Glenbrook School (5-034) - Learning as an action: How to develop reciprocal ako agency with learners Publications
Project Reference: Glenbrook School (5-034) - This TLIF project inquired into how teacher practice can be strengthened through ako agency with all learners, including teachers, students, and whānau. Teachers used metacognitive questioning and feedback and feedforward stems as instructional levers for developing students’ understanding of effective learning conversations. As leaders of learning, students would then be empowered to facilitate specific and effective learning conversations with whānau.
Author(s): (Inquiry Team) Lysandra Stuart (Project Lead), Jessica Simons, Mrs Heather Simnor, Suit-Keen Kovati-Waru, Emma Sixsmith and Alana Cantley
Date Published: February 2019
The goal was to explore a seamless sharing of pedagogy and skills between home and school.
Parents’ excitement prompted greater motivation for teachers to shift ako practice. Students increasingly ask themselves and others questions using quality metacognitive prompts; this includes natural conversations between students, using questions such as, “What can I do better?” and “What can I improve?” Students experienced awe and wonder and would share this with their group. It was exciting to be able to use micro-media clips to share these moments with whānau so they could experience what we as teachers get excited about in those teachable moments.
By being very deliberate in their acts of teaching, leadership of infrastructure, and purposeful connections with whānau, teachers grew ako agency and their community’s understanding of how learning can be framed as a series of actions for realising learner potential. Parents and whānau gained insights into what their children could do and how they could be part of fostering metacognition and critical thinking skills. An unexpected discovery was the power of micro-media – short, powerful video clips offering insights into what ako agency looks like and how it can be facilitated.
Ms Lysandra Stuart was the project leader. Her colleagues on the team were Mrs Jessica Simons, Mrs Heather Simnor, Mrs Suit-Keen Kovati-Waru, Miss Emma Sixsmith, and Mrs Alana Cantley
Mr Kenneth Tuaiti was the project’s videographer.
Alana Cantley (Vision Education) was the project’s critical friend.
The inquiry story
This project was led by the school’s principal and all five members of the curriculum lead team. In its first year, five whānau participated from each of the curriculum leaders’ classes. In the second year, it was extended to include a new group of students and their whānau. Participants spanned all year levels.
What was the focus?
Teachers at Glenbrook School are driven to grow ‘ako’ agency by coaching students to understand and lead their own learning. The school is focused on realising learner potential through conceptualising learning as an action.
While the school has high levels of community participation and engagement, it was also apparent that parent understandings about effective pedagogy were based on their own, more traditional, experiences of schooling. The school wanted to build the understandings and capabilities of teachers, students, and whānau so that members of the school community could engage in reciprocal learning conversations that foster metacognition and critical thinking. Through this mahi, the school also hoped to build continuity in students’ learning experiences at home and at school.
What did the teachers try?
The inquiry team began by developing tools and gathering baseline data with which to understand current practice and its outcomes and to monitor their impact on ako agency. Initially, the teachers focused on their own interactions with students and how they could foster metacognition and critical thinking within the context of writing instruction. They further explored the idea of learning as an action that can be explained and captured.
Initially, the team focused on both strengthening effective questioning and feedback skills but, with the Covid-19 lockdowns, refined the focus to effective questioning skills. This involved moving from an IRE pattern (where the teacher initiates an interaction, the students respond, and the teacher evaluates their response) to asking students authentic questions that arise naturally from the learning and are intended to generate critical thinking. To support this shift, the teachers worked collaboratively to create metacognitive prompts and question stems. They shared planning, created resources, and engaged in professional learning conversations.
At each year level, the teachers developed a sequence of small group writing lessons that addressed higher-order questions. In these lessons, the participating students used a Think – Pair – Share – Compare (TPSC) strategy that provided them with practice in critical thinking and in articulating their thinking and questioning.
The team engaged a videographer to record teacher-student interactions. This worked first as a tool for teachers to observe and reflect upon their practice and establish next steps in their own learning. They did this by analysing what they saw to understand their own levels of questioning, the types of student-led discussions taking place, and the frequency of TPSC opportunities. However, the purpose of the project was not only to influence teacher practice but also that of whānau. This was planned to happen through a series of hui. The videographer introduced the idea of micro-media technology – in this instance, short video clips that provided authentic and powerful snapshots of ako agency. Teachers were able to share these with whānau to demonstrate what their children could do and the kinds of questioning and metacognitive prompts that promote critical thinking.
A key word used throughout the project was ‘deliberate’. Teachers worked on ‘deliberate acts of teaching’ to foster metacognition, leaders worked on ‘deliberate acts of infrastructure’ and resourcing to ensure the school’s strategic focus on ako agency was prioritised, and both parties engaged in ‘deliberate acts of connection’ with whānau. As well as the hui and micro-media clips, these included updates on the school’s portal and website.
The acronym FAILS (First Attempts in Learning) also became part of the team’s language and that of students and whānau. This connects high expectations with a willingness to take on challenges, celebrate success, but also see ‘failure’ as a step towards that success.
The Covid-19 lockdown proved an opportunity for teachers to model online writing instruction and effective questions and prompts to parents and whānau. At the same time, their focus students were demonstrating their confidence and ability to take the lead in instruction. Teachers also introduced flipped learning – frontloading new content so that they could work more intensely with specific groups and individuals.
What happened as a result of this innovation?
The project achieved the following outcomes:
- Ako agency was strengthened in terms of student knowledge of how to learn, their dispositions to learn, and their understandings of how learning should be structured.
- Students gained increased confidence in their metacognitive strategies and teachers in their ability to facilitate them. Both teachers and students were seen to transfer these strategies to other areas of the curriculum.
- By the end of their involvement, all the students who participated in the inquiry were able to confidently justify, clarify, and articulate their ideas and provide evidence for their thinking and learning.
- The inquiry students developed the habit of asking provocative questions, both at home and in the classroom.
- The inquiry students became leaders of learning in critical thinking amongst their peers and proactively supported others in their cohort.
- The writing achievement of all inquiry students was accelerated.
- The co-construction and use of scoping and self-assessment tools empowered and motivated teachers to strengthen and refine their practice, purpose, and pedagogy.
- The TLIF team were able to mentor their colleagues to facilitate student use of metacognitive strategies and to support the transfer of these strategies to other learning areas and groups of students.
- The experience of viewing the micro-media video clips gave whānau insight into the power of their children’s critical thinking skills when facilitated by their teacher within an authentic learning environment.
- Whānau were motivated and enabled to engage in learning conversations with teachers and students about the learning dispositions they observed. This itself increased student confidence and self-efficacy.
What did they learn?
The project team identified the following lessons from their inquiry:
- The dispositions of ako agency can be clearly observed and defined through micro-media. This creates a rewindable, time-effective learning model for all stakeholders.
- It is essential to simplify the purpose of an inquiry to ensure goals are achievable and can be refined in the context of everyday practice by students, teachers, and whānau.
- It is necessary to involve members of the leadership team to ensure the vision and purpose of an important new project is prioritised. Leaders can then implement deliberate acts of infrastructure to ensure successful outcomes.
- Investing in time and the right people to engage in the project creates strong leaders of learning who will coach and empower others in their learning.
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For further information
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact the project leader, Lysandra Stuart, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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