Co-constructing Lessons – Giving Students Ownership of their Learning – Lessons from South Australia Leading Learning

Co-constructing lessons is a movement towards giving students ownership of their learning

Last week I delivered a session  for NASSSA and  3P Learning  to support  South Australia in their ground-breaking work on increasing the engagement of learners. We were focussing on  Science through Three Act Science and also on co-construction – using the students as stakeholders in devising activities in the classroom. This can be contentious, with some teachers arguing that students dont have the in depth understanding of pedagogy to be able to separate education from entertainment. Others arguing that we have a duty to include students in the process.

Rather than seeing the student as a consumer ( and how many of our students see education as something that is done to them? ) we could view them as a stakeholder, a central part of the process. Consumers are often forgotten about as soon as a transaction is complete, but stakeholders continue to take an interest and everyone benefits in the short and particularly the long term. Co-constructing lessons is a powerful step in developing the student as a stakeholder.

South Australia are as far as I know the only education authority to put this model at the very heart of its education philosophy. They have produced a Leading Learning resources here which is an extremely comprehensive and impressive collection that support the whole student centred ethos

intent

An animation showing the ideas is here

Professor Martin Westwell from Flinders University explains the intent of the program

Training

The first day I delivered training at the genuinely revolutionary Australian Science and  Mathematics School attached to Flinders University – Website here . This to me is what education should look like. Open plan areas, team teaching and self regulating motivated learners.  I was reminded of the Liverpool Life Sciences UTC here with a very similar open and challenging ethos. The enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers there made me feel that the future of South Australian education is in good hands. Thank you to them for making me so welcome and engaging so well in the activities.

If anyone is interested in the behaviour aspects I talked about there is a  blog here outlining my ‘beyond compliance’ approach

For the essence of motivation see the RSA animate by Dan Pink below

The second day I  led was one  of teachers and students sitting together and working on the ideas  to find a way of delivering the curriculum that meets everyones needs. Co-constructing lessons has quite a high time and risk factor. I was slightly concerned at what might happen, would the teachers dominate?  would the students rebel and have a go at the teachers?

I needn’t have worried. At the start of the day some of the teachers were simply directing in the expectations of their roles. I put in some origami and problem solving activities that levelled the playing field (the origami allowed a couple of quiet girls to excel and to assist the teachers and that broke some barriers) as the day went on the teachers moved from dominating to listening and valuing. The first step towards genuine co-construction and partnerships.

Structure of the Day

The day was the middle one of three with the aim of introducing, creating and evaluation across the three days in order to start to embed co-construction.

Fail!!! 

I started the day with the idea of what failure means . As far as I am concerned scientists never fail, they simply learn  (unless they die or fail to learn )

tumblr_me7m8cH12P1qfiu0po1_500

Growth Mindset is hugely important . See the work of Carol Dweck

The idea of engagement linked to disposition and more  is outlined by Dr Chris Goldspink here

A great poster to put in every classroom is this one. Every piece of work should really be seen as a draft

Fail-First-Attempt-In-Learning

As I was working with science teachers the next phase was to discuss what an outstanding learner in science looks like. Every student I have ever asked has said the same . Gets top marks , answers all the questions, does their homework, well behaved. None of the students I have asked thought they could be outstanding , nor did they particularly want to be one with that definition. I tasked the teachers and students to come up with four points that had to fulfil the criteria that everyone could be that and that it was desirable  to be that.

An example of some of the ideas are

  • Someone who asks questions
  • Is resilient in the face of difficulty
  • Creative and prepared to try things out
  • Prepared to listen to others and respect their views

Ideally print them out and stick them as posters on the wall

We then went through the elements of thinking using the work of Daniel Kahneman outlined in this blog

and why we are reluctant to think. Learning only takes place when

Questioning was considered with first the teachers and then the students (I gave them the option and they rose to the challenge ) leading a pose pause pounce bounce session outlined by Dylan Wiliam here

and why this is a far more effective  technique – turning table tennis a mainly spectator activity into basketball where everyone is involved,with nowhere for students to hide and the teacher able to fully differentiate. The value further increases if socratic questioning is used . This page is taken from the Leading Learning Resource

Socratic Questioning Click the link for the pdf

Divergent Thinking 

In their study Break Point and Beyond,  Land and Jarman found that divergent thinking – the ability to find creative solutions to problems diminished rapidly as the students aged – Possibly due to us teaching that there is only one real answer?  We need to find questions that google cannot answer and that don’t limit creative solutions . So

“How many ways can you think of to make a teabag fly ?”

Give several minutes to do this with teachers and students working together. Older people tend to suffer fixation – when we have a solution in our minds we struggle to see others. Remember when you have a word to answer a crossword puzzle that doesn’t quite fit, how hard is it to get that word out of your head?

Younger students dont have this fixation problem and we need to find ways to keep them practicing

Then we turned the attention to Three Act Science – outlined in several posts I have written here  and looking at hooks and how we can turn them into rich learning experiences in Act 2

The Prezi I used on both days is here

The 3 act approach ties in with the Leading Learning  Bringing it to Life – BitL Tool you can find here  or download it from the App store  here

A very impressive and groundbreaking tool is the Science Misconception Tool  available at the bottom of this page  here

misc 2

misc 4

 

Activities throughout the day involved looking at creating solar stills from paper and plastic bags to collect water,  This can be found in my Teaching Heat Transfer blog here 

We fired fruit and vegetables in a wild sling having predicted which would go furthest  – predictions are needed – see Confusion vs Clarity blog here

Wild Sling

Wild Sling

Wrapping up – Was a very enjoyable and productive day. Co-constructing is not a simple thing to implement – there are a lot of barriers but certainly from what I saw in South Australia there is a real possibility of change toward

 

Some other research

Professor David Hargreaves writing in A New Shape for Schooling articulated a description of the learner who would be the ideal outcome of personalisation, that is, in a school where personalising learning is embedded.

The learner when personalisation is well developed: an articulate, autonomous but collaborative learner, with high meta-cognitive control and the generic skills of learning, gained through engaging educational experiences with enriched opportunities and challenges, and supported by various people, materials and ICT linked to general well-being but crucially focussed on learning, in schools whose culture and structures sustain the continuous co-construction of education through shared leadership.

The educator when personalisation is well developed: A person who is passionate about learning, for self and for students, a skilled mentor and coach, committed to the co-construction of all aspects of schooling; who views students as partners in the creation of, and access to, data about their learning and achievement to assist in their progression; who is an expert in a relevant domain but who knows that forging the conditions of successful learning is not simply a matter of telling; who strives to engage students to generate the motivation that underpins true learning; who recognises that student needs are complex and variable and so personalisation entails drawing on a wide range of human and material resources to support learning; and who constantly relishes the changing responsibilities of a leader in education and of the need to redesign our educational institutions.

Taken together, these person specifications constitute a transformation of education and a transition from the 19th century model of schooling to one that is fit for purpose in the 21st century, with its need for a different kind of person, educated in a different kind of schooling, for a different kind of society. 

Read the full document here  and Tom Sherringtons post Co-constructing your classes: Putting pupils in the driving seat is here 

There are also a couple of articles in the Learning Lessons below

Co-contstruction by Tom Sherrington

Co-contstruction by Tom Sherrington

Co-contstruction by Tom Sherrington 2

Other research

The experiences of Boston and Sacramento also suggest that meaningful, districtwide student engagement in school policies and initiatives requires a true partnership between a diverse group of young people–some of whom may be unsure about how to find their voice in the adult-dominated world of schools–and the adults who sit on school boards and traditionally create district policies. These case studies demonstrate that, with the appropriate amount of support and training, these young people, regardless of where they begin, will be able to step up, take action, and represent their peers by voicing their opinions and advocating for change.  

Full report here 

5 thoughts on “Co-constructing Lessons – Giving Students Ownership of their Learning – Lessons from South Australia Leading Learning

  1. Fantastic overview of your work in South Australia Neil. The work you did with the Northern Adelaide State Secondary Schools’ Alliance (NASSSA) students and teachers was totally engaging and encouraged them to work collaborative to explore how curriculum Co-Design can become a reality in their classrooms. Students and teachers were challenged to move away from System 1 Thinking (lower order) to much higher System 2 level thinking. The blend of practical activities (all available on a shoestring budget) and the connection to high level scientific thinking was skilfully achieved – a testament to your great skill and expertise as a presenter and facilitator. We really valued you input and look forward to working with you in the future

  2. Hi Neil

    This looks amazing so many ideas packed into a few days, going to take a while to unpack them all.

    Do you feel like this is a all-in approach or can a school build up to the point where these sort of things can happen? My school is looking at Growth Mindset and academic rigour and wanting to develop both of these within our students but are feeling a little stuck in the current model of “teach to get to the next test”.

    Really great post, looking forward to more.
    Iain

    • Hi Iain
      Thanks for the kind words. The difficulty is breaking out of the teach to the test model and moving towards education rather than qualification. The key thing is to get the students thinking and this I feel only really happens through engagement and not compliance. There seems to be a feeling that rigour somehow precludes having an interesting and fun time. I’ll be back in Australia fairly soon so if you think Victoria may be interested make some waves.
      South Australia have a really impressive ethos and are building momentum

  3. In South Australia, we are currently doing research in activating student voice in designing learning to increase engagement, intellectual stretch and achievement.

    South Australia’s Teaching for Effective Learning team collaborated with NASSSA and 3P Learning to bring Neil over to show how using 3 act science lessons stimulate cognitive engagement and increase cognitive demand.

    By creating a perplexing problem finding phenomena, the students go through productive struggle, which enables them to see the need for system 2 thinking.
    Through this deep thinking students develop a deeper understanding of the concepts., make connections to their prior knowledge and provides the opportunities for students in near and far transfer of learning.

    Using the 5: 5 professional learning model (5 teachers and 5 students) required, developing protocols for students and teachers working together in a learning community based on democratic relationships. In the pre Neil day we started our journey on these conditions, as well setting up the culture of learning science using the latest research and preparing for why we might want to learn science differently.

    We deliberately used spaced learning as we all know one off PD days do not transfer to change in the classroom. After Neil we have a post Neil day where we work together on designing learning using the 3 act science lessons and transform tasks for intellectual stretch. To do this work we require a growth mindset, which is unpacked further on this day. Teachers and students work together on their commitment to action in the weeks between each professional learning day.

    This is just a brief overview. We have captured the experience and awesome David is going to work with us to write up the learning from the 3 day workshops.

    Neil was engaging and connected well with both teachers and students, and presented clear messages on FAIL is the first attempt at learning and the difference between system 1 and 2 thinking. He walked the talk in creating curiosity in participants and challenged their relational thinking.

    (If you would like to know more on SA pedagogy and science learning, please contact me Katrina Elliott @scibabe)

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