Friday, November 18, 2016

Innovative Learning Environments - helping us change the way we learn.

My final blog for the year takes our attention to the use of Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) where digital technologies are integral and how they enhance the learning of our students. St Joseph's will be constructing ILEs as a part of the new school in 2017 and it is important that the community understand what they are and why we are building these and not the individual and isolated classrooms of the past.

I came across an article which explains it well, of which this is a taster. 

"Innovative learning environments can be characterised as having very flexible physical spaces. So, you’ll actually find that within a particular place that you have got everything from large spaces for didactic teaching (where a teacher stands at the front and teaches everybody), through to facilities for group work, through to breakaway spaces for groups of say 10 students to move, through to very quiet spots where two people can sit and work, and even through to almost retreat-type huddle spots where a person can go and work."  (Prof Wesley Imms)

The full article can be found at The Research Files Episode 24: Innovative Learning Environments

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What a Standardised Test Cant Measure

At St Joseph's we are building a culture of learning, where students are inspired and motivated to learn at and beyong formal schooling. We also live with the reality that standardised testing is an imposed requirement and includes NAPLAN and others such as Progressive Achievement Testing (PAT). We have recently conducted the annual testing in Maths, Reading, Spelling and Social & Emotional/Wellbeing. This data is one piece of the whole child picture that can be used to develop a summative report at the end of the year.

Scores on a test can provide data on how a student 'performed' on that day in that context. Performance in such tests is a small part of and is very different to the whole picture of learning which is lifelong.  The following meme illustrates all the valuable aspects of a learner that standardised testing cannot. Importantly, it is these qualities and dispositions that research is showing more and more is what future success and employment are based on.

At St Joseph's, teachers are focusing more and more on the value of these qualities and dispositions and at the same time, considering the data of standardised testing. This is the very core of learning in a modern world where knowledge acquisition is not the end in itself, rather the learning processes which are ongoing. 

In our context of Catholic Education, we add to this list the personal response to God's call to service of the poor and marginalised.

Can you think of others?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Campfires, Watering Holes and Caves… zones for learning

Campfires, Watering Holes and Caves… zones for learning.

There is an ever-increasing body of research which shows that the learning environment can have a positive effect on student achievement and wellbeing. The article “Does the Space Make a Difference?” states that the learning environment:

Significantly influence how technologies (both digital and physical) are used, and therefore, are perceived by students.
Increase the instance of active, collaborative, and multiplictious nature of student-centred learning
Affect a statistically significant enhancement of student engagement in their learning.
On average, different classroom layout explains 7 per cent of the variation in academic outcomes in
each study.
On average, when students transition from a conventional classroom to a NGLS, their academic achievement increases by 15 per cent. 
(Does the Space Make a Difference? 2016, Terry Byers Anglican Church Grammar School, Wes Imms The University of Melbourne)

The design of the new learning spaces at St Joseph’s has been influenced through such research as well as our own contemporary learning tours. Our spaces, or ‘learning studios’ as they will be known, will incorporate the elements of design which provide optimum benefits for learning.

Many of our teachers have already begun the transition from traditional to contemporary spaces. This varies from changes in furniture type, to furniture arrangement within the space as well as outdoors. This alone, does not improve learning outcomes as it is the way the spaces are used that enables flexibility and high engagement in learning. In our context, the digital environment is yet another layer on top of physical which accelerates learning.

Zones for learning is an environmental strategy which has been successfully adopted by a number of schools and which some of our teachers have employed recently. The concept enables learning to occur in a very deliberate and structured way in zones such as:

The Campfire: is a space where people gather to learn from an expert. In modern classrooms, the expert is not necessarily the teacher and may include a guest speaker (physical or digital) or even other students. This is the zone of the classroom where student gather to listen and have knowledge imparted. This is where explicit instructions are given.

The Watering Hole is an informal space where peers can share information and discoveries, acting as both learner and teacher simultaneously. This looks like groups of students gathered where students may come and go as needed.

The Cave is a private space where an individual can think, reflect, and transform learning from external knowledge to internal belief. This looks like individual students learning on their own in a quiet place. This can be achieved physically or through the use of headphones.

Students know what a ‘trusted learner’ looks like in each of these zones and is expected to make good decisions for theirs and others’ learning. Students who are not displaying ‘trusted learner’ behaviours lose their choice and are then confined to where the teacher positions them. As learners demonstrate greater self-responsibility, then greater agency is released to them.

This strategy, when utilised in conjunction with timely feedback about learning and clear and explicit learning intentions and success criteria can have a significant impact on student achievement and wellbeing.


Does the space make a difference? - Empirical retrospective of the impact of the physical learning environment on teaching and learning evaluated by the New Generation Learning Spaces Project. Terry Byers, Anglican Church Grammar School &Wes Imms, The University of Melbourne
Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Watering Holes : Learning & Leading with Technology | June/July 2013 By Ann W. Davis and Kim Kappler-Hewitt

Friday, October 7, 2016

Do We Have Homework at St Joseph's - Yes!

My professional reading of late has led me to a variety of articles about homework; it was also a feature item on one of the morning shows recently. This topic can be a polarizing one in a school community as everyone has an opinion about homework, often based on their own experience as a student at school, on fear of what they hear about 'all the homework at high school' or what they believe to be hard and fast facts about traditional homework.

In our recent parent satisfaction surveys, feedback from some parents was that they liked the homework practices of St Joseph's and the positive impact it has had on their child and family right through to a couple of parents who want to see 'formal homework to return'. 

The research clearly states that for primary aged students, daily reading has a direct correlation to student outcomes and well being. Reading is the foundation key to all learning and as such it is our mandated homework.

In his blog about homework, Steve Watson states cites: "The Education Endowment Foundation indicates that the impact of primary age homework on attainment is minimal..." (Sept 2016)

What does our policy say?

"St Joseph’s School sites research which shows that daily reading for all students has academic benefits for primary aged students.

St Joseph’s acknowledges research which has found that homework can have negative effects on student well-being, cause inequities between students and cause tension in the family. Learning disability, socio-economic and language/cultural factors also impact on homework.

St Joseph’s School agrees that involvement in extracurricular activities is beneficial for students. It not only provides a stress release, but engages them in other ways and can develop teamwork and communication skills. This also aids in developing non-academic or broader life skills such as self-discipline, time management and problem solving. " (St Joseph’s School, Cairns Homework Policy)

The role of parents in the education process of their child is extremely important. This process started at birth and will continue long after formal schooling concludes. The homework practices at St Joseph's honours this and encourages the engagement in real life learning and well being within the context of family. 
Steve Watson offers the following as ideas for parents to engage with their child's learning:
"Good home learning will happen for children with parents who do things like:
  • Talk about the future (i.e. by creating a shopping list) with their children, help their children to think ahead (Planning);
  • Talk about how they have changed their mind about something, help their children to do likewise (Refining);
  • Listen carefully to what their child is saying, help their children to listen attentively (Listening);
  • Do not assume that everything they hear on TV must be true, help their children to be healthily sceptical (Questioning);
  • Talk about how things are similar and how they are different, help their children to spot connections (Making Links);
  • Try different ways of doing things when faced with difficulty, help their children to adopt a similar ‘can-do’ attitude (Perseverance)." (29 Sept 2016)
Some parents use formal homework as an indicator of how their child is going; while this can be the case in some instances, the best way to find out how your child is going is with regular contact with your child's teacher. At St Joseph's, we have introduced a variety of ways to do this, including face to face learning conferences and digital (see saw, dojo, class websites etc). Teachers are always willing to meet with parents and discuss the learning of their child, preferably with them present as their voice is important. 

So yes, we do set homework at St Joseph's. We set homework which we believe makes a difference to student learning, is supported by research and which honours the role of parents in teaching positive life habits and skills. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Student Voice and Feedback Improves Learning

"...this meant that they needed to be exposed to the purpose for their learning goals and strategies and have clear success criteria explained prior to the task to allow them to monitor their progress and reflect on their achievement. Crucial to this is the importance of quality feedback to provide direction and support to students throughout their learning journey." (Vinetta Mitrevski - Monmia Primary School - Victoria)

Our teachers and students have been on the journey of being more 'explicit, intentional and visible' with regard to learning intentions and success criteria. Traditionally, the focus of feedback to students about their learning has been based on assessment outcomes. This has translated then to the Semester Report Cards or parent-teacher meetings; this is but one of the pieces of the story of the learning journey. It would be like reading the end of a good story without knowing the details of the story-line; quite limiting.
Teachers at St Joseph's are on the journey of gradually making the shift to gaining and giving feedback from and to students within the lessons, along the pathway of learning. We are in early days of this and believe that it is an imperative part of engagement and improvement in learning.

As outlined by Hattie, Masters & Birch (2016) the guiding principles around feedback are:

All stakeholders understand that the purpose of feedback is to:

  • close the gap in learning; and
  • improve student progress and achievement
Students understand that;
  • everybody can give and receive feedback
  • feedback can be used to do things even better - for improvement
  • assessment/test scores are feedback to the students and teacher; and
  • students should seek feedback
  • incorporate and strategically plan for feedback in every session
  • know about and apply the different levels of feedback; and
  • build a culture of feedback into every classroom
  • understand that feedback can be given by anyone
I would add here that parents would understand their role in supporting their child in taking that feedback and applying it to improve their learning. That is what the student led learning conferences are about! At the conferences, parents will have the opportunity to be a part of the conversation of feedback and to assist their child by knowing how to support them for the remainder of this year. 

At the upcoming conferences I would encourage parents to 
  • listen
  • affirm and celebrate
  • ask "how can I support you (my child) to achieve your learning goal/s (where to from here?)
What do parents hope to gain from listening to their child articulate their learning?

Friday, August 12, 2016

It Isn't Just About the Answer...

"We are at a critical point where rapid change is forcing us to look not just to new ways of solving problems but to new problems to solve.” 
Tim Brown, President and CEO, IDEO

At the Cairns Curriculum Conference this weekend, I learned from listening to Dr Michael Henderson of Monash University about 'design-led learning'. Where traditional forms of education and learning have focused very heavily on the end result; albeit a test score, report card grading, outcome of an experiment, I understand 'design-led learning' to be far deeper.

Dr Henderson used the example of the creation of the light bulb by Edison. So the urban myth goes, when Edison was asked by a reporter "How did it feel to fail 1000 times?" he replied "I didn't fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention that took 1000 steps"  The light bulb was the tangible product but the process was where the learning occurred and this learning has then been applied to other inventions.

It isn't the end result, but the process of learning which has led a learner to the result that is most powerful and important. It isn't about the answer, but instead about how one comes to the answer.

"Our task is to build creative confidence - become playful in our designs - looking for understandings rather than solutions." (Henderson, 2016)

Our children, therefore need to develop their own dispositions for learning including a growth mindset, resilience, cooperation, confidence, persistence, problem solving and reflection so that they can then take the necessary risks in their learning. For this to occur, they need to both be trusted and to trust.

Technology enables this to occur in ways we didn't have in the past as students can create, collaborate, cooperate and communicate at high levels. It isn't the device, but what the device enables our children to 'do' as part of the process of learning that is important.

Innovative learning spaces (the third teacher) give the agency and flexibility for this to occur in highly accountable ways. Being stuck behind a desk in rows all day can be limiting and stifle the learning process and impact on the well being of students.

This is a change in mindset and paradigms for us adults who have grown up and been educated in a very different world, where compliance and the end result was the focus. Often it is the adults who have the issues with this type of thinking and not the children; to them they know nothing different and so have capacity to soar.

What are your thoughts? Like Edison did often, how often do you fail and what do you learn when you do?

Failing is the First Attempt In Learning!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Parent Networking - It's all about relationships right?

As the saying goes, "it takes a village to raise a child" and at St Joseph's it's no different. Parenting is one of the most rewarding and at times challenging roles we will ever have in life and we can't do it well in isolation nor alone. 

In Catholic schools, we are called by God into 'communion' with one another; we are called to be an authentic community of faith. Our school is a part of wider networks of communities within Cairns right through to our global community.

Parents consciously choose a particular school for a variety of reasons and what I consistently hear at enrolment interviews for St Joseph's is that they have heard about our ' wonderful community'.

Staff and parents then, form community with the children at the centre. Regardless of our differences, we all have the well being and learning of our children at the heart of everything we do. Agree?

How do we then create a positive and student focused community? It's all about relationships right?

Why is it that we get such a positive level of attendance at parent social events (such as the dad's golf day and mother's evening) and how do occasions such as this enhance relationships? What are the benefits of such gatherings?

While directed at P&F and School Boards, this vignette entitled 'Getting relationships right' raises some important points about relationships and community.  

I invite parents to respond with comments in response to the questions mentioned above or to raise other questions. (click the comment button at the bottom)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Future Proofing our Student Learners

I am the father of three children and my wife and I often wonder what each of them are going to do in the future for their work. Each of them are quite different in their interests, talents and personalities as well as academic performance. How will we guide them to discover the best path to take in order for them to be living purposeful lives, being self sufficient and making a difference to the world?
I grew up in a small rural community. At this time, the workforce looked quite different to what it does today and there were only 3 options presented to the majority of young people there - to work on the family farm (if you were male), to get a trade or go to university. In each of these cases, the likelihood of work was much higher than it is today. It was not uncommon for young people to drop out of school after receiving their 'Junior Certificate' to take up work, mainly unskilled labour which didn't require formal qualifications. University graduates back then had quite high chances of being employed in a chosen profession or career. This is not the case now!
As this episode of Four Corners will show, the automation of much of the workforce means that there will be even less jobs for blue collar workers (as has been the case for some time) and with the advances in technology, less jobs for white collar workers. On the flip side, they also point out that despite automation and technology, there have never before been as many jobs in Australia , but the types of jobs have changed and even more importantly, so have the required skill set of workers.

This has direct impact on schooling; on what schools teach, how they teach it and in what types of environments.

Four Corners 'Future Proof' 

I invite you to view the episode of Four Corners and comment.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Viewing Learning with a Growth Mindset

Learning is a journey which all human beings are on from birth to death. All human beings have developed at their own rates and in different ways. Remaining engaged and motivated to learn and to keep learning is the key. How does modern schooling cater for this? How do we provide the necessary learning environments to support this?

Professor Carol Dweck proposes that we need to develop growth mindsets to achieve this. This requires “Rewarding the ‘yet’ and not the ‘now’…” She proposes

·       praising the learners engagement in the process,

·       providing feedback on effort

·       focusing on strategies and ways of learning,

 She says that this will create perseverance, endurance, and result in short and long term progress.  She also claims that this results in hardy and resilient people. She supports the notion of rewarding Yet instead of Now (the end result)

Professor Dweck has cited research which shows that this develops confidence and a path into the future for children. She cites neuroscience research showing that when we are out of comfort zones, neurons are formed and new and stronger connections are developed, resulting in greater intelligence.

When a Growth mindset is employed in a learning environment, equality happens. When effort in learning is required and difficulties overcome, neurons are developed making newer and stronger connections.         

For this full TED talk, visit The Power of Believing You Can Improve at this link:  Prof Carol Dweck - Growth Mindset

When you receive your child’s report card, I encourage parents to view this through the lens of a growth mindset… rewarding the ‘yet’.

I encourage parents to think of the last time they learned something and didn't quite get it the first time. Did you give up? Did you try it again or in a different way? Was your thinking "I haven't got it YET?"

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Parents do the most important 'HOME - work' of all;

Education starts at birth and ends at our death; we are always on a journey of discovery and learning. Formal schooling is an important part of this journey but is only one rather small part of the big picture. Parents have a pivotal role to play in educating their children! For this week's blog I pose a question to parents and invite reply...

"In what ways to parents provide the most valuable 'home' - work for a child?"

Speaking as a parent now, I know that my children learn much about life through the example that my wife and I set for them. These values and 'ways' we have caught from our own families of origin as well as from those we have met along the journey of our lives. 
There are many old and wise sayings which we hear ourselves saying such as 'it isn't what you say but how you say it that counts' ' Two wrongs don't make a right', 'treat others as you would like to be treated yourself' etc.
Which wise sayings do you hear yourself saying in your family?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Why the Industrial Model of Schooling is No Longer Relevant

"The impetus to change. School's have to update their thinking and become adaptive and flexible in their learning and student centredness."

Our staff continues the journey of learning and this past week, we gathered to look at why the current system of schooling is broken and what we need to consider to fix it. This is by no means saying that everything we have done or are doing is wrong or bad, but instead we need to ask ourselves 'is it preparing our students for the real world both now and in the future?' and not basing it on our experiences at school. Things need to change to be relevant and meaningful.

This clip describes the reality of the world and what our students need. It challenges us to see beyond our own experiences to look to the future of schooling.

 Learning to Change - Changing to Learn

At St Joseph's we have been exploring what learning is and what it needs to become. We have interviewed students about what they think learning is and conducted surveys with teachers about their engagement as passionate and inspired educators. We have also begun to look more closely at data and mapping learning growth of students. In essence, we are taking deliberate and carefully considered steps to better meet the needs of modern learners.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

St Joseph's Teachers as Learners

I was pleased to receive feedback from a visiting 'teacher coach' today about the openness that our teachers have displayed to learning new ways of teaching which bring about improved outcomes for our students. As life long learners themselves, our teachers are called to always be researching and finding ways to ignite a love of learning in our students.  

Last week, our teachers began the journey of learning about the reasons our education system and teaching methods need revision in order to become more relevant, engaging and purposeful for learners now and in the future. When we understand and accept the ever-changing modern world and what it demands of us all, we can then begin to better provide the necessary knowledge and skills for success. 

"Young job-seekers not getting 'enterprise' skills employers are looking for, analysis shows" was the headline recently on the ABC news. They point out in their article that a large analysis of jobs data shows young Australians are not developing the enterprise skills employers are looking for.

The Key Points from the article were:

This has a direct impact on what we focus on and what we prioritise in education. At St Joseph's we have as our priority English, Maths, Religious Education and Social and Emotional Learning with learning in other disciplines drawing from these. 

We have a duty to ensure strong literacy and numeracy skills so that the digital , thinking and enterprise skills can be better accessed by our students as they develop. For more information about the need for change I invite parents to view this vignette.  

Futures learning   

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Welcome parents to a meeting place of learning together as we continue on our journey of co-creating our great school with the aim of optimal outcomes and well being for our children..

Dear Parents
Many people use blogs to share ideas about topics of interest and travels. They are an online conversation, informal in nature and which are updated regularly. I have begun this blog about learning at St Joseph's, to engage parents in a conversation about our directions and initiatives. Parents will be able to comment and ask questions about what I write which are public and collaborative in nature.

This blog is not a place to raise personal concerns or issues; parents are asked to make an appointment to speak to school staff in this instance.

I hope you enjoy reading and welcome your comments and questions.
Gavin Rick - Principal 

What is Learning in a Modern Context?

As life-long learners in our respective roles of professional educators and parents (first educators), we all have many questions about how to ignite and activate learning for our children. Learning needs to be relevant, functional and interesting to our children and it should unlock their desire for further learning.

Learning has changed dramatically from when we were at school as our world has and will continue to change. Research has revealed to us so much about the functioning of the brain and the conditions for optimal learning for all students. This has resulted in the 'one size fits all approach' of previous education models and schools becoming irrelevant and disengaging for our students. The 50's style of classrooms where each child had a desk, sat in rows all day and the teacher lectured from the front of the room are well and truly gone. Learning in these conditions is no longer considered best practice.

With technology as the accelerator, learning needs to be personalised and process driven so that our students have the skills to effectively acquire, create, collaborate and share like they have never before. Teachers need to be asking deep and rich questions which create curiosity for learning. In turn, students then ask questions and become more in the driver seat. Educational writer and researcher Michael Fullan (2016) suggests about learning, "... partnerships that engage students in co-designing authentic relevant learning, learning environments that foster risk taking and 24/7 connections, and leveraging digital so it accelerates learning."

With the internet, students can access information anywhere at any time, thus reducing the focus of schools on content and instead increasing it on the learning processes and digital literacy. As educational scholar Will Richardson (2015) states, "technology isn't the answer but it is a large part of it".

More than ever, healthy relationships are essential in the learning process. Relationships learners have with themselves, each other, their teachers, their families and with God are an essential ingredient to personal and communal success in the modern world. Students will engage with people before they engage with a subject and this includes both parents and teachers. Our Social & Emotional Learning initiatives and Faith life aspect of our school are but two areas which support this.

I hope that this short introductory piece generates some excitement and engagement of parents in our directions for learning at St Joseph's. I invite comments and further questions.