Hack Your Classroom - Week Seven: Handing the power over to the learners

Source: http://novemberlearning.com/educational-resources-for-educators/books-on-educational-technology/

Interestingly, when it comes to teachers not really adopting and embracing technology it often isn't technical skill or lack thereof that is the problem, it is the teachers need to maintain power and control in the classroom. You hear the panic, the running joke that BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Distraction. Well I hate to break it to you, but if the students are distracted by the technology (particularly after the novelty of access to the Internet has worn off) the problem ain't the technology - quite possibly your/their teaching and the students lack of ownership of their learning is. *lobs grenade and ducks for cover*

Which brings me to this week's #hackyrclass topic - handing the power over to the learners. I am really interested in this. More precisely, I am interested in how we do this is such a way that increases engagement whilst still insuring depth of learning and academic rigour. So often we see schools controlling student learning to the point of spoon-feeding students and micro-managing teachers. This is quite simply, not good enough. Why on earth would you bother to get to know your learners, if you weren't in a position to actually be responsive to their learning needs and their interests? Why do schools pretend they are being responsive, when in fact they have published the dates they will be assessing students - how do you know students will be ready to be measured and assessed by that date? I understand externals (at present) happen on a pre-determined date, but internals are not, so why do we often shortchange our teachers and learners but creating artificial and unnecessary deadlines?

So what can we do about this? I suggest the answer is threefold. We can challenge this at a national level by sharing more responsive practices and encourage others to follow suit. Speak up at best practice workshops and challenge anyone that suggests that internals (or any other testing) must be locked down in advance. We can challenge this at a school level. Refuse to, or encourage your HOD to refuse to publish assessment (or testing) dates in the student handbook or assessment calendar. Challenge your Principal's Nominee if they insist on dates being published or dates locked down. Challenge your department to encourage freedom to be responsive around assessment. There is actually no good reason for students in your school to be assessed at the same time (if they are at present). In fact there isn't really a strong argument for them to even be assessed against the same standard and/or all in the same mode. At the very least teachers should be being encouraged to write NCEA assessments that are responsive to the work their students are engaged in. That TKI task is not the best for your students, it is an exemplar, a guideline only.

So what are the strategies we could use to hand the power over to the learners. If you have the freedom to do so, why not let your students create an Individual Assessment Plan. Look at your course plans (which you may or may not have co-constructed with your students) and let them explore the veritable buffet of Achievement Standards available and get them to design how they might be assessed. You of course bring the expertise of what they need to succeed in their chosen pathways, so can negotiate appropriate options. Get them to take on the role of task designer - show them examples from TKI, show them exemplars that they can deconstruct and get their ideas for how they could meet that outcome based on their learning context. If you don't have this level autonomy (and if you don't, ask why not) you could take one assessment opportunity at primary, intermediate or your junior secondary years and present it to your learners as a problem for them to solve. Explain the achievement objectives or learning outcomes you are trying to measure them against and ask them how they could best evidence it. Again, you should be the expert, but your aim is to build their expertise around assessment as well. The more we can demystify this for learners the better.

One thing we are hoping to trial at HPSS is how we can make Level One NCEA less of an event and more of level of understanding that students can evidence a number of ways and captured through their e-portfolio in their early years at secondary school. We want to look at Level One NCEA as a kind of foundation certificate that prepares students to attain excellence at Level Two and above - not just a hoop that they jump through in the same way we make them do so at Level Two and Three....often boring the pants off learners in the process.

Another way we can approach this, particularly if you are in a school that locks assessment down is by simply letting students negotiate the context, the mode and maybe even the timing. Talk to your HOD, your syndicate leader or SLT and see if some negotiation could be allowed - this may be the first steps in working towards greater student ownership and power over how they learn and how they are assessed. Take one assessment and if it is locked down, challenge it. Ask why that date is insisted upon, particularly if your learners are not ready yet. In fact challenge why a whole class is being assessed at the same time in the first place. Yes, I know the old argument that it is because it is hard to manage students being assessed at different times, it's a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Could the context be adapted to better suit the interests of your learners? If the task looks exactly the same for a whole year group, unless it invites students to apply their own context, then it probably isn't floating the boat of all of your learners. Remember all the students at your school doing the exact same task doesn't make it 'fair', when kids down the road are doing more personalised, responsive versions of the same assessment. Finally, I encourage you to look at the mode and medium you insist you assess your students in. Unless you are specifically assessing their writing/speaking/poster making skills, do you need to actually prescribe they way they convey their understanding? Could you give them choice? Is the answer you just gave based on actual facts and knowledge of how best to assess that student and that leaner?

Anyhoo, rant is over. Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas around how you can 'hand the power over to the learners' whether it be about course design, task design or any other aspect of their schooling. Keep sharing #hackyrclass folk and keep challenging the status quo!


  1. This is a fantastic "rant" Claire and hits the heart of everything we are trying to do at TKAS as well.

    I am sitting in a classroom with Year 6-10 learners all learning- some individually, some collaboratively on truly self selected learning and your "rant" has inspired me to write today about whats happening here. :)

    1. Thanks Karyn! Look forward to reading your post.

  2. This has been one of my favourite projects / experiments / inquiries this term. Looking forward to getting reports done and out the way so I can sort through my photos and videos and write this week's blog response to this. :)

  3. I lost my comment from feedly arrgh! I agree - agree - agree, maybe especially because I did NOT teach that way when I was still teaching secondary (admittedly several years back).
    Given my current role, my question to myself is also how to #hackyrPD for teachers and facilitators....

  4. Agree with keeping internal dates open. We wait until the students are ready. Some start earlier, but time constraints make it difficult to have students start too late - lest they run into the next one. But we run extra tutorials to compensate.

  5. Absolutely!!! Recently, in my acting HOD role, I made a decision that is tip-toeing towards the idea that we should be more concerned about catching students showing evidence of achievement rather than setting a definitive date that they must produce it - creative writers just may not be creative on the day that we want them to be! Students are working on dramatic monologues and a couple of classes are ready to go but the calendared event is Week 1 next term (to give them heaps of time to rehearse). I have given the go ahead to discuss the options with students and let them decide when they are best ready. I have started avoided using the idea of 'disadvantage' and think about how are assessment practices should 'advantage' students.
    Letting go of the structure is rather scary and, already, students have queried whether they might be being disadvantaged with having slightly different assessment times. The simple answer is 'No' - they are being 'advantaged'.
    This is a small step but it will take time to dismantle the models of the original NZQA rules and strict conditions of assessment insisted on - even now the spectre of moderation disagreements overshadows our practice.

    I look forward to learners who are coming through with skills of self-management and ways of showing learning and understanding that I could never imagine. They will teach me heaps and this is exciting - with all the drudgery of admin and reports and marking and marking and marking, this is what keeps me in the classroom.

  6. Well said. A timetable doesn't have a tyranny but this takes my much felt need over past decade for teachers to negotiate the spacing of NCEA assessments at year's end for following year on WholeSchoolTimetable to the next level - no, the next paradigm.
    I see them. I can see them now, coming over the rise, pouring over the hill ... the learners are coming, the learners are surging, learners yearning to learn to learn learn learn. What anarchy! What indiscipline! What deduction, induction, production, production, collaboration, joy, joy, discipline, attention !!! Rggggggghhhhhhhhahahahah


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