Edutouring - Moving on from self-paced to self-directed at Mary Ward

Mary Ward is the second of four self-directed schools we are visiting on our journey, and in a sense also represents a shift along the continuum from self-paced to a more genuinely self-directed style of learning.

Like Westmount, the staff and students of Mary Ward greeted us with warmth and openness, keen to share and to also learn from us. The weather, whilst still icy, was a little more kind and we managed to arrive in time to experience a full school day. On arrival we were greeted by Derek Chen (one of the Vice-Principals) who welcomed us to the school and took us through to the library to be introduced to Mary Ward life by a lovely group of students, giving us all a snapshot of what a day at Mary Ward entailed. Unlike Westmount which is a traditional school that has adopted self-directed learning, Mary Ward is a school built for the purpose. This means the design and layout can in a sense more effectively support the model, with each Learning Area having a large Learning Commons, a staffed resource centre and a range of smaller rooms and seminar spaces to support different modes of teaching and learning.

Mary Ward is working towards a model of truly self-directed learning, working to develop a genuine learning partnership between student and teacher.

So how do they manage this?

All students meet with their Learning Advisor (a group of 18 students or less) every morning. During this time they take the roll and plan their day ahead. They have three advisory check-ins a day including this morning session, this allows them to complete roll checks and attendance, this being vital as subject teachers may not see their students for days at a time.

During the day students can work in the space of their choice, completing Learning Guide workbooks either independently or in groups. Students also have the choice of working independently or seeking assistance from a subject teacher who is rostered on to floor time in every Learning Common. Students can also sign up for seminars to support their learning, students are notified of seminars through a daily notice referred to as TA (Teacher Advisor) mail. This daily notice also provides each student with updated grades and personalised messages from subject teachers and coaches. This is generated through a web mark software which seems to provide the much needed means of structure and order in what may otherwise become organised chaos. Similarly to Westmount the whole system is very paper heavy, but this is something they are aware of, and with increasing numbers of students bringing their own device are looking at moving to handle through online platforms. Interestingly their is a providence wide Learning Management System referred to as D2L (Desire to Learn) and whilst a single LMS seems useful, it didn't seem to allow for teachers and students to integrate other platforms the may have preferred (although as always I believe other platforms such as Edmodo were still being used at this stage).

Students for the most part seem to be independently working through paper based Learning Guides that we collected from resource centres in each Learning Common, with students completing units at their own pace and signalling when they were ready to sit a short test at the end of each unit, which they often assessed themselves to measure whether they we ready to move on to the next unit. Like Westmount there was little differentiation across units, but there was increasing differentiation within Learning Guides around contexts and ways they could demonstrate their understanding.

One of the real highlights at Mary Ward was their development of Learning Quests that happened at different points of the programmes and often provided a way for students to demonstrate learning in more than one subject through a single product. A quest unit seemed to take place at specific points of a programme. For example in a 18 unit course they may complete normal Learning Guides for units 1-3 and then the fourth unit may be a quest unit where the student negotiates with teacher and works out a way to demonstrate their learning. They can be interdisciplinary and can sometimes be completed as a group. Interdisciplinary connections were often suggested in the quest, such as if you were doing a report for History, you might be able to have this count as credit for English etc. Students made the comment that "to quest" had actually become a verb with students looking at ways they could "quest" tasks across curriculum areas and saw it as challenge to try and quest things across as many subjects as possible. These seemed to be negotiated with each of the subject area teachers. Cross-curricular and interdisciplinary ways of learning were also being explored more formally with themes such as genocide being covered in tandem across Learning Areas.

Another great example of more truly collaborate learning was in Art where in Grade 12 (our Year 13) students were given pretty much blank programmes, with the teacher working with each student to actually develop the units of work themselves. This, of course, was only possible due to the knowledge they had gained from years of experience of the system. Very cool.

The formal student/Teacher Advisor interview that took place once every fortnight was another real highlight. All teachers were advisors and each had timetabled time for a fortnightly 15 minute interview with each and every one of their students. During the interview the teacher brings up a screen on the (LMS) Web Mark software. The screen shows each of the student's subjects, grades and comments from the last interview and the same subjects, updated grades and space for comment to be completed during this fortnight's interview. The teacher then talks though the each subject checking that progress has been made since the last interview, writing a brief comment for each subject. This gives the teacher an opportunity to put in place interventions as needed, for example students falling behind may have to start using a "unit tracker" which involved teachers signing off progress on a daily basis. Once this was completed the student and teacher typed in a general comment and then completed a rubric measuring Communication and Application (effort) for the past fortnight. The magic of this software, is that then with a click of a button this was converted into a templated email home to the parents - providing incredibly efficient and regular feedback to students and parents. Take note KAMAR software developers, we are going to need something like this, sooner rather than later!! It was the technology that actually provided the structure and management to make this work without becoming unwieldy.

In summary, Mary Ward was doing some excellent things. Student learning was more genuinely self-directed and they were increasingly able to co-construct their learning path. There were still some cons; some students clearly struggled to manage their time and tried to take advantage of the relative freedom. The system was also VERY paper heavy (at present) and did still have elements that felt, like Westmount, a bit sequential and correspondence school-like. But that said, they were definitely working to improve these areas, and like Westmount were very open and honest about the need for continual development of processes and systems. It was lovely to enjoy time with yet another group of passionate, open and honest group of teachers and learners. There was so much to learn from Mary Ward and they most willing to share.

Mary Ward is another great school I would heartily recommend educators to investigate, especially if they want to see how students can genuinely direct their learning with forgoing structure and rigour.


  1. I like this quest idea. The guides maintain the rigor of the content and skills content necessary at each level but builds in the project element and the cross curricular feature. Which compliments NCEA's moving literacy and numeracy credit allocation across subjects. I still have trouble getting my head around how this rigor is created through interdisciplinary inquiry based projects alone. Paper guides could easily be transformed into multimedia resource material via wikispaces edmodo, moodle, flexibooks, google docs and so on. I say easily but we all know it takes an enormous amount of time to do this.

  2. Thanks i like this superb idea, This will definitely make education more easy and interesting for the children...Thanks for sharing this news!
    Special Education Software


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

An open letter to Minister Hipkins - 13 Reasons Why EVERY teacher deserves a pay rise!

An open letter to New Zealand students - you are bigger than any exam!

The Principal Diaries: My Lens on Powerful Learning