One of the criteria within the visible learning framework is that teachers are inspired and passionate. A by-product of this is students who are able to speak with passion and power about their deep learning; what they know and how they learned it, what was tricky and how they overcame difficulties. They exhibit the dispositions of good learners and rise to the challenge of confidently delivering an informed message to their audience. At Opaheke School we are on a journey to have learners who are self-regulating, set goals, monitor their own progress, and reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement. These skills are important to us because these are the skills that will help our students to be life-long learners.
Starting the Journey
We needed to build a shared picture of what it would look like and map out a plan to move forward. We began by establishing a shared understanding with our students, staff, and community last year. We visited schools, we were motivated by what we saw and heard. We looked at video clips of how students talked about their learning, what they did when they got stuck, and how they talked about their thinking. We shared these with students in the senior school. We planted a seed.
At the start of this year we shared our vision about multiple SLCs with Year 4-8 teachers and asked them to identify what support they would need to get this off the ground. We defined the purpose, described the role of teachers, parents and students and created a list of helpful questions. We shared this information on our school website and informed parents through newsletters. Teachers worked collaboratively to identify what would be included in the SLC, creating exemplars for staff to use with their students. We created a video of what the multiple conferences would look like. Teachers modelled SLCs with, and then students practised with one another.
Students who needed a scaffold to begin with were able to use exemplars or scripts to help the flow of their learning conversations. These then evolved into student and parent prompts (open-ended questions) to help keep SLC conversations moving smoothly.
Developing the technology
With a little bit of SharePoint magic and the help of a team we set up student learning journal blogs. The blog template in SharePoint allowed us to do everything we needed in a simple and intuitive way. Categories helped us tag and sort entries, include images, embed video and presentations. Our students’ learning journal blogs will record snapshots of learning throughout their time at Opaheke.
As this was new for many staff we provided some specific professional learning around the implementation of blogs into classrooms. Using MS forms we sent out a short survey asking about current skill levels and the types of support required, to enable the use digital technology to be successful. Once the survey was complete we allocated weeks to deliver support.
Some teachers opted for all of this and some attended just the aspects they specifically needed. Rather than keep pouring PLD we wanted teachers to share in the control of the PLD so that it was useful to them.
Listening to our staff and families
We catered for students leaving their device in school and taking it home after the conference and we distributed laptops to each classroom where needed. As for learning blogs taking over, they didn’t! Students used their blog effectively as a scaffold. They were simply a scaffold. The thinking was there, the reflection was there, now we focused on the sharing.
Student-led conferences are not the only time our students are invited to talk about their learning. Through everyday lesson teachers provided opportunities for students to articulate their learning process, strategies, strengths, challenges, and how they work to meet learning targets. Our students are becoming increasingly used to sharing the story of their learning journey with visitors that come into school as part of our Microsoft Showcase School journey. Empowering our students to do this leads to deeper learning.
Key to making this successful was listening to the concerns raised by some staff and some parents and then gathering feedback once the event was over. The number one shared concern was that parents and teachers would not get time to talk to each other.
There was also a concern that the younger students particularly wouldn’t be able to share their learning process and give a true or clear picture of where they are in their learning, but because we expect our students to reflect and self-evaluate so often, we are helping them develop these conversations.
Some teachers were afraid the technology would get in the way, or there wouldn’t be enough devices for students to access if there were other families in the room, and some thought that the learning blogs would be the only or main focus to the detriment of other aspects.