Saturday, 28 July 2012

Individual vs the Collective

In talking with my Pasifika students this week I've been reflecting about the cultural divide and the barriers they face in learning at school.

We have a very ethnocentric education system the very much values individuality and independence. Pasifika students coming from a culture that values community, the collective struggle to find a place within our education system. How do we adapt our education system to value the collective as much as the individual? How do we create communities at school and develop academic role models? How to we create greater links to the community - supporting parents and showing students pathways to their future?

All things I'm thinking about .....

Collecting Maori Student Voice

Recently I have been collecting the student voice of Maori students. The purpose of this has was to inform a series of PD sessions for the school staff about how we may provide better meet the needs of our Maori students.

The following is a summary of some of the students responses.

Students want the freedom to put learning into a context that is relevant them

  • As teachers we talk about making choices that make learning relevant to students but students what more power  to tell YOU how the learning is relevant o them
  • Students self-identified themselves as being social learners. We like learning by discussing and collaboration.
  • Difficult to adapt to quiet, individual learning environment
  • Feel most comfortable when talking or there is noise in the background
  • They are aware that other ethnic groups learn differently to them and ‘fit the expected mould’ better – identified Asian and Pakeha students
  • Students are keenly aware of negative stereotyping of Maori but want to be seen as individuals.
  • When asked if it is important to them that their teachers know they are Maori students responded that ‘it depends’ – they feel it is important in their teachers knowing them but fear their teacher may make unfair generalisations about them according to negative Maori stereotyping.
  • Students feel within the Maori community they are allowed to make mistakes but that they don’t define them as they sometimes do outside the classroom. Whare as safe place where they can be themselves, receive support and are more understood
  • Students want to learn WITH their teachers and diffuse the strict teacher-student hierarchy.
  • We want to understand the learning process more. Why do we have to be quiet? Want to use technology in the classroom, “why do I have to write it down when I can just take a picture of it”

My next step was to run a series of PD sessions for staff. Each session was linked to our appraisal document, Principles of the NZC (particularly Treaty of Waitangi and unpacking what it looks like in the curriculum) and Ka Hikitia. Three sessions were developed under the following themes:

#1. Language and Relationships
  • I played a series of video clips of students discussing their feelings that it makes a huge difference when teachers pronounce Maori words correctly. Students highlighted that it’s OK if teachers  get it wrong as long as they are seen to be making an effort to get it right. Students said they were willing to work with teachers to help them get it right and that showing respect for their language indicated to them respect for their culture.
  • One teacher highlighted a strategy he was using to improve Maori language use in his classroom. He labelled Science lab equipment in English and Maori on the student instruction sheets but only in Maori where the equipment was stored thus supporting students in using Maori words when gathering their equipment.
  • We then ran a mini pronunciation session focusing on four commonly used  words. We laminated them and put them up in the staff room for future reference and practiced four or five new words in each of the subsequent PD sessions.
  • In addition to this PD session we offered ‘Help with Te Reo’ sessions at lunchtime led by Maori students in the Whare.

#2 Connecting in the Classroom
  • When collecting student voice students identified they don’t always want to be identified as Maori for fear of negative stereotyping or that they will not meet cultural expectations of students and teachers. Some students expressed that when a teacher calls on them as an expert when viewing Maori content, they feel shame if they don’t know the answer. Strategies for making Maori students feel safe in the classroom were discussed and solutions such as checking with students before you call on them in front of the class identified.
  • One teacher discussed how she had worked alongside a student when helping him write an essay, spending some extra time out of class and scaffolding the learning. This resulted in a change in his behaviour and attitude in the classroom.
  • I also presented some snapshots of visual displays of Maori cultural inclusiveness in the classroom and challenged teachers to reflect on their own classrooms and what material they have/or is absent from the classroom walls, which Maori students could connect with and how students may make assumptions about a teachers’ perception of Maori based on such visual cues.

#3: Connecting to our Community
  • Some very brave parents discussed with the staff their feelings that it is important to them the Maori values they are teaching their children at home are supported in the classroom – and that actions such as not sitting on tables make a big difference. They also expressed that they want their children to value other cultures and want classrooms to be a place where cultural diversity is supported and fostered.

Some notes about collecting student voice: 
  • Students are apprehensive if you single them out or invite them to contribute. 
  • The best responses I got were when students discussed in groups - they felt safer and conversations unfolded naturally 
  • It helps if you have a resource/video or set of questions to start the discussion, get students talking in groups and then scaffold them to more targeted answers - sentence starters are helpful. 
  • Jing has a really useful video editing software

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Student Choice

Just a quick thought .....

Recently I was struggling to meet the formative assessment demands of students who were completing a piece of work for summative assessment. Despite scaffolding and providing exemplars for students a bottleneck was occurring as students waited for feedback from me resulting in some off-task behavior. To remedy this, I began the next unit of work and ran both units of learning at the same time. In this way, while they were waiting for feedback from me about one piece of work they had other learning they could be doing. The result of this is the highest engagement in learning I've seen from these students all year. Students liked the fact that they could make choices about their learning - particularly what learning they were going to focus on for the lesson and how to manage their time effectively. I think perhaps one key to improving student engagement is improving the choices they have in their learning. Schools and departments can do this in many ways such as giving students choice in the topics they learn about, books they read, or even just choice in the type of activity they do in a lesson. These are easy changes to make if a teacher is committed and flexible enough to move away from traditional modes of teaching where they make almost all of the decisions about learning. However, at the same time I feel it's important to strike a balance between not giving students too much choice so that they feel indecisive and insecure but just enough so that they don't feel limited and become passive learners.  

Forums in the Secondary Classroom

While I have experienced some success with blended learning in my classroom thus far, my attempts to engage students with the use of forums has met with mixed results. However, after reading the Nichols article I feel I have identified some key reasons for this.

Initially I set open-ended questions to be answered after the teaching of a key concept, hoping students would apply what they had learned and demonstrate some extended abstract thinking while reinforcing classroom learning. I set this as a homework task. BIG FAIL. Students were reluctant to post their thoughts with almost no participation. I surveyed my class as to why this was and they responded that they weren’t confident to post in case they were wrong – they feared losing face in front of their peers, and if they were confident in their answers they didn’t want to share because they didn’t want their peers to ‘steal’ their ideas. The idea that they didn’t want others stealing their ideas surprised me but I think what they really meant was if they had done the hard yards to learn the material they didn’t want to offer up the answers to their peers who perhaps had a more casual attitude towards their studies and would benefit from their answers. I have been perplexed by this deficit thinking and the fact that my students struggle to see the benefit and rewards of collaboration.

The Nichols (p. 28) article outlines that there are three critical elements of asynchronous online learning; design, facilitation and participants and that the first two are most easily modified and controlled by the teacher to direct the effectiveness of learning. After reading about these variables I feel that I may experience more success if I scaffold student participation over time beginning with lower-stakes questions as well as providing improved guidelines about the purpose of the task and what it is that is expected of them.

 Also, I think I underestimated the difficulty students have adapting to an online environment. While they are quiet social and keen to participate in lessons, the dynamics of the class seemed to be altered once introduced to an online environment, which I hadn’t expected. I feel I may improve interaction online if I begin in a more teacher role, giving more feedback to encourage confidence and monitor participation more closely and then ease off into a facilitator role as participation gains momentum.

While I had made the participation in the forums mandatory homework, that seemed to have little to no influence of on improving participation. It feel a bit stuck on this one as I defiantly see the benefit of using external motivators as suggested by Nicols (p.30),  however under NCEA I cannot assign credit for participation and thus far the intrinsic reward that it contributes towards their learning, and thus overall grade has yet to convince my students. 

Nichols, M. (2009). No. 4: Online discourse. E-Primer Series   Retrieved 10 March 2010, 2010, from

Monday, 9 July 2012

myPortfolio Action Research Cycle 2

For my second cycle of Action Research may aim was to find a greater balance between teacher-led instruction and student-centered inquiry. May students while keen to learn with computers expressed they still wanted some 'traditional' teaching elements. Thus the learning for the first three weeks of this unit was teacher-led with many collaborative elements and focused on developing key concepts. For the remaining three weeks students had to work in groups to create a page in myPortfolio with case study examples and evidence of their application of taught concepts. Students received robust feedback from their teacher and their peers during this process.


Teacher Reflections

  • When directing students towards research it is important topics are easily searchable.
  • Some students copy-and-pasted much of their information from the internet. More guidance must be given about evaluating sources, citing sources and insisting informtaion be written in students own words.
  • As with any group work, some students contributed more than others. Some students were challenged to manage poorly contributing group members
  • Some students sabatoged their peers work, deleting their pages and writing menacing feedback comments. myPortfolio does not have a facility to track the actions of such persons or retreive deleted work which was problematic.
  • Students produced high-quality work, refelcting depth in their understanding of key concepts
  • Enthusiasm and on-task behaviour was high. 
  • Two weeks was given for the group work component - less time was actually needed and students work rate slowed down considerably in the second week. 5 - 7 lessons would have been better. 

Student Voice

  • I think I was more motivated because I knew that if I wanted to do well in the assessment I would have to go out and research in depth and I couldn't just rely on the teacher to give me the information I needed. 
  • In my opinion people end up getting out what they put in, which seems rather fair to me.
  • I think it helped us learn as a group and find the information ourselves. We all had to do something and we helped others in our group understand a certain part of the work. Making our own page was fun and sharing it, helped other people learn from us, as well as learning from them.
  • We could add information and images to our pages and also link websites and videos to the page therefore allowing us to use a variety of resources. 
  • Our group work was in one place and it was easy to find and we could work on it at the same time or from home too.
  • It was really cool creating our own pages and puting our findings on it as we could share it with our peers and see what they are learning too.

Balancing competing formative and summative ePortfolio purposes

Electronic portfolios are becoming increasingly popular in the education landscape as their value in enriching learning and assessment opportunities are realised. Improved technology in the classroom increases their accessibility, and the ability of students to document digital stories of deep learning. ePortfolios provide holistic measures of learner competencies supported by a  differentiated and reflective learning environment.

The Ministry of Education has identified eportfolios as an innovative tool towards enhancing learning for all students and has incorporated digital portfolios in New Zealand’s national education strategy.  Their provision of Mahara’s myPortfolio software for all schools widens available learning platforms and allows students to learn in ways intuitive to many digital natives. However, while learners and educators are exploring the potential of the eportfolio as a tool for learning they are challenged when applying the multiple purposes of portfolios. Pedagogical issues related to the application of eportfolios have hindered their more rapid adoption.

In today’s 21st Century learning landscape eportfolios are ideally suited to support  the development of formative assessment processes as the predominant measure of learning  to develop reflective life-long learners while new pedagogies must be applied towards summative assessment tasks and purposes so as not to distract from the process of learning. A balance must be found between the often competing interests of formative and summative assessment to create portfolios of learning reflective of their owners’ knowledge development and voice. Eportfolios provide new opportunities for learners. They may be used for formative processes or as a summative product however these purposes are often in conflict. To negotiate a balance, formative portfolios must develop reflective learners. Learners must have ownership over the process of learning with minimally invasive summative elements embedded within them. When created according to a constructivist model, eportfolios unfold as organic learning stories rooted in the past while providing links towards a future of lifelong learning.  

Sunday, 3 June 2012

myPortfolio in a Constructivist Classroom

I've just completed my first cycle of action research about the impact of constructivist learning supported by the use of myPortfolio on student engagement. This was my first foray into facilitating student learning opportunities with computers and I was keen to evaluate the impact of engagement before I invested any further. However, I'm pleased to report that some very engaging learning was had and that this is is only the beginning for more blended learning in my classroom. 

I've summarized my research in a VoiceThread and web page.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Transformation vs. Modernization

As I get farther down the path of integrating ICT with my teaching I am continually reflecting on whether it’s adding value to students learning. Are the students engaged? How can this tool be used to facilitate collaboration? What skills are students learning and using to meet key competencies? Am I using ICT to transform students learning? This question of transformation, I think, is key when reflecting on the way in which we use ICT in the classroom and offer opportunities to students. While today we have more access than ever to ICT in our classrooms in many cases we continue to use it to support the same teaching strategies we have used for the past Century. One of my colleagues refers to the use of the latest gadgets in the classroom as ‘sexy teaching’ – it’s new, it looks good but underneath the delivery and learning process remains largely unchanged. Are notes projected on the white board any better than those written in chalk on the blackboard? Are pictures streamed from the internet better than those found in text books? In both cases, probably not and surely not to the extent that they improve learning outcomes for students or provide them with 21st Century skills. Modernizing processes, such as these, continue to focus on learning from technology while transformative processes are about learning with technology – using it as a tool for collaboration, sharing and personalized learning. At the Learning at Schools conference his past January keynote speaker Frank Green challenged all teachers to consider the modernizing or transformative processes operating in their classrooms. He suggested that you can only get so far with modernization – from the steam train to the bullet train he said – and that at some point transformation is required to truly fly to new lands. Another thinker with transformative ideas about education is Heidi Hayes Jacobs. In her book, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, she asks, “What year are you preparing your student for?” Transformative changes are needed to prepare students not only for the world of today but as global citizens of the future. Transformational questions are the first step to getting there. 

Heidi Hayes Jacobs describes new forms in education

An infographic about how using technology may transform the learning and practice of teachers

Monday, 7 May 2012

Technology to support formative assessment

I've been doing a bit of research about how I may use ICT to support formative assessment. The following is a summary outlining some of the benefits and methods that may support the increasing use of ICT to overcome barriers of traditional formative assessment and support teachers in developing students as more independent, reflective and self-actualised learners.

Valid and high quality formative assessment underpins all successful learning and teaching processes and has the potential to improve learning outcomes for students. While in many ways, technology used for assessment is still in its infancy it is a logical step that our assessment modes become increasingly electronic to match the growing use of ICT in the classroom. Technology has the ability to support robust formative assessment through the use of blogs, picture taking, audio files, e-portfolios, online quizzes, telephone conversations and SMS messages, online simulations and text-mining software supported by appropriate pedagogies.

The use of ICT to support formative assessment overcomes barriers of time and immediacy often faced by traditional assessment methods and is most successful when encouraged in the classroom. Many students have found that online formative assessment assists them in identifying what they don't know, supports new learning and improves the quality of questions and discussions during class time (Whitelock, 2007). Online formative tools may facilitate multiple retest opportunities and assessment that adapts to the learning needs of the student. Text-mining tools can scaffold students to write at more academic levels while increasing the autonomy of the student and quantity of available assessment opportunities (Hsu, Chou & Chang, 2011). The sharing of learning experiences with an audience through blogs, e-portfolios or pictures provide new forms for students to co-construct their learning and further the meaning making process resulting in deeper reflection and documentation of the learning process.  

Learning supported by online formative assessment has the capacity to be authentic, social and reflective of real-world learning. Assessment may be differentiated, based on internal fairness and allow students to utilise assessment modes that best suit their preferred learning style and needs (McGuire, 2005). Such assessment provides valid information for the teaching as inquiry process while highlighting students’ interests and needs. ICT automates some forms of formative assessment while maintaining quality and supporting the learner and teacher in demonstrating learning using tools that match our times. Concerns of validity and reliability may be overcome by offering authentic and interactive assessments and variety in tasks (Gikandi, Morrow & Davis, 2011).

The future of formative assessment using ICT offers improved collaboration across a global community and will become more holistically integrated in the learning process. Formative assessment will increasingly focus on the evaluation and attainment of skills which are transferable to a multitude of disciplines (Bennett, 1998). My readings support the increasing integration of ICT as a formative assessment tool in the classroom to improve learning outcomes though collaboration, reflection and self-directed learning supported by a myriad of paths towards success. 

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Slight Edge

I’ve titled my blog SlightEdge as a reminder that achievements are the result of many small steps over time, each embedded with their own learning. Years ago, I read a newsletter my financial advisor uncle had prepared for his clients. In it, he talked about the idea that it’s not what we do at any one point in time that matters but the little things we do each day. Whether it’s saving for a financial future, keeping good health or achieving a career goal it’s the collective effort made every day that pays dividends in the end. This idea appeals to me and has stayed with me ever since – in fact I think I still have that old newsletter folded up and tucked in my diary. When I’m feeling overwhelmed and like there is just so much I don’t know, I try to remind myself of the Slight Edge Theory and that taking little steps towards my goals each day means that over time ….. I’ll get there.

Expert who?

Welcome to my first foray into blogging. I have been thinking about this for a while as I have recognized the increasing importance of reflection and collaboration for professional and personal growth. However, I've been putting it off. It’s just a little bit scary putting my thoughts out there. I keep thinking if I wait ‘just a little bit longer’ I’ll know more, have more to share and post reflections with more depth. Luckily a little intervening inspiration from my peers has encouraged me to share my ideas and knowledge and ‘stop waiting until you’re an expert.’ There is so much I don’t know but I’m excited to share what I’m learning. Here goes….