Shifting Perspectives and Global Competency as Keys to Learning

People often ask why I believe Inquiry learning is such an important approach and to be honest, this can be a really difficult question to answer persuasively in fifty words or less.  In fact, numerous educators have admitted to me that they knew about inquiry, could define inquiry but didn’t really have that lightbulb moment of understanding on the effectiveness or positives for adopting inquiry learning, until they used it in their classroom.  This is completely understandable as approaches to inquiry are so vast and broad-ranging that it can be difficult to articulate the foundation behind this concept in one fell swoop.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to listen to Veronica Boix Mansilla‘s keynote address on Global Competency at the Adolescent Success Asia Pacific Conference of Middle Schooling in Singapore.  Whether or not this was the intention of Mansilla’s keynote, this presentation provided for me one of the most persuasive arguments for inquiry learning and reminded me of exactly why inquiry is so integral in creating learners who are active participants in the  twenty-first century.

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Essentially learning is about perspectives.  Students enter the classroom with a range of different understandings, knowledge and skills, i.e, a range of different perspectives.  Learning happens when our students investigate, challenge and add to these perspectives to create a shift in the perspective they had when they first walked into the classroom.  We want our students to take, use and understand perspectives in their learning as they build their own understandings, rethink what they ‘know’ and add to this.   We want our students to be future-proof learners and this involves ensuring that they are globally competent. Mansilla describes the concept of global competency in the video below:

It is easy to see how this notion of global competency relates to inquiry learning.  The essence of inquiry learning isn’t about simply answering questions, it’s about asking questions and taking action.  True inquiry doesn’t discriminate against discipline or subject area, instead it pushes students to challenge identities and perspectives through encouraging them to identify problems and issues that require investigation and act on these.  It is the understanding created and shifts in perspective that result from these investigations that ensures students are truly learning.

As a convert to the work of Project Zero, I look forward to examining Mansilla’s work further and strongly suggest the work of both Mansilla and fellow Project Zero researchers such as David Perkins as a great starting place for those interested in inquiry learning.

Utilising ICTs to Enhance Inquiry

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I’ve recently read an article by Elizabeth Buckner and Paul Kim documenting their research on the implications of Integrating technology and pedagogy for inquiry-based learning using the Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment (SMILE).  While this particular study examined the influence of SMILE on inquiry-based learning in developing countries, it raised several factors for consideration by any school wanting to integrate ICTs in an inquiry-based learning environment.  

The Integration of ICTs and Pedagogy

Schools around the world are increasingly adopting technology into their classroom environments and boasting one-to-one or mobile device programs.  While these initiatives are essential in twenty-first century learning environments, what we are yet to hear about is exactly how effective ICTs are in enhancing the learning in a classroom.   Learning using ICTs incorporates more than putting these devices in a classroom or the hands of our students, it must involve an integration between pedagogy and technology by supporting the incorporation of meaningful educational content and contextualized pedagogy (Buckner & Kim, 2014, p.100).  This may include for example, considering what effect placing a mobile device in the hands of every student in a classroom will have on their ability to collaborate and problem-solve.  There is argument here that, without appropriate pedagogy, this would actually decrease the way dimensions mentioned in the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities, particularly the ICT Capability, are met by students in their learning.  

While effectively, mobile devices broaden the learning environments and opportunities students are exposed to, as educators, we are focusing too much on the type of technology we provide, instead of the pedagogical techniques designed to utilise this technology appropriately.  

Student and Teacher Training in ICTs

It may seem obvious that educators must have a strong knowledge of the technology and devices they are using with their students. However, Buckner & Kim suggest that often, this is the biggest factor in decreasing the ability of students to learn using ICTs. Educators who feel uncomfortable with the use of ICTs or are scared of losing authority and control when students use ICTs in the classroom, greatly decrease the opportunities of students to question, problem-solve and learn (2014, p.102). This factors supports the notion that schools must begin to provide greater support for staff in their use of ICTs and place greater focus on the skills they need to use their in their teaching and learning – not the programs.  

ICTs and Mobile Devices role in enhancing Inquiry Learning

As educators, we are well aware of the potential of ICTs and mobile devices to increase engagement in the learning of our students, however, we must pay attention to the effect our pedagogical practices has on this.  Simply providing a student with a Mobile Device to type their work instead of write does not automatically increase engagement in learning.  Instead, we must consider how we can change our teaching and learning in relation to ICTs and Mobile Devices to promote, “a pedagogical shift from didactic teacher-centred to participatory student-centred learning” (Looi, Seow, Zhang, So, Chen, & Wong, 2010, p. 156). In their article, Buckner and Kim examine the use of the SMILE model to promote the questioning involved in an inquiry-based learning environment through several different case studies across many countries.  The video below provides an accompanying overview of the SMILE method used in the research of Buckner & Kim.  

Whether or not the SMILE method is adopted in your school, Buckner & Kim lead us to acknowledge the importance as educators, particularly those who adopt inquiry-based learning practices, to consider exactly how we are using and integrating pedagogy AND ICTs to improve teaching and learning in our classrooms.  

 

Reference List

Buckner, E., & Kim, P. (2014). Integrating technology and pedagogy for inquiry-based learning: The stanford mobile inquiry-based learning environment (SMILE). PROSPECTS, 44(1), 99-118. doi:10.1007/s11125-013-9269-7

Looi, C. K., Seow, P., Zhang, B. H., So, H. J., Chen, W., & Wong, L. H. (2010). Leveraging mobile technology for sustainable seamless learning: A research agenda. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 154–169.

Reflecting – Does Integration Prevent Disengagement in the Middle Years?

 

Five differently-coloured paperclips joined together into a chain. [Photograph]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.  http://quest.eb.com/#/search/118_797605/1/118_797605/cite

Five differently-coloured paperclips joined together into a chain. [Photograph]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.
http://quest.eb.com/#/search/118_797605/1/118_797605/cite

Traditional educators have long focused on imparting a body of canonical knowledge to students through school curricula in a singular disciplinary approach.  What I question about this approach is the ability of this school curricula to provide real-world, contextual learning environments and opportunities for students of the twenty-first century.  The question here is, as the environment around us rapidly transforms, shouldn’t the education we provide our students reflect this? We are at risk of experiencing disengagement by our students if we continue to push learning opportunities in school that focus too much on equipping students only with knowledge, instead of focussing on students developing skills that allow them to form new knowledge and understandings throughout the continuum of their learning journey.   With the development and instillation of the Australian Curriculum, educators must now consider how they balance such a content-heavy program while providing their students with engaging learning opportunities.  

An Argument for Integration

The notion of multi-disciplinary integration has long been adopted by schools within Australia, however, I would assert that this has become increasingly necessary with the introduction of the Australian Curriculum.  Multi-disciplinary integration involves exposing students to a ‘realistic’ way of learning where they are not bound by disciplines, and learning reflects the normality of the world outside of the classroom.   Whereas traditional approaches to learning focus on developing structured disciplinary knowledge and concepts independent from all other subjects, integrated approaches promote the development of skills and knowledge transferable across disciplines to build connections and partnerships between subjects.  The argument for integration centres around providing engaging learning opportunities for students that are holistic and don’t discriminate against subject-based preferences.  While integration promotes student engagement through its connections to the experiences of students outside of school, it also provides a solution to the various research suggesting traditional approaches are increasingly failing to do this.  Apple and Beane articulate the increased engagement through integration when they suggest,

    “[integration] involves putting knowledge to use in relation to real life problems and issues.. Rather than being lists of concepts, facts and skills that students master for standardized achievement tests (and then go on to forget, by and large), knowledge is that which is intimately connected to the communities and biographies of real people.  Students learn that knowledge makes a difference in people’s lives, including their own” (1999, p.199).  

Whilst it cannot be suggested that traditional approaches to learning should be forgotten, there is a reasonable argument to suggest that integration could be the solution to improving student engagement in the twenty-first century.  

The Negatives of Integration

Integration is often given looked down upon by educators as they believe it minimises the content and knowledge acquired by the learner. It is common to hear educators state that they won’t teach an integrated curriculum because it will subtract from the academic value of their specialised subject area.  However, in this case, the impact of pedagogy on the curriculum and learning experienced by students in a classroom is overlooked.  As the beliefs, knowledge and understandings of a teacher in relation to their pedagogical practices directly influence the success of learning in the classroom,  these factors must be considered to assess whether they are indirectly minimising the increased engagement that multi-disciplinary integration could observe in students.  

It is essential then, to consider whether integration could perhaps, boost the engagement of our students, while providing a solution to covering such a content-heavy Australian Curriculum in the classroom.

Reference List

Apple, M.W. & Beane, J.A.  (1999).  Lessons from democratic schools.  In M. W. Apple & J. A. Beane (Eds.), Democratic schools: lessons from the chalk face (pp. 118-123).  Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.  

Exploring Integrated Units

I have been witness to much discussion of late across various  school sites that I have visited regarding the difficulty of integrating math and science using an inquiry approach.  While this discussion could stem from educators who do not have a clear understanding of multi-disciplinary approaches or inquiry-based learning, it is interesting that this has been a common area of discussion by educators across a variety of contexts.  In the discussions that I have been involved in, there are three main issues I have identified that are often raised by Math and Science educators in particular.  These are:

1. Math and Science lend themselves more to content-driven instruction.

2. Math can not be integrated with any other subject.

3. Both Science and Math need  teacher-lead direction to ensure that learning occurs and this isn’t possible in an inquiry unit.

The video below provides an excellent example of an integrated math/science/english (whether intentional or not) unit on Decomposition using an inquiry process to guide student learning and suggests that it is possible to integrate both math and science using an inquiry approach.

The Decomposition Unit undertaken in the example above demonstrates purposeful integration at its best, as the seamless inter-disciplinary approach is complemented by an inquiry process.  While the learning that takes place in this unit is student-driven, there is great evidence of teacher preparation, direction and guidance throughout the inquiry process. Initially, students become engaged and immersed in the unit through teacher-directed content that introduces them to the concepts being examined.  The students are then prompted to brainstorm as a class the questions they would like to examine in the unit.   Students were also involved in the selection of assessment criteria through defining what they believed the quality of their work would look like under the specific school-identified key areas of: inquiry, knowledge and skills, communication, enhancing and supporting community and work habits.  This process allowed both students and staff to define and have a clear understanding of what quality work would look like.

This introductory/immersion process allowed teachers to engage students in the topic of learning and provide them with the content, knowledge and understanding they needed before the students were handed the reigns and allowed to start their own investigations. I believe the detail and time the teachers of this unit took in preparing their students for learning in this unit, is one of the reasons it was such a success, as every learner was engaged, had a problem to solve and knew the process they would take in the search for answers.

The scientific study regarding the nature of decomposition provides the foundations of this inquiry, however the skills required by the students to measure, gather, document and graph data provide a clear cross-over into math, as does the blogging and reflection process to English. What provides the greatest evidence of purposeful integration in this unit, is that students are not at any stage focussing on a particular discipline,  rather, they are using the inquiry process to build understanding and many of the skills mentioned in the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities  in a quest to explore and build on their knowledge and skill set.  The involvement of teachers and the wider community was obvious in the unit, however, this involvement acted to guide and complement the learning that happened, rather than direct and control this learning.

This is just one example, of the way in which inquiry and purposefully connected curriculum can enhance not hinder the learning of students regardless of the disciplines being studied.

Considering Purposefully Connected Curriculum in the Enactment of Australian Curriculum

As secondary teachers, the importance of our chosen teaching areas/disciplines has been engrained in us since our teacher training and our natural instincts to ‘protect our own’ are strong. Unfortunately, what many of us fail to consider is that, our own interests are leading to unrealistic teaching and learning experiences for our students, as we force them to separate what is normally integrated in their world outside school.   I stumbled across the image below on Twitter and can’t help but think it illustrates this notion perfectly.

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With the preparation for Year 7 into secondary in QLD in 2015 in full swing at my school, I have been engaged in and witness to much discussion around how we can plan a curriculum that will effectively cater for the ethos and values of the school, while incorporating relevant national curriculum and state government requirements. Although we are a school that has been long utulising an inter-disciplinary approach across some core subjects, the addition of Year 7 into the college, has presented an exciting opportunity to rethink the approaches to curriculum enacted within the school. We have begun to ask those ‘What if?’ and ‘Why not?’ questions as we investigate how best to provide an engaging curriculum for our learners.

One key consideration in our planning is how best to incorporate the Australian Curriculum in our teaching and learning in cohesion with our pedagogical approach of inquiry-based learning.  The three-dimensional design of the Australian Curriculum in its catering for, “discipline-based learning areas, general capabilities as essential 21st century skills and contemporary cross-curriculum priorities” is somewhat overwhelming for many educators who are struggling to accommodate the requirements of this in their teaching (ACARA, 2012, p.15). Thus, the concept of ‘purposefully connected curriculum’ as discussed in Jennifer Nayler’s paper, Enacting Australian Curriculum: Making connections for quality learning (2014) presents a worthwhile option for consideration in Middle Years environments.

Purposefully connected curriculum involves planning for the integration of two or three learning areas or subjects, as an alternative to the usual ‘single-subject curriculum’ approach (Nayler, 2014, p.3). While multi-disciplinary integration is not a new concept in curriculum design, often it is misjudged by educators who believe they will be sacrificing areas of their own subject area in trying to build links to other subject areas with little relevance. This is a valid concern, as without a clear link between the purpose of a learning experience and the skills and content being covered, lines become blurred regarding the integrity of the learning. As Nayler suggests, it is essential to be purposeful in curriculum connections and ensure a tessellation between ‘student-focused’ and ‘subject-focused’ curriculum (2014, p.12). With this in mind, connected curriculum provides a solution to the curriculum ‘over-crowding’ we often experience as educators, and allows for the development of, “a set of knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions, or general capabilities that apply across subject-based content and equip [students] to be lifelong learners able to operate with confidence in a complex, information-rich, globalized world” (ACARA, 2012, p.15).

The pairing of connected curriculum with inquiry-based learning seems a logical correlation, as the exploration involved in inquiry lends itself well to the development of understanding and skills not confined to one particular discipline. Nayler makes an important distinction between confusing the notion of common themes with focused inquiry as this practice leads to the creation of more of a single-subject curriculum as the overarching questions and links are not clear (2013, p.19).   Additionally, it is essential that necessary skills of a particular discipline are not blurred as distinction must be maintained between the difference in interpretation of understanding and skills across each learning area/subject (2014, p.20).

Nayler’s paper provides realistic considerations and insight into the planning and enactment of the Australian Curriculum. I would recommend this reading as a starting point for discussion on the benefits inter-disciplinary curriculum and inquiry-based learning in a Middle Years environment might have on our teaching and learning practices. Secondary educators perhaps need to be more open to the influence purposeful connected curriculum could have on providing realistic teaching and learning that mirrors the real-world environment for their students.

Reference List

 ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority). 2012. The shape of the Australian Curriculum (4th ed). Retrieved from ACARA website http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/The_Shape_of_the_Australian_Curriculum_v4.pdf

Nayler, J. (2014). Enacting Australian curriculum: making connections for quality learning. Retrieved from https://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/downloads/p_10/ac_enact_ac_paper.pdf

 

 

How do Students ‘Learn’ through Construction?

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In my last post, I raised my concern that the theory of Constructivism is often misrepresented as theory of teaching, instead of a theory of knowing. In this post, I hope to provide further insight into the theory of Constructivism and the implications of this on the way learning is catered for in our classrooms. Michael Devitt labelled Constructivism as, “the most dangerous contemporary intellectual tendency” as, although we are quick to accept that knowledge is constructed, the transformation of educational pedagogies and theories under the banner of Constructivism is often accompanied by confusion around what constitutes a Constructivist approach to teaching (1991, p. ix). In order to apply the theory of Constructivism to our teaching, we must first understand how learning happens.

We know that Constructivism is grounded in the concept that learners construct their own understanding through experiences and interpretations. This construction of knowledge comes initially from the prior knowledge, experiences, attitudes and interests that individuals bring to learning.  Learning then transpires when individuals apply these factors to new experiences and situations and construct their own understanding (Howe & Berv, 2000, p.30). One common misconception in relation to Constructivism is that learning must be social. This comes initially from the ideas of Vygotsky, who believed that knowledge was created through social interaction and immersion in a range of cultures (Lowenthal & Muth, 2009, para.7). This however, is not the only way knowledge is constructed. As mentioned in my previous post, Piaget’s work indicated that knowledge is constructed through an individual’s experience and prior knowledge (Lowenthal & Muth, 2009, para.6). Thus, while collaboration is often paired with Constructivism in educational settings, it is not essential that learning is social for students to construct knowledge. I would assert that balance between the two is beneficial for metacognition. It is imperative therefore, that we do not discard teacher-centred learning under the banner of Constructivist practice, as construction happens through knowledge and learning, regardless of the approach of the teacher.

While educators may use different pedagogical approaches to assist their students in constructing their own knowledge, what is essential, is that teachers adopt the mindset that they themselves are also learners. Brooks and Brooks asserted that students learn best when they work with adults who, “ask questions with which they themselves still grapple, who are willing and able to alter both content and practice in the pursuit of meaning, and who treat students and their endeavours as works in progress, not finished products” (1993, p.9). This assertion does not make the teacher redundant in student learning, it does however, reposition the teacher as a coach or facilitator of student learning who assists their students in developing, “an independent and active attitude of great importance for his or her functioning in a modern dynamic society (Taylor, 1992). Therefore, it is not only the student who is the focus of Constructivist practice; equal importance must be placed on the teacher as a learner. While in a classroom students will construct knowledge regardless of the method of instruction, by embracing Constructivism, educators will provide students with an environment that promotes learning and understanding.

The educator’s role in a Constructivist classroom is to assist learning through creating, synthesising and interpreting information. It is often lamented that applying Constructivist practice in the classroom involves getting rid of learning goals and lesson plans (Dick, 1992, p.92). However, instead of planning that caters for students getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’, Constructivist teachers need to refocus and readjust what they plan for in the learning of their students, instead considering how they will influence the depth to which students construct their own knowledge and understanding. Teacher preparation must centre on contemplating how they will pose problems for their student’s that will influence their thinking and understanding (Brooks & Brooks, 1993, p.44). To assist student’s in learning, educators in a Constructivist classroom must use the knowledge, attitudes and interests of learners as a starting point in their instruction. Educators must then design their instruction to provide learning experiences that interact effectively with the characteristics of their students in assisting them in constructing their own understanding (Howe & Berv, 2000, p.31). In preparing for learning by: integrating disciplines and curriculum, establishing a core knowledge domain, selecting tasks relevant to individual learners and situations, providing students with multiple perspectives and incorporating cognitive flexibility that promotes apprenticeship and real-world experiences, educators will ensure that they are catering effectively for the construction of learning in their classroom (Paparozzi, C, 1998, pp. 67 – 75).

Reflecting on the theory of Constructivism emphasises for me the great influence we as educators have on the way our students think, learn and understand. We must dispel the common adage that teachers teach as they have been taught and adopt practices that encourage and allow for the active construction of knowledge and understanding in our classrooms. Regardless of our instructional methodologies, the construction of knowledge and learning must remain at the forefront of our practices so that we are enabling learning in our students.

Reference List

Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (1993). The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Devitt, M.   (1991). Realism and truth. Oxford: Blackwell.

Dick, W. (1992). An instructional designer’s view of constructivism. In T. Duffy & D. Jonesson (Eds.), Constructivism and the technology of instruction (pp. 91-98). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kenneth R. Howe and Jason Berv. (2000). “Constructing constructivism, epistemological and pedagogical.” In Constructivism in education, edited by D. C. Phillips, 19-40. Illinois: The National Society for the Study of Education.

Lowenthal, P., & Muth, R. (2009). Constructivism. In E. Provenzo, & A. Provenzo (Eds.),Encyclopedia of the social and cultural foundations of education. (pp. 178-180). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: http://dx.doi.org.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/10.4135/9781412963992.n86

Paparozzi, C. (1998). Implementing constructivism in the middle school classroom. (Order No. 9926671, West Virginia University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 100-100 p. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304454690?accountid=13380. (304454690).

Taylor, C. (1992). The ethics of authenticity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Image Attribution

PublicDomainPictures. (2012). Connect connection cooperation hand hands holding. Public Domain CCO. Retrieved from http://pixabay.com/en/connect-connection-cooperation-hand-20333/