Sunday, March 26, 2017

Food for Thought: Back to our Mission

Dear all,

My goodness, if ever there has been a week where we demonstrated our growth as a school and seriously pushed the idea of being the best school in the universe, it has to be the last six days. MYP Personal Project exhibition followed by the Grade 4 and Grade 1 mini exhibitions demonstrated how well our students cannot only articulate their learning outcomes but also the processes they have been through whilst learning. The confidence with which 6 year old through to 15 year old students expressed themselves was very impressive. In addition to this we had awesome learning take place in classrooms all over the school, with students proud to show off their learning to the passing Head of School. GIN conferences to attend, hosting swimming tournament, football fixtures and SISAC local gymnastics tournaments. Definitely something for every student to get involved with in the school.

Whilst, working on the CIS accreditation for the past two weeks I thought that it might be good to return our minds to our school mission. 

As an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) constructs a culture of achievement in an environment where students are energized, engaged and empowered to become active participants in their communities.

When you walk around the school it is obvious that the key action words in the mission, Energized, Engaged and Empowered are being emphasized and deliberately developed in our students. Behind these three words lies a foundation that when delivered well allows the three key action words to flourish in our classrooms. In this Food for Thought I would like to focus on one other word that is so important and drives the pedagogy around the school: constructs.

Thinking about our mission for CIS I returned to some notes that I made when I first came to ISHCMC in 2013 about constructivist teaching. The following paragraph was taken from, "Teaching for Understanding" by  Blumenfeld et al and is the conclusion to that section, page 869. Rereading it now it helps me put into context many of the changes that I now see around our school in our students, the classrooms and their public performances.  Please read the following as it is so relevant to who we are today and what we are aiming to do with our teaching and learning.  

"Recent insights from studies of everyday learning have resulted in new emphases on social rather than individual influences on learning. They have highlighted the cultural and situated nature of knowledge and of learning. Newer social constructivist theories have assured that understanding is contextualized and a function of social interaction with others. The tasks undertaken, the tools employed, and the immediate context that reflects the culture in which ideas are developed and used.
These approaches have not spawned a specific set of prescribed behaviors for teachers. Instead, there are some general guidelines that can be derived; consequently, classroom enactments might vary considerably and still be commensurate with the theory. The teacher’s role is like that of a master craftsman, creating a situation where the student apprentice is inducted into the ways of knowing in the discipline and its important ideas. The teacher helps create an environment and selects areas of inquiry for students to engage while investigating, solving problems, and exploring ideas using technological tools as aids. The emphasis is on discourse and collaboration so that students can learn from each other and from others with greater expertise. The teacher scaffolds learning via modelling cognitive processes, coaching, providing feedback, breaking down tasks and- as students gain proficiency- gradually releasing responsibility. The teacher assesses what students understand using alternatives to standardized short answer tests. The stress is on authenticity, on creating an environment where students must demonstrate mastery of concepts and of disciplinary ways of inquiry through various means such as public presentations or demonstrations which preferably have meaning beyond the confines of the classroom."

This all ties in beautifully with what Wiggins and McTighe promoted in their excellent article, Teaching for Understanding where they say,  “Students can only be said to have fully understood if they can apply their learning without someone telling them what to do and when to do it. In the real world, no teacher is there to direct and remind them about which lesson to plug in here or there. Transfer is about intelligently and effectively drawing from their repertoire, independently, to handle new contexts on their own”.

Quite simply this can be summed up as follows: 
  • Constructivism encourages us to see learning as an active, constructive process.
  • The learner is an information constructor. Learners actively construct or create their own subjective representations of reality.
  • New information is linked to prior knowledge thus mental representations are subjective.
  • Constructivists shift the focus from knowledge as a product to knowing as a process.
  • Constructivism recognizes that students bring with them a rich array of prior experiences, knowledge, and beliefs that they use in constructing new understandings. 
  • Allowing students to make meaning from their learning leads to greater student engagement
  • Teachers are encouraged to release the process of learning to their students
  • A constructivist approach engages and empowers the learner by valuing the part they play in creating meaning.
Finally, this links perfectly with what researchers are discovering more and more about how we all learn and how teaching should be delivered. This recent Tim Elmore post from , Growing Leaders, one of my daily reads, emphasizes in a short conversation with Britt Andreatta a thought leader in leadership and learning. this conversation again emphasizes the reduces role of the sage at the front of the class releasing the embedding of the learning to the students through carefully designed activities. It is clear that some cultures and individual students would prefer to be given all the information however we now know that this does not lead to embedded deeper learning and the growth in capacity of the student to truly learn and understand information and concepts.

Tim Elmore: In your first book, Wired to Grow, you explore the brain science of learning. So what are some of the key takeaways that you would offer from this book?
Britt Andreatta: What became clear to me was that learning actually occurs in three phases, and different parts of the brain play a role in each of these phases. The first phase is when we actually sit down to learn something. The hippocampus is the brain structure that takes what we are listening to or watching and puts it into our short-term memory. What is really interesting about the hippocampus is it needs to process content every 20 minutes or so to move it effectively into our memory.

The second phase is to remember. We have got to get the information into our long-term memory so that we can get back to it weeks or months or even years from now. There are actually very specific strategies we can use to do that. The most effective—and this is what good teachers learned how to do a long time ago— is when we attach it to something that the learner already knows or has experience in. The idea of attaching new information to a cluster of neural-wiring that already exists in the learner’s brain is called schemas. The other big “aha” moment was around the concept of retrievals. Back in the day, when we were younger, it was all about repetition. Keep doing those math problems, over and over. Keep writing, over and over. What we are learning is that to get it into long-term memory, it is really about pulling it back out again—retrieval. Quizzing yourself, retrieving the information, is kind of the sweet spot. It turns out that through three retrievals—spaced with sleep—is where the magic happens. So if you are a teacher, ask your students to summarize it or take a quiz on it so they have to reach back into their brain and pull it out. Three retrievals spaced with sleep is really the key element to getting things into long-term retention, long-term memory.
The third phase is to do, which is about changing behaviors. Most of professional learning today (which is where I am working these days) is about driving some specific behavior change. The research on how our brain forms a habit was what really informed me in this area. Turns out the brain structure is the basal ganglia, and when we repeat something over and over again, it’s what turns something into a habit. It takes about 40-50 repetitions of a new behavior before it really gets synced as a strong neural pathway or a habit.

Have a relaxing Sunday,


1 comment:

  1. I love this sentence from your list of bullet points: "Constructivists shift the focus from knowledge as a product to knowing as a process." It really connects with two questions Lana Fleiszig continually keeps returning to when she's here working with our teachers - "what are we coming to know?" and "how are we coming to know it?".