Using the 10 journeys to Scaffold What you do in the Classroom
The framework of 10 journeys can help teachers scaffold both their own development as teachers trying to improve learning and what they do with a class during a school year. There are two different issues here. The first flows from one of the early findings of the first PEEL group, that changing how students learn has to be seen as a multifaceted and evolutionary process. Some aspects of change take time and need teaching approaches that are coherent, consistent and persistent. Skilled teachers develop a year-long ‘learning curriculum’ that runs in parallel with their content agendas. The framework of the journeys is designed to unpack what these teachers have been doing in ways that allow others both to plan their own strategies for change and to make better sense of what happens as change is attempted.
The second issue relates to a challenge 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? PEEL began with a teacher group who shared concerns about passive, dependent learning in their own classrooms and were interested in taking on the role of collaborative action researchers to generate new knowledge about promoting metacognitive learning. Not all teachers want to take on such an ambitious challenge; some just want some ideas for better lessons.
Over the years I have had many requests from school leaders who want something from PEEL that will be seen as valuable by all (or most) staff, not just those with the sorts of interests shared by the first PEEL groups. We have always resisted producing a Program with x steps for change as this positions teachers as consumers of the ideas of others, not as generators of ideas, however by taking this stand we narrow the impact PEEL can have in schools. The framework of journeys goes some way to addressing this dilemma by scaffolding a journey of teacher professional learning where all progress is likely to be worthwhile, but where teachers can make their own judgements about how far they want to go at any particular time.
For many teachers, Journeys 1 and 2 are enough; at least for a while they expand their repertoire of ideas for getting students more engaged. This will generally involve some elements of introducing some elements of discussing learning and reflecting on the purposes of a particular procedure (Journeys 3 and 4), but these can both be done in a range of ways that become more sophisticated as teachers start thinking about later journeys. Journeys 6 to10 emerged as teachers wanted to do more than design lessons that generated better thinking, but which were still dependent on the teacher for the better learning. Deciding whether to take on this challenge and how far to try and take it are decisions that are made easier by this framework for change.
We have many classroom stories about these journeys and any one story generally maps onto several journeys. However there is an order in that the later journeys do build on and, to some degree depend on the earlier ones.
Journeys 1 and 2:
Journeys 1 and 2 are the most common beginning point; they were what first worked for us in the first year of PEEL and for teachers who are beginning to explore using PEEL resources. Using some new teaching procedures to generate some more intellectually active learning is enough to think about for a while and commonly results in very worthwhile change. In terms of beginning a year with a new class, these are typically the entry point for experienced PEEL teachers, to build students’ understandings of effective learning they need to experience aspects of it, not be told about it in the abstract.
This leads to Journey 3:
If you want to capitalise on good learning experiences you need to talk about them and this requires a language for learning. This maybe just GLBs (Good Learning Behaviours) – highlighting and praising the ones you value and teaching procedures (clearly you do not want to have to re-explain what a Venn Diagram is every time you ask students to use one). Building and using a shared language for learning can be done at different levels of sophistication, but being able to talk about the thinking promoted by a particular procedure is a very useful step forwards.
Doing this moves teachers into Journey 4. Reflection on learning (and teaching) can be done from a number of different angles and levels of sophistication. Learning to stimulate and sustain rich student reflection is typically a teacher journey of several years, but debriefing on a successful lesson or use of a new procedure commonly is not difficult and we have come to realise just how important debriefing is. There are, of course, other ways of getting students to reflect, but debriefing is a central component of good teaching and is essential for laying the groundwork for later journeys.
In some ways this stands a little to one side as the extent to which different teachers use co-operative work varies considerably, though it has been a recurring feature of stories from PEEL classrooms. However, if you want good group work (for example), then you need to build and discuss the relevant behaviours needed, set tasks that lend themselves to collaboration and get students thinking about how they operated. Co- operative work does provide one way into shifting students’ perceptions of their roles.
We now enter what are significantly more sophisticated challenges of classroom change. Much worthwhile progress can be made without achieving much in changing students’ conceptions of how they can learn, of how teachers can teach and building support for significant changes in perceptions of roles, but experienced PEEL teachers have found they can achieve much more when they do this and develop year-long agendas in this area. They begin early in the school year, but expect that significant change will be gradual and will take some time.
Talking about this with students takes us into Journey 7. The group that has generated this frame is called the sharing pedagogical purposes group as it was this aspect of sharing hitherto ‘secret teachers business’ with students that led to its founding. In one sense most students build (often tacit) understandings of how their teacher(s) like to operate. Ms Smith likes us to ask good questions but Mr Jones does not. However the SPP group has carried this a great deal further, inviting their students to share their thinking, reasons for particular tasks and behaviours as well as short and longer term agenda. This has enabled them to take students further than they could before – the students come to see a richer range of purposes that go well beyond just doing set tasks.
We have found that there can be a major issue of teacher change here as the extent to which teachers can and do articulate what we have defined as big ideas varies very substantially – and at one end some teachers do not seem to do this at all. Good teachers will be highlighting their big ideas and key skills from day 1, but journey 8 is framed as a student journey – that students become aware that the teacher has key ideas/skills and that all classroom actions and activities flow from these. We have learnt that this is a major shift for most students; it flows from multiple experiences of debriefing and other reflection about this, from building an understanding that their teacher is not just setting tasks but has agendas of big ideas and that one of their roles is to think about why they are doing a task in terms of the big ideas. This is, of course, one aspect of monitoring.
Journey 4 refers to teachers initiating and scaffolding reflection. Journey 9 is about students independently and constantly monitoring what they are doing in any or all of multiple ways: in content related ways against task criteria, big ideas and key skills, in learning related ways about how effectively they are learning or ways they could do a task effectively, by selecting an appropriate thinking tool ( a better name than teaching procedure in this context) for example, and in ways related to personal understanding – what do and don’t they understand, has their thinking changed (for example).
This independent monitoring is necessary for Journey 10. Being more independent as a learner requires students to make decisions – and for teachers to provide opportunities and space for this to be possible. Again, teachers can be providing opportunities for many types of decisions from day 1, but the kinds of decisions that students can, and do take, does become much more sophisticated in classrooms where teachers have a year-long learning focused agenda of change. Once again this is understandably a multi-year journey for teachers in learning what sorts of decisions they can trust their students to make as well as how to get them willing and able to make them.