Preparing Students For Change

Dear Parents & Guardians, 

The changes to our class over the past semester were borne out of a desire to increase student engagement and achievement by empowering students to take greater ownership of their learning. Student feedback has confirmed what my own “gut-feeling” has told me, that many of the changes we have implemented have had a positive effect on learning & engagement. We now wish to continue to build upon this progress by placing each student at the heart of their own learning journey.

Traditional classroom practices are often about compromise. We teachers, with the best intentions, pitch the majority of our lessons and curricular content where we believe it will do the most good. We then aim to support those working below that level to play “catch-up” and try to make sense of the learning. We ask for patience from those more advanced students when lessons re-tread over well-traveled ground. We ask students to compromise on what they learn. How. Where. And most importantly, why. Schools continue to evaluate, grade, and rank students because “that is what we’ve always done”. The problem is, this approach often disempowers and demotivates the very students we wish to help the most. 

What we are proposing for semester two is a change to this practice. Not because it is popular, or because it will be easy, but because, I believe, it is good for kids. What we aim to do is meet each learner where they are in their learning journey. To give greater voice and choice to the extremely capable, caring, and increasingly collaborative learners we are developing. In education, the phrase “developing life long learners” often gets thrown around with reckless regard. How can we develop a love of learning that will carry far beyond our classroom or school gates if students have little or no opportunity to guide their learning based on their individual strengths and interests?  I believe the skills and processes that we have been focusing on, taken straight from the Australian Curriculum general capabilities, do help prepare students to become life long learners.

We will focus less on skimming over the enormous amount of content outlined in the curriculum, and focus more on mastering vital learning skills through constant assessment, feedback and reflection. Many of these skills are not knowledge based.

There is no roadmap for us to follow. Learning doesn’t happen in straight lines. At times it will be messy, noisy, confusing, and frustrating for students, just like the real world.  Success in this century will depend on very different skills than the last, and our schools should reflect this. Would you be comfortable being admitted to a hospital using 100-year-old practices to treat patients? Yet much of what happens in classrooms across the country is based on outdated practices that no longer help prepare students for life in an ever-changing world.

Education needs to become something that happens with students, not something that happens to them.

Teacher relationships with parents are sometimes seen as roadblocks to learning. I have been guilty of keeping parents at arm’s length in the past. With new perspective comes the realisation that every student is someone else’s whole world.  I hope this will be a challenging, successful, and enjoyable semester for students, but our success also depends on you.

I ask that you engage your kids in their learning. Don’t just ask what they did today. Ask instead what they enjoyed? What challenged them? What did they get stuck on? Who did they help? How did they make our class or school a better place? What are they looking forward to? Read their blogs. Leave a comment. Ask to see their learning portfolios. Watch their videos or read their stories. Visit our classroom. We would love to see you.

We have attempted to make our classroom as transparent and open as possible. We will continue to use class and student blogs. We will introduce Google Classroom and, after overcoming some hurdles, Chromebook laptops to connect our learning and provide different forms of feedback. We will be assessing our performance constantly! But we will not be grading work. We have traded grades for growth. Peer, self and teacher feedback are far greater currency in this century than a grade. Feedback drives growth, grades extinguish it.

Assessment used to be something that was done postmortem. After our learning had ended. Now we will assess and reflect constantly. We will aim to assess and provide feedback far more when learning is 30% and 60% complete. I have written extensively about this shift from grades to feedback on my blog (link listed below) if you would like to know more.

In reality, little of what we learn will change. But how, and how fast, certainly will. We are slowing down, recognising that students who take longer to gain knowledge and skills shouldn’t be disadvantaged. Nor should we prevent those who are ready to move on, dig deeper, or investigate further, from doing so. We continue to experiment with our learning environment, adding spaces for collaboration, partner work, teacher led mini-lessons and a “cave” for silent working.

I am committed to making our class and school a place that kids are desperate to get into, not get away from. I am also mindful that, try as they might, messages and notes don’t always make it home, so I will be working to improve my communication with families.

If you have any questions, comments, or would like to arrange an opportunity to discuss any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact me: abe.moore620@schools.sa.edu.au or for further reading see www.blogmoore17.edublogs.org

Regards,

Abe

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