Tag Archives: learning community

Tīmatanga – Inception

This term an exciting new adventure in teaching began – I am teaching in a ‘power of three’ collaborative team which is spread over four learning spaces! I am the newest team member and have had the pleasure of setting up the third and fourth ‘rooms’ in temporary accommodation (portable units) on the school site (the school is currently undergoing a large demotion and construction project).

There are limitations to space and available furniture but what I have noticed is that anything is possible if you are enthusiastic about what is unique. I had a definite “a-ha!” moment when I was contemplating the metal walls of the temporary buildings… they are magnetic! It was as though a world of possibility opened up and I immediately dug out the dusty box of magnetic letters to spell out some words of welcome on the wall.

Bringing a new learning space together in a limited time frame has also shown the value of “just in time” support. This is a rapidly growing school with a busy staff – finding the right person at the right time could be an impossible task. However, I have been on the receiving end of a generous amount of support as colleagues have stepped up to answer questions, source equipment, move furniture, share data, and I have even had coffee brought to me twice this week!

Everything that went well in the first week, in a nutshell:

  • Positive relationship building with colleagues, students and parents
  • Setting up new learning spaces which are safe and engaging to be in
  • Being put forward as my team’s rep for school-wide kapa haka
  • Setting professional goals with mentor teacher
  • Offering professional support for upcoming Enviroschool projects
  • Collaborating over student data in preparation for next week


Professional readings this week:



Āwhina – asking for help

One of my biggest learning moments this year has come recently when my mentor and I began having regular structured PRT meetings. Prior to this term we have had a flexible and fluid arrangement that meant we could go for over a month without meeting about PRT specific topics. However, each one of those meetings would conclude with my mentor saying, “Remember you can come and ask me if you need any help.”

The recent change to our meeting arrangement has brought one very clear fact to the fore: I have never learned to ask for help. The ingrained habit of waiting until I need help before asking has meant that I have missed dozens of opportunities to ask for help simply because I want to be better at something and feel able to ask for support in achieving that goal.

The small but significant difference in what motivates people (ME!) to ask for help, I think, can be identified thus:

Asking for help when you need it usually stems from a fear of failure and is associated with a sense of self-doubt and, for me, a sense of being a pain in the ass for the person whom I am asking (and my method of asking for help is usually prefaced with a lot of apologising for needing help in the first place).

Example: “I just don’t understand why this isn’t working, so, I know you’re busy and I’m sorry to be a pain but I just don’t think I’m doing the right things and I’m not sure what to do to make a difference…” etc. Add some more self-depreciating apologies and excuses for not independently having the situation under control… This vague and confusing method of asking for help can result in frustration for both sides. (I know because I have been on the receiving end of this method myself!)

Asking for help when you want it, before you need it, feels different. It feels like asking how to be greater and more successful tomorrow than you are today, and is combined with a sense of aspiration and purpose. In the last few weeks I have learned that this type of asking is usually met with enthusiasm and can even be a compliment to the person you’re asking to support you – people, including me and teachers in particular, love to help – especially when you are specific about what you want to achieve. If the person you ask can’t help, they will generally direct you to someone who can when you use this approach.

Example: “I haven’t collected any evidence of meeting Registered Teacher Criteria #11. What would this evidence look like and can you help me identify some quality examples?” 

That’s it – simple and specific. I want this help, can you support me. There is no reason to feel like a nuisance if you are being responsible and proactively asking for help. This is a lesson (not just for teaching, but for life in general) I wish I had learned years ago. It makes all the difference to whether you have set-up your support network to wait at the bottom of the cliff, or whether you are working together co-constructing the wings you need to fly!

Ask... seek... knock

Ask… seek… knock

For information on high-quality co-constructed PRT induction click here

How do you ask for support and ensure you are reaching your aspirations, rather than just surviving? How are you teaching your students to ask for help in specific and constructive ways?

Whakaaroaro rua – reflection II

What will the constructive learning community look like in the 21st Century?

4 teacher actions & 4 constructive community characteristics

The four key teacher actions will be enhanced by ICT tools:

1. Developing reflective attitudes in their students – through learning about and using editable spaces where participants can observe others learning processes and learn about and appreciate diverse ways of problem solving and developing ideas, for example Google Docs and wikis

2. Explicit teaching of metacognitive language, skills and processes – through learning about and using ICT tools which can become creative and constructive learning artefacts such as Prezi and blogs

3. Making space for reflection in the classroom – sharing knowledge digitally, through text, images, audio and video creates a dynamic repository of ideas that can be reflected upon and becomes a record of learning

4. Using and encouraging a responsive interaction style – digital communication and collaborative interaction which can be stored, shared, published and is not the property of one individual but becomes the artefact of all

Can you see how using ICT tools can support students’ exploration of diverse ways of thinking?
… And support students striving for a shared objective – one that advances each members knowledge and skill?
… And maintains an emphasis of learning about learning by making learning visible?
… And provides methods and motives for sharing what is learned?
When ICT is aligned with the characteristics of a constructive community of learners, we have effective e-learning.

When a constructive learning community has mastered learning-oriented patterns of practice necessary for working together as partners in learning, the next step may be to take their skills and apply them to a wider field. Creating connections with other communities is a way to develop student’s authentic participation and socially responsible citizenship.

When students begin exploring beyond the classroom there are a variety of platforms available for different purposes – depending on whether students are primarily producing and publishing still image, audio, written or video content; and how they intend to communicate and collaborate with their cyber-peers. As the teacher you will need to consider the most appropriate platform and then explicitly teach the language, skills and processes involved. The eLearning Action Plan for Schools 2006 – 2010 (MoE, 2006) States that, “…it is the teacher’s strategic and deliberate planning of the learning and use of ICT that will ensure the desired learning takes place…”(p.10).

There are many experienced teaching practitioners available to guide teachers – many using the same information and communication mediums that students can benefit from. So here is an ideal opportunity for the teacher to learn alongside their students. In fact, the eLearning Action Plan for Schools states that “Effective teaching for all students will depend on teachers becoming confident and capable users of ICT and understanding how to integrate ICT effectively into the classrooms in order to achieve the desired learning outcomes for students” (MoE, 2006, p. 10). One of the easiest ways for teachers to learn about ICT integration is to seek out what other teachers are doing and many ICT savvy teachers are sharing their experiences through professional and class blogs.

Why “promote a collaborative, inclusive and supportive learning environment”, that “provides opportunities and support [students] to engage with, practise and apply new learning to different contexts” and “assists [students] to think critically about information and ideas and to reflect on their learning”?

Well, for a start, doing those things covers a couple of the Registered Teacher Criteria for New Zealand teachers, it also covers many of the characteristics for quality teaching of diverse learners described by Alton-Lee in the Best Evidence Synthesis as well as fulfils the vision written for students in the New Zealand Curriculum statement. The Ministry of Education also defines best practice for e-learning as “using technologies effectively across the curriculum to connect schools and communities and to provide accessible, relevant, and high-quality learning…opportunities that improve student engagement and achievement.”

Creating Constructive Communities embraces modern teaching practices and tools for learning to support our youngest citizens as they become confident, connected, actively involved life-long learners.

Whakaaroaro tahi – reflection I

It has been a lengthy blog hiatus. At one stage I thought I might never get back on the wagon – that the momentum would continue to propel my forward trajectory into learning and teaching. After nearly four years of tertiary training though, I have learned a thing or two about the importance of taking a time-out, resting, regenerating and reflecting on the journey…

So … let’s reminisce with the first in a series of reflection highlights:
Here is my theoretical basis of teaching, which I call
“Creating Constructive Communities”.
I hope there are some points of interest for teachers and learners…

What is a constructive community and how do they work?

Classrooms are considered the training ground for young people destined to take their place in society as responsible citizens. The rules and responsibilities students are exposed to and engaged in socialise them into patterns of practice. This belief is founded on the socio-cultural theory of  Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) – who asserted that children acquired the knowledge, skills and attitudes of their community through social interaction.

Constructivist learning theorists, such as Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Maria Montessori, assert that children construct knowledge and develop understanding of the world around them through experience, and believe that students should be encouraged to reflect on their own learning and thinking, rather than being taught to recall facts or mimic processes without deeper understanding.

Together, these two theories create a new approach to education, social-constructivist learning communities – classrooms where rules and responsibilities are learning-oriented, teachers and students work together as partners in learning, and patterns of practice are based on democratic ideals to prepare students for active citizenship. In these learning communities children actively participate in constructive learning experiences at their particular level of readiness and are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning and develop reflective thinking skills.

The characteristics of a constructive learning community are,
according to Bielaczyc and Collins :
1. recognition of the diversity of each member of the learning community
2. a shared objective – that of continually advancing each members knowledge and skills
3. an emphasis on learning about learning
4. methods and motives for sharing what is learned

In the learning community, the patterns of practice are modelled and supported by every member, as they work together towards their learning objectives. Teaching of the language, skills and processes required for full-participation and critical reflection is explicit. Time for discussion about the learning objective and the learning process is provided, so students can share their thinking with others, learn from others ideas, and develop understanding about their learning and about the learning of others.

The role of the teacher

The role of the teacher in the constructive community is to model and guide student development of pro-social behaviour and constructive classroom conduct; as well as facilitating engaging learning projects, challenges, and scenarios for students to explore. Teachers are guided by their one core teaching and learning responsibility – to support learning. Teachers do this by respecting the agency of the learner, demonstrating respect, ensuring clarity about what is being learned, and maintain responsive reciprocal relationships with each student, work group and wider school team.

4 key teacher actions underpin the successful adoption of the four community characteristics:

4 teacher actions & 4 constructive community characteristics

1. Developing reflective attitudes in their students – this is done by encouraging students to be open-minded to new ideas and the ideas of others, to take responsibility for their learning, and to take risks in order to learn from mistakes.

2. Explicit teaching of metacognitive language, skills and processes – this empowers students to take control of their learning and thinking and allows them to articulate their ideas in order to share them with others and engage in meaningful explanations and dialogues.

3. Making space for reflection in the classroom – providing time for students to think critically and reflectively about their knowledge, skills and attitudes. These reflections are also informative windows into the student learning process that is valuable for teacher understanding of student progress.

4. Using and encouraging a responsive interaction style – this is done by demonstrating commitment and respect for the learning relationships in the community, and by acknowledging and encouraging the learning that is occurring, as well as recognising and affirming student contributions to the development of the community.

The role of the student

The role of the student in the constructive community is to be an active participant in learning, taking responsibility for their learning, collaborating with others and maintaining respectful and responsive relationships with other members of the learning community, both teachers and students. The constructive community model is an environment in which students can develop the patterns of practice required to become a socially responsible citizen.

These learning-focused relationships are reciprocal and are infused with the concept of ako – or the acknowledgment that knowledge is: developed by incorporating each student’s unique strengths and prior knowledge; strengthened by shared experience; and that teacher and student interaction is a constructive force for both participants.

Coming in my next blog post…
What a constructive learning community could look like in the 21st Century and why digital collaboration is the new best practice…