Tag Archives: 21st Century Learning

Kiwi kids big pencil and pen users – but are they doing any better?

The latest OECD report around investment in IT and student achievement has hit the media and will no doubt cause a lot of second guessing from our parent communities. The following is the article from the One News Now site with a few tweaks (Parody Alert). I am not attacking the study… yet.

New Zealand has the second highest number of pens and pencils to students, but it might not be doing much good for their performance in key subjects, according to a study by the OECD.

It found New Zealand has 0.5 15-year-old students per pencil or pen, topped only by Australia with 0.3 students that age per writing device.

The study found 86.4 per cent of 15-year-olds are using pens or pencils at school in New Zealand.

But the report found countries which have invested heavily in this proven technology for education have seen “no noticeable improvement” in their performances in OECD test results for reading, mathematics or science.

Students who use pens and pencils moderately at school tend to have better learning outcomes than those who use pens and pencils rarely, it says. 

But students who use pencils and pens “very frequently” at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.

High achieving school systems such as South Korea and Shanghai in China have lower levels of pencil use in schools.

Singapore, with only a moderate use of pens in school, is top for future focused skills.

To assess their real world skills, the test required students in 31 countries and economies to use a pen and/or pencil to navigate texts as well as using slide rules, cosine tables and library catalogue cards in order to access information. Students were required to make a chart from data via inserting a pencil into a compass.

The OECD says ensuring every child reaches a baseline level of proficiency in reading and maths will do more to create equal opportunities in the real world than solely expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services like pens and pencils, let alone access to the newer technology of slide rules.

OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher says school systems need to find more effective ways to integrate pens and pencils into teaching and learning to provide learning environments that give children with the real world skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.

Yes a bit tongue in cheek, but really? Couldn’t this study be summed up by “Effective Teachers make a difference in learning.”

The actual paragraph that mentioned what the test was should give us a clue as to the nature of the information and mental models of what is being measured.
“To assess their digital skills, the test required students in 31 countries and economies to use a keyboard and mouse to navigate texts by using tools like hyperlinks, browser button or scrolling, in order to access information, as well as make a chart from data or use on-screen calculators.”
Is that it? Is that the measure of technology impact? A very one dimensional view of technology use in schools and if that is the measure of 21st Century Skills, skills for the future, then perhaps the test is missing the mark. Not being at the top of that test may well be a good thing!


Agency – Student Driven Learning

If you walk into JJ Purton Jones’ room you will see students doing a whole lot of different things at the same time. There are some students working on their reading, others are tackling maths and then a few more writing. In fact each and everyone of them could be working on something different. Visitors often comment “where is the teacher?”

Agency for us is an extension of Assessment for Learning Practices. Our primary goal is to shift the locus of control from adult to student. This has been a long journey for us that started with the work that Evaluation Associates did before I started in 2006. Since then we have used Formative Practice as the umbrella for all our professional learning. Teachers regularly use the Evaluation Associates Teacher Competency Matrix to plan their next steps, they gather data and iterate new actions to move toward enabling students to make decisions about their learning.

Some people would say that JJ’s class looks like a free for all and that there is an absence of teaching. If you spend time watching and listening to the children talk about what is happening then you would realise that there is a lot of teaching, it is not necessarily just from the teacher. You see to run a class this way takes an organised on to it teacher and is actually a lot harder than a regular teacher led classroom.

The students have good data and the teacher can structure teaching clinics that students opt into around this data. The beauty of the way things run in JJ’s class is when the students say “I’ll run a teaching clinic Miss PJ!”

View image on Twitter

Each and every student can explain what they are doing in their ILPs (Individual Learning Plans), more importantly they can tell you why they have scheduled their timetable in that way. But it gets better…

JJ runs an Adventure learning time, an extension of Google 20% time. Again some people see this as a teacher opting out of teaching. Yet the rigour is amazing! I recall a student coming to my office and saying “Mr L, do you have the NZ Curriculum” to which I handed over my copy… she then said “I need another 26 because we want to map our Adventure Learning back to the curriculum documents”

View image on Twitter

I cannot wait to see what these students with a great sense of autonomy and agency do this year.

See what Steve Wheeler said about the innovative learning in JJ’s class or read Jenny Magiera’s blog on undiluted student agency

Make Club Arrives

One of my biggest fears before make club was that we would have more adults than children. You see I broke the soft launch rule! In struggling for a #28daysofwriting topic I wrote about Make Club. Now that combined with a little twittervertisement caused a bit of a flutter and I had a worry that we would have a couple of kids and lots of adults.

Was I wrong!

A full house for Make Club Debut
A full house for Make Club Debut

A jam packed room and two teachers leading parallel sessions in scratch and tinkercad. Yes pretty basic to start with but if you want to get into some MakeyMakey you need some basic Scratch. If you want to get into rapid prototyping you need some CAD. We had parents and students shoulder to shoulder learning together.

One of the best things that principals experience are the moments when staff shine. Now Make Club is the result of hard work by Kimberly Baars and Paula Hogg but today Kate Davison shone! Her attention to detail her and her preparation was superb. Guiding children  aged 8 – 13 (and their parents) to create a multi-level maze game in under an hour was absolutely masterful. There was support for those who needed it and challenge for those who were getting hang of things. I saw success, I saw laughter and I saw sharing.

a maze game in scratch
a maze game in scratch

We made sure that toward the end of the session that the two groups shared their learning with each other. We then gathered feedback from the kids about what they liked and what would make it more awesome next time.

Now we want sustainability, and the test will be who comes back next week. But judging by the feedback and excitement in the room I think there will a number of kids back. We are in this for the long haul, this club isn’t a flash event designed to ignite imagination. This make club is a long term investment in sustained imagination, creativity and making.

pondering the feedback
pondering the feedback

Well done to the team from Ministry of Make – I can’t wait for next Thursday!

Taking your community with you…

This #28daysofwriting piece is at the end of a school day just before dinner in the staffroom as we have our ‘meet the teacher evening’ tonight.

We have bombarded our parents with texts and email reminders as most of our parents know us. It is really important to get the community together so that we can talk about what school means to us. It is vitally important that we have alignment and that the parent body are with us.

One of the biggest issues schools face is that everyone is an expert about how schools run. This is due to the fact that we have all been to school and enjoyed it – hated it – endured it – regretted it – loved it – never left – never want to go back… the experiences are so different. Yet each of these experiences shape our mental models of what school should be like.

The stock standard line we often hear in our jobs is “School wasn’t like this in my day, it has all changed!” Well some of us would argue that it hasn’t changed enough and any changes that have actually happened are pretty surface level.

Tonight I am tackling this with the parents from the point of view of of course things have changed – would you expect your Doctor to treat you the same way as they did twenty years ago? The key driver for this mental model at the moment is the proliferation of 1:1 devices and schools asking kids to BYOD. So tonight I want to reaffirm our position on BYOB (yes B) and then address the age old issue of what about reading, writing and maths.

Literacy and Numeracy are still the basics yet the medium or context for them is shifting. Our children are in a digital world. The parents may prefer to curl up with a good book by the fire but the children may choose to flip electronic pages.

Tonight I have set up a padlet wall so that parents can ask questions. I want to show them the power of technology to provide voice because I guarantee you that parents, just like kids, have a fear of asking questions in public. I have emailed the link to everyone, printed off QR codes so they have access from their devices (yes so two years ago!) and embedded the wall on our caregiver page. I have primed the staff to try and answer questions on the wall while I am presenting. I have absolutely no idea how this will go. But let’s take a risk…

My Modern Learning Environment

I had a cup of tea left on my desk about 10am this morning. Amanda, one of our admin stars, left it there for me…

Taupaki School was established in 1899. A single room that doubled as a community meeting space outside of school hours. There have been many changes over the years and we have just finished having our administration block ‘remediated’ due to New Zealand’s infamous leaky building era.

Remediation effectively means ripping down the affected areas and replacing like with like – nothing new. So we have just finished 10 months of construction to move back into the same building with the same space.

During the construction the entire admin team were housed in a tiny Portable office. We lived in each others pockets. Our Office Manager and Administrative Assistant were no more than a couple of metres from my desk and our Associate Principal a few more metres removed. There was no privacy – the walls and doors were paper thin.

It was the best ten months. We had fun, we laughed and joked, we shared and we worked together. I asked for advice, “Carole,” I would call out, “I am about to send this email to a parent, how do you think it will land?” Great conversations ensued.

When one of us made tea, we made tea for everyone…

We moved back in to the ‘New’ old Admin block before Christmas. I didn’t unpack as it was a busy time with end of year school and all. So in January I had the chance to set up my office. A chance to do it differently. To turn my traditional Principal Office into an MLE. The first step was to ditch the L-shaped desk and the swivel chair.

My makeshift standup desk... cant wait for @refoldNZ
My makeshift standup desk… can’t wait for @refoldNZ

A temporary standup desk (until my ReFold desk arrives) in the corner is working a treat! The couches in the middle give me some reading or thinking space as well as a relaxed place to chat with people. The round table and chairs provide a collaborative workspace. All I need now is a maker corner! The legs are tired (I need new work shoes!) but am definitely feeling the benefits of standing to work.

There is one thing missing… the bustle of people and the feeling of connection as one of the ‘port-a-com crew’. I would have loved to have reinvented the space, but we weren’t given that option. An open environment with some private meeting rooms for privacy when needed would have been perfect.

That cup of tea on my desk this morning reminded me that an MLE is not a building or room, but a state of mind – a mental model centred in connectivity! Thanks Amanda!

Innovation – fresh initiatives through creative means

If we are really honest with ourselves our schools haven’t really changed a great deal since the idea of compulsory schooling began. We are all aware of the numerous ‘21st Century Learning’ presenters who talk about 19th Century production line education turning our standardised products for the industrial age. Trying to break free from the constraint of established buildings, systemic structures and engrained mental models of how things should be done can be a challenge.

Having fresh ideas and new ways of doing things can be challenging to established norms but necessary if we are going to progress learning to the ideals espoused by many proponents of 21st Century Education. One of the stumbling blocks to innovation is the notion of Best Practice. This very idea that there is one state or way to do things is from a stance of a Fixed Mindset (Dweck, 2012). Sometimes the pursuit of ‘Best Practice’ can be to the detriment of ‘Better Practice’. An iterative, growth mindset approach leads to better practice.

Innovation for us is all about deepening our pursuit of effective learning. Over the years we have implemented many innovative ideas including Student Led Conferencing, Bring Your Own Browser, Robotics, Coding, 3D printing, e-textiles, student driven timetables and maker culture. All these ideas have come from being connected to others, professional reading, and conference attendance. These initiatives have (or currently) started small in a trial environment before slowly scaling them up. Enabling teachers to connect and share via social media (especially Twitter) and face to face encounters provides a rich source of ideas, energy and enthusiasm from a variety of places and industries. As leaders we need to model the use of these vehicles for sharing ideas.

It is vitally important that innovation is a not linked to one individual, it needs to be part of the culture. This year we established an innovation team who are charged with finding new practices that will align with our school vision and deepen our understanding of effective learning. This team is lead by two teachers and has a voluntary component to the team composition. The team is not limited to teachers – board members, parents, scientists, IT brains, business people are welcome. The leaders of the team are given one management unit each ($4000) to coordinate the ideas, generate feedback loops and plan next iterations. The innovation team leaders report to the Leadership Team about their progress and thinking. As principal it is my job to coach these leaders in how we package and implement these new ideas in a way that will get maximum buy in and engagement from the school community.

Staffie coding session

A very recent outcome from the Innovation team is the ‘Staffie’ – a regular voluntary gathering of staff in an ‘unconference’ approach where we learn from each other. This was the result of our innovation leaders attending numerous educampsunconferences and non-edu events that highlight our belief that the knowledge is in the room. Innovation, and therefore better practice, starts with an inquiring teacher given permission to think, act, reflect, re-design and share.


Image Source http://pixabay.com/p-223322/?no_redirect Author: geralt


Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. [eBook version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

The Road to Self-Regulation

The ultimate goal of any school should be to develop self-regulating, self-monitoring and self-motivated learners. Children who develop a capacity to ‘know what to do when they don’t know what to do.’ These broad dispositions or key competencies can be hard to measure, and in political circles can be seen as ‘soft’ data. Yet these very capabilities are what determine a child’s capacity to learn.

Data is an important aspect of the learning and teaching cycle. Professor John Hattie argues that quality data about what a child can or cannot do is extremely important in planning learning – this is common sense but too often in schools we have a preconceived notion of teaching to a standard rather than starting where children are at. An assessment for learning approach is very important for teachers and students.

New Zealand Schools are very familiar with the notion of ‘teaching as inquiry’,

New Zealand Curriculum Framework page 35
New Zealand Curriculum Framework page 35

it is an important part of our Curriculum document. In a nutshell it is an iterative cycle. The key aspect of our inquiry into practice is centred on student capability. We ask questions like…
• What is the data telling me about progress of students?
• What is the data telling me about the teaching strategies I am using?
• What does current research tell me about effective practice in this area?
• What am I going to try as a result?

At our place we gather data that gives us detailed information about what students can do, we use a rage of tools and understand that each assessment tool gives us different information. In Years 4 – 8 the use of e-asTTle assessments helps the learner to become more aware of their strengths and areas for development. Teachers and students use this data to plan their next step learning.

Teaching clinics are becoming the norm. We are encouraging students to look at their data and make choices about what teaching clinics they need in order to progress their learning. It is important to note that teachers are acutely aware of the needs of these students and if they notice that a student hasn’t self-selected a teaching clinic then they get alongside that student and have a conversation about their learning needs, suggesting they may need to attend a particular clinic. This ensures that the student is getting what they need in order to progress but also serves as a coaching conversation based upon data, thus developing their learning capacity.

This approach is grounded in valid and reliable ‘hard’ data. Yet the way we use the data develops the broader goal of self-regulation. In shifting the locus of control to the student were are developing the more important key competencies that they need in order to become life long learners. We capture this journey via our Learning Management System in our student learning journals thus giving us a window into student metacognition.

Assessment for Learning mental models drive our professional lives and our teachers are focussed upon the importance of data in everyday learning. This approach takes some time to embed yet the rewards for student and teachers are invaluable in the quest to develop self-motivated, self-monitoring, self-regulating learners.

Enabling Responsibility

In short our educative purpose must be to develop self monitoring, self motivated, self regulating learners. Regardless of test results and qualifications our moral imperative is to develop not only a love of learning but an iterative capacity to learn, unlearn and relearn in all our students. In addition to this herculean task we are also focussed on developing happy, well rounded individuals who turn out to be nice and treat others with respect and courtesy. All this in five learning hours a day!

By now it should be no surprise to you that Vision drives our practice at Taupaki School. But how does this trickle down to students? How do we empower students to take responsibility for their own learning? There a couple of levers that we use in our place to help develop student autonomy.

Core Values

Our core values are Nurture, Respect, Personal Best and Learning. These were extracted from our vision. Each is unpacked with students and revisited year upon year. Our children talk about what each core value means and how they put it into everyday practice. When we unpack the learning value it is from an assessment for learning (AfL) perspective. The ultimate goal of AfL is for students to progress their autonomy, to deepen their self-regulatory capacity within a supportive socially constructed learning environment (Black et al, 2003; Cowie, 2005; Nicol & McFarlane-Dick, 2006).

Teachers ‘iconify’ and attach stories to the core values. The Learning value has attracted the idea of the Learning Pit, an iterative journey that is fraught with frustration yet if we adopt growth mindset strategies (Dweck, 2012) we can overcome any challenge. This redefines the idea of intelligence being what you can recall to a standpoint of intelligence as an actionable disposition – knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.

Student Led Conferences (SLCs)

Students lead the conversations
Students lead the conversations

We have a belief that students need to know where they are and what they need to do next. Students look at their data and then co-construct a way forward in their learning. Student Led Conferences are a practice field for talking about our learning journeys with our parents and caregivers. We provide a scaffold for these conferences but the children do all the talking. Our 5 years are so good at it these conferences can last over an hour.

SLCs are the product of teachers using AfL practices in their everyday work. The goal is to move the locus of control to the student. Our use of learning journals in our KnowledgeNET learning management system is a further scaffold for reflection and a gathering point for feedback from a number of sources.

Where to next?

We are starting to see classes from year 4 – 8 use individual learning plans where children plan their week based upon their data, they opt into teaching clinics and in some cases run teaching clinics for others. This is a natural extension in our AfL journey. We are starting to see the practical implementation of personalised learning unfold.


Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2003). Assessment for learning. Putting it into practice. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

Cowie, B. (2005). Pupil commentary on assessment for learning. The Curriculum Journal, 16(2),137-151.

Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. [eBook version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

Nicol, D., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.

Roselinde Torres – Leadership

Roselinde Torres asks key questions about ‘Great Leadership’ in the 21st Century Digital age…

  1. Where are you looking to anticipate change?
    • How are we expanding our horizons?
    • How do we share these insights to shape our future
  2. What is the diversity measure of your network?
    • Capacity to develop relationships with people who are different to you
    • Diverse networks create different ways of thinking
  3. Are you courageous enough to abandon the past
    • They dont talk risk taking they do it
    • They align with people who think a little differently

How can her findings be applied within the educational context to improve schooling outcomes? 

You cannot learn leadership practices in one day seminars, leadership in the 21st century is centred upon change and anticipating the landscape. Diversity of thought and action means that our leadership teams are distinct leadership units where strength is found in the diverse skills and abilities of those in the team. We need to question the status quo and not be tied to traditional models or ways of being based upon the notion of ‘that is the way we have always done it’

How does this TED Talk connect to our leadership experiences?

It is important to foster links and networks with those stakeholders in our community. It is crucial to reach out to further networks of people in the pursuit of diverse ideas – cultural, gender, thinking, business, different education thoughts and perspectives. We must encourage diverse thought and ideas amongst staff and value diverse thought in members of the BoT. We need to ensure that leadership teams have collective skill in areas of leadership across all fronts (Marzano’s 21 aspects of leadership). Upon reflection I am not averse to looking to change our current successful practice in the pursuit of better ways of doing things. I see the rise of Maker Culture and Design Thinking as the next phase of curriculum development we need to consider, yet these are not on the radar of the majority.

What are your thoughts? What resonated with you? More importantly what didn’t and why?