LOTEHAT #3… Learning Continuously!

Despite acknowledging 2012 as the year of the “NO!”, I am currently embarking on the LOTEHAT #3 Project for accomplished language teachers.  The word “accomplished” makes me giggle, as there are quite simply day when I feel as though I am wearing my L-plates and nothing seems to go right!  I hope that this feeling will one day be diminished but in the meantime, so much of what I do in the classroom surprises me and excites me.

As part of this project, I have decided to investigate the way in which students are responding to a gestured approach to language learning that we have implemented this year.  Dissatisfied with the old school textbook-centred approach, we have decided to through out our old curriculum in favour of an approach that is kinaesthetic, dynamic and communicative.  And thus far, it is working beautifully.




De-privatising teaching and learning

Early in my career, I was part of the 2nd Culture of Thinking conference at Bialik College.  This was my first experience of PL that actually involved spending the day in an active school rather than sitting in a lecture theatre or university-style tutorial room.  I loved visiting the prep classroom – sitting on tiny chairs and observing the surrounds, and hearing the teacher speak about how she has implemented the thinking routines of the Visible Thinking Project at Harvard.  What further resonated with me was the final presentation of the conference, which called for teachers to “de-privatise” what we do on a daily basis.

I have now attended part 2 of Prof John Hattie’s workshops on Visible Learning (Visible Thinking, Visible Learning… are we beginning to see something of a pattern emerging here?) and am further resolved to throw open the doors of my classroom to encourage transparency, accountability and sharing of knowledge. Last term I encouraged my team to ‘shadow’ each other in their classrooms.  The concept was simple – select a colleague who has skills that you would like to see in action or learn, then attend one of their classes.  Whether staff observed, team-taught or participated as a student was not the point – what was key was opening our doors, letting go of any fear of being judged and embracing the fact that we too are on a life-long journey of learning.  The response was not as positive as I might have hoped.  Only three of the eight of us on the team decided to do anything about their own professional learning as members of a team.  Disappointed, unsupported, disenfranchised – these words do not even begin to explain how I have been feeling as both a leader and member of this group.

So with renewed enthusiasm and conviction, I have returned from Hattie’s workshop determined to find ways to improve my own classroom practice  even if my colleagues are not ready/prepared to get onboard.  This began yesterday when I set up the students at the beginning of the lesson to complete 70 minutes of learning that was self-directed.  A range of group-work and individual learning activities that had them engaging with each other, reflecting on their learning and deciding where to go from there.  Granted, these are features of the Literature Circles program we are working with this term but it was great to be able to sit and listen to the students talk to each other about what they have read, thought, questioned.  I was able to watch the dynamics of the group at work, who participated and who didn’t, which groups contained students with already well-developed collaborative skills, who took their thinking deeper to ask philosophical questions compared to those who focused on surface level knowledge.  It was fascinating!

The next step for me is to set up a Flip camera in the room during my lessons.  I going to use it to look back at my teaching and the learning that takes place during a typical lesson with both my year 7 and 11 classes.  I know they will look different but hope that creating an “observational classroom” will enable me to become a more empowering, influential and knowledgeable teacher, with the goal of one day becoming what Hattie calls an “expert teacher”.

Holiday homework from Hattie

Earlier in the year, the Head of Curriculum encouraged the Head of English and I to attend a series of workshops run by John Hattie, looking at data use for improving teaching and learning.  I would usually be a bit cynical about the true value of numerical data to inform my knowledge of my students’ capabilities but was assured that Hattie was a wonderful presenter with some great ideas.  So, along I went.

As a beginning LOTE teacher working in a P-12 context, I was most lucky to be exposed to a program that demanded that assessment be both ongoing and summative.  Students in my classes where accustomed to seeing me with my chronicle open or with observation sheets in my hands as we worked.  Particularly with my primary classes, discussions about improvement and mastery of skill level was the norm.  What I am not yet as proficient in, however, is the analysis of data from a numerical point of view.  Enter, Prof. John Hattie and his work on what makes a difference to student learning.

Hence, the holiday homework I have set for myself.  Hattie’s workshops, run in conjunction with the CEO Melbourne have prompted me to do some ‘real’ analysis of student achievement in my classroom.  A simple technique he suggested was to ensure that at the beginning of every unit of work, students complete a ‘pre-test’ so that the teacher is aware of their previous knowledge and misconceptions.  Students then complete a ‘post test’ at the unit’s conclusion.  What is of interest to me as a teacher, should be the improvement that students are able to make.  Whilst this itself doesn’t sound like anything spectacularly revolutionary, what is terrific, is that Hattie gives a numerical value to the improvement that we should expect to see from every student.  He calls this “effect size”.

My year 7 students have currently been working on a unit of work on Ancient Egypt.  For many of them, it is the first time that they have formally explored the notion of History as a discipline, so I was not at all surprised to learn that their actual historical skills were lacking at the beginning of the unit.  This week, I have taken a look at the post test that students completed during the final lesson of term 3.  Many were excited by the learning they had done in a mere five weeks and were proud of their achievements.  In his workshop, Hattie encouraged us to pop these two sets of results into a spreadsheet to determine the effect size experienced by each student, as a measure of the effectiveness of their learning.  I did this over coffee and brunch with two of my colleagues and was bursting with pride at my students’ progress.  It seems 24 out of my 25 students had experienced an effect size equal to or greater than Hattie’s magic 0.4.  I am not sure what happened to the other one, but at least now I know that she needs me to revisit the concepts seen last term to ensure that she is not left behind.

 Click here for more information about Prof John Hattie’s work on effect sizes