Sunday, September 20, 2015

Slow Learning

While our main focus over the last 3 years has been to create a quality learning environment for the students and teachers of Hobsonville Point Secondary School we have also made it clear to ourselves, and to anyone else who cares to listen, that we are out to redesign the NZ secondary schooling environment.

Back when I first started talking about this I most probably was thinking mainly about school structures and programme design features - structures and design features that would enable our pursuit of relevant and personalised learning. While I am convinced that these changes are vital it is more evident to me that the whole culture of schooling and learning that needs to be revisited.

I am absolutely over the moon with what we are achieving in our establishment journey but we a re very conscious of colleagues and other institutions and wider community who are critical of the culture we are trying to develop and the practices we are building to support that culture. We often get told we can only do what we are doing because we have a brand new building, we have hand-picked our staff, we are high decile etc.

Others talk about us using students as guinea pigs and having teething problems (I hope we always have teething problems!). Others have a view, without ever having visited our school, that there are no structures, that our students can do what they like and that we can't prove, as other schools can, that our students are learning.

Each one of these points could be the focus of its own blog post (and they may well emerge in one later). As far as I know every school hand picks it's staff. As well, I know that I have not been in a school whose structures that support Years 9 and 10 learning are so rigorous and where learning is tracked so closely. And yes, students have a huge say in their learning. We ask them to identify which contexts they would like to explore their learning in and we ask them to suggest the best ways for them to process their learning and the best ways to evidence their learning. As well, we seek their views on any major decisions we are going to make. We do not, however, abdicate any responsibility for curriculum coverage, learning progression or for having high expectations of what they are capable, especially when it comes to making responsible decisions about their own learning. Why would we want anything else in a school?
Staff listening to student voice on MyTime

We have had hundreds of visitors from schools across NZ, from Australia, from Singapore, from Korea, and from USA. What is hugely satisfying is that they not only leave impressed with what they see and experience, largely by talking with students, but that they feel inspired to go back into their environment and lead change to a different type of schooling.

I have the awesome privilege of escorting many of these visitors throughout our school and to hear what students say to them, to observe students in the act of learning, to hear what teachers say to them, and to observe teachers in the act of teaching.
Students explaining learning to one of our many visiting groups

I know our teachers are working very hard; there is no place for pre-planned units of work taken off a shelf in a school which is setting out to personalise learning and to make authenticity and relevance visible by linking subject disciplines together in forever changing combinations. As well, for the first time in their careers, teachers are Learning Coaches, Project Guides and collaborative planners, teachers and assessors. What I have noticed more clearly now, though, is that the act of teaching is calm, unhurried and responsive.
Calm, unhurried, responsive collaborative teaching in action

This has got me thinking about the concept of slow learning.

One of our Principles is to inspire students through deep challenge and inquiry, This is impossible to achieve when school is a mad rush to get through stuff while at the same time continually assessing the stuff. Such a culture place too much stress on both teachers and students.

I'm liking the sound of the slow learning movement. This has been reinforced through a series of meetings Claire and I have had with the 15 Year 11 students that we have and their families over the best pathways for them as they attempt to  move through their qualifications pathways. The realisation I have come to is that these students and their families enrolled in our school because they had faith in the model of learning we were aspiring to - which includes not contributing to the culture of assessment anxiety that exists in almost all schools (see ERO). Yet what we initially proposed to support this small group of learners was going to do just that (and create too much stress for staff). Claire really nailed it when she started talking about there being no need to rush and that it is OK to take time to move through and eventually graduate from school. As a result, almost all of these students, with the support of their parents, have decided to travel through school with the current Year 10 cohort with the likelihood of 6 years at secondary school. I see these students as the pioneers of the slow learning movement.

And when you look at our Vision (and I expect most schools') to create an inclusive and stimulating learning environment which empowers learners to contribute confidently and responsibly in a changing world and at our 2 Pathways of Excellence - Academic Excellence and Personal Excellence - how can you rush this through in a pressure cooker environment.

What might a slow learning movement mean?

Who's going to join us? We've got a group of lone nuts and first followers who would like you to join in.


Ros MacEachern said...

Feel very lucky to have you leading us, Maurie. Your commitment, courage and conviction (not only for our learners but for all learners throughout the world) is inspiring.

Tony Cairns said...

Awesome - love your blogs, passion and school - kia kaha and keep on leading the HPSS band of pirates to take on the rich galleons and fire ships
of the educational world

Peter Campbell said...

G'day Maurie from Aussie Pete. I agree with the slow learning concept indeed. Sometimes you've got to go slow to go fast. Depth and mastery are critical to develop the understanding and application of new knowledge. With so many options available for our students and teachers to access knowledge sometimes staying present in the moment is the critical factor for learners. Love the concept. Maybe a new road sign out front "Slow. Learning in progress"

winstedt said...

I've got 2 thoughts.

There is a book, I think by Kahneman, "Slow and Fast thinking", indicating that slow one is associated with more deep processing of the information. This is just a hint.

Now a case.
THere was this mathematician, Perelman, who solved topological issue of the XXI century. I don't remember much, nor i understand the point of his discovery, but it was huge in the maths world.

Here's the thing - during the classes he was said not to be the 1st one to answer. He was rather the last one. But his answers were always correct - his teacher said. So the full about clever and fast-thinking. Well, it's to be abandoned at some point, hopefully.