Future focused fueled by feedback

Wow, okay! I went to another PD today with two colleagues (I know right two weeks in a row go me!). We went to see a multi campus school present to Professor John Hattie regarding the changes they’ve made within their school after developing a series of “Action Research Projects”. This school has been working closely with John and we were very curious to see what has been transpiring there.
I have to admit I’ve come away with my head loaded with ideas and thoughts on better practice regarding whole school approaches to change and if you get the chance to hear or read John Hattie’s work I recommend. All I’m going to do with this blog post is summarise the key themes that kept popping up during today’s PD.

Future Focus
The day was very future focused, each group that presented (there were 7 all up) asked “where to from here?” They reflected on their practice and avoided descending into the hang ups of what didn’t work, instead focusing on what worked and what could be improved. It was generally accepted that engagement and activity was a precursor for learning, yes it was needed but teachers were encouraged to ensure that learning occurred after “hooking the students in”. This train of thought is crucial when considering the use of technology in the classroom. Yeah iPads and smart phones are great ways of getting students engaged in the process but if those tools are not being used to gather further understanding of content being studied then it’s up to both teachers and students to determine their usefulness.

The majority of the day was aimed at feedback. Whether it is gathering feedback from students regarding their understanding of a topic or gathering feedback of how the teacher was going in terms of delivering content. Feedback is important when done right because it lets the teacher know what needs to be done to assist those who need assistance, and also to know when things are done right. Most groups discovered however that questions need to be well planned in order to get quality feedback, and in most cases students needed to be explained the difference of providing constructive feedback as opposed to “good work Miss!”

What is Progress?
Another crucial point that was mentioned during the day was that all teachers needed to have a common perception of what constituted as “progress”. Often teachers have a vastly different view of what is progress and they share this view with their students either explicitly or subconsciously. When different teachers in the same school present different understandings of progress to their students it becomes a confusing affair not only for the students, but also their parents and other teachers within the school. The way this school was attempting to tackle the mammoth task of understanding progress and having students aware of their progress was through the use of visual spaces. They placed the VELS progression points around the classroom and students used avatars of themselves and stuck them to the progression point that they were currently at. Students then used “I Can...” statements to assist them in planning how to move to the next progression point. This process meant that students were aware of their progress as they moved through their course work as opposed to just being handed an end result as if it’s a signal that the learning has ended.

Senior teacher only?
An interesting point that came up was schools that place certain teachers in senior classes only, and continue to do so year after year. These senior teachers are also often not exposed to junior or middle year classes and therefore the earlier development of their potential future students. This has always struck me as odd. Why leave your best players out of the game until the last quarter? Why not give our senior teachers a chance to better prepare their students well in advance before they even step into their senior classes? Keeping key teachers in senior year levels can sometimes send the message to students that some teachers are more “expert” than others and sometimes this could be far from the truth.

All in or nothing at all...
It became abundantly clear that if you want to take on a whole school project that will eventually change the way things happen in your school then you really do need everyone on board. If not students fast recognise which teachers are moving with the change and which ones aren’t. We as teachers also need to recognise that as a professional in a profession we should be staying well read on best practices and implementing what we can to show that we are well equip to develop the young minds of tomorrow. In this day and age it is no longer acceptable to state that technology (in particular iPads/tablets/smartphones) has no place in a learning environment when it is clear that these tools are being used in the business world that we plan on sending our students into.

I’m going to close this long blog post with some key reflective questions that popped up during the course of the day that I found particularly powerful or interesting:

Who is asking the questions in your classroom? Is it you (the “expert”) or is it the students (The “learners”)?

What is success? What does it look like? Do we demonstrate to our students what success is?

How often do you receive feedback from your students regarding your practice? How comfortable are you about receiving feedback from your students?

Are you aware of your impact on students? As a result do you challenge them? Do you challenge yourself?


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