Ways that Teachers Think about and Use Time in the Classroom

Teaching holds the tension between certainty and ambiguity. When teachers plan units and lessons, we draw upon our craft knowledge to design a series of experiences with logic, flow, coherence, and outcomes, to name a few aspects. And teaching is ambiguous at the same time because in the course of a lesson, students respond in individual ways. In the tension of both certainty and ambiguity, teachers are always considering time.

Costa and Garmston (2013) name a few ways that teachers think about time. We understand that these ways also represent how time dimensions impact the teacher’s thinking while teaching.

Sequence

The authors define this time dimension as the order in which a teacher decides how instruction will proceed. When we plan lessons, we often deliberately question what should happen first, then next and next, in order to shape and direct what we intend students to know, understand and be able to do. We look at short-range planning such as within a unit of inquiry, and we also design the long-term planning such as in a yearlong overview, or an entire program of inquiry.

Because we think deeply about factors like student readiness and developmental progression of cognitive processes such as concept formation and ability to think abstractly, sequence is an important dimension of time for teachers.

Simultaneity

The Twitterchat on Approaches to Teaching and Learning brought the idea that the multiple dimensions of a school program are braided. (During the chat, we discussed that ‘woven’ was not as precise a term for our program intentions as ‘braided.’ In braids, we can see the strands and interconnections more clearly, and each strand in the braid remains distinct; whereas in a weave, it is difficult to see individual strands and their distinct identities and forms.) In may ways, a lesson is braided in that we are constantly, at the same time, holding on to different layers of learning – the content, concepts, context(s) and construct as it applies to our plans and as it applies to each learner’s experience.

The dimension of simultaneity in the classroom is described by Costa and Garmston (2013) as the ability of the teacher to hold many layers of conscious intentions at the same time. For example, in any given unit of inquiry, a teacher might keep in mind the learning target for the particular lesson, while also being mindful of the conceptual framework; the content that best unpacks and illustrates the conceptual focus; the skills that are targeted for the unit; when to rehearse; the different entry points and pathways individual students might choose to take toward understanding; and a myriad of other, equally important learning events happening at the same time.

Dimensions of Metacognition

Metacognition is a person’s capacity to “stand outside themselves” (Costa and Garmston, 2013, p. 143) and hold at least two threads of thinking at the same time: the thinking that follows the logic and flow of the intended learning experience and all that the teacher does to make it happen, as well as the thinking about his or her words and actions and thinking as he or she facilitates the learning. Teachers who are metacognitive thinkers and emotionally intelligent, for instance, constantly read the learners in the room. They take in the nonverbal cues from students and adjust accordingly. They are always making careful and attentive observations and choose congruent behaviors to either slow down, speed up, pause for rehearsal, and other instructional decisions that arise form their own metacognition.

Metacognition is an additional source of time dimensions because of lesson factors such as pace, self-correction, pedagogical prioritizing, and reflection.

Pace

Pace is an important part of metacognition. Assessing the environment and the students’ responses in light of the learning targets and the process among other factors pose questions like whether the teacher should go faster or slow down, when to pause and reteach in different ways, and how to support students who have already learned the material, students who need more time or ways to access it, and all the conditions in between.

Self-Correction

An effective teacher uses his or her metacognitive thinking to discern a complex set of influences on their instruction. For instance, she might ask questions like:

  • How does my own set of learning preferences and strengths hinder my understanding of how my students might experience the lesson?
  • Do I understand how they struggle with concepts I naturally grasped when I was their grade level?
  • What big ideas are we touching on? What universal, human contexts might they anchor this concept to?
  • How do I know each student grasps the concept?
  • Are my students gaining a better understanding of how context frames their learning? Can they shift perspective?

Teachers self-correct based on thousands of different data points they glean from the environment, including their reading of the learners in the room. This self-correction is a series of time decisions because what’s important to the learners does take more time, take less time, and/or repurposes the time allocated for lessons.

Pedagogical priorities

Teachers have a wide range of instructional strategies that they might call upon in planning and also implement during ‘teachable moments’ that emerge from classroom events. When teachers have to shift instruction suddenly due to cues from how the learners are responding and events in the classroom, the prioritizing that happens results in somewhat different uses of time than what might have been previously planned.

Flexible teachers recognize that learning is not one-size-fits-all, and the priorities he or she decided upon might change due to previous learning or levels of readiness in the students.

The craftsman-like teacher is continually learning to expand their quiver of instructional strategies to address the many ways students can meet learning targets.

Reflection

Reflection is understood to be looking back at self. Teachers who use time to reflect on practice generally are self-directed learners. They self-monitor, self-modify and self-manage (Costa and Garmston, 2013).

When teachers reflect about a lesson or unit, they are essentially taking time to self-assess whether their intentions (learning targets or objectives) align with the outcomes (assessment of learning).

Often, reflection is done after an event, such as a lesson or after having taught a unit. Reflection is metacognitive thinking in that it can also happen at the moment of action. This type of reflection might be akin to mindfulness because using metacognitive thinking, a person can “know intentions and choose congruent behaviors” (Costa and Garmston).

Reflection can greatly impact the efficiency of instruction as it might yield a panoramic consciousness of all that schools do (Dufour and Dufour, 1998).

  • What will our students learn?
  • How do we know they are learning?
  • How will we respond when they are not learning?
  • How will we respond when they already know it?

The many ways that teachers have to consider time and its dimensions in the classroom is complex, adaptive work.

 

 

Photo Credit:
Monarch emerging from coccoon By Seney Natural History Association – A Monarch Emerging from Cocoon, CC BY-SA 2.0

References

Dufour, R. and Eaker, R. (1998). Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Costa A. and Garmston, R. (2013). Cognitive Coaching; Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

It’s About Time

Now that another academic year is drawing to a close, it’s a worthwhile reflection to think about how we have used our time to focus on learning.

It’s about time.

A school year for an international school runs for an average of 180 days. That’s only 420 minutes of learning opportunities structured in a day, and a total of 75,600 minutes of structured opportunities to learn in a school year.

When a school is not deliberate about designing how to use time effectively to maximize learning, the ultimate losers are students.

How do schools waste time, and what might be some ways to regain time in the next school year?

How Schools Waste Time

Ineffective use of allocated meeting time

If faculty groups meet once a week, this translates to around 36 meetings in a year. This is about 36-45 hours to make sure that there is a shared and common understanding of complex knowledge, such as how to write statements of understanding; how to plan units; standardizing criteria; how to effectively teach for transfer; developing progressions of learning; flagging concerns for intervention and developing interventions systematically. The list is endless of complex work that faculties have to revisit, resolve, and enact.

Ineffective meetings can put a halt to this complex work. Characterized by nostalgic monologues, tirades of problems without offering alternative solutions, and other soliloquy that are just plain resistance to change.

Procrastination of one becomes procrastination for the rest

Timelines are artifacts of interdependence. The actions in a timeline represent everyone’s success, and when one person or department drags the work back, it affects many others and their ability to successfully achieve something. So, one person procrastinating and/or resisting work effectively halts the group’s success.

Disregarding systems

Systems and structures in place ensure consistency and accountability. After all, school is predicated on a promise that the children we have in our care will learn and achieve [insert standards here] in any given school year.

Ignoring a system and its structures puts this promise at risk. Say a parent doesn’t like one of his child’s teachers, and he goes to another teacher who teaches the same subject without informing the current teacher of his child of his intentions. He asks to put his child in the second teacher’s class. This breach of communication lines for intervention creates a situation of conflict. Now someone has to mediate between the two teachers. Now someone has to spend time repairing the relational damage that has been done. All because a systemic procedure was disregarded (not to mention professional courtesy).

Drillers

Remember that famous anonymous analogy of organizations as a boat with everyone rowing? Well, sometimes we get people who are in the boat with everyone else and they hold drills in their hands. And they drill holes in the boat whilst everyone else rows.

Drilling can happen in many ways. One of the most unproductive behaviors that can drill holes in a boat is what the literature sometimes terms ‘parking lot meetings.’

Parking lot [or hallways or coffee break] meetings are essentially gripe sessions that have no other purpose than to not solve a problem. These private conversations usually do not involve the decision makers of the organization, so nothing gets done as a result except creating feelings of bad faith in the work.

Silos

So much research has been done on effective professional development and networking thinking. Standards for school implementation of programs like the IB, for instance, specifically ask schools to enact collaboration. The benefits of collaboration reflect the parallel pathways of globalization and the increasing need to nurture interdisciplinary problem-solving. After all, we know that problems aren’t subject-specific. World problems move back and forth across disciplinary lines. These interdisciplinary global issues necessarily ask of education to enact contextual resolutions in the simulations of the real world which teachers design into assessment tasks.

So when we insist on closing the door, ask people to remain within imaginary boundaries between subjects or departments, we invite obsolescence.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls given the fact that we understand the limits of time for co-constructing the school experience for our students?

Ways of Regaining Time

Use protocols, expect products

People have studied dynamical systems, which school is one. Adaptive SchoolsSM and its parent organization Thinking Collaborative have developed ways to use protocols to design the contact architecture for productive collaboration.

Clear expectations of what we want to achieve during a collaborative meeting helps to focus our work and supports the use of limited time.

Develop and clearly communicate timelines

Clear timelines for implementation is a necessity. Action plans, calendars and similar tools are readily available for faculty groups to use as they enact goals.

Breaking down large goals into manageable chunks of work help us to prioritize and celebrate incremental wins toward the big goal. Strategies like the target board and Gantt time management tools are useful tools in developing clear timelines.

Clearly communicate systems and how they work

Conscious thought as an interdependent individual is vital. Recognizing that as independent agents, our own capacities and work impact the effectiveness and success of others is a trait of people who are interdependent.

Communicating the ways that individuals’ work relates to the work of the group helps in increasing this mental resource of consciousness and supports thinking toward becoming more aware of how our own inaction impacts the direction and journey of others.

We may also be mindful of the implementation dip and support each other as we learn to rise above the temporary dip.

Invite drillers to stop drilling and join the ones who are rowing

Often, drillers are not aware that they are drilling. They might think they are being helpful. Pointing out the differences between productive talk (putting ideas on the table, presuming positive intentions) and unproductive talk (rumor and complaint) might help drillers to increase awareness on how the ways that they communicate affect the ways the work progresses in positive or negative ways.

Build in collaborative time and communicate expectations for implementation, work on collaboration and operationalize a way of being

Breaking down silos is long, complex work. Collaboration is not a natural skill but is one that needs to be learned and developed. Adaptive SchoolsSM has developed a set of norms of collaboration. Deliberately taking the time to learn, rehearse and assess these norms is one way of encouraging collaboration.

Structures need to be in place for collaboration to occur. Placing collaboration in the work schedule emphasizes its importance to the organization. Carefully planning meetings so they are not memo-meetings but learning engagements, highlights the importance of working together to achieve common goals.

Time in schools and for schools is more than creating a calendar for 180 days.

Working with our use of time is about the reason why we gather each school year: to facilitate learning and achievement.

And how might we then use this scarce resource to maximize our purpose?

 

 

Photo Credit:

Featured photo Helping Hand By Emile Renouf (1845-1894) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Beach cottage life by (c) Rene Marie Photography.

The Target Board Strategy

Action plans have numerous practices that need to be implemented. Here’s a useful collaborative strategy for prioritizing implementation.

I’ve used this with different schools including Canadian Academy in Kobe when I was working with Stephen Taylor and the CA faculty to implement creative inquiry.

The Purpose of this Strategy

The visualization of priorities using a Target Board helps group members to

  1. Understand how program facets are interrelated
  2. Dialog on the most needful to the least urgent goals
  3. Discuss and decide on the progression of implementation points

Hopefully as the group collaboratively create the target board, the conversations reveal the time continuum supporting the implementation action plan.

The Target Board CC @alohalavina

How to use the target board

The target board can be used on its own for a sorting activity. Simply, it can guide ways to use time and urgency to justify when to do certain things.

When used with an Adaptive Schools protocol such as “Here’s What, So What, Now What” the Target Board can be a tool for understanding the purposeful work that organizes both time and tasks for implementation.

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Featured Photo credit: Target Board by MaxPixel CC Public Domain

I am grateful to Thinking Collaborative for their mission in creating capacity in individuals and organizations.

Frame and Canvas for Student Designed Assessment

Self-directed change as performance of understanding

In every unit of inquiry there is potential for student-generated assessment. As learning is a response to deliberately designed experiences, learning is a change in the learner’s skills, knowledge, understanding as well as post-unit decisions or actions. Action as a result of learning can be owned and led by students. Teachers provide the frame for learning, but what’s on the canvas belongs to the student.

Contextual framework of a unit on Change and Relationships

The problem that prompted the interdisciplinary unit “Be the Change” was a set of behavioral habits of many members of a class. Many members of this (middle school) class for which the unit was designed had poor impulse control exhibited by behaviors like talking over each other because they did not practice wait time or did not subscribe to the classroom agreements for supporting own and others’ learning. As a result of these unproductive habits, learning was often interrupted in the class, and over the years the students had developed many conceptual gaps, which emerged in underachievement in a wide range of subjects.

Conceptual frame of the unit

The team of teachers approached the unit design with their own questions from the context in which they wanted to impact the students’ thinking, and these questions reflected how the students would learn in the unit. The teachers asked:

  • How might students learn through the concepts so that their own choices change their behavior?
  • How might students learn about how the brain and cognition command outwardly expressed behavior?
  • How might students apply their learning in authentic ways relevant to themselves?
  • What sort of summative task would sustain students-led action?

These questions became the teachers’ context for the overarching goals for student learning in the unit. The design considerations inherent in the teachers’ questions gave them the goal of helping students to learn that “Change in how a person feels, thinks and acts can change how they perceive, understand and form relationships.” This became the statement of understanding in the unit. Through the unit, students might attain the concept of change as it pertained to thinking and resultant behavior. Through the conceptual learning of concepts patterns and relationships, students might learn of the relationships between how their thinking affected how they perceived others and themselves. Through the content illustrating the concepts, students might learn specific ways by which cognition controlled behavior. Through the open-ended task of the unit, students might find ways to sustain a change in their behavior as a result of learning.

The teachers created a few guiding questions for the unit designed to guide the conceptual inquiry.

  • Factual question: How does the brain work that results in how people feel, think and act?
  • Conceptual questions: How do people learn? How do people change because of what they learn?
  • Debatable question: To what extent can we change ourselves and change our relationships?

Construct of the unit

Prior to beginning the unit, the teachers had facilitated essential agreements between teachers and the class. They had dialogued about the expectations of the school and asked the students to discuss with them the behaviors, which would allow the students to express the expectations in how they behaved. These agreements became the basis for classroom management protocols used in each class the students attended. The agreements were made the year prior to the unit itself; these agreements had been revisited in the year when the unit was conceived just before it was taught. The need for the inquiry stemmed from the persisting habits which hindered the students’ learning.

The teachers used the authentic context of the conflicts that resulted between students and other students, conflicts between students and teachers, as the basis for the unit of inquiry. This global context of Identities and relationships was real to the individuals who spent time learning together every day, and created a significant cognitive landscape for learning in the unit.

The content the teachers prepared consisted of knowledge about how people learn. How people learn was explored in depth through texts on how the brain learns and how habits form.

A menu of texts were prepared by the teachers, ranging from a popular science article on brain function and habits, a set of Youtube videos explaining aspects of how the brain learned, parts of the brain, how habits are formed, TED videos to provoke thinking and questioning by the students. Interacting with the materials, students began to form connections between the brain and how the brain learned, and how personal ways to learn become habits, for instance how patterns of thinking affect how people perceive tasks or challenges, which was a conclusion students arrived at as they exhausted their factual study. As students began to grow in their understanding of the connections between the brain and learning, students began to ask their own questions. A research frenzy ensued, driven by students’ curiosity about their own individual learning. Their questions stemmed from personal concerns, like “Will less sleep make me less smart?” and “Do video games really harm children?” and “Is personality permanent?”

The students’ own inquiries based on personally relevant learning questions were guided by the teachers toward the big idea of learning as a source of change, the main concept framing the unit. As students attained conceptual understanding by making connections between content and concepts, they arrived at their own conclusions about what people have to do to change as a result of what and how they learned. Students had authentic concerns for themselves and their learning, and these became the basis for the students’ design of their own tasks for the summative assessment of the unit.

1280px-Schulsport_-_Weitsprung

Schulsport by Maximilian Schonherr. CC via Wikimedia Commons

Student-designed assessment tasks

The teachers designed an open-ended assessment. Students were asked to formulate a plan of change. In the plan, students had to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of learning as a source of change (unit concept) using what they understood about patterns (unit concept) of learning they had learned through the source materials
  • identify a context for their intended change based on how their current behavior affected their relationships (unit concept) in a specific situation
  • explain how their plan addressed a change that would improve the relationship in their context, and justify how the changes in their behavior were supported by what they had learned in the unit
  • articulate a plan to monitor their own behavior in the context they described, and what success of changing would look like and how it would affect the relationships in their context.

This open-ended assessment task allowed students to:

  • Use knowledge and conceptual understanding
  • Find personal significance for their action plan
  • Structure a process by which their learning in the unit transferred to a real-life situation
  • Structure into their implementation process personal ways to monitor and self-assess

The power of the personally significant, student-generated questions drove the learning in the unit. The potential for each student to discover his or her own empowerment served to propel the students forward in the unit, especially since this unit assessment was not awarded any grade. In the larger scheme of things, the unit was designed around advisory time, which was not graded.

The students remained engaged, and continued to remain engaged in enacting their personal change as a performance of understanding.

Sustainable learning resulting from a performance of understanding

The potential for transformational learning is evident in this unit. A student in this class devised a simple way for him to keep track of his behavioral goal, which was “to decrease the number of times I spoke without taking my turn and increase the number of times I raised my hand to volunteer.” His approach was to use an index card to tally the number of times he spoke out of turn without waiting, and to tally the number of times he raised his hand to volunteer and wait to be called. Every week, he monitored his tallies on the index card, and rewarded himself if he met the goal of decreasing impulsivity and increasing impulse control.

Units that intend for students to perform conceptual understanding require a complex set of design considerations, which allow students to deepen both how they learn and what they understand in the units of learning. The deliberate ways by which teachers can design the rehearsal of thinking skills into a unit of work lead to opportunities by which students are able to draw upon their understanding of concepts and skills to solve unfamiliar problems in assessments requiring the performance of understanding.

Photo credits

Cover Photo বাংলা: বাংলার By Md Raihan rana – Own work CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Schulsport By Maximilian Schönherr – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Reflections from the #IBChat 17 April

IBChat_Collage2

So a colleague and I kept chatting after the #IBChat on Twitter.

As we reflected on the experience, I asked what my colleague’s most important takeaways were from the hour-long Twitter conversation. It was her first chat on Twitter, and she said it was at times overwhelming with the speed of the conversation and that it gave her a sense of “Community as professional, local, human, with an empathetic circle [as the] environment of it.”

New_meaning

I was struck by her impressions, and wanting to help her clear her thinking about the learning experience, we began to debrief what the PLN had shared.

  • The role of research in service and service as action

Research is crucial

Primary research impt

  • Ideas for service as bridge within and across the continuum

Start within own community

  • The role of relationships for sustainable service learning

Sustainable Relationships

 

  • Embedding service learning in the curriculum

Embedded into curriculum

  • How is empathy learned?

Empathy

  • The role of reflection and action

Central role of action

  • How service learning provides personalized, authentic experiences that stick

Personalised

Our dialog deepened as we dove into the idea of how the #IBChat itself illustrated the concepts of community and empathy, which were demonstrated as the group chatted.

Humility

Somewhat surprised by this comment, I replied with a sudden insight: one of the reasons why I value conversations with the Twitter PLN is each one’s generosity of spirit.

The IB Educators Network PLN shares so unselfishly.

Sharing resources.png

Another quality of the community that my colleague met on Twitter yesterday was the intellectual humility of each person.

Each one of these individuals is accomplished and influential, many of them Workshop Leaders, Team Visit Members, and Consultants in the IB Educators Network. “When they speak,” I thumb-typed to my colleague, “you just have to stop and listen. And you learn.” Yet, they come together and they learn from each other. This intellectual humility is a big part of why I trust these educators, and why spending a mere hour in conversation with them often yields transformational learning.

I was very proud of my colleagues, a couple of whom participated by sharing Tweets, and others who listened in on the conversation. For many of them, it may have been their first Twitter chat, signifying both intellectual risk-taking and intellectual humility. Participating in the global #IBChat was a small, first step, but it was a giant step towards self-directed learning.

The colleague that I chatted with long after the #IBChat had concluded captured it well when she said, “I’m looking forward to reflecting with others outside of our circle.” She concluded our chat with, “Widening perspectives lead to the growth mindset.” A few seconds later, she typed, “And we are just starting!”

PD is just a bunch of ideas until we make it our own, finding its meaning for ourselves and our practice. And it was just like that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny Disturbances: 3 Areas of Support in Changing Learning Ecosystems

The bad news is that change is difficult. The good news is, we can scale it.

Shifting mindsets in education requires action. It may be daunting to think of how to change an entire system at once. Moving to action from perception is a cultural challenge, especially when perception is mired in habits. This Mindshift article names some of these bad habits of schools: “siloed learning, homework just for the sake of it, spending time planning with no action, keeping the door closed and visitors out, poor communication between administrators and teachers, traditional professional development, fixing problems by mandate rather than by team problem solving and initiative overload.”

Change in schools is not a technical problem; simply purchasing a program for a school, for example, does not mean the principles and practices of that program take root and transform the system. Just like growing a plant, conditions have to be right for something to germinate, grow, and flourish. Taking the lead from the natural sciences, we know that tiny disturbances to an ecosystem can cause system-wide change. Introducing something into an ecosystem impacts the entire system (Garmston and Wellman, 2002).

We can scale change in a learning ecosystem. Here are some considerations for how we can make “tiny disturbances” that might impact our learning ecosystems in positive ways.

Create Time for Personal Inquiries

Time is a finite resource in schools. Remnants of the industrial model leave us with 180 days in the school year, and timetables have traditionally identified time allocation to separate subjects. Rather than run against these ancient barriers of pre-packaged time, we might ask how we might simply provide time for learners to pursue inquiry and then get out of their way. The small-scale change might be to provide time in the timetable for student-driven inquiry and similarly, to provide time in the meeting schedule for teacher inquiry in collaborative groups. Shifting the timetable to create pockets of time for personalized learning is something we can do now.

Create Structures for Collaboration

We learn from professional development research that it’s not the content of PD that impacts teacher agency most; it’s the social processes.

Darling Hammond and Laughlin (1996) strongly suggest implementing “structures that break down isolation, empower teachers with professional tasks, and provide areas for thinking through standards of practice” (in Hindin, et al., 2007, p. 350).

Shifting to a true collaborative culture is an evolutionary process, and takes time. Learning ecosystems might pay attention to the levels of collaborative structures:

Fragmented individualism is on the low end of the spectrum of collaboration. This is the condition in which classrooms are islands. The isolation of classrooms and teachers produces very little commonality in practice.

Balkanization is defined as the condition in which the ecosystem is divided into cliques or small groups, which have their own subcultures. In this type of environment, the learning is isolated in subcultures, and there is no common set of beliefs permeating the entire organization.

Contrived collegiality creates a condition in which there may be congeniality, the feeling that a group is harmonious and agreeable. At a recent PD event, the facilitator cautioned, “Watch the food. Congenial schools tend to feature the sharing of food.” While congeniality is a precursor to true collaboration, it isn’t quite the same as collaboration.

Professional collegiality in learning ecosystems is when teachers gather to engage in dialog and discussion around student learning. In these truly collaborative teams, teachers might:

  • Examine student work
  • Be critical friends to one another as they implement new practices in their classrooms
  • Provide support in peer observations during implementation of new practices, as an ‘extra pair of eyes and ears’ to gather data
  • Share expertise and personal research into best practice
  • Co-construct a common set of beliefs and cultural practices for facilitating learning

These actions in becoming a truly collaborative learning ecosystem present complex work and need adaptive problem-solving, and schools can provide tools to support it, such as engaging in the work of developing norms of collaboration (from Thinking Collaborative).

Give Ourselves Permission to Innovate through Iteration

Change in learning ecosystems often require an openness to purposeful exploration. This means adopting a growth mindset and shifting thinking to the value of process. Constructivist approaches are conducive to purposeful exploration, where the value is not in one-size-fits-all processes but in allowing iterations.

For professional learning groups, support may come in a framework, such as having an inquiry cycle where learners can start anywhere and use the cycle to enact change.

TEACHER_INQ_CYCLE

American International School of Zagreb Professional Learning Cycle

Inquiry cycles support the ecosystem in how change can be scaled to micro-environments such as classrooms. For example, if a group of teachers believe that implementing questioning strategies systematically in their classrooms might impact students’ skills in critical thinking, they might investigate ways of using questioning for at least one class.

This scalable inquiry approach allows for some risk-taking and alleviates anxiety on the challenge of change.

The challenge of educational reform is scalable, and when we pay attention to tiny shifts in our uses of time, opportunities and processes, we can remove some of the anxiety that accompanies ambiguity in times of change.

Suggested Further Reading

Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (2002). The adaptive school: developing and facilitating collaborative groups. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon .

Hindin, A., Morocco-Cobb, C., Arwen-Mott, & Mata-Aguilar, C. (2007). More than just a group: Teacher collaboration and learning in the workplace. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and practice, 13(4), 349-376.

Powell, W., & Kusuma-Powell, O. (2013). The OIQ factor: raising your school’s organizational intelligence. Suffolk: John Catt Educational.

Schwartz, K. (n.d.). How Schools Can Face The ‘Bad Habits’ That Inhibit Meaningful Changes. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2017/03/06/how-schools-can-face-the-bad-habits-that-inhibit-meaningful-changes/

Featured Image:

Gamelan Orchestra on Bali, Jakarta or Solo (Indonesia). Painting by Isaac Israëls (1865-1934). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Explicitly teaching skills in disciplinary inquiry

One of the topics that can fuel hours of teacher dialog is the difference between assigning tasks and teaching the process by which tasks can be pursued through inquiry. Assigning might consist of telling students to do a task. Teaching a process involves teaching approaches to learning, which might allow students to problem solve for the task.

It is one thing to talk about how scientists solve problems using scientific inquiry, and it is another thing altogether to experience using scientific inquiry to solve a problem. In every discipline or subject, there are patterns of thinking employed systematically by the people who work in that discipline, which are particularly developed by practitioners in that discipline.

Schooling as it exists has been structured for people to learn how to learn in disciplines. The ways of doing and learning in a discipline follow systematic approaches which help to inquire in the discipline, and these are the experiences we attempt to provide in school, so that our students understand the systems within a discipline, and how these systems help the practitioner to inquire, reflect and take action.

In sciences, the ways of doing research or inquiry have common threads. Research is a big part of each discipline. In studies of language and literature, for instance, experiences in organizing communication of ideas and experiences in the actual production of these ways of communication are predominant approaches for those who communicate through language and literature; authors write specific texts for specific purposes.

Part of our planning of learning in a subject involves planning for experiences wherein students learn and use skills and approaches particular to that subject. Some of the questions we might have in how to do this in a unit of inquiry may include:

  • How do we embed skills into a unit with context, content and concepts?
  • How do we plan for students to experience, as authentically as possible, the ways of doing what people do in a particular field?
  • How do we integrate skills and approaches to learning in a subject as effectively as possible?

These questions of instructional design might give us a hint of the complexity that an integrated and holistic planning approach requires. Design is a creative process, which involves evaluation at every step of the way, and demands of the designer an ability to iterate: to test and use a feedback loop to inform further revisions of the design until the desired outcome is achieved.

The approaches to learning in a subject

What do scientists do?

Science is a good example for a subject with a systematic way of approaching learning. Scientists have a specific way of arriving at understanding – the scientific method. Through research and investigations, scientists have arrived at the body of knowledge which exists because scientists perpetually investigate and demystify how the world works. Through the scientific method, students can also experience the ways that science arrives at understanding. Through research and experiments, students can arrive at understanding the principles that scientists have learnt and used to solve authentic problems and illuminated the thinking through science in our world.

Not only the natural sciences use specifically created methods to find solutions to questions about how the world works. Human sciences, the humanities, have also adopted systematic research and investigation to find solutions to problems in these fields. In psychology, geography, history, and other human sciences, research and investigation play a large role in demystifying the world.

The goal for doing in the social sciences, therefore, remains very close to doing in the natural sciences, in that students might experience problem solving through investigation and research. In this discussion of the integration of skills and practice in units, it is helpful to look at investigation as an experience for students of a subject, in which knowledge is used in processes, which help students to learn and do in a subject.

The process of investigation

Process learning is often more effective when the learner actually experiences the process. Designing ways for students to experience research as it is done in a subject is therefore a worthy pursuit in the unit plan. Repeated rehearsal in the problem-solving process that a practitioner uses in that subject is essential for students to truly understand what it is like to be a practitioner in that subject.

As students rehearse the process through repeated use, habituated thinking within those approaches are more likely to happen (Brown & Bennet, 2002). The implications are that as students learn the process, the teacher might:

  • Draw attention to the reasons why specific steps in a process are taken, to establish the significance of these in the process
  • Facilitate awareness of changes that might result in the students’ thinking as they use the process
  • Allow students to make connections between their own thinking and the effects a specific thinking pattern might have on the process
  • Embed opportunities for reflection and metacognition within the process
  • Find ways to highlight similarities between processes used to solve different problems in the same subject with different contexts, content and concepts, to facilitate understanding of the approach as part of the systematic pattern of thinking and learning in that subject
  • Provide ways for students to highlight transfer of the process in other situations, for example, in solving unfamiliar problems

The implications above also point out the importance of teaching the process rather than just assigning the process (Merzenich et al., 1996). Assuming that students naturally know how to use a process as they get older, for instance, is unwise because there might be no default setting for these processes, which have been constructed to support learning in a subject by those who have developed expertise in the subject’s approaches to learning.

How a teacher breaks down the processes and helps students to learn multiple pathways to understanding impact how effectively the student can use the processes to learn in that subject.

How do you break down the processes and approaches in your discipline? I invite you to share your ideas in a comment.

Further reading

Brown, S. W., & Bennet, E. (2002). The role of practice and automaticity in temporal and nontemporal dual-task performance. Psychological Research, 66(1), 80-9. doi: 101007/S004260100076

Merzenich, M. M., Jenkins, W.M, Johnston, P., Schreiner, C., Miller, S. L., & Tallal, P. (1996). Temporal processing deficits of language-learning impaired children ameliorated by training. Science, 271, 77-81. doi:10.2307/29890377