School leaders want their students to have equitable access to high-quality, 21st century teaching that is personalised to their needs. To this end the school’s board of trustees has strongly supported well-researched initiatives and taken an active interest in how effectively these are being implemented. Concerned that access to technology could be an equity issue they found the resources to provide digital devices for all students at no cost to families.
Before 2012, the principal identified that ‘too many’ of the students at Mountview were not motivated to learn, and a considerable number were at risk of not achieving.
The principal was determined that things would change. She and her staff agreed that they needed to develop students as confident and capable learners, whose learning was culturally located and strongly supported by modern technology. If they could achieve this, the school would be equipping students for the future.
Play for the long game in the world as it is today, so kids don’t miss out on the future.
School leaders recognised that they needed to teach differently if they were to engage students in their learning. As a result they decided to explore the potential of digital technologies while focusing also on developing a growth mindset and resilience in their learners.
The change process started in 2012 with professional learning and development (PLD) and the trialling of innovations.
School leaders found it important to begin by focusing PLD on the technical aspects so that teachers could use digital technology with confidence. Whole-staff PLD proved ineffective because it did not target teachers’ actual needs. PLD was most effective when ongoing and regular.
As a result the board made provision for 16 hours a week of technical support, and oneto-one PLD for staff. These decisions have proven to be very effective in supporting change.
When recruiting new staff, school leaders learned that they had to challenge candidates to explain what they meant when they said they had digital classroom experience. What the school required was experience of teaching in classrooms where digital technology was completely integrated with learning (as in the senior classes at Mountview) but not many teachers had worked in this way.
Their next priority was to improve infrastructure to support the use of technology. The school purchased a digital device for every student in each of two classes. An external advisor was appointed part-time (0.2 FTE) to work alongside the teachers of these classes. Together the teachers and advisor used an inquiry approach to develop pedagogy and practice that would maximise the effectiveness of the devices for learning.
The principal undertook a research-based inquiry, ‘Implementation of 21st century learning – digital classrooms’, which also involved exploring how to be an effective principal in this day and age.
In 2013 the two digital classes moved into flexible learning spaces (FLSs), and two additional classes joined the trial. Each of these students was also supplied with a device. Shared touch devices were bought for students in Years 1–3. The focus in the junior school was less on digital learning and more on raising oral language levels, developing collaborative skills, and establishing goal-setting strategies.
By 2015 all students in Years 5–8 had tablets, all teachers were participating in ongoing workshops and PLD about e-learning, and the original two teachers were now coaching and mentoring other teachers.
The use of the devices alone will not change achievement. Sound pedagogy overrides the devices and the environment.
At the end of each year school leaders evaluated progress and refined their plans accordingly. This process gave the board confidence that resources were being used effectively.
By 2016 the use of devices had become normalised in Year 5–8 classrooms and the focus shifted onto pedagogy that promoted student agency and student-led learning.
In the latter part of 2016 and early 2017, the school continued to push ahead with the conversion of its traditional classrooms into FLSs. By this stage all students in the school had a device, and a substantial part of the curriculum was being taught via digital technology.
Constant review informs the development and utilisation of technology. It doesn’t stand still.
Teachers have observed a significantly positive impact on engagement, especially for boys, but the time spent on devices has reduced the opportunities that students have to talk with one another and build their oral language vocabulary. In response to concern about oral language skills the school has now pulled back somewhat on the use of digital devices
It’s good to take risks, but fail fast and move on.
Teachers have developed a curriculum framework that effectively outlines expectations for teaching and learning, providing clear guidelines to be followed. Inquiry learning features strongly. Teachers gather and use achievement data, plan collaboratively, and are responsive to student needs.
The advent of FLSs has highlighted the importance of teachers working together and ensuring consistency of approach and expectations. Teachers told us they had to be ‘in tune with the same pedagogy’ and communicate ‘like in a marriage’.
I used to do all my planning for the term in the holidays. Now planning includes my students. It was a bit scary to start with but so much more responsive now.
Teachers have rubrics for each of the key competencies, which describe the minimum expectations for students at each year level. Teachers explicitly teach the competencies and use approaches that promote learning how to learn. These strategies are helping students develop independence in and a positive attitude towards their learning.
The use of digital technology is now integrated across the curriculum and enhances students’ education. Students make good use of exemplars to guide their learning. The school’s curriculum for reading, writing, mathematics and the key competencies is published online in student-friendly language, so that the students can learn to set achievement goals and identify progress.
Teachers were once the imparters of most content knowledge but the internet now gives students direct access to a greatly expanded world of information. If they are to make the most of this resource, teachers must teach them how to approach it critically, evaluating the trustworthiness of sources and comparing what they find online with what they already know and with other, more traditional sources of information.
Leaders assumed that students would naturally know how to carry out learning tasks on their devices. They soon discovered that this was not so and that they needed to explicitly teach basic skills such as copying and pasting. So they developed a digital skills continuum as an assessment tool.
Teachers begin teaching the skills on the continuum in Year 2 to ensure that all students can fully access the digitised elements of the curriculum.
ERO saw students confidently using their devices. Some were engaged in a Mathletics game, competing against other students from all over the world to solve equations. While other students worked in self-directed groups, teachers were leading seminar-style lessons with small groups, using a projector to share their laptop screen.
Students regularly gave each other constructive feedback on their work. They told us also that they were engaged with their work, had a good understanding of what was expected of them, and appreciated being able to refer back to material online. They were unanimous that they could do better work with than without their devices.
We just do more work.
It makes us smart.
I write more and better.
It feels easier because it occupies us.
The students make good use of rubrics to identify their progress in literacy and numeracy, figure out what they need to do next, and set meaningful goals.
We use our learner goals to get better and better at stuff
They help us to learn more.
Learning at Mountview is visible. Achievable learning goals are set, with tasks and success criteria co-constructed by teachers and students. Students are shown examples of low- and high-quality work so that they know what quality looks like and what is required.
Feedback helps us a lot. It helps us fix things up. We all know about feedback and how to give feedback.
Students understand themselves as learners.
We learnt how our brain works. We should never give up. When you’re working hard you make neurons in your brain. If you give up your brain gets lazy.
Students are able to talk about their learning from an early age. We asked some Year 3 students to describe what helped them learn or how they approached problem solving.
One student said, ‘We don’t get much instructions – problem solving promoted but not left to own [sic], just not spoon fed. Sometimes we work it out on our own or partner up. Then we share it back together.’
Another explained, ‘We use our knowledge by remembering what we have learnt in the past and all the strategies to figure out the stuff we are going to learn in the future.’
The school has a well-developed system for collecting and analysing student voice data, which leaders see as the most powerful feedback that teachers can obtain and as evidence that when students seem engaged they are actually engaged in learning.
Leaders conduct videoed interviews with students in which they ask them questions designed to elicit how well they understand what they are learning. With the help of a rubric, leaders assess the students’ understanding. The videoed interviews then become the subject of professional learning conversations with teachers.
School leaders have strong links with the local iwi and work with them to meet the objectives of the iwi education plan.
The modern [innovative] learning environment, with its broader understanding of success, is more like a marae and better suits the learning of Māori students.
- Māori teacher
The school is also a member of a Community of Learning | Kāhui ako (CoL) that aims to progress innovative learning environments by focusing on pedagogical practice, ensure consistency of achievement information across participating schools, and smooth educational transitions for the young people of Taupō. Being able to share experiences and discoveries will be a very important part of belonging to the CoL
We can see using PaCT formatively, making it fit with what we do and for the needs of our kids. We hope to have it in use across the Community of Leaning for consistency.
Adapt not adopt. Only take what fits and complements what you are doing.