Archives for posts with tag: key competencies

As I progress through the teaching year of 2013 at Opotiki College I am developing a strong, student focussed, personal teaching philosophy.  I have become ‘tuned in’  to the learning needs of my students so much so, that I now view this perspective as the critical disposition for effective learning and planning.  To base my teaching on the assumptions and expectations about the learning needs of my students is simply wrong and that explains my title “The tail that wags the dog”.  This is a reference to how we as teachers, educators and ministry agents, often dictate the learning methods, content and reporting mode of topics to our students.   We all too often set about teaching  assessment-driven or prescriptive tasks in an effort to gain performance and achievement criteria that neatly tick off standards for the satisfaction of the technocratic predators that we think watch, wait,  measure and judge.  (This is another blog….I don’t believe that these guys even exist in big numbers now).P1010398

If the students in our school are important then lets call them the dog in this metaphor.  This then allows the educational process and the function of learning to be aptly labelled as the tail.  How often does the school, the teacher, the national assessment machine and even parents dictate how, what, why and when our students learn?   We place on them foreign expectations and set standards that often have no relationship or bearing on the realities of life.  We sometimes, unwittingly,  place pens in the hands of the finger-less, books in front of the blind and speak in the ‘Queens English’ to those who don’t understand and say “perform like everyone else”.  When they do well, we pat ourselves on the back and say “I am a great teacher”.  When they don’t do so well we ‘deficit theorise’ or manipulate the statistics so things don’t look so bad.  Isn’t it about time we collaborated with our learners to form effective , meaningful and authentic learning processes and outcomes?  Outcomes that mean something and enable our students to flourish in the many contexts of the 21st Century.

My year 12 class are working very well this term.  They are writing about their most important food memory/experience which we will publish online, to produce a hard copy book simply called ‘Plenty’.  This work will help me assess  AS91302, Evaluate Sustainable Food Practices but so far I haven’t even mentioned this standard to them.  This work will also be assessed in their English class as well, allowing them to gain 12 credits overall.  Don’t get me wrong the standard will feature at some point for a little while.  I am working closely with their English teachers who are also assisting these students to write about their food experiences and establish some of the many  features of writing into their work.  These students are so engrossed in this that when I set a practical cooking task for them to do, which they normally love, at least ten of the twenty students chose to continue on with their writing.  One student took it upon himself to coach another, who was having difficulty with his story and spent a full block of 100 minutes sounding very much like a teacher.  “What did you feel, see, smell, hear…?” I heard him say several times.  The next step for them is to provide a recipe inspired by their food experience, which we will individually cook and refine and also take a high quality photograph to use in the book.  Did I mention that there are four photography students in this class as well as eight media students.  Let’s see, that makes a possible 16 -18 credits possible for some.  ‘Oh yes’ and let’s not forget the three music students who will also use music to report on this using their own compositions as a reporting tool.   Am I excited about all of this?  Hell yeah!

We have had a quick look at the student roles in this so now let’s have a closer look at the teacher role, my role.  Like me, students get really bored, really quickly if there is nothing in it for them.  I showed them a copy of a well-made online book that was about a 40th birthday party.  They were very interested in this otherwise boring event, why?   Quite simply it was similar to but slightly more difficult than editing a Facebook page.  It used technological tools and was based online.  It resulted in a high quality product.  It was interactive and allowed the student to have a certain creative control and it most importantly it was centered around and about an individual that they all knew.  In other words it had a familiar appeal for many reasons.  My role is simply to assist the students with their pathways and the best way to do this is to say “yes” as much as possible. Once the exciting initiating activity has been delivered my role is to stand back and not get in the way of the learning and act as a guide, rather than be the authority. In fact the more I teach the less I see myself as an authority and  I have also become the tail of the dog, wagging back and forth,  as I set about delivering the learning demands of my students.

To function this way requires a lot of faith and the relinquishing of the control that some teachers have engrained in their default mode. A familiar saying tells that we won’t  be able to teach an old dog new tricks but that is probably because we have always tried to tell the dog what to do.  Now more than ever we need to ensure that we build a learning disposition into our students to face our rapidly changing future.

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I got really excited last year when our school was able to totally revamp our old cooking room.  The old room was probably built in the 1960’s and featured a small flat unit and kitchenette where girls (the primary focus of home economics) could practice being excellent housewives.  I shudder in my shoes at this thought.  The little area set up for this role play was probably an innovation designed to meet the requirements of the day, where young woman were sculpted to become housewives, secretaries, retail assistants and many other roles that were acceptable for girls to study.  The boys were allowed to perform manual assembly tasks in woodwork and metal work as they were prepared for jobs in our assembly, manufacturing and primary industries.  No one was really required to develop thinking skills because the roles did not require employees to think but to simply perform as required.  These gender and educational issues are another whole set of blogs.

When my cooking room was being re-vamped my classes and I were banished to a small area set up as a classroom at the side of the school hall.  While this space was not ideal we set about learning as normal.

  •  My year tens over-ran a workshop as they set about designing and making Kahawai lures.  The success criteria to, catch a Kahawai on your own home-made lure, was driving their work.  Competition and interest was high students set about researching designs, sourcing materials, filing, cutting, crimping and finishing their lures in anticipation of the big trip to the Motu River where the Kahawai run (spawn) in the thousands.
  • my year elevens continued building and developing their community garden and worm farm  as a part of a their learning based on the subject of sustainability.  One glance out of the window at times would reveal three classes sometimes engrossed in this activity.  The construction course we’re overseeing my food students and helping them build, while s junior mathematics class spent quite some time checking measurements  and using their new found skills to assist. 
  • My year thirteen students became fascinated with aspects of our new supermarket being built up the road and this fascination included the employment opportunities that were on offer.  Suddenly for this group the knowledge that we had acquired over the previous few years became all important as they jostled for employment positions in this new market.
  • Only my year twelve class were to ever work in the new classroom area.  The hall kitchen had recently been  revamped and as we cooked a few dishes in this kitchen the idea developed that we could run a small cafe to deliver food and beverage to a major art and crafts show that was soon to feature.  They set about practicing their cooking, designing menus, costing food items and developing systems that would help them to cater for the 5000 people that were soon to attend the show.

To cut a long story short in term four of 2012 we finally gained access to our new room.  Of course I was unbelievably proud of our new room and set about displaying photos and making comments to anyone who would listen.  Interest was high, the local news paper came and took photos for an article and many people came and shared our excitement.  In the midst of all the excitement I posted a comment on social media with a photo of our flash new room.  I remember quite clearly my utter disappointment when my school principal posted a comment “Ho Hum”.  I was gutted!  My bubble had been burst and I was reduced to a quivering heap as I sat sulking and disillusioned.  What had he mean’t by this cutting and insensitive comment?  Did he think I was a show-off and not appreciate my enthusiasm and excitement?  

It took some time for me to approach him and ask him “what were you thinking when you said Ho Hum?”  He simply said to me “there’s hundreds of great cooking rooms all over the country and yours just happens to be a new one”, and he left it at that.  It wasn’t until several weeks later, when he made another comment, that I ‘got it’.  

His comment was a compliment (I think) in that when my students and I were confronted with the issue of not having a classroom in which to base our work, that we had carried on as if nothing was amiss.  No complaints from the student, their parents, the teacher or other teachers.  We simply carried on with our learning.

  • All but one year ten student caught a Kahawai on a home-made lure.
  • The garden fence and worm farm were completed and continue to be developed in 2013.  This work also empowered the academic achievement of these students.
  • Many of my year thirteen students are now employed by the local supermarket and most used the new market as a source of research to be used in their academic achievement.
  • My year eleven students turned over $3600 in their cafe and used these funds to cater for a very special need later in the year.

Ok, so what have I learn’t through all of this?  I have learned….

  • that a classroom is not necessarily the center of learning.  It is one of many learning environments.
  • that the acquisition of a modern classroom or in fact any modern learning environment does not guarantee that effective learning outcomes are being delivered.
  • that flexibility to encompass student perspectives and interests along  with the provision of authentic opportunity is the key to student engagement, and this is less likely to occur within the classroom setting.  These ‘other’ environments and authentic contexts ensure that there is meaning by applying learning to a high-interest activity and this also supports academic rigor.
  • that any classroom can easily, and is likely to allow a teacher to fall into a traditional or default teaching mode, where the teacher resorts to their experience as a student or teacher and becomes ineffective in the modern context.  By this I look at the outcomes set in the NZ Curriculum document and make an assumption that that traditional methods cannot effectively deliver these outcomes of

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So yes, “Ho Hum”.  A classroom is like any other tool you can use it to be effective or you can use it to be ineffective.  A flash, new, modern, star-of-the-art classroom is pointless unless I use it well.  They are not the key to great learning.