Meet Erika Ward, teacher at Outram School in Dunedin. Through a series of online engagements and through a process of action and reflection, Erika has initiated changes to her classroom environment and teaching that has resulted in positive outcomes for a targeted group of students.
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Erika Ward’s Teaching as Inquiry focus is on, Finding ways to support boys to engage more in their learning. The challenge was that the prior focus was more on the management of students, where a large number of boys displayed off-task behaviours. As part of the expectations to engage in the NAPP module, Erika chose the Enabling e-Learning Leadership forum on, Forum: How do schools ready themselves for modern learning pedagogies and put out a request for help, asking whether or not an ILE (Innovative Learning Environment) could be implemented in a traditional setting (prefabricated classroom).
Karla Lister responded with some helpful support around setting up possible ‘action stations’ with a strong focus on putting the learners' needs first. A new connection was made and within an hour, a trusting, supportive relationship formed - where one community member’s comments were able to inspire a shift in thinking and practice for another passionate educator.
We can trace future-focused themes as central concerns for schools and educators including: the ubiquity of learning, the shift in locus of control towards learner agency; and the way learning (including professional development) can be connected across time and context, as well as connected in nature. (Gilbert, 2005; Siemens, 2004).
Erika knew she wanted to make a difference in her classroom, but didn’t know exactly where to begin. After reading Karla’s responses, Erika could relate to what was shared in regards to changes in a single cell teaching arrangement. Erika wanted to find realistic ways on a minimal budget to help trial environmental transformations in her classroom, so she shifted some existing furniture around (tables and ICT equipment), brought additional standing tables and soft cushioning, and started to create different types of action stations to suit different learning needs. IE: standing leaners, group areas and more quiet areas for those students who needed them.
Around the same time, the CRT teacher at Outram School had been teaching the students about learning styles (EG right brain, left brain and different types of learning environments), which meant the students were more aware of their own learning needs and could start to make choices about where they could work best in the classroom. For example, students made the choice to stand when they needed to get up and move around.
These developments started in Term 3, 2016. As a result of these changes, Erika is already observing shifts in learning. She sees a huge difference to the student’s motivation, attention and attitude to learning. Students are now taking more ownership and making decisions in their own learning - about where to work and whom to work with. Those students who need to move around and have short breaks during their learning, now do so.
Anecdotally the principal has observed a marked improvement in students’ behaviour and attitude during informal walk-throughs. Baseline data hasn’t been collected to track shifts in hard data, however qualitatively, students are already talking about how their learning has changed. For example:
I was always getting in trouble for not staying on task or annoying other people. Mrs Ward made the classroom a bit different so we could move around if we wanted to. Now I know that if I want to wriggle, I can go and work at the standing table or I can go to a quiet area. It helps we do my work better. Y4 Student.
In the beginning, Erika thought it might not be possible to have an MLE or ILE in her classroom, because of the restraints of being in an isolated in a prefab. Erika has soon realised after engaging with Karla and others in the forum that shifts and change was more about her own attitude (what was in her head) and that change could occur if she initiated the appropriate changes needed.
Erika always knew she wanted to make the changes to address her Teaching as Inquiry goals and affect change for the boys in her class. As a consequence of the online interactions with with community member Karla, Erika feels these conversations have had a direct influence on her as a teacher - where she has initiated positive changes for now and the future. This demonstrates the value that, ….professional learning is part of a decentralised model but one that is also being centrally managed as part of the Ministry’s PLD approach can indeed offer a valuable form of learning for educators. (p 26) Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning.
Expectations in NAPP is to influence others and once this story is written, Erika has since shared her process and outcomes with peers online and colleagues within her school.
As the cycle goes, Erika now becomes one of the inspirational thought-leaders online, where a thriving social network enables educators to support each other all over New Zealand and beyond.
It is now possible to bring teachers together, provide ‘just-in-time’ support, and link to experts or other educators exploring the same complex problems using social software. (p36, Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning)
Wow! What a fantastic story of how the support given through the Enabling e-Learning community groups has helped not only change the practices and outlook of a teacher, but also had great impact on students as well. It's great to hear how the conversations and learning that we have online can translate into real-world examples and have an effect on our students that they can put voice to.