Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Hexagonal Learning

For literacy this term our intermediate school has been learning and discovering all about significant moments in history. In particular, one of the main focuses has been racism and civil rights. As a whole, the students have been examining the impact of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and even Michael Jackson’s influence on race relations through song.  The learning, overall, has been powerful and the students have been strongly engaged with the content.

I’ve been thinking about thinking and reading more and more about hexagonal learning - via Chris Harte in particular. This model seems simple to implement, yet a fabulous means for getting the students to discuss, justify and even argue.

As an introduction to this way of organising ideas and thinking, I took our topic of civil rights and racial inequality and put together 20 hexagons with a variety of words and phrases.
To begin this idea for the students, I took the context of musical instruments and had them justify to a partner why certain instruments belonged together. There was much debate - even around a simple topic.
The basic instructions were to make sure that each group fully discussed and justified the placement of each hexagon and each group member had to agree on why it was placed there. The learning was around the discussion, the connections and the choices.

Because the students had been heavily engaged with the subject matter for 6 weeks before attempting this activity, there was no need to cover vocabulary or ideas. We jumped straight in.

The first thing that struck me was how quiet they all were as each student thought individually through the options first - taking a small handful of hexagons and placing them together in different ways. Within 3 - 4 minutes the noise began, as I had hoped. 
Not one student asked me if they were doing it right! Yay!

20 minutes in and there was a clear divide amongst the students. Those who argued, those who discussed, justified and then compromised, and finally those who were happy to accept any answer.

As I roamed around, I would deliberately point out interesting connections and have the students justify their choices - occasionally the students backed down straight away and removed the hexagon, but on more occasions they stood their ground offering some reasonable justifications.

After 45 minutes the arguers were no closer to completing but had had some great discussions. The compromisers were scrambling to complete but had well thought out connections, and the acceptors had long since finished and were happy with what they had done.

As the teacher - what a fabulous way to formatively assess the understanding of content knowledge, connections, relationships and their application.

My next step is to have some of the more confident students record their justifications for others to hear and initiate  further discussion around their choices.

I see great potential in this strategy and will definitely be trying it again as soon as possible.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Just Enough Vs Excellence

I was fortunate as a kid to have an amazing teacher. A teacher who taught me that no matter how well you had done, you could always do better. Mrs Carter was my swimming coach.

School and I didn’t get on.
School wasn’t the place where I developed a passion to learn and achieve.
I was a swimmer.
Swimming took over my life. Swimming gave me direction. Swimming taught me to want to win.
Swimming felt like I was flying, water was my sky, which I guess just made me some kind of superhero who had to settle for the nearest pool.

Mrs Carter taught me that in life you only get one chance - so you may as well be truly excellent.
She never had a harsh word to say or even an extreme sense of competitiveness, Mrs Carter just knew that the journey was never done and If you’re any good at all, you know you can be better.
Achievements were celebrated, personal best times applauded and trophies awarded, however, you still knew that a pep-talk was coming and you still had work to do.
Reflection became automatic and essential. We knew that if we were simply content with an average performance - then average was all we would ever be. With 5 x 4:30am starts each week and over 70km in distance to plough through - average wasn’t something I was striving for.

How was school different?

School taught me that Just Enough - is enough. 50% to pass. Add those pretty borders and over utilise that lettering book. Not at one point did my academic education teach me excellence or give me the tools to strive to be the best.

Through complete disengagement with the system, I skipped years 10 and 13 and still entered into a restricted tertiary course - by achieving "Just Enough."

As I reflect on the opportunities I give my students to celebrate achievements and embark on next steps - am I encouraging or insisting on excellence. Is Just Enough still enough!
Too often, as teachers we use fabulous and fantastic adjectives to describe attitudes or achievements without thinking about what we are saying. Was that outcome amazing? Really?

I'm watching the students reflect on their creations, and those of their friends, and time and time again they are reluctant to be critical and are happy with simply having created something. 

Can we expect improvement if mediocre is what they are happy with? Or.... am I unrealistic?

The Power of Reflection

I have written before on the power of sharing and what it holds in motivating a student to share their best.
I am beginning to question that thought.

Yes, the students do want to look good in front of their peers, they want their peers to laugh and engage with their creation.

Do they use reflection as a meaningful tool to improve and strive for excellence?

I am continually asking and advising students to do something no-one has done before, to come up with purple cow ideas and stand out as doing something different. Each week 75 students surprise me by playing it safe and creating the same thing. MTVs are the creation of choice at Pt England School and they are created well. The students have a wide range of filming, animating and editing skills and they are developing some much tighter and detailed plans and scripts. What they don't seemingly do well, is the extraordinary.

My goal, through the use of critical reflection, is to have the students think much more carefully about their work and creativity. I want to see these very talented students branch out, be different and make incredible gains in their key competencies as well as produce quality products.