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Learning Licences, do they really work?

Started by Neill O'Reilly 13 Jul 2016 8:50am () Replies (22)

I have had four teenage children all got their restricted and learners licences. All struggled with the restricted licence, the human (and teenager) need for socialisation and the power and influence of 'peers' may have meant, on occasion they had a passenger in the car and were out after 10:00pm (those who have had teenagers will get this) The bottom line is the current licence system we have in NZ simply does not work and in fact teaches our young adults to break the law from an early age in their cars. The licence system is supposed to scaffold our young adults to independence and self regulated behaviours...had a ticket lately...?

It is interesting to see the range of approaches teachers are using to enable self regulation in children and the prominence placed on "Licence" systems be it using SOLO, bands, necklaces, beads....

I am interested as to why we do this? Some of my concerns:

  • Are we creating a system for all students when in reality only a small number need more scaffolded support, and if they do why don't we just give them the support?
  • Doesn't this just confirm those who are already naturally self regulating as just that?
  • Doesn't my ability to self manage have a lot to do with motivation and engagement, and if so won't my self management and regulation improve as I am engaged in things that motivate challenge and inspire me (boys, building!)
  • Is this another form of 'control' rather than empowerment
  • How sustainable is it all?

I suppose my big question is "WHY?" are teachers and schools really thinking through the "Why?" factor with this or simply seeing what other schools are doing and then 'putting a system in place' 

Does it work or do you just have them for a season and then drop them and focus on those who need support and have an expectation and culture co-constructed about how, where and with whom we learn?

Would love to hear your thinking!



  • Jace7 (View all users posts) 13 Jul 2016 6:37pm ()


    If a learner licence is for empowerment, then it seems to imply that a student can change their behaviour by taking control of their learning, but is it really?

    I am interested in the students who don't seem to have a vision of being able to self manage and enjoy working with the teacher more often. Therefore is it control then disguised  as a motivation of conformity?

    I agree that the amount of scaffolding is  a lot less than I had originally perceived,so licences can kind of work. I agree the restrictive driving rules are a little crazy as who doesn't want to give their friend a ride home or have to be back by 10 pm?

    The ability to self assess for some students seems difficult  or is there always a choice in their behaviour. I have noticed a number of students consistently mark themselves as the highest score on the rubrics we create and even when they have received peer assessment to the contrary, repeatedly do this. As a teacher do you note that they are still on the continuum or are we explicit in stating there is a misconception here.

  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 14 Jul 2016 9:04am ()

    Thanks Jace7,

    I think I am seeing quite a bit of 'control disguised as motivation'. I suppose my main question, "Who is this system in place for, teachers or students?"

    I wonder if this is more about what the teacher needs than what students need. Another observation....Seems to me no matter what you call the system or how it is branded that the children with the most 'self management' and at the top end of whatever system is created is .....girls. Is that because they are more self managing or because the curriculum and the environment is more suited to girls, quiet, self controlled learning in an orderly and polite environment.

    I wonder if we would have a lot more 'self managing' boys if the learning environment was geared to them? I think it is worth looking at the "Nature of Learning" especially the sections on motivation and engagement.

    Even more concerning is that children are labelled (or self labelling) as (for example) "Extended abstract Learners".  I know for a fact at times I am far more engaged in learning than others, even more so I notice how 'self regulating' staff are in a PL session or PD session that they don't really value. 

    Perhaps before we label or give children labels / licences we should look very carefully at the learning experiences they are involved in. Alfie Kohn writes an interesting article on 'Grit' and how this term can be misused to justify making children persevere at learning that is meaningless and lacks value and purpose for the learner. I sense the similar risks with licences....

  • Lee Austin (View all users posts) 19 Jul 2016 11:37am ()

    Kia ora Neill and Jace7,

    This is an interesting topic of conservation. My 2 cents to add are to agree with Neill's point about control versus engagement. I wonder whether learner licences are in some ways replacement for the real motivation of being engaged, excited and interested in the learning. If our students are not connected with what they are learning then other 'controls' such as learner licences become more important.

    So what are both of your opinions on how to truely engage our learners? Particulary with the expecations of National Standards and the pressures towards 'teaching to the test' that come with this. Inquiry learning comes straight to mind for me. Other thoughts?


    Nga mihi



  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 20 Jul 2016 8:49am ()

    I think the ultimate test of contructivist learning approaches (be it inquiry, project based learning, personalised learning, experiential learning etc) is that regardless of national standards, NCEA or any other form of assessment that if children are truly engaged in authentic learning context and they have quality teaching (typically 'just in time' teaching) they will happily achieve. Their achievement will not necessarily be nice and linear as is the expectation with National Standards and NCEA but achieve and learn they will. 

    Our challenge is to create learning environments where the learning is more important than the arbitrary measure of national standards and where our staff and parents understand that over a longer period of time (say six years in the case of a contributing primary school like ours) that through quality teaching and learning children will not only be inspired, motivated, actively involved lifelong learners but they will also make positive progress against externally imposed assessment practices (and so they should). However the ultimate test is not that they are 'at' or 'above' at a certain moment in time but that they are learning, and retaining the desire to learn with a positive sense of hauora and becoming more self regulated.

    For an interesting read on the impact of assessment I suggest Alfie Kohn who really challenges us to consider what it is we are doing with children and how we might be inadvertently 'controlling' rather than enabling them.

    If I was to defend National Standards (and I do not support them, especially in the first two years of school) at least there is not a 'test' and we are empowered to utilise ongoing, formative assessment to make our overall teacher judgement.

    Anyway back to licences, perhaps worth looking at the other things we actually do to manipulate rather than empower children, certificates, rewards, stickers, hands up, and Classdojo's just to mention a few.... Shirley Clarke's excellent publication and Michaels Absolum's 'Clarity in the Classroom' provide a more balance approach to how we might empower children and enable them rather than control them.

  • charles gibson (View all users posts) 27 Jul 2016 3:16pm ()

    Interesting stuff. I have been on the Self Management journey as it pertains to a school curriculum for a long time. I think the end-game is that students learn to effectively co-direct all facets of the learning programme. To learn to do this, students need to be taught [ learning to learn ] learning knowledge such as whole brain learning, the game of school, thinking skills, Learning preferences etc and also essential skills that directly influence self- management. One effective way of doing this is to activate self-management timetables which, like us, many schools are now doing. Through explicit teaching of skills such as time management, coping with change and stress, prioritising and decision-making, goal-setting, focus students move along the continuim of developing the end-game. [self-management/student agency].

    To help us with this we have introduced Self-management licences and they seem to be working well. I must admit though that this discussion has really got me thinking about them. I think we need to be really clear about the reason why we have them. My thinking at the moment is that it all comes back to a base philosophy. For self-management or student agency to realise the end-game the teacher must relinquish control of the learning process and become a truly collaborative partner in it. [The learning process]. If a teacher can't do this, a licence in their space will be nothing more than a controlling mechanism.

    We also need to give alot of thought to what we are doing about the children who are not achieving in this area, If it was reading we have a 101 different intervention programmes what do we have for self-management. Maybe the Government could fund a Self-Management Recovery Programme as well as a Reading Recovery.[sorry- slightly sarcastic.


  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 29 Jul 2016 6:43am ()

    Thanks Charles,

    Can you explain a bit more about what these mean to you/ your school?:

    whole brain learning, the game of school, thinking skills, Learning preferences


  • charles gibson (View all users posts) 29 Jul 2016 9:36am ()

    Hi Neil. I am going to attempt to do each one in one sentence.

    1. Who;e Brain Learning: Applying what we know about the brain [neuroscience] to teaching and learning.[Do they match up?]

    2. The Game Of School: This is actually a book [NZ] by Mike Scaddan. i.e how to sit tests? tips for study, tips of positive practice in a classroom

    3. Thinking: developing creative and critical thinking skills. Problem-solving, Mind maps, blooms etc. The need to explicitly teach these in authentic situations.

    4. Learning Preferences: children experimenting and discussing how they as individuals learn best and that we are all different. Not Learning styles but more smaller things such as light, noise, movement, sitting at a desk or stand-up table etc

    In our school these are once again becoming more of a focus breaking out from the chasms of National's STDs. We are re designing our curriculum [which will be Key Competency based] while at the same time designing our new school [ILE] as a result of leaky buildings. The new school will be completed at the end of 2017. 



  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 30 Jul 2016 1:41pm ()

    Has me slightly worries that we need a 'Game of school", does this mean we are going down the slippery slope of giving up and school is school so you need to learn how to 'play the game'. Someone should write a 'Game of unschool' for teachers and then we could design a school based around what kids need!

    I like all you other thinking you are clearly putting lots of thought into the transition process to collaborative teaching and learning and attempting to 'design' the most effective environment you can- good for you!

    Where is your school Charles?


  • Wendy Sheridan-Smith (View all users posts) 29 Jul 2016 8:04am ()

    I suppose my big question is "WHY?" are teachers and schools really thinking through the "Why?" factor with this or simply seeing what other schools are doing and then 'putting a system in place' 

    Does it work or do you just have them for a season and then drop them and focus on those who need support and have an expectation and culture co-constructed about how, where and with whom we learn?

    Kia ora Neil

    I may be slightly off topic but thought I'd add my two cents; we have licenses for IT use only and find them very effective. Until the beginning of this year our school had no usable computers and by default no teaching or learning in the digital landscape. When I arrived in January this was on my "top ten" list of areas to focus on. We purchased chromebooks and some tablets; the students were very excited.

    My mandate at the school is for change, and a huge part of that is accelerating student achievement. IMHO the best way to do that is to put learning in the hands of the students through building student agency and developing learning relationships. Developing a system of licenses for the students in the senior room has scaffolded their appropriate use behaviours. They have "learner," "restricted" and "full" licenses to earn. Once earned they design their own license and wear it on a lanyard every time they use a device. There is three strike rule, which we have used, where you lose your license and have to re-sit the test with a curly question or two added. Both teachers and staff are supported through the implementation of digital learning by Angela Lee from Lee Training; her support has been invaluable.

    As we embed student agency, learning relationships and develop a culture of learning and behaviour that is of the highest standard I can see these licenses fading but at the moment they are supporting the direction of the school and building self esteem of students as they develop voice in their learning.

    We have moved from the gaming as learning to design for learning; from playing games to coding and the license concept has supported us every step of the way because we can focus on learning and not on behaviour.



  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 30 Jul 2016 1:37pm ()

    Thanks Wendy,

    I am pleased you have thought about the 'why'. The most important thing is that you as a team/ staff are reflecting on the effectiveness of the process/ system you have put in place and continue to ask, "Is this empowering our children as self regulated learners?" I can see the very specific nature of what you are doing. Do all children need the licence? Or is the system necessary because of a few who push the boundaries?

    Do you think at some point in the future the only licence you will need is for those who need supervision/ management and all the rest can just get on with it?


  • Wendy Sheridan-Smith (View all users posts) 31 Jul 2016 12:12am ()

    Thanks Neil

    At the moment all children in the senior Ako, Years 6 - 8, and the Year 5 students in my extension group need the licence. In fairness it was, and remains, for the four or five students who continue to push it when they feel like it.

    However the students love them and the "test" part to move through the licensing is robust and we fail them if they don't get 85%; that's real life.

    When I arrived there was a worksheet culture through the school and there is still one pocket left; this meant that the children had never learnt to take responsibility for their learning and behaviour. The licences, and Hapara, have ensured that there is a system of checks and balances in place that are understood by everyone. Also they have learnt to treat the devices with respect. It is very hard to change a mindset, the students depended on the constraints of micro management and worksheets and were initially lost without their security blanket. 

    Term 2 was particularly rocky but Term 3 has started brilliantly, I have my kids coding, doing robotics, tinkering, using makey-makeys and Breakout Edu. Self managing and doing it to a very high standard. 

    Do I think we will use the licence system forever, no but at the moment it serves a purpose for our students and allows them to take risks with their lanyard round their neck that tells them they can do it, they are capable and successful.


  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 31 Jul 2016 2:40pm ()

    Thanks Wendy,

    Sounds like friggen great stuff you are doing!


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