learning experience into other aspects of my teaching practice. The process continues. Once again….implement, observe, reflect, modify….and so on.

After all, isn’t this what ‘evidence-based teaching’ is about? Or at least, should be about?

And please note how there was no use of computer technology in this learning. The point being, effective learning can happen without computers or other technology. It is the thinking that is going on behind the learning that is critical, not whether the learning is being done on a device. In fact, it is important to be critically cautious about the role of technology in education. That is, “it is important not to conflate engagement with technology with meaningful engagement with technology that increases agency and supports learning among young people”.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Teachers as designers of learning.

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With regard to my teaching practice, I am always looking for inspiration and/or validation in order to help me bridge the gap between research and best practice. For me, the process of bridging the gap is an ongoing, iterative one that looks something like this…

  1. implement small changes to my practice based on my observations, experience and new knowledge,
  2. reflect on the impact (evidence) of those changes,
  3. make small modifications to my practice as a result of the evidence,
  4. compare the evidence of those changes to what the latest research reveals.

My discovery of James Gee is an example of how new knowledge can offer both inspiration and validation. James Gee promotes the idea that a recipe for effective teaching and learning can be provided by gaining an understanding of how successful computer games work. He says we have a lot to learn from games – as a model for creating/designing good learning. I’ve always held an ambivalent attitude towards computer games but I have also been curious as to what it is about computer games that makes them so compelling and successful.

So, what can successful computer games teach us about good learning design? Here are some key principles…

1. Authenticity and clarity – learners need to feel that what they are doing or being asked to do, matters. The learning goals need to be clear and precise.

2. New knowledge versus practice – the correct balance between new knowledge delivery and, opportunities to apply and practise this new knowledge, is critical. A good learning environment invites learners to solve problems and provides opportunities to apply different strategies. Of course, problem solving can’t be done without first providing some foundation knowledge. The teacher needs to be discerning about the type and volume of knowledge that the learners are being provided with. All knowledge does not need to be provided at the beginning. Knowledge is best served in a ‘just in time’ way. In this way it acts as an invitation to the learner to bring their curiosity to the fore.

3. Scaffolding –  the learning needs to be sequenced well and be pleasantly frustrating/comfortably challenging. Not too hard and not too easy. To be effective, learning needs to be able to integrate the body and the mind. This allows for a deeper level of learning to take place. The quality of the learning environment/culture is also critical. The cost of failure needs to be low.

4. Teacher/student relationships – the teacher needs to know the students well. Good learning happens when the learners feel comfortable and empowered. Regular, timely, appropriate feedback is essential to allow for the learner to be ‘nudged’ towards mastery.

How many of the points listed above feature in your own teaching practice? Can you identify the barriers that are stopping you from creating the optimal learning environment?

I encourage you to view the video to see the full description of the features of effective game design/learning design as described by James Gee.

I’ve also made a summary of the key points. You can find that below.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

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Great teachers…

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Play-based learning – designated playtime can offer a gateway to effective learning. Ask me how.

Great teachers….

  1. know their material, and
  2. can support their students to be effective learners of that material.

That is, mastery of the material is not enough. To be effective, teachers need to be able to support students to be effective learners of that material. If, as Daniel Willingham says, “memory is the residue of thinking…you remember what you think about”, then the key task of teachers is to understand how effective learning takes place and use that understanding to get their students curious, thinking and engaged about learning. Raising the level of ‘genuine’ student agency is a key contributor to this goal.

Experience tells me that a large part of the reason for schools failing to support students to be effective learners is because insufficient consideration has been given to the second criteria. Teaching is a human business. It requires teachers to use skill and judgement in order to gather the small data. And with that data, teachers need to be skilled at interpreting it and working with it in order to enhance the collective learning experience. I believe that schools, in their current incarnation fail to recognise or value the potential of this human element in teaching. Think back to that teacher that inspired you to learn or turned you on to their subject. And also think of those teachers who managed to do the opposite. 

Surely, it’s the inspirational teachers that we want to have in classrooms, in front of students. But why are they such a rare breed?

According to SKR, it’s about permission.  He believes that “a lot of what goes on in schools isn’t mandated, it’s just habit”. In other words, schools don’t have to be the way they are. They could be what we want them to be. This tells me that there is a need for the way schools work to be reimagined. And there lies the potential role of leadership. Rather than enforcing the status quo, leaders need to become adept at managing the climate, making boundaries more malleable, tapping into talents and being open to the possibility that expertise will come in a range of different forms. Meaningful change comes from the grassroots. Leaders need to be open and responsive and skilled at managing the change.

And change doesn’t have to be wholesale. It can come about incrementally. Through trial and error. And when you look at the cost of failure, it’s easy to see that we don’t have much to lose. And let’s be clear, it’s innovation in teaching practice that’s required; that will make the biggest impact. That is, it’s the human element that we need to be looking for. Not gimmicks or fads.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Opportunity squandered?

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“Move along. There’s nothing to see here – just children playing”.

Just like a moth to a light, I feel compelled to critique* the quality of education that is being delivered in New Zealand schools. I am at the chalk face. I witness it first hand. I have immersed myself for over 20 years in trying to understand what effective teaching and learning actually is. I do know that teaching is a complex business. That’s because humans are complex. We all have our flaws. Noone is perfect. But acceptance of that reality should not be interpreted as an invitation to avoid seeking the truth or doing the right thing. If we care to look, we will see that the latest research is inviting teachers to be more human, be more emotionally connected, be more generous of spirit – to operate from a growth mindset and with honesty.

I am encouraged by the way Pasi Sahlberg invites teachers to take note of the small data – those formative interactions with students. You can find his interview from ULearn 2018 here. You should have seen the teachers at the conference all nodding in agreement. And then they return to their classrooms, and ‘sigh’, it’s business as usual.

…small data, “those tiny little clues that can reveal big trends or ideas”… Pasi believes that when we talk about evidence based education, and evidence based policies or teaching, that much of that evidence is actually teachers’ own professional wisdom and experience and comes from professional judgement in interpreting small data.

Experience tells me that the current (inherited?) operating model for schools is an unforgiving one. For teachers and students alike. Humanity and common sense are by and large absent commodities in school settings, in any tangible form. Teaching operates in a non-sustainable way. It encroaches on personal life and well-being.  And on top of that, it also fails to deliver any meaningful successful learning outcomes. It fails to help students or teachers achieve their potential. Potential is being squandered. This scenario will continue as long as teachers remain unaware of what their impact is.

So who is responsible for creating this broken system? And who is responsible for being the catalyst for change?

If we were to generalise the message of serial entrepreneur, Vicki Saunders, the answer to the above two questions is easy – a). men and b). women.

But like Vicki, I also know how it feels to be picked apart. I know everything that is at fault with my personality. I know how it feels to have created an exponential learning environment for all the children in my class and to have that success ignored. I know how it feels to be told that it is I, not the system, that is broken. I know the consequences of challenging the status quo. Unlike the business world, it is obvious that education has embraced the role of women in leadership. It would be safe to say that women are the dominant force in New Zealand schools – at least in the early childhood and primary sectors. To put it simply, Vicki’s response is too simplistic.

Yes, maybe we do have an education system that has been inherited from men. But I am also seeing an opportunity for change being squandered. I’m all for more successful women entrepreneurs in the world but what better opportunity to change the world for the better than to work at the grassroots level of education – the earlier the better. I know there exist female and male teachers who would embrace the opportunity to be part of the process of change. Teachers who have had the passion for teaching squeezed out of them, who question the status quo but voice it internally or in hushed voices. The common denominator amongst these people is their positive humanity and their ability to connect at an emotional level that in turn allows them to mine for the small data.

Based on the evidence I see in a school setting on a daily basis, the world will not automatically be a better place when women are put in charge. It is people with heart and rationality that we need to be leading the good change. I believe those two qualities are compatible, not mutually exclusive. That is, my rational brain tells me that teachers need to be invited to bring their compassion and heart to the classroom. It is from that position that the essential skills of teaching can be developed, enhanced and shared.

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*Critique – It is a struggle to do the right thing in the face of an unforgiving system. But it can be done. Please read this as an invitation to question and challenge the prevailing and failing model of how schools operate.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

The link to the RNZ interview with Vicki Saunders that I refer to in this post can be found below.

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Student agency: what it is and what it isn’t.

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Exploring the real meaning of student agency

It is the beginning of a new year. And I’m asking a bunch of 6-7 years olds, who I have only known for 5 weeks, to tell me about their academic and social successes and goals. Their answers are cute, wacky and hilarious in equal measure. But their answers are also very revealing and informative. Not in the way that this process was “probably” intended to produce. Experience tells me that attempting to capture their ‘voice’ in this way is not meaningful or helpful. It’s as though I am speaking in a foreign language. Over the years I have taken these children’s responses as evidence and motivation to change my teaching practice. It has provoked me into thinking more freely and deeply about what student agency is, and what it isn’t. But teachers are asked repeatedly to go through this very process on a regular basis. And teachers oblige. No questions asked. Just lots of muttering and stressing.

This received interpretation of student agency has never been explained to me or to any other teacher that I have spoken to. Woe betide any teacher who dares to ask the ‘why’ question. So in fact, I can only guess that the process I have described in the preceding paragraph is actually about student agency at all. Yes, “probably”. I can only assume therefore, that this is how student agency has been interpreted. Or perhaps more precisely, misinterpreted. As you may have figured out by now, I totally get the idea of the how and why student agency is a good thing to have. A curious, engaged student is going to be a much better learner. The learner in the driver’s seat, directing their learning has got to be great. I have built my success of effective teaching and learning on this notion. Wacky nonsensical responses to my earnest questions were my provocation to get to this point. But to put it simply, for many a 6-7 year old, after a whole 5 weeks at school, the only meaningful goal at the beginning of the year would be to sit quietly on the mat for 5 minutes. How is it that we have lost sight of that? Water flows freely down hill. It can be guided and pooled. But working with it, not against is most effective. I like to think of water and learning as having similar qualities.

So now let me describe

  • what student agency looks like in my classroom,
  • how I go about creating it,
  • why I see it as a worthwhile goal.

In my classroom at the beginning of the year, it is my ‘voice’ that is dominant. I am setting the culture, expectations, building relationships, providing a framework and a structure that is visible and consistent. It is more about psychology than teaching at this stage of the year. And I maintain the ‘benevolent dictator’ role throughout the year. I am the expert. I convey that message. I invite them to join me on a learning journey. That is not such an easy task if a student has not experienced this expectation before (or is still learning the skills of self-management). It takes time to convince a student to grasp this reality if they have only ever had teaching and learning ‘done to them’. I know what knowledge they need to know and how best to learn it. I know my impact. And as Graeme Aitken describes, the learning environment needs to be “teacher led, student sensitive”.

It is thanks to this approach that, as the year progresses, the students start to take “ownership” of their learning. The process of learning speeds up. Increasingly, the onus goes on the children to fill in the gaps that I have highlighted to them. I provide extra support to the children who need it – whether it is due to cognitive issues or social/emotional/attitude issues. Classmates are used to provide the extra support that is needed. The analogy being, the firehose has been turned off and in its place there are water fountains in the room for the students to drink from (the fountains being myself, other students, resources in the classroom, parents). My initial job is to get them to drink; to want to drink. Once that culture has been established, my job becomes easier.

It is from this point that the students who have mastered the essential knowledge are provided with opportunities to explore and be creative with this new knowledge and mastery. And that’s when the magic starts to happen. That’s when the ‘genuine’ student agency starts to kick in. The learning becomes a more organic and dynamic process – a learning conversation. The students get excited about their ability and potential. They seem to rediscover their curiosity. It becomes contagious. I then become a conductor – responding to their needs and wants – learning from the students. This is the formative assessment process at its most dynamic. And it is all built on from a foundation of strong relationships, high but appropriate expectations and, the teacher’s expertise.

So which interpretation of student agency do you prefer? If you are a regular reader of this blog, I think I know your answer. The next question has to be, “how is it possible to get education leaders to recognise this alternative interpretation?” I know teachers who understand implicitly what I am describing and would grasp the opportunity to implement this ‘alternative’ version ably and willingly. But they don’t. And I think I know why they don’t. Beliefs and biases are rife. It may go some way to explaining why the teaching profession fails to attract and retain good teachers. Maybe. Just reread this post and replace the words ‘student agency’ with the words ‘teacher agency’.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Is your mindset holding back your students’ learning?

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Check your mindset.

Managing behaviour in the classroom is a topic that interests me and one that I have spent a lot of time exploring and trying to develop expertise in. That’s because I see it as a critical element in achieving the best learning outcomes for all students equally. If it’s true that the best learning takes place when students are the agents of that learning, then it makes sense that, for it to happen, students need to be able to self-manage.

It came as a surprise to me recently when I heard an “expert” on behaviour make a statement that contradicted my experience and knowledge. It required me to stop and reflect on my practice. Maybe I was getting something wrong. Was I guilty of contravening this advice? The message went something like this.

“It is not appropriate to punish a student’s bad behaviour by excluding that student from an event outside of the classroom; something like a sports event, or anything that the student would find enjoyable, or was good at”.

Let’s break it down. On the face of it, this seems to make good sense. There is an obvious lack of connection between the misbehaviour and the event the student would be excluded from. This is the same argument I use to explain why the giving certificates at a school assembly held fortnightly will have minimal impact on modifying behaviour in the classroom. So what I see here is a case of good science being applied randomly and/or inconsistently. This is a complex situation that needs to be understood fully in order to be effective. The science needs to be applied consistently to be effective.

However, alarm bells really started to ring for me when the following explanation for this rationale was provided.

“It’s not fair for a student, who may not be experiencing success in the classroom, to be excluded from an activity that may be the only place that the child gets to experience success”.

Unfortunately, I see this as an example of the deficit thinking that is prevalent in education, and society in general. To believe that the child will only ever experience success in a non-academic way is an example of how negative belief systems undermine efforts to improve learning outcomes for all students. It’s a case of the teacher being misinformed and putting the focus on achievement and results rather than on growth and improvement. It is in these situations that teachers need to be reflecting on in their teaching practice. As in, “what can I do to engage with that student more effectively? Or how can I help that student to be better at self-managing; to recognise that effort will result in improvement; that effort, whether it be on the sports field or in the classroom, will result in improvement?”

It’s quite possible that a teacher’s compassion for under-achieving students is actually doing students a disservice. The answer lies in getting along side your students, individually and collectively, building a relationship with them, understanding them and helping them to bring out their best. Students need high expectations, compassion and expertise in teaching and learning. Get the learning environment right. And get your mindset right.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

For an example of how mindset can have an impact on learning outcomes, check out psychologist Carol Dweck in this Ted Talk below….(16 minutes in, though I would highly recommend listening to the whole show).

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Introducing coding to a class of 5-6 year olds.

Botley

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Meet Botley, the programmable robot. I use Botley to introduce the concept of coding. In the past I have also used an iPad App called Kodable which I would also recommend.

Based on my experience, I am no longer amazed at how quickly 5 and 6 year old students can master coding. This observation has led me to appreciate that the current teaching model tends to act as a ceiling on learning – the teacher as “gatekeeper” rather than “catalyst”.

I approach the introduction of coding technology into the classroom in an indirect way. I introduced Botley briefly to the whole class. I then bring Botley out during the “student-led” time of the day. There is a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm so I find myself having to be the “gatekeeper” in terms of allocation of opportunity. Of course, curiosity and enthusiasm does not always translate into competence. So I persevere until I have found a student who grasps the concept the quickest. I then use this student to be the teacher/model.

Check out the video below to see where we are at so far. And please listen in to the interaction between the “teacher” and the “student” and the self-talk.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

What a 6 year old’s letter reveals about how children learn best.

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What’s in a letter?

I treasure this letter. It came to me from a 6 year old boy in my classroom. He wrote it at home and gave it to me when he arrived at school one morning. It’s been sitting on my desk at home ever since. Every time I sit down at my computer it’s there. I see it. I marvel at it. I contemplate what to do with it. I’m tempted to frame it. “What’s the big deal?” you ask. It’s just a letter. Children do this kind of thing all the time. Yes, but it’s because this letter reveals so much. In this letter, I recognise the impact I have had on him. It reflects the quality of the relationship I have built up with this child.

And in his letter I also see real learning. Learning in the way that is natural to children. I see his attempts to form the letters based on the way I have instructed him. I see the errors – the reversals that are entirely appropriate for a 6 year old, the crossing out and the corrections. It reveals deliberateness and purpose. The desire to write, to communicate, to explore and enter the adult word. Problem solving even. To me, this letter yells “I am an effective, engaged learner”. I mean, he could have just told me that he was planning to bring a cake. He didn’t have to write it. I can imagine the conversation between the child and his parents at home. The search for paper and a pen. The adult support that made it possible for this child to fulfill his desire to communicate in writing (when it was actually time for bed, perhaps).

I love this letter because it demonstrates and reflects so beautifully how a 6 year old’s learning should take place – but which is so commonly denied in a typical school environment. It’s a type of learning that reflects how children learn best. A type of learning that reflects the curiosity and natural developmental progressions of a child. I see examples of this type of learning taking place all the time in my classroom. Children choosing to write, to read books, to solve maths puzzles – to apply and test out their knowledge and skills.

Teaching is a word that has traditionally been, and continues to be, interpreted so narrowly. Teaching should be about providing children with a learning environment with plenty of space and time to grow and develop their own learning – to be curious, to test themselves, to make mistakes, to think critically. The most critical role of a teacher is to listen, respond, nudge – to not be a barrier to a child’s natural way of learning. From my personal experience, I marvel at the amazing learning that can be achieved when this approach to learning is embraced. When the learning is made visible. When the children are invited to lead their learning journey. When they are invited to share and acknowledge their accomplishments and discoveries. It allows for a highly sustainable, upward spiral of learning success to be perpetuated. Trusting the children to learn. Seeing is believing.

PS: The cake was delicious and enjoyed by everyone.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Evidence-based teaching, not disobedient teaching.

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I guarantee success for everyone. Ask me how.

Here’s some evidence of the learning growth taking place in my classroom. Hopefully you are curious about how I achieved it.

First of all let me tell you that I didn’t achieve this by tinkering at the edges of the current teaching model. Nor am I able to give you a 5 bullet point summary of how I achieved this. While it is completely achievable for every teacher to get similar results, it will require the application of a different mindset to what is currently being modeled and a need to apply the science of effective teaching as described by Hattie’s “Visible Learning” model.

Until recently I felt destined to live with the label given to me of “Disobedient Teacher”. I always felt that it was a price worth paying in order to get the best learning outcomes for all the students in my class. But things have changed. I now understand that I am simply practicing evidence-based teaching. But the unfortunate reality is, engaging in evidence-based teaching flies in the face of the prevailing orthodoxy. It means having to accept the disobedient label. That’s wrong. But it’s the current reality. If we are serious about improving learning outcomes for all students that needs to change.

The biggest change in my teaching practice and consequently, the biggest impact I have been able to have on student learning achievement has come about as a result of ensuring that every student is successful – appreciating that the cost of failure is too high. My target became more than just success for 80% of the students. Or 90%. Or 95 or 99%. 100% was the target. It’s amazing what happens when you put the students who are at risk of failing at the forefront of your teaching practice. Those questions that teachers should always be asking themselves such as, “how am I doing?” or “what’s my impact?” really become meaningful and informative. It’s an amazing feeling when you realise that your teaching practice is having a positive impact on all students, including the at-risk ones. But once again, teaching in this evidence-based way puts you in conflict with the status-quo. That’s because it’s hard to change teacher beliefs about their teaching and their students. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

I have discovered that positive change will only come from breaking rules – rules that should be broken. Rule breaking can be constructive if it is supported by quality evidence. Some will say that breaking rules is too risky. To which I reply – the risk and consequences of not embracing change is far greater. Others will say that breaking rules creates discomfort. And to that I say – that’s why we need leaders who can understand and manage that discomfort. The reality is that most of us don’t want to be challenged. We just want to take the path of least resistance. Agreement and consensus is the easiest option. Cooperation is too easily interpreted as collaboration. Diversity of thinking should be encouraged – that is, as long as the thinking is evidence-based.

My success in the classroom has not only come about due to my willingness to take risks. It stems from a child-like curiosity and a willingness to ask lots of those unwelcome “why” questions. I also require the students in my class to engage in a similar level of curiosity. That explains a lot. These days when I’m stuck, I put myself in the shoes of the students in front of me. Or better still, I ask those 5-6 year olds to come up with the solution. It’s a culture of learning that allows the students to move beyond being passive receivers of learning to being active agents of their own learning.

What are you waiting for? It can be done but don’t expect a 5 bullet point presentation to be the way forward. Be curious. Break some rules if you need to.

Inspiration for this blog post can be found at the link below.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

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