Thursday, 31 October 2013

Scott Sargison: What happens when learning is the most important thing in your school?


Karyn’s Introduction:

Modular learning, 100 minute periods, integrated inquiry learning at senior secondary school

Scott explains why these things are so integral to the success of learning for our students.

What happens when “learning” is the most important thing in your school?

We developed our whole school- including our senior curriculum- very intentionally and unashamedly around what was best for our students and their learning. We fit the timetable and physical structure of classes around our student’s needs and best practice. The results are quite a different approach to learning in the Secondary School.
Julia Atkins model of values, principles and practices enabled us to really figure out the “Why”, the “What” and the “how” aspects of what learning would look like in our school and we were not going to let the timetable or limitations in terms of subjects and coverage get in the way of what was really important.

We looked carefully at what our educational values were as a school and a community of learners. We developed these as school wide values, which has enabled us to really build our principles and practices around them and justify “why” we are doing anything and everything that we do. The values were the things that we really believed in and wanted to see in what ever we did at school.

From these values we then developed our Principles of teaching and learning. These are the ideas or concepts we believe are inherent in all teaching and learning in our Kura. The 6 main principals we developed are Identity, Interdependence, Inquiry, Inspiring, Intentional and Individual. These principles really represent the “What” in our curriculum development. They are the ideas and beliefs that all our teaching and learning aspire to represent.

From the Principles of teaching and learning we have developed the practices. These are the everyday things that we do; they are the “how” of this model. Our practices are “how” we implement the principles and values that underpin everything we do.

Our first significant practice that we developed when creating our senior curriculum was a Modular Time table. We have a system of programs that run each term. So teachers collaboratively plan programs so students can choose their learning programs, and develop their timetables around four modules in a year. 

These programs are developed around a school wide concept for the module. Teachers are now consulting students about what the concept means to them and what learning is going to be valuable to them. Teachers then meet to plan the next terms learning programs. This includes brainstorming the possible achievement standards that may be used to design and assess learning. 

Programs are Integrated and multi levelled. So teachers will develop the big ideas and the deep understandings from the school wide concept. They then look at possible achievement standards across various curriculum areas. So for example if the school wide concept is Sustainability then teachers could develop the conceptual learning around a certain context or series of contexts. This could include a standard from Social Studies, another standard from Science and could involve a Media Studies, English or even an Art standard to present understandings and assess the learning and presentation process. This is just one combination; our teachers have been pleasantly surprised how easy standards from different curriculum areas actually compliment each other.

All learning is based around the principles of inquiry. For us this is a process but it is also an important value that is inherent in all we do. We don’t purchase and have never used textbooks. Learning is developed around the ideas that information is no longer limited to the teacher and the classroom. All learning activities are designed for students to ask questions, find information from various sources and synthesis that information to develop understandings. We also value learning about how to present and represent learning that has taken place. Learning activities reflect our principle of inquiry in action. All teachers subscribe to this and are motivated by this as its part of shared values and beliefs.

Each learning program contains two contact lessons with the teacher and one other independent time, each an hour and a half long. Students meet with the teachers and classmates for the two contact lessons. Teachers are required to provide a series of activities that are available to students on Monday morning when they meet with their advisory teachers. Students have a blank timetable and are then required to select the independent tasks supplied by the teacher and timetable these tasks into any independent lesson they have during the week. Teachers are required to supply a variety of independent tasks in which students can choose which ones they complete.

Teachers have increasingly become extremely versatile in adapting learning programs to the students they have in front of them each term. This has lead to a certain amount of student directed learning where students have a series of choices in the standards that they are assessed in and teachers will work with students to provide a learning program that is specifically designed for individuals, allowing student directed learning and personalisation.

There have been lots of other things that we have developed, some intentionally and some have just happened. Things like the use of Solo taxonomy to develop student’s ability to evaluate their own learning and make decisions based on their understandings. Students writing their own reports/ evaluations, 3 period days, Inspire programs, Advisory classes to name a few. 

Learning at our school looks different. 

The key is that everything we have done has been linked back to, and explained by our principles of teaching and learning and our collective and shared values.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Donna White: Phew!!! What a ride…. And I’m just the reliever…..


Karyn’s Introduction:

Donna was a part time reliever in our first year, taking on a longer term relieving position with use by half way through our second year and has remained on board this year. Donna shares with us a great ‘from the side’ view of the process, growth and development she has seen us undertake




Phew!!! What a ride…. And I’m just the reliever…..
The journey of a reliever ………….., I came to TKAS  as a  day to day reliever in the year the school was developing their first year curriculum, staffing philosophies, community identity, management of change from two separate schools merging and transitioning into one completely new educational concept…. 
The change was and has been phenomenal – I don’t think there has been a single element within the community of students, parents, staff and board members that have remained untouched, challenged and unchanged due to the ever evolving forward thinking, forward facing 21st century moving and shaking thinking that the staff and board are grappling together with.   
Preparing and shaping their students for the future in the world they will be meeting, and not the world the staff have known, is a constant theme, not only for the teaching and learning programs and curriculum, but also communication and behaviour management styles.  
I have witnessed the collaboration of passionate teachers willing to learn, reshape their own ideas, throw things out, start again, and again… change, wait, think, feedback, wait watch, persevere, communicate, sweat, and tears.  
I have witnessed teams of staff within their own learning stream, collaborate and celebrate the learning from other learning streams.  
I have enjoyed staff of all age streams share their dreams, passions and vision for their students.  
I have enjoyed staff celebrating with one another their student participation, and learning successes.   
I have learnt so much, have been sometimes amazed that I’ve  been on  the learning ride.
I was invited this year to take on the learning of the New Entrants as a transition class, fixed term by term.  Within this time I have had the amazing privilege to observe the ever evolving organism that is being created…  I have observed much intrinsic processing of collaboration, I have watched and admired the strength of the staff as they grapple together with challenges.  
It is hard breaking new ground, there are always misconceptions, growth pain, and resistance as a natural part of the process.  It takes strength, maturity and gritty belief in the bigger picture and whole staff  buy in to create an atmosphere of collegiality – letting go of one’s own ego’s for the betterment of the whole community. 
 I have observed this, in the making,  marvelled, cried, and laughed in the sharing of the dreams with this staff.
I have been privileged to be part of the on-going  professional learning that I know I would never have actually put myself in…..It would have looked too Hard to be possible BUT IT HAS BEEN POSSIBLE!  

Nothing will remain unchanged….so I have learnt by observation, that if I’m not prepared to change, move, and be a transparent, ever learning person, willing to let go of the old,… I’m gonna freeze like a piece of petrified wood and turn into a fossil….well maybe a crustacean, they look a bit more interesting….

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Megan Stewart: When a School Closes


Karyn’s Introduction:

Megan again shares her experience of change- change that can be threatening and stressful and overpowering at times, but change that can also lead to exhilarating experiences. 

We’ve all been on a huge journey of change for the last three years, but none more than our staff who were in the schools that were closed in order for ours to be opened.

Megan shares her story as one of the those teachers.




When a School Closes

Once more I’d like to talk about change.  It’s not easy when a school closes.  There’s a huge difference between resigning and being told you’re losing your job.  In small communities, schools are often the centre and sometimes the biggest employer.  

Four years ago, there were two schools in our community, a college for years 7-13 and a primary school for years 1-7.  The college had for quite a few years and for various reasons, received some unfavourable Education Review Office reviews.  

The primary school where I had worked, decided to back one of the ministries options of becoming an area school.  

I suppose the six months of consultation and the year before we closed were amongst the hardest.  

For a time it divided the community, was awkward occasionally amongst colleagues, and occupied our minds and lives for a year and a half.  

Some of us decided to apply for jobs at the new school, some felt it was time to move on and some chose other options. 

Schools are such emotional and passionate places, I’d be concerned it they weren’t. 

My message to anyone in this position is, its not easy, it can be mentally and physically stressful, but try and stand back and look at what is the best for the students and families of your community.  

It can be a time to take stock and reinvent yourself, get refreshed and excited about the challenge; do some research about whatever the ministry is trying to put in place. 

Visit schools that have been through it and are now thriving.  

I’m very fortunate that I work with an amazingly dedicated and diverse team.  

From our first notification of closure, to now, it’s been tumultuous at times and its been exhilarating at times, but whatever it is…I’m so glad I decided to go on the journey, what an adventure its been!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Tara O'Neill: Please Don't Make Me Wrong, Don't Make Me Fail....


Karyn’s Introduction:

Tara has worked with a small but very challenging class this year. Many of the students have some form of learning difficulty. All had considerable difficulty coping in other classrooms last year. Tara has been teaching using the Davis method and strategies for teaching students with dyslexia, but also combining a range of other methods and strategies.
Probably the most important strategies have been love and patience- as she describes below.


Please don’t make me wrong, don’t make me fail...

There is the student, face red, tense, arms flaying, chair flying, legs climbing.  All I asked was that they come and do their reading!  There is the child who just putdown another and then hit them.  There is the learner who is not doing what they were asked and instead playing a game on their I Pad.

There is the adult who feels frustrated, that yells at the child.  There is the teacher who wants to take the child and direct them firmly, no boss them, into what they should be doing.  There is the teacher who wants to punish the learner for not doing what they should have been doing by making them stay in at playtime.  

It is very easy for us as adults to take control over the student and to make them feel a bad person because of their choices.  It is very easy for us to notice the behaviour and comment on it in a way which puts that person down and makes them feel a lesser person.  It is also very easy to boss a learner about and make them sit and learn, our way!  

But, how will that child ever learn if they are not allowed to work it out for themselves?  By that I don’t mean we leave them stranded without helping them.   If we leave them without any guidance, we miss the point altogether.  All behaviour means something and needs to be noticed.   I teach very determined students who when they arrived in my class did not know how to process their frustrations.  They didn’t know what to do about their hate of decoding print and their difficulty with writing with a pencil, words which made sense.  They didn’t know what to do with their feelings when something went wrong at home before arriving at school.  So they would often yell, tease each other, hit, putdown and have meltdowns.   

Fortunately,  our school is a place where you are allowed to make mistakes and  you are allowed space to learn how not to let those mistakes affect other learners and yourself negatively.

With the help of mentors I am learning how to help students learn to control their anger.  How to help students not put down each other and how to help students love to learn.  Here are my top ten tips on what works for my space and my learners.

  1. In a professional way I show respect and kindness to each learner no matter what  I personally think of them.  I never give up in believing the best of them.
  2. I allow students the space to behave without putting them down because of their behaviour.  
  3. I notice what they are doing well on their journey to manage emotions and learning and speak these positive facts out in front of them and their peers.
  4. I play games with them, I talk and speak to them like they are my friends (which they are), but genuinely, like they are special human beings with purpose.  I take time to listen to their answers and don’t rush off.  
  5. I take note of student’s passions and design my teaching, our curriculum, to fit these passions, not expect the students to fit to my teaching and our curriculum.
  6. Learning is based in reality as much as possible using real situations and real materials.
  7. I refuse to boss them about and tell them what to do all the time.  I try to wait patiently for them to stop, turn and  learn.  I teach them social skills one step at a time in a very concrete way.  I give them space to practice.
  8. I used wisdom from our Specialist Resource Teacher of Behaviour and Learning and I did a course as a parent called the Incredible Years and used much of this in the classroom.  I read books.  I sat, thought and planned.
  9. I ignore as much negative behaviour as I can and then ignore some more.  
  10. I got help from other adults in our school when I needed it.  I trusted leadership to help.  They did, they listened.  Together we talked with families.  

Often my class looked like a battle ground, it wasn’t pretty. I felt failure because it wasn’t neat and tidy.   I felt like, “Was this going to ever stop?”  I felt out of control at times. But I trusted the methods, and my instincts, and I kept on like a broken record. I stood like a wall - no further!  This is as far as you can go, I love you but....  Choose to change.  
I kept trying different ideas, different ways until one day there were no more meltdowns.  Very few putdowns.  No hitting.  Students started to talk nicely to each other in a tone that was mellow.  Not all the time, but increasingly, they speak to each other with kindness and not hate.  A change is happening. 

What do you do to help your students develop independence in their behaviour and learning?

How are you able to support learners to learn without the need to control their every move?

How could you better support the positive things your students are doing now?

How can you let your students fail safely in an atmosphere of respect?

Friday, 18 October 2013

Karyn Gray: Update On Our Minecraft Journey


October 2013

So in the last post I had these questions:

Can letting these kids loose on minecraft a couple of times a week do something dramatic for their learning or not? 
What about the fact we are meant to be spending all our time on literacy and numeracy because our kids are mostly all “well below” national standards?
How do we facilitate it so they can acknowledge and articulate their learning in order to accelerate their learning across the curriculum? 
How do we harness this engagement into literacy and numeracy? 
How do we give them sustained times on something like minecraft to really get into it and balance this with all those other demands? 
How do we ensure we are not being completely dictated in the learning we support our students with by an arbitrary timetable? 

We spent most of the term using Minecraft two periods a week as part of our inquiry into innovation for the term. (Our periods last for 100 minutes.) This was in a shared classroom with Year 5 through to Year 10 students- about 60 students in total, supported by three teachers and a teacher aide.
A few students chose to inquire into other thing to develop their understanding of innovation, about 2/3 of the students stayed with Minecraft.

I think some amazing learning happened. I saw Year 10 students asking Year 5 students for help and vice versa.

I saw students develop a real life understanding of the term innovation and be able to pally this understanding to something real in their lives.

Students used literacy and numeracy skills to navigate their way through mine craft as well as to present their learning.

And I think, most importantly, I saw a lot fo students move to a new depth in understanding themselves as learners.

I have seen over three years, many of our students move from being non compliant with learning and seeing school as somewhere to try and get away with things, to being compliant with teacher instructions and completing learning as requested. Over the last 12 months I have seen students begin to take a lot more ownership and responsibility for their learning. They are becoming interested in their achievement and assessment levels and becoming more accomplished at using this information to take a fuller role in working alongside teachers to plan their individual learning programmes.

But through minecraft they started to develop a new awareness of themselves s a learner- outside of the 'tighter confines" of "usual classroom" learning. They started to understand the true value of collaboration in learning, of accessing online tutorials and tools to help them with a specific purpose, of using twitter to request help, of when it was useful for someone to show them things and when they learnt better by practicing themselves.

I think two periods a week was time well spent in the learning lives of these 9-15 year olds.

This learning has led really well into our focus literacy inquiry learning for Term 4- Te Awa o Te Akoranga- The River of Learning. We will keep you updated.

Have a look at a few examples of the learning students completed outside of mine craft about innovation. Some of the students created keynote presentations about some of their learning. It's not perfect by any means. But its a start and they would love some feedback.

Innovations Summary


Karyn Gray: Our Minecraft Journey Part 1


Part 1- August 2013 (Abbreviated) 

(Repeated from our staff team blog.)


Over the last couple of weeks I have been confronted with some really uneasy feelings about learning, and my own place in approach to learning,

A  couple of weekends ago I decided perhaps it was time for me to learn a  little of what minecraft was all about. If I was going to facilitate our students developing an inquiry plan around it how could I do that without having some grasp of what it is they are doing on there?

And the learning I did  was pretty confronting for myself. 

Being someone who has always considered themselves- and been considered by others- to be slightly visually and perceptional challenged- as witnessed by the fact I am apparently on the “don’t drive with her” staff list, how was I meant to move around this foreign world with oceans and skies that required me to operate on different levels  in order to survive the world. 

I spent most of the first hour falling into the ocean and having to climb my way back up form the ocean floor. I learnt to fly up above my building so that I could look at it from a different angle and figure out what was wrong with my building.

I learnt that  making a simple building was actually a complex task. I had to draw on my knowledge of area and perimeter and shapes and sizes. And I had to keep watching out because every time I dropped a brick I made a hole in the ice and was in danger of falling through. Finally, a friend who was also building on the same server kept coming over to my building intermittently and plugging up the holes i was making so I stopped falling through the water.

And really it was this collaboration that was the key to my being able to continue and persevere. Although my friend was really wanting to build their own thing and didn’t want to stop too much to help me, when I got really desperate, he was willing to either suggest something, come and help for a few moments or show me a way to control something on the control pad which helped. Knowing someone else was there if I really needed it and I had access to immediate help was a key to persevering for me. This was a revelation to me. I’ve always considered myself an independent and self managed learner- and indeed I am with words- because its what I am comfortable with learning. When I had to learn something that I was not comfortable with- either in content or context- I absolutely needed the power of collaboration- and it needed to be supportive collaboration. Someone who let me struggle for a while and get frustrated but stepped in before the levels of frustration became so high I gave up- and I honestly think I probably would have given up in under 10 minutes if i had been by myself.

What does this say about some of the situations I have put learners in in a classroom in the past? How many times have I said you just need to figure this out by yourself not with your mate. This was a key question I kept thinking to myself all afternoon.

When we ventured into the survival world and I got completely lost for over 30 minutes and couldn’t find my way back, in the end my friend had to come and look for me as I was hopelessly lost. Therefore he had to leave the mining he was doing to come and search for me. And he had to leave appropriate signals so that once he had found me we could find our way back to where the crafting table was. In the end he made a huge marking pole that I could see from all over the world so that the next time I got lost I could use this to find my way back. How many real-life lessons are there here?

And how do we facilitate the kids making connections to some of those real life situations? So they can articulate the learning they are doing.

I learnt that when I was doing something difficult I needed to talk out loud. 

I kind of knew this. I’d realised a few weeks ago when there was someone else in the room while I was re-timetabling on a database, how much I talked out loud constantly while doing it. I’m normally alone when I do stuff like that and hadn’t realised how much I did it out loud. 

But the entire time I was on minecraft I found myself telling myself out loud what I needed to know or where I was going wrong. And how many times have I said to students in a classroom- can you do your thinking inside your head as its distracting for other learners?


And when I was just starting to feel slightly proud of the piddly little very traditional building I had made I looked at what my friend had made in that time and felt very insubstantial. While I had built this little 4 by 4 brick house with a bed and a doorway he had built this amazing castle moat like fence right around my house. How did he even know how to do that? According to him he visualised it in is head before he started and then made the picture in his head in the game. So again i thought to myself well how do I even start because I just don’t see that picture in my head? And if I cant see that picture in my head but the kids can, then what pictures do I see in my head that I think the kids should see and that they simply can’t, just like I can’t picture that building before I start?


And when I thought that maybe it was about time to do something else because we must have been doing this for close to an hour, we checked the time and found out it was coming close to 3 hours we had been totally engrossed in this learning- it was enjoyable and challenging and fun- and yes, it was certainly learning.

And how many times have we said to kids in our classrooms right your 30 minutes for that learning is up now for the next learning- and how authentic is that to real learning engagement? 

So what were the main lessons for me
  • the power of  having a mentor who knew a little bit more than you but didn’t consider themselves an expert- someone who was discovering and exploring just a few steps ahead of yo
  • the power of collaboration- from someone who was prepared to make you work a little but was perceptive enough to jump in before you hit the total frustration wall
  • the power of talk-out loud- both with a learning partner and also self-talk
  • the importance of real time for learning

Now I know we deal with the realities of classroom learning on a daily basis. 

We have numerous achievement objectives we are meant to be meeting. We have students who have significant literacy and numeracy deficits. We have students in whom who we often lament the lack of curiosity and questioning. We never think we have enough hours in the day. 

Can letting these kids loose on minecraft a couple of times a week do something dramatic for their learning or not? 

What about the fact we are meant to be spending all our time on literacy and numeracy because our kids are mostly all “well below” national standards?

How do we facilitate it so they can acknowledge and articulate their learning in order to accelerate their learning across the curriculum? 

How do we harness this engagement into literacy and numeracy? 

How do we give them sustained times on something like minecraft to really get into it and balance this with all those other demands? 

How do we ensure we are not being completely dictated in the learning we support our students with by an arbitrary timetable? 

After a couple of weeks of playing I have more questions than answers. And just maybe that is the answer. If after 10 weeks of this the kids have a pile more questions than answers how bad a thing is that?

I recently read the book Why School? by Will Richardson- one of the best books on learning I have read in ages and as a bonus a real easy hour read. It was that good that I have bought a kindle copy for all teaching staff at TKAS and sent it to their ipads. I look forward to hearing their responses to the book. 

And just for those  learners who prefer a movie option- here’s a You tube clip about minecraft that I though was also well worth considering.




I look forward to sharing our minecraft journey as we proceed through the term.