30 March 2015

How Much Is Too Much?

Teacher Inquiry is the new black. There are a plethora of articles and advisors available to inform us all about why and how teachers should inquire into their practice. I have been consulting them left right and centre in setting this up Inquiry as a integral part of our professional development.
What I'm struggling with is timing and pressure! How do you keep up the momentum without causing a boil over?

Once teacher Inquiry goals were set up we have had ...

1. Collaborative Meetings:
Groups of teachers have met 3 times so far this term. The timetable for meeting this term looks like this:

The meetings have been in place of Staff or Syndicate meetings so that they aren't an extra meeting time for busy teachers. 

2. Sharing on our professional blogs

3. Professional development in staff meetings around gathering and analysing student data as well as student thinking and learning.

Now we are about to 

4. Share what we have tried and put into our practice by presenting to small groups across the staff

Timperley (2008) says "Continued forward momentum  depends on an organisational infrastructure that supports professional learning and self-regulated inquiry. It is difficult for teachers to engage in sophisticated inquiry processes unless site-based leaders reinforce the importance of goals for student learning, assist teachers to collect and analyse relevant evidence of progress toward them, and access expert assistance when required. "

Teachers are feeling the pressure. As the person fronting the Inquiry infrastructure I'm picking up on the sighing and drooping shoulders. Is this normal end-of-term-itus or are we going too fast?

I'm planning to get reflections from teachers at the beginning of next term when we are bright eyed and bushy tailed again on what they think about timing this term. What we are aiming for is enough focus to keep the momentum going for change practice, but not burst any valves!

20 March 2015

Mathematical Argumentation - difficult on your own

Another example of trying to get higher order thinking in maths for students working independently from the teacher.

This is created in Explain Everything where the numbers are movable but the triangle frame is locked down. This allows students to guess and check to solve the problem.

The beauty of this app is that I can use pages as templates. My triangle frame and numbers have remained the same, I just changed the target number to 10.

  Finally on the last page I've put a recording button to encourage students to describe their strategy for filling in the triangle.

How it went with students?
Not a complete fail. The fact that students could manipulate the numbers made this digital version easier than a paper one which would requires lots of rubbing or scribbling out and many templates to fit the numbers in. Students liked being able to try again.
The fact that students can same their work as images onto the camera roll and share with me meant that I could display different solutions (or nearly solutions) and these were visible for the whole group to see and discuss. It also meant I could scaffold those who had difficulty by displaying a partial solution e.g the corner numbers already filled in.
What didn't work was the recording. A 10 year old can spend a very long time trying, trying again, over explaining, sharing with others, being shy when the listen back, and deleting their mathematical thinking. Not only did it take a long time to get some students to finish recording, these recordings were very long and difficult to use for group discussions. Students went round in circles repeating what they did without challenge. The discussion came when we sat together as a group to share, question one another, challenge and justify our thinking.

The problem is mathematical discussion requires guided argumentation with others!

15 March 2015

Problem Solving in Maths

I have been experimenting with maths problem solving for students who aren't in a teaching group with the teacher. There are many practise equations we can give students, but how far can we go with problem solving?

This activity has been set up in Explain Everything for students to work independently or in pairs. Being able to copy pages in this app means creating activities like this quick and easy.

Students are able to record by typing or using the draw tool with a stylus (or even a finger).

But what really pushes the activity higher in the SOLO thinking taxonomy is the record button. This allows students to go beyond uni and multi lateral thinking of discrete ideas, into relational and extended abstract thinking. By recording what they found out about the relationship between the products, any patterns or observations they are having to think more deeply that just discrete answers.

The next learning step is for students to create their own Explain Everything problem page.

8 March 2015

Better Together

At Pt England I am working to develop a collaborative culture of inquiry into practice in order to improve teaching pedagogy and lift student achievement. The first element of this is collaboration.

In their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School Hargraves and Fullan (2012) talk about human capital, thats the skills, capabilities and qualifications we bring as individuals to teaching, and how it can be enhanced by social capital. Social capital is the capital we have together. We are stronger as communities when we trust each other, collaborate and work together to reach goals. Social capital adds value to human capital, so the relationships we have with our colleagues will improve our teaching performance over time.
Our collaborative teaching inquiry model follows this assumption that we are better together. We are aiming to build capacity through critical thinking and collaboration, that has a positive impact on our students.

To facilitate this collaboration teachers are in flexible groups that are created around their area of inquiry, level of experience, area of teaching and social connections. These groups meet together 3 times each term to share, learn, support and reflect together, then again at the end of the term to present what they addressed in their practice, and what impact it has had so far on student achievement.

These collaborative inquiry groups range in size from 3 to 10 and have a coach who leads their discussions and acts as a support person. As our teaching  inquiry facilitator I liaise with these coaches to set meeting agendas and provide external and internal expertise for their group’s needs. Just as our teaching pedagogy for our students, our own leaning cycle is a process of Learn, Create, Share.
We just met for the second time this week and I was excited to see the momentum some of the groups were gathering.  There were less confident teachers smiling and showing off the learning activities they had created collaboratively. What they were able to achieve with support was more than they were able to develop on their own.

Another way networking and collaboration is being facilitated, is through the professional blogs teachers are setting up to share their teaching inquiry. For some this itself is a challenge, and the function of the group has proved powerful in not just the practical sharing of digital knowledge, but also the feedback and support teachers are giving one another on their blogs.

Take a look at some of these to see what interesting inquiry journeys our teachers are on:

                 Goodwin Gold  


                  A Teacher's Journey

                  Initiative, Connection and Challenge

                 1 2 1 4 1 2 3

Teachers Make The Difference

Quality of teaching has the most impact on students achievement.

To see how big the difference was, (Hanushek, 2006)  took a group of 50 teachers. They found that students taught by the most effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers learn in six months what those taught by the average teacher learn in a year. On the other hand students taught by the least effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers will take two years to achieve the same learning.

Another study around this time showed that in the classrooms of the most effective teachers students from disadvantaged backgrounds learn at the same rate as those from advantaged backgrounds, while students with behavioral difficulties learn at the same rate as those without behavioral difficulties (Hamre & Pianta, 2005).

According to Dylan Wiliam (2011)
The most powerful teacher knowledge is not explicit
    • That’s why telling teachers what to do doesn’t work
    • What we know is more than we can say
    • And that is why professional development is not on it’s own, effective
Improving practice involves changing habits, not adding knowledge
    • That’s why it’s hard
    • And the hardest bit is not getting new ideas into people’s heads
    • It’s getting the old ones out
    • That’s why it takes time
But it doesn’t happen naturally
    • If it did, the most experienced teachers would be the most productive, and that’s not true (Hanushek, 2005)

Hargraves and Fullan (2012) define to the quality of teaching, and the quality of the teachers as professional capital. They refer to research that shows the US teacher judgement systems that concentrate on removing those at the bottom and rewarding those at the top hasn’t shifted the overall quality of teaching.

It seems we can make judgements on teachers, but that doesn’t necessarily improve teaching.

So how do we go about improving this professional capital when teaching is recognised as being unforgivingly complex?