November 10

Late night questions

Late night can’t sleep…..not unusual for me.


I just receieved an email from an old uni student asking for advice about implementing transdisciplinary learning in her school (not in NSW) and how she might cope with 1. A leadership team who’s not eager, 2. Teachers who are frazzled and worried about meeting the curriculum and 3. making change…what’s the process and how to do it.  While I couldn’t answer all her questions, there might be some pearls here for people looking to do things differently.


My first (late night) response

Hi Mary (name changed to protect the school)…Will put together some thoughts for you tomorrow. Just quick question- primary I’m assuming?
My quick thoughts are no matter what subject you are, you can know learning and good learning practices are common across subjects.
In terms of “meeting the content” I talk to my teachers about something I call the floppy disk rule. Basically, in year 11 and 12, in the syllabus they still have floppy disks in the computing courses. It’s a dot point. I have to teach it. However as the professional, I’m allowed to make decisions about the weight of time I spend on this. So it gets a mention…when we talk about cloud storage, I talk about when I was first teaching (or younger) storage was on floppy disks which were really small and you had to post to people as opposed to email. Nothing more. A teacher decides the relevance and weight. What’s essential (your rationale) and what’s important ( your outcomes) and what is dispensable (let’s be honest some of your dot points).
If you are primary, your dot points are actually able to be shaped by student interest. Ring NESA. Check. I did. It surprised me too.
Primary teachers can sometimes be anti PBL particularly around English. My argument would be that good literacy practice is that reading and writing is in context. PBL provides the context. Reading and writing is done to inquire and publish work…or to research and document.
Hope this helps.
Let me know if you need anything. Happy to help.
Mary obviously works odd hours too….another question: How do you plan for whole year in mapping curriculum that is led by student voice and here’s the big one – how do I convince teachers to jump in and hand it to the students?
People are difficult. My advice would be to find someone who is on board and work with them. A small team that is willing to make change are worth your time….people who you have to drag along may not yet be. Focus on small change, and then let the kids speak for you.
My theory is that most teachers are in it for kids, and when you have kids saying that they are liking what you do, or when they see students work, then teachers move.
This might help you. I’ve also attached a protocol for looking at student work that has helped me before. So, as you mentioned teachers that are “worried about meeting the syllabus” sometimes don’t look at depth….and you can see this in the student’s work. It may help “convince” teachers or alternatively “proove” that it works.
In terms of mapping curriculum, what I normally do is get teachers to unpack the rationale behind the syllabus. Do you have stage statements too in Victoria? These help also. With the rationale, I get teachers to take the rationale, and split it into four words total. What are the four most important concepts that this syllabus meets? So, for something like science, problem solving is essential. Every time you build a project, what are those four words? Have you met them?
The next thing I’ve done in the past is physically print the components of the syllabus (all of them) and get teachers to cut them up and put them back together. But don’t label them with the specific subjects. You start to see then, that some concepts are covered across multiple syllabus docs. For example, water….in HSIE and Science. Can be easily fit into different texts in English. Australian writers write about water a lot. Can you do art around water? Importance of water in Health. Once you’ve found these natural connections…connect them. Don’t teach the water cycle in every subject separately over two years in a stage….teach it once and teach it properly, apply it to real life so that students remember it, and then you’ve found some “time” to convince those teachers that think their syllabus is too packed to be able to use it to apply to real life somehow. The syllabus documents are littered with these elements. The cross curricular priorities like sustainability are a good place to start.
Finally, in terms of mapping a whole curriculum that has student voice in the centre….cut yourself some slack. Kids take time to get used to change (and teachers longer). Don’t try and do it all at once. Block out your scope and sequence into relevant ideas, and don’t try to fill them with projects from the beginning. You will learn lots the first time you try it. You’ll make lots of mistakes and your next projects will be better. Design them from the start of the year and teachers will stick with them, even though they could make better more impressive projects because of their later learning. And filling a whole scope and sequence with brilliant ideas is massive. Fill them with good ideas and make them better over time.
Don’t give up! Know that you are making massive change though it might be small and progressive over time. Make sure you have some way to measure success. To prove to people that you are making change, but also for yourself. Small progressive change is hard to see. And it can be debilitating when you’re putting so much work into it, and you don’t see the change for yourself. Figure out a way to see it. Maybe record student thoughts at one point and then go back at the end and record again? See the difference.
Thanks for the provocation. At St Luke’s, we have to blog every term….think I just found my next blog.
Now, to sleep.