Encouraging active learning at school and at home

There is a strong focus in education on connecting learning between school and home. The general understanding, backed by research, is that students gain confidence, enthusiasm and expectations of success from parents and whānau who follow and support their learning. An example of the focus is the revamp of the cycle of inquiry in the NZC (2007) to the spiral of inquiry (Timperley, Kaser, Halbert 2014). One of the important enhancements is involving learners, their families, and communities in inquiries.

Schools have put huge effort into home/school communication, community consultation and optimum ways to report to parents and whānau in order to build strong partnerships. But education and schools can be a mystery to many parents and whānau and are, for some, hugely threatening and to be avoided at all costs. How can schools make it easier for parents and whānau to feel comfortable and connected and engaged in their children’s education?

I want to address just one facet, but a vital one: how classroom teachers can truly enact what we at Evaluation Associates describe in our teacher capabilities matrix as the nirvana of involving parents in student learning:

 Teacher enables students to lead conversations about their learning so that parents/whānau build commitment and partnership in support of further learning.

What does this entail? How can teachers give students the power to talk about their learning? And how can schools support parents and whānau to hold those conversations? I believe teachers can do this by giving guidance about how to have conversations that are about their children’s learning and progress.

Here are five simple but key questions that schools can encourage parents and whānau to ask:

  • What are you learning? (For example, in mathematics)

To answer this question, students need to have a clear idea of what they are learning (not just what they are doing) in each step of the learning process. The distinction between learning and doing is an important one, in my view. Learning is about knowledge, skills and understandings that can be transferred to other areas. ‘Doing’ is important – doing activities reinforces learning - but it’s vital students understand what they are learning through the ‘doing’.

  • Why are you learning this?

Relevance is crucial if students are to be connected to the learning. Real life relevance is at the heart, and so are connections made to previous learning and future progression.

  • How are you getting on? Are you making progress?

Students who can answer this have been given the tools to monitor their own learning. They know what ‘good learning’ looks like in, for example, writing or mathematics, and can measure their progress against criteria and expectations at their level.

  • What’s the next step in your learning?

Younger students who can answer this have been provided with clear progressions of learning so that they can see what they are aiming for. Older students have an overview of the work for the term and the year, so that they can see where they’ve come from and where they’re going next.

  • What do you do if you get stuck?

This last question is a more general one. Students should have a range of sources to rely on for help and have the confidence to ask the teacher to explain further. Parents and whānau can encourage their children to seek feedback, ask for help where it is needed and to take risks in their learning.

Of course, for students to be able to answer these questions clearly, teachers need to empower them to do so. What would the students in your class or school say if they were asked these questions? Perhaps you could ask a group of students today.

Parents and whānau can work with teachers and schools to encourage students to be self-regulating, confident and connected students. The five questions above are a good start for helping this to happen.

There is a sixth question (sorry, I promised only five).

  • How can I help?

This blog post was written in collaboration with Jody O'Connell, former consultant with Evaluation Associates.

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Tags: assessment for learning student agency active learners community partnerships partnership

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