James Nottingham's Blog

Reflections from a World of Education

Assess: to Sit Beside

This is the first of two postings inspired by a couple of wonderful days I’ve had working with the staff and students at Douglas Park Primary School in Masterton, New Zealand.

Once per term, every child at Douglas Park is encouraged to invite their parents into school for a Learning Conference, during which he or she explains what they’ve been learning, how much progress they’ve made and where they intent to go next. (See Learning Conference guide).
Their rationale behind these conferences are twofold; the first is straight from John Hattie’s book on Visible Learning:

“Parents should be educated in the language of schooling so that home and school can share in the expectations and the child does not have to live in two worlds – with little understanding between home and school. Some parents know how to speak the language of schooling and thus provide an advantage for their children during the school years, while others do not know this language, which can be a major barrier to the home contributing to achievement.”

Second of all, as they explain: “Assess comes from Latin, to sit beside, so our learning conferences give parents the perfect opportunity to “sit beside” their child; to encourage our students to take personal responsibility for their learning; to develop their communication and organisational skills; to clarify for themselves and their parents their sense of progress and to further enhance the school-home communication and relationships.

For more information about this, take a look at the Learning Conference Guide on the Sustained Success website or email the school.
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Norwegian Mental Models

Now that there are 15 schools and nurseries in Norway in the Community Designed Education network, with 6 more due to join this summer, I thought it about time I posted a Norwegian blog (for the English version, use the translator at the bottom of the page). And how fitting that the picture should come from Hogsnes oppvekstsenter, the first school in Norway, and indeed in Scandinavia, to join the CDE network.

Sentralt i CDE-prosessen står undervisning av de mentale modellene som er nødvendige for å virkeliggjøre skolens (eller barnehagens) visjon. Mentale modeller er de dypt forankrede antakelser, generaliseringer eller bilder vi har, som avgjør hvordan vi forstår verden, og hvilke valg vi gjør, hvilken praksis vi velger.

For eksempel, hvis en lærer mener at barn lærer best hvis de får motta informasjon som de siden skal huske, vil denne læreren legge opp sin undervisning ut fra det. En annen

lærer, som mener at barn lærer best når de får stille spørsmål, tenke gjennom sine begrunnelser og trekke sine egne konklusjoner, vil gjennomføre en helt annen type undervisning. Begge disse lærerne handler ut fra god tro, ut fra en tro på at deres praksis gir gode muligheter for læring, men de befinner seg i svært forskjellige virkeligheter. Dette er grunnen til at mentale modeller har så stor betydning, og grunnen til at de “riktige” mentale modeller må identifiseres og undervises i, hvis skolen (eller barnehagen) skal kunne realisere sin felles visjon.

Da personalet ved Hogsnes Oppvekstsenter skulle identifisere de mentale modellene som var nødvendige for at de skulle kunne realisere visjonen sin, gjennomførte de først en brainstorming. Deretter stemte de fram de viktigste, blant de mentale modellene de hadde identifisert ut fra visjonen sin. (Resultatet kan dere se på bildet.) Utfordringen deres ble deretter å modellere, snakke om å undervise i disse mentale modellene, hver dag, med alle medlemmene i læringsfellesskapet.

Det gleder meg å kunne si at de har gjort store fremskritt! Faktisk så store at Ragnhild Isachsen, rektor på Hogsnes, er invitert til å holde et foredrag (keynote speech!) på den 14.Internasjonale Tenkekonferansen i Kuala Lumpur neste måned!

Teaching the ASK Model

Two of the schools I’m working with, one in Doncaster (UK) and the other in Cambewarra (Australia), are trying a new approach to their curriculum that places an emphasis on Attitudes and Skills, as well as Knowledge (ASK). In a previous blog, (see Teaching Attitudes on 18 March 2009) I shared the Attitudes work of Sandringham Primary School. Now, here’s an insight into the Skills work that Cambewarra Primary School are doing.

Selecting five key thinking skills, Processing information, Reasoning, Inquiry, Creativity and Evaluation, Trent Burns and his colleagues are ensuring that at least one of these skills is at the heart of each lesson. For example, when studying the environmental impact of technologies, the children would be asked to “paraphrase” the contributions of another, and then to add a “reason” to that opinion or argument.

Of course, since the children would have to use their thinking skills in order to answer a question or complete a task, some might say the deliberate focus on a particular type of thinking is unnecessary. And yet to improve any skill, expert practice concerns itself with breaking the skill down into parts. For example, in addition to swimming from one side of the pool to the other, a swimmer wishing to improve his/her skills would be well advised to at times focus almost exclusively on head position, then perhaps on the timing of his/her arm strokes and maybe another time on the frequency of kicks. And so it is with thinking – breaking the whole skill down into parts so that the whole might be improved bit by bit.

Furthermore, Trent’s students enjoy the added dimension that a focus on thinking skills brings to their lessons, referring frequently to the PRICE model either by identifying the skill they believe they are using to solve a task, or setting out to improve a particular skill by finding opportunities to practise it.

Look out for an update on their progress after my visit there in June.

Enigma Table

The “Enigma Table” is a really nice idea that Kate McIntyre uses with her class of 4 and 5 year olds at Newport School in Middlesbrough, UK. As Kate explains:

The ‘Enigma Table’ stands alone in our Classroom and at the beginning of the week I put an interesting but not immediately indentifiable object (see photo). During the week the children come up to the table (independently) and have lots of interesting discussions about what the object could be. There is a pencil pot and post it notes available for them to write their ideas down (great for monitoring their writing and honic skills).

At the end of the week, we have a class circle time where we talk about our ideas. At this point, the children usually challenge each others’ ideas about why it ‘can’t be’. We finish off by showing them what the object is for, usually followed by cries of “that’s what I was going to say”!

If you have any ideas what the object in the phot is then post your answers here:

Variation on the Hot Air Balloon

Following on from the 3 Apples experiment, here’s another contribution from Ian McKenzie at Viscount School in Auckland. He’s been working with a class of 12-year-olds on values, using a variation of the hot air balloon scenario (a balloon’s going to crash unless a few people are ejected from the basket). As Ian explains:

We began with a discussion about where ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ come from, and how these 12-year-olds had picked up values without ever thinking about them (this was their realisation rather than something I told them). We then decided to explore their values a bit more using the old hot air balloon debate. We seated ourselves in a pentagonal, with a chair in front of each bench. The students on chairs were nominated as the talkers, though anyone could give them a suggestion, and those on the benches were the listeners. Whenever someone was persuaded by an alternative view from someone else, then they were encouraged to move seats to show they had changed their mind, or at least were wondering whether this counter-argument might be worth considering more.

In this variation, the groups were asked to represent drug addicts, teenage mums, homeless people, ex-convicts, disabled people and so on. The students then challenged each other’s assumptions about those people, as is the case with most debates, but the physical fluidity of students literally moving their positions helped to challenge stereotypes and lazy assumptions. And, as the dynamics of the groups changed, so too did the dynamics of the inquiry.

Mostly, I find this an excellent vehicle for students to have to use some ALTERNATIVE thinking. What always seems to happen though is that kids get stumped when someone has the courage to ask them WHY they have a certain value or assumption. The real thinking begins then!

An Early Years Target?

I’ve just begun working with Eikefjord Nursery in Florø on a 3 year project as part of the Community Designed Education network. And, as usual, I asked for some background information before designing the training to ensure everything was tailored to their context. What came back was a wonderful insight into their nursery, courtesy of the headteacher, Susette Esp. Here are some of the edited highlights, as I’m sure colleagues in nurseries and primary schools in other countries would be fascinated to read them:

Eikefjord Barnehage has three classes for children from the age of 0 – 5, and is surrounded by beautiful nature all around that we frequently use in the education of our children. We have a beach right in front of us and the woods just a step out of our gate. The rooms are divided by age:

Piglet is for 0-3 year olds, with 9 places and 3/4 adults

Winnie the Pooh is for 20 children age 3-4 and 3/4 adults

The Hundred Acre Wood is our outdoor group for 12 five-year-olds and 2 adults

We have different aims and goals for our children in the different rooms to ensure new challenges and progress. One of the unofficial goals is for children to be able to climb onto the roof of our toy-shed. As long as they can make it up there independently then they can sit on the top, but they are not allowed to use cases or anything else to help them get there. This gives us information about their physical skills and strength, with most of the children able to achieve this by their last year in kindergarten.

We follow the national curriculum and strive to make sure we meet all the standards. The outdoor group do most of their activities in and through nature, though they have the use of a candle-lit hut for some of their activities. The other groups meet the needs of the children through a learning environment that is age specific. Our targets over the next 3 years are to grow our leadership capacity, use P4C to help children grow their language, thinking and collaboration skills, and to ensure that we make the most of the digital equipment that we have.

Teaching Attitudes

During my time as Director of the award-winning RAIS project, I worked with a number of schools to investigate the impact of children’s attitudes on their ability to make progress. Not surprisingly, we were left in no doubt that students with the best attitude towards learning (focus, determination, effort and so on) were making significantly more progress than other students who were either complacent, uninterested or simply not engaged, even if the latter students had better grades initially. This led to the development of the ASK model, a framework that allowed for the teaching of Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge as part of the curriculum.

Having shared the ASK model with staff at Sandringham Primary School in Doncaster during their work with the Community Designed Education network, I am delighted to hear that they have really gone to town with the teaching of attitudes.

As Emily Smithard, the deputy head explains: “Having been working on attitudes in school for a while now, we have been able to see just how much of an impact they have had. We are trying out a variety of systems in classes and feeding back every fortnight how things are progressing; sharing good practice and any hiccups we may have had along the way. We did a walk of the school last half term to see what was visible in the classrooms and at that point things were just emerging but last week I visited every classroom when everyone had gone home and now attitude displays are in every classroom, in both halls and along many of the corridors. Assemblies are also linked to the school attitudes. Our plans for the future include a kick-start for each of the attitudes, and an “Attitudes Day” when the children can brainstorm, act out and know what it feels like to carry out that attitude. It’s all exciting stuff!”

What I really like about this approach is that Sandringham are not following, for example Habits of Mind or Building Learning Power, but are creating their own structures based on what their children think. Each class has brainstormed the attitudes they think are necessary for learning, then taken a vote to identify the top 4 or 5. From these they are designing ways to develop each attitude through a process of teaching, investigation and practice. Their sense of purpose and of ownership is inspiring. Congratulations to everyone concerned.