In search of a common language

Learning principlesLast year we sculpted our learning principles for the whole school. At the time, I had a feeling that when we begun to put flesh on the bones of the learning principles they would reveal their true merit. But why would a school need a specific set of learning principles? In education our plates often over runneth with different ways to say the same thing to the point of just confusing the practitioner, let alone the learner. So why add more ways to the say the same thing? I believe the true value of the learning principles lay in their succinctness; they are not like a policy document, they have to be unpacked, and like a good central idea they promote inquiry, research and action.

This week we went deeper into unpacking our learning principle about formative assessment. Using the thinking hats, teachers worked in teams of pre-k, lower elementary and upper elementary to uncover what is the language of feedback and thinking we use in the classroom (white hat) what language will we make common across grade levels (green hat) and what student and teacher actions need to happen in the classroom to promote and strengthen assessment literacy (blue hat). To aid this inquiry teachers also brought in samples of assessment tools, strategies and displays they currently use. As the session began to unfold it was interesting to see how at times this exercise caused learning tension; teachers were placed in a compromising situation. The blue hat directed teachers toward making concessions and come to common agreements about how to make assessment literacy more transparent for our learners. To me this is a very important and worthwhile endeavour, we have between 50 and 60 nationalities amongst our students, the majority are ESL learners. If we want students to feel empowered by assessment, doesn’t it make sense to promote and use a common language?

To me dealing with issues that provoke learning tension is a fundamental part of  being a healthy PLC;  in moving from theory to practice, groups achieve coherence and connectedness through collective endeavour that builds and tests relational trust. In turn I think this helps to de-privatise classroom practice and nudges us further towards the holy grail of collective responsibility and understanding.


The Lesser Spotted Blue Hat…

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After my transition out of the classroom and into a coordinating role in a new school, it was rewarding this week to get back into the classroom to work with the students. In grade 5 at AIS Dhaka we are setting up class blogs and I for one am very excited to see what learning possibilities unfold over the coming months. As ever, the extent to which students perceive themselves as partners in the learning process is equal to the quality of contributions they are likely to make. To value the importance of student ownership in our venture, we wanted to find out how the students were feeling about blogging, what a class blog might be used for and how we should use our class blog. In addition, we needed to establish some agreements that would be binding on all and embrace the important elements of digital citizenship.

The versatility of the thinking hats was perfect for the job of eliciting student ideas and beliefs. Coming back to the thinking hats after the summer break, made me re-evaluate my understanding of the blue hat (previously I had not always managed to integrate the blue hat as effectively as the others). To me the blue hat does take a little more thinking about and so it should I guess, because metacognition needs to be worked at! In this lesson the blue hat played a vital role in helping to synthesise the findings of the other hats and in turn helped us to begin to construct our essential agreements about blogging in grade 5.

Do you use the blue hat in the classroom? If so… how?

“Getting to the heart of the matter using the thinking hats”

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It has been very encouraging over the course of this last UOI to see how students are beginning to see the value of making their thinking visible and developing their confidence to share ideas in a very public way. It is possible that sometimes as teachers we can take children’s ability to reveal their thoughts for granted, but for young children sharing personal ideas can be very risky and potentially expose them to ridicule. However when students feel secure in their learning environment, we start to see not only creative ideas emerge, but also preconceived ideas through the connections they make with their personal lives. These different perspective provide a great context for developing the learner profile and attitudes, because they allow us to interact, share points of view and reflect on concepts such as bias and the validity of our beliefs. At times this can be a contentious area to explore, but in my opinion totally necessary. After all in the PYP we are teaching children for intercultural understanding.

By using different combinations of the thinking hats, it is possible to tap into those pure unadulterated lines of thought, which may not emerge in a general discussion and brainstorm about a subject. (see the video clip below). During this session the thinking hats supported greater depth of insight into student thinking. From a teaching and planning perspective this kind of thinking provides wonderful material for further inquiry.

Wondering around the classroom I used two simple guiding questions to stimulate interaction – “what are you thinking?” and “what makes you think that?”

Trying on the thinking hats in G2


Last week was a great week for thinking in G2, as we moved deeper into our unit of inquiry about the effect peoples needs and wants have upon the growth of a city. The thing I like about thinking hats are their flexibility and application to a wide variety of learning situations. They are also pretty simple for younger students to grasp the conceptual idea. We used the green hat for PSE circle time to explore new ideas for helping students respect each others property. The black and yellow made an appearance when we reviewed writing samples for developing criteria for a student rubric on recount writing. In another learning engagement the blue and black hats were used as a filter to evaluate our research findings during a UOI engagement. Students decided whether their facts could be added to the timeline about the growth of cities,  by matching the criteria developed about peoples needs and wants in a previous session.

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It has been a priveledge to watch the thinking of young minds at work, particularly after just viewing an animated presentation by Ken Robinson. During his presentation Ken   pertinently makes the point that conditioning stiffles our natural divergent thinking abilities. I think through my own schooling I fell victim to this phenomena, which makes me more determined not to replicate how  I was taught through my own teaching. The value of thinking needs to be nurtured through every possible opportunity, because teaching students’ how to think is definitely a symbiotic process. How often do young children open up our minds to new possibilities and solutions to problems?

Do you have a personal recollection of original or profound student thinking to share?