26 May 2013

Learning To Be A Learner

This term we have embarked on an exciting journey in maths where our focus is on problem solving. This involves children learning to behave as mathematicians. They are taught to communicate their processes, justify their thinking, challenge and be challenged. The key competencies - managing self, communicating, relating to others, thinking and participating and contributing are all required to work in a more investigative mathematical model.

We decided that for teachers to get this up and running, and to allow those with key competencies to learn and adopt these mathematical behaviours, we would regroup in term two. We decided to stream our large learning groups around key competency levels primarily, and then ability.

The idea is that just as you ‘Learn to read” then “Read to learn”, children “Learn to be learners” then “Behave as a learner in order to learn”. These behaviours need to be taught more explicitly to some children, and may take longer to develop. This has become my challenge!

I have the lower children, who on the whole are the lower ability children. The other two teachers have the top streams. While the other two teachers run an adaptive,  problem solving approach in maths time, I have a far more structured programme. Rotations for seeing the teacher are frequent, tasks and follow ups are shorter, and times for taking part in different activities are managed. This doesn’t mean we don’t look at problems, we do. However these are teacher led in smaller groups, where the strategies and behaviours an be modeled and intensively scaffolded

We are learning to put pencils and maths books in our tote tray so they can be found the following day. We go around the group one at a time to share our ideas and have “How I behave” posters for working with the teacher, practising online maths, sharing our learning on ipads and completing follow up activities. What it looks like, sounds like and feels like is explicitly shown, discussed and reflected on.

 I continue to follow the cycle of Learn Create Share. Children are sharing and reflecting on their learning frequently, and posting these on their blogs.  They continue to thrive on having an audience and having their learning recognised.

This is going well. The higher groups are flying (both the teachers and the children) as they work in a more flexible programme. In my programme so far there is less flexibility. The challenge is to make sure that these children who most struggle with being a learner, aren’t  deprived of the very choice to opt into alternatives, that they most want. I am hopefully just providing more productive choices!

24 May 2013

Streaming For Key Competencies

As with any class of children there is a wide range of abilities. Our large open learning space is no exception. Initially the three teachers were responsible for a fairly mixed learning group in both Literacy and Numeracy. These were then grouped again into manageable guided teaching groups, mainly for ability. As in most New Zealand primary schools these small groups were rotated through times with the teacher, and the learning was targeted to their needs.

This meant that in one class there were groups of children thriving on an independent, and flexible programme, allowing them choice, challenge and ubiquity. This is one of the reasons we set up a flexible learning space in the first place. In the same class there were children who needed structure around times, consistent routines and more guidance in managing themselves, their belongings, their feelings, their interactions with others, their focus .....

Running a class programme catering for both, is what New Zealand teachers do every day. We are lucky though, we have the ability to group these learning needs while still taking advantage of the modeling and interactions being in a mixed group provides.

Regrouping all the children again this term wasn’t done lightly. Children and parents were just getting used to having different teachers for their home class, literacy group and numeracy group. The mind shift took some explaining at parent teacher interviews in February. Obviously some children adopted this more quickly and easily that others.

So to change these around after only three months ,was done tentatively. We regrouped to cater for the fact that some children thrived on flexibility, cooperative learning, choice and ubiquity, while others still needed set structures and consistent teaching to develop these learning behaviours.

Looking back this was probably the way we should have started the year. Children come in to a new class with a lot of information, not only about their academic level, but also more importantly to us, their ability to manage themselves, their learning and to relate to others. At the beginning of next year we are likely to stream around this type of ability. This allow for different types of programmes to cater for different needs.