Memories Through Music

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There is something about the Christmas / New Year break and reminiscing. It seems to be a time of year when everyone stops and takes stock. This year has had its moments. It is my first Christmas since my mother passed away. Although sad, I have found solace in reminiscing the memories I am left with.

Memories are a funny thing, not only can they play tricks on you. Deceive you. Manipulate the past to be as you think it is. There are also many different ways that they can be activated. More often than not, it is things that have become attached with the past. Beyond events like birthdays and Christmas, the obvious to me are people. This is particularly true when I get together with my siblings. Our shared history forces memories out of us. Another is places. In the last few months of my mother’s life, we would meet at a park near the city with my daughter. I can’t help but remember each time I drive past. A colleague told me that he still has the same feeling ten years on when he goes past his local oval where his father watched him play football, week in, week out. A different sort of memory is associated with objects. This maybe a range of different things, from a gift to a letter. One particular item which holds a lot of meaning for me in all facets of life is music. There are certain moments in life which I feel are best encapsulated by music. Here are the songs that remind me of my mum …


We Built This City On Rock and Roll (Starship)

This was the first song that I remember my mum ever playing for me. Who knows how old I must have been. Three maybe? Growing up, she did not have many records and by the mid-80’s they were replaced by compact discs, but I know she had this one and it is what I will always remember. I am sure it wasn’t the first song she played me, but over time it became a point of personal folklore.

Gimme Shelter (Holy Soldier)

Something odd happened when I hit my teens. I am not sure if it was just chance or not, but my mum stopped buying me country music and instead started purchasing metal albums. She would get music from the local Christian bookstore based on what was in the reduced bin near the door. One of my favourite purchases was Holy Soldier’s Last Train. I had never really listened to much heavy metal growing up and loved the melodrama. Ironically though, the track that I went back to again and again was a cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’. I had no idea that it was a cover and I don’t think mum had any idea that I was listening to the Rolling Stones.

I Do It For You (Bryan Adams)

At the same time as mum was purchasing me Christian metal, she was staving off the attack from popular culture. Saved by the ever nostalgic Gold 104.3 in the car, a station that played the best of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, she took to school to complain about the music that was being forced on me. In Year 7 every class sang a song as a group. The song Mr. Fitz had us singing was Bryan Adams ‘I Do It For You’ from Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves. Mum was furious about this choice and stormed up to the school. Sadly, not because she actually had taste and didn’t feel that it was respectable for anyone to be singing Bryan Adams, but because it was a song about love and in her eyes we were far too young for such things. (The irony of the situation was that Mr. Fitz was actually a writer for the band TISM, while Damien Cowell, aka Humprey B Flaubert, also taught music at the school at the time. I would hate to have know what they thought of the complaint.) To appease her, the song was actually changed to REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts’. Pain and suffering was acceptable.

Only You – Live at Roseland NYC (Portishead)

I am not sure if mum stopped buying or I stopped accepting, but as I grew older, started playing guitar, my tastes matured. I am not sure that there were too many fans in the house of my love of alternative rock, especially the more distorted music. Therefore, when I started driving I would have a bit of a selection in the car. Due to my grandparents purchasing a new car, I bought my car long before I could actually drive it. My rule was, you drive my car, you listen to my music. My CD of choice for mum was Portishead’s live album. Although not pop, I thought that mum would at least appreciate the vibe of it. Being who she was, mum didn’t say a word for near on six months until one day she cracked. She could not stand DJ Andy Smith’s incessant scratching throughout. It was just too much, she couldn’t stand it. I stopped playing her Portishead.

The Climb (Miley Cyrus)

I spent the last hours before my mum passed with my sister. To try and liven up her room we mused about what music we could play. My sister told me that they had watched Hannah Montana together and that mum really like the Miley Cyrus song from it. So I jumped on my phone and downloaded it. We left it on repeat next to her bed. I must admit that it was a weird moment when, after clicking to play something else, it randomly started playing in class on iPad a few months later.


A Personal Postscript

I remember when I started blogging, I thought of it as being something professional to capture my thinking and practise. Fine, the act of reflection might be subjective, but I never envisaged it as being personal. However, the more I read of others and wrote myself, the more I realised that there is something missed in being ‘too professional’ and not personal. I was particularly taken by the open sharing from people like Alan Levine, Dean Shareski, Doug Belshaw, Pernille Ripp, John Spencer, Amy Burvall, Jon Harper, Anne Mirtchen, David Truss and George Couros, just to name a few. Whether it be happenings with the family, personal illness or the passing of a pet, each provided some perspective beyond the classroom. David Truss summed this dilemma up best when he stated that, “connected learning is as much about relationships as it is about learning.” This can have its challenges for as Chris Wejr points out, in a important post, not everyone is able to tweet and post who they are. However, I feel that as I have progressively given more to fostering relationships, the more I have gotten back.

So what about you, how are you giving back? I would love to hear.


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Goals, Growth and Getting Going in 2015

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It is that time of year again when we all the talk turns to the new year. With this comes talk of new resolutions. Like last year, I am using this opportunity to set new goals. Last year, I set myself three goals:

  1. Utilise data in a more structured manner within the classroom in order to better personalise learning

  2. Provide clearer instructions and more time for student lead learning

  3. Lead by providing clearer reasons for change and supporting others in becoming better leaders

Looking back at these, I think that I have come some way with creating more opportunity for student lead learning and improved on how I introduced change and innovation. However, I still feel that I can improve the way I use data to inform my choices in the classroom. So moving forward, here are my new goals for 2015:

1. Think more about the impact of space to support learning

Last year my focus was placing the learner at the centre. However, what I came to realise was that the key was not necessarily about who was at the ‘centre’, but what conditions are created for learning. Teaching electives, I too often left spaces as I inherited them. Subsequently, by adopting someone else’s environment, I therefore placed undue restrictions on the learning possibilities and potentials. Whether it be moving desks or finding space to create displays, I am going to place more emphasis on how the space is structured and why.

In addition to this, I used Edmodo as a digital space to support learning. However, the problem I found is that although it was fantastic, and much more user friendly than the Ultranet, it did not provide appropriate means for students to work collaboratively and provide each other with ongoing feedback. I was always in control. I think that the answer maybe to better use Google Drive and create a richer culture of sharing and collaboration. Although at present I am not exactly sure how to best organise this.

2. Use assessment to better foster more personalised growth and development

A part of the problem that I faced in my focus on data is that what actually constitutes ‘data’ and for what purpose I am collecting it. Too often we look for measurements that are easy to calculate and quantify. However, learning is not always so neat and tidy. In hindsight, I think that I was asking the wrong question, I was focusing too much on summative assessment, instead I should have been giving more attention to assessment for learning.

I really like a comment that Dave Cormier made in a recent post, “we need to replace the measurable ‘content’ for the non-counting noun ‘caring’”. I feel that a key element in all of this is fostering an environment where students own their own learning or as Cormier puts it, “they care”. This includes involving students in the development of their own learning. I was really inspired by an article in the Guardian from Tom Sherrington reflecting on his experience of students co-constructing their learning. Although Sherrington’s example maybe an extreme, how can we expect students to own their own learning if they do not have any control or ownership over it?

3. Better engage with the community to make relationships and connections the focus of learning

One of the really interesting things to arise out of my participation with a group investigating (Marzano’s) instructional model was that other than semester reports there is no formal process in place in regards to informing parents about the curriculum and learning. Instead, the majority of communication home is focused on discipline and behaviour. Although it is often argued that this starts with making more positive calls home, I feel that a bigger shift is needed than a few more calls home. My goal this year then is to use technology to pro-actively engage with the wider community in what is happening in the classroom. This is something that arose out of my work last year with the Google Teacher Academy. I hope that more time in the classroom and less time in administration will provide more opportunity for this. Maybe this will be through Compass and the act of confirmations, but I feel that something is lost in putting information and ideas behind walls. This was one of the issues with the Ultranet. I will therefore begin by using a Global2 blog to communicate the curriculum and celebrate student learning in a more open manner as I started doing at the end of last year.

One Word: Growth

Lisa Meade recently posed the question: “If you had to pick one word for yourself, what would your word be?” I think that my one word would be ‘growth’. It is easy to lock students into standards of above, at and below. However, such a mindset is both fixed and reductive about what constitutes ‘success’. The question that I would like to think that each action should come back to is how is this supporting learning growth?

So, what about you? What are your goals this year? What is your one word? Do you have any thoughts and suggestions that might help support my growth as a learner? I would love to know.


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Uncanny Reflections on a Year Blogging

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As I look back on 2014 I am faced again with the question: why do I blog or more importantly, why should anyone blog? Is there any point? Is it self indulgent? Does it actually serve any purpose? I have written a few posts about blogging. Some of the thoughts that I had about why to blog were:

  • To scratching an itch
  • Be connected
  • Critically engage with ideas
  • Form of life-long learning
  • Lead by example
  • Share with the wider community
  • Notes in the (digital) margin
  • Refine thoughts

The problem is, every time I think I know why I blog, some other reason springs to mind.

The ambiguity associated with intention is best epitomised by Margaret Atwood in her collection of essays, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. In her introduction she confronts the question of motive and compiles an extensive list:

To record the world as it is. To set down the past before it is all forgotten. To excavate the past because it has been forgotten. To satisfy my desire for revenge. Because I knew I had to keep writing or else I would die. Because to write is to take risks, and it is only by taking risks that we know we are alive. To produce order out of chaos. To delight and instruct (not often found after the early twentieth century, or not in that form). To please myself. T express myself. To express myself beautifully. To create a perfect work of art. To reward the virtuous and to punish the guilty; or – the Marquis de Sade defence, used by ironists – vice versa. To hold a mirror up to Nature. To hold a mirror up to the reader. To paint a portrait of society and its ills. To express the unexpressed life of the masses. To name the hitherto unnamed. To defend the human spirit, and human integrity and honor. To thumb my nose at Death. To make money so that my children could have shoes. To make money so I could sneer at those who formerly sneered at me. To show the bastards. Because to create is human. Because to create is Godlike. Because I hated the idea of having a job. To say a new word. To make a new thing. To create a national consciousness, or a national conscience. To justify my failures in school. To justify my own view of myself and my life, because I couldn’t be a ‘writer’ unless I actually did some writing. To make myself appear more interesting than I actually was. To attract the love of a beautiful woman. To attract the love of any woman at all. To attract the love of a beautiful man. To rectify my imperfections and my miserable childhood. To thwart my parents. To spin a fascinating tale. To amuse and please the reader. To amuse and please myself. To pass the time, even though it would have passed anyway. Graphomania. Compulsive logorrhea. Because I was driven to it by some force outside my control. Because I was possessed. Because an angel dictated to me. Because I fell into the embrace of the Muse. Because I got pregnant by the Muse and needed to give birth to a book. Because I had books instead of children (several twentieth-century woman). To serve Art. To serve the Collective Unconscious. To serve History. To justify the ways of God towards man. To act out antisocial behaviour for which I would have been punished in real life. To master a craft so that I could generate texts. To subvert the Enlightenment. To demonstrate that whatever is, is right. To experiment with new forms of perception. To create a recreational boudoir so that the reader could go into it and have fun. Because the story took hold of me and wouldn’t let me go (the Ancient Mariner defense). To search for understanding of reader and myself. To cope with my depression. For my children. To make a name that would survive death. To defend a minority group or oppressed class. To speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. To expose appalling wrongs or atrocities. To record the times through which I have lived. To bear witness to horrifying events that I have survived. To speak for the dead. To celebrate life in all of its complexity. To praise the universe. To allow for the possibility of hope and redemption. To give back something of what has been given to me.

At the end of the day, why we do anything is always complicated.

In this myriad of explanations and elaborations, I therefore have another reason to add to my ongoing discussion about why to blog. My latest thought is that blogging provides a means for meta-reflection, the possibility to look back through past opinions and practises. An example of this in action is Alan Levine’s post ‘From Javier to Norbert‘. In it, Levine is able call on his vast digital repository to reflect upon past experiences of the Grand Canyon to recollect his experience of being caught in the canyon in the midst of a flood.

It needs to be understood that such reflection is in addition to the actual act of reflection that is often a central part of each and every blog post. For as Clive Thompson accounts in his book, Smarter Than You Think, that in world where abundance is ever present, technology allows us to keep and curate memories that we may have otherwise have lost. I recently had a moment of meta-reflection as I went through my posts and adjusted the categories having moved from Blogger to WordPress. It was an interesting experience skimming back through what I had written. Although some posts never leave you, there are others that in rereading them create an uncanny feeling. That moment where you have to check yourself, wondering if you actually wrote it and what was going on at the time. A message from the past to remind you of those underlying values, beliefs and events that sometimes drop out of our memory overtime.

Here then are three posts which have had the greatest impact on me in reviewing them after the fact for what they remind me of and challenge me with:

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16109207045

  • Celebrating Other Voices in the Moment – I don’t think that I realised how raw this post was until I looked back on it a few months later. I remember getting a few tweets at the time about how open I was, but sometimes when you are in the moment you don’t always see that. Perspective can take time. I have reread it a few times since and each time it reminds me to always be mindful of those moments that are so easy to pass on by.

Via @hhoede on Twitter

  • This Is My #EduDream What Is Yours? – It is a challenging exercise laying out your supposed dreams. Not only is it difficult to articulate them in a meaningful manner, but there is a certain lie and fragility in giving voice to them. For dreams and ideals are are neither static nor wholly our own, therefore to commit oneself to such a fixed notion can miss something. For as I have written in the past, ideals are not always ideal. Interestingly, one person stated, such ‘dreams’ are best formed collectively as a community. I have subsequently found that the more I engage with others in education the more I question each of the assertions I laid down. I critique them and they continue to evolve. For as I have mused elsewhere, ideas are best held loosely, for it is only then that they can actually grow.

Listening to Voices DLTV2014

  • Learning to Learn by Learning – a Reflection on a Collaborative Project – This was an attempt to collect together my thoughts and experiences in regards to a presentation Steve Brophy and I did at DLTV2014. I say ‘attempt’ because even though the conference has long gone, the actual experience continues on. I initially contacted Brophy with two thoughts in mind: how do you collaborate on a topic with someone from a different educational background who you do not necessarily know and what would be an alternative format to the usual conference experience of chalk and talk. Without a script to go by, to ascertain ‘success’, I often think back over the choices we made and wonder. Would it have been different if we weren’t in a lecture theatre? Could we have done anything to make the session more interactive and hands on? What did people actually come away with? Going out on a limb into the unknown as we did, I think that it will be one of those moments of learning which I will always come back to again and again as a point of reflection.

Although these posts may not have been the most read by others, they are the posts that mean something to me and sometimes this is the forgotten element. For as Pernille Ripp recently wrote, “Start your blogging journey for yourself”. To add to that, make sure it is always about yourself first and fore-mostly.

I remember reading a post from Doug Belshaw in which he wrote a letter to his past self with some advice and general pointers. Flipping this idea, I think that we can undersell our past selves for failing to find the solutions for tomorrow. Stopping and looking back on the past can be often be the catalyst needed to drive you forward. Blogging provides an easy means for doing this.

So what are those moments of learning that have made a difference with you this year? Would love to know. See you in the new year.

For those interested in my top ten most read posts for 2014, here they are:

  1. What’s So Digital About Literacy, Anyway?
  2. Are You Really Connecting If You Are Not Giving Back?
  3. What Digital Revolution?
  4. PLN: Verb or Noun?
  5. #GTASYD 2014 – Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds
  6. To Quickvic with Love – My Reflections on Reporting
  7. Why I Put My Hand Up For GTASYD and Why I Am Excited
  8. Presentations Don’t Make a Conference, People Do
  9. Becoming a Connected Educator – TL21C Reboot Presentation
  10. This is My Edudream, What is Yours?

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Looking for a Local Perspective on Blogging

Some Aus

The Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) recently sent out an email celebrating the end of term. In it they shared some ideas for some professional learning over the holidays, ranging from the most popular AITSL reports to suggestions for education videos. One of the things that stood out though was the list of ‘best blogs’ provided.

  1. Learning Deeply by Education Week
  2. Mindshift
  3. Edutopia blogs
  4. Teacher Toolkit
  5. Mr Kemp

Now I don’t wish to questions the quality of any of the blogs, but for an ‘Australian’ institute it was strange that of the five blogs included, none of them were actually Australian? This subsequently got me thinking about which blogs are missing from the list, which ‘local’ bloggers I would recommend dipping into over the holiday period:

  • What Ed Said – Along with Kath Murdoch’s Just Wondering, I love delving into Edna Sackson’s own inquiry into inquiry. Always open, always sharing, I feel I come away from each post with a different perspective of my own practises.
  • My Mind’s Museum – A little bit practical, a little bit personal, the one thing that is guaranteed in reading Matt Esterman’s blog is that I always leave thinking a little bit more deeply about things. Along with Cameron Paterson’s It’s About Learning, Esterman’s blog provides a great mixture of practical examples and personal musings, covering everything from educational spaces to digital identity to what constitutes history.
  • About Teaching – I think that the title sums it up best, Corinne Campbell’s blog reflects on everything relating to teaching from managing stress to engaging learners through project based learning. What I like is that she not only offers a honest and personal insight into things, but she also tackles topics that others often overlook.
  • Dan Haesler – This is another one of those blogs that is hard to categorise. It is a little bit about wellbeing, a little bit about engagement, a little bit about leadership, but a lot bit about improving education across the board. Haesler provides commentary on all things, from class sizes to interviewing prospective staff to gifted and talented programs.
  • On an e-Journey with Generation Y – Every time I start making excuses about why I can’t do something, I remind myself of Anne Mirtchen. She seems to manage so much with her students that goes far beyond the traditional classroom.
  • ReconfigurED – Along with Ross Halliday’s Making Learning Fizz, Anthony Speranza touches on all things learning to drive innovation in education. Whether it be introducing Genius Hour or implementing Chromebooks, Speranza’s continual push to disrupt the traditional learning space is always both interesting and inspiring.
  • Miss Spink on Tech – From using Twitter to connect beyond the classroom to publishing student work through iTunes, Spink is always writing something about how technology can make learning more meaningful. In addition to this, if there is anything to know about Evernote, she has spoken about it.
  • Transformative Learning – The strength of Steve Brophy’s blog is that it is usually purposeful and practical. Like Corrie Barclay’s Learn + Lead + Inspire, Brophy provides endless reflections on the way in which technology can and is already improving learning.
  • Bianca Hewes – I initially came upon Hewes’ blog looking for more information and ideas associated with Project Based Learning, but what I found was so much more. Whether it be the highs or lows, Hewes is always honest about all things life’s learning journey.
  • Betchablog – It would be easy to label Chris Betcher’s blog as ‘just another tech’ blog, but to do so really misses the strength of it. Betcher not only writes about all things technological, like Hewes, he does it in such an open manner that it forces you to confront many challenges that we more often than not choose to ignore.

It seems wrong to have only included ten as there are so many other great blogs out there. There are some who I love to read – such as Richard Olsen, Jason BortonRichard Lambert and Mel Cashen – who just do not write often enough for my own liking. While there are some that I feel bad about missing, such as those by Eric Jensen and Dale Pearce. All in all, there are just so many great blogs out there jam packed with great ideas and resources. This is exemplified by Corrine Campbell’s fantastic list of Australian blogs that she has started curating: http://list.ly/list/WsG-australian-education-blogs-worth-reading.

At the end of the day though, it is not the ‘ideas’ the necessarily keep me coming back, although they are important, but the connections that I feel that I have engaging in an online environment. So what are the connections that you have formed, those blogs that you go back to continuously? I would love to you.


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Cooking up a Curriculum

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At my school, we are currently in the throes of implementing a new ‘instructional model’. One of the interesting ideas that has come out of the whole process is that instruction is always built upon what Robert Marzano calls a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Beyond what Marzano actually means by the ‘guaranteed and viable’, this got me wondering what ingredients influence the making of a curriculum. Here is my attempt at some questions designed to unpack some of complexities:

  • What is included in the curriculum? – Central to designing curriculum is the importance of having a clear guide as to what is to covered and when. This list often stems from the standards, but is also often supplemented with other elements such as UbD’s ‘Big Ideas’ or the inquiry model’s ‘Through Lines’. This map of standards lays out the overall narrative associated with what we expect our students to learn.
  • Why should students be learning what they are learning and what sort of future is being created? – Once we have a map outlining the landscape ahead, it is important to have a plan and approach through this space. This guide is the why. Why are we doing this? Why were these choices made? Why is it deemed as important? This is the complication which drives the narrative. Associated with this, there needs to be some explanation of what future is being created.
  • How are students learning and why? – Too often one pedagogical approach is seen as covering everything. This misses something in my view. How we learn needs to be the right approach for the situation at hand. For example, there are sometimes when direct instruction is needed, while other times students need hands on and problem based opportunities. Just as we ask why are students learning something, so to is it important to ask how are they learning it and why is this so. Is this because it is what we as teachers feel most comfortable with? Is it because the research says so?
  • How are staff being encouraged to own the curriculum? – Too often change is pushed onto staff as an expectation, with little time provided to work through issues or to actually own the situation at hand. No matter the potential associated with the change at hand, if we do not own ‘the why’ the idea or innovation will never truly succeed as it will not be driven passionately by those on the ground.
  • In what ways are students being empowered? – Although curriculum is designed with students in mind, involving them and allowing them to own it can be overlooked. We may focus on incorporating aspects such as critical thinking, questioning and collaboration in the classroom, but unless students understand why these practises are being pushed then they either get misunderstood or go nowhere in regards to improving learning outcomes. One thought is that instead of teacher at the centre, teachers instead become facilitators. Observing what is going on, providing constructive feedback, supporting students with the setting of personal goals, creating a space where students are engaged in their learning.
  • What is the role of leadership within curriculum? – All curriculum needs some sort of leadership to guide it, but what this leadership looks like has a significant impact on the final implementation. Leadership for many is about making decisions and dictating to the masses. The problem with this is that it takes the power from those who actually drive the change. Subsequently, it is important that leaders act as a resource, a mentor, checking, commenting, questioning, creating a culture, inspiring, not holding too tightly and allowing others to own it too.
  • How is assessment (and reporting) embedded within the curriculum? – In many respects it seems strange to talk about curriculum in isolation of assessment. It is essential that the assessment for, as and of learning is embedded throughout the curriculum. Associated with this, tasks should be authentic where applicable and involve sharing with more than just the teacher.
  • In what ways is technology laying the foundation for curriculum and learning? – Michael Fullan suggests that technology is not the driver of change, rather it is the foundation on which it is built upon. As Steve Brophy and I have stated elsewhere, technology makes higher order thinking and collaboration more possible. What needs to be considered when it comes to curriculum is that technology is not simply 1:1 laptops, instead it includes such things as cameras, projectors, file sharing platforms, robots, webcams etc. The list goes on. What matters isn’t what device people have (although some would are better than others), rather what is made possible.
  • How is the curriculum being communicated with parents and other community stakeholders? – One of the interesting points that came out of my school’s work on instruction and curriculum was how do you communicate it with parents. Although reports provide them with a summary of learning, this is usually published after the fact. The challenge to me is to create a culture of communication with parents beforehand. Whether this be through a class blog or an program like Edmodo, technology provides the means for involving parents and celebrating student work and achievements.
  • What is at the heart of the curriculum: subjects or skills? – One of the first comments that is often made about curriculum is that it is too crowded. The question, as I have discussed elsewhere, is whether the crowded nature comes from a focus on splitting content into definable subjects, rather than engaging students in skills associated with projects and problems. Claire Amos, an educator from New Zealand, wrote a great article on this matter, pushing for a refocus of curriculum around the five key competences: thinking; using language, symbols and texts; managing self; relating to others; participating and contributing.
  • How is the curriculum organised within the timetable? – I will never forget when I started out teaching many years ago, two of my four hours of Year Nine English were on Friday afternoon. This soon became all about survival, rather than quality learning. Consideration as to when something is taught can have an influence on how students engage with it, no matter how fun and exciting the topic may be.

So these are some of my questions. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there are things unasked or perspectives that I haven’t quite seen. If so, I would love your thoughts. Is there an ingredient that you would add?


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Take Away Teaching – A Reflection on Intervention

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by William M Ferriter: http://flickr.com/photos/plugusin/13092406743

The other day I was perusing Youtube, as one does, when I came upon a clip by Yeasayer. It was Take Away Show produced by La Blogotheque, a live performance recorded on the fly on the streets of France. Instead of the plethora of instruments that usually fill out their sound – guitars, drums, synthesisers, samplers – it was cut back to basics: voices, a few beer bottles and some simple woodwind. Although this was a step away from the original, it was interesting what remained. The melody, the rhythm, the form, the feel, the essential essence of the song. There was something raw, intimate and real about it that grabbed your attention.

This all got me thinking, imagine if education were like this. No schools, no classrooms, no fancy touchscreens, no scripts, just pop up installations, with a basic plan, at the point of need. Learning and support for the problem at hand. Similar to what Mel Cashen posed with her question, what if food vans were schools? Of course they are not and education seems inextricably linked to classrooms, but there is something in the question. Something about capturing the essence of learning. What is important right now in the context I am in. This thought of capturing the moment reminded me a little of what I have been doing with numeracy intervention this semester.

I started this year using Marian Smalls ‘Gap Closing’ program to support students flagged as struggling with numeracy. The basis of this was a diagnostic tool which then identified areas for growth. Once completed, students would work through various activities to fill in the gaps. Although the program works in theory, it was hampered in practise by two limitations: student absences and the time allocated. After one semester, students had only managed to work through an eighth of the program. In addition to this, they were becoming progressively restless and disengaged with the tasks. Something had to change.

After some reflection and feedback from the students, it was suggested that one of the issues was that what was occurring in intervention often had little connection with what was actually happening back in the classroom. They still felt like they were struggling. In addition to this, although the diagnostics provided areas for improvement, they did not encourage student self-reflection and empowerment within the process. I therefore decided to change tact and focused on creating an environment where students reflected on their learning as a group and worked together to identify problems and errors. For as John Hattie has suggested, one of the key reasons for success is that teachers know every lesson and every day where a student starts.

An issue with this change was that there were no pre-defined tasks. As I focused on the students who were present, this limited my ability of predictive planning. Instead I entered each session armed with a tub of random resources, paper, a whiteboard and my iPad. After beginning with a starter designed to get students engaged into learning and open to risk, I would then pose two questions in a T-chart: what have you learnt and what have you found difficult? Although I had a fair idea where the students were at, different classes were always at different stages, so ‘going off the planner’ was always difficult. After working together to brainstorm ideas, these ideas would then be organised into clear topics and students would place themselves based on their own point of need. For each topic I would come up with a learning intention and discuss who as a small group we would work through the problem.

Some groups would talk together and work on identifying what the problem actually was, others would grapple a task I had designated for them. More often than not though, we would reflect by actually recording our findings. Using Adobe Voice, students would verbalise their learning. For example, one week one group came up with different strategies for working out 24-hour time, while another week a group went through and defined the different angles. The powerful action in all of this was that these videos were then shared back to the class and celebrated on the big screen. Not only were they recognised by their peers, but their work was being celebrated. Not only was there a significant increase student engagement with numeracy, but they were also excited by learning. On a side, it is an important reminder that even one device in a room can make a different.

So what about you, have you ever run an intervention program? What did you do? How did you focus on each student each week? I would love to know, for together we are always made better.


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Discipline or Learning, What’s Your Mindset?

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/15770495488

There is so much written about change in education. What is wrong, how things should be fixed. I have added my voice to such dialogue penning a few pieces focusing on innovation and technology. The more that I reflect upon the matter though, the more I feel that an incessant focus on technology often misses the mark. It is the wrong ‘driver’, as Michael Fullan would put it. The real change to me is that of mindset.

In a recent post on George Couros postulated about which attribute was more important when hiring a teacher, “someone who is great with relationships and terrible with technology, over someone who is terrible with relationships but great with technology.” After arguing that relationships trumps technology any day of the week, Couros then went onto suggest that the ability to teach kids how to learn is what is most important at the end of the day. I was left wondering what Couros’ discussion says about education and where it has come in the last few years. It is easy to get caught up in debates about technology when I believe that the greatest change has been a move from a emphasis on power and control in classroom, to a dialogue about culture and environment.

At the start of this year, one of the goals that I set myself was to place students at the centre of the classroom. To step off the stage and let them shine. In reflection I feel that this focus missed something. Instead of ‘students’ at the centre, I now feel that the focus should have been on fostering the optimal conditions for learning. Although students are integral to this process, it is the creation of a positive learning environment, in and out of the classroom, that is central. This starts in my opinion with the teacher and the way they design learning.

Maybe my students have improved, are more behaved than when I started teaching, but I just don’t talk about ‘discipline’ any more. In class or out. My focus instead has moved to learning and creating a classroom where students are able to get the most out of themselves. If there are students who are disengaged, my first port of call is not to chastise them or make veiled threats. My first port of call is me. What are they meant to be doing? Why are they disengaged? Is there anything that I could be doing to support them, either now or maybe next time.

A part of this change of mindsets is being open and honest with students. No secret teachers business, no surprises. I always attempt to share why I chose what I did, whether it be in regards to assessment or curriculum, as well as why I feel that something is not necessarily working the way I intended it to.  I may not go to the extent that Cameron Paterson does in sharing research literature with students, but I at least involve them. I do this in the hope that they too can be honest about where they are at and that they feel safe in taking risks with being wrong. For as it is said, you need to be wrong if you are ever going to be right.

We so often give lip service to the saying that students have a right to learn, yet the habits we form in and out of the classroom can seem to counter this. For a right to learn is surely to be spoken to in an appropriate manner, to be given some ownership over learning and to be given a voice about what is and is not necessarily working. The biggest change for me in my time in education has been the introduction of such programs as Restorative Practises, Leading Teams and the Framework for Understanding Poverty. Maybe not necessarily for what they have brought in regards to actions and process, but more so in regards to the way we see things. That are a part of significant shift in paradigm.

For me, without such a change, what are we really aspiring for? For in the end, I believe we are most productive when we have a purpose for learning driven by intrinsic desire, but to have a that learners need to be able to have a say. So let’s start there.


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