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Knowing my learners (Linda Ojala)

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Started by linda Ojala 07 Aug 2013 4:30pm () Replies (24)

Up front in my thinking

  • Knowing who is in my class
  • Actively doing something with this understanding so that sustainable options are available to support next learning steps.

Knowing my learners

 How do students share?

Students share about themselves on a daily basis through conversations, actions, images, facial and body expressions.

How do I then take what I know and weave this into the class environment?

I can see areas where students feel stressed, when they put up those barriers and when it’s just not working.

I observe  this when learning isn’t flexible, when I’ve been rushed and “teach to the whole class”, when I haven’t taken the time to consider  “what is your next learning step” and “what options do you need to support your independence?”.

I see some students move quickly from a zone of "I'm feeling ok and can be part of this" to one of stress and anxiety within a matter or seconds. My experience is that this results in a range of behaviours from non -engagement, frustration and reluctance to try anything.

 Developing new ways of thinking with UDL lens

Previously I would have tended to jump into that mind set of “fixing the student” rather than actually “this isn’t working and what can I do about it”.

Let me know what you think.    


  • Patrick Pink (View all users posts) 07 Aug 2013 5:36pm ()

    Kia ora, Linda,

    Personally, I love the image on the post.  As a person who is stickie-sensitive or Post-it impaired, I enjoy the mad dance of ideas on a big page.  It makes sense to me.  

    I agree with you about discovering new ways of thinking about our students through a UDL lens.  As a teacher I often carried not only that notion of 'fixing' the young person but also the concept of the young person 'catching up'.  

    Teaching many learners with diverse learning strengths and needs where, for example, writing was not an effective or efficient means to express what he or she knew and understood eventually provided me with an 'AHA' moment that I needed to review and reflect on my own practice and find another way to see what the learners in my classroom understood.  

    I found that some of the learners preferred to verbally let me know what they knew or wished to record it verbally.  Some drew their ideas and the connections they were making with prior knowledge.  

    Taking the time to watch and listen to our learners and providing them with a voice and respecting that voice was an eye-opening moment for me as a teacher/learner.    

  • Chrissie Butler (View all users posts) 07 Aug 2013 6:20pm ()

    It's interesting this "knowing your learners" focus. We talk about it heaps and often in the context of creating learning environments that work for Māori and Pasifika learners.

    When we work in an early childhood or junior settings, story telling seems to be woven though the day and there is possibly a higher probability that a teacher might have more knowledge of what a student is involved in outside school or just general things around how they are going. Parents and whānau may drop students off, have a quick chat and we can often glean a lot from a quick exchange in the doorway which prompts us to re jiggle our thinking and approach the student in a way we hadn't originally planned.

    As the years progress through school, those incidental conversations can dwindle, especially once students hit high school. Yet the need to know the learner once they have even more life under their belts actually seems more imperative. 

    So how can we keep this "know the learner" focus always on the boil? And can we use technology to create opportunites for students to connect their beyond classroom experiences and culture to the learning in ways we couldn't in the past?

  • Anne Kenneally  (View all users posts) 07 Aug 2013 9:10pm ()

    Hi there,

    As I read this I keep thinking how hard it is to stay in touch with our learners, to know what their needs are and to know who they support and who is wupporting them, and equally knowing what they are independent in.  One way we used last year was to create and share something to show who and what is in our own personal learning network or personal learning environment.  As we created and shared these we developed a greater understanding of eahc other... I think it was hugely important that we all had freedom of how and what we shared and who we shared it with.  I learnt so much through this journey...


  • linda Ojala (View all users posts) 07 Aug 2013 9:27pm ()

    Thanks for linking your blog.  Lovely to see some examples of student work and also to see the variety of tools they used to express their ideas.

    How true it is that in our creating and sharing together we learn so much about each other!

  • Moana Timoko (View all users posts) 07 Aug 2013 9:50pm ()

    Kia ora what an awesome read this is.  Loving what I'm reading! I also like the image Patrick - and the way you've described it as a 'Mad dance of ideas'.  I'm hoping my contribution adds some extra thought to this discussion.  

    I am currently working in a Kura Kaupapa Māori that also has a Wharekura (Senior School Years 9 - 13).  Now I think about 'Knowing our Learners' in the kura and one thing that I am absolutely sure of about our kura tamariki is that they have the reo.  As a learner of Te Reo Māori I am in awe of how our kura tamariki are able to naturally converse in the reo.  I sometimes struggle to respond instantly...or come up with kupu.  

    So....inorder for me to 'know' them I actually see them as having something that I need and want.  I want to be a confident proficient speaker of Te Reo Māori and these tamariki have something to share with me...if they choose to.  

    Therefore I will make sure to form incredibly strong relationships with them in order to learn from them...inorder to gain their respect & trust...and to get what I want.  Geesh sounds a little selfish, but it's a 2 way thing.  They expect me to help them also.  But isn't that a natural expectation of people who have strong relationships - you help each other out...no matter what.  I have strong relationships with my whānau members and I wont let them go hungry if I have kai.  This is the very same for my students.  If my students don't have kai and I have some, I'll share or give it all over.  A strong indicator is when students offer you kai - a bite of their muesli bar, a cake, a sandwich, a chip from their packet...a piece of their secretly stashed chocolate that's presented to your face by their previously licked fingers lol.   

    Those are just a few examples.  In my past teaching experiences I've always thought about what the students can offer me (Selfish again I know).  Even the haututu (mischievious) ones, or students that tend to keep to their own...as it's a challenge for me...a challenge to break down the barriers...and that's what I feel getting to know our students is about. Accomplishing challenges is a great feeling, an inner feeling that resonates.  Thinking about what they can offer me...even if it is a challenge...and then in return feeling that I have to...really have to offer something back.  

    Hope that makes sense lol.

  • Chrissie Butler (View all users posts) 09 Aug 2013 1:44pm ()

    tug of war Cool Moana.

    That's Ako, isn't it? That reciprocal relationship.

    It's that tension between teacher and student that creates strength, like a stretched wire between two poles or like that cool point in a dance or tug-o-war where both sides are supporting the weight of the other, leaning back into the tension.

    For me a big thinking question is "What do we do with what we know?" How do use it in an ongoing way to increase the engagement of students across the curriculum.

    How do you see that happening in some of the kura or communities you walk alongside?

    Image credit

  • Moana Timoko (View all users posts) 11 Aug 2013 9:48pm ()

    Kia ora Chrissie - Ako- Absolutely!  Apologies in advance for my novel of a contribution to this discussion post. I'll have to find a way to 'pimp' out my spaces.

    Here's a link to the 'Ako' section in Te Mangōroa - A portal to stories, reports, statistics, and reviews from across TKI and other sites that reflect effective practices to support Māori learners to achieve education success as Māori. Te Mangōroa contains practical illustrations of what Ka Hikitia- Managing for Success means for teaching and learning. These examples come from a wide range of schools and offer a wide range of examples of where they were at, what approaches they used to get started, what worked and what didn’t, and how they measured their success.  There's also a discussion post here that might be of interest: Te Mangōroa kōrero on the VLN

    You may also want to check out some of the ideas discussed here: A REFRESHER about what works for Māori Learners - It may pay to have a read as we're often reminded that what works for Māori is beneficial for everyone. I'm interested to hear thoughts about that.

    I also think about the Tuakana - Teina concept.

    Now in terms of your questions: What do we do with what we know?  How do we use it in an ongoing way to increase the engagement of students across the curriculum?

    For me it's about having a belief...a belief in the concept of Tuakana - Teina....a belief in the concept of Ako - This belief: As an educator I am not the only one who can educate.

    I think these concepts need to be shared on a regular basis - You'll find some ideas in the links above.  I often find myself reading past notes to refresh my thoughts about these concepts so that I can articulate my thoughts better...but I have those strong beliefs already, because it's just what I know.

    I also think about Te Whare Tapa Wha model – and how this relates to nurturing the tinana, hinengaro, wairua and whānau – when working with individuals, when working with groups…always thinking about these dimensions and thinking of achieving a balance…for yourself and for others.  One easy way is to be giving of your time…expressing acts of aroha...for yourself and for others.  This is something I'm still learning to do for myself but I'm a mother and my kids tend to get everything before me.  (A personal point I know, but it's very relevant...as we all lead busy lives and struggle to find the time for ourselves...geesh that's that selfishness coming out again lol).

    I think we also need to be flexible with our curriculums ensuring that our tamariki and whānau have the opportunity to contribute to the development of the curriculum in their kura.

    So asking our tamariki/whānau about what they can bring to the curriculum and then having the discussion about what we can give back.  

    Aroha mai, aroha atu. 

  • Chrissie Butler (View all users posts) 12 Aug 2013 9:50pm ()

    Kia ora Moana. Awesome posting with rich and useful links.

    As this kōrero is flowing, I'm wondering if we can pull into the open some stories where "knowing the learner' and deliberately making some space to tell and share stories had an impact on the teaching and therefore the learning. I wonder if we can make links with some effective use of tech?

    Here's a small "for real" story.

    A few years ago, a student with a blog/ePortfolio went to visit some familiy in another part of the world. Whilst they were away, the family posted photos and the student's teacher and team where able to make comments and participate in the conversation.

    When the student got back to school, the teacher could build on the stories from the students trip.

    Here's a potential story.

    At a local high school, there was a picture of student in the local newspaper of the student taking a leadership role in some conservation work. The school Bio teacher spotted it. He didn't know anything about the student's interests outside school and has since invited to the student to take more of a role in planning and leading lessons where they have expertise.

  • linda Ojala (View all users posts) 15 Aug 2013 9:22pm ()

    Chrissie is was great to chat around this last week.  I know that in the lower levels parents do come into the class and school on a more regular basis, therefore catching up and sharing information is often easier.  Since going back into the class I have tried to use some of those gems that I know about my students in ways that you suggested, such as when using a powerpoint make sure I have pictures and images that relate to their interest and likes.  It was great to see the instant smiles that came on a couple of my boys faces when they connected with what was on the screen. Smile

  • Monika Kern (View all users posts) 09 Aug 2013 5:10pm ()

    Love this post, agree agree agree! I have the feeling rural ECE and primary teachers often know their students quite well. What they do with it is a different questions of course, as you said, Chrissie - not wanting to be negative, but you know that some teachers' knowledge of a students / family can sometimes be a barrier to their developing an effective relationship. We stereotype so easily, don't we?

    In the past I have been in the fortunate position of working with hundreds of at risk students and their families in their homes. It gave me the most unique insight into what lies beyond the facade of the student - also the parent - that we see at school. That haututu might actually have already done quite a bit of work for nana and koru before he went off to school. That sullen girl might not be at school because she was looking after the little kids at home while mum was in hospital. That reluctant reader might build the most amazing structures from clay / lego / wood etc.

    What do the students know about us, how do they and their parents see us? image




    How can we as educators connect with our learners within our busy days, especially the teenagers in secondary school? And why should we in the first place? It's about relationships, it's about listeing, about taking things one step at a time. When our students and us have a relationship, we can learn from each other. As educators we can adapt materials to engage, can make them relevant, authentic. I know I'm preaching to the converted, but I have found it's so hard to do in the rat race that we cann full-time teaching!

    Another question for me is when does this get too much, where do we draw the line? Where does it becoming prying into their lives, what to do when students overshare?

    I will follow this discussion with interest, coincidentally it's closely linked to my ULearn presentation :-)

  • Chrissie Butler (View all users posts) 12 Aug 2013 10:10pm ()

    Kia ora Monika. Your post makes me recall what a Pasifika colleague said about being a Pasifika learner in a pakeha environment - "I had to leave my Pasifika-ness at my door when I stepped beyond it each morning, then I had to try to think in a Pakeha way, in order to be successful."

    The question of stereotypes is also an interesting one. I am reminded of a video I watched about Dorothy Heathcote, the other night. Dorothy had a massive impact on my initial teaching training when I was a student in the UK. I studied drama first up, and she (thankfully) was revered for her radical approach to students as partners in learning.

    The video below is part 7 of an 8-part series shot in 1971. The language is pretty dated, but its worth  watching it for the balance of power bewteen students and teachers. It still challenges me with its boldness. I am still inspired.

  • Allanah King (View all users posts) 12 Aug 2013 10:46pm ()

    As I watched the video I was most challenged by it- on a variety of levels- the rolling on the hard wood floor, the throwing of matches to burn people, albeit pretend matches.

    Also on the amount of familiarity shown between the student teachers and 'sub normal' students.

    A shadow then of a former time maybe. I like being lead by the children's ideas.

    What particularly inspired you, Chrissie?

  • Roxy Hickman (View all users posts) 27 Aug 2013 11:20am ()

    Oh that video clip is too cute! 

    Know your learner – read their faces! How sweet is the little boy watching intently to see if a hand or foot moved out of place, the look of frustration when the foot wouldn’t stay down, the worried expression as he explained to his adult that they were only pretend matches. That is pure engagement!

    I have recently been reflecting on this “Know your learner” statement using the iceberg analogy. Monika you so truly point out what is really happening in a students’ life may be hidden deep below the surface, and all they show above the surface is a tired, yawning, unengaged student. 

    The Iceberg

    Knowing your learners has many layers:

    The behaviours they display – Our perception from observations

    What makes them tick – the things that engage and inspire them

    Their relationships – How they manage with other people

    How they feel – Their perception of the world around them in different situations

    Image Source:  http://3. /DIZqOfxuswc/s1600/IcebergQ1.jpg bp.blogspot.com/-u3acK_WjaLU/ULYv51mHEhI/AAAAAAAAARY

    As a teacher how often do we consider how our students feel when we expect them to succeed in situations they may feel uncomfortable, frustrated or lost in?

     I challenged a group of staff to consider “know your learners” from the child’s perspective. I gave out a range of (very exaggerated) simulated disabilities and an activity that was unsuitable for them to really engage. As we debriefed about how they felt about being put into a challenging situation, I could see light bulbs flashing. They suddenly had greater empathy for the students sitting in their class. The point of the session was to see how, by providing multiple options more students (participants) were able to engage in the learning. The real learning for some of these staff was the awareness of where some of our students are coming from and to look beyond the surface to understand their priority learners.

    The big question during our discussion was how would they do this with 25-30 kids in their class? 

  • Patrick Pink (View all users posts) 06 Sep 2013 2:18pm ()

    Know your learner...

    I have recently watched Susan Cain's TED talk on The Power of Introverts.  It resonated so much that I uploaded her book, Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and have practically finished it.  Her TEDtalk and book also got me thinking about our learners who may prefer to work in a variety of ways, including on thier own.  I wonder how we provide for learners who like to ponder over things by themselves; who prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities; who prefer quiet spaces and time to think; who tend to think before speaking; who may be seen as 'shy' or described as 'soft-spoken', 'mellow', or 'in their shell'; who like to be with people but need some time on their own to 'recharge'.  It also made me wonder about our classroom spaces and whether they are designed and can foster all learners no matter where they are in the continuum of introvert and extrovert.  

    Included is the Susan Cain TEDtalk.  If interested, it can be viewed on YouTube with the transcript.  Also, here are a few articles that I found online that are thought-provoking:  Teaching Introverts is Different, Caring for your Introvert, Embracing Introversion:  Ways to Stimulate Reserved Children in the Classroom, Introversion and the Invisible Adolescent,  and In Defense of Introverts.         

  • Karen (View all users posts) 09 Sep 2013 8:00pm ()

    Patrick your response about how some learners prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities or to ponder/figure things out on their own made me think of myself as a student.  I know these conversations are about ourselves as teachers but that really made me think about how much I did not enjoy any group type things at school and now (2013) they are even more a part of being a student in a classroom.  It is just another reminder about the importance of knowing your learner and of remembering that what is effective teaching and learning for one learner might not be so great for another.

  • Monika Kern (View all users posts) 10 Sep 2013 10:11am ()

    Thanks, Patrick, this was a great reminder for me to think not only about my overt attempts to connect with my learners / their parents like greeting them at the door, connecting via a medium they are comfortable with etc. etc., but more so about my covert attempts which include the environment (incl. school culture), my pedagogy and my mannerism (maybe not the correct word here, someone else might think of a better one?). Just because I am an extrovert, it doesn't mean that all people are, all people should be or that I should treat all of them like extroverts. Gives me much to ponder about, so thank you once again!

  • linda Ojala (View all users posts) 24 Sep 2013 8:03pm ()

    Wow I have just got back to this conversation and have really enjoyed reading all the posts.... keep them coming!  "Knowing my Learners".... I have a couple who always choose when given the option to work by themselves, they just seem to find it challenging working in that peer share situation.  Typically they end up getting frustrated and are really clear about wanting to complete the task by themselves.  I work hard to give options but also like to encourage them to find ways to work successfully with others.  

    One of my challenges this year has been to create spaces within spaces that provide options. 

  • Patrick Pink (View all users posts) 26 Sep 2013 7:41am ()

    Knowing our learners....particularly our reserved and introverted learners.

    I find that the more I delve into the area of working alongside our learners who are more reserved and introverted, the more I wonder about our school environments and whether they have the options for learners who may require quiet and reflective places where working by him/herself or with one other person or two others may be better for learning.  Again, UDL comes to mind...and the notion that 'one-size-fits-all' may not work for all.  

    I've finished Susan Cain's book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and was moved by the depth of research.  There is a section in the book that looks at our reserved or introverted kids within schools and classrooms.  Here are a few excerpts that rang true with me:

    'We tend to forget that there's nothing sacrosanct about learning in large group classrooms, and that we organise students this way not because it's the best way to learn but because it's cost-efficient, and what else would we do with our children while the grown-ups are at work?  If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialise one-on-one, there's nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the prevailing model.  The purpose of school should be to prepare kids for the rest of their lives, but too often what kids need to be prepared for is surviving the school day itself.'

    Some ideas to help our more reserved kids to practice interaction and 'speaking up'.  Cain suggests:

    'Let him know that it's OK to take his time to gather his thoughts before he speaks, even it if seems as if everyone is jumping into the fray.  At the same time, advise him that contributing earlier in a discussion is a lot easier than waiting until everyone else has talked and letting the tension build as he waits to take his turn.  It he's not sure what to say, or is uncomfortable making assertions in a larger group, help him play to his strengths.  Does he tend to ask thoughtful questions?  Praise the quality, and teach him that good questions are often more useful than proposing answers.  Does he tend to look at things from his own unique point of view?  Teach him how valuable this is and discuss how he might share his outlook with others.'

    Lastly, 'some collaborative work is fine for introverts, even beneficial.  But it should take place in small groups--pairs or threesomes--and be carefully structured so that each child knows her role.'  

    Just some thoughts

  • Patrick Pink (View all users posts) 20 Sep 2013 12:30pm ()

    Know your learner...

    Take away the 1953 outfits and hairstyles and the tinny cinematic soundtrack, the essence has always been the same:  How can I best know my learners and with that information create an environment where they will develop and grow?  Through observation, listening to family/whānau, discovering likes, interests and preferences, providing opportunities for learners to share and teach what they know with others, gathering collective insight, experience and wisdom amongst colleagues and using head, hands and heart. 

    UDL all the way

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