Hands up!

Recognise any of these scenes?

The child tugging at his mother’s apron strings, repeating ‘Mum, mum, mum’ until she finally takes notice.

The high school student stretching her arm into the air, busting to answer the question – or the one sinking into her seat to avoid being picked.

The new teacher, abandoning all attempts at discipline and trying to talk over a group of rowdy children rather than to them.

Attention – seeking, avoiding or losing it – came to mind as I pondered our ‘2012: Hands up who’s ready!’ campaign which will highlight our raft of events and resources to support your professional learning next year.

It seems there’s a lot of discussion out there around alternatives to ‘hands up’ in class, as well as novel ideas for getting students’ attention. And while a lot more goes on in the 21st century classroom than teacher-posed questioning, there are times when we do want to call on students to offer their thoughts to the group. Looking forward to your comments and suggestions on these!

Response boards
An experiment on a class of British 13-year-olds banned them from raising their hands for a term. It showed they learned twice as fast when asked to write their answers to teacher-posed questions on a small whiteboard, and then raise them together. While the technique was unpopular with both students and teachers at first, it proved to prevent the minority of students from dominating, and to give the quieter children more confidence. Some teachers also get students to use pre-written response cards. These could be ‘agree/disagree’, or numbers from 1 to 4 indicating level of understanding. Students indicating a high level of understanding could be called on to share with the class. How would this work with your students?

Two thumbs up
What about replacing the traditional hand-raise with a newer gesture like two thumbs up? A primary school that adopted this was derided by press and parents alike but the principal maintains that “it has calmed the students down. Staff have noticed a positive difference in the amount of people answering questions.” Do you think using an alternative gesture would make a difference in your class?

Cold calling
Some teachers swear by choosing a different student by name to answer each time; they maintain this shares the love (the pain?) by giving everyone the same opportunity to speak. A (partial) pack of cards can be used to make this more fun – assign one card to each student and pull one out at random – or write each student’s name on an ice block stick to pull out. Would your students find this challenging or confronting?

Silence is golden
The uncomfortable silence that sometime hangs after your question isn’t such a bad thing – call it ‘think time’. There are various studies around the benefits of leaving at least 3 seconds for thinking before expecting a question to be answered. One article I read highlights the use of think time at various points in class dialogue, not just after asking a question. For example, think time after one student has responded allows the others to ponder and react to what they’ve heard. A pause in the middle of teacher talk gives the class time to absorb and process information – and allows the teacher to reflect too. And how often are we guilty of spitting out the first answer that comes to mind, rather than pausing and taking time to think of a considered response? Would modelling think-time help your students embrace it?

Attention seeker
And how about the age-old problem of getting your students’ attention without sounding like a sergeant major? Do you put your hand up or clap, and wait for them to follow suit? Play a piece of music? Ring a big old bell, blow a whistle, bang a drum, dance on the desk? What works for you and feels respectful?

And if I've still got your attention, do check out our website to keep up-to-date with what's happening in the new year. International visitors include: Guy Claxton - Andrew Fuller - Carolyn Coil - Lee Crockett - Kath Murdoch - Gavin Grift - Joan Dalton - James Nottingham - Graham Watts - Bill Lucas - Tony Ryan - James Anderson.

The Art of Conversation

A slightly dour team leader I once knew had this quotation pinned on his wall: “There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all.” It used to depress me, but let’s face it – how often are we guilty of just waiting to spout our next line, barely listening to what our friends or colleagues are saying?

The word ‘conversation’ is cropping up a lot in professional learning right now ...

Pose the question:
The team from Stonefields wanted to start their brand new school with a strong, learner-centred vision. They had a conversation with the staff around "What is learning?" Seems like a simple question but it can throw up some interesting ideas and paradigms. How about trying it with your team?

Fixity to Possibility:
Joan Dalton, in her Learning Talk series, says meaningful professional learning conversations can lead us out of ‘the world of fixity’ into ‘the world of possibility’. I love her phrase ‘the tyranny of but’: how often do we say, “That’s a great idea, but ...”, thus negating our colleague’s thought right away! She offers some great practical language and strategies for developing your team’s capability for purposeful conversation. We’re delighted to welcome Joan to NZ in early June 2012 to help your team share powerful professional conversations that improve and transform learning. Joan says, "Conversation is your core technology for improving and transforming learning."

Tony Ryan recently talked with us via webinar about engaging students in higher order thinking. To increase the intellectual rigour of your lessons, he emphasises the importance of ‘self-talk’, where students are encouraged to have an inner conversation with themselves around their thinking processes. In this handout from Tony’s blog he explains how to go about raising students’ awareness of self-talk.

Talk around the world:
The “death of distance” is used by Lee Crockett and his 21st Century Fluency Project team to describe the new digital landscape that enables conversation across borders over the web. Are your students having conversations on Skype with kids around the world, sharing their languages, history and ideas?

Pick it up:
It’s easy to hide behind email communication but a couple of my colleagues have inspired me to get back on the phone. That quick call not only cuts out umpteen emails ping-ponging back and forth, but it’s also likely to raise a chuckle and build your relationship.

Happy talking!

Challenge in bite-sized pieces

Our feet have just touched the ground after our two-day Challenging Learners Conference last week, where 240 educators from around NZ gathered to be challenged and inspired. From the rave reviews it seems like expectations were exceeded. For those of you who couldn’t attend (or came, but lost your notes) – here are some nuggets gleaned from our fabulous presenters:

1. Are we teaching our students HOW to think, or just WHAT to think? (James Nottingham)

2. ‘Encourage’ = to enable others to have courage. With the right ‘en-couragement’ we can lift the lids of low expectation/ achievement and our students can fly. (Marcus Akuhata-Brown).

3. International visitors: always check the suitcase you pick up from the carousel is actually yours (naming no names ...)

4. Just as we aim to ‘criticise the performance, not the child’, so we should PRAISE the performance / process, not the child. Telling kids they are smart/brilliant/number one can actually stifle achievement; instead we should make them proud of the effort they have put into the task in hand. (James Nottingham)

5. Inquiry mythbusting: Students undertaking independent work on a topic of their choice does not necessarily = an inquiry. Copying from the internet is ‘independent work’. Topics for an inquiry can be teacher-led. (Kath Murdoch)

6. Strangest presenter request: a table lamp with no shade on it (hastily borrowed from our hotel room!). Perry Rush used this prop to engage his group in a session modelling constructivism in action. At least no-one asked for bottles of Moet or fluffy white towels.

7. ‘Eureka’ means ‘I found it!’ and the ‘eureka moment’ can only come if you’ve struggled to get there. Help your students into the ‘Learning Pit’ and coach them out of it. Learn more in James Nottingham’s book Challenging Learning, which sold like hot cakes at conference.

8. Other hot resources included Learning for Themselves (Kath Murdoch & Jeni Wilson) which develops students’ capacity to work independently and manage themselves as learners. Also Guy Claxton’s What’s the Point of School? which addresses the changing nature of education for the 21st century and beyond. The popularity of these two items demonstrates an ongoing commitment to the spirit of the New Zealand Curriculum.

9. Understanding how the brain works and practicing mindfulness helps children focus, concentrate and avoid distractions. Some great work being done by the Hawn Foundation around this via their MindUP curriculum. And it was fun to watch teachers sniffing bowls of mystery items trying to guess their contents in the 'mindful senses' session! (Graham Watts)

10. Some cool metaphors for ‘teacher’: archaeologist (brushing off the dust to discover student’s prior knowledge and theories); or broker (between the students and the community). What metaphor do you like for your role? (Kath Murdoch)

11. Webinars are awesome! With the much-needed technical support of Magpie Media we ran our first webinar, with James Nottingham and Graham Watts sharing their insights around Challenging Learners and Higher Order Thinking Tools respectively. Missed it? You can listen to (and view) the recording by clicking here – go through a quick registration and it’s all yours. Keep an eye out for further free webinars late this year.

12. It’s all about the planning .... we’ve set the dates for our 2012 conference2 & 3 July – so diarise them now! The theme is ‘Cultivating the 21st Century Fluencies’ – how are we preparing our students for their future lives in an unpredictable world? We’ve secured the amazing Lee Crockett (check out his Committed Sardine blog if you haven’t already) and have a heap of other talent to add to the line-up shortly. Do post your thoughts on what / who you’d like to see at this conference as we want to cater to your needs.

I’m off the UK for a couple of weeks but keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter posts for news, tips, links and more nuggets from the Learning Network team.


Boys just wanna ...

"Boys are beyond the range of anybody's sure understanding, at least when they are between the ages of 18 months and 90 years." (James Thurber)

Boys are a bit of a foreign species for me; growing up with no brothers, attending an all-girls’ school, and working in a female dominated environment means I’ve had limited contact with the little darlings.

An intermediate principal recently told me that the kids who are underachieving in his school – regardless of ethnic or socio-economic background – are the boys.

So ... boy-fact or boy-myth?

“Boys don’t read.” As I tuck into my latest novel, my hubby will be reading either a comic book (sorry, ‘graphic novel’) about zombies, or a war hero bio. At least he’s reading, but "research shows that boys are having trouble reading, and ... are getting worse at reading," according to guysread.com, a website whose mission is to help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers.

They go on, “But the good news is that research also shows that boys will read — if they are given reading that interests them.” How are you getting your male students - or sons - to engage in reading for pleasure?

And if you want to do some reading about boys in education here are some great titles: Boys Stir Us (‘boisterous’, geddit? I didn't ....) by Mike Nagel, Teaching Boys who Struggle in School, Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys and Raising Boys' Achievement.

“Girls are better at learning than boys.” According to LNNZ friend Dr. Mike Nagel, “the female brain is a better learning brain in educational contexts because: it matures and develops sooner; it’s less likely to be hindered by some measure of learning disorder; and it engages with and utilises language sooner and with greater efficiency.” Do you agree? What are you doing to engage boys’ brains in learning?

“We need more male teachers.” Men account for around 18% of primary school teachers in NZ. We’ve heard the reasoning – unsatisfactory salaries for breadwinners, low prestige, fear of accusations. My feeling is that we definitely need more male teachers, especially with so many kids lacking male role models at home. How do you think we can attract more men into teaching – or do you think we need to?

“We’re running feminised classrooms.” I had a chuckle at Celia Lashlie's comments in a Times Educational Supplement interview. She said that “female teachers should pipe down and give boys time to think rather than talking incessantly during lessons” and that female teachers gave her earache. A bit extreme but maybe she has a point about the teaching and learning styles of different genders. Want to find out more? Local boys in education expert Warwick Pudney explores working with boys on 19 August.

“Men don’t read to the end, or engage with blogs about education”. I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. And that means you too, menfolk!

PS 14/7/11 - some heated discussion around this post has been happening here. This post was only intended to pose questions and generate discussion - which it's clearly done - but I certainly didn't intend to suggest that I believe or endorse the statements above - which is why I used the 'fact/myth' heading and quotation marks around the statements. I clearly need to hone my blogging skills!

Some recent feedback told me this blog was a bit anonymous so I should come clean and introduce myself as Sue Maloney, Learning Network NZ’s Marketing & Events Manager. Nice to (virtually) meet you! It won't always be me posting blogs - we're hoping to entice some of our very knowledgeable facilitators to contribute too.

Bringing things into focus

Recently I’ve found myself suffering more and more from mindflit – a term used by Andrew Fuller to describe the way our brains – and our students’ – flit around from task to stimulus to website to txt like a fruitbat high on mango juice. I just counted 13 tabs open on my Google Chrome; my taskbar has around seven programmes running; my ‘to do’ list just ain’t getting done and I still don’t know what to cook for dinner.

So I got thinking about focus and concentration. We know how much more efficiently we work when we banish distractions and embrace ‘the flow’ – so how do we get our students, masters of multi-digi-tasking, to do this? A few tidbits I’ve been checking out:

  • Goldie Hawn – yes, Private Benjamin – is doing some great work through her not-for-profit organisation, The Hawn Foundation. Their flagship MindUPTM programme provides children with emotional and cognitive tools to help them manage emotions and behaviors, reduce stress, sharpen concentration, and increase empathy and optimism. If this sounds a bit airy fairy, rest assured that the programme is based on solid neurological and pedagogical research. Watch the clip about MindUPTM that I’ve favourited on our YouTube channel and ask yourself, ‘could my students benefit from learning to be more mindful, calm, and ready to learn?’
  • For grown-ups I really like the solid advice from Robyn Pearce, aka The Time Queen. Her blog, website and books have great tips on managing your time, winning the paper war and more. My favourite presentation promises that you will ‘master time in only 90 seconds’ – there are only four elements, so it's well worth a minute and a half of your time I reckon!
  • Need a quick fix to bring your fast-paced life back into focus? Download the free app ‘We Breathe’ from LNNZ friend Tony Ryan – it’ll teach you to relax and take longer breaths, and has a fun feature which allows you to tune into millions of other breathers around the world.

If you’re thinking this is all a bit touchy feely, banish that paradigm. 21st century education is more about HOW and WHY we teach, rather than WHAT we teach, so a few tools to bring focus and mindfulness into our classrooms and lives can’t be a bad thing. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you help students to focus on the task in hand. Remember, all comments enter you into the 21CHALLENGE draw for conference places and more.

Right, back to that ‘to do’ list .....


Disaster! In one week, my dance club closed its doors, my husband’s longest-serving employee quit, and Pak n Save stopped stocking my favourite muesli.

For someone who loves order and certainty these events spelled C-R-I-S-I-S, although someone less dramatic might read C-H-A-N-G-E.

OK, we all know that change is good. As good as a rest, apparently - or even a holiday. But in reality, I don’t think I’m the only one to find it a bit scary and time-consuming. This year, though, a few ideas have crossed my path that have helped me embrace change.

Disruptive innovation.
LNNZ friend Lee Crockett says “every part of society is experiencing a complete upheaval due to the chronic and pervasive nature of change. Our schools, like our businesses, must constantly adapt to such conditions to remain active in the market.” This idea that schools may actually become redundant is chilling – but motivating! What are we going to do to ensure schools remain viable? Visit the 21st Century Fluency Project for more on how we can best serve today’s students; while you’re there sign up for the Committed Sardine blog, my favourite weekly read.

Upgrading – not adding.
In an already overcrowded curriculum, teachers are rightly worried when asked to add more. Web 2.0 tools, community interaction, school gardens – all fabulous learning experiences but where do we find the time? Recent visitor Heidi Hayes Jacobs asked three key questions around upgrading our classrooms while avoiding overload: “What do we cut? What do we keep? What do we create?” Check out curriculum21.com for forward thinking around curriculum – their ‘clearing house’ takes away the hard work by collating great e-learning tools.

BYOD. As a lover of language I get all excited over new terms. BYOD = Bring Your Own Device, an approach schools like Albany Senior High School are taking. Students are going to pick up their banned phones and ipads the minute they step out of school, so why not make the most of the learning opportunities these devices offer? AP Mark Osborne says, "It makes no sense to ban it [the mobile phone]. We haven't banned paper because kids pass notes. In five to 10 years, students will do most of their computing using phones." Indeed a friend of mine whose laptop just died is considering not replacing it, but instead buying just an Android phone for all her online needs. Rad!

Mindset. This book, by Carol Dweck, is a real shake-up. She talks about the ‘fixed mindset’ versus the ‘growth mindset’. In a nutshell, people with the former believe their basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are fixed traits. People with the latter believe that their abilities can be developed through hard work. Dweck claims that “Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports. It enhances relationships.” And I have to agree – since reading the book I’ve found myself much more open to change – both internal and around me. A must-read for your personal and professional life!

James Nottingham has worked alongside Professor Dweck and we’re lucky enough to be hosting him next month at two events; he’s also presenting at the ILT conference in Invercargill if you fancy a trip south.

There’s no point in change for the sake of change. But I wonder ....
  • What are you doing differently now, compared to ten years ago – or a year ago?
  • What changes do you plan to make to your teaching practice this year?
  • How are you upgrading your classroom?
  • How are you modelling being a lifelong learner who embraces new challenges?
Look forward to your comments. In the meantime I’m off to sample some new brands of muesli.

Gifted - and a Gift!

Katie has an exceptional memory and started reading at a very young age – she seemed to teach herself! She has strong curiosity, asks lots of shrewd questions and grasps new ideas quickly. She’s also quite a lonely child because her interests differ from those of her peers. She sometimes misbehaves at school because she feels bored, and she’s in danger of playing down her capabilities to fit in with other kids.

Sound like anyone you know? Katie shows various signs of giftedness, described by the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children as ‘involuntary - a natural gift. It gives no cause for claims of elitism.’ However, there are plenty of myths and misconceptions around giftedness.

Interestingly, though, “Gifted children require just as much attention and educational resources to thrive in school as do other students whose physical, behavioral, emotional or learning needs require special accommodations,” according to professor Steven I. Pfeiffer.

It’s Gifted Awareness Week 13 – 19 June so we thought it was a great opportunity to share some ways that parents and teachers can identify gifted children and support them in their learning and development. PLUS there's a free place on a differentiation workshop on offer - read on for more!

Auckland’s Gifted Education Centre is coordinating a host of great events nationwide to celebrate Awareness Week, including open days, parents’ forums and even quiz nights for those brave enough to pit their wits against Team Gifted!

For parents, I liked this article by Viv Molsom in Family Times; she dispels some commonly held myths about gifted children and offers practical advice for parents.

There are some fabulous resources out there for parents and teachers of gifted and talented kids. LNNZ friend Rosemary Cathcart’s book Differentiation Made Practical: Lessons to Satisfy Gifted Learners has recently received glowing reviews in both the Times Educational Supplement in the UK, and from Apex (the online journal of Gifted Education). Apex reviewer Lynda Garrett says, “The title of this book promises plenty and delivers it all! For those teachers who believe that differentiation means ‘extra work’, and feel unable to cater effectively for their gifted learners within the ‘regular classroom’ setting, Differentiation Made Practical is a must. As an expert facilitator, Rosemary’s enthusiasm is infectious, as she sets out to put a sparkle and energy into your teaching, in a book that is essentially a ‘workshop between two covers.’” All of Rosemary’s great resources are available from us at Learning Network NZ.

And for those of you keen to explore differentiated learning in a wider context, we’re delighted to welcome US expert Jane Kise to New Zealand for two workshops this month – Waikato (28 June) and Auckland (30 June). Jane says, “The most successful teachers are often those who understand how to adjust their educational techniques to meet the needs of students of all intelligences, learning styles and backgrounds.”

We're giving away a FREE place on Jane's Auckland course so to enter the draw, just email me, Sue, on info@learningnetwork.ac.nz with the name of one of Rosemary Cathcart's other books in the subject line.

Happy Gifted Awareness Week - and we'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions on this topic.

Resilience on Ice

Stuck at home with a sniffle and my in-laws last Friday night, we ended up watching their favourite show, ‘Dancing on Ice’. Not one for sequins or C-grade celebrities, I gritted my teeth and prepared to endure the next two hours (yes, TWO hours!)

But as the show progressed, I became hooked. Not by the costumes, twirls or ‘whoops / Rodney Hide’ moments, but by the amazing resilience and guts of the contestants. Many of them had never skated before, and had just six weeks to prepare for a performance on nationwide live TV.

Amongst the usual faded pop stars (Vanilla Ice, of course) and trashy mag regulars, one contestant, Johnson Beharry (pictured) stood out. A scar runs just behind his hairline from ear to ear, testament to injuries sustained as he rescued members of his unit during an ambush in Iraq in 2004; for his bravery he received a VC. He battled his way back to health and, despite ongoing physical problems, went on to prove his worth on the rink. (Don’t worry fans, I won’t tell you the outcome of this series!)

OK, so neither Johnson nor the other ‘stars’ have solved the Bermuda Triangle mystery or walked on the moon, but it got me thinking about how people can bounce back from devastating events to achieve great things. Other contestants, whose past traumas entailed nothing more than a few embarrassing photos in the press, picked themselves up off the ice time and again, and persevered with refining their skills.

So where does resilience come from? Is it innate or can it be learnt? How can we make our students more resilient?

Our children are “too safe for their own good says Michael Ungar in his book of the same name – by ‘bubble-wrapping’ them and protecting them from every tiny bump and failure, we’re not preparing them for life in the real world.

Carol Dweck relates resilience to praise, saying "Praising students’ intelligence creates a fixed mindset and decreases motivation and resilience in the face of difficulty. But, praising their process (their effort, their strategy) promotes a growth mindset with its greater desire for challenge and learning."

And Scott Anderson of Nazareth College in Australia recently made some great points in his MYSA presentation, ‘Disappointment by Design – developing capacity and resilience ... in a ‘pro-risk’ school environment.’ Parents, teachers and schools can all model and encourage responsible risk-taking – which could be as simple as getting students involved in a community activity outside their comfort zone, such as a soup kitchen – which builds resilience.

While I don’t think we all need to be donning skates and sequins to prove a point, I wonder what you, as an educator (and perhaps a parent) have done lately to build - and model – resilience?

Want to find out more?

James Nottingham, who has worked closely with Dweck, examines resilience in his unmissable Challenging Learners Conference workshops and his pre-conference course in July.

Ten things I learnt at MYSA

I was lucky to head to the recent MYSA (Middle Years of Schooling Association) conference on the Gold Coast, as a representative of NZAIMS (New Zealand Association for Intermediate and Middle Schooling). OK, enough acronyms!

Ten things I learnt while I was there:

1. The ‘must have’ gadget was the iPad. Presenters and delegates alike left bulky laptops at home and stuck an iPad in their handbag / manbag. Those who didn't have one got jealous and bought one. And no, we weren’t just playing Angry Birds (see 7. Below).

2. Parents - avoid being 'helicopter parents' and rescuing your kids from every minor tricky situation. They need to learn some resilience. [Scott Anderson – Nazareth College - 'Disappointment by Design']

3. The Gold Coast Convention Centre is a great conference venue – walking distance to the beach, shops, hotel and casino, fabulous food and friendly staff. Top marks. And they didn’t pay me to say that.

4. We don’t teach kids how to think – they innately know how to do it, just as they know how to walk and talk. However, we can coach them – and lead by example - to be skilful thinkers. [Art Costa – Habits of Mind guru - pictured with rabid fan]

5. "Pasta is just a vehicle for getting cheese to your mouth." Gem from Art Costa over dinner.

6. 21C learners have ‘mind flit’ – they juggle umpteen tasks and stimuli. This can be unproductive/distracting – so how do we tap into it and make it help learning? [Andrew Fuller - inyahead]

7. The Twitter chatter at #mysa11 was informative and stimulating – hearing other educators’ thoughts and reactions in real-time plus making new buddies. @EduSum said, “I made more human connections as a result of backchannel than ever before at PD”. The ongoing hashtag #mysaoz has been born to keep the conversation going for middle years educators in Australia. How about a NZ version? Any suggestions?

8. There are no excuses any more: upgrade your teaching with some of the many great web 2.0 applications out there. Go to www.go2web20.net to explore. [Heidi Hayes Jacobs – Curriculum 21]

9. A recurrent theme was student engagement through achievable challenge. Ties right in with our 21CHALLENGE competition and Challenging Learners Conference in the July holidays. I knew we were ahead of the game.

10. Why is it always a ‘top ten’ or ‘top five’? I vote for ‘top nine’ from now on. Time for lunch.

Catch you soon, Sue.

It's the Start of Something Great

Welcome to the first post on the Learning Network NZ Blog site. Effective communication is always a challenge and we continue to evolve our channels in an attempt to best meet the needs and demands of you, our associates, clients, customers and friends.

We have a number of great events and conferences on the horizon, this Blog is one of the places we will be using to announce and discuss them. The greatest advantage of this Blog is that it is not just a one sided conversation, we welcome your thoughts, ideas and feedback using the comment feature.

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