This month I am taking a deeper dive into Shifts in Practice (Chapter 2 of Learning That Transfers). Having had a whistle stop tour of a few LTT staples and wellbeing in August, I thought turning my attention to the foundational elements of Learning That Transfers would be a great place to go next. If you haven’t had a look at last week’s blog, I recommend you go there first for a bit of context – I’m also very keen to get some of your experiences on the blog, too, so if you’re playing around with these shifts in September, definitely drop me an email and I’ll include what you are doing in the Try It Together blog at the end of the month. 

I know from personal experience and from conversations between colleagues and from comments I see on Twitter that things are changing in education. The pandemic has been a catalyst in many ways for our reflections about what it means to be an educator and a designer of learning. This week Julie and Trevor spoke to Annie Murphy Paul on the latest episode of Conceptually Speaking, she has recently published her book The Extended Mind; I am yet to read it, but I am itching to do so. The podcast not only whet my appetite for the book, but really got me thinking about how we teach our young people. As I was considering shifts in my role as a teacher, this episode helped me to reconsider many of my classroom approaches – particularly with respect to movement and externalising thinking.

Fostering Self-Directed Learning

The ACT model and the many strategies we have designed and exemplified as a team are the bread and butter of Learning That Transfers, but without strong foundations the power of LTT is yet to be unlocked. Shifts in Practice are the foundations we attend to in order to release this power.

This week my students and I explored shifts in the role of the student and the role of the teacher in a transfer-focused classroom (see examples on P.31 of Learning That Transfers). One element of this shift is Fostering Self-Directed Learning (P.30-34). I tried out the ‘next-day strategies’ in my class and I want to share how it went. 

Strategy 1: What does ‘learning’ mean to you?

I love this strategy. I think it would be great to repeat it every now and again to see how student perceptions change and examples and their awareness of habits of mind grow, especially as this enables students to think outside of their brains and share their thinking with the class. Below are a couple of examples of student responses to the lesson focused on what learning means to them, what it looks like and when they knew they had learned something, in addition to examples of habits of mind they have used in the past. I noticed that at this point (this is my Grade 5 class) the students consider learning to be a personal and internal ‘thing’. It was interesting to notice this after listening to the latest podcast episode. 

Strategy 2: Peer coaching

With my Grade 6s I thought I would try some peer coaching. This was probably the most impactful strategy I tried this week and something I will use regularly. On P.32 you’ll find a thinking tool for students to use during their peer coaching. I adapted this slightly to align with the learning experience on graphing and interpreting graphs:

Partner APartner B
Explain what you understand about graphing and the interpretation of your graph. Listen to your partner without interrupting. 
Share what feedback you would like from your partner:
Do you want feedback about your scale? Your labels? The precision of your plotting? Do you need feedback about your interpretation of the graph?
Make a note of the feedback your partner is asking for. 
Listen to the feedback without interruption. Look at your partner’s graph and provide the feedback they have asked for. Do you notice anything else you might help them with?
Reflect and tell your partner what your next step is. Acknowledge your partner’s reflection. 

I like to think of myself as a supportive teacher, ready to engage with and help the students in their learning. But I sometimes feel like I could be doing less and the students would learn more. This peer coaching strategy is just what I needed. Instead of the students waiting for me to answer their questions or tell them where to go next, they could support one another. During the coaching they were able to point out where labels and units had been missed, when plotting was not precise or where scales were incorrect. I listened in on their coaching conversations, one student was explaining to another that without the labels the numbers didn’t mean anything and we can’t interpret the graph. Beautiful. The genius part of this particular coaching structure is that students specify what kind of feedback they want and the coaches target what’s been asked for. This was the first time I had used the strategy with this class so they reflected that it was hard to ask for and give feedback to their peers, they are not used to it yet, but they appreciated how much more feedback they were able to receive when they didn’t need to wait for me. 

Strategy 3: Think Aloud

The last strategy I tried was a ‘think aloud’ (P.33). I used this strategy with my Grade 11 class on energy cycles. I wanted to demonstrate my thinking when figuring out a Born-Haber cycle for the formation of an ionic compound. Developing metacognition is key for LTT – the ACT model depends on students building on prior knowledge to spot patterns and solve problems in novel contexts. Any chance to model my thinking and discuss the ways we think is important so students see how experts approach a new problem. I am extremely fortunate to have just 5 students in this class and once we had discussed the thinking approach they then got together to tackle a couple of compounds themselves; I might as well not have been there! Sorry for those of you who aren’t chemistry lovers – don’t forget that the wonderful Erin Leininger has been sharing a Twitter series on Shifts in Practice aligned to Language Acquisition, so definitely check those out. These are her posts on Shifts in Student Role, and Shifts in Teacher Role which has been my focus this week. 

I didn’t get the chance to design a learning experience for shifts in mindset (also on P.33), but I highly recommend this because self-directed learning is all about mental resilience and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy in mathematics is the theme of Math Lead Kayla Duncan’s doctoral dissertation, which just happens to have John Hattie on the advisory committee! Kayla’s blog post about her project is a great read.

Experimenting with Learning Transfer and sharing my experience with you has been a real joy so far. Next week I will be working on Student-Teacher relationships – see you then! 

P.S. Because I posted late this week, I already read the LTT newsletter. As always it’s fab. and packed with goodies. This week the focus was Educator Overwhelm: check out this video on the #1 Root Cause of Overwhelm for Educators and what can be done about it. The LTT Team has been hard at work developing our online courses with ‘teacher overwhelm’ right at the centre of our considerations, reducing any distractions so that the course is crystal clear and a joy to take – we couldn’t be more excited for the next cohort to get going on 3rd October: Discipline Courses