PD that works – A Personal Project Approach

A innovation which has taken place at my current school was commenced last year. It was decided that we would have a greater focus on allowing staff to use allocated PD days to pursue their own passions and needs rather than keep the one PD for all approach. This became a project for each staff member. From personal experience it has resulted in a significant change in my teaching practice and understanding of how we should cater for students with higher abilities. In the end, my professional learning combined a number of approaches, as outlined below, which it would have been difficult to without the flexibility allowed by the school.

Planning

The first post is to have an understanding of what I wanted to learn about. From the schools point of view it was necessary to have an accountability framework but for the teachers it is a great way to look at what their personal learning needs were, think about what strategic focus the school had and also to consider the needs of the students they teach. This was the starting point for everyone on staff.

Reading and Reflection

Searching out books and readings about the topic gave me some background and also helped me to know what it was that I needed to learn about. We had a couple of staff meetings set aside for this and rather than working in my office I chose to go into another part of the school to ensure that I wasn’t interrupted.

The reflection was an important part of this process. This is the opportunity to fine tune the learning I want to pursue and think about how I might like to achieve that.

School Visits

One of our regular PD days were set aside for staff to work on their personal PD focus and I used this opportunity to visit a school to have a professional conversation with another school leader and see first hand what another site of learning might be doing. I was there with two other staff from the school which was really the highlight as we had time in the afternoon to discuss our observations and give feedback to each other with our projects. This in turn lead me to engage in some more reflection about my project and a further clarification about where my project was going to head.

Multi-day PD Workshops

The workshop style PD I have attended has involved multiple days with interim tasks to try out and develop. It has also allowed reflection, collaboration and discussion. It has been about something passionately want to learn about. This is what I fortunately able to undertake, a 6 module course which involved all these things. I have attended other multi day PDs which haven’t had the same impact but the fact that it tied in with my project was the catalyst for its success.

Implementing things with students

The long term nature of this approach to PD allowed me to implement a number of different strategies with the student. Having the ongoing PD workshops and the free staff meeting times allowed me to evaluate how these went with the students and consider the improvements I needed to make. A key part of the process is also to get feedback from the students. Working with smaller groups allowed me to get this verbally; however, written feedback would be another way to get a response form the students.

Staff Presentation

This can be seen as an accountability tool but it is also the most valuable part of the process. It served two main purposes for me:

  1. It gave me a clear purpose for my learning
  2. It brought the learning to a new audience

I have had a number of opportunities to share what I have learnt and each time I refine it for my audience, and at the same time new learning gets synthesized into the presentation. If you wish to see the result of my learning journey, look here.

Introducing Change in Technology

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Being given the opportunity to change the direction we take with the technology we use in the classroom has come with it the opportunity to evaluate how we used technology in the past and how we can better use it in the future. As with all change, it is important to consider collaboratively why we are changing and to outline the vision of what we want to achieve.

After having a mix of iPads and laptops in the school, we are replacing all the laptops with iPads based on the action research of a group of teachers. This is my attempt at giving form to how we implement new technology devices:

Junior School iPad Program.

The purpose of this document is that it is brief, but at the same time, captures the rationale for what we are trying to do. I also want to ensure it could be applied to any change of technology we happen to go through. Do you have any feedback for me? Please comment.

Google Docs In Class

GoogleDocsSomething that freaked some of my Yr 4 students out recently was the use of Google Docs with my iPad and the class interactive whiteboard.

We don’t have Apple TV in classes yet (working on that!) Our work laptops have docks and it is a bit tricky to run a class/large group discussion on the IWB. My handwriting looks atrocious because the projector doesn’t quite line up consistently. Character recognition on SmartBoard works well but the process of using it to change written text to typed text is cumbersome and disrupts the flow of discussion.

I had an ah-ha moment where I decided to set up a document on Google Docs to hyperlink in a Smart Notebook slide. Once I have it on the IWB, I open the same document on my iPad (using the Google Doc app) and as we have a discussion I (or a student) can type the discussion points on the iPad ‘et voila’ it appears on the white board.

The Yr 4 group I teach is the kind of active group who struggle to maintain any length of concentration so this helps to just keep the discussion flowing quicker and gives them something to watch on the screen. It certainly catches their attention!

It has proven to be a good tool to use in staff meetings (again no Apple TV yet) where I can type up discussion points and people can see it in real time, make suggestions and point out corrections.

What next? It would be great to enable the students to access Google Docs and use it as a collaborative tool on the student laptops and iPads. And then…go global!

Identification of Gifted and Talented

This post is part 2 of the outline of my study into catering for students with higher abilities. Although my focus has been on differentiation within the inclusive classroom, it has become obvious that I need to consider the Australian Curriculum and what it states about the importance of student diversity. In light of this, I am also considering the means of providing appropriate programs for these students, and as the title suggests, a process of identification of students.

The Melbourne Declaration on Education in 2008 stated that:

Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence.

Goal 2: All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens.

It is from this that the Australian Curriculum makes comment about Student Diversity.

Gifted and talented students are entitled to rigorous, relevant and engaging learning opportunities drawn from the Australian Curriculum and aligned with their individual learning needs, strengths, interests and goals.

I have come to the conclusion that whilst a differentiated classroom will go some way to helping many of these students, there are some students for whom it is necessary to work individually with. A program which blends support for teachers in providing a differentiated classroom and developing individualised, ‘relevant and engaging’ learning programs for the students is an important part of a school’s provision of a broad education.

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Gathering valid information is important in the process of identifying students who are gifted and talented as opposed to the compliant and hard-working students who get everything done to quality standard. Parents are an important and oft-ignored source of information. It can be easy to dismiss parents as being overly self-promoting but parents do know their children very well because they are constantly comparing their child with others they see. Another step is consulting with teachers by using a checklist. This can be analysed to determine the level of giftedness as observed in the classroom. Students are also a useful point of reference. They can give feedback about others in the class and nominate students for programs, or they can self-nominate. The final mine of information comes from the objective assessments that can be undertaken by students. They are not necessarily definitive but provide an objective guide which can be useful in fine-tuning the identification process and they are also a good starting point in narrowing down the specific areas of giftedness of students.

The Association of Independent Schools in South Australia have a number of useful and important resources to assist schools with the provision of a relevant curriculum for these students.

You can access a free learning module online from the University of NSW through GERRIC. The module booklet also includes identification resources and a comprehensive list of testing tools.

Not all gifted students perform well in the school system – ‘Gifted and Talented Education Module 2’ (Caroline Merrick & Ruth Targett)

Link

As part of the development of our professional knowledge, our college staff have been granted a day to work on our research project. This is our second full day, along with the staff meetings we have been given to work on our own research. This is a summary of some reading I have undertaken.

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Reading – Chapter 12 ‘Differentiated Instruction’

My major question is, how can differentiation be developed and supported with a school staff to enable students of higher ability to continue to flourish? This has come about because of the developing focus on reducing external classes for gifted and talented students, both through staffing and financial pressures, as well as encouragement that it is actually a preferable way to operate with students identified in this way (in schools taking on the IB PYP I have observed this to be the case).

What Tomlinson has to say in this chapter is that differentiation is “…the adaptations in content, process, product, affect and learning environment in response to student readiness … interests and learning profile … to ensure appropriate challenge and support for the full range of learners in the classroom.”

What the research appears to show is that even short-term differentiation has a positive impact on reading achievement (a Columbia study is cited) across ability levels compared to non-differentiated classrooms. However, Tomlinson states that there is little research which shows how differentiated classroom instruction compares with extension and gifted programs in student achievement. It is probably a given that unless there is a financial will, withdrawal programs for students of higher ability will be an exception rather that a rule.

Students who are ‘ready’ to progress further in their learning may already have the prior knowledge and understandings in relation to the learning intention of the class, or may develop that readiness during the learning time.

Interest based differentiation is the promotion of their own development of questions which are intrinsically motivating for them. For those students with a narrow focus of interest (for example with just football or Minecraft) it is to provide contextual interest such as applying to real life, novelty or connection with past experiences.

The learning profile can include student preferences of learning style or intelligence, gender (although the research tends not to support positive impact for this conclusively) or cultural impacts. It is the innate or external environmental drivers of learning for the student.

Differentiation should be pre-planned and intentional and this is where the difference can be made in schools. Leadership is the main agent to support any change required in teacher practice. There is much that education researchers such as Fullan, Hargreaves and Starratt, among many others, say about fostering long term, positive change in schools. The question leaders should be asking is

What is the actual practice of differentiation in the school? If there is no differentiation, why? Is it because it is not needed, or that staff are not sure how?

Links research by Tomlinson and others:

Differentiating Instruction in response to Student Readiness, Interest, and Learning Profile in Academically Diverse Classrooms

Differentiation of Instruction in Elementary Grades

Influential Grandparents

After witnessing another great day with grandparents visiting our school, I was struck by the hum of positive activity around the school. Particularly striking were the number of difficult to engage students engrossed in the variety of activities. There are often other times when I get the same sense of active learning but it begs the question, what was special about today?

Out of the various possibilities, it was time to pause and consider the impact of the grandparents’ presence and time with the students. Having a respected and loved family member guiding and encouraging them certainly had a very powerful impact on the students’ engagement. Is there potential for more involvement of the grandparents of our children in school life? It is possible but a lot of things would need to be put I place to enable it to happen. It would be great to experience more of the positive humming.

Hearing a teacher say to a grandparent, “You should come in every day!”, could be a reality perhaps.