Capturing Thinking

Capturing thinking about being a mathematician.

How can we best capture and build a picture of where learners are in their knowledge, skills and conceptual understandings? How do we capture thinking? At a time where learning experiences have been so diverse, I have been wondering how to best capture our student’s thinking and develop an understanding of where students are in their individual understanding of a concept. There are a host of tools that help us be able to document and capture thinking moments from our students such as using Visible Thinking Routines, Seesaw and learning portfolios, students recording whiteboard explanations or teaching a strategy. Recording audio responses provide a wonderful way to engage and enable all students to share their ideas. These are all methods through which we can capture the student thinking process.

This podcast below was shared with me recently and so much of it resonated in thinking about student ‘thinking’ in mathematics and literacy.

https://blog.heinemann.com/podcast-jennifer-serravallo-marilyn-burns-reading-and-math

The importance of listening, really listening, to be able to understand where students are in their thinking and therefore be able to guide them in their next steps. At my current school we have a process of conferring with students individually about their learning in different domains. This enables us to form a picture of where students are as learners, as thinkers – not just what can be checked off as ‘can do’ and ‘can’t do’ but understanding how students come to form their responses creates the opportunity to meaningfully inform next steps in their learning.

“…correct answers can mask confusion, just like incorrect answers can hide understanding. The answer is just the starting place. It’s really how you got to the answer and how you reason that is just as important.”

Marilyn Burns

The question of how time consuming this process is often comes up. Listening to the podcast above just reinforced for me that really being able to support learners to grow must be all about taking the time to get to know them as thinkers, to understand how they are constructing their responses, their thought process. Of course conferring is a process that requires focus, time and space but what could be more important than listening with focus and purpose to understand our students better? Surely this is what impacts learning growth – even better, building strong relationships along the way!

Multilingual Voices

We often hear and use phrases like ‘student agency’, ‘student voice’, ‘student action’ in our daily conversations about learning. I continue to be fascinated about language acquisition and growth; the factors that accelerate and foster this, and those that inhibit language development. In an international school community, in fact I would argue in the majority of school communities world-wide, our students are no longer from a single language experience or, in many cases, a single cultural experience. The reality is our students are more language rich than ever and exposed to a myriad opportunities to develop and grow lingustically as well as deepen their understanding of other languages and cultures. I am wondering how we leverage this rich language experience to enable students to really be able to fully express themselves. How do we ensure that language rich is not translated to ‘English Language rich’ in our international schools? How do we foster value in all languages as adding to learning rather than detracting from it?

Attending the ECIS (Educational Collaborative for International Schools) Multilingual Learners Week #ECISMLIE online provided a huge amount of insights, expertise and food for thought about best practices in bilingual multilingual language learning. It was such a valuable collection of voices sharing a range of experiences and best practices as we learn more and more about bilingual multilingual learners.

What are the conscious and subconscious messages we send as organisations and as individuals? When considering our learning environments and the language acquisition journey I wonder how we can make our beliefs visible in a more intentional way?

For example, I believe:

  • Language learning is a lifelong learning process, not a a finite destination we need to propel learners through.
  • Linguistic acquisition ability is not connected to nationality, nor is it all good or all bad, all easy or challenging, it just looks different for everyone.
  • Language learners should be encouraged to use all their languages, not be limited through negating their home language use in the classroom.
  • Learning environments should reflect the language experiences of the learners rather than the curriculum.

Four Action Ideas

  1. Stay current with research and support others in doing so, our student, teacher and parent community must know about language acquisition.
  2. Encourage a positive mindset towards language learning, role model, be honest and empathetic, celebrate successes and acknowledge when it is hard – most of all help each individual learner find their purpose.
  3. Embed translanguaging practices into learning and planning. Question and challenge teachers to think about learning purpose and design the practices needed to guide students to reach a specific learning outcome.
  4. Promote visible linguistic diversity in classrooms and throughout the school, value the use of many languages, for many purposes.

I hope to look back 12 months from now and be able to reflect on how I have taken further action to better foster multilingual voices. What action might you take in your context?

Reframe our Language – From ‘Lost’ to ‘Leverage’

In a world where information is so easily accessible and communication is immediate, it isn’t long before a phrase begins to ‘trend’ on our news feeds. A storyline of a particular issue or topic is quick to dominate the narrative. This has most definitely been the case with the current trend to refer to our students’ learning experience over the past 12 months as being ‘Lost Learning’ due to the pandemic. This is an emotive, negative framing of what has occured over the past 12 months – the idea that our students have all ‘lost learning’, are ‘behind’, or are ‘disadvantaged’ creates a sense of unhealthy panic and urgency for parents, teachers and also our students.

I am not disputing that there is huge inequity in learning access over the past 12 months. A massive issue to be addressed. However, negative language only serves to disempower everyone and leave us in an even greater space of uncertainty – as if we weren’t already all dealing with enough of the unknown right now! It is also hugely discouraging to the many teachers and parents who have put forth so much effort during this time to support their students and children in continuing to grow and learn.

It has prompted my to to think once again about the power of the language we use, what this projects, and the impacts it has. I wrote previously about how small words can instigate big changes and also the power of our attitude and outlook to propel or hinder learning and growth.

I came across this quote on twitter that someone had taken from a workshop with Kath Murdoch.

“The language we use suggests to children what we value.”

@kjinquiry

It made me think about what the phrase ‘Lost Learning’ says to our children. Does it tell them we value them? For me, the phrase emits the following messages:

  • You’re behind
  • You’re on your own
  • You won’t be able to find it (learning)
  • You’re missing out
  • You are disadvantaged
  • You can’t
  • It (the learning) is gone

Which language will help us to reframe the ‘lost learning’ narrative? How can we shift our focus to being on our students? After all they are the agents of their own learning. Learning is not something that is done to someone. We need to rethink our language to shift our thinking and give space for us to focus on what is important. I believe this to be empowering our students to believe they are capable of learning, that they can grow and achieve. Language that empowers and that instills a growth mindset can help us. Appreciative inquiry practices can help us to be builders upon the foundations we have. Most importantly, Listening to our students can help us help them.

The more important question is, how do we leverage this new and different learning? How do we reframe our own thinking? How do we make sure we look at the whole picture and not just the pieces of the puzzle to put things together with our students? This all requires us to step back, look from multiple perspectives and seek out opportunities to put things together in new and different ways.

  • We must celebrate what has been learned during this time – and there is a lot to celebrate if we are willing to look, listen and ‘unlearn to relearn’. We must be open to learn about their experiences.
  • We have to accept the specific type and nature of learning growth is not exactly what had been prescribed and intended. We need to harness opportunities here. Learn about where students are in their learning to leverage and build upon this.
  • We must model being responsive, adaptable, agile and open-minded and that will empower our students for the future.
  • We must believe in our students’ capacities. This is crucial to fostering a culture of learning and ensuring our students are never ‘lost’.
Interesting Reading

The Ridiculousness of Learning Loss by John Ewing

Students Respond to Adults’ Fixation on ‘Learning Loss’ by Larry Ferlazzo

Lost Learning Time Is Not the Crisis by Jen Roesch

Why there’s no such thing as lost learning by James Williams

Openhouse – Online Learning

I had the pleasure of speaking with the Openhouse Team as part of a Webinar recently, connecting a range of global voices – we discussed the challenges and changes over the past year in regards to online/distance learning. Also on the panel were Allan Shaw, Principal of The Knox School in Melbourne, Saloni Todi, a first year Hong Kong University student, and Yashovardhan Poddar, co founder of Openhouse,

Openhouse is a learning community based in India with a bold mission centred around nurturing a better society for all.

“Our mission is to build a better society by creating powerful communities. We believe visionaries are not born but nurtured. So by redefining how the world learns, we empower students to become thinkers and leaders. Changing society, one child at a time…..”

Openhouse https://www.blog.openhouse.study/our-story

I was delighted to be part of this conversation, listen and learn from other perspectives, and explore how fostering a sense of community has helped support continued learning during this time. Grounding ourselves, and our students, in a shared learning community; one of acceptance, vulnerability and with a growth mindset have all been key. I loved learning about how this looked in different contexts and being inspired by these different voices. You can read more on the Openhouse blog – thanks Openhouse team!

https://www.blog.openhouse.study/online-learning-revised

Finding Inspiration…

Instead of letting your hardships and failures discourage or exhaust you, let them inspire you.” 

Michelle Obama

The quote above prompted me to think about how, when we are faced with difficult circumstances, we continue to have choices in terms of how we respond to these ‘hardships and failures’. It made me wonder –where do I find inspiration around me? So, last week, I set myself the goal of recording where I gained inspiration each day. An interesting personal reflection exercise.


What I found interesting during this week of noticing, was the simplicity of the places and spaces in which I found inspiration. We often imagine that ‘inspiration’ is something big, a sign, a message, an ‘aha’ moment and it can be, but it can also be everyday. A simple conversation; when days are tough, and challenges seem many, a single voice can help inspire. I was inspired by another’s words to look beyond the here and now and think of possibilities. Most importantly to reframe my capabilities to acknowledge I am capable. This enabled me to reposition myself in my own thoughts and gain perspective to be able to then act with greater clarity. It is not often that emails inspire, but this week one did for me. It brought me back to connect with my instincts, to question and not simply accept the status quo, and most of all it prompted me to really think. Think about what my values are and how these connect with my actions.

So, what did I learn? Inspiration doesn’t just happen to us as if by magic, even though it might appear this way. I believe we must have the dispositions to allow ourselves to be inspired. Fostering, openness, appreciation, observation and reflection are important practices. Overall, we have to give space and acceptance to opportunities when they present themselves. Most of all, inspiration drives us to take action in whatever form this might be.


“Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities”

Scott Barry Kaufman

Interesting ‘inspiring’ Reading

A ‘learning buzz’ in the virtual learning world

I recently wrote about missing the sense of, ‘a learning buzz‘, during these times where many of us have moved to virtual learning spaces. It made me wonder, how can you generate a ‘learning buzz’ in this virtual space? It of course would be fruitless and frustrating to try to copy and paste the same approaches into an online space – context matters and what works in one will not necessarily work in the other. However, whilst the ‘learning buzz’ may not look and feel the same, how would we define this in an online space I wondered? What opportunities might there be? How do we adapt our learning environments?

Learning, teaching and leading in an inquiry based, PYP School, one of our challenges has most definitely been honouring the values of our learning and teaching principles. Despite pressures faced, focusing on our beliefs and values to foster curiosity and inquiry at the heart of our daily approach to learning.

This prompted me to refer to the PYP guidance on creating learning environments and think about the different elements that are defined as going into cultivating these and intentionally exploring how these evolve.

‘PYP learning spaces affect and reflect values and beliefs about learning. They play a role in shaping the culture of the learning community by facilitating certain ways of acting and interacting. They support a constructivist and social-constructivist (Vygotsky 1978) approach to learning and teaching. They are multifunctional, emphasizing personalization of learning, promoting independence and engagement.’

My IB – Connecting pedagogy and design

So how do we nurture that magical ‘learning buzz’ in whatever context we are in?

This diagram shows the elements I believe contribute to enabling a ‘learning buzz’ to flourish and as a way to illustrate what this could look like in a classroom or school community. I use the word ‘enable’ intentionally as this learning buzz is not something any one person can create but from my perspective is about letting this have space to flourish and blossom. Below are some examples I made connections to from experiences during Distance Learning at my School. I would love to know of others that you may have to get further inspiration!

Sense of being ‘me’

Finding space for individuality to be celebrated and to bring community together in an inclusive way is so important. During lockdown we could not run our Home Language Program as usual so we made this into a community event. We created an interactive map of where we feel at home for everyone to anonymously share, shared our languages through poems and sayings and students (and adults if they wanted!) created Language Portraits. This was all done virtually through a live stream assembly and recorded activities and video calls.

Shared Values & Understandings

Making sure to share beliefs and values with community ensures learning is effective, and it can be done in a fun, informative way! We made a series of video clips to remind everyone about online meeting etiquette and created Community fact sheets with our rules and essential agreements reflecting our Community Values in the virtual learning space.

Rituals & Routines

Rituals and routines are part of every learning environment, of every school community; whether it be a morning greeting, check in circle, or roles and responsibilities that are assigned to the class each week. These all form part of a shared classroom culture. In the online space, we saw morning check in circles often replaced with a morning prompt in the chat in MS Teams, a way for everyone to say hello and connect before starting their learning day. Or for the younger grades, a morning video message. I also observed the beauty of new rituals or routines forming – a favourite way to end a call in one of 6th grade classes for example, has now become an embedded ritual for the class to say goodbye!

Teachers found ways to adapt roles of responsibility also in the virtual space, assigning chat moderators in video calls for examples or continuing to use hand signals in video calls to show agreement/disagreement/ connection/questions and so forth. We also tried to keep to our regular school assembly schedule and routines to bring everyone together as part of our regular routine.

Learning Purpose and relevance

Ensuring learning is purposeful, challenging and relevant for all students became ever more complex in a distance learning world where differentiation strategies and the ease of interaction between teachers, students and peers is more challenging. Finding ways to engage in learning with materials and experiences at home, ensuring learning engagements are open ended and encourage further student led inquiry all can help ensure that learning remains purposeful and relevant for the individual. We had great examples with students carrying out science experiments, building machines, testing theories and recording their experiments as learning evidence.

Interaction – Dialogue

Here are some examples of teachers finding ways to promote interaction and dialogue using tools such as Padlet to share in online lessons. We also used Padlet to encourage interaction within our community too, with the song sharing and virtual arts day as some examples!

Fun & Connection

Bringing community together through shared events and having fun together! We celebrated Earth Day, Sports day and other events together and brought a bit of fun to lockdown life. I feel fortunate to work with such a dedicated, fun team!

An Open-Minded Attitude

Attitude is something I have been thinking about a lot recently. The power that it holds. The influence that it can wield. The impacts it has. This last year has been tough on everyone. It has demanded attention, in many respects, most of all towards our attitude; to examining our beliefs and values and our response to circumstances at any given moment. So finally, in a moment of quiet, I got to thinking more about attitude and the power it has to determine outcome.

The familiar range of reactions bubble to the surface when a group of students, young or old, are faced with a new task. There are those who approach the given task with confidence and a certain degree of nonchalance, ´This will be easy´ or ´No problem, I know how to solve this.’ Whilst there are those who tentatively step forward and quietly express they will ‘give it a try‘, or say, ´I think I can work it out‘, and others who simply declare ‘I´m no good at this.’, or are absolutely self-deprecating and poke fun at their own capabilities. All within a somewhat ‘typical’ range of reactions.

But which of these reactions actively impinge upon learning and become an unseen barrier to the learner making progress? What have we learned about the importance of attitude during the recent COVID 19 Pandemic? How has our attitude helped or hindered us transform as teachers? How can we develop resilience to navigate emotions and be an agent of our own attitude? These and many more questions are bubbling to the surface for me.

I shared the below image and statement during our back to school meeting in August to provoke thinking around how critical our mindset is in helping us navigate, be successful and thrive and how we need to support each other as a community during this marathon crisis period.

Three things I think I have learned about fostering an open-minded attitude during this past year are:

1. Acceptance enables us to be open-minded and embrace the circumstances we face.

This year has taught us all more than anything that many things are out of our control – we just have to accept and look forward, we cannot dwell. Accepting the bumps, the twists and turns and the nosedives are the only way to be able to keep an open mind and thrive.

2. ‘Self talk’ matters more than we realise.

‘Self talk’ helps and hinders us in equal measure. We are often our own harshest critic. However, a kind word to a colleague, to a student, to a friend can also help us to remember to be kinder to ourselves. Spreading gratitude and value can help us manage our own ‘self talk.’

3. Finding time to be mindful, is essential to being able to thrive.

We all have experiences that centre us, that help us feel refreshed, remind us of what is important and this can be anything from sport to cooking to reading. For me, being able to participate in a Mindfulness course with colleagues was a wonderful experience that not only fostered community during this difficult period but also helped me find practices that I can embed in my daily life to become more mindful.

Love for the Learning Buzz!

What have I missed most over the past months of school life? We have been roller-coasting through school closure – distance learning – hybrid learning – back to school – quarantining – distance learning.

There are many things – but my first reaction was ‘There’s a learning buzz’. 

If I asked you to describe what an optimum learning space looked like when students are engaged in learning, what would you envisage? Would it be students sitting diligently at their desks writing in their notebooks? Would it be quiet? Would it have an atmosphere of excitement? Of calm? Of fun? Of concentration? Of questions? Of noise? Perhaps a whole melange of the above and more!

If I had had to answer this question 20 years ago, I would probably have included adjectives such as calm, hard-working, learning-focused, and organized.  Now, I feel as though I have a completely different answer. In my experience, the classroom that may appear at times bustling, busy, noisy and ‘out of control’, may indeed be the complete opposite.  If you scratch beneath the surface the classroom in which the teacher has most ‘control’ and in which students are the most engaged learners tends to be one where activity is busy, can be chaotic and conversations are fast-paced with questions and ideas flowing.

To clarify – I am not talking about a scene where students are running all over the classroom and the teacher is straining to be heard. No, I am talking about that type of learning buzz that gets noisy, where there is laughter and chatting and everyone is working their own way at their own pace. ‘Classroom management’ and ‘control’ of the classroom are terms that I am not fond of. A classroom space, a learning environment, is not in my opinion one that is best forcibly controlled, but one that is nurtured – a space that allows everyone to stretch their minds, feel safe, and find freedom. This allows students to engage and truly deepen their learning through activity choice, discussion, debate, and reflection of well constructed questions.

Often, when I have visited a physical classroom space just for fifteen minutes, and especially during a time of transition, this provided a wonderful opportunity in just a short space of time to develop an understanding of the particular culture and personality in this classroom. I really do believe that classes form their own distinct personality and develop their unique culture.

In the best cases I observed a hive of activity. So much so that the teacher did not even notice I had joined the classroom. Students were navigating the room focused on routines whilst still chatting about the learning they had just completed. The teacher used a multitude of ways to incorporate reflection, incorporate choice, refocus the students, and all whilst giving students an opportunity to also ‘take a break’. On occasions, when you have the pleasure of visiting a classroom like this, you can feel the cohesiveness of a group and how there truly is a ‘learning buzz’ in the room. 

This is what I have missed the most. It leads me to the question – how do we find ways to develop a community culture and ‘learning buzz’ in online virtual classroom communities?

Innovation in Education

Almost two years ago I attended a conference in London called LearnIT; tech focused, it hosted a truly inspiring bunch of innovators and change-makers in the world of education and learning. I found it so motivating to hear the stories and listen to panel discussions from the many diverse voices. Often these highlighted how a simple ideas can transform experiences and impact learning in profound ways. So, when I heard from the HundrED organisation I was fascinated to learn more and find out how to get involved.

HundrEd is a non for profit organisation with a mission to support innovations coming to life and being shared world wide. I loved the emphasis on young people’s voices and leveraging the perspectives and opinions of our students, of all ages, to take action. So, I set up a call for our students to explore how they could become Student Ambassadors. We met virtually online and some of our Primary students stepped up, applied and indeed became Student Ambassadors!

In 2020, I decided I would step up to also become a HundrED Ambassador and I am so glad I did. I was part of the review panel for the HundrED 2021 innovations. It was such an interesting process and so inspiring to read about the unique ways in which change in education is being fostered. I had the opportunity to explore and learn about around 25 different innovations that were nominated to be part of the HundrED 2021 Innovations. I shared my feedback on each innovation and based on all of the feedback from around 150 HundrED Ambassadors the HundrED Research Team then went through a collaborative iterative process to select the final 100 innovations. You can see the final Global collection at the end of this post.

Most of all what I took away from being part of this process was how much I gained from the experience; learning about diverse perspectives, exploring different contexts and developing understanding of the solutions being found to address specific learning needs. I was inspired by the amazing ideas, the commitment to being inclusive and the passion by so many individuals to improve learning for all young people, everywhere. I highly recommend getting involved in HundrED!

Calm is a Superpower

I was privileged to be asked to participate in a podcast series with SkyGems Academy involving educational leaders from around the world reflecting on their experiences and the learning in their contexts during the COVID 19 pandemic. So interesting to hear from diverse school leaders, the different, and similar, challenges faced and the ways in which communities pulled together to navigate through the crisis.