Category Archives: In the beginning

It’s about relationships.

Just a quick post to capture some reflections on one of the classes I had this year.

On returning to work this year I found that I had been given a yr13 “employment skills for job seekers 303 class” Term one was interesting. I was new to the course, it wasn’t very well resourced and the standards we had avaliable were pretty dull and boring. I had surveyed the class and was keen to co – construct the course for the year. My survey revealed that very few of them had actually wanted to do the course for its intended purpose of setting them up for employment. It was either “I thought it would be heaps of easy credits” or that they had to make up 5 subjects and that was all that they could do or they were just put into it.

There is alot to unpack in that and I find it challenging in many ways but this isn’t the place to record those thoughts right now.

This bunch also struggled with the idea of co-constructing a course. It was like the will to learn had been sucked out of them. So, I picked the most relevant and interesting standards on offer, made up the first terms course and we got into it.  After term 2, we set in place a structure where the students were interviewed to find out what interested them and then we found L3 assessments from external providers and my role became helping them with their learning. For some this opened amazing learning opportunities but this was probably a minority.

I was constantly surveying the students to see if their needs were being met or how we might do things differently but they were incredibly passive. What I deduced was that the value of school to these students was not NCEA L3, it was being part of a community, having a structure in their life, having a purpose. Some had pitched their tent and were camping out untill some inspiration about the rest of their life hit them. I should point out that this is a small cohort of students.

I found the situation quite challenging for  several reasons. Firstly, I like to set high expectations and to feel that I am contributing positively to students lives and secondly, there was pressure to use a punitive school system of punishment or coercion to motivate learning. This in my mind is why we have 17 and 18 year olds with no motivation to learn and to me doesn’t seem appropriate for students we are trying to set up for the real world.

To cut a long story short, I rationalised that it was better for these students to be in class with me where there was the chance they could glean how to be a tolerant and compassionate adult rather than at home on the sofa playong xbox. They might of even got something out of our “inspirational Friday’s” or the positive role modelling I was always mindful of. I learned a lot with this class and know I have a bit more to learn-not sure if I will get it again next year at this stage.

Anyway, the point of this story was to articulate that relationships matter. These guys finished school 2 weeks ago but today one of my students sent me this ted talk link. He was really difficult to get work out of over the year but I think he got what I was all about as a teacher.


SOLO in 3 min: TeachmeetNZ

Feel free to jump straight to the video, I just want to capture some back story.

My journey with SOLO Taxonomy began some time ago and I feel very fortunate to have been working in a secondary school that I think was one of the early adopters in New Zealand with regard to tapping in to the expertise of Pam Hook.

timeline slide

The slide above is my attempt to timeline the schools journey – I am fairly confident I got the time frames correct. Anyway, I started teaching in 1999 or 2000 (I forget) and since then, it has been a fantastic learning journey. Under excellent leadership, there was a real emphasis on supporting teacher learning and I got the opportunity to go to some great conferences and even present at several. This has included ULearn conferences and a highlight for me was presenting at ICOT (International Conference on thinking – held in Wellington NZ in 2013).

Prior to 2006, as a school, we had learned loads of stuff but things would come and go. This then all changed. I think it was a Ulearn conference where a number of us saw Pam Hook and Julie Mills present on SOLO Taxonomy. As the timeline shows, from then on, SOLO slowly became the framework that united all other things. In a school of 1500+ students it would be incorrect to say that SOLO is everywhere all the time but by and large, it is a common framework across the school.

So in the past, I have made quite a few presentations (mainly for our own staff) and I have even seen some of my slides turn up in other peoples stuff quite recently which I guess is flattering. Anyway, when I was approached to participate in the Geography TeachmeetNZ the other week, and do something on SOLO, I felt a little nervous. This is because through my year and a bit long relationship with Twitter, I have seen lots of other educators who have also seen the magic of Pam’s adaptions of Biggs taxonomy and the power it has in a school situation. I was nervous that I might not have anything new to add. The other fear I had was “how do I fit all my learning with SOLO into 3 minutes?” So, I just tried to focus on the essence of it. you know, the vibe. That it’s all about making learning visible to the students.

I feel it is very important to point out that everything I know SOLO, is really just parroting Pam’s words (I guess through my own lens and hopefully not too incorrectly) or it is an adaption of ideas gleaned from working with Pam and my other talented colleagues. I now really enjoy generating my own rubrics and templates as I find student needs that are not being meet (teaching as inquiry I guess). Whenever I do this, I always endeavour to attribute my work to Pam Hook (see )who is the one that first linked Biggs’s SOLO Taxonomy to a learning framework for schools. She really does deserve guru status I reckon.

Thanks also to Sonya Van Schaijik @ for all her nudging and work on TeachmeetNZ and also to Steve Mouldy @ for his tireless efforts for anything Geography (and a truck load of other things lately)

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

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

Wise words from the SOLO guru – Pam Hook that is

I was out running this morning (30kms in the hills) and I was reflecting upon something a student said to me the other day and where it had come from. Immediately I made the link and it was a nice affirmation of the use of SOLO and some wise words from the guru herself, Pam Hook. I thought I would blog it to keep a record of my thinking.

Anyway, my mantra for teaching and learning for the last couple of years comes from something Pam said while working with me and our school on SOLO stuff. She said;

SUCCESS = Effort + Effective Strategies

And as we all know, SOLO is all about making those strategies visible to the learner so that over time, they can identify their own next steps for learning. It is so simple and as this recent experience showed, so powerful. I now always share this equation with my students and it always comes up in the first session I run with new staff on SOLO. Even when I am being a Dad to our 6yr old it is always about “what strategies did you use, how much effort did you put in, would you use that strategy again etc. (I don’t think we’re messing him up too much).

Back to the story… So I had the joy of being able to take a yr12 Geography class the other week (their teacher was away on a yr10 camp). They were bringing in information about the geographic issue of using 1080 poison to manage Possums in our native bush (for anyone not from NZ, Possums are an introduced species that are decimating our native flora and bird life). I was lucky in that I have intimate knowledge with this topic and assessment as I had re-written it to align with the new standard over the years.

Because I had the knowledge to do it, I thought I would go off script and SOLOise the lesson a bit. Before playing the DVD I front loaded the lesson with the “Success = Effort + Effective Strategies” equation and I talked up how I knew some good strategies that meant they really would have no excuse not to get Merit or Excellence (top marks) unless they were super lazy.

So we had a quick look at the Geographic Issues standard and the success criteria for it. To pass/achieve, one of the things they have to do is describe and explain what different groups think about the issue of using 1080 poison. There is some explanation required, but it is really multistructual thinking as the links can be quite simple. eg. This group thinks this ______ because….

For Merit, there is the addition of detail and stronger linkages (definitely relational thinking). We talked about what this might look like and decided that detail meant specific facts and details and links really needed to be strong – identifying how different perspectives and values might influence peoples perception on the use of 1080.

Then we looked at what was required for excellence. The key words are comprehensive, using geographic terms and showing insight. I remember when this was first written and around the country there were Geography teachers (and some students) everywhere wondering what the hell insight might look like. SOLO makes sense of it nicely, it’s about extended abstract thinking. In this example, it is going beyond the detail and information and using it in a new way such as suggesting what might need to happen for a group to choose to change their mind or discussing the likelihood of them changing their position given their values and perceptions.

Anyway, we then watched the documentary and I stopped and started it so they had time to make notes, consider the biases of the presenters and note what was presented as fact or opinion.

It’s tough being a relief teacher, students often adopt a culture of “cool, no work today” as they see a stranger walking towards the classroom. However, on this occasion, I felt we had a productive lesson thanks to a little SOLO.

Finally, on the second to last day of term, I was in relieving again and I found myself having a not so flash lesson with a Yr12 math class that had the instructions to “do algebra practice from the text book”. Some did, but I was on a hiding to nothing as I had no idea how to do it myself and most of them had just had a chemistry test and they all new it was fill in work. So, towards the end of the lesson, I was chatting to some of the students and one of them very kindly said that he was in the geography lesson I had taken and that he had learned more in that lesson than he had all year. Now this was nice to hear but I am sure it is not true. Instead, what I think he was saying was that he really valued someone helping him to see a pathway to success and from that, he was motivated to apply himself and strive for success. Thanks SOLO and the mantra that “Success = effort + effective strategies”.

Functional Rubric for “Coping with the Learning”

My wife works at a school for kids who are unable to attend regular school due to health reasons. They may be undergoing something like cancer treatment or they may be working through anxiety issues. Anxiety disorders are through the roof in Christchurch at the moment in the aftermath of the Christchurch Earthquakes – there is an interesting temporal geographic study there…hmm masters thesis?? nah.

Anyway, my wife had a student who was really fearful starting the year as she was anxious about how she would cope with the pressure of NCEA assessments and getting sick again. It sounded to me like this student was struggling to figure out what to do if things go wrong. Enter the functional rubric.

With my wife, I quickly whipped up the rubric below. I was really conscious that the student needed to be involved with it and have some ownership of the rubric.

Coping Rubric 1

So my wife worked with her student to re-word and co-create an appropriate rubric. What they came up with is below. I like how they changed the words and strategies to suit.

Coping Rubric

It’s not perfect but I think this is an example of the potential of SOLO rubrics to be extended beyond just measuring learning in a classroom setting.

Fortunately/unfortunately, this student has now transitioned back into “normal school” and my wife didn’t really get a conclusive feel about the impact of the rubric. At the very least it allowed them to have a metacognitive conversation and focus on success and she has added it to her list of effective strategies for learning.

Marathon Training SOLO Styles – Functional rubric

While out running the other week my mind started wandering and some SOLO ideas popped into my head. The result was the rubric below. I made it for a bit of fun really (yes I seem to find thinking about this stuff fun) but I thought it might be of use to the odd PE teacher out there or as a simple example of a functional rubric.

Anyway, quick back story. I do a lot of running (usually on minimal training). The focus is usually to do a couple of ultra runs with friends over the year (we have been knocking off great NZ walks as day runs). The one event that I have been particularly goal orientated for is the Christchurch Marathon which I have run every year since 2006. Last year I was having a slight mid life crisis (being 40) and I did more training than I have ever done before and was determined to smash my PB time. It turned out I had a Nick Willis moment and could only run 3hr 34min which was still a PB by 10 minutes but I had built myself up to go under 3hr 20min. I was devastated.

Well this year, with my main job being “house husband” I have so much more time for training and have realised that I need to learn more about training. To get my head around my next steps and also  communicate with my coach how and what I want to learn, I whipped up this rubric:

Marathon training rubric