I recently ran two sessions introducing PEEL at a Swan Hill cluster PD day. I decided to take as a theme the idea that PEEL helps teachers and students make more and better sense of what they are doing. Figure 1 is an OHT that I prepared for the day.
Figure 1. Sam s OHT on sense making
Quality Teaching and Learning is about Making Sense
What does making sense mean?
For a learning or teaching task, making sense means that:
PEEL Helps You To Make Sense By Collaborating With Others
How do PEEL teachers achieve this?
It is important to most teachers and students in the social activities of teaching and learning that there is a sense of community and common purpose, and that all members have a role to play.
Teacher Collaboration with peers is crucial for PEEL
Teacher Collaboration with students in classrooms is, in a different way, equally crucial for PEEL
It comes down to sharing a language for learning with your students and your colleagues.
The idea for sense making had originally come from one of John Baird s articles. I am not sure which one, perhaps it was the keynote from the PEEL Conference a couple of years ago. It is interesting that only recently did it all fall into place for me. At the start of my time with PEEL, when we were working on the Primary book PEEL from a primary Perspective, I latched onto the primary teachers notion of a language for learning, they had come up with this to describe a key change that PEEL had made in how they talked to their students in class. This really made sense to me and I witnessed it at every PEEL meeting and PD activity that I attended. I realised that it applied just as much to how PEEL teachers talk to each other outside of class. However, it was only recently, when I was putting together all the information for the Swan Hill sessions, that I linked these two ideas together.
I was overseas when Sam ran the session and she sent me what she had prepared. I had also heard John discuss sense making at the 2003 conference. As always, I found his talk excellent, but for two reasons, it was only on reading what Sam had prepared that I suddenly saw the idea of sense making as an advance organiser that pulled together many things we had been saying about PEEL over the years. One reason was Sam s linkage to the notion of a language for learning -this took sense making into the public arena. The other reason was that, by chance, I had recently finished editing video footage from the classrooms of Jo Osler and Amanda Saffin, where a striking feature was the kinds of things that both the teachers and the students talked about. When Jo and Amanda were asked how and why they had selected and sequenced the procedures they had, they talked in terms of the type of thinking that each procedure stimulated, the value of this for their key content ideas, the level of independence that their students were currently capable of and the next step that they want them to take in this journey to higher quality learning. The students talked about the different purposes of the teaching procedures and how one helped and led to the next. They talked about their own learning behaviours and the decisions they made both generally and on that particular day. They reflected on what they had done and how well they had met the intent of the tasks and what they might do differently in the future.
This rich experience meant that Sam s use of sense making and language for learning struck a strong chord with me -I had just watched it- and what follows flows from the thinking that this stimulated. The video footage immediately got me thinking about different dimensions of sense making that PEEL adds for both teachers and students. I believe that this might provide an excellent way for teachers to think about and talk about the journey that PEEL has and can involve.
For most teachers, what they set out to do when planning lessons pre-PEEL makes sense according to at least agendas of covering their curriculum and setting tasks that are feasible and appropriate for their students on that day. While teachers do vary widely, this may be it. Similarly for students, sense may be that they understand what they have to do to address the set task, but again, that may be it. PEEL gradually adds other dimensions of sense for both teachers and students. What follows is a partial list.
A learning dimension
A student change dimension
A classroom environment dimension
A teaching dimension
A teacher learning dimension
A teaching and learning dimension
A content and learning dimension
As Sam pointed out, these extra dimensions of sense are reflected in the ways the teachers and students talk; they develop a language for learning. The teachers talk differently to each other outside the classroom as illustrated by the range of different sorts of reasons given by Jo and Amanda as they explained their planning. In addition to the way teachers talk to other teachers, both the teachers and students talk differently to each other in the classroom. Both of them talk more about purposes, they refer to different aspects of thinking such as linking and comment on students learning behaviours. This changes the social dynamics in the classroom. Collectively, all of these things add up to a much greater, much richer and more multi-dimensional sense of what John Baird called self efficacy. This has a number of obvious benefits for both students and teachers.
My feeling is that articulating these dimensions may have several benefits for teachers. Thinking about the dimensions of sense making that relate to students can help teachers judge where they are and be more purposeful in where they may go next. It can help teachers in a PEEL meeting extend and enrich a discussion that started as the sharing of a new teaching idea or classroom experience. The dimensions of student sense making can help teachers build a language for learning in their classroom; enriching the ways they introduce link and review tasks as well as how they react to and praise examples of good learning behaviours.
Ian tabled a draft of this article at the most recent PEEL Collective meeting and I immediately started thinking about its implications for my language for learning. I was doing a film study of Shrek with Year 7s. Before telling them we would be watching the film I set the students the task of drawing and thinking of words to describe four typical characters from fairy tales - an ogre, a princess, a lord and a dragon (a feature of Shrek is that each of these characters in the film is very atypical). Of course when they saw the characters they guessed it had something to do with Shrek, but I said just think of your typical character, not just Shrek. I was aiming for a study of the way in which the Shrek characters were non stereotypes. I deliberately set up the task without giving any reason for it, hoping that one or more students would ask Why are we doing this? - a question I constantly have to remind myself to talk about with the students. I wandered around praising the drawings and vocabulary which almost always was of very stereotypical ogres and princesses etc. Then, after about 15 minutes, one of the girls asked me Are we doing this for a reason? Of course I praised her to the hilt, gave her the Kit Kat I had brought hoping that someone would ask, and she got a sticker for her Thinking Book . (We were implementing a version of the L Files* ). Then, having read Sam and Ian s article about sense-making, I went beyond just praising that good learning behaviour and talked to the class about how silly it was to simply do tasks without knowing why they were doing them. We discussed how, if school was going to make sense, then they needed to know this and if they didn t they needed to ask. Since then, Why are we doing this? has been a very popular question!!!!
*L Files were developed by Gill Pinnis and others at Avila college. The students are given a booklet which has a separate learning behaviour on each page. When students believe that they have displayed one of the behaviours listed in the booklet, they have that page "signed off" by their teachers after appropriate discussion and justification.
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