Empowering Self-Efficacious Learners

As COETAIL wraps up course four’s inquiry into “New Pedagogies for Deep Learning”, the premise or focus of this week was thinking about how to transfer theory into practice.

Again, a common thread that continues to stand out is that of developing self-efficacy in our learners. Essentially, empowering our learners to be in the driver’s seat of their own learning, or, as Hattie suggests, “the ultimate goal of students becoming their own teachers” (2012; in Fullan & Langworthy, 2014, p. 45).

A focus on learning dispositions

As we move away from more rote, 20th-century practices, the role of the teacher is less sage on the stage and more guide on the side. Relationships first, knowing our learners, listening to their interests and needs, then being responsive in our craft. Maslow before Bloom.

“It’s about letting go.”

Letting go of “how we learnt” or “did things” and also letting go of the 20th-century philosophies on pedagogy that still pervade schools around the world today. Philosophies like compliance and submission.

It’s about trusting and listening to our learners. Developing skills of learning how to learn, rather than ticking boxes toward task accomplishment. More time on formative feedback and less time on the summative.

I could rant on forever here, but visuals do speak more than words.

What could “letting go” look like?

One person who always provokes my thinking, and many others around the globe, is Edna Sackson. Her blog is an excellent resource to frequent regularly when thinking about “unleashing deep learning”. Like most of her posts, they are generally short but sweet provocations to spark curiosity on various topics of modern pedagogy, particularly relating to inquiry teaching.

In the visual above, which appears in this post, Edna summarizes a more modern view of “release of responsibility”. In a way, it’s a design thinking approach. Observing and empathizing, then responding. Moving away from previous models of teaching that may look like this.

Nothing sums up the message of Edna’s first visual above more beautifully, than this Thai pineapple ice cream commercial:

After you watch this video, think of how the mother (i.e. the child’s teacher) is empowering her child …

  • to be self-efficacious (i.e. in the driver’s seat of her own learning)?
  • with 21st-century skills of learning how to learn by inquiring, taking risks, seeking feedback and using design thinking?
  • to learn in an authentic context, in a way that is transdisciplinary (ie not isolated to one subject)?

One personal example to share

For many of us educators around the globe, it’s reporting time. What a wonderful opportunity to honour the voices of your learners, empower them to develop skills of goal setting, metacognition through reflection and more.

How? Well here is something simple that I do.

Starting with a conversation, I let my students know that reports are coming up soon and that I’d rather honour their voices, than my sole voice in their reports.

Next, I shared with my learners my thinking and ask for their feedback. Then, we came up with a solution. To be more specific, we thought about the sections of the report and how to make things as simple as possible.

To simplify this example, let’s just look at what we came up with for the reading section. In the reports, this section calls for a star and a next step for the child. No grades. After this discussion, my learners and I reviewed and brainstormed all the reading skills we practiced throughout the semester (which come from our reading curriculum). Once we had the skills listed, I constructed a Google Form with them. Basically, the Form had the skills listed. In the “star” question, students select the skill they grew the most in this year, with a follow-up question asking them to ground their argument with a specific example.  The second “step” question was the same as the first, but it was about a skill that they needed to develop further and explain why.

In sum, I put full trust in my learners, “let go”, and honoured their voices. In return, they made my heart full with their honest and detailed responses.

Their responses demonstrated that truly knew themselves as learners đŸ™‚

Here are visuals of a student response for each of the two questions:

Starting your next teaching day!

As I bid you farewell, dear reader, I implore you to ask this question below as frequently, as I do. Trevor MacKenzie and Dr. John Spencer both are known for saying this quote. May it resonate with you as deeply as it does for me!

Turtles without shells – Being vulnerable with educational technology

How do we start unleashing the power of deep learning?

What a wonderful initial provocation for this week’s learning in COETAIL, course four!

Turtles without Shells

My deep dive into the resources this week started off by watching BrenĂ© Brown’s, Daring Classrooms (2017):

This analogy that BrenĂ© uses, “Turtles without Shells”, relates to the vulnerability we must embrace as learners. When we remove our protective armour, and stimulate an environment which encourages others to do so, it creates an idyllic environment for risk taking and learning.

One way Brené posits we can do this is through empathy and gratitude. Gratitude does change things, particularly when shifting our, innately human, hardwired negativity bias.

This is particularly topical at present for me where my current teaching context for this school year has not been face-to-face. As social learners by nature, home-based learning can wear down even the most positive of spirits. However, whenever I, or my students, find ourselves in a slump over our present context, it’s a good opportunity to be “vulnerable”. We do this by addressing one’s feelings as human, without judgement. In conversation, we think about what is being advocated, then, we look for opportunities to turn that into something we can be grateful for. For example, a response of “When can we learn again in person?”, could be followed up with, “In a breakout room, let’s chat about two to three things we can be thankful about with technology during this time.”

BrenĂ©’s video offers some great introspection to be “vulnerable”. The message has great reach and is not just limited to reflection upon our pedagogical practice.

Unleashing deep learning with Educational Technology

Embedded in our anchor text for this course, “A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning” (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014), was this gem of a video. It includes some legends in education like Sugata Mitra, Salman Khan and more. Almost a decade old and yet the message is still so topical to teaching and learning today:

I’m a huge fan of Sugata Mitra – he reminds me a lot of Seymour Papert. In this video, Mitra advocates that schools need to move away from the “3Rs” in education. He even makes the profound argument that learning arithmetic, in general, is antiquated. Sugata suggests that reading comprehension and effective online research skills are the key gateway skills for the future. He also illuminates that children need an “armour against doctrine” of any kind – whether it be political, religious, and etcetera.

This video is definitely thought-provoking. Just imagine how progressive these ideas would have been ten years ago!

Creating collaboratively = Redefinition with Educational Technology

Getting further into the resources, there was a nice marriage between Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model and the readings in Fullan & Langworthy (2014). This connection, I thought, was illustrated beautifully in the latter on page 31:

I really love the simplicity of this graphic. Essentially, this could lead to an excellent guiding precept for all educators when considering the efficacy of their pedagogical practice with the use of educational technology. This precept is, “How can I create more opportunities for my learners to work together to recreate what they’ve learnt creatively, perhaps for a different audience?”. Even more effective when paired with, “Could the tool provide opportunities for this task to be done asynchronously and collaboratively beyond the walls of this school?”.

Fullan & Langworthy (2014; p. 35), also quite succinctly define the role of technology…

Definitely provides a sound argument for a 1:1 device policy in upper primary and beyond.

To close up on this inquiry into unleashing deep learning, I’ll leave you with just one of many small snippets of sage wisdom from one of my all-time favourite inspirational educational thought leaders, Seymour Papert.

Learning deeply with agency and digital technology

Diving deeper into Fullan and Langworthy‘s readings this week (2014), the parts that again resonated with me are those of voice, choice and ownership in learning.

How do you involve students in the process of learning?

This made me think of our current unit of inquiry, “How we express ourselves”.

After the initial provocation of looking at a variety of creators’ messages composed in different media, we came together as teachers and synthesized what our learners were telling us in terms of their prior knowledge.

After listening to our learners’ voices and prior knowledge from the provocation, as teachers, we were able to construct lines of inquiry (and more) to meet learners where they were at.

To simplify this post, we’ll fast forward a few weeks of learning. Through learning engagements (and even a guest storyteller from Australia), students developed a better understanding of audience, communication skills, and how our audience influences the way we communicate (i.e. our central idea).

It was now time to think about the summative task that would empower students to showcase their newfound knowledge.

What our learners were telling us

Quite a few of our students, through regular student voice surveys, had advocated that it would be “cool” to do a talent show. This little nugget of data was the catalyst to the summative task – “Studio 4’s Got Talent”!

Together, with the students, we looked at the unit, reviewed the key learning, and then co-constructed a GRASPS statement (McTighe and Wiggins, 2010) together.

Here are some of the ways, by incorporating the voices of the learners, we’ve embedded ample choice into this task:

  • Work independently or with a peer
  • Present any talent, skill and/or passion
  • Choose your audience from three possible options (peers, adults or both)
  • Decide on your main purpose (persuade, inform or entertain)
  • Select three out of the six communications skills that you have been learning about (e.g. gestures, eye contact, speed of voice, poise, etc) that you used for your selected audience
  • Decide how you want your audience to feel

Engaged or Empowered?

Our talent show is this coming week.

Students are engaged as they know the pathways to success well. As Hattie (2012; in Fullan and Langworthy, 2014) posits…

Because the task is super rich in agency (voice, choice and ownership) right down to the success criteria, kids are not only engaged — they’re empowered.

The submission medium – Flipgrid

Our current context is home-based learning. We chose Flipgrid as our submission medium as it deepens the learning, digitally, in many ways:

  • it provided equity for voices – more introverted students can present at a time and space most comfortable for them without a large physical audience present,
  • the ability to put a time limit requirement (task is 3 min or less),
  • the user interface is simple in terms of ease of access and simplicity of use for our students,
  • all stakeholders could access privately,
  • free for our intended purpose,
  • meets the data security requirements in terms of student privacy,
  • allows our learners to “perform” asynchronously,
  • gives listeners choice in what performances they want to watch, and
  • since it is asynchronous and documented in one space, it provides greater audience access (other classes can and will provide feedback, loved ones of the performers can watch and provide feedback asynchronously, too).

The assessment

This, the students will own, too.

Simple statements and reflections stemming from the success criteria that we co-constructed.

Success criteria that they’ve known for weeks and have multiple experiences and practices so that every learner can be successful.

Here is a modelled example of what this will look like, along with the student response sheet, which students can respond using text, voice or video in their Seesaw portfolio:


Questions to ponder for you, dear reader…

  • What is something that you could co-construct with your learners next week? Any time you’re entering the thought of rubrics and/or success criteria, this is a great time to “let go” and involve your learners in the process.
  • How can you better tap into the creativity of all of your learners? How can you open up choices in the task to allow for this?
  • Which independent tasks could be changed so that they focus more on collaboration?
  • How can you tap into the interest of the students more frequently? How often are you entertaining these “voice” opportunities for your students?

Are we in the 21st century… yet?!

This week’s readings made me feel a bit like I was travelling back in time…

TeamTimeCar.com-BTTF DeLorean Time Machine-OtoGodfrey.com-JMortonPhoto.com-07JMortonPhoto.com & OtoGodfrey.com, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Seriously though, what century are we living in? Is Frederick Taylor’s Factory Model of education still so pervasive and pernicious in Canada and USA as Fullan & Langley (2014) posit? If it is, boy am I glad I’m an international educator.

I can’t empathize with this nonsense and, yeah, I guess that’s why we need constant provocations from disruptors like Will Richardson. It’s like a portal back to “Reaganomics” and “No Child Left Behind”.

“The Achievement Gap” – đŸ¤£

I’m sure you’ve heard the voices — “The pandemic serves as this great provocation to change things!”

However, here we stand. How many schools have changed or just gone back to “the way we do things”.

Ultimately, my point here is, we don’t need to “Close the gap”, we just need to be human in this endeavour of teaching and learning. Learning alongside our learners, putting relationships first, fostering leadership and empowerment in our learners, being more of a mentor rather than a sage on the stage.

This is a conversation about human agency in learning; not coercion, compliance, and the making of robots eating the proverbial slop, like it or not.

Agency… yes AGENCY

It is not something we “give” or “let” people have. It is something only taken away.

The problem is, most adults (and parents) of this generation, including myself, grew up in a doctrine of compliance. Bred for a previous century to be robots of the industrial revolution. This fosters a mindset of, “Well, it worked for me!”, when it comes to many of these children, turned educators, in their approaches to pedagogy (and in the parents, too).

This wheel was broken and, yes….needed some serious fixing. I hope we can speak in the past tense here.

I’ve been an IB PYP educator now for almost a decade, a curriculum that centers itself on inquiry-based learning, agency and authentic learning.

My teacher education was over a decade ago in New Zealand, and I can thankfully say that inquiry is very much at the core of learning there, too.

Call me ignorant, but I’m thankful that my teaching career hasn’t had exposure to being in a curriculum structure built on compliance.

The Enhanced PYP

In 2017 and 2018, the IB’s PYP really started a pivotal shift of putting Bandura’s seminal work on agency at the core, centred upon honouring voice, choice and ownership in learning, empowering learners to be self-efficacious. In other words, empowering learners to be in the driver’s seat of their own learning, summed up nicely by Mindy Slaughter, here:

This was when I really started questioning my own practice more and incorporating the precept that Edu Blogger, Vlogger and author John Spencer and Inquiry guru Trevor Mackenzie use so often:

It’s about “Letting Go”, but more about Empowerment

Look, I could go on for days about this topic which I’m extremely passionate about in education.

Just recently, I led a 30-minute nano PD for some educators on the very topic within my local PYP network, helping a former colleague, friend and PYP coordinator, Tania Mansfield, for a weekend workshop that she was leading. Here is my slide deck, which includes many excerpts from the PYP documents on agency.

I’m obviously biased, but this slide deck is a very good place to start, empowering you to make your pedagogy feel more human, Socratic, shared, co-constructed and more.

I also co-led a workshop on this very subject before the pandemic hit, at the first ever, Apple Distinguished Educator Conference in Hong Kong (November 2019; #ADKHK), with #COETAIL12 grad, and former colleague, Cindy Kaardal. Here’s a link to our slides and resources, for your perusal.

Some more current, inspiring reads on student empowerment and agency:

Questions for you:

  • What things do you co-construct with your learners?
  • What things do you currently do, that you and your learners could do together starting next week?
  • Do your learners set goals in their learning and reflect on them? If not, how could they start next week?
  • Do your learners have a voice in their reporting? If not, how could you change this?
  • Do you learners help inform the choices in how they can demonstrate their understanding? If not, how could you honour their voices starting next week?