Wayfinder Learning Lab

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.


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How Twitter shook my confidence as a teacher (and why that’s a good thing)

I’ve been a Twitter user for about a year and a half. That’s late to the party, I know, but at first I was skeptical. It seemed a time-suck and a frivolity: what could be worth saying in 140 characters? Then I got on board and it was a bit of fun. I shared some resources, using it in much the same way as my i-Biology Facebook page (pretty one-way). I followed a few people, learned some things about science, picked up some nice little tech ideas. But…

…as the list of people I follow grew, as I cultivated my lists and as I developed my own online PLN, the one thing I really learned was that ignorance is bliss

Thats an interesting article. I’ll use that in class. 

There’s a cool tech tool. Maybe I can adapt that for class. 

I like that assessment idea. I wonder if that would work in my class? 

That’s a great way to give feedback. I totally need to try that in class. 

That school has an interesting approach to curriculum. Would that work in my class? 

Wow, that’s a really effective way to teach. I should incorporate that into my class. 

That’s really different to the way I’ve always done things. My way looks wrong now. What does the evidence say? OMG, what have I been doing? How can I really improve the learning in my class? 

………o0O0o………

With the stream of Twitter inspirations pumping ideas into my brain I realised that I had a lot left to learn about effective education. It is exciting, but it is exhausting and at times I feel like the Red Queen: the running to keep up never ends. I hold myself to high standards, and seeing that there are better, more effective ways to facilitate learning makes it hard to be satisfied with my practices.

I have learned that although I may have started out as a confident pseudoteacher, or a ‘good teacher‘ by Grant Wiggins’ definition, I had and will always have some way to go to be a ‘great’ teacher. I’m not the ‘cool young teacher’ any more! After almost ten years in education, this powerful and personalised professional development has been the kick up the bum I needed to keep moving forward and to stay excited about our craft.

So yes, Twitter has shaken my confidence, but it is also making me a stronger teacher – and I think that’s just fine.

……….00O0o………

Some inspirations, and real challenges to my thinking and teaching: 

  • Modeling instruction ideas, from Frank Noschese (@fnoschese) and Gary Abud (@MR_ABUD)
  • The Big Thinkers on curriculum, differentiation, homework, assessment and more
  • The endless stream of awesome ideas for tech integration (and being able to remotely keep up with tweets from conferences)

There is a lot to learn out there, and it is a great tool to develop PD. But it is probably a hard sell to tell teachers that it will make their lives harder!

……….o0O0o……….

Thanks to Liz Durkin (@LizDK)  for the discussions in Digital Bytes today and helping form the inspiration for this post! 


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Curriculum Studies Assignment: Physics & the MYP

With permission from my tutor, here is my Curriculum Studies assignment: A critical review of a Grade 10 Introductory Physics course as part of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme, examining selected aims and purposes and analyzing the extent to which these are, in my experience, achieved in practice.  Catchy title, eh?

Some quick reflections on the process and the product: 

  • In the early stages of this unit I really got into the academic reading. The resources set up by the University of Bath are excellent and you can get an idea of what was there (as well as my responses to the tasks) here.
  • It did become a bit of a slog in the writing stages: I took this unit entirely online and there was no activity on Moodle or elsewhere. As a result, I blogged all my thinking and ended up with some interesting discussion and feedback via Twitter.
  • My tutor, Mary Hayden, was a great support. I do wish I’d had the opportunity to meet with her in person for this, as we were limited in our exchanges by the asynchronicity of timezones and busy schedules. As a result the pace of my work slowed, but in the end it came out OK.
  • The importance of getting a good draft in early became apparent here. In the last unit, I had just moved to Japan and was buried in work and adjustment. The MA work suffered and the best I got in was an outline. In this unit, I was able to submit well-structured drafts and received rich and workable feedback. This is something I emphasise in my own teaching, but when the shoe’s on the other foot it is easy to fall behind. The moral of the story – get good drafts in early, front-load the effort, and the results will pay off.
  • Although I enjoyed the academic side of things in the Assessment unit, I really got into it here and this unit helped me realise that I am happiest in the teaching and curriculum side of things – as a teacher, coordinator and instructional leader.

I’m taking a couple of months off now, and will pick up another unit in March and another summer school. I think the best way for me to work would be to get started on the units early, and then come to the summer school with work formed and ready for feedback, rather than waiting to get there to get started.

Anyway, here it is.


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Differentiation through a ‘Readiness Filter’?

Carrying on from my last reflection on the differentiation workshops here this week…

Some subjects have a great freedom of curriculum and are natural fits for student-driven inquiry all the way through to MYP 5 (and beyond if they exist as part of our IBDP). In their cases, one might put readiness, interest and learning profile on an equal footing. The path a student takes through the subject could be very different to their peers (with different outcomes), based on the ways in which differentiation is implemented.

Others, such as Science (my own subject) and Maths, feed into quite prescriptive Diploma Programme courses. All paths lead to the same destination – the examination room and assessment of defined outcomes. Clearly there is minimal scope for differentiation of product or content, but plenty of room for differentiation of process. This led our discussions into whether we should be using readiness as a filter* for differentiation in our classes in MYP 4-5 and IBDP.

With clearly-defined command terms linked closely to assessment rubrics and eventually grades, should we (or could we) first use readiness to pitch lessons at the right level for each student and to ensure that they are making those incremental steps towards progress?

I would love to get to the point where I am using readiness and data in most planning decisions, with learning profile and interest to differentiate further within those levels. Flexible grouping tasks would be used to make sure the same kids aren’t always stuck with each other. Lofty ideals, eh?

I’ll let this diagram I cobbled together explain the rest…

……..o0O0o………

*Thanks @LizDK for the word – it fits the idea perfectly!


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Time to Think

If we want to push students beyond merely procedural tasks and rote learning, we need to give them enough time to think. I know I sometimes feel that I’m not earning my keep if I’m not actively engaged with each student each lesson – but some of them prefer to be left alone to do the mental heavy lifting.

Why do we feel the need to schedule the lesson for the whole class to the minute? How do we best allow students to move on to heavier cognitive work? What environmental stimuli could facilitate their thought? 

Just because a student doesn’t look like they’re doing much, doesn’t mean they’re not thinking hard. Here are Raj and Sheldon to demonstrate.

Something I want to focus on in my classroom over the coming year is facilitating better student thought and improving my own questioning: making thinking visible without unnecessarily interrupting a student’s train of thought.

Making Thinking Visible resources:

……….o0O0o……….

↬ Dr Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer) for reminding me of the Big Bang Theory clip in her Thesis Whisperer blog.


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“Unit plans‽ But we have a subject guide!”

This post (June 2012) relates to my MA assignment in Curriculum Studies and recognises the tension that can be generated when asking IBDP teachers to plan a unit: traditionally the subject guides have been very prescriptive, making a content-driven approach to exam preparation relatively straightforward. The shift into more holistic unit planning in the IBDP can be seen as a challenge, and often needs to be justified. More recent posts address this as well, including “Curriculum development IS professional development,” “An Inquiry Crossfader,” and “Give a Student a Fish.”

……….o0O0o……….

With the MYP’s move to the Next Chapter and the work of H. Lynn Erickson on Concept-based Curriculum being instrumental in this redesign, I figured I should get reading! 

At the moment I’m thinking about how to make this model work best in a content-heavy high school science syllabus (HS Science MYP moving into the heavily-prescribed IBDP subject guides). I’ve written before about how the delimiters of inquiry and differentiation change as we move up the MYP, largely as a result of content and assessment backwash. I feel the same might be true to some extent in designing concept-based curriculum in these classrooms.

Continue reading


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Learning Science By Doing Science: A quick reflection on Student feedback to teachers

The results of teacher evaluations by students were sent out to teachers this week and I was generally pleased with the feedback I received. Students here have written fairly and with thought and obviously appreciate their education. As a teacher I am very fortunate to be able to read this feedback. The strengths I expected to see were reflected in student comments – I go all out to make class and active and engaging experience but also to give students plenty of class time to be successful in assignments (and give guidance and supporting resources), to differentiate as far as possible, to be organised and show that I care about each student.

I think this is one of my favourite comments:

“Mr. Taylor is always available for help. The one thing I really like is that I know he wants me to do the best I can do in this class. He slows things down when the class is falling behind and adjusts deadlines when it is necessary. He teaches in a way that allows us to be independent learners and try things for ourselves. I used to think that he wasn’t teaching/helping enough, but I then realized I wasn’t familiar with this type of learning freedom before. I like doing things independently, and when I’m struggling, he’s always there for support and help.”

Continue reading


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MA Assignment: Proposed Assessment in MYP Next Chapter Sciences

This is a piece of work I submitted in February for my MA in International Education unit on Assessment with the University of Bath. I was given permission from my tutor to post it on this personal professional reflective blog.

It explores some of the issues of validity and reliability in the proposed changes to assessment in the MYP Sciences as the Next Chapter comes into focus. Please note that none of the proposals mentioned in this assignment have been ‘signed off’ by the IBO, as there are elements still in the pilot scheme.

Thanks to Malcolm Nicolson and Sean Rankin for their support in the process.

Next up: Curriculum Studies! Now that the year is starting to wind down (or screech towards the final day), my mind is starting to be filled with thoughts of what’s coming next year in the role of MYP Coordinator. I’ll try to base that assignment on an issue of relevance to CA as well.