This weeks posting comes from Melbourne and the Project Zero Conference. With one day down things are looking very positive for an outstanding learning opportunity. With session from David Perkins, Edward Clapp, Edna Sackson and Ron Ritchhart accompanied by engaging conversations with many colleagues it has been a wonderful way to spend a Saturday.
Project Zero is a series of research projects within Harvard Graduate School of Education. As a group they are clear thought leaders responsible for many significant research projects which are having a real impact on education. From Teaching for Understanding, and Making Thinking Visible to Cultures of Thinking and emerging projects linked to agency and the Maker Movement the Harvard team is having a big influence. Key researchers include Howard Gardner, David Perkins, Ron Ritchhart, Daniel Wilson and with connections to the likes of Art Costa and Edward de Bono, Project Zero has been able to leverage the understanding of many evangelists for an education system that places the learner at the centre and builds for them the disposition and habits required for success.
David Perkins delivered the opening plenary session with a presentation linked to his book ‘Future Wise’. A key concept within this is how we make decisions about what we teach. Much of the standard curriculum experienced by our students can be traced back to the earliest days of formal education. It is based upon a bias towards teaching academic disciplines in silos and with an emphasis on the conveyance of knowledge considered essential for future progress within each area of learning. Perkins refers to this model as one that prepares students for future ‘Junior Expertise’. He questions the value of this model and asks that we consider the ‘Lifeworthiness’ of what we teach. Learning that is ‘Lifeworthy’ is that which is likely to be useful in the lives learners are likely to live. Sadly against such a benchmark much of the learning that the traditional disciplines hold sacred is found to be lacking.
Perkins identifies six areas within education that require action and are the point around which education is changing. He describes these as the ‘Six Beyonds’:
- Beyond Content - Moving towards 21st Century skills, competencies etc
- Beyond Local - Bringing to education global perspectives, problems, studies - moving beyond the narrow perspective of the past thanks to the affordances of a connected world
- Beyond Topics - Content becomes a tool for action and thinking
- Beyond the Traditional Disciplines - Including areas of study and thought that have significant on what we do - an emphasis made here is the inclusion of statistics
- Beyond discrete disciplines - Moving towards integrated learning where students use their skills and dispositions in unison on projects that cut across traditional lines
- Beyond academic engagement - An education that includes personal choice, significance, commitment and passion
With these six beyonds and the concept of ‘Lifeworthy’ in mind Perkins offered a strategy for evaluating our units and teaching programmes. By creating an ‘Opportunity Story’ we are able to identify the learning that a unit makes possible and reveal the big ideas that it will potentially engage students with. An ‘Opportunity Story’ centres about four key ideas: Insight, Action, Ethics and Opportunity. A great unit will reveal important insights about the world, engage students with ethical questions and dilemmas, include a call to action or a chance to take action and bring opportunities for students to extend their learning beyond the classroom and be of value to their futures
As proof that ‘Project Zero’ is maintaining its relevance ‘Agency by Design’ is a project that is exploring the utility of the Maker Movement. Early research has revealed that the core elements of a successful Maker programme is its ability to enhance student agency and build character. Such a perspective takes making beyond building stuff to building a disposition to make the world a better place. This session was presented by Edward Clapp whose excellent definition of the Maker Movement is worth considering: 'A sensitivity to the designed dimension of objects and systems, along with the inclination and capacity to shape one’s world through building, tinkering, re/designing, or hacking’. An important insight from this session is that the Maker Movement is much more about the dispositions, the collaborations and the community that it builds than it is about the tools and the spaces. The current trend towards the development of Makerspaces without careful consideration of what will happen in them and how they might construct the conditions required for quality ‘Maker Centred’ learning should be avoided.
The third session of the day was centred on how we may become globally connected educators and learners. Our classrooms need no longer be isolated from the world and our students are able to learn alongside students from across the globe. In a session that included many opportunities to share ideas and for attendees to discuss and unpack the concepts Edna Sackson shared her experiences of connecting her students globally. Edna uses tools such as Twitter, Google Docs, Skype and blogs to provide her students with access to experts from around the world while ensuring their learning has a real audience. The session allowed for an in-depth discussion of the ethics of sharing with a global audience, issues of privacy and the need for students to learn how to manage their online identities through supported learning experiences. Those who attended this session left full of ideas to try when they return to their schools and a better understanding of what is possible.
The final session of the day was led by Ron Ritchhart and presented us with an understanding of the role that our language plays in how we analyse our teaching. Ron Ritchhart is best know for his research linked to the ‘Eight Cultural Forces’. In this session he revealed how the cultural forces may be used to provide us with a language and framework to use when we are analysing our observation of our teaching practice. Ritchhart cautioned against the use of the term feedback for lesson observations. Feedback caries with it an expectation of evaluation and judgement. Analysis of a lesson observations directs us towards a value free account of what occurred, how it influenced the learning and an understanding of why it may have been included. Ritchhart provided a series of prompts to be used when analysing lesson observations:
I noticed . . . (an aspect of the lesson linked to one of the cultural forces) and I think the teacher made that choice because . . .and I think that supported students learning and thinking by . . .and I think that sent a message to students that . . .
The session included opportunities to observe a range of lessons with time after each to analyse what was seen and to share our ideas with neighbours. Discussion after each viewing encouraged us to identify similarities and differences in the language we used while analysing a sample lesson. The final lesson was observed and analysed using the framework of prompts described above. A clear improvement in the quality, focus and value of our observations was evident with the use of this and we left with an understanding of how the language we use to talk about our teaching is important.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the conference so far is that so many educators are willing to give up their weekend to engage in learning. This speaks volumes to the quality of teachers and shows that our nations future is in good hands. We were encouraged by Daniel Wilson in his opening remarks to be 'Voracious and courageous learners’ and from what I experienced, so far we have risen to the challenge.
By Nigel Coutts