Growth mindset part two. #hackyrclass

What!!! two posts in one week.

I was reading a blog by @chasingalyx and it got me thinking about the language we use and it’s impact on developing or smashing a growth mindset. This is some stuff I learned from Art Costa – my guru on Habits of Mind / Key competencies and I like the idea of recording it for my records as it were.

So, the context is how we as teachers use questions to promote thinking and also students perceptions of themselves as thinkers (their mindset). I used to do this badly, then I learned a few things and also had the opportunity to see a very experienced teacher also do it badly. I watched this teacher start a class with a bit of a brainstorm, ask the class a thinking type question – 20 hands went up with ideas. She called on a student and then responded with something like “great thinking” 10 hands went down. She called on another student for their idea, responded with “excellent idea” suddenly there were no more hands up wanting to share their ideas. What I think Art Costa would say just happened was that every time she placed a value on someone’s thinking, the rest of the room measured their idea against the word Great or Excellent and if they were unsure if there idea was “excellent”, the hand went down and it was no longer safe to share their thinking. Growth mindset smashed. Repeat this on a daily basis and soon you have a hierarchy of mindsets within your class.

So, what might you do differently? When asking your class to share their thinking, the teacher reply, regardless of the idea is “thanks for your thinking”. I have tried this many times and if you start with 20 hands up, you continue to have 20 hands up until you have more ideas than you can handle. Then is the time to be critical of the thinking – ranking, justifying the most relevant ideas etc.

Some other ideas (also from Art) for questioning for a growth mindset are:

  • use a positive presupposition – “as you reflect upon……” “as you think about……” – this subconsciously gets them doing it.
  • use open questions with multiple answers
  • use tentative language. instead of “what is…, what are…” try “how might….. what might be…… How could……

Put it all together and you get something like:

As you reflect upon your own teaching practice, in what aspects might you consider changing things to further promote the growth mindset of your students?

A bit wordy but I think the ideas are good.

Please feel free to add your ideas or thinking below.

Whoops, forgot to blog – #Hackyrclass

If you have read any of my past blog posts you may know that last year I was on leave as a house husband and then part time teacher at Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti School where I got to hack the curriculum a bit and learn heaps. Well……. this year I am back at my “real” job which is at a large state school on the outskirts of Christchurch.

If you have had time off, this may resonate with you but coming back full time with your wife also teaching full time and trying to manage getting a kid to school and home again and all the other stuff over a 12 week term is pretty full on. I have loved it all but crikey, I have found it hard to make the time to blog and collect my thoughts outside of the school day. I have also accepted that this year I will run my slowest CHCH marathon for ages – to date I have been getting faster with age. My twitter watching/participating has also dropped, however, I happened to sneak a peek tonight and catch a post by @ClaireAmosNZ and @GeoMouldey with the #hackyrclass. This has got me motivated and I like the chance to be directed in my thinking for a bit – a cognitive burden has been lifted.

So……if I read it right, this week is about “growth Mindsets”. I have seen this jargon on twitter and not really known what it is about. To be fair, my understanding is still a little naïve (I kind of skimmed a few things to get the vibe – so this is my “right now thinking and may change over the week”). Anyway, it resonates with me big time. I have blogged about this before and I have met teachers who believe in fixed ability and I have witnessed teaching practices that lead students to believe they have limited and fixed ability and it makes me ANGRY!!!

One of the reasons I am so into this is that at the beginning of my own learning journey, I never saw myself as a good learner. My effective strategies for success were, stay quiet and avoid the teacher calling on you. My teachers thought I was great but I had no idea most of the time. Fast forward and I got through university (with an honours degree – thanks very much) but it required a lot of effort and I was still not what I would call a good learner. Now, I would say I am an ace learner and I really love learning. I guess I accidently developed a growth mindset at some point. In fact it all happened in or around 2001. This was my second year of teaching and in my “real” job, I was supported in learning about learning. My school gave me access to Art costa, Julia Aitkin and many others. I also got the opportunity to present my thinking to others at conferences and stuff (big learning opportunity). More recently, well for the last 6 years, I have been able to learn from and with Pam Hook and SOLO Taxonomy. It was a passing comment from Pam that has guided my teaching philosophy for the last few years and I now share it with all my classes. It is this:

Success = Effort + Effective Strategies

For me, I managed to get through university with heaps of effort but not really knowing how I did it. If I had the effective strategies I do now, maybe I would have finished my masters year instead of going travelling….nahh.

Anyway, I see this playing out in classes all the time. Students are not given the strategies, do not experience success, effort disappears. For some, they may have had years of this negative cycle being reinforced by teachers. Last year I had the opportunity to work with some disengaged students who really saw themselves as hopeless. They even had some fantastic strategies to self reinforce their negative beliefs. We presented them with the equation above and everything we did linked back to effective strategies for success. It was only an 8 week course but the students self reflections showed that they had shifted their mindset about themselves as learners. the blog for that is here http://wp.me/p2WwXN-8c

This is also true for gifted kids. Success comes easily and sometimes they do not even know why. For these kids, when they do encounter something that does not come easily, they freak out. For me, as a teacher, I am conscious to use the term effective strategies whenever I can (it has a nice presupposition that we are going to be effective). It is also an easy way to teach the learning process to students and help make the learning visible to them. We are not doing this because Mr Perry is trying to fill the time before lunch, we are doing this because it is an effective strategy to make links between this new learning and that’s like what we need to do for merit and excellence and now he expects us all to strive for that.

So what are effective strategies??? There are lots of them. Anything that you think is good teaching stuff and you share the intent and reasoning with your students. For me, most of my truly effective strategies revolve around the use of SOLO Taxonomy (as you can see in my blog posts)

So summing up my initial thoughts about developing a growth mindset:

  • Believe and tell your students that everyone as huge learning potential
  • let the students know that success = effort + effective strategies
  • let the students know your a trained professional (they laugh at me when I say that) and you whole purpose in life is to help them in developing effective strategies for success – their job is to supply the effort
  • have high expectations
  • Use a SOLO Framework

Nudge – some reflections from a course for the disengaged

The following is a bit of a write up about a “teaching as Inquiry” cycle I worked through in Term 3 of 2013. It centred around trying something different with a cohort of disengaged high school students who were not experiencing success in their school learning.

Background and context

Whilst on leave for the year from teaching I have been undertaking my own self-directed professional learning. This has focused around continuing my thinking and development of SOLO taxonomy as a framework for learning and also developing and participating in an online learning community, mainly via Twitter and blogging. As well as this, an opportunity arose for me to work part time at Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti (UPT), a special character school in Christchurch NZ. For many years I have wanted to explore how the NZ Curriculum can be delivered in a non-traditional school environment and this was the perfect opportunity.

At the time that this teaching position became available, UPT had gone through a process of addressing School Attendance. This had revealed that there was a cohort of students who whilst attending school, appeared to be disengaged in their learning (Talking to colleagues at other schools, this seems to be a common challenge).

At the time of interviewing for the position, I was selling myself on my previous work on making learning visible via frameworks such as SOLO Taxonomy and that whilst being a Geography teacher; I was keen to have a go at anything. Serendipitously, the leadership team at UPT was looking to create a class to meet the needs of this disengaged group of students and I scored a job.

Logistics of the course:

The target group was disengaged students between years 10-13. Students were identified via teacher referral, Dean Identification and NCEA results. These students were then approached and after a bit of a chat, they decided to give the course a go.

The course hours were 9am to 3pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (note: on Wednesdays an independent program runs across the whole school). We were based in the same room every day and we provided pens, paper and stuff like that. The class was taught by myself who taught 9am – 12pm on a Monday and then 10:30 – 12pm on the other days and my colleague Blair taught the other blocks in the school day. This was my first experience at team teaching and I was nervous going into it but early on we established common ground in terms of how we would operate and work as a team. The basis of this was:

  • having high expectations (using language for success, linking strategies to Merit and Excellence etc.)
  • only ever doing something if it would be of value to the students and aims of the course (ie. No busy work for the sake of it),
  • we adopted the same mantra of Success = Effort + Effective      Strategies and we were always identifying and naming said strategies
  • We used a common language around learning based on SOLO taxonomy (i.e this strategy is about bringing in information (multi structural), Making links (relational) or showing insight (extended abstract). We also used this as a common language to talk about and teach the skill of writing paragraphs and even essays
  • We also developed some SOLO based thinking maps that we both used to support and make the learning visible to the students
  • We both agreed that developing the key competencies was a critical part of the success of this program
  • We settled on the name “Nudge” for the course as it pretty much fitted with our group of students      – they needed a nudge.

Students:

The course had 10 students ranging from years 10 – 13. There were two students who chose not to engage and failed to gain any benefit from the course. Having said this, for one of these students, since the course ended, she has made a dramatic improvement in learning focus and independent study. The class was made up of a mix of males and females.

The Course

The course ran for 8.5 weeks. Early on, we identified that this group of students was really motivated by the prospect of gaining credits and this helped inform how we co-constructed the rest of the course. Ultimately, we sold the students on the idea that we could “hack” the curriculum, follow their interests and use our strengths as experienced teachers to have a go at anything. We used the graphic below to summarise and communicate our thinking early on in the course. Note that the scattered ideas for learning contexts came from asking the students what they might be interested in learning about.

Fig 1.1

course overview

The first week of the course was about establishing norms for the group and really selling the idea that this was about developing effective strategies and the belief that with effort they all had the potential to succeed. During this time, we also collected some baseline data about their perceptions of themselves as learners. This was done by a simple survey and getting the students to draw a picture that represented themselves as a learner and explain why. Gathering this baseline data was telling in many ways. Firstly, they were very truthful in their perception of themselves as learners. Typically they expressed a fairly negative self-view. Interestingly, when asked how a “typical teacher” might view them, they rated themselves even lower. When asked to draw and explain an analogy of themselves as learners, this exposed a range of perspectives and views from those who drew the teacher as someone to fight against to those who identified that they tended to just “Blob” to those who saw themselves as having real difficulties i.e. a broken car with no headlights and flat tires trying to drive in the dark. We re-surveyed the students at the end of the course but I will outline that later. This baseline data informed how we would interact and proceed with the group.

pic3 pic2pic1

In this first week or so, because we were responding to the needs of the group, it was fairly stressful as we brought together a course that would work for them. There was a very steep learning curve with self-imposed time pressures. For example, it became apparent that for this group we needed to place a big emphasis on developing literacy. None of them had yet gained Level One literacy. My field of expertise has previously been Geography and while this attends to Literacy development, I was acutely aware that these students had not signed on for a Geography course. Following on from feedback the students had given about what they might like to learn about (see fig 1.1), we realised that we could use the NZQA Core Generics Standards for Literacy. As the teachers, we needed to; check we understood them and could assess against them to the standard required and make opportunities throughout the course for the students to demonstrate proficiency.

The way it worked out, I used my time to manage much of the NCEA standards and Blair used his time to develop a culture of high expectations and self-belief through some targeted readings and videos. These also provided rich topics for development of the core generics of reading, writing and spoken communication. Collectively, with brief but frequent catch-ups, Blair and I seemed to pull off a fairly seamless course where we built upon the work of each other.

For my part, being mindful of the Best Evidence Synthesis for Social Sciences, I really wanted to launch into some content that might have personal relevance to them and give them some freedom and choice in what they did. My wife who works for the Southern Regional Health School based in Christchurch had talked to me about a Level 1 English static image standard many of her students had had success with. After talking to her, checking some online exemplars, I launched in to modifying an NZQA exemplar so that students could develop a promotional poster for a group or issue that spoke to them. I used the teaching and planning phase of this to introduce Pam hooks Describe++ thinking map – it really is the thinking map to rule them all in my view. Bear in mind that this was my first time working with this standard and I could do it better next time, but we used the map below (fig 1.2). This became a base template for later standards we used and also an organizational way for the students to think about writing (extended abstract was added later).

fig 1.2

SOLO map1

The results from this first standard were not as fantastic as I had dreamed of achieving but I think it was early on in the course and we were still uncovering all of the effective strategies that the students had learned over the years to avoid work and avoid confronting their fair of failure. For many, they had learned that it is much easier to not participate than try and fail.

What I think slowly happened over the course was that the students realised that we were not going to stop. Every day we would maintain an expectation that they would do their best and even more, through the development of our understanding of effective strategies for success, we were dissolving their ability to avoid and replacing it with hope.

After getting my head around the Core Generics and learning about the English static image standard, writing an assessment for it and developing a structured unit of learning to meet the needs of these students, I was fairly whacked and I had been going a bit over the 8hrs per week that I was being paid for. To avoid burnout (and keep up with the housework) I next decided, with the classes permission, to explore some Geography standards that I was more familiar with. By now, a fairly strong trust relationship had formed where the students saw my efforts as purely being for them and their success. It was a fairly easy sell (luckily) and these students were also mindful I think that when they had been given total freedom in course selection (part of the special character of the school) they had not necessarily made good decisions. I think they were quite happy for someone else to take control for them.

I tried to stick closely to the initial interests they had expressed at the start to the course, so I settled on a Geographic Topic at a Global Scale based around Hip Hop Culture. Some of the group were chasing Level two credits if they could get them so I targeted the assessment at the level two standard and then marked it against both the level one and two standards giving the best mark to the students. I had not done this before but after writing two marking schedules and knowing how linked SOLO was to the steps in the standards, it was not difficult to do. This topic also allowed me to show a cool movie to which they wrote a review as one of their pieces of writing that could go towards the core generic writing standard and also the reading component whilst they were researching. It was getting nearer the end of the course by this time and we were constantly giving them feedback on progress and success. The students started to connect that their classmates were succeeding and that that meant that they probably could too.

Results/Conclusions/Insights

The table below outlines the number of credits each student came in to the course with, their year level and the credits they left with.table

Overall, we were really happy with the results. For those that finished not quite reaching the 10 credits required for Literacy L1, most have since followed up with the learning support unit to complete these standards.

Attendance data is summarized below:

graph

We also sort student feedback and re-collected data around their views of themselves as learners. This showed a significant improvement and their comments suggest the value they have seen in the course. Below is some of their feedback:

The best things about this course were:

  • “its helped me make some progress towards NCEA”
  • “-The strategies”
  • “Learning all the strategies to help me with my learning and improve success i had not been achieving before coming to this cause. It was a great experience to be part of.”
  • “Working with Craig because he is an excellent teacher and gives a really good clear message about what needs to be done and how to achieve it! Also, he’s very good at keeping me on track :)”
  • “I really enjoyed working with Craig, he is a big help and he explains things in a way students can understand and relate to, he’s a very great teacher and made this course loads of fun!!!”

Some things that might be improved or could be better are:

  • “I don’t have any real complaints”
  • “Could we please have another course like this next term or next year? :)”
  • “If it was a coarse that was continued for other people to experience and get help to other people who are behind in success.”

Any other comments for Blair or Craig

  • “Awesome LA’s (learning advisors) thank you”
  • “Thank you so much for running this course :) it has helped me a lot”
  • “Both great helpful teachers that were great to work with. They both put in lots of hard work to help us with what we were working on and always gave us support when it was needed. Very thankful for all the hard work they put in and the chance to work with both of them.”
  • “Really well done guys, i love the course!! Thanks a bunch for the experiance!”

After thoughts, Insights and Next Steps:

I think there is a place within the current UPT model for courses that have a greater structure and continuity in them. This is especially so for students who are not yet ready to be or struggle to be self-motivated autonomous learners. Such a course could still be co-constructed with students and attend to a number of curriculum areas. One of the big learning’s I gained from this course is that certainly up to Level One, there is the potential for L.A’s to explore different learning areas and that all L.A’s can take responsibility for the teaching of literacy. From this course, I am also now really open to the idea of team teaching and the idea that creating such structures might be a powerful way of enacting and exploring the Curriculum for 21st Century learners while also enabling L.A’s to think beyond their normal subject silos. My time at UPT has also helped me to see how 21st century learning might happen beyond the traditional factory model of education.

Craig Perry

SOLO and the NZ Geography Curriculum

This is a very quick post in reply to a tweet that just so happened to appear top of the list when I was getting ready to do some house work and something I also wanted to get down on paper (in electrons). It is very abbreviated, written in a hurry and may have errors or not full info (a bit of a disclaimer)

Assessment In New Zealand senior high school is based around Standards. Student results fall into one of four categegaries: Not achieved, Achieved, Merit, Excellence. While some might say that the marking schedules for external exams are possibly tweaked so that results nationwide fit the old bell curve, if we look at the standards themselves (both internal and external) they are actually written  against SOLO Taxonomy as a way of differentiating levels of achievement. I may stand corrected but I believe Pam Hook may have had some influence either directly or indirectly during the formation of standards based assessment in NZ.

Anyway, for the teacher, if you apply a SOLO framework to how you think about course planning, delivery and how you are equipping your students for success, using a SOLO framework and SOLO aligned effective strategies is a no-brainer.

The standards in brief.

Our Senior qualifications begin in yr11 at Level 1 NCEA, yr12 is at Level 2 NCEA and yr13 (the year before university) is at level 3. Note this is an over simplification as the New Curriculum allows you to move beyond age discriminated course planning if you want.

If we look at the standard for examining a Geographic topic at a Global scale, you can see how SOLO fits through the levels. All of the following comes from here http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/qualifications-standards/qualifications/ncea/subjects/geography/levels/ but if you don’t know what you are looking for you could spend ages trolling through stuff so I’ll use screen captures.

Level One NCEA
L1 1

At first glance, it looks like all the student has to do is describe which you might think will only allow them to show evidence up to a multistructural level. However if you look at explainatory note 2, you can see that they can describe up to an extended abstract level. If you are familiar with Pam Hooks Describe++ map you will see how perfectly this fits the standard.

L1 2 L1 3

As you can see, for achieved it is multistructural describing, For merit, you can see that it is more detailed description but it also has the phrase “significance of the topic to peoples lives” which clearly indicates that relational, or linking thinking (huh - it  rhymes – might use that) is required. Then when you get to the Excellence level, students have to show insight. I think this may still freak some NZ teachers out but if you and your students understand that insight is about linking to bigger concepts like culture, change, making predictions into the future and stuff like this, it is extended abstract thinking.

As you go up through the yr levels, a simple way of thinking about it is that the starting position for achieved gets shifted up. Below is the same standard but for level three. Just to confuse you, this standard is being fine tuned and next year the achievement criteria will be slimed down to one bullet point as for Level One and the explanatory notes will be clearer(ish). It will most probably be pretty much the same stuff though (last year of the re-alignment process – yippee)

L3 1 L3 2

As you can see, at level 3, the requirement for achieved has jumped up to relational thinking with the need to do simple analysis. From Memory, the wording at level two is Explain or Examine – a step down from Analysis in the taxonomy. The Explainatory notes then give the teacher/student the ability to code the required level to SOLO – next year, I am pretty confident that they will include the words “Analyse showing Insight” to the requirement for excellence.

That was it pretty quickly done. If you want to look at the level 2 standard, it is here http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/ncea/assessment/search.do?query=Geography&view=all&level=02 standard 91246.

As a teacher, I like this because when I am planning, or working with students I can make the thinking visible to them so they are not simply doing their best, but purposefully applying strategies and specific thinking for excellence. If they have to explain, lets use the HOT parts whole map (I have blogged on that somewhere) If they have to evaluate, there are thinking maps for that, if they have to show insight, well that’s using a describe++ map and linking back to the work we (as a class) have done on concepts and big ideas and how they are linked to your thinking in this new context.

Hope this helps. Feel free anyone to correct me or ask questions

Nudge (A course for the disengaged)

I haven’t blogged for a bit as I have taken on some part time work at Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti High School. This has required a little more time than I first thought it would – All great learning tho – I seriously think this plus twitter has been better learning for me than if I had tried to organise a Uni paper for the year.

Anyway, it turns out I really like education and I have wanted to get a better sense of how this special character school works for a long time. This is the perfect opportunity, fixed term for the rest of the year (8 hours per week) with the security of my old job back next year.

So, my part time role is as a “learning adviser” at Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti School in Christchurch. It is a special character school that truly places the student at the centre of their learning. You can read more about it here http://unlimited.school.nz/ . Some of the ways the special character of the school is enacted are; each student being part of a home base with a learning advisor (LA) who is kind of like that students overseer and with the parents, helps the student choose their learning pathway (usually 5 week block courses), there is a rotating timetable, I am still getting my head around Wednesdays (as I do not teach on that day) but they seem to revolve around a guest speaker and then some follow on development of ideas surfaced or as a school wide celebration of learning type thing. Also, Students can book in a “project based learning block” that allows them to pursue their own learning goal, their is no uniform, first names are used, there is no real staff / student designated space – it is just space for everyone, difficult after the earthquakes but the school has embraced the ideas of modern learning environments and there are no bells. I acknowledge that I am still in a super naïve place with truly understanding the full expression of UPT’s values and beliefs so hopefully there is no mis-information in the above.

Anyway, when I applied for the position, it was advertised as probably being P.E based. Being a runner and having relieved a few PE classes, I was dead keen to develop and explore this curriculum area. I also sold myself in terms of my work with SOLO and my passion for making the learning visible to students and the idea that it’s about making effective strategies for success visible to the students. Remember Success = Effort + Effective Strategies. There was a bit of synchronicity in that the leadership team was exploring how they might meet the needs of a group of students who were not thriving with the status quo and had developed some effective strategies for slipping through the cracks and being totally disengaged. The position I was offered was to help run an alternative course for these students who were not being well served by this high trust environment and having the level of choice and autonomy that was given to them.

So, there was a bit of knocking ideas around with Duncan (one of the co-directors) and Blair (the other L.A. that I would be team teaching with) and then the first few days of term was about finding these students, stating the reality of where they were at and I guess trying to sell the course to them. A common theme emerged and that was that the currency they were interested in trading in was NCEA credits (we were targeting yr10-12 students). I think they were getting to the point of seeing value in having them.

So, the first week was about forming our group and beginning to co-create a course outline and structure that they would want to engage with. This is scary stuff when you know the Geography curriculum inside out but so far it hasn’t surfaced as a hook for these students. We also had to come up with a course name in a hurry. We finally settled on the name “Nudge”. It fits pretty well because it is no secret that these students actually need a nudge and they need it to be subtle or they will fight against it. I also like the metaphor that like a boulder held on a slope by a small rock, it has huge potential energy, it just needs a nudge to get it moving. We have also played around with the idea that “here’s an idea, if it’s worth a crack we may as well give it a nudge”. I could go on, Nudge is such a fun word.

The key principle we are structuring our work around is that the purpose for this course is for us to experience success and have fun. “success” might look different to each student but the attainment of credits was a shared goal by most. The “how” of what we do is by identifying and celebrating strategies for success (our first one was “turn up” – it’s a good strategy if you want to make change or be successful) and that we can “hack” the curriculum and make a course that fits us. So far, we have identified that we can attend to the literacy core generics by just getting on with some other learning, my wife put me on to the Level one static image standard that her students have enjoyed doing (it also goes towards literacy level one) and because we are doing a lot of personal growth stuff, we can hack into the ABL unit standards. It is super invigorating to put together but high anxiety at times as I think about how I will do it in a best practice kind of way and meet he standards for moderation and external critique. I have been doing a lot of learning in a very short time period. Without my 13 years experience and having run a Geography department it might have been a bit tricky. Anyway, the graphic below is my attempt to capture our co-creation so far.

Nudge Course Outline 2

I have learned so much in the last three weeks and I will try to write up some of it on this blog (as a record for myself really but others might be interested.)

Any comments or ideas for this course are welcome.

A Geography Lesson: Making the learning visible

I remember being new to teaching and asking students to do complex thinking (analyse this…. Explain that…..etc.) and not really knowing how to help them do it. I have seen teachers that simply assume that students should be able to do it and if they cannot, then it is simply because they are “not that smart”. Fortunately I have learned a lot since my beginning days as a teacher (in fact I learn better now than I ever did). Anyway, what follows is a lesson I gave to my year12 Geography class in preparation for their exams. The intention was to de-code the technical words in exam questions and show that success does not come from luck or being brainy but from having effective strategies and applying effort.

These first slides are from a SOLO Learning team meeting I am facilitating tomorrow Then I get on to the slides I used with my class.

CaptureCapture 2 Capture 3

I first learned about Parts/Whole analysis from a course I went to featuring Robert Schwarts and Art Costa. the work of Pam Hook and Julie Mills aligning it with SOLO Taxonomy is what has really made it powerful for me as a teacher. Anyway, these are the slides I used to introduce this to the class.

Capture 4

I then went through heaps of exam questions to give a meaningful rational to what I wanted them to do. And to show them how it fits with SOLO

Capture 5 Capture 6 Capture 7 Capture 8 Capture 9

As this was a revision lesson, we then used their notes and a text book to complete the Parts/Whole thinking map. I had them in groups (two groups doing each of the three parts) and at the end we collated it to create some super good revision notes.

Capture 10

The first box was just for the detail (I am always reminding them that specific facts and numbers equals merit or Excellence (another good strategy) This is Multistructural thinking or bringing in ideas.

Capture 11

The next box is about imagining if the part were missing or changed. What might that mean. Always good to use tentative language so the thinking is broadened and not limited. This is Relational thinking or making links

Capture 12

The last box is all about reaching a conclusion or making an overall claim about the function of the part given the thinking that has been done. This allows students to show extended abstract thinking.

Capture 13

For students to gain top marks (or Excellence as it is known in NZ) they need to show insight. Below is a visual rubric from Hooked on Thinking (Pam and Julie) that I think nicely shows that insight can be articulated by making some broader generalisations or insights about how the parts might influence each other or perhaps which part is the most significant and why.

Capture 14

This post was a bit rushed so if anyone has questions or comments, go for it.

Ability Grouping & SOLO Taxonomy

One of the things I have been doing this year, is being Parent Help in my sons yr2 class. I am rostered in for one of the math lessons each week. This post may come across as being highly critical of my sons teacher which I do not want to be as she seems super competent, experienced and the students love her. Also, I am in a very naive position, only getting small snapshots into this classroom. Having said that, some things just hit you in the face and get you thinking.

So…….. In this class, they use grouping where the teacher will have a small group to work with on the mat while the two other groups are engaged at different activity stations or book work. My job as parent help is to keep the other groups on track and help where I can. I like this set up and do not know why I haven’t adopted it in my own High School Teaching – working with small groups and rotating them around. You kind of do it by going to different groups as a lesson goes on but I like the whole kinaesthetic get up and move around stations thing.

Anyway, it appears that the groups are ability based and this is where I have a problem. The groups are the Circles, Squares and Triangles but these students already now that they are the top, middle and bottom.  I found this out because I went to check on the Triangles (my sons group) and help them get organised. Their task was to play some math games in the Math corner. I saw a game that looked good and challenging for where I know my son is at but none of the kids would touch it. Why? Because it came from the squares box and they were in the bottom group and that was too hard for them. I was amazed at the conviction they had and I could not convince them to break the perceived rule that they could only do stuff from their own box. This totally spun me out to the point I spent the rest of the afternoon researching best practice on ability grouping. I am sure that my sons teacher has the best intentions and has diligently set up differentiated learning activities for students so they can work autonomously but in doing so, she is also embedding a belief, as said by one of the girls, that they are not good enough and that they are the bottom group.

I am particularly sensitive to this as one of the things I have to spend a lot of time on in a high school setting is convincing these students later in life about their potential as learners (remember Success = Effort + Effective Strategies). By this time, they no longer think of themselves as the Triangles but rather the “Cabbage Class” or something similar. I was totally freaked out that these 6yr olds were beginning to self label as not good enough and the risk that they will carry this for the rest their lives.

This is being a valuable lesson for me in my own teaching practice and I welcome any thoughts or reflections upon it. From my own thinking and the couple of hours I have spent online researching, here is what I have found and thought so far:

Research about Ability Grouping

I do not want to do a literature review (If anyone has done one, I would love to read it) but there is lots of research that supports both the negative and positives of ability grouping. From my brief look, I think the opposition side to ability grouping wins.

If you are going to use Ability Grouping…

If you are going to use ability grouping, there is a thing called best practice and this is labour intensive on the teacher (thus I suspect not done or forgotten). The main principle is that groups need to be flexible and constantly changing. For example, it is not good enough for a student to be fixed in a math group for the whole year. The teacher needs to be looking for opportunities to move students – for the fractions unit, addition unit, and so on. Even if this is done for social engineering purposes to stop these kids self labelling themselves as dumb, I am all for it. Also if you are going to create differentiated sets of learning activities, I think, the set for the lowest group still needs to have activities that allow the students to surprise you or have a go at more complex tasks. This aligns with a SOLO framework but more on that later.

Also, I believe, that if you are going to ability group, it is essential that the pathway for success to the top group is visible and understood by the students. This is more than “try harder”, it is about making visible strategies for success and helping students improve and be cognisant of themselves as learners.

SOLO to the rescue

Again and again I am reminded how a SOLO framework attends to best practice and the development of engaged, enthusiastic and positive learners who can see a pathway to success rather than accepting a fixed label for their ability in any given thing. Via simple rubrics (like the ones I have posted on this Blog or from the experts like Pam Hook, Julie Mills and increasingly other teaches around the world) we can empower students to see themselves as learners on a continuum where they can identify their own next steps for improvement rather than grow to believe they have fixed ability and a limited future.

Sorry, a bit full on but this topic really got me thinking. I know I do not have a wide readership and this blog is more about me pontificating and collecting my thoughts than a wiki for growing collective knowledge but if you or your colleges have thoughts or strategies on or around ability grouping, I would love to hear and share them.