Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Teaching as inquiry...continuing to learn

P questionImage via Wikipedia
Christina Ward facilitated a webinar today - 23rd November (access recording here), which explored the topic of teaching as inquiry. A record number of people registered for the session, and even before the session got underway there was some good discussion in the text chat box. Christina, since 2004, has been linked up with the curriculum development team within the Ministry of Education (MoE), and since then she has been working on the NZ curriculum online.

The session started with Christina sharing a quotation by Stoll, Fink & Earl (2003): "Teachers are at the heart of school improvement, and with all the change in the world and new understandings about learning it is essential that they too keep learning". Christina stressed that it is important to have teachers at the heart - and thinking about learning. During the session Christina planned to give a quick look at teaching as inquiry and its place in the NZC, as well as characteristics of schools and classrooms where teaching as inquiry is evident along with some examples.

Christina started with a short survey that asked participants to rate their experience about teaching as inquiry. The results were really interesting with 20% of participants just beginning to learn about teaching as inquiry, 40% who have made a start and are noticing shifts, 30% who are confidently using teaching as inquiry, and 1-% who have a deep understanding and notice significant shifts in student achievement and teaching practice.

The teaching as inquiry cycle was then discussed, along with a clarification that inquiry learning and teaching as inquiry are different things. The teaching as inquiry approach has been developed to encourage teachers to inquire into their own teaching methods, assess its effectiveness, and learn or alter practices where necessary. Christina provided a really useful link to the Instep site that provides some great ideas of different ways that inquiry can happen, and it also explains some of the key terminology.

Education Reform I found this picture at: http...Image via Wikipedia

Participants were asked to watch this video where Helen Timperley, Professor of Education at The University of Auckland talks about ways teachers can gain knowledge through cycles of inquiry into their practice. There was also a link to a report written by Helen Timperley that covers the subject of PD in depth and what is proving effective.

The characteristics of schools who are showing that they have a pretty strong handle on teaching as inquiry include support for teachers with:
  • systems and processes for introducing teaching as inquiry
  • promote a culture of trust and open mindedness
  • allow for fallibility
  • encourage persistence
  • meeting in groups to understand processes and put them into practice
  • investigate data
SuitcaseImage by Mamboman1 via FlickrIn schools where inquiry teaching is encouraged the dialogues around teaching and learning have been seen to have changed, and this has proven healthy in whole schools shifts. A couple of participants mentioned aspects of teaching as inquiry in their institutions including: "We had teaching as inquiry projects as part of our appraisal process", although others mentioned "Some teachers use avoidance tactics such as this is an add on rather then it is something that we do every day in our teaching ", and "Often senior managers see it as an add on and a tick box exercise to keep ERO happy".

On the example front, Christina shared some awesome resources including the following videos:
TrustImage by gorbould via Flickr

And an article in .pdf format entitled Teaching as Inquiry: One School's Approach. Participants were able to pick and choose a resource that was relevant to them, go away to access / watch it, and then return to the Webinar...with comments. Some of the comments included:

  • "I love the idea of ‘de-privatizing’ learning. The importance of collaborative discussion of one anothers practice- It requires a very positive, encouraging environment for teachers to share so openly."
  • "Carol jarrett's comment about reframing the learngin conversation between teachers to look at problems of practice in a positive way so they can feel safe to try new things very very important"
  • "principals/leaders to model the inquiry is indeed powerful"
  • "Good to see the work being done in pastoral component with secondary school. It would be interesting to see the research"
  • "As DP I'm inquiring into eportfolios"
  • "Carol Jarrett's video says interesting things about taking those risks"
These comments blossomed into a really lively chat session, with lots of ideas and sharing of practices. It is well worth visiting the recording of the session to review what Christina covers, and also to have a good look at some of the conversation.

TrustImage by m-c via Flickr

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Standardised testing: What's the point?

A pile of NCEA exam booklets, returned and mar...Image via Wikipedia
I would argue that "Assessment practice is at its most rich when assessment events are relevant, authentic and timely. Relevant assessment is that which is inextricably linked to learning outcomes designed to meet an agreed graduate profile (Biggs, 1999). Authentic assessment requires students to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential skills and knowledge. Timely assessment provides students with the opportunity to apply skills and knowledge gained as they learn. Teaching and learning in a blended format enables relevant, authentic and timely assessment that is greatly facilitated by the use of online tools, including self-grading, simulation and problem-based approaches, activities that require reflection and peer-review and the electronic delivery of assessment tasks." (source)

So - I was aghast when I read Florence Lyon's post today. What are the solutions? Are there any? Where next?:

A few days ago Year 11 sat the French NCEA which is the end of year exam here in New Zealand. As you might be aware the exam was of a poor quality. Some questions were of a level 3 instead of level 1. French teachers have complained and you can listen to a podcast of teachers expressing their feelings.
Of course like all the other teachers I am shocked and disappointed that my students were assessed to a higher level than they are expected to work at. But I am more asking myself about the idea of exams itself.

I actually do not know why students have to sit an exam at the end of the year. What is the point ?
So you work all year around, you learn everyday more French and at the end of the year you sit an exam and then what ?? 2 possibilities here : first you carry on with French or it was your last test ever in French. Either way you haven’t learnt anything at all from this exam.

In 2011, we have seen in NZ students using more and more ePortfolios in order to not only gather evidences but also to reflect on their own progress. To me, it seems it is pointless then to ask our students to sit an exam at the end of the year. I think it would be a much better idea to ask our pupils to sit an exam during the year, give them a feedback and ask them to sit the same exam (or another one of same difficulty) and see what the progress have been.

It is common practice in other subjects to pre-test student and then retest them later on using the same test (when the learning has taken place). By doing so students can see their progress and are given the opportunity to actually reflect on their learning.

What do the students do with their NCEA results ??

Yes I am outraged that the exam was of a very poor quality, full of errors and of a higher level, but for me the biggest complain is that there is no point at all to assess the students the way it is done now.

(this is a cross post from )

Image via Wikipedia
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Friday, November 11, 2011

Why does Sara feel sick every Monday morning? Coping with dyslexia.

Do you know anyone who fits the following profile (taken from Danella Smallridge's Wiki)
  • Sara has undiagnosed dyslexia.
  • She is good at maths and art.
  • She constantly struggles with reading and spelling.
  • She had reading recovery at 6 years old and made some progress.
  • Every year since then, her literacy achievement has been slipping.
  • Her teacher thinks she is lazy and needs to “try harder.”
  • Last year her teacher thought she was just naughty.
  • Sara thinks she is dumb.
  • Her biggest disability is her low self-esteem.
  • She tries to hide her difficulties from her friends.
  • She would rather people thought she was lazy or naughty– rather than dumb.  (Source)
Danella goes on to say "The really complicated thing about dyslexia is - no two students will have exactly the same symptoms. Each dyslexic student will have their own unique blend of difficulties" (Source).

If you feel any of your students, friends or family might be dyslexic you are likely to find some useful information and sources of support in the resources Danella has compiled. On her Wiki she has advice around diagnosis, as well as classroom tips. For a way more extensive review of dyslexia and the way schools can meet the needs of dyslexic learners you can access a study that Danella researched and wrote up: Delving into Dyslexia (.pdf). An extract from the executive summary is quoted below:

"The current cognitive and motor study conducted in conjunction with the Action, Brain & Cognition lab at Otago University, has found a consistent and significant difference in reactions times for dyslexic learners on a simple visual-motor response task. This adds weight to the New Zealand Ministry Literature Review on Dyslexia (2007) which states that dyslexia is more complex than merely a simple phonological deficit. Based on my learning from current research and the study of specialist interventions, help for dyslexic students must consider: early diagnosis and intervention; general classroom accommodations; specialist 1:1 teaching in literacy & underlying cognitive weaknesses; developing self-esteem through strengths; fine tuning classroom literacy teaching; using multiple memory hooks; addressing any sensory and motor difficulties; teaching social skills; and enhancing metacognition. Davis Dyslexia and SPELD NZ are both recognized providers of specialist teaching interventions for dyslexic learners. This study examines each in detail, and comments on observed strengths and weaknesses."  (Smallridge, 2008, p.1)

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Derek Wenmoth shared the following online safety, interactive game, writing:
It's a cyber-safety resource developed by an Australian company that I linked with in Tasmania earlier this year. They have produced a number of interactive resources like this, many focusing on cyber safety and cyber citizenship. Last year the Australian government paid for one of their products to be made available free to all schools

So I went and had a play. I was hooked, and really enjoyed the environment, the game aspect (you get points and bonus points), the opportunity to learn from errors (you get more chances with similar scenarios), and it was also a great way to check my own knowledge about staying safe online. You could use the game in a collaborative environment, and add a competitive edge by asking users to share (and get better) scores. It was suggested that the game would be suitable for children from about year 4 to 5 upwards, and I would add, for adults too!

A couple of slightly irritating features for me were sometimes the task was a bit unclear (but could just be me!) - and this meant that you would get an incomplete response and be given another opportunity to respond - not so helpful if you're not sure exactly what is required. In this case the tool stopped testing what the player new about staying safe in the online environment, and started to test familiarity with interactive task interfaces. It was also pointed out by Anne Sturgess in the discussion that followed Derek's initial sharing that "I didn't notice whether or not there was an opportunity for players to find out what they could do to ensure they made the correct choice in a real situation (e.g. checking security on an online shopping site)" On the whole though - a big thumbs up.

Derek would be keen to receive any feedback you may have about your experiences with the Grapple challenge, so if you post comments below, I'll be sure to pass them on :-)
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Belonging, becoming and being: First-year apprentices' experiences in the workplace

If you have not heard of Selena Chan and the work she is doing in the Vocational Education and Training sector - especially around the use of mobile learning - then this report is a must: Belonging, becoming and being: First-year apprentices' experiences in the workplace (downloads as a .pdf).

The description from the Ako site reads: "In this report, the perspectives of first-year apprentices (both continuing and discontinued) and pre-trade student are studied to explain the factors influencing young peoples’ decision to commence and continue with apprenticeship.
Apprentices and pre-trade students from 7 industry training organisations (ITOs) encompassing the primary, infrastructure, manufacturing and service sectors participated in this project. Data collected from focus group and individual interviews were analysed using case study methods to derive findings based on first-year apprentices’ experiences.
The study’s findings include:
  • the need to help individuals match their ‘vocational imagination’ with the workplace realities;
  • that support is required to help novices establish a sense of belonging to a workplace; and
  • assistance is required to maintain engagement and momentum for apprentices’ eventual completion of apprenticeship and qualifications".

Global audiences & 'over the back fence' peer mentoring

Adobe Connect Webinar & PodcastImage by sridgway via Flickr
Geoff Wood, who is working in the Health and Life Skills Department at Rosmini College in Takapuna (Auckland) opened by introducing some background around the InterPacific symposium and forum. It started in 2006 with a 2 hour video conference between students at Washington State University and Rosmini College in Takapuna. The students share their research projects (7 mins) and engage in discussion on current topics related to exercise, wellness and sport. In 2011 the Symposium programme has been extended to allow group presentations on a selected topic. The topic for this year is obesity and physical inactivity. The students are hooked up via VC, at a location that is integrated with KAREN.

Student eeePC userImage by USM MS photos via FlickrThe project is cross age, and ranges from 8 years old upwards. The diversity in the audience was obvious, from primary upwards. One of the positive effects is seeing many different examples of presentations.

It was great to see some video footage of a couple of the students presenting, with the audience in the US projected up on the screen. The audience can see both the slides and the student talking, as well as hear the audio. Some of the student feedback included assisting with upskilling in tertiary skills.

The assignment for this year included a review of 3 research reports, synthesise and post on a forum for feedback. One example that Geoff showed was a student (Year 13) who wasn't a confident writer, who wrote up and posted his abstract in the community, and received some great comments, suggestions and questions. He refined his abstract, and has since created a poster which he has presented at a conference. As a result, the confidence in his own writing has improved, as have many of his key competencies.

Webinar Command Center 2Image by Christopher S. Penn via Flickr

A complementary aspect is the 'meet the experts' initiative that came about as assistance for students seeking the most up-to-date thinking on a topic being examined. Using Skype or VC the students connect with an expert in the field for a maximum of 10 minutes. Five minutes is for the expert to outline the issue and solution, and 5 minutes for questions and answers. Students have connected to experts in NZ, USA, and Switzerland on topics such as diabetes, the physical activity environment, and nutrition programmes.

Alongside these two initiatives is "Over the Back Fence", which is built on a  strengthening relationship with the primary school next door to Rosmini. Year 12 students provide a planned weekly physical education experience for 8 classes (year 3-6) - emphasising physical fitness and movement/sport skill development. In small groups the Year 12 students develop health and wellness messages which are taken into the classrooms. Each message is 5 minutes in length and sequential, Monday to Friday. At least one message must be Skyped, and others use blogs, online questionnaires, movies and PowerPoints.

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