About PEEL

What does PEEL stand for?

The Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL) was founded in 1985 by a group of teachers and academics who shared concerns about the prevalence of passive, unreflective, dependent student learning, even in apparently successful lessons.  They set out to research classroom approaches that would stimulate and support student learning that was more informed, purposeful, intellectually active, independent and metacognitive. The project was unfunded and not a result of any system or institution-level initiative. PEEL teachers agreed to meet on a regular basis, in their own time, to share and analyse experiences, ideas and new practices.

The original project was intended to run for two years at one (secondary) school, however the process of collaborative action-research, the developments of so many new ideas for practice and the changes in classroom environment all proved very rewarding for the teachers. Consequently, at the end of the initial two years, the teachers refused to let the project end and a year later it began to spread to other schools in Australia and then in other countries. This spread was driven by teachers in those schools who had similar concerns about learning, as well as  the lack of opportunities in a normal school day for collaborative reflection, and who wished to set up PEEL groups of their own. While the initial spread was in secondary schools, it became just as prevalent  in primary/elementary schools. In 2020 35 years after the original project, PEEL is no longer active but the resources developed over 35 years are still available.

PEEL operated as a network of autonomous groups of teachers who took on a role of interdependent innovators. Coherence was provided by the shared concerns about passive, dependent learning and by structures that allow teachers to learn from and share new wisdom with teachers in other schools as well as a few academic friends. These structures have enabled the production of books, the journal PEEL SEEDS, (where teachers wrote about their practice) conferences, PEEL collective meetings, a range of short courses and in-service activities and of course PEEL  in Practice (a large database of teaching practice.

The list of Teacher Concerns, summarise the sorts of concerns that were held by teachers who got involved in PEEL.  The eight groups of Teaching Procedures that were built up over the life of the project, reflect the areas where the teachers have been active in developing and extending new teaching practices.  The twelve Principles of Teaching for Quality Learning  list the critical features of the teaching that PEEL teachers were reporting as being consistently successful in achieving what they felt to be quality learning behaviours in their students.

10 Journeys of change

The Sharing Pedagogical Purposes group contained primary and secondary teachers who explored over 8 years, how to take metacognition further than had previously been the case by developing year-long strategic agendas for classroom change. As we unpacked what the teachers had been reporting we identified 10 highly interconnected journeys of change that collectively frame a year - long learning agenda. The table using the ten journeys to elaborate what metacognition can mean provides an overview of the journeys and what they mean for two aspects of metacognition - knowledge about good learning and control of learning.

The article Using the journeys to scaffold what you do in the classroom briefly discusses some relationships between the journeys and begins to address an issue that PEEL has been confronted with for a number of years - how can our resources be used to meet the needs of a wide range of teachers, not all of whom want to engage in extensive research into their classroom practice. An example of one of the Journeys can be found in the Try this Idea section on the What's New page. The resource PEEL in Practice has more about journeys and provides links to many articles written by practicing teachers where they describe their progress along the journeys.

How did PEEL work?

PEEL operated as a network of autonomous and voluntary groups of teachers who took on a role of interdependent innovators. The teachers agreed to meet regularly to reflect on their practice, and to provide mutual support and stimulation for the processes of teacher and student change. Coherence was provided by the shared concerns about passive, dependent learning and by the publications of the project and by structures that allowed teachers to learn from and share new wisdom with teachers in other schools as well as a few academic friends. In more recent years PEEL provides resources for teachers developed over a 35 year period.

PEEL Resources

PEEL groups and individual teachers  continually generated new wisdom about learning, teaching and change, but their unfunded and voluntary nature meant that, without PEEL Publishing, most, if not all of this wisdom would remain in the individual groups and schools. PEEL Publishing operated as part of the project with the role of documenting and sharing the insights, experiences and ideas that emerge from the groups  and individual teachers. PEEL in Practice, a database of ideas that currently contains over 1700 articles is the only resource now available. We continue to add new articles to this database when they are written in initiatives consistent with the goals of PEEL

PEEL has shown that, if appropriately stimulated and supported, teachers can make substantial contributions to the knowledge base of education.

What does it look like?

The list of Teacher Concerns, that are a search category on PEEL in Practice, summarises the sorts of concerns that are held by teachers who get involved in PEEL and who are likely to find the resources valuable today.  The eight groups of Teaching Procedures that have been built up over the life of the project, reflect the areas where the teachers have been active in developing and extending new teaching practices.  The twelve Principles of Teaching for Quality Learning describe critical features of the teaching that PEEL teachers report as being consistently successful in achieving the goals of the project.

What are the results?

PEEL showed that very substantial classroom change is possible. Outcomes include a huge repertoire of teaching procedures designed to promote effective learning; findings about the nature of student change, and teacher change; and findings about the nature of collaborative professional development in schools and between the school and tertiary sectors. Schools and teachers reported substantial changes to teaching practice and to the classroom environment. Teachers consistently reported much higher levels of student interest and engagement as well as learning that is more informed, purposeful, intellectually active and independent. Over the the 30 years of PEEL, teachers aimed to promote what are termed  Good Learning Behaviours  in their students. They have also identified a number of Poor Learning Tendencies exhibited by many students and developed procedures (see PEEL in Practice) to reduce these behaviours.

“A Literary Sociogram”

“Grade 1 students explain a Literary Sociogram to a visitor”

Distinguishing PEEL from other initiatives.

When PEEL began there was little talk about how students approached learning, let alone about metacognition.  35 years later, these ideas have become much more mainstream and there have been many initiatives with goals consistent with those of PEEL.  The PEEL collective reflected on whether and how PEEL was different to these other initiatives, most of which involved some kind of Program - with clear steps to follow.  We decided that PEEL was different and did have some unique things to offer.  After quite a bit of discussion and analysis of past writings, we distilled six statements that distinguish PEEL from other initiatives that have similar goals in terms of student learning.

The PEEL approach involves teachers moving towards:

  • Having a strategic, long-term learning agenda focusing on multiple aspects of quality learning and metacognition.
  • Making consistent, persistent and purposeful use of teaching procedures, appropriate teaching behaviours and the Principles of Teaching for Quality Learning.
  • Trusting students and sharing responsibilities and intellectual control with students.
  • Problematizing and purposefully interrogating and developing their practice. Becoming more metacognitive about their teaching and developing new dimensions of sense-making.
  • Being supportive and being supported by others in a process of collaborative action research.

A school can support a PEEL approach if it:

  • Positions teachers as generators of new knowledge and in control of their professional learning and development.

These are now elaborated below.

Teachers using a PEEL approach do not just call or hope for quality learning, they proactively promote, support and develop it. Teachers experienced in PEEL begin each year with an articulated, year long strategy for changing and developing how their students approach learning. It takes time, for example, for students to realize that wrong answers can be as helpful for learning as right answers. Lesson planning is done against this learning curriculum in parallel with content curricula. The lists of poor learning tendencies and good learning behaviours provide complementary targets and goals; they help frame the multiple aspects of learning in ways that move beyond general motherhood statements and allow for specific and purposeful teacher tactics to promote each of these aspects of quality learning.

Over the years, teachers using PEEL strategies have developed, adopted, and adapted over 220 teaching procedures.  These are an important component of the 'PEEL in Practice' database. Expanding one's teaching repertoire by incorporating new (for the teacher) teaching procedures is a common route into PEEL. However, this is not a random process: different procedures have different purposes in terms of the aspects of quality learning that they promote and PEEL teachers select use and (importantly) link procedures with specific learning goals in mind.

Early in PEEL, teachers learnt that, to achieve any worthwhile development in student learning, they could not do PEEL  one day and not the next. They needed to be consistent in their approaches and persistent in achieving change. For several reasons however, one cannot use the same procedure or lesson type every day  fluid, interpretive discussions where the teacher is delaying judgement as students clarify, articulate and argue for their ideas are very valuable, but more structured activities are equally essential. The twelve Principles of Teaching for Quality Learning provide a strategic framework for allowing for a wide variety of tactics that are consistent in intent. One can, for example, consistently and persistently promote students reacting to and using each others' ideas (Principle 6), but do this in a range of ways.

PEEL involves a multi-year journey for teachers and, unless they move from one PEEL style teacher to another, a year long journey for students. Both of these journeys include giving students increased responsibilities and room to make decisions. This involves both developing a shared language to talk about learning with students and placing increased trust in students not to abuse this responsibility. PEEL Principle 1 Share intellectual control and Principle 3 Provide opportunities for choice and decision making are central here. One outcome of this emphasis that was of fundamental importance to the students who reflected back on their PEEL experiences many years earlier in the 2005 PEEL conference was in the affective domain. Although PEEL has always had a strong cognitive and metacognitive focus, these students chose to highlight how warm, friendly, supportive and fun they found their PEEL classrooms because of the more trusting and collaborative relationships between them and their teacher (see Students and PEEL: What do they say 10 years on).

The willingness to problematize one's practice, identifying and sharing aspects of dissatisfaction with what may appear to be very successful classrooms as well as purposefully interrogating practice raising challenging questions about what is really happening have always been necessary requirements for becoming involved in PEEL. Many teachers are not willing to engage in what can be seen as admitting to weakness or raising unnecessary problems and, for this reason more than any other, PEEL can almost never involve all teachers in a school. However, the outcomes, as we have found, are worth it. Teachers using a PEEL approach set out to make students more metacognitive about their learning, but none of us realized how much more metacognitive we would become about our teaching. With new insights into and sensitivities to learning, teachers (and students) make sense of their practice along a range of new dimensions:  a greater sense of learning behaviours and a greater sense of the journey of student change are just two (see PEEL: making more sense of teaching and learning for more details). What all this allows is a never ending and coherent development of practice that is very rewarding for teachers.

If research is defined as a systematic attempt to generate new knowledge, then PEEL is definitely a research activity. It is, however, one that needed to be done collaboratively. It is very hard to sustain the PEEL journey alone. One reason is that trying and developing new approaches, giving increased responsibilities to students are high risk activities that need the support and (equally importantly) the stimulation of others. Another reason is that PEEL teachers are tackling complex, multi-faceted and hence messy and elusive problems. Much of the new knowledge is socially constructed as teachers share, react to and build on each others ideas then pool experiences, finding insights from the collective set that were not obvious from one experience.

PEEL recognizes the unique value of the practically sophisticated knowledge that only teacher researchers can develop for the wider world of education. Positioning teachers as developers of new knowledge is a crucial difference between PEEL and other Programs or Packages that intend similar learning outcomes. Typically in these initiatives, the teachers are positioned as receivers of someone else's thinking and innovation. The emphasis is on learning and applying this thinking with minimal change to the developer's prescriptions. While teachers starting to use a PEEL approach can now stand on the shoulders of earlier participants, the emphasis in the project is on (new) teachers identifying issues of practice that matter to them and developing and extending new knowledge: insights into causes, new ideas for practice and insights into outcomes. One reason why we are so careful not to develop a finished package to be received and adopted intact is that the process of developing new practice and of taking control of one's professional learning has been so rewarding and so important for real change to occur. A second reason is more pragmatic - after over 35 years we are no closer to a finished package than we were at the start. The title PEEL was developed (casually) as a meaningless acronym (ie the word PEEL intended no meaning), however as we explore and better understand one layer of the messy complexities of learning and teaching, We PEEL back this layer and discover another.

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