Sunday 7 December 2014

What happens when the school environment that you grew up with starts to disappear ? Supporting parents through purposeful and planned learning and change.

In 2015 every teacher at St Joseph's will teach in partnership with one or more teachers in collaborative learning hubs. Teaching and learning across the school from Year 1-8 will go live and be fully accessible to everyone inside and outside the school via a teaching and learning site. Everyone will be able to access all teaching, planning and communication in one place (developed in response to feedback from parents).

Our Deputy Principal Mrs Frances-Rees has designed our new Teaching and Learning site for 2015.

Focusing closely on our school wide learning goal for the past few years; "Engage every student in deep learning for success", has meant that we have continually reflected on our teaching practices at St Joseph's. This latest development is an outcome of our ongoing hard work, inquiry into our teaching practice, research and reflections. It is a natural next step to for us, to support the planned engaging and personalised learning environments that we wish to create for our children, to fully prepare them for future success at high school and beyond. 

Our school wide goal was also the focus of my principal sabbatical in Term 1. You can learn more by watching this 4 minute video.

For parents, this significant shift in teaching practice is one that takes them far from the traditional classroom system that they grew up with. This means that some parents will naturally feel a little nervous and anxious and may have many questions.

Being part of a Learning and Change Network (see this video link to learn more) has helped us review our existing partnership with parents. Our work this year with families has been focused firmly on learning relationships. We held four "Family Learning Huis" (hui is the Maori word for gathering) and numerous parent workshops. You can go to this link to learn more about our Family Learning Huis. Our huis have enabled families to be immersed into informal, social, collaborative and engaging learning environments that mirror much of our school wide teaching and learning practices. We have already planned more of these for 2015.
Family Learning Hui in action. All staff attend and families bring their tea (fish and chips) and digital devices.
Explicitly encouraging parents to come and talk about any questions, concerns or worries and then being available to respond is the least that we can do to support our parent community. We have a fortnightly parent reference group who meet with the principal to discuss "What's on top?"  Making changes to classroom layouts and moving our Year 6 class upstairs into the Senior Learning Hub with Year 7 and 8 for 2015 resulted in much discussion.
The main themes for discussion with the Senior Learning Hub evolved around:
Siblings - The focus on personalised learning and engagement will mean that siblings are in learning spaces with three teachers who together will ensure that relationships between siblings are respectful and responsible.
Safety of devices - Year 7 and 8 have been operating a BYOD learning environment for the past 2 years. Digital Citizenship, BYOD contracts and learning licenses all contribute towards the safety of devices in digital learning spaces.
Number of hours on devices - Our Family Learning Huis have helped parents to understand that the devices are a tool to support deep engagement in learning. Children will not be sitting on devices playing computer programmes but will utilise the devices to access learning links to support their learning at different times as appropriate. Mrs Frances-Rees prepared a pie chart in response to this same question from our parent reference group.

This chart gives an indication of where digital devices fit into the big picture of  deep learning across a week in Year 7
 Challenges for able and less able learners - Children will have three expert teachers collaborating to support and engage all learners. Differentiated skill based learning workshops will ensure both extension and support for learners is managed effectively. Children will work closely with the teacher as they move to independence as part of a licensing system. A benefit of team teaching is that while one teacher is running a workshop, there will be another teacher available to give more attention to the other children working in the learning spaces. 
Social challenges- A major focus in Term One across the school will be learning relationships and expectations across learning hubs (treaties). This is something that all teachers do with a new class at the start of the year and involves collaboration and contribution from the children as well as the staff. 
Parent expectations- We will be looking at creating a parent treaty with parents early in 2015 to explicitly support parents to participate effectively and engage in deep learning with their children across the school.
Children off task- Teachers in the senior school have access to Hapara Teacher Dasboard. This enables teachers to have access to any sites that children spend time on. "Teacher Dashboard saves teachers time, helping them track engagement and improve student outcomes with a snap-shot view of student activity across Docs, Sites, Blogger, Picasa & Gmail. Teachers can push out docs in a differentiated format to their students, and view all student work organized chronologically by class and by student."

Taken from the Hapara Teacher Dashboard Information site. Go to this link

This  shift for 2015 did not happen overnight. It is the culmination of several years of focus on effective pedagogy and quality teaching and the drive within a proactive school culture to best achieve our school wide goal. I am proud of each and every member of our staff who has embraced this challenge with open arms and  their commitment to remaining resolute to this cause.
So far as staff, we have focused on how we can change our teaching practice to best meet the needs of our learners. Next, we will be asking our children and our parents to have a growth mindset and take greater responsibility in this learning process. Together we will continue to support and challenge each other to make sure that we "Engage every student in deep learning for success."


  1. I feel excited for the children and staff going into 2015. Thanks Jenny for your informative blog.

    1. Thanks Bev. Your educational expertise and wisdom as a former principal is truly valued. We appreciate your support as a member of our school Board of Trustees.

  2. It sounds exciting. But I do worry that the ease of interface means that children won't learn about how to construct the digital world. I think our children should also be learning basic coding skills. Its okay to be able to engage digitally but real power and new knowledge is going to be more in more in the hands of those who can 'speak' digital languages. I have thought about insisting that my kids do some basic html coding in return for doing certain digital projects or having digital time...

  3. Very good comment. Coding is certainly accessible to our children. Programs such as "Scratch" are very good and have been investigated within our St Joseph's team. One step at a time though. We're at the stage of setting up our digital environments at present but we also know that coding is an important skill. Even if children don't become computer programmers it helps them become logical thinkers and as you say, its a new literacy that we need to know - part of the key competency "language, symbols and texts."

  4. Thanks Jane for your perceptive comment as a parent. You obviously have some coding expertise that you could share with us as well :) As Lorraine explained, this is certainly part of the process for us and will be valuable for our learners.

  5. Why is handwriting only 6% on the pie graph? I feel it should be at least twice this. Children will only become lazier spellers what with the use of spell check and grammar editing etc.

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  7. Response to bunnyduck
    "The writing on the pie chart refers to the year 7 class. The skills of handwriting are acquired at the junior level. The basic skills of literacy and numeracy remain at the heart of our curriculum. We teach spelling systematically in line with best evidence and practice in this field of education (see Blogpost We also have a responsibility to prepare children for their future in high school, perhaps tertiary education and definitely, the emerging workforce. In any of these areas assignments will not be accepted in handwriting. We can fully expect that for most of the children presently in primary school that their NCEA assessments will be online digital assessment.

    Digital assessment is the use of technology for assessment purposes rather than the traditional pen and paper. The use of technology for teaching and learning programmes in New Zealand schools is on the increase and NZQA has developed a digital assessment programme as a response. (see NZAQ website: The expected timeframe for implementation is 3-5 years with trials already underway.

    The children have to have very well developed skills in perfecting spelling and grammar in a digital environment. Spell check does not compensate for bad spelling. It can supplement the teaching process in pointing out (red-lining) a word that is spelt incorrectly. It is still up to the child to apply their developing understanding of phonological, visual, morphemic, etymological spelling strategies in order to determine the correct spelling - spellcheck will only give a list of possibilities. Similarly, for grammar. The green-line will only point out something that needs fixing. When children write the same mistake continuously it becomes natural to them. Grammar is one of those areas where it is very hard for children to pick up their errors. The green-line indicates straight away that something needs to be looked at. Learners will then have to reflect on parts of speech and correct grammar (supported by their teaching and learning program) to develop their understanding of what was wrong and what strategies they need to develop to fix it. Spell and grammar check add to the learning process because they point out mistakes before they have become ingrained and they indicate immediately to the learner that greater thought is needed. A person without well developed spelling and grammar understanding cannot use these tools effectively. It is absolutely vital for our children's future that they can make independent and efficient use of the tools which will be the ones they will be using in their real lives and in their high stakes educational assessments."