Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Learning and Teaching: Reflection 1 (Learning)

I am currently part of a working party developing the Learning and Teaching Policy across our International School. The school goes from the Pre-School (age 3-4) up to year 13 (age 18+). We have surveyed the teachers across the school for their opinions on teaching and learning and we are looking at some example policies. Further to this we are thinking about the key features that fit our school ethos: "A caring and learning community, respecting diversity and celebrating achievement." I am doing some background reading and this reflection is a composition of this. The books I am using are 'Active Learning through Formative Assessment' by Shirley Clarke and 'The Intelligent School' by MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed.

To guide my thinking I am considering a number of questions. At our first meeting we discussed the questions:
  • How effective is the way I teach in maximizing my students learning.
  • How well have the students progressed in my lesson?
  • Can I do something different that will improve my students learning?
I am leaving the last question as I will reflect upon that when I consider the teaching aspect of Learning and Teaching. As Learning is the student focus and ultimately the students are at the top of the list of purposes for the school (though not the only purpose referring back to the school ethos above).

I see the first two as being connected or similar. How effective relates to assessing the learning of the students and students progress also relates to assessing the students learning. Shirley Clarke sees the answer to these questions as formative assessment techniques that the student is in control of or that the student own. Active learning involving understanding what is trying to be learnt and what are the different markers of success. If the students understand this then they can reflect (individually, in peers or even whole class) on their learning and establish progress or the effectiveness of the lesson.

Clarke establishes learning as an active process and is something that can be improved. Learners can become better learners and in the process become more intelligent. This goes against the common grain that intelligence is fixed and can not be affected and students are either good or bad learners. Clarke draws upon the research and theories of Carol Dweck. Dweck has produced thirty years of studies to show that what is important is whether we see ability as fixed or something that can grow. The Intelligent School identifies two orientations called the learning orientation and performance orientation. The Learning Orientation is the one that reflects Dweck's Ability Growth.

This has led me to add three more questions to the above ones:
  • How can I help the students become better learners?
  • How will/were the students learn(ing) in my lesson?
  • What is learning?
Learning can grow, be made better, can improve or a learner can learn how to learn. What are the different aspects of learning? Guy Claxton in Building Learning Powers identifies these four learning dispositions with a range of attached competencies:

Absorption, managing distractions, noticing and perseverance
Questioning, making links, imagining, reasoning, and capitalizing

Planning, revising, distilling and meta-learning
Interdependence, collaboration, empathy and listening, imitation

Clarke links all these areas clearly with the various aspects of formative assessment. Learning has formative assessment as an inherent part of it. The Intelligent School by MacGilchrist et al. also identifies learning as an active process which has review as in integral part of it. The Intelligent School identifies this as meta-learning and that learners need opportunity to reflect upon:
  • their goals for learning;
  • the strategies they are using to learn;
  • how they feel about their learning;
  • what the outcomes of their learning are.
MacGilchrist also acknowledges the classic educational theorists in Piaget, Vytgotsky and Bruner. In doing so they identify other key elements that are part of effective learning:
  • constructivist (children use prior knowledge to make meaning of currently learning
  • social (learning is improved by interaction with peers and teacher)
  • learners learn at different rates
Other factors identified include:
Intelligence. Intelligence can be improved. There are a number of different types of intelligences as best exemplified by the Howard Gardner model. Intelligence is still predominantly seen by many in the UK as a fixed attribute. Obviously some of us have a greater aptitude for some of the intelligences than other. This is often akin to the commonly phrased Gifted and Talented.

Neuroscience contributes the importance of keeping the brain healthy for learning. Further most recent research has highlighted the huge importance of speaking and listening. This must be pushed as an important part of the learning environment.

The nature of learners namely that, learners come in different shapes and sizes and there are differences in learning between girls and boys.

In conclusion it is important to be up to date in understanding the nature of learning as some of the most powerful research has been done in the last twenty five years. Learning involves careful consideration for the context but also knowing how to learn. Further learners need to actively make sense of what has been learnt through review and reflection.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New ICT Curriculum

Today has seen the emergence of my new curriculum. It is the first draft of the curriculum in a form close to what it will look like when finished. This curriculum is a response to the archaic QCA planning in existence in many schools that use the English National Curriculum as its basis. I work at an International School and inherited an ICT curriculum and department in the primary school that was in a minimal state. Four years down the line I have  tried a number of innovative uses of ICT, and alongside a redesign of the curriculum into one that is cross curricular in its delivery, I have put together an ICT curriculum that more closely mirrors technology as it is used today. Further the curriculum looks to the future. Skills that will become the common threads of future English curriculum are here: collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, communication and creativity.

The Curriculum Map can be found here. 

The next stages will be to use this document to create some year group defined maps that will share the learning across the school. Further I will then match up the assessment rubrics that I have been working on and how they can be used. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Formative Assessment in ICT

Having recently embarked upon the use of rubrics in ICT, I have come to recognise the true power of formative assessment. Sharing rubrics with children whilst teaching them the skill subsets that will allow them to produce high quality pieces of work has shown that using assessment as learning not only has an immense impact on learning but can also save the teacher a lot of time planning for differentiation.

A rubric is a grid of statements of differing levels of competency. The teacher or in this case the children can match up their work with the statements and then take the overall picture to show what level they are working at.  Furthermore, children can see which statements they have rated themselves weak at and are then able to set them selves targets for their learning.

As I used the rubrics this week I started to hear the same target from many of my year 5 children. "I need to add more links to my website." This informed me of where I needed to take my teaching the following week.

To get to this stage I started by looking at the attainment levels for ICT. I looked a the differences between level 3, level 4 and level 5. What I immediately realised was that the statements didn't tackle the concepts I was dealing with in blogging, building websites and collaboration. What I did then was to deconstruct the attainment statements. Through this deconstruction I could see the fundamental differences between these three levels. Level 3 inherently deals with being able to complete or use ICT concepts as directed by the teacher. Level 4 is the standard level of proficiency for carrying out ICT work. Children can use search engines, complete excel formula, create graphs, write a sequence of instructions or use a MS office program without constant direction or guidance. Level 5 involved a greater sophistication and understanding of the same things. The student was able to use their skills and apply them to different situations. The work they produced showed an understanding of the audience and demonstrated the skills used to their maximum potential.

Having stripped these three levels of attainment down to their bare bones I was able to start to build rubrics for each of the new elements of ICT planning using my new insights into the attainment levels. My first attempts successfully split the attainment into aspects and then further into three standards of attainment - level 3, level 4 and level 5. I used these with my year six children for a while. At the same time I had been teaching the Year Five children from the opposite direction by slowly building up their skills. I came to a halt with these children and realised I needed to share attainment ideas with them. This time though I set it as a class task. I identified the different skills we had been working on for building their website: adding pictures, adding text, using columns, adding pages, adding a blog and the quality of the writing on the website. From these headings I asked the children to work in pairs and discuss with their partner what would be at the level, below the level and above the level for each of these aspects. The children folded a piece of paper three ways and produced columns of statements under the headings: working below the level expected, working at the level expected and working above the level expected. We collated the results as a class and I used these to create a child friendly version of the rubric I had started with.

I have used rubrics in the middle of topics and they helped the children to understand what was required. Further, I have used them at the end of the topic as a peer assessment tool. The children worked in groups or individually to make judgments about the other children's websites. After the children had done this and quite accurately assessed their peers websites they could also identify what they themselves needed to do next with their own website. Assessment AS learning!