31 January 2014

Ownership of Learning - What does that actually look like?

"Students as owners of their own learning"

Leading teachers through the 'key strategies of formative assessment' (Wiliam, 2011) the one I wrestle with the most is the last one:

  1. Clarifying learning intentions
  2. Eliciting evidence
  3. Feedback that moves learning forward
  4. Students as learning resources for one another (peer assessment)
  5. Students as owners of their own learning (self assessment)

Only because, in a 'traditional' learning environment, such as that I commonly observe in Cambodia, one things that really stands out is the fact that it is commonplace for every single child in the class to work on 

exactly. the. same. thing.

In desperation I searched for a basis to question the validity of this, and the ownership element struck me as an obvious candidate.. except that no matter how much I read I just couldn't find a way to get the literature to say what I wanted it to say, that ownership requires autonomy.

The nearest I could get was that ownership involves, "metacognition, motivation, interest, attribution, self-assessment" (Wiliam & Thompson, 2007)

So ownership is interpreted as meaning self assessment, but what is less clear is the extent to which this is even possible unless the students are able to produce outcomes which are 'unique'.

It is my contention that a situation where every student is engaged in the creation of an outcome which is completely identical to the one next to them, is not one where 'ownership' can really be said to be present. A common practice in Cambodia is to give all students identical tasks to complete, like recreating a document on screen based on an identical hard copy, the goal being for all students to produce something is close to that as possible.

Based on this kind of model, students can self assess, the success criteria are clear, as is the learning intention etc, but my contention is that there can't really be 'ownership' if the outcome is not unique to them in some way.

So does 'ownership' relate to unique outcomes, or not ... in desperation I contacted Mr Wiliam himself, and he kindly responded with,

"... all learning outcomes are personal, since the only way one can learn anything is to make it one's own. 
However, it seems that you are asking something slightly different, which is can the learning of imposed goals ever be truly "owned". And I think the answer to this question is yes. The account of the work of Deci and Ryan in the attached chapter (p. 1081) provides some insight here. As they say, extrinsically motivated learning can still be autonomous..."

So off I went and read the kindly attached article thoroughly, not just the bit he referenced but the whole thing:

Wiliam, D. (2007). Keeping learning on track. Second handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning, 1053-1098.

And what I found was intriguing, you see the very study Dylan cites in defence of the importance of self assessment, actually places as much (if not more) emphasis on autonomy...  Reading further back in the article, to the beginning of section about which this conversation focuses. Reading the study described on p 1078 I can't see how the results could be attributed to self-assessment alone, the clear emphasis on increasing student autonomy has to have been as influential, if not more so. It's strange that the effect is automatically assumed to be solely due to self assessment, without any attempt to differentiate between the influence of those two distinct elements.

"The scores of the students taught by the teachers developing self-assessment improved by 15 points—almost twice as big an improvement." p 1081

Surely they were developing student autonomy to at least as great an extent as their abilities to self assess? In fact it seem to me that the two are synergetic; autonomy facilitates self assessment:

"Finally, in the last 10 weeks, students were allowed to set their own learning objectives, to construct relevant mathematical problems, to select appropriate manipulatives, and to identify suitable self-assessments."

And I'm pleased to report that things are already changing, check out the CHANGE, last week:

So, my respectful apologies Mr Wiliam, but I just can't encourage our teachers to keep managing classes of automatons mindlessly churning out identical outcomes, like a production line.

I think it's a particularly important distinction in the context of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), as in contexts where teaching is dominated by traditional technologies like the photocopier (class worksheets), there is clearly a lack of autonomy (even if there is motivation, for whatever reason) ... Set them free!

Teacher to Teacher [T2T]

T2T is a new and ambitious service initiative I am proud to be able to say that we established this year, supported by the college where we work to create an opportunity for teachers to work with teaching colleagues in Cambodia.

The 'Teacher to Teacher' (T2T) training initiative is currently in its pilot year of what is anticipated as a sustained commitment to provide both curricular and pedagogical support for teaching colleagues in Cambodia.  This project has the specific aim to build capacity in educational practice.

In Cambodia we are working with teachers at Cambodian Children's Fund (CCF), which operates six centres in Phnom Penh.  CCF provides educational support for students from preschool to university.  The CCF kids are vulnerable children, most of whom used to work on the Phnom Penh dump site.

Requests for training in the following areas have been requested by CCF:

  • Child centred practice
  • Curriculum development, planning, and assessment
  • Instructional strategies and classroom management
  • English language training
  • ICT skills development and integrated practice 

The commitment is considerable but we felt anything less would be prone to the sorts of ineffective support that are so common with these kind of initiatives; the kind of support or 'voluntourism' that is often given by well-meaning but impractical volunteers. We knew that the only way for change to be meaningful and really effective would be for it to be ongoing, so we travel to Cambodia three times a year to provide teacher training during our school holidays in October, Chinese New Year and March.

We work with the team in Cambodia to plan a syllabus that responds to evolving needs of each of three core groups: Early Childhood Education (ECE), English language (EAL), and ICT/ digital literacy development and integration as a discrete focus, and eventually as an integrated element of ECE and EAL.

After each visit, we continue support through regular communication with partner teachers in Cambodia, reflecting on our previous visits and planning and preparing for our future is it in an iterative, collaborative process of improvement.

Continuing Professional Development 

An unexpected, but nevertheless impressive aspect of this initiative has been its impact on my own practice as a teacher.  I have no problem with the idea that we are effectively going to Cambodia because we believe that what we are doing is 'better' than what they are doing... Which sounds arrogant, but if it is not true, then we have no business going at all. And if what we are doing really is better then it should be just as effective (if not more so) in our considerably well resourced environment at home as it is in the comparatively less well resourced environment in Cambodia. What I'm finding is that the better we make their teaching, the better we make our OWN teaching, #WINWIN

What this kind of experience really does is force us to really consider what it is about teaching practice that really is absolutely essential, that makes it 'better'. When working through a translator you really have to strip away anything that could be superfluous and refine everything down to the absolute minimum, something which is a cathartic process in and of itself. The process I intend to document from time to time here on this blog using the label #T2T. 

30 January 2014

FOCUS Lessons

Having just returned from a week of teacher training in Phnom Penh, at the most magnificent CCF I have to confess that within 15 mins of my first lesson observation (of a planned 6 lessons in 2 days) I was seriously struggling with the point of it.

Why observe without acting?

Well the truth is I just couldn't just sit there and watch, knowing that this lesson, NOW could be better. If it can then, let's ACT, lets do what we can, while we can, NOW.

And a FOCUS lesson was born—well the acronym emerged during a wonderful massage later on, but the practice was already a fact; only it was a practice that I was struggling to describe to my colleagues, when I confessed I'd abandoned the observations, and lab-sites that they so dutifully (and professionally I might add) pursued.

So, what did I do instead?

Well, I attempted to describe it as an observation, cum intervention/co-teach/sharing/skilling/teaching/reflecting/advising/adjusting lesson.

To which they said something like, "Well you're going to have to come up with a better way of describing it than that."

So I did, and I have. And in case you're wondering, it was a GREAT massage.

So I call them FOCUS lessons, largely inspired by Dylan Wiliam's (2011) 5 key strategies for formative assessment, which I pretty much use for almost everything... Just substituting 'learners' for 'teachers' Yes, I know teachers that are any good have to be learners, but you know what I mean...

  1. Clarifying, sharing, and understanding [teaching] intentions and criteria for success
  2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and [teaching] tasks that elicit evidence of [teaching] 
  3. Providing feedback that moves [teaching] forward 
  4. Activating [teachers] as instructional resources for one another 
  5. Activating [teachers] as owners of their own learning

(Adapted from Wiliam (2011). Embedded formative assessment)

And being a huge fan of acronyms I ended up with:

F: Feedback & Feed Forward
O: Observe (Learning not just teaching)
C: Co-teach & Constructively Criticise
U: Upskill & Unlearn
S: Suggest & Share (good practice)


Alphabetically Coded Reminder of Names You Misremember
A Contrived Reduction Of Nomenclature Yielding Mnemonics
A Concise Reduction Obliquely Naming Your Meaning
A Clever Re-Organisation to Nudge Your Memory