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.