At Willow Park School, there are two fantastic teachers who have done just this. They have, in their own words, ” jumped the deep end and scratched everything (they) knew about routines and classroom management to start fresh.” It’s been a hugely exciting time and, as a team, we have moved so far in our teaching practice. I’m incredibly lucky to have had the chance to work with two such motivated and reflective teachers who are so willing to try something new.
Below are Kim and Nicole’s thoughts on their experiences of implementing My-learning this year. Thanks Kim and Nicole for allowing me to share this.
How things were before My Learning
Before we began teaching the My-Learning programme, we felt that there was a whole class approach to our teaching and learning environment. There were separate writing, reading and maths times which led to there being little to no flexibility. It was a very teacher controlled environment, where it was up to us to know everything (including each child’s level, where they were at and their next steps at every moment).Learning wasn’t really shared in depth with the children and it was definitely more stressful and we felt there was more pressure.
As far as using computers and E-learning went in the “traditional” classroom, computers were used as a substitution tool (e.g. instead of publishing à publish on a computer, worksheets à online worksheet / activity). Issues arose with children having the same problems at the same time (for example within group work); therefore we worried about getting the students up and running on the computer while others missed out on actual teaching time. Research skills weren’t a priority to be taught and there weren’t enough computers (working at the same time to be able to have groups practising things like research skills).
How we went in implementing My Learning
We like the saying that we had to “Turn our teaching on its head” quoted by Emma Winder. It really was a drastic change at first. So to begin with, we jumped the deep end and scratched everything we knew about routines and classroom management to start fresh.
We began our year with an inquiry unit about ‘Learning to be a learner’. This helped develop a classroom culture where ‘Learning’ was the real focus and in began to develop more learning focused relationships between their teachers and themselves children (so it wasn’t just friends working together). The unit helped the children build their foundation into what their year was going to be like. It gave them relevance for learning and school. Through all of this, most behavioural issues were ironed out because “we were here to learn.” Children were able to see they were responsible for their learning and not just the teacher (as it was pointed out to them that there is a ratio of 30:1 between students and teachers). Children were explicitly taught independence and problem solving skills (even those as simple as “the teacher is busy and I am stuck, I will go and ask ____ because I think he is better at maths than me” or “I can ask about this when the teacher is finished so in the meantime, I’ll carry on with _____ that I need to get done”).
Within the My Learning structure children were able to take control of their learning by personalising it to suit them. Using the formative assessment data the children and teacher together set themselves individual maths, reading and writing goals in areas they needed work on. From here the children could see where they were at, where their gaps were, and what they needed to work on to get to where they needed to be.
- Maths goals online
- Through Microsoft 365 we put all of the children’s maths goals online with activities attached at each level so they could go and practise the ones they needed to work on.
- We have used mathletics in the same way where either the teacher can set tasks based on their goals or the children can choose to seek it out.
- Writing goals
- Each child has their own individual writing goals where they can write about what interests them with that goal in mind using a range of genre (poetry, narrative, recount, etc). I have found – especially for boys – this a big motivator as if they want to, they can write about rugby 24-7 and they are still able to do this and achieve their goals.
- Their goals are individually conferenced on where the children can self assess and know when they are ready to move on and have achieved their goals and show evidence of this to the teacher.
- Research skills
There was time for these skills to be explicitly taught and children could see that they were of importance and so wanted to know and learn about them. We taught students about:
- Authenticity of websites
- How to use an encyclopaedia (online and book)
- How to use a search engine correctly
- What websites to use to find different information
- We created our own class blogs so the children could actively reflect on their learning and share it with others. They could then comment on others learning, parents can view them, children can gain useful strategies from others and receive feedback that otherwise would have only been from the teacher (in their books).
- It lead to talking about internet safety and how we behave on the internet as anyone can view our blogs and what we say and do online (Digital Citizenship)
- E-Learning (BBC, youtube, google etc, boolify)
- Reflection- Blogs (as previously talked about)
- Each class created a Class Twitter account. This became a place where students can view and follow others that relate to our UOI or their learning based interests. Digital Citizenship played a part in using Twitter. For example, Room 1 decided that instead of a picture of them showing their faces they wanted their picture of the back of their heads so their faces weren’t out on the internet.
- Personalising My Learning:
Once they have a good understanding of their learning and where they are at and what their next steps are, the children are taught to use the tools they have learnt (such as their research skills, youtube, BBC, Kahn Academy, Scholastic and thousands more) to help them succeed with their goals. They are also given the choice to personalise their learning by finding out information they are curious about. This could incorporate any of their learning goals, so students see everything is interconnected with their learning. Or it could be a chance for them to use their research skills to simply find out about their curiosities (e.g. Wonderopolis is a website that demonstrates all kinds of kids’ curiosities).
Being able to find out about their own interests is a huge motivator for them as they are now able to bring their interests into the classroom and share it with everyone (eg last UOI they were able to inquire into anything that is being exploited by humans and could present this in however format they chose; they came up with the S/C they needed and collaboratively we came up with a research structure of where they had to “check in” with the teacher)
- Opt-In Meetings:
Opt-in Meetings are “optional” for students to attend. At first, children suggested “fun, engaging” opt-in meetings that they would like to attend. This gave students a chance to practice managing their time and scheduling in these meetings within their diaries. These meetings later turned to goal focussed sessions where students were able to tell us what goals they were struggling with and needed guidance on (which informed our planning of these opt-in meetings). To begin with, these lessons were all teacher run. Later on, as students became familiar with how the meetings were run, and understood the relevance for them, they were able to take opt-in meetings based on their strengths. For example, a student who feels confident in teaching a meeting on a particular goal (e.g. converting whole numbers to an improper fraction) could run a meeting for those who needed help with that goal. This provided an opportunity for students who had run the meetings, to practice consolidating their learning by sharing it with others. Students were given guidance and tools to take an effective lesson to ensure that they were successful. Students often comment on how much they like opt-in meetings because they get a say in what they will be about and they don’t have to attend any meetings that would waste their time (because they already have that knowledge).
Classroom Structure Now:
- To make this possible we have altered the way we organise our weeks. We don’t have reading, writing, and maths time in specific time blocks. We still teach groups and the whole class, it’s just organised in a more flexible manner. We also needed to find the time to be able to conference individually with students, as well as seeing their groups and cover our curriculum content.
- Students being able to plan their own weeks fitted this schedule. They can book in their group meeting times, class meetings, any opt-in meeting they wished to attend. They could also book the computers for when they needed them and this freed up the teacher from computer problems because there weren’t too many children on the network at the same time and children had the problem solving skills to help them solve their issues. We found that later in the year, some children became the experts in solving computer problems and other members of the class were comfortable asking for help from them or anyone within the room.
- If a computer was “broken” or unusable the children learned that they had the opportunity to change their planning and plan for another task. This meant that no ‘learning time’ was wasted.