Lifelong Learners

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As an educator, we need to be armed with a hefty toolbox of resources, including our own skills, knowledge, strategies, experiences, behaviours, and opinions. We also need to be able to breed motivation when children seemingly have no desire to learn. We are sometimes challenged to inspire boys and girls with engaging learning opportunities that are relevant to their everyday lives, and we must be able to create welcoming and encouraging learning spaces that are tailored to suit their needs in order for them to take risks with their learning.

Most importantly, I believe we need to instil the belief that learning doesn’t end. To become lifelong learners is something that we all must preach and practise. I feel this is particularly important as an educator as we are the ones fortunate to be involved in the learning experiences of so many children year after year. We lead by example, and for those of my colleagues who have reached the ‘end’ of their most recent learning journey, I implore you to keep the momentum going throughout your professional practise.

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(Longworth & Davies, 1996, p. 22)

Immerse yourself within an inspiring community of professionals and continue to widen your network (virtual and otherwise) as the years progress. Give back to your community and share what you can with others, whether that be encouragement and support right through to your professional advice. Most of all, remember that we are a part of the largest group of professionals on the planet, so you are not alone! You just need to keep moving forward, as both a teacher and a learner.

Happy teaching!

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This post is dedicated to a cohort of educators who are preparing to cross a virtual threshold this evening as they submit their ideas, suggestions, and hopes for future learning spaces. If their experience in discovering the possibilities of learning spaces in education was anything like mine, then the past several months would have been eye-opening, challenging, inspiring, and worthwhile. Good luck to everyone with your future endeavours, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your experience.  

LONGWORTH, NORMAN, and DAVIES, W. KEITH. 1996. Lifelong Learning: New Vision, New Implications, New Roles for People, Organizations, Nations and Communities in the 21st Century. London: Kogan Page.

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Student wellbeing and learning spaces – is there a connection?

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As an adult, it is hard not to make comparisons between what school life was like for ourselves as children versus today’s students. I’m of a vintage where I still have vivid memories of the smell of freshly printed copies of worksheets (albeit, I was inhaling toxic spirit fumes that had lingered on our purple-printed papers, but that’s beside the point!). However, there are aspects of our school days that stay with us into adulthood, and beyond. Some good, some great, and even some that may be downright awful. One thing I don’t ever remember being taught about in primary school was the importance of my own emotional and psychological wellbeing. We certainly covered general physical health to some degree (e.g. exercise, nutrition), but I can’t recall anything extending beyond that, even in my high school years.

So, what has changed to make this become necessary today? Firstly, I am a huge advocate for explicit teaching and discussion about wellbeing. I am of the firm belief that children who feel secure, calm, (and ideally happy) are much better suited to be engaged in their learning versus children who are not. The current Victorian Curriculum has numerous links to student wellbeing, both physically and emotionally. Many include topics that we as teachers will be covering include things such as analysing our own emotions and how they can influence our decision making with friends and family. Many schools now have Wellbeing Programs in place, along with Wellbeing Staff members.

Concerns about our students’ mental health today is real. The statistics are alarming. The 2015 Australian report of The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents states that in Australia approximately one in every seven children and/or young person has experienced a mental health disorder in the last year. Rates for depression, self-harm and thoughts of suicide among teenagers is particularly worrying, with approximately one in ten indicating they have engaged in self-harming behaviour, with three quarters doing so in the past 12 months.

In a class of 30 grade 5/6 students I taught last week, we discussed the everyday pressures they face. Extra tuition outside of school, extra-curricular sporting/artistic/music/language classes, scholarship tutoring. In this Grade 5/6 class alone, we ran a survey and more than 70% of students had some kind of activity scheduled for every weekday after school. Furthermore, there was no child with less than three weekday outside-of-school commitments, whether that be before or after school care, sports, tutoring, or tuition. On top of that, the days they had off were often spent rushing around for their siblings’ activities. (As a parent of four kids, I know this feeling all too well – “Quick! We don’t want to be late!”, “Hurry up! It’s time to go!”).

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Our children today lead busy lives, which isn’t to say that we didn’t when we were children, but with the onslaught of constant online connectedness, I think we have failed to pass on the gift of being switched off and just being a kid. I am not trying to romanticise the olden days of my youth – there were plenty of times I would complain of being so bored with nothing to do! But, I had an opportunity to be bored, to not be rushed somewhere every day, to slow my pace and to just be. How many of our students today can say the same? 

With the Australian Government committed to provide strategies to focus on prevention and early intervention of mental health issues, it is no wonder that we now see it filtering into our curriculum. And although some of the statistics are for children who will have left the primary school system, I feel it is important that we equip them with knowledge and strategies (and even support services) before that point.

Since I am not a therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or the like, it is highly unlikely that I am going to be directly involved in the ongoing counselling of my students, other than to offer immediate crisis support if and when necessary. However, there are things that I can do to empower my students, and that is where learning spaces fit in. We are aware that children have different preferred learning styles, but they also have preferences for the spaces in which they learn. These spaces can vary from day to day, and from task to task. The important thing is to ensure you provide options. Allow students a little bit of independence to make responsible choices about where they are choosing to learn. Of course there are consequences if they misuse your trust, but a student who is already under pressure and possibly trying their hardest just to get through the day is going to be more inclined to do so when provided with an activity that matches their learning style along with a learning space that innately appeals to them. 

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As an educator, part of our role is getting to know and understand the children in our care. We need to be able to support them with guidance and boundaries in order to prepare them for the real world, but it is possible to do that while still honouring them as individuals. Offer spaces where they can learn somewhere other than at their desks. Provide tasks where they can choose how to convey their learning. Develop scaffolding so that working as part of a group doesn’t become the sole responsibility of one child. Plan for lessons that provide interaction with people within their community and beyond to broaden their understanding and their horizons. But most of all, create a safe, welcoming, and nurturing learning space where they can be themselves and where they will be supported while they learn the skills to look after themselves as well as others.

Happy teaching!

A moment to reflect

For the last few months I have been fortunate enough to be involved with a group of enthusiastic educators whilst researching the place and contribution of learning spaces in education.

The research and learning that has taken place could not have been possible without the collective input of my peers. They have provided me with ideas, solutions, and motivation when at times I felt challenged. I can also wholeheartedly say that without the guidance, support and facilitation of one particular member and leader (thank you Adam Staples) none of this would have been possible.

Our research over the course of the last 4 weeks specifically has focussed on a topic that is not easy to digest – the Syrian refugee crisis. At many times, I found myself questioning the lack of humanity that people are capable of, and wondering what on earth I could do to make any improvements for such an enormous problem.

However, out of this I have come to develop a new sense of gratitude and inspiration. Gratitude for all of the unearned privileges I have been reminded that I have each and every day. But also extremely grateful to know that my children are going to be fortunate enough to be educated by the types of teachers I have come to know within this research group. The group of peers I have worked alongside are inspired, committed and passionate educators. They have approached each and every aspect of our research with determination and perseverance. They have inspired me with their ability to to create holistically-sound programs to meet each child’s educational and developmental needs.

As this experience together comes to a formal end, I am thankful for the changes they have afforded me, for I have a new outlook and perception of just what I can strive to achieve for myself and my students. And I am proud to know that the future of education within Australia (and beyond?) will be influenced by them.

Happy teaching.

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“Classrooms of the Future” and Curriculum – what’s the relationship?

A thought occurred whilst studying classrooms of the past and moving towards classrooms of the future. There are certainly some very valid points that classrooms today, including the ones currently being built now which greatly resemble the classrooms from decades ago – a “stage” area at the front for the teacher to instruct from and rows of seating for children to be confined to, at times. A few key design features may have changed, but these are most probably due to the influence of interior designers and/or architects – not necessarily from the children themselves (Read, 2010, p76). 

Continue reading ““Classrooms of the Future” and Curriculum – what’s the relationship?”

Learning Spaces E-Presentation

As part of my ongoing study into Learning Spaces and their role in education today, I have created an online presentation about learning spaces. To view it, please select the red, highlighted link above and ensure you have your sound turned “on”.

Attached is the full transcript for the presentation, if needed.

Kayri Shanahan – Learning Spaces Presentation TRANSCRIPT

Happy viewing!

 

Taxonomy of Reflection and learning theories

Does this taxonomy of reflection highlight the difference between descriptive learning and critical learning?

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Firstly, let’s look at the taxonomy itself and why it has been created. 
 
  1. REMEMBERING – what did I do? (retrieving, recognising, recalling)
  2. UNDERSTANDING – what was important about it? (constructing meaning)
  3. APPLYING – where could I use this again? (carrying out, executing, implementing)
  4. ANALYSING – do I see any patterns in what I did? (breaking into parts, considering relationships)
  5. EVALUATING – how well did I do? (making judgements)
  6. CREATING – what should I do next? (combining or reorganising for new patterns or structures)
Often in education we don’t allow for our students to reflect on their own learning. “It’s not something that’s fostered in school – typically someone else tells you how you’re doing!” (Pappas, 2010). Reflection allows the opportunity for students to be actively involved in their own learning processes, and to recognise and acknowledge abstract patterns, connections and progress of their learning (Pappas, 2010). 
 
So, how does this model apply to descriptive learning and/or critical learning theories, if at all?
 
“Descriptive learning theories make statements about how learning occurs and devise models that can be used to explain and predict learning results.” (Ulrich, 2008, p.37). 
 
Critical learning theory “looks at the ways in which political ideology shapes Education as a way of maintaining existing regimes of priviledge and social control.” (Ward, n.d.). 
 
So, with that in mind, does this taxonomy illuminate the difference between the two learning theories?
 
In my view, it comes down to the guidance and flexibility within the classroom learning community. The process of reflection could certainly be applied in a descriptive learning theory by using it purely to reflect on the learning process of individuals in order to better improve learning outcomes in future. By allowing students to personally consider and reflect on their learning experiences and the outcomes of those, they can then translate and apply that understanding and knowledge to future learning opportunities, hopefully leading to a deeper understanding of the content being learnt (i.e. future outcomes). 
 
However, with a more open-minded approach, steps could be taken to critically reflect on not just the learning process but in some cases the content itself. I feel that students could be given the freedom of investigating the following stages in direct relation to their learning content and processes in order to adopt a critical learning application of this taxonomy-
  • understanding (what is important about it?);
  • analysing (considering relationships);
  • evaluating (considering judgements on an altered set of criteria or standards), and;
  • creating (what can I do next?). 

 

These could start discussion and reflection around theories such as the “null curriculum” (Einser, 2002, pp. 87-107) – what schools do not teach, along with consideration of both the explicit (academic goals and outcomes) and implicit (culture and values replicated in the classroom and school) (Eisner, 2002, pp. 87-107). 
By allowing students to follow the guidelines of the taxonomy for a deeper reflection of their learning experiences (processes and content), then perhaps students (and teachers) will begin to identify the differences between the two learning theories and see which holds more relevance to our educational experiences. Food for thought.
Happy teaching!

References – Eisner, E. W. (2002). The educational imagination: On the design and evaluation of school programs (pp.87-107). New York, NY : Macmillan.

Pappas, P. (2010). A Taxonomy of Reflection: Critical Thinking For Students, Teachers, and Principals (Part 1). Retrieved from http://www.peterpappas.com/2010/01/taxonomy-reflection-critical-thinking-students-teachers-principals.html

Ullrich, C. (2008). Descriptive and prescriptive learning theories. Pedagogically founded courseware generation for web-based learning (pp. 37-42). Berlin: Springer.

Ward. T. (n.d.). Critical Education Theory. Retrieved from http://www.tonywardedu.com/critical-education-theory?start=40

Image (Peter Pappas – A Taxonomy of Reflection). Retrieved from http://www.peterpappas.com/2010/01/taxonomy-reflection-critical-thinking-students-teachers-principals.html

 
 
 
 

 

Did someone say “PLN”?

As educators today, it is important that we embrace the possibilities that the internet (and Web 2.0) provides in the form of instant, global communication with others who share our interests, challenges and passions. A blog can be a useful and effective means of building your own Personal Learning Network (or PLN), and one of the biggest advantages is that you can expand your network far beyond your school and local community.

PLN’s have changed significantly over the past few decades, primarily due to the improvements in global communication via the online learning space and the creation and development of supportive “communities” of professionals, sharing their triumphs and challenges with one another. (Hoskins Sakamoto, 2012).

A blog is simply a way of defining an online form of communication, much like an online diary or journal (Saddington, 2010). However, a blog invites participation from others in the form of comments and/or feedback to your thoughts. It is through a blogs’ interactive nature that we as educators have opportunities to share our thoughts, achievements or challenges and receive support or advice from peers, novices and experts worldwide.

The idea of connecting, sometimes seemingly instantly, with other professionals in my field is exciting. Learning the ropes of a new process (i.e. a blog) can prove to be challenging, but worthwhile. I do wonder where this blog will go? How far outside of my local community can I reach to expand my knowledge and skills? There are also other ways in addition to blogs to utilise the online environment to build your own PLN, such as social media (e.g. FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube etc).

Running your own blog isn’t necessary for building your own PLN. However, don’t underestimate what you may be able to gain from all of the online tools available to you as an educator. After all, we are aiming to teach our students how to become competent adults for the future, aren’t we?

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Happy teaching!

References

Hoskins Sakamoto, B. (2012). What is a PLN, anyway? Retrieved August 7, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.teachingvillage.org/2012/01/03/what-is-a-pln-anyway/

Saddington, J. (2010). What is a Blog? What is a Blogger? What is Blogging?. Retrieved August 4, 2015. Retrieved from http://john.do/?s=what+is+a+blog

Image. (2015). Retrieved on August 7, 2015. Retrieved from www.buzzquotes.com