Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Creativity Empowers Learning

This year when asked to share an Ignite talk at the Auckland EdTech Summit I chose to attempt presenting in five minutes the PLD theme for Manaiakalani schools in Term 2: Creativity Empowers Learning.

Our innovative Manaiakalani teachers and facilitators are preparing professional learning group sessions and staff meetings based on this concept so I thought I would give it a go too.

This movie is a slightly expanded version of the Ignite talk - without the relentless auto switching of slides I was able to slow it down a bit!  It includes snippets from two movies, a New Zealand documentary "The heART of the Matter" and a fun piece from Will Smith.

Our teachers spent a month in April contributing ideas to create an understanding of what we mean when we use the word Create in our pedagogical framework. I included this in the presentation. We debated fiercely as we co-constructed a way to synthesise the multiple contributions and after coming to an agreement Karen Ferguson created us a graphic to use. It incorporates the idea that while many definitions of creativity focus around thinking and using our brains, the pathway to creativity for many of us - and the children we teach- involves other parts of the body 'doing creative stuff' before the brain makes sense of it!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Kāhui Ako: 2018 Inquiries begin

The Manaiakalani Kāhui Ako teachers began the year on the front foot in 2018. Many of the CoL teachers were returning for a second year in the role and were very clear in their own minds about how they planned to approach their inquiries this year.  The new-to-the-role teachers had done their homework and explored the 2017 inquiries and were equally confident about how they would contribute to the collaborative process.

With this foundation, we were able to begin the year ready to launch into collaboration, conversation, and critical thinking.

Our website was already populated with the collaborative inquiry groups based around our achievement challenges and people slid into the group conversations with ease.

Our first after-school PLG was held on Thursday, February 8th. We had two guest speakers to provoke and support our approach in 2018, both from Auckland University; Dr Jannie Van Hees and Dr Rebecca Jesson.

The outcome of a year of robust and rigorous inquiry in 2017 was a consensus from all teachers that regardless of year level (ie 1-13), curriculum area or achievement challenge, language acquisition and development was proving the biggest barrier to progress and acceleration for young people in Manaiakalani schools. This includes acquisition in the early years and subsequently impacts the ability to transfer and sustain language across school levels and curriculum domains.

It was agreed that "Language in Abundance" is the lens for all our inquiries and Dr Jannie Van Hees has been invited to support us. She opened the conversation with a presentation using the notion that 
"Language in abundance environments ‘drip’ with language availability and attention, where noticing and relevant use of words allows for deeper, wider, more specific and precise, context-appropriate language expression…leading to knowing at deeper and broader levels."

Many of our teachers live-blogged their presentation, adding their reflections and responses.  Here is a selection of these.

Our attention then switched to the unique opportunity the Woolf Fisher Research Centre is offering our CoL in 2018-2020.  Dr Jesson will lead a team who will analyse data and evidence from teachers’ inquiries to identified Learn Create Share practices likely to contribute to accelerated progress for students. 

We have often spoken about the three lenses that Manaiakalani schools and teachers have available for exploring our learners' achievement and progress - and for providing evidence to whānau and the government about what is being achieved:

  • Each schools' own local assessment practices
  • Outcomes from each teacher's inquiry into their current practice
  • External evidence provided by WFRC when they evaluate our test data and conduct classroom observations and surveys
The next step for us was simply defined as, "Using meta-analysis to identify what works"!  We heard anecdotally from teachers over and over in 2017 as it emerged on their blogs and at every PLG and hui presentation.  Now we have the opportunity for external assessment of whether the effects are statistically significant (likely to be more than no effect 95% of the time) and whether the effects are stable (does the effect vary a lot?).

This presentation was also shared on teachers' blogs.

We are in for an exciting year as our teachers share their journey and inquiries, modelling 'Learn Create Share' themselves.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Blogging impact repeated for a second summer

For a second summer, 2016 -2017, Manaiakalani learners had the opportunity to blog supported by Dr Rachel Williams and her team from the Woolf Fisher Research Centre through the Summer Learning Journey (SLJ). While many children continued to blog 'freestyle' as they always have, 141 learners actively participated in the SLJ activities.  It is these learners that the latest publication reports on.

On receiving "An Evaluation of a Design-Based Approach to Holiday Blogging in New Zealand Primary and Intermediate Schools" authored by Dr Rachel Williams and Dr Rebecca Jesson this month we immediately looked to comapre the impact on literacy achievement outcomes with the previous summer.

Check out what Rachel says in her Executive Summary:

"At the end of the summer holiday, I evaluated the quality and accuracy of all of the posts provided by our students. I also explored the impact that participating in the Summer Learning Journey programme had on the writing and reading ability of our students. 

Writing: Figure 1
The results were really exciting! They suggest that participation in the programme led to significantly higher writing (e-asTTle) and significantly higher reading (PAT) scores in Term 1 2017 (after the summer programme) for participants than non-participants (see Writing: Figure 1, Reading: Figure 2). 

In fact, the participants were 31.65 asttle points (approximately 6-9 months of learning) and 5 full PAT points (approximately 6 months of learning) ahead of non-participants at the end of the summer. 

Reading: Figure 2
We believe that these differences are quite substantial and provide clear evidence of the significant, positive effect that sustained blogging over summer can have on the writing and reading ability of the students."

This insight into the impact of the Manaiakalani kaupapa is valuable. 

Our Manaiakalani Education Trust provides a free wifi network to our learners to support ubiquitous learning, and our summer bloggers have made full use of it. The SLJ would be challenging to support if the kaupapa of visibility was not genuinely supported, both for the learners and adults interacting with them. The design of the programme empowered our learners and overtly encouraged connectedness. We look forward to exploring the report in depth in Term 3 when our Kahui Ako theme is "Connected Learners Share".

There was a focus in this report on non-academic skills and 21st century competencies, including the development of individual prosocial skills (eg. communication, collaboration, empathy, support, etc).

"The presence of the commenting feature also appeared to drive student engagement and encourage participants to engage positively with the ‘expert’ commenting staff, with family/whanau and with students from New Zealand and overseas. There were numerous instances of positive, prosocial interactions between students in the commenting threads. 
There were also instances in which the commenting staff forged deep and meaningful relationships with the student participants. It was clear that students trusted the expert commenters and were prepared to share personal details of their lives with them. The ‘mutually reinforcing nature’ of this interaction ensured that the students continued to participate and the commenters continued to engage positively with them, driving further, deeper and more meaningful participation from both parties. 
 The research team strongly believes in the capacity of this digital programme to facilitate the development of genuine personal relationships between individuals separated by geographical distance. 
They also believe that individual, social and mental/emotional well-being may be enhanced through sustained participation in this programme, particularly for students who may be without much social interaction over the holiday and are at-risk of feeling lonely, alone or under supported. They would like to further explore the impact of participation on student well-being in future iterations of the programme."

Finally, I want to acknowledge Manaiakalani teachers and principals who encourage and actively support their learners as they head into the holidays. The report notes that
"Rates of engagement were highest amongst ... students attending schools with strong role modelling and support from teaching staff. Staff who valued the programme clearly communicated this to students who, in turn, were more likely to participate."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Data suggests blogging impacts literacy achievement

Teachers are investing time, and in some cases their own vacations, in supporting learners who blog in the holidays and want to know if it impacts academic achievement. Feedback from colleagues about my previous posts, sharing evidence of the significant impact blogging outside of school can have on learners literacy achievement, indicates that there is wide interest in research being conducted in this area. 

The programme being conducted in Manaiakalani schools to address the Summer Learning Effect (where students’ learning is adversely impacted over the summer period, in particular, because many school-like learning activities desist during this time) is being carried out by the Woolf Fisher Research Centre and led by Dr Rachel Williams.

Rachel has recently published an update on the pilot, carried out over the summer of 2015 -2016, tracking the original cohort of participants throughout the 2016 academic year. The difference in achievement over time on writing test scores is shown in this graph. The blue line is the participants, red line is matched baseline control group who did not participate.

Rachel comments:
"The data suggests to me that participation in the Summer Learning Journey has the potential to truly accelerate achievement in writing for our students. The SLJ participants continued to improve their writing over the course of the 2016 school year and ended with an average e-asTTle score of 74.5 (up from 63.47). Our matched control group also realised a significant improvement in writing over the course of the year (up from -119 to 12.88). Interestingly, however, despite the great gains that the matched control group made they could not catch up with our participants and ended the year approximately 60 points below the SLJ participants. This is a significant difference and represents a genuine 'gap' in achievement for the two groups. I find this quite startling as they both ended the 2015 at the same level. The matched control students then dropped over summer and were not able to re-gain the learning that they had lost over summer while our participants steamed ahead."

A further paper published by Rachel and Dr Rebecca Jesson investigates the achievement trajectory of these matched cohorts of young people over five time points. By using data available from the previous year, they show the two cohorts of learners following a parallel pathway from the end of year high in 2014, dropping back over the summer holidays to a low point at the beginning of 2015, then encouraging acceleration during the school year towards a high point at the end of 2015.

And then their pathways separate.
Those who participated in the first Summer Learning Journey, blogging over the summer holidays, settle into a positive incline pattern.  Those who didn’t, not only continued the ‘yo-yo’ sliding effect, but also failed to catch up during the school year.
Rebecca concludes:
While this is a small study to gauge the effectiveness of blogging as a suitable vehicle for summer programmes, the results are promising.  Of particular note are the sizes of the differences between the writing scores of participants and both estimates of the control condition: students’ own scores in previous summers and the scores of matched control group. This provides initial evidence that participating in a blogging programme over the summer holiday period can attenuate the drop in literacy scores realised by students attending schools in low SES communities. Given the high rates of SLE previously reported by these schools, and the negative effect that low literacy ability has on students, these results offer an important building block for tackling the educational challenge facing these schools, who seek educational solutions to ongoing challenges using digital learning initiatives.

I would like to acknowledge colleagues (eg Helen King, Sandy Lagitupu, Andrea Tele’a, Jenny She and Priscilla Lavakula) who have regularly supported and encouraged learners by commenting on their blogs over the summer holidays for almost a decade now.

And more recently teachers (eg Robyn Anderson, Kiri Kirkpatrick, Karen Belt and Jackie Buchanan) who have designed and monitored holiday blogging programmes for their own classes.

We had a hunch this was making a difference!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Knowing Your Learners

It's that time in the southern hemisphere - summer holidays are coming to an end and teachers are expectantly planning for the new academic year with new classes, new learners and new whānau to engage with. Effective teachers should not need the NZ Curriculum to tell them that the implementation of effective pedagogy (p37) requires teachers to spend time knowing their learners and their whānau, and establishing relationships - whakawhanaungatanga. It is simply common sense and something most would do in any social setting when planning to spend a year in close quarters with someone(s) else. 

In light of this I have been reflecting on my first year teaching when I was super excited about the year ahead and my 'expert' mentor teacher told me to throw all the documentation that came from the primary schools about my learners into a back cupboard as  

  1. it will be inaccurate (implying primary teachers make stuff up) and 
  2. the children deserve to start with a blank slate and have a fresh start in a new year. 

I ignored that advise and pored over the information supplied, taking note of what was said and also what wasn't said. Hopefully even as a beginning teacher I was able to jump start whakawhanaungatanga with the limited information I had gleaned about the learners, rather than starting from nothing.

There is a no shortage of useful ideas online to support teachers knowing their learners, from locally generated kiwi ideas eg. "Whakawhanaungatanga - Getting to know our learners" led by Tessa Gray on the VLN through to international suggestions such as "Strategies For Getting To Know Your Students" by Mike Anderson. 

Teachers in Manaiakalani schools have a significant head start when planning for the new year. An advantage probably only equalled in small country schools where the class sizes are small and the children stay with the same teacher for several years. Manaiakalani children all have a personal blog, and over time these reveal a wealth of information about each learner, their whānau and their learning journey.

Over the Summer many of our young people have participated in the Summer Learning Journey - a blogging programme - and as I have read their posts and the comments and threaded conversations attached, it has dawned on me that Rachel's research team have made significant connections with our learners and know some of these learners very well now. If they were to become their teachers in February I suspect the learning would accelerate very quickly as they have learnt so much about these learners from their blogs.

Our curriculum also reminds us that "teacher actions promoting student learning include making connections to (children's) prior learning and experience". Even a quick skim or scan of a child's blog provides teachers with significant information about prior learning experiences. Not only the learning areas covered, but also the engagement and attitude to learning becomes apparent when a whole year of posts are viewed. And for those with multiple years of blogging some trends emerge of differences from year to year.

Blogging represents the learner's voice and gives an entirely different perspective from the teacher generated profiles of test scores, work samples and comments that were passed on in the pre-digital era.

"We have a unique opportunity to forge very real and meaningful connections with our students using the blog. I think that they are a rich resource for all teachers. The details present on the blogs, the frequency of blog posting, commenting and replying is quite indicative of the degree of engagement that our students have with their learning. They certainly signal the degree of self-regulation and personal drive for learning present within the student and offer us a glimpse into their personal worlds." Dr Rachel Williams, Jan 2017

I would love to hear from teachers 

  1. What you discover about your learners from reading through their blogs in the remaining time before school starts
  2. How you start the year differently with 'knowing your learner' activities when you can acknowledge the content on their blogs and the information they have chosen to share publicly prior to joining your class/es
I recommend taking a few minutes to explore some examples of the threaded conversations Rachel and the SLJ team have been having with our learners this month, using the links below as a starting point.