This past Friday my school along with 16 others who belong to a partnership in the southern region of Adelaide, came together for a conference organised by school leaders. The conference was a great day of learning and connecting, kicked off with an entertaining opening keynote from Dan Haesler weaving stories throughout powerful messages of mindset and student voice. The day culminated with a student panel involving 8 students from four of the schools involved, 4 senior secondary students and 4 upper primary students.
— Wirreanda Secondary (@WirreandaSS) June 3, 2016
It was wonderful to have student voice shared, which is too often void in education conferences. It was also a challenging experience for these 8 young people to step out of their comfort zone in front of 540 adults, which I am sure many adults would be reticent to do themselves. (Mind you, I think Dominic (REC) was revelling in the opportunity to have an audience, quite the performer!)
Amongst many of the prompts and questions from both Dan and the audience, the student panel responded to, what their favourite day at school would be like and aspects they value in their teachers and how they feel about school.
Overwhelmingly, the message from our students endorsed that they were empowered when teachers fostered their passions, whether that be drama, music or leadership. That the best teachers saw something in them, that they didn’t necessarily see in themselves. That teachers who challenged them and respected their opinions and contributions are the ones they value, along with those who include them to design their own learning.
Additionally, these students used terms like “home”, “comfortable” and “belong” and phrases such as “where I can be me” when referring to their schools. Multiple warm fuzzies in the crowd.
feels like home
means family & history
is a comfortable place
is a place of motivation
is a place where I can be me#panapart
— Melissa Mulholland (@MelissaMulh) June 3, 2016
What a great job we have all done, patting ourselves on the back in the audience, warm hearts, big smiles, looking at proof that our efforts have resulted with young people on a stage, confirming how we impact their lives in incredibly positive ways. And what an amazing bunch of young people they are.
But let’s get real….these were 8 SELECTED students out of a possible 4000 in our schools.
Easy to be swept up with this wonderful student panel, but important to remember that not every student feels connected to school #panapart
— Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) June 3, 2016
This student panel is fantastic, but not all students can articulate what they need/want/feel. Important to ask those students too #Panapart
— rebecca hepworth (@bechep2) June 3, 2016
It is not like as school leaders we are going to put 8 disengaged kids on stage who could potentially say “school is shit for me and I wish I didn’t have to go”. Or could we? If we are going to “get real” about impacting on young people, if we are going to face what is truly NOT working in our systems, then shouldn’t we be hearing the voices of those who are the most disaffected?
So I throw a challenge to my colleagues, to my school, to myself. Let us give voice to those who do not get a chance to be heard. Let us hear from students who don’t feel like “home” at school, who cannot identify even one adult that they can confide in. Let us shake up the next student panel and take a risk. If we continuously hear the good stuff, then we are blindly moving forward without the feedback that can make the most significant difference.
Check out the Storify from the day.
Each year that I teach pre-service teachers as part of their undergraduate teaching degree at Flinders University, I am both inspired and filled with hope and pained by some of their confessions.
The final assessment piece for the course I teach requires students to evaluate the teaching they observed in their placement schools, remark on their conversations with staff and mentors and reflect upon their own teaching experiences. I believe this is the most beneficial of all the assessments required of our students as I am of the belief that the most valuable skill we can develop to transform our practice is the ability to discuss and reflect upon our own teaching and that of others and develop intentions based on this as to how to improve.
For each reflection I read, I am encouraged by the aspirations of these young people to continue to grow and it is encouraging to read about so many learning environments instilling the importance of a growth mindset in both students and teachers.
Amongst the wonderful inspiring reflections are also moments of disappointment. Over a semester, I get to know these students quite well, their honesty and enthusiasm for learning and their thirst for any guidance from teachers and mentors is heartening. However, when I read that “mentor” teachers tell their pre-service teachers that their lessons and courses cannot be differentiated, or is too hard to adjust for students, a little part of me aches.
I have no delusion that each and every one of these student teachers will have a practicum experience with perfect expertise (no such thing) but still, without fail, each year I read a few statements that make me want to scratch my eyes out.
Throughout our course I remind them that that ultimately they will develop their own beliefs, their own values and should surround themselves with people that will support and encourage them to achieve these. I can only hope that “too hard” doesn’t stick and that they see the inherent value in the things that will ultimately impact on their students growth.
Oh and P.S EVERY course, at ANY year level can be differentiated. Just like EVERY child and how they experience learning is personal and different. Differentiation is not about providing individual programs, it is about knowing your students needs and responding and planning to meet them.
One of the favourite parts of my job is the opportunity to observe other teachers in full swing in the classroom. I think often when we approach classroom observations we are expecting to highlight deficits of practice and this may lead to judgements not founded in developing others, but instead on comparisons and negativity. Of course it is crucial to identify opportunities to challenge ourselves to always improve, but this post is my opportunity to shine a light on someone who may not typically be spotlighted.
At our school, we have been implementing Feedback for Learning strategies over the past two years and I was delighted to see this practice embedded in a year 9 music lesson by Miss D. I only wish I had recorded it so that others could see how well she applies the strategy of no hands up (mental note for next time).
When I gave feedback to Mel about how well she utilised this strategy, she responded to effect of;
‘Well otherwise, it’s just the same kids answering isn’t it!’
Exactly! Succinct and to the point, we know that when we only call on those who raise their hands, we are choosing to only teach to the group of students who are mastering the content.
Another powerful strategy Miss D used and one which I was extremely delighted to see in action after facilitating a whole school session this week on Growth Mindset, was clarity and purpose for students into the reasons why she was testing their understanding and knowledge.
In the lesson I observed, Miss D explained to her class that they were about to complete a test, she also explained that on the test there was a question that she did NOT expect anyone to be able to answer. She explained that this would not contribute to their grade, but instead was a way for her as their teacher to determine if there were any students who already understood this concept and could be challenged further, any who may have some idea which she could work with to embed over the coming weeks and those who had no idea at all yet and that she would be working with over the coming months.
I was not only impressed with how clearly she explained the purpose of having question 12, but I was really interested to see how the students responded. Instead of being daunted by question 12 those students who’d had no prior exposure to the material appeared more confident. They may not have answered the question, but I do believe that when they handed in the test, they would have felt that the focus was on their learning continuum and not a fixed sense of ability.
Thanks Miss D!
As I prepare to work with staff in developing ways to utilise strategies and tools to enhance evaluation, feedback and provide opportunities for students to reflect upon their learning, I have been thinking and reading about how we stifle the critical thinking process.
Part of this inquiry led me to think about the way we respond to student work. I watched Eduardo Briceño’s TEDx talk titled “The Power of Belief – Mindset and Success” where he explores the research into growth mindset initiated by Carol Dweck. He explains the crucial role we play in developing growth or fixed mindsets through our responses to student work.
How often do we praise kids for being “smart” or “good” at something? It puts them in a fixed mindset – a focus on the result not the process
— Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) October 2, 2013
Eduardo goes on to explore how we can provide feedback to students that promotes learning as the priority.
We must give feedback to kids that is process related and not praising or criticising talent. #growthmindset
— Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) October 2, 2013
So this led me to think about how we give students feedback and what effect this has on their learning. I considered the following two typical models.
We hand work back to students with a grade.
We hand work back to students with a grade and a comment.
What tends to happen in the first scenario, is that students look at the grade and that is that! The focus is purely on the end mark and not on the process to achieve the grade. If the mark is good, that equates to being successful. If the mark is poor, it means they were unsuccessful. There is no opportunity to reflect upon the effort, the process or opportunities to grow.
In the second scenario, students will look at the grade and perhaps read the comment. The student may or may not agree or understand the comment, but I would suggest that very few would ask or respond to the teacher to instigate a process of reflection.
So what if……
We handed work back to students with only a comment, then what?
Would this engage students in thinking deeper about their work? Would it promote a dialogue between teacher and student about what they did well and what they could do to improve next time?
What if we hand work back to students with comments and then asked that they respond to the comment by improving their work?
Would that focus the attention on the learning process. Would it promote a dialogue and understanding of where the student is at and where they should be heading?
Here is Garfield Gini-Newman from the University of Toronto explaining this last concept in regards to the value of feedback in for students at university.
I think providing these sorts of opportunities would go a long way to developing students and teachers to have learning as the focus, a growth mindset and assessment that informs learning.
This of course is assuming that the comments provided by the teacher are fair, constructive and specific (that’s for another post).