Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Blogger Behind this Blog #8

My Mindset

Lately I have been reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck PhD. This is the sort of book that challenges the way you see things. Even when you think you already have a growth mindset! It makes you look at your life and your choices differently. I really want to take some time over the next week or so to think about what it all means to me, but I find myself pondering on it all the time as it is. Today I was thinking about it in relation to my learning.

As I understand it, people with a growth mindset have learning and growth as their goal. People with a fixed mindset have maintaining their ego as their goal. Generally we have a combination of both of these mindsets at play to some degree in our lives.

In My Primary School Years
So, when I look back on my life as a primary school student, I realise that I always tried to be a couple of steps ahead of my cohort. This was initiated by my mum, who started teaching me at home before I went to school. As she tells it, I was a willing learner, so this was not a great challenge for her. Because of the head start I had, I was always a little ahead of my cohort when it came to academic subjects. I liked being at the top of my class and worked to stay there. At times I was competitive, and I would say that even though I put effort into my learning, at that time I felt that some people were born smart, others pretty, others sporty etc. (This is fixed mindset thinking.)

Entering High School
This general mindset didn't actually change in high school and I received high grades and recognition for my achievement. That said, I also enjoyed the learning experience and tried to select assignments that fit with my interests. I was happy to take on an element of challenge in an area that I was interested in, and willing to put in extra effort to demonstrate my learning in unique ways. (This is growth mindset thinking.) For subjects I was less interested in, I still got the assignments done, but more as a rush job to hand something in on time. I remember a particularly poor attempt at a science assignment that I left until the last minute.

At the end of year awards one year I was given an award for excellence in PE, and to this day I have felt that there was some mistake there. I was one of the smart kids, not one of the sporty ones. Why should I get an award for PE when there were other far more sporty kids than me! Interestingly though, it has helped me to realise that I don't have to be exclusively "smart"!

And on to University
When I was choosing subjects for Years 11 and 12 I chose subjects that would help me with teaching, in particular - psychology and sociology. As a result I got a high distinction in Human Development at University, which was really an extension of what I had learnt in Year 11. Another easy grade to get was a high distinction in Educational Futures and ICT as part of my Graduate Certificate, due to the amount of background experience and prior learning I had in the area. I also felt passionate about these subjects and loved being able to explore them more. The hardest grades I earned were credits for Global Development Education and Data Communications. They were hard because they were so foreign to me and I had so much catching up to do in order to get into the right frame of mind for them.

When I was in my early twenties I tried to write children's books and completed a Diploma in Children's Writing via correspondence. I gave up before I had anything published, and tonight as I read some of the stories I wrote all those years ago, I wondered what would have happened if I hadn't given up on this challenge. At the time I gave up because I felt I should be pouring my time into building my teaching capacity as that would lead to consistent pay. I think that in terms of my writing - I had strong writing skills, but boring plots! Maybe this is something I will return to, or maybe I've found my outlet through blogging and modelling writing for students.

I'm now on the verge of starting my Masters degree, and I've been contemplating my intentions. Why do we get degrees? Is it to prove we are qualified for a job? To suggest that we are superior? For recognition? Or to learn? Initially I was taking on this Masters course with the thought that I would smash it out and get it finished so that I had the bit of paper to say that I was done. But then, when I started looking at the degree more closely, I realised that some of the units include really helpful content that should prepare me for leadership in the future. How did I lose sight of the real reason for studying?! I love learning, so how did it become more about a piece of paper than what I would learn from the experience?

The Next Generation
My (kindergarten) son recently got his school report, with above average for reading/viewing and number/algebra. Like my mother before me, I started my son early with his academic skills through play at home. He seemed ready and interested. I wanted to make it easy for him to get As later, when grading kicks in. He is proud of his efforts with reading, and he loves puzzling over numbers. He wants to be the best reader in his class.

And so I find myself asking, where the growth mindset sits in terms of the ambition to be the best. I feel that there is a fine line between wanting to be THE best and working to do YOUR best. I don't want for my son to work at something only to be THE best at it. I want him to enjoy the journey and learn from the experiences. And when he is THE best, I want for him to keep striving. Or to complement it with developing another skill.

As you can see, my thoughts at this stage are just that - random ponderings as I grapple with a new way of seeing things and try to revisit how I have seen things in the past. I still have much to learn as I apply what I've read to my own life, to the way I guide my son, and to the classes that I teach. What an exciting journey!

Friday, December 2, 2016

My Journey with ISTAA Experienced Teacher Accreditation #3

Preparing the Project Proposal and Literature Review

I thought I had been going along so well, but these tasks hit me hard. I had been watching/listening to Dylan Wiliam's webinars, reading bits and pieces I had sourced and trying so many new things in the classroom. All these things were good, but I needed to do so much more to actually pull everything together. It was due today, and (spoiler alert) I managed to upload it to my collection in time.

I think part of the struggle lies in the fact that the due date falls right near the end of term, while reports are still being proof read and prepared to send home. I thought my time-management was on track, but it has been very tight to get reports completed and then flow straight into the ETA requirements.

I started with the Project Proposal because I knew it had to be finished about a week in advance in order to get it to my Head of School for signing. My first attempt at this was a bit of a brainstorm event, where I just jotted down my thoughts about what would go in each section. When I returned to it, I padded out the initial ideas. I was very pleased to see that I could have a main question with sub-questions, as I had been really struggling with how I could cover all the things I wanted to explore with just one question. This is what I came up with as the main idea for my project.

Growing our Minds through Formative Assessment and Feedback

What is an effective process to enrich student learning through formative assessment and feedback?
What actions can a teacher take to help students develop a growth mindset?
How can formative assessment be used more effectively to inform teaching and provide students with relevant feedback?
How can peer and teacher feedback (aligned with a growth mindset) be used to progress student learning?

Something I really struggled with when completing the proposal was the section on the collection of data. I feel that there are two purposes at play with the Action Research Pathway. One is to provide evidence of the achievement of Experienced Teacher Standards and Descriptors. The other is to collect data for analysis in relation to the questions of the Action Research project. And, while action research provides an opportunity for a teacher to demonstrate the descriptors, the data collected for the purposes of the project will be quite different to the evidence collected to demonstrate competency. I felt that these two forms of data needed to be separated for the purposes of the proposal, so ended up creating a table with data for the descriptors split under the headings: "Evidence of Standard" and "Data for Analysis". I'm hoping that this will help me to keep track of what I'm collecting and the real purpose for the collection.

Something else that I struggled with, just a little, was considering the difference between "expected benefits" and "expected changes". I'm hoping that my responses were different enough to meet expectations.

Given the nature of my project, I sent my proposal to the Staff Development Coordinator at my school for some feedback. She saw things that I didn't see, and struggled to understand what I meant in some of the sections. She made time to sit down with me to discuss things and I was able to make some changes. I feel that I could have continued to make more changes, but given the time restraints, I needed to get the document into internal mail so that my Head of School could sign it, and turn my attention to the Literature Review.

In the lead up to writing the Literature Review I found myself really loving all the reading, but terrified about putting the first words on a Google Doc. The blank page taunted me so much that I avoided it for quite some time, opting instead to mind-mapping and note-taking. In hindsight, I believe these were important for helping me to gather my thoughts, I just wish I'd started the whole process even earlier! For me, I was concerned about understanding the topic fully and making the connections.

Eventually I sat down and forced myself to begin writing, but even in that moment I was hesitant. I wanted a "sizzling start" that I push so hard for from my students. How do you write a sizzling start for a literature review? And then I re-read Inside the Black Box, by Black and Wiliam, and realised that people don't want to read something dry and academic. We all want to be drawn into what we read. I had a false start that went for three paragraphs, and then, finally I got my idea:

Oliver goes back to his desk and opens his English book. He knows the teacher will be doing the rounds in a minute, but he wants to take a moment to flick through to the next blank page. As he does, he smiles to himself, reading a sentence here and there as he sees the work he has done throughout the year. Wow! I remember writing this, he thinks to himself. I’ve come so far this year. He glances at the feedback at the bottom of the page…

And that's where I left Oliver's story. Full of questions about that feedback.

It probably took about 15 hours of writing and reviewing to finally get the review finished. I got sick toward the end with a cold, and was pleased when I finally got to the end. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to have my peers read over it and offer their feedback. We are all so busy trying to get our reports finalised and everything prepared for the end of school, so I just didn't feel right asking anyone else to read my writing. I also didn't have time to make adaptations based on any feedback they might have given me. I struggled with this since I have been seeing the power of feedback in my classroom, and learnt a lot from the feedback I received on my Project Proposal.

For both of these documents I had a guide for what to do, but no real guidance in terms of what is counted as a pass or fail. I feel I used a little poetic license on the literature review, but am not too sure whether it was too much. It's either my first literature review, or my first in quite some time, and I'm not entirely sure what was needed!

This experience helps me to understand some things about my own learning that can be generalised to my students and how they learn:
  1. Students need to have a clear idea of what is expected and to what level
  2. Feedback is definitely helpful, but not always practical when tight for time
  3. While deadlines are important motivators for completing a task, some students may not produce their greatest work within this timeframe. Some may be interested in polishing their work further after the due date.
  4. What ends up on the page is not necessarily all the writer knows about the topic. A lot of information is filtered along the way.
I'm really excited about what I've been learning through my reading and experiences in the classroom, but will save those for another blog. For today I really just wanted to share my journey with the Experienced Teacher Accreditation in terms of completing the necessary documentation by the deadline.

I am a lone ranger in my school as far as the Action Research Pathway goes... Is anyone else doing it??? Please leave a comment if you are.