Wayfinder Learning Lab

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


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Curriculum as a Compass?

Over the last few years as a science teacher and coordinator I’ve been thinking a lot about how we might create a culture of thinking that balances vigorous and challenging outcomes with student co-creation (or navigation) of inquiry, particularly where there might be high-stakes terminal assessments looming. The “Curriculum as a compass, not a calendar” metaphor* helps me wrestle with these ideas. 

This one has been brewing a while and is still pretty drafty, so I reserve the right to edit ;> With so much written about inquiry and edtech in recent years, there is likely little new in here, but writing helps clarify thinking. Also, my kids and I love Moana, hence the images and gifs. 

*See the “Heritage of the Idea” at the bottom of the post. 

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Inquiry as a Quest (or Journey)

The Japanese term Tankyuu ( 究), meaning inquiry, journey, quest or investigation, is a nice fit for this idea. It aligns with a pragmatic definition of inquiry, suggesting that there is a journey worth taking, knowledge worth learning and many paths worth exploring.

It suggests depth and vigour, a level of sophistication that empowers learning, building on (and feeding back into) a solid foundation for the future.

questforlearning-530_1This is no new idea, and has been written about in many different ways. Most recently, in Quest for Learning by Marie Alcock, Alison Zmuda and Michael Fisher, inquiry is presented as a part of a “quest” that is enhanced by effective networks and elements of “gaming” that drive learners. Hop on over here for a review of their book.

Curriculum as a Compass, not a Calendar

@sjtylrCurriculumCompassIf we think of inquiry as a voyage, then we might think of curriculum as a compass –  map and compass set. As a map the curriculum outlines the destinations and checkpoints, obstacles and viewpoints. The curriculum outlines the “need to knows” in context (national/international standards), but doesn’t dictate the route to take – or the schedule for the learning. There may be well-trodden paths to lead us to tourist hotspots but there might also be areas uncharted, adventures waiting to happen where the questing learner (co-)creates new knowledge, ideas or outcomes.

The compass holds “true north”, ensuring that whatever the path taken, learners can find themselves back on track, relatively unscathed. The compass can help the tempered self-regulating learner decide “If I’m here, and I want/need to get there, then I have to ______ .” In the PYP context, you might want to read the ever-great Edna Sackson’s post on “curriculum shouldn’t be linear“.

With curriculum as a map and compass, teachers and learners can navigate the “need to knows and where to go’s” with some confidence. They might even be ready to set sail into the blue yonder…

Just in case & just in time:  the navigator’s toolkit

MoanaSail

Just enough to get going… [source]

What are the roles of knowledge and skills in an inquiry context? Under this metaphor, we might think of them as the “need to knows” to start the journey: the contents of the voyager’s backpack.

  • What does the explorer need to know and be able to do to set the course? What experiences and provocations can inspire the journey and create the moving force to get going?
  • What do they need to know and be able to do to get going? How will they know they’re making progress and how will they generate feedback to take action on the journey? What are the most effective ways to learn this foundational knowledge, misconception-free, so that they are prepared for the journey ahead?
  • What are the “just in case” lessons or resources that the teacher might have to hand (or workshop with), in prediction for challenges ahead? “Ah, I can see you’re heading up the mountain…. do you have the right rope?“.
  • What are the “just in time” lessons that the teacher might need to prepare, or have at their fingertips, as the journey progresses? How can we spot and take appropriate actions on the little nudges that get the lost wanderer out of the bog?

The Teacher and Learner as Wayfinders

grandma-tala-advice

Moana’s Grandma Tala: Inspiration, Provocateur, Wayfinder. [gif source]

Through all these decisions the teacher makes (or helps the student make), we can hold the following in mind:

  • What knowledge might help here, and are they on track?
  • What disciplinary skills are useful here and do they know them well?
  • What approaches to learning skills can drive this forwards?
  • What tools – physical, digital and strategic – might be needed and how will they access them? How much of this is just in case or just in time?
  • How can this connect to other learning, in this quest, other classes or outside?
  • TalaMoanaWho can help as journey-mates, experts or co-navigators?
  • Are they holding “true north” and how far off course is OK until we need to step in?

So what is the role of the elder in the hero’s quest?

Inspiration? Co-creator? Director? The holder of cultural knowledge (curriculum)? Guide? Instructor? Coach? Confidante? Expert?

As the adults in the room, with a great weight of responsibility, it is likely to be all of the above. The challenge is knowing who needs what and when, helping our own learners find the joy in uncertainty and the fulfilment of doing the hard work of learning to find our way.

Perhaps sometimes, like Moana’s Grandma Tala, we need to transform ourselves, to become Wayfinders and join them on their journey [gif source].

Technology can help bring the magic…

With potentially transformative technologies in our voyagers’ backpacks, our quests have the potential for charting new territories, creating new outcomes and connecting across the map.

MauiHookFrom productivity to efficiency, creativity to critical thinking, wellbeing to connection, the potential for technologies to really elevate learning is endless, and can amplify (or transform) a knowledge-rich, student-owned learning adventure.

Reach out and connect: it’s a rich world of shared learning and collaboration that can give the voyagers access to learning that might not have been possible otherwise.

…but don’t let SatNav ruin the adventure

SatNav, as wonderful as it can be, has two main flaws. First, it gives “the answer” quickly, even though it might not be the answer we need (and may sometimes lead down a dodgy path). Second, it can be annoyingly fiddly, dominating your thinking when you should be driving the car. As the teacher it can be hard to resist jumping in with the answer (or an assumption) that steals the opportunity for thought, like a satnav giving shortcuts that miss out on the best part of the journey. Similarly, edtech is not always the solution and even in the age of Google our students need to be masters of valuable knowledge.

I like to think about these “get out of the ways” (and I’m sure will add more):

  • If surface-level enquiry (looking up simple stuff) is wasting mental energy that could be better put to work on true thinking (inquiry with an “I”), find a more efficient way to teach the basics and move on to better questions.
  • If the adult is getting in the way of the real thinking, step back and listen.MoanaShiny
  • If the tech is just a “shiny” distraction, reconsider its worth. Do we really need this side-plot in our adventure?
  • If the tech tool is creating an unproductive struggle (a “clicky-clicky timesuck”), ditch it for something more truly interactive and/or effective.
  • If grades are getting in the way of learning, find ways to separate them from feedback (feedback first, feed-forwards and so on).
  • If the navigators are lost (or antagonistic), teach the teamwork skills that are needed to move on.
  • … (can you add more?)

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“It’s not just sails and knots…”

… it’s seeing where you’re going (in your mind). It’s knowing where you’re going by knowing where you’ve been.

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So there you go. My two cents on curriculum as a compass, inquiry as a quest and ATL skills, edtech and more as navigation tools, using Moana gifs. If you have any thoughts, please add them in the comments below or find me on Twitter.

MoanaMaui

The apprentice becomes a wayfinder in her own right. [gif source]

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*The Heritage of an Idea

When I heard the phrase “curriculum is a compass, not a calendar“, years ago, it resonated, but I couldn’t remember where I heard it, Found it: it was Aaron Duff  (in 2014) – and I’d even made (and forgotten about) a graphorism when this account was on my old handle (@iBiologyStephen), a symptom of years of output littered across the web.

In a Twitter exchange on #PubPDAsia I tracked down an even earlier use of it (2008), and found a quote in Research on Second Language Teacher Education: A Sociocultural Perspectiveedited by Karen E. Johnson, Paula R. Golombek. It’s amazing what focused search strategies can turn up in the context of a rapidly-moving live twitter-chat! 

Now, as I think more about curriculum development and future adventures in high-quality, learner-driven, vigorous (and knowledge-founded) inquiry, I think about the toolkits and strategies we might put in place. Connecting the pieces of the the programmes (MYP, DP, NGSS etc), along with big ideas and frameworks from Bold Moves, Quest for Learning, Cultures of Thinking, Making Thinking Visible, I move closer to the image of the learner (adult or student) as a Wayfinder.

Aue Aue! 

Aue, aue, we are explorers reading every sign
We tell the stories of our elders
In the never ending chain

 


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Is this an inquiry with an ‘I’ or an enquiry with an ‘e’?

This post has been sitting in my drafts for a while, and I was reminded to complete it after a question from a student when I was covering a TOK class: “What’s the difference between inquiry and enquiry?”

[tL:dR: Definitions matter in education, especially when a topic is misunderstood or controversial. Using traditional definitions allows for a distinction between purposeful inquiries and surface enquiries. This can help choose the right tools for the best learning and most appropriate time. We can have the best of both.] 

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Defining Inquiry: A Pragmatic Approach

I’ve been thinking and writing about this a lot over the last few years, tinkering with and testing definitions that try to capture what makes powerful, pragmatic inquiry learning. He’s my current best effort and if you pick it apart you should be able to recognise the best elements of the classical with an aspiration towards the contemporary (in the Bold Moves sense).

Inquiry iscreative, critical, reflective thought. It builds on a solid foundation of accessible, well-learned knowledge, skills and conceptual understandings, inviting learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?”  

Although it opens with higher-order aspirations, and closes with an invitation to action, it is anchored by a solid foundation of knowledge, skills and concepts. Knowledge is the stuff we think with: the more we know, the better our questions and stronger our conceptual understandings. This does not dictate a linear approach. It highlights the critical role of the expert teacher who, with subject mastery and pedagogical mastery, can create a true culture of thinking in their class, (co-)creating the moving forces of experience that pull a community of learners through the hard work of building understanding.

An expert inquiry teacher inspires learners to learn lots, learn well and want to learn more. They know what needs to be taught, what has been learned and how to use this as a launching pad for exciting exploration.

Defining Inquiry

Defining Inquiry: A Pragmatic Approach

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So what about inquiry vs enquiry?

Beyond some regional variation*, I find this OUP contrast really useful in developing curriculum, collaborating with teachers and working with students. I suspect that the two terms are conflated in the minds of many (educators and non-educators). Could a clear distinction help?

“The traditional distinction between the verbs enquire and inquire is that enquire is to be used for general senses of ‘ask’, while inquire is reserved for uses meaning ‘make a formal investigation’.”   [Oxford Living Dictionaries]*

It helps evaluate the depth of an inquiry in terms of moving into investigation, creation and research, rather than the simple act of “looking stuff up”. Enquiry gives inquiry a poor reputation when inordinate amounts of time are spent on (perceived) “fluff”, squeezing out the opportunities for truly engaging experiences. There is a time and place for enquiry, and I’ve labelled it as “enabling” in the image below.

Quick questions and known answers that have little need to expend mental energy (or valuable time): there are more efficient ways to learn about or find out simple content. The expert inquiry teacher knows which tools to select for the job.

So here’s a little planning mantra I like to hold in my head:

“Is this an inquiry with an ‘I’ or an enquiry with an ‘e’?”

How could you use/adapt some of these questions/provocations to classify your inquiries? (I’ll add/edit over time, I’m still tinkering with these ideas):

  • Does it require significant new learning to me, or is is re-presenting known content? Am I really learning?
  • Am I truly engaging with the content, skills and concepts or am I transcribing items from one place to another? Am I really learning?
  • Am I building tenacious new understanding or storing temporary thoughts? Am I really learning?
  • If I learn this this way, will I learn this best for its purpose? Am I really learning?
  • Am I “just Googling” or am I sorting, evaluating, synthesising? Am I really learning?
  • Is this the equivalent of a deep investigation (or creation), or a “helpdesk enquiry”?
  • Will I be spending my time on thinking, investigating or creating, or will I be clicking, copying or pseudo-creating? Am I really learning?
  • If I’m working with a group, are we in dialogue, discussion and collaboration or chatting, partitioning and time-wasting? Am I really learning?
  • If I’m using technology is it amplifying or transforming the learning, or replacing a simpler (possibly more efficient) process? (RAT model) Am I really learning?
  • Am I learning authentically in the discipline (e.g. “as a scientist”) or about the topic (e.g “about science”)? [Thinking from the perspective of supervising extended essays, developing inquiries, etc)]
  • Could my learning give rise to newer, stronger questions, or will it end there?
  • What am I doing in this inquiry that is more sophisticated than a student younger than me? For example, if I’m an MYP student, how am I asking a question that is more sophisticated than in PYP?
  • Is this experience a moving force that will create a drive to know, leading me into learning more, or is it a gimmick that gives the illusion of learning? Am I really learning?

InquiryEnquiry@sjtylr

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Shifting the Questions

making20thinking20visible

Project Zero: MTV Routines

Some strategies for taking a question from enquiry to inquiry:

  • Question Starts (Making Thinking Visible) is a very simple set of question stems that can force a student to think about a topic from different perspectives. Importantly, students need to classify and evaluate the questions.
  • Think, Puzzle, Explore (Making Thinking Visible)… but insist on quality. Similarly with See, Think, Wonder, run the routine until the observations and ideas are exhausted. This can take questions beyond the surface.
  • Creative Questions (Making Thinking Visible). A simple routine for interrogating proposed questions for quality and depth.
    • Similarly, Options Explosion can be used: students list all obvious options, questions or ideas and then find the hidden options or new questions that arise.
  • Predict, Observe, Explain (NSTA). Great for working with data of any kind, or thinking about cause/effect and correlation. This can generate many points of questioning, and can be extended into Predict, Observe, Explain, Investigate.
  • “How else can this be used?” Visual organizer for accessing Webb’s DOK4 from different domains.

Enquire, Inquire, Perspire, Inspire: a distillation of many ideas:

Generate ideas, get the easy stuff out of the way and used it to create better inquiries. If something needs to be learned, learn (teach) it well and check it is understood. Use it to inform stronger lines of inquiry. Put in the hard work of inquiry authentic to the disciplinary/interdisciplinary investigation. Evaluate the learning, communicate and put it to meaningful action.

EnquireInquirePerspireInspire

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Post-script: The Journey of a Thought

ADayAtThePark

“A Day At The Park” (excerpt), by Kostas Kiriakakis. Read the whole strip, it’s great.

In the ‘enquiry’ sense, one could just look up a definition and be done with it, but I’ve been wrestling with ideas around purposeful, pragmatic inquiry for a long time (since ULL at Bath), connecting it to recent posts about DOK4 and Transfer, the ‘buoyant force’ of continuum learning and the “quest for learning”.  More fundamentally it builds from the pragmatic definition of inquiry (IS Magazine) and investigating effective teaching and learning practices that allow for students to become knowledgeable, reflective, open-minded thinkers and clear communicators.

There is no need for an ‘either-or’ approach to inquiry learning (in the progressive vs traditional sense); a strong inquiry experience develops the modern trivium of grammar (knowledge), dialectic (questioning) and rhetoric (communication).

Trivium21C_iBiologyStephen

Diagram by me, based on Martin Robinson’s Trivium21C

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If you’ve been thinking about this too, let me know in the comments below or find me on Twitter.

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Edits/Clarifications

*The British vs American usage in the general sense might hold to enquiry vs inquiry (thanks Des O’Sullivan on Twitter), though here I’m trying to distinguish ‘weak’ vs ‘strong’ question-driven learning. Where enquiry might be more common in general use in the UK (Oxford), the ‘i’ form is still used for ‘a formal investigation’ and this is closer to the heart of what we’re trying to achieve in deep learning, authentic to our disciplines. British media will still tend towards ‘inquiry’ for investigation (examples at the Guardian), with ‘enquiry’ for simpler questions (examples at the Guardian). An “inquiry into…” vs “helpdesk enquiries“, if you will. To me, ‘enquiry learning’ is looser, less purposeful and (possibly) ineffective. ‘Inquiry’ in this sense is focused, purposeful and powerful, as intended the IB context (all IB docs use the ‘i’).

 

 


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What does this look like in the classroom?

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John Catt has a two-fer offer with Tom Sherrington’s “Learning Rainforest

This post is a quick recommendation for a very practical resource for teachers, coordinators & learning coaches. “What Does This Look Like in the Classroom? Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice”, by Carl Hendrick & Robin MacPherson, with illustrations by Oliver Caviglioli, is available in paperback from John Catt (and Kindle). This review is written from the perspective of an international school educator and coordinator.

Make sure you visit the “What Does This Look Like?” website for more posts on these topics, colour images and discussions. It’s a great resource.

The authors have designed a very useful text that can be read in a single sitting and/or dipped into as a reference. I would recommend it in teacher training, and it should be read by anyone responsible for professional learning. Each chapter is written in a Q&A style, with introductory key points, and practical questions each answered by two experts in the field of the chapter (it’s an impressive and credible lineup). They wrap up with a summary of the ‘streamlined classroom‘, with six key practices to create flow. More on this below.

Overall, I found this text accessible, conversational and practical. I really like the format of the chapters and there is a strong focus on what teachers really need to know (away from fluff and distraction). I hope they continue to develop their blog, and look forward to a future edition in a few years’ time. It would be good to see more on international/multicultural classrooms, or even additional chapters for different disciplines.

I’ve listed the chapter and contributors below, with a few of the key issues addressed in the chapter and links to the authors’ Twitter profiles. This book in itself is a great example of the power of Twitter as a PD tool – I have followed many of these contributors for a long time and have a learned a lot from them as a result.

Feedback Summary: Wiliam & Christodoulou

Sample Summary (click to enlarge)

Assessment, marking & feedback: Dylan Wiliam & Daisy Christodoulou

  • Student ownership of and engagement with feedback
  • The testing effect, past papers and strategies
  • Efficient marking & feedback practices
  • Using student data

Behaviour: Tom Bennett & Jill Berry

  • Classroom culture: relationships, expectations, communication
  • Managing low-level disruption and poor behaviour
  • Engaging students (and keeping them engaged)

Reading and literacy: Alex Quigley & Dianne Murphy

  • Reading comprehension and sustained ‘deep reading’ (in a technological society)
  • Building vocabulary and shared roles in developing literacy
  • Reading for pleasure

SEN: Jarlath O’Brien & Maggie Snowling

  • Supporting students with behavioural and learning difficulties (including the role of tech)
  • Challenging students who find it ‘too easy’
  • Supporting EAL learners

Motivation: Nick Rose & Lucy Crehan

  • Extrinsic vs intrinsic, and motivating non-academic students
  • Growth mindset & independent learning
  • Testing anxiety, resilience
Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 10.40.47

Learning Scientists Site

Psychology and memory: Paul Kirschner & Yana Weinstein

This whole section is packed with fantastic stuff, and I highly recommend leaping out to the Learning Scientists’ website, with some printable resources (also illustrated by Caviglioli).

  • Strategies for effective learning (spacing, interleaving)
  • Remembering, forgetting and strategies for developing long-term memory
  • Working memory and cognitive load theory (as “the single most important thing” for teachers to know (Wiliam))

Classroom talk and questioning: Martin Robinson* & Doug Lemov

  • Student-active vs didactic techniques (and teacher talk)
  • Questioning styles and encouraging quality conversation
  • Generating balanced, quality discussions where all students contribute

From here, I’d recommend teachers also have a look at Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart and The Best Class You Never Taught, by Alexis Wiggins.

Learning myths: David Didau & Pedro de Bruyckere

  • Multiple intelligences vs learning styles
  • Creativity, critical thinking and 21C skills
  • Taxonomies
  • Learning in the digital age (Google & remembering**)

Technology: Jose Picardo & Neelam Parmar

  • Impacts of mobile technology and balance
  • Academic honesty
  • Making the most of available tech

Independent Learning: All contributors

Perspectives on developing independent learners from various contributors. Worth reading and comparing to your own experiences. Creating independent learners through strong development of the approaches to learning skills (in conjunction with solid disciplinary an interdisciplinary knowledge) is a touchstone of a strong IB education.

Conclusion: The Streamlined Classroom (Carl Hendrick & Robin MacPherson)

Distilling their findings into the ‘honeycomb conjecture‘ below, the authors present an idea for an effective classroom to ensure solid foundations of learning and progress. This in itself would make a great introduction to the book as a PD resource, giving multiple entry points for teacher discussion.

I’ve written a lot on here about meaningful, effective, pragmatic inquiry, defining it as “Creative, critical reflective thought, built on a solid foundation of well taught/learned knowledge, skills and concepts that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?” . This book and its advice aligns with this definition, giving more concrete practices that help enhance a high-quality IB education. ***

In thinking about how to integrate effective tech use into teaching and learning, I can see potential applications for a streamlined classroom tech toolkit.

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Footnotes & Blog Posts

* I reviewed Robinson’s very interesting “Trivium 21C” for International School Magazine, here.

** No, Google will not replace knowing: Content & Inquiry in a Google World.

*** International School Magazine article on defining inquiry here.

If you’ve read the book, continue the discussion in the comments below, or find me on Twitter:

 


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The Tempered Learner (on self-regulation)

Going all the way back to my “MYP: Mind The Gap” session at IBAP 2013, I’ve been thinking about defining effective self-directed inquiry, the role of the MYP in “preparing” kids for DP, the approaches to learning and (more recently) building in ideas of Bold Moves curriculum, the Quest for Learning and Wayfinding (curriculum as a compass).

How far can we go with our frameworks to create truly self-directed, knowledgable and effective learners?

As always, the Twitter PLN is full of ideas and questions, and this question by Alison Yang got me thinking:

My first thought was that these learners are “in control”. They demonstrate the learner profile with calmness and balance. In my class of DP biologists, there was a full range of approaches to the challenge and workload, so what set apart the highly self-regulated (and most successful) students?

I started to list characteristics of learners I know from past experience have been “in control” of their learning, thinking about their mastery of the ATL skills and (from Cognitive Coaching training), how they reflect holonomy and the five states of mind (efficacy, consciousness, craftsmanship, interdependence and flexibility).

Ever the sucker for a nice acronym and positive imagery, I sorted them out to yield “TEMPER”. Defined as a state of mind between anger and calm (that works), or the balance between hardness and elasticity in a metal (I like that too). Flexible, calm, tempered students in a state of flow can be highly self-regulating. Conversely, what’s in low resource in a student who is demonstrating inflexible, stressed or angry behaviour?

So, here goes. Cod-psychology at its finest, but an intellectual toy for me and a starting point think about how we might identify and develop traits of self-regulation.

TemperedLearner@sjtylr

 

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The TEMPERed Learner is Highly Self-Regulating


T
ime Mastery

The tempered learner is in control of use of time. They are less stressed by deadlines, but “ship” the goods on time. They have autonomy of their use of time in class and outside, but are disciplined in their approaches.

Could a strong self-regulated learner be in control of their own schedule and learn more effectively and efficiently than our regular timetable allows?

Edit (April 2018): I switched this from time management to time mastery, in the Cultures of Thinking sense: where we and our students become the masters of, not slaves to, time and in which we make purposeful choices on how we invest our time as a statement of learning values. 

Emotional Resources

The tempered learner is in control of their affective skills and aware of their emotional responses. They understand how emotion interacts with the other ways of knowinghow their emotion might affect their learning and relationships and how to plan or respond accordingly. They “fail forwards” and bounce back from challenges with positivity.

Mindset/Motivation/Mastery

The tempered learner is in control of their own drive to succeed, valuing the process that leads to a quality product. The most self-regulating students in my own classes tend to be those that see feedback (in any form) as a step towards success, can see the gap between where they are and where they need to be and know how to close that gap through mastery.

Physical & Mental Wellbeing

The tempered learner is in control of their physical & mental wellbeing. They eat well, move lots, sleep plenty and seem to enjoy life even in stressful times. They maintain balance with physical and creative pursuits, family and connection. It’s tough to see students succumb to stress, evidenced by visible changes in wellness, and signals issues in our systems and/or their self-regulation that need to be addressed. What are their avenues to physical health and talking about (and taking action on) mental wellbeing?

Educational Goals

The tempered learner is driven by a purpose beyond chasing grades. They demonstrate clarity of purpose in the course, programme or pathway even if their own career outcome is not clear. They set and achieve challenging, realistic and meaningful goals and demonstrate effective strategies (such as use of feedback) that will get them there.

Reflection

The tempered learner is effectively reflective, generating their own cycles of feedback, planning and action. They are highly metacognitive, learning well from their experiences, building on success, avoiding repeating mistakes in the future and making connections across contexts through transfer.

What happens to the ill-tempered learner? 

Reflect for a moment on what might go wrong if a student is not self-reliant in one more of the TEMPER traits. What are the causes and effects, and what has been our role as a the expert (or system) in leading them to that place? What needs to be fixed and what does that learner need in order to become more self-regulating?

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Forging Steel: A Teacher’s Tempering

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Kate in “A Knight’s Tale” developed a stronger, light armour. (Article: KissMyWonderWoman.com)

Let’s push the image to breaking with thinking about the role of the teacher in developing truly self-regulating learners. Iron alloys, like steel, are made stronger and less brittle (more flexible) through tempering, a process of careful heating and cooling.

How is this analogous to the role of the teacher in developing the tempered learner? What are the repeated processes we use to help create, strong, flexible young adults who can guide their own development and take on the world?

Each of the TEMPER traits are teachable, practicable and observable through the approaches to learning and many effective strategies. This is where the role of the teacher as an activator (rather than facilitator) of learning is critically important: to explicitly use and evaluate effective methods.

The learners themselves become experts in learning: the tempered learner can set their own path to success through self-regulation.

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The Temper Trap

I love this band, with their Indonesian lead singer, soaring choruses and interesting lyrics. Trembling Hands is a favourite: laced with aspiration, filmed in Cuba and showing the triumphant tempering of an acrobat’s mettle.

 


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A pragmatic approach to inquiry: my article in IS magazine

Click to read.

Click to read.

This article, “(Re)defining inquiry for international education,” is based on a thread of thought started with my “MYP: Mind the Gapconference presentation and continued with an MA assignment. It was published in the most recent issue (Autumn | Spring 2014) of International School Magazine, edited by University of Bath tutors and international education gurus Mary Hayden and Jeff Thompson.

In the article “(re)defining” refers to clarifying the meaning of the term inquiry, so that we can give access to high-quality inquiry learning to students through the whole continuum. It builds on anecdotal experiences in discussions that ‘inquiry’ has been framed from one end as a weak, free-for-all alternative to teaching and critical reasoning. This is a misinterpretation, and the article advocates for a reminder of what inquiry is and a working definition of inquiry as critical reflective thought (after Elkjaer & Dewey) that is future-oriented, but based on strong foundation of effectively-taught skills and knowledge (after Vygotsky, Hattie…). From the other end, it is important to understand that inquiry looks and feels very different as disciplinary studies become deeper and more authentic.

This is of particular importance to IB schools. Stakeholders need to understand that an inquiry-based framework is not a knowledge-free curriculum, and that a high-stakes test-based assessment at one end is no excuse to crush the exploration out of the learning process.

In essence: we create an outstanding curriculum that gives students knowledge and skills to work with and has lots of room for them to put them to use in critical, creative and reflective problem-solving. Use high-impact strategies to teach those skills and that knowledge, to avoid misconception and to ensure that these critical thinkers have a solid foundation of raw materials for future learning.

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Read the full article on IS Magazine’s website here, or download the magazine (pdf) here (or just the article pdf here).

Click to read my article on Inquiry in the Autumn | Spring issue of International School magazine.

Click to read my article on Inquiry in the Autumn | Spring issue of International School magazine.


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Growth Mindsets in Differentiation & Feedback

Nothing suggests 'loser' quite like a table for one and a book with that cover blurb. ;)

Nothing suggests ‘loner’ quite like a table for one and a book with that cover blurb. 😉 #GrowthMindset

After reading/hearing so much about Carol Dweck’s Mindset over the last couple of years, I was finally able to read the book on the train from London to Bath. I’d become so familiar with the ideas that it felt like 200+ pages of déjà vu, although the main messages are perhaps worth reinforcing.

It’s an easy read, in a style similar to Pink, Goleman, Gladwell and co., though I did find myself skimming over yet another American sports example (Woods, Wooden, Jordan, Wie, Yankees, McEnroe). There were some interesting sections on leadership, parenting and relationships, though I was really looking for more practical advice on how to build growth mindsets in my students.

Some key messages for parents and educators

  • A fixed mindset is seen as a personal success or failure, a (permanent) label on a person of their worth.
  • Fixed-mindsets value ability over effort and when effort is put in it is in order to affirm one’s status at the top; they might be seen to ‘learn’ a lot as they perform highly in tests and assessments, but this may be due only to the effect of their achievement affirming their fixed mindset.
  • Fixed mindsets see difficulty as a weakness or threat and so may not put in the effort in case they fail.
  • Growth mindsets embrace the challenge of difficulty and see the value in learning as a journey.
  • Growth mindsets demonstrate resilience in failure and use difficulties to set workable plans for improvement
  • Growth mindset leaders and teachers embrace their own personal learning and seek to develop learning communities: it is OK to not know… yet.
  • Growth mindset leaders take time to listen, learn and evaluate fairly. They surround themselves with knowledgable inquirers and weed out the fixed mindset culture of fear and/or affirming status. They might be lower-key than the high-powered fixed-mindset hero-leaders, but they build a more sustainable and trusting culture.

Feedback and Mindsets

Samudra, determined to ride the space tower thing at LegoLand. Photo (c) Stephen Taylor.

Samudra, determined to ride the space tower thing at LegoLand. Photo (c) Stephen Taylor.

It is clear that our words and actions as parents and teachers reinforce kids’ views of themselves and their behaviour adjusts accordingly. By focusing on personal feedback (praise or criticism), we may affect the mindset of the child, either reinforcing the ego or damaging the student’s motivation to improve. By focusing on tasks and processes, looking at how we can improve, we might help students develop more growth mindsets. A good strategy for effective feedback that builds on the growth mindset might be Hattie’s Three Levels (Task, Process and Self-regulation).

Differentiation and Mindsets

When we focus on ability-related feedback, conversations or behaviours are we limiting the growth mindset? Dweck suggests that this is compounded when the curriculum is ‘dumbed-down’ and that having high expectations for all students, coupled with valuable feedback, will increase achievement. Sounds obvious, but may not always play out in class. Avoid the temptation to make the curriculum easier for the ‘less able’ students and instead Differentiate Up from a core. Challenge everyone, support everyone.

Approaches to Learning and Mindsets

We all want our students to do well, but more than that we should want them to love learning and become enthusiastic lifelong learners. Taking steps to weed out fixed-mindset behaviours and language from our classes and our cultures in order to develop strategies towards becoming more growth-oriented might bring us part of the way. This is where we can start to see the importance of the Affective skills clusters of the IB’s Approaches to Learning, and will likely be an area that requires significant teacher (and parent) professional development. Coupled with a strong curriculum and high-impact teaching and learning and we might just get there.

I used to think you were smart.” Calvin and Hobbes strip that neatly sums up fixed vs growth mindsets, used on p40 of Dweck’s Mindset.

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I’ll admit, the idea of Mindset seems a little too neat for me – we are more nuanced and complex than either-or (which she recognises in the book). Personally, for example, I would see myself as very growth-mindset in that I seek development, learn more and reflect on everything; however, I can take perceived failure or criticism very personally, which is a more fixed-mindset trait. I also recognise that the book is aimed at a mass-market audience, and so there is much reference to ‘our research’ without a lot of depth. I would prefer a more academic, education-focused edition of this, with fewer popular-culture, big-CEO or sports stories and more about how this has been investigated.

As a tool for teachers, the language of fixed vs growth mindset will make it easier to have conversations with students and parents, and we can develop or make use of strategies that reinforce the nature of learning as a growth process. I am looking forward to seeing how schools start to put some of these ideas to use in their development of the Approaches to Learning.

I have added this book to the MYP Coordinator’s Bookshelf , but would really recommend any of the other books as good reads before moving onto this one. 

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This is a total cheese-fest, but anyone who says they don’t like Dolly has a heart of stone. Her recent single, Try, does a pretty neat job of capturing the Growth Mindset and the role of effort in success – and it’s the theme song for her literacy charity, Imagination Library.


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Summertime Subsidence: Vacating the Mind of This Year’s Learning

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Nobody wants to be that teacher – the one who assigns a massive packet of busy work, due the first day back to school, but it is evident that extended vacations result in a reversal of some learning.  This loss of learning increases with grade level, so at the ages we are trying to maximise the use of high-impact teaching and learning strategies, we run the risk of much of that work being undone by Summertime Subsidence (d=-0.02).

Summertime. Perfect to recharge, but don't let the learning drip out. Photo by Stephen Taylor.

Summertime. Perfect to recharge, but don’t let the learning drip out. Photo by Stephen Taylor.

At the same time, it’s upsetting to hear of students who give up the bulk of their summer to crash-courses for SAT or various other exam preparations. They need to recharge, as do we all. With the emerging importance of the Affective cluster of the Approaches to Teaching and Learning, we need to recognise the importance of social, emotional and physical well-being in creating rounded, happy learners. Vacations give us this opportunity, improving happiness and even productivity upon our return, as well as helping to manage stress. A mindful vacation helps redress the balance that a high-intensity academic programme such as IB Diploma can upset.

So what is the balance?

What do you do to ensure your students make the most of their break – not only for preventing learning loss but for bringing them back happy, healthy and ready to go? Do you give summer reading or assignments? What do you do with the first days back; do you move on with the new stuff or review the old?

I’ve posted my guidelines for my IB Biology students on i-Biology.net here. I’m be interested to hear more!

Have a great summer.

And keep that brain Fresh…