Tag Archives: Dispositions

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!”

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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”

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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

Modelling a Growth Mindset

We want our kids to understand that learning isn’t easy. It is a challenging activity, it causes a great deal of head scratching and it requires risk taking.

We talk as a staff about ‘The Pit’ and what we go through when we try something new. Our class windows and walls are adorned with pits and the associated resources that children have created to help them get out and experience the ecstasy of success.

This morning Meredith Bladen’s class were leading assembly and they walked us through their learning pits. Meredith works very hard to establish a growth mindset culture. It was great to see the children showing their hand drawn graphs with notes and reflections, with actions and emotions all mapped. I have asked Meredith to blog about this but she is a little shy – please tweet her and ask her to write about how she uses learning pits.

Room 7 kids presenting their reflections in the Pit
Room 7 kids presenting their reflections in the Pit

Earlier in the assembly I had talked about one of my faulty learning habits that I was trying to get over… I mentioned how impressed I was that the school always uses NZ Sign Language as they sing the National Anthem and that I feel a little embarrassed about not getting things right so I don’t give it a go. I asked the assembly what I could do … After a couple of weeks in, I was amazed at the response from children of all ages.

In response to a middle school child saying that I should just ask for help I asked for help. At lunchtime today I had a string of children waiting to help me. One 5 year old simply said just copy the You Tube clip. This was met with a year 3 response of “yeah he could do that but it is always much better when you learn with someone else.” So for the next 10 minutes I learned and practised with these kids who had given up their lunchtime to help me out. The bell went and they were gone leaving me basking in the glow of that Year 3 child’s response. It was priceless and I was left thinking how lucky that child was to have teachers who model a growth mindset and help their students articulate effective learning strategies and dispositions.

As leaders in schools (And I mean leaders in the broadest possible sense) it is our responsibility to model these behaviours to our children. It is our responsibility to think aloud, to share our thought processes so that our children know that learning is a challenge, we never stop doing it and that we can always get better with practise and support from the collective group.

We are more intelligent when we use our extended networks.


Who are you selling as role models?

We are firmly in the age of the “I”. It is a time of the individual, with rhetoric that anyone can be the next leader of their country, make millions of dollars and have the house, nice car and a boat thrown in for good measure. The secret is that you just have to work hard.

Where did this myth eventuate? I am surrounded by lots of hard working people who are not the Prime Minister, CEO of a major corporation or get away on their launch for a jaunt around the harbour.

Yet we hear stories of people who have risen from challenging backgrounds and situations, overcome huge obstacles and achieved at the highest levels. But aren’t these the exceptions to the rule? Isn’t the norm absolute mediocrity or are we missing the point on what constitutes success?

I have no doubt that the ‘success stories’ have worked hard for their achievements, but when we use these figures as role models for our kids are we leaving out a crucial part of the story, that of blind luck or chance? Are we omitting the impact of significant others in an individual’s success? Do we underplay the idea of right time right place?

Schools are very good at determining and teaching the skills for success but do we oversell the ‘the world will be your oyster’ tag line? I was at conference where the speaker said that one of us in the audience could be teaching a future Prime Minister. That sort of rhetoric at that time in my career did give me a boost. But looking back would it have been more inspiring if the speaker had said “You are teaching the mothers and fathers of our future.”

Our kids have a lot to learn from the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. How are we including these role models in our efforts to instil key competencies, values and civics in today’s classrooms?

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.

What is the residue?

After the last post about impending league tables I thought that I would post an article I wrote for the Teachers Matter magazine produced by the talented Karen Boyes @karenboyes from Spectrum Education.

The article, written in 2008, tried to capture the opportunity of a New National Curriculum in New Zealand. It talks a little about change and a lot about the role of the teacher. How does this article sit in 2012? Interested in your thoughts.
What is the residue?
It never ceases to amaze me the range of responses we have to change. In fact the one certainty in our lives is just that, change. But how do we handle it? Where do we pick up the skills to deal with change? Is it largely to do with your outlook on life; the age-old adage of the glass being half empty or half full? Consider the following stereotypical responses to the Revised New Zealand Curriculum that I am sure you have all heard to varying degrees.
“We live in exciting times, we are at the cutting edge of education change. We have a revised curriculum that focuses on Vision, Values and Key Competencies. We are jumping for joy that the word ‘Thinking’ appears in our guiding document at the top of a list of capabilities for living and lifelong learning. We are pioneers, constructing a framework that will allow our children to thrive in a rapidly changing world.”
“We have seen it before, change for change sake. What, a revised curriculum? We never paid attention to the last one! Can’t we just do what we have always done? We really haven’t got time for this in our busy lives. Thinking you say, we have always taught our kids to think, we give our bright kids all those thinking skill things when they have finished their real work.”
The New Zealand Curriculum Vision talks about our young people being confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners. Words like creative, energetic and enterprising sit side by side with resilient, resourceful and motivated. Our challenge is to model these very attributes in front of our students. Energetic, enthusiastic educators who model the NZC vision, values and key competencies is what our children need in their lives.
Whenever I think about the role of enthusiasm and passion for learning in schools I reflect upon a conference I attended a few years ago where the keynote speaker crystallised my thoughts in a very public way. In his opening address he asked how many principals in the room were tired. A number of principals put up their hands. Then came the killer line… “Well then perhaps it is time to retire and let the energetic, enthusiastic people take over.” Whilst harsh and hard hitting it is true, schools are not the right place for those who have lost their spark. But rather than weeding out the unenthusiastic and tired people we have to find new ways to reignite the passion, perhaps one way to do this is the notion of legacy. What is your legacy?
Someone once said to me that it is not what you teach it is how you teach it that will be remembered. Perhaps I am lucky that I had teachers as I was growing up who, whether they knew this or not, demonstrated this very point. What I value today is a result of how my teachers taught. Mr Kay taught me about persistence through Sport. Mrs Nicholls taught me about the joy of Music. Mr Thornewell taught me about curiosity, about questioning, he left with me a love of learning and most importantly he taught me about enthusiasm. At Intermediate Mrs Gribble taught me that looking at things from a different perspective opens up a range of new ideas and possibilities. At High School Mr Staniland, Mr White and Mr Druitt showed an enthusiasm and a passion for their given subject areas that was infectious. I must have learned all the other stuff, the ‘what’ of their teaching.  But it is definitely the how that is their legacy and it remains with me.
Currently we are grappling with curriculum change and the notion of explicitly teaching thinking and learning dispositions. We have schools adopting wonderful programmes like Costa’s Habits of Mind and Claxton’s Building Learning Power that build a child’s capacity to be successful in a rapidly changing world. How many of us model these dispositions? If we really think they are important for children to have, how are we using them successfully in our personal and professional lives? Dr John Edwards uses the example of de Bono’s six thinking hats tool. Lots of people use it in classes but how many of us use it in making decisions about the future direction of our schools, our lives? If not why teach it?
So how do you stack up? What will the children of today say about how you taught them when they think back on their schooling… will how you taught be remembered at all? What will the residue be in 5, 10 or 20 years? Will they be reflective thinkers because you have explicitly modelled this in your classroom? Will they have an enthusiastic outlook on life because you were energetic about all that you did with them. Will they be creative because you allowed them the freedom to step outside the square more often than not? Will they love life and all it has to offer because you showed them something about your life outside of school. Will they treat others with dignity and respect because you walked the talk?
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your glass, you can’t hide from the children you teach… they watch you, they pick up on your values, on your beliefs. You know from your own life experience that teachers leave a legacy, so why not leave a powerful one for your students.
At the time we were looking at a new curriculum – I was excited. A lot has changed for us since then – but let us all remember the New Zealand Curriculum Document is still our guiding document it should drive our decision making, it should give us direction. Or are we doomed to only deliver and measure what is assessed as, after all, what you assess is what you deem to be important.