For the first time in 20 years I do not have English classes to teach.

The principal has requested that I am ‘off the timetable’ and work with all students on digital citizenship and creating a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) or, if you prefer, Personal Learning Network (PLN). This is another small step towards creating an environment at our school where student learning is personalised with the internet in mind.

Formal change, at a policy level, from brave, insightful leaders is desperately needed but all of us can do our bit to personalise learning and fan the flames of those student learning passions. I encourage you to explore Mark Treadwell‘s ideas on changing paradigms and personalised learning which excite me and seem so obviously the path on which to to journey for systems and schools, students and teachers. Mark presented at our NSW DP conference which led to him posting at the blog about paradigm shift as a follow-up. He opens with the basic reason that we need to change:

Test scores in maths, science reading and writing have remained largely unchanged for almost 50 years despite billions, if not trillions of additional dollars being poured into education. Why is that? Robert Branson suggests that we have reached an upper limit of efficiency and effectiveness within our book based, text centric, learning system we have been journeying on since the Renaissance period.

This why it was exciting to hear about Mark’s involvement with the PLANE project. This is an important opportunity and will, I am certain, be fruitful for Australian education.

Back to my classes. My opening question to students is presented, explored and discussed in a number of different guises and media (pairs, small groups, via survey monkey feedback and IWB resources):

What do you have a passion to learn?

I share some of my own interests, including recent efforts to learn photography (rather than to ‘be a photographer’). The responses are fascinating. Pretty much all of the older students, Year 10-12, predominately list a job rather than ‘interests’ but most students seem find it difficult to divorce learning from their practical needs for future employment. Of course, this makes sense on many levels but does feed my sense that we have lost our way in educating youth if their view becomes narrowed to school is ‘merely’ preparation for a job.  Maybe I am reading too much into this and have a fondness for the romantic (?) notion that a liberal arts education is important for both the individual and society. In my presentation, I make it clear, by using examples, that you can talk about absolutely anything, nothing is too trite or ambitious and that I am not particularly looking for ‘jobs’ but ‘learning passions’. The younger students are more inclined to say what I can loosely describe as hobbies but still many focus on a job. You may like to read a few of  Year 7‘s passions.

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Q: How do you learn about this passion?

It is also interesting that very few students respond mentioning the internet. Of course, some of their passions do not need this medium but most certainly could have used online connections and resources. I believe that students find it difficult to think about learning as something that happens outside of school or away from the teacher. Once again, maybe I am seeing this less than clearly but feel we need to talk about learning much more than school or education in future visions of any system we devise. ‘Anywhere, anytime’ needs to be more than a slogan.

It is also interesting that Year 7, when I ask for their understandings of ‘digital citizenship’, have no clue what is being asked. When I reframe and ask what did you learn about the internet in primary school they all chant ‘cyber-safety’. Once again, this makes sense but considering our changed paradigm, the notion that the internet is as dangerous as a viper is so exaggerated to the point that I find it personally, well, ludicrous. As you know, the data confirms my viewpoint. I worry far more about students and my own children being in a car – as data confirms.

Q: How is the paradigm changing or learning being personalised at your school?


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    • Carla .S

    • 13 years ago

    As I sit here creating my lesson pathway to deliver sessions on PLEs to Year 11 for our Study and Work Skills Day, ( a name borne of tradition, and not one I am particularly sure that I like ), your post appears and resonates so much with me. Sir Ken Robinsons ‘Schools kill Creativity” has run through my head a thousand times as I have prepared for this day. I very much want the Year 11 sessions to be about creating environments of value to them but also enabling them access to the resources and tools that are out there to help them achieve in our current system. This year, my mind has been focused on thoughts of finding your “Passion Puzzle Piece” , learning for life, skill development for life and not only for work, maintaining/ continuing to foster the natural “wonder and awe” of children when they reach high school.

    I am hopeful that the PLE sessions are something the students value and that I facilitate this to happen. I am sure the students will teach me a lot about how I could improve the development of this for them.

    Thank you for your post. I found it very timely.

    • Troy

    • 13 years ago

    I totally agree with the Darcy’s ideas and find myself in constant battle with content driven conformity. Our students confirm to the summative formal testing regime, why wouldn’t the same groups adapt to innovative, problem based creative and collaborative tasks?

    It is one of the reasons I am loving the new English Studies course. The group is relaxed, we plan, draft, collaborate (to a certain level at the moment- they still want ‘stuff’ to make them feel like they are ‘learning’, whereas what they have created shows me they are learning) and are attempting to publish in authentic, real situations.

    Perhaps something to remember when a big stick is used to highlight test scores in flawed tests…

    “Test scores in maths, science reading and writing have remained largely unchanged for almost 50 years…’

    Certainly we are using blogs and edmodo from year 7 and it is changing the way we approach learning. The ideal of e-portfolios over a year is engaging my year 7 ‘focus on technology’ group, I just hope we begin to change the assessment as it drives the written, pen and paper, 1 hour testing program and that has to change. Who completes and is happy with a task done in an hour? Don’t we refine (particularly in science and creative arts/humanities) over time, supported by peers/other learners, and publish to real situations, rather than just for the ‘marker’?

  1. kia ora (greetings)
    In the latest multimedia resource in the ‘Whatever!” trilogy we address the issue of how the brain learns (Whatever! Were we Thinking?” and in this new neuro-sociological model the role of passionate teachers exciting learners about what can be learnt takes on a very significant role. Hormonal responses to what is being learnt can dramatically improve how quickly brain cells (astrocytes-neurons) map conceptual patterns of understanding. This new model explains the significance of passionate teachers being more successful educators, something we have anecdotally known for decades.
    Curricula have largely been centred on a vague notion of what students should learn where is in fact in a world of exponentially growing knowledge it is critically important that learners need to understand ideas or what we call concepts. Understanding ideas is what provides the ‘aha’ moment; “I get it!” – the moment when educators sense they have finally succeeded when a learner understands the idea. By focusing on a curriculum based on ideas/concepts ( we can then teach much more efficiently and effectively.
    The ‘aha’ moment can occur when we learn anything and I agree whole heartedly with Darcy’s lament that we need to make sure that learners understand that they can learn regardless of their ability. Learners learn many things without an official educator being charge – they learn to play sports, they learn to interact socially, how to use technology, they learn about their world . . . the list endless.
    One of the most important aspects of education is ensuring that every learner understands that they can learn even if that learning may not necessarily be mathematics or science. Learning to dance for example has huge social value. The most important thing a school can teach anyone is that everyone can learn. Confidence in this ability is the foundation for lifelong learning. Once you are confident that you can learn you can begin to connect with other people and increase the efficiency of learning through collaboration. Once you have connected with other people you can take an active role in your own learning and once you take an active role in your own learning you have formed the core capacity to become a lifelong learner. Confident-connected-actively involved-lifelong learning. The process is really quite simple.
    We need passionate educators – who may well be the students peers/parents/caregivers/sports coaches/television presenters/YouTube hosts . . . almost everyone is in an educator at some point in time. People with passion about what they are good at are natural educators – they just can’t help themselves – ask the neighbour down the street who has just built a deck onto his house and he will quickly tell/teach you how they managed the process and what they learned from the process. Everybody wants to be a teacher – they just need an excuse.

    • Andrew FitzSimons

    • 13 years ago

    ” I believe that students find it difficult to think about learning as something that happens outside of school or away from the teacher. ”

    Mr Moore’s insight is a key challenge. We need ro ‘re-calibrate’ our students’ thinking about their learning so that it includes their family camping trip, participating in the school ‘s Athletics carnival etc.,

    By implication, teachers are important in this process, we need to skilfully acknolwedge and ‘draw out’ good learning that is not happening within our thrall.

  2. “..we have reached an upper limit of efficiency and effectiveness within our book based, text centric, learning system we have been journeying on since the Renaissance period.” Agreed.

    I feel that in some quarters that what happens in schools is being driven by marketing forces and test results. Naplan, VSC, HSC, SC and other national or state based tests are driving the teaching and learning if you can call it that. “Teach to the test” is the mantra pontificated from above down to the teachers.

    I am not in a position to speak for the school at which I teach regarding changing paradigms and alterations to learning but I know it is happening in some schools, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney. Sadly, though, given the forces of marketing, league tables and general paranoia there are some schools that are actually going backwards.

    • Unkle Cyril

    • 13 years ago

    Long live the autodidact…

    • E Lakisoe

    • 13 years ago

    Talofa, Kiaora and Gidday!
    Passion for Learning: On reading the comments and further exploration of this topic with Darcy and other Yammerites I also agree about building learners who are passionate about learning. I have seen proof of what this type of Learning environment looks like. Instead of the traditional classroom where students are given content as a vehicle to journey to what ultimately will be a designated career path, with the belief that we filled our vehicle with content as fuel and the more we had the better opportunities made available to us from which we travelled to select our career with the best fit approach. Instead I have seen it switched where the vehicle was passion and ICT, the track or road travelled was the content needed to arrive at a destination leading us to a myriad of opportunities in a field we chose to journey to.

    In a school in Auckland I was fortunate to work with an inspiring and innovative teacher who whole heartedly believed in Passion for Learning and teaching students how to learn. Indira Neville began a pilot program which initially looked at students who were academically bright but were seen to be underachieving in the classroom context. She took these students and began to work with them about how they learn(metacognition) Students analysed their learning behaviour, strengths and areas to focus on to build strength. She then conferenced with each about their passions and things they would like to learn. Individuals began to map out their personalised learning needs in order to complete a project they were passionate about building. Students were building learning maps. There were students contacting, collaborating and networking with community members on how to develop gaming software, film production ideas, publishing etc. The class of Year 7 and 8 students was a busy network of ideas, excitement, passion and most definitely learning.

    The underpinning philosophy was this:
    Engage students in profound learning experiences, which empower and value them as individuals, as well as providing them with opportunities to develop the skills and attitudes they need to succeed in the Knowledge Era. To this end the cluster has identified three areas as crucial. These are;
    Integration of Thinking:
    To provide students with transferable cognitive strategies that allow them to participate effectively in school and life.
    Inquiry Learning:
    To give students opportunities and skills to generate questions, find, process and communicate information thus becoming more effective and autonomous learners.
    Assessment and Feedback:
    To improve student achievement through the explicit linking of formative assessment and teaching and learning

    It was hoped that by developing common philosophies and approaches in these three areas the aim was to create a ‘learning community’.

    Guiding students to think in this pattern was difficult also. This was no small feat with reference to Darcys experience and the students not really knowing what passion was or being able to define what they wanted to learn. This takes time and dialogue to self discovery as I would imagine many have never been asked this question before. What is your true passion? What would you be passionate about learning?

    We all know in ourselves when there is something we are excited about that no barrier or time constraint prevents us from wanting to pursue it, achieve it, challenge it and ultimately learn it.
    Learning became relevant, student driven within authentic learning contexts. They began to exceed the capacity of what the teacher knew and explore how to access information and develop what they needed to learn to achieve their goals.

    A proverb that I would like to share with you:
    “If you give me a fish, I shall eat for the day but if you teach me how to fish I will eat for the rest of my life”
    Chinese proverb rephrased by Dennis Duncan for education
    “Ask a man a question and he inquires for a day; Teach a man to question and he inquires for life.”
    PS I’m a proud kiwi, Mark Treadwell and Andrew Churches are kiwis too aren’t they? 😉 Hmm may be on to something lol

  3. “What do you have a passion to learn?”
    Darcy this is a fantastic question to drive students thinking about learning! What an excellent choice! How long did it take for you to settle on that? Were there other similar types of questions that you considered but put aside fir this one?

    I’ve been thinking more recently about how important it is for teachers to share with students their own passions and their own learning journey. I love how you do this with your own photography journey. Last week I brought some of my drawings and poems into my uni tutorial in an effort to do the same thing.

    I find it troubling that if you were to ask most teachers “What do you have a passion to learn?” that they may not have an answer. I’m not putting blame back on the teacher here – I also think that teacher workload has a big impact on their capacity to devote time to their own learning. But I am really trying to encourage my preservice teachers to think about what kinds of texts they would like to learn more about and start creating in their own time. This is something that will really help them to join their class as an authentic member of the ‘learning community’.

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