Learning in the Fast Lane – Chapter 1

Learning in the Fast Lane
by Suzy Pepper Rollins, 2014

A literature review…

Key idea behind ideas in the book:

That high impact instructional approaches will effectively improve outcomes for all students including those who are struggling. Targeting only the “tail end lag” with remedial gap filling will not help accelerate learning.

Chapter 1: How can we help students with gaps from the past succeed today?

  • Prior knowledge frees up working memory (Hirsh, 2003)
  • New concepts need to be connected to existing schema
  • The misconception is that to learn new things, one must go back and “fill the gaps”
  • Going backwards decreases student motivation
  • Acceleration is about having success in the present by preparing the student for what is happening that week
  • Acceleration puts students in the “fast lane” as they already have the prior knowledge and the basic pre-requisite skills ready to learn the new content alongside their peers
  • Vocabulary is key – students need to know both the pre-requisite vocabulary and the new vocabulary as it will help to link with prior knowledge.
  • Student confidence and participation will increase when they are prepared for this new learning
  • Time needs to be set aside to work with the acceleration group
The framework for Acceleration
Step 1: Generate Thinking, Purpose, Relevance, and Curiosity
Hands on starter activities that get students wondering. Concrete before abstract. Real world examples and thinking. Success starters.
Step 2: Clearly articulate the learning goal and expectations
Explicit and student friendly. Helps define the purpose of the learning.
Step 3: Scaffold and Practice Essential Prerequisite Skills
“Students could master this if they just knew xyz”. What are the high priority gaps? Create scaffolds for success.
Step 4: Introduce New Vocabulary and Review Prior Vocabulary
What does it mean? What does it look like? Need multiple representations. 
Step 5: Dip into the New Concept
Needs to be something that the rest of the class won’t see – cannot repeat the learning experience. Idea is that the student can say during the class session “I know something about that!”

Starting Collaboration Reflections

What’s on top?

  • Creating times in the day/week for normal classroom activities that are not curriculum based (hidden curriculum)
  • Managing use of learning assistants as in the mornings there are 6 adults in the space
  • Whole group sessions – split into 2?
  • Getting to know students who are needing those strong relationships to ground them
Innovative Learning Spaces (ILS) are really bound by context.  The context will guide the programme. What may work for one school or class may not work for another. I am fortunate to be working with another teacher who has a shared understanding of how children learn and what an effective year 6 programme looks like.  We have 2 other teachers that support us that also have this shared understanding.
My wonderings to share with my teaching team:
  • If there could be a block each week that isn’t a shared learning time?
  • If the structures that we set up for literacy and numeracy could be explicit about how the Learning assistants are used?
  • If we could give feedback about having less Learning Assistants in the first 3 weeks as we establish our collaborative practices?
  • If areas outside of literacy and numeracy could/should be done in smaller classes?
  • Would more time with my smaller class help those students who need to anchor themselves and find their place?
  • Gather some student voice
  • Do some reflection with my teaching team

Intentions for 2017

Kererū – my favourite bird and good luck charm

I like the word intentions rather than goals. Goals imply that you have to succeed, check it off the list, reach something. I think that everyone has the best intentions at the beginning of the year and that intentions can lead to best practice – a living, breathing and continual state of being.

My first intention is to look after myself this year. I intend to get up early each day and begin with a walk or run to get my circulation going. I started doing this in the holidays and immediately noticed a difference in my state of mind. I also intend to drink more water each day, I find that I get so busy that I forget to stop and hydrate which isn’t so great for the body or the mind.

My second intention is to make sure I have work/life balance. To do this I intend to set myself some specific tasks for before school (a time of day where I don’t seem to get anything done) and to use google tasks to keep track of what needs to be done. I also want to utilise some of the lunch hour and finish my work (if possible) before I go home. I’d also love to have my weekends free, I know that this one may be a little harder to do each week but the intention is there!

Both of these intentions are to do with my hauora (my health).

Hauora is comprised of 4 areas:

Taha tinana – physical well-being
Taha hinengaro – mental and emotional well-being
Taha whānau – social well-being
Taha wairua – spiritual well-being

(Ministry of Education, 1999)

To be the best teacher for my students I really need to look after all 4 areas.

I have a special place that I like to go to clear my mind and recharge, and that is Zealandia wildlife sanctuary. As a member I can go whenever I want and spend as long as I like. When I am there it is possible for me to not think about school.

This weekend while I was taking a track away from the crowds I saw so many juvenile birds – tūī, tieke, piwakawaka and large flocks of pōpokatea. I spoke to a family that passed me on the track and they had seen nothing. This got me thinking about the need to be observant in both life and at school. We need to take the time to notice, to be present and to see what we can take away from the experience. Being present doesn’t have to mean being seen and heard, for the quieter I was, the more birds I saw. I intend to take this quiet presence, this notion of observation into the learning environment.

And lastly as we merge our year 6 classes completely and become a learning whānau of 61 students and 2 teachers I intend to spend quality time building relationships with the students and working collaboratively with my co-teacher. I intend to use the quiet observation to help understand the learning needs that exist in my classroom, noticing the small things and making sure that they too are having their hauora needs met.

Podcast review: Games are good for you!

Note to Self: The Secret to Making Video Games Good for you 

Produced by WYNC studios 

Cross posted at Gamefulpraxis.com

Quite often gaming is looked at in a negative way so it is refreshing to hear research that frames gaming in a more positive way. This particular episode is an interview with Jane McGonigal a researcher at the Institute for the Future. Yes this is a real place and yes I want to go there!

Jane’s research focuses on the neurochemical changes that happen when we are playing and how we can better understand how our brain works when we are playing. How can we “hack” this experience and apply it to our real lives in those moments when we need more resilience?

To quote Brian Sutton Smith, Developmental Psychologist and expert in play:

“the opposite of play isn’t work, the opposite of play is depression” 

McGonigal further unpacks this quote to state that when we are playing games the positive emotions that we experience such as; joy, wonder, excitement and success, are the opposite of the clinical diagnosis for depression. Woah! Well okay, that’s a bold statement! But to give it even more credit, this is research based on which areas of the brain area stimulated/under-stimulated in both states!! Maybe video games really are the new self help! I’ll be reaching for the iPad next time I’m feeling a little down… (my wondering here is if anyone has done research that measures shift in emotion when going from sad to playing games???)

Candy crush saga, Bejewelled, Solitaire… you know those games that you just play that don’t seem to be of any value yet you spend hours playing while you take a break from reality? Are they actually valuable then?

Well, when we are able to stop thinking about things that are bothering us and take a break from reality we are incorporating techniques from both cognitive behavioural therapy and meditation. I interpret that as gaming as meditation, gaming as a healthy way of disassociating. I can hear your brain right now crafting an argument against this and that’s cool because this is all sounding way too good right? McGonigal also did a meta-study of 500 pieces of research about gaming and wellness. Half of those found negative correlations, half positive. The key to positive outcomes was the ability to relate game play to reality in a meaningful way. If you were unable to do this games became an escape from reality, a downward spiral. Life gets worse, play more games = unhealthy outcomes. 

Unfortunately this is the picture of gaming that is painted in the media, and is on the mind of parents of teenagers. That is not to say that this negative image doesn’t exist, it’s just really hard to break when you are someone like me trying to use games and game design in education in a positive way. McGonigal has found research that supports the idea that escapism games are okay for us in short bursts. They can even help us break habits like sneaky snacking (I am actually keen to try this one and am tempted to put a post it note on the packet of biscuits saying “play a game instead”). She also points out that self-regulation is optimal, play the game to help you but know when you’ve had enough. Choose the game and see what it does for you. Jane actually designed her own game to help her through a bad case of concussion.

Her advice to parents is also very poignant. Do not shame your children about the games that they play. Do not tell them they are wasting their time or that they should be doing something else. If we frame gaming negatively like that then we stop that relationship between gaming and reality that was mentioned earlier. They will think games are for escape and they will head down the negative path. Instead ask them: “what have you gotten better at since you started playing this game?” Be interested in what dispositions they can transfer into their real life. If a child can talk about these abstract ideas then they have made that link, if they are referring only to things that exist within the game then they need us to help them bridge that gap.

The last question that Jane McGonigal was asked in this interview related to games and addiction. Addiction as a “thing” is currently being challenged in the science world and the latest research is saying that addiction is a goal orientated action that gets stuck on one particular thing. With gaming the person needs to transfer those things that give them that “buzz” into other activities so that they don’t get stuck with that one thing that gets them feeling like that. That makes me sense to me. Perhaps we need to be more aware of how we can shift children and teenagers especially towards other similar stimuli?

There are so many games out there that challenge people and build on skills needed in the real world. When you play online with and against your friends there are also many benefits. A good game has transferable skills. Games can be good for you but ultimately it is you, the player that needs to make decisions about what you play, why you play and how long you play for. Own your gaming and make it part of your life not an escape from it!

ULearn16 – Students at the heart of learning

Students at the heart of learning – growing learning through passions/Interests and curiosities The team at Ngatea Primary School share their model of learning.


A coach…

The image I usually think of is associated with sports. In particular with my own sport which is football. The coach is the person who at the beginning of the season you despise as they put you through numerous fitness sessions and by the end of the season you share jubilation with as you win each game. There is a specific goal to be achieved and they are with you the whole way directing you to improve your game.

Here is a photo of my old football coach letting us use him as target practice.

However, in educational terms a coach has quite a different set of skills. Coaching is a process that allows you the “Coachee” to meet your goals. A coach does not tell you the answer to your problem or even offer a suggestion, they are simply there to guide you through a process.

The image that comes to mind now is one of a funnel; starting with a large problem and narrowing down to a manageable time fixed action.

The process follows 3 easy steps:
A – Aim
R – Reality
A – Action
Part of our workshop with Mark Sweeney was to have a go in both roles as the coach and coachee but also as an observer. I found this process immensely valuable.
My problem/Aim:
Shifting several students who are progressing in writing but not at the standard yet (a common goal).
To introduce 3 key writing ideas based on expanding vocabulary over the next 3 weeks.
Achievable – yes!

Design Thinking FAIL

We all get excited when we have an idea about how to engage our students and innovate teaching and learning. What a great idea we think! But what if it all goes wrong?

Yesterday I had a design thinking fail. The process surmounted to terrible irrelevant ideas and even more terrible feedback on them. I was so disappointed. Why did it fail? What did I do wrong? Why can’t these students be creative?

But rather than give up completely (and trust me I was feeling quite deflated after this experience), I decided to go back through the process and see if there was a step missing for them or something we hadn’t done enough of.


I had spent quite a bit of time building empathy of our target groups (refugees, homeless and those in poverty). The students had identified their assumptions and challenged each other on them. They had also explored what others were doing to help these groups. There had been a significant shift in student’s awareness of the needs of these groups. I was confident that the students knew their target group well.


Our overall context for our inquiry is sustainability.  When discussing what this means in the context of people. We grappled with some tricky ideas (keeping in mind these students are Year 4-6). I thought each group knew of an area of need for each group.  This is where I was wrong. My students had thought narrowly in the iteration stage because they didn’t have a handle of what problem they were needing to find solutions for. Because of not knowing the problem they then forget about the user and therefore produced ideas that were half-hearted.

So this is where we began today.  Using the sentence starter “How might we…” they were able to articulate what some of the needs were. They recorded their groups “How might we’s” and then chose one each that they felt they could begin to ideate on.


The aim was 20 ideas in 2 mins (I tried to put the pressure on so they wouldn’t hold their ideas lightly) but they asked for 5 minutes to complete the task. The all then shared their most far out, costly, time consuming idea. This broke some barriers as the more ludicrous the idea the more excited I got. They then reflected on their list to find their easiest fix before identifying their darling. The darling idea needed to be the one they could see their group working together on. Finally some ideas worth exploring!

We are now ready to Prototype!

I think that it is really important to document and share the failures as much as we share the successes.  Teaching isn’t meant to be perfect and a design thinking mindset also would suggest that reflection is important. I was able to reflect on the process and find the missing piece. When I saw one student in particular light up when she realised that her idea was a possibility and that she had the backing of the others in her group, that is when I realised it was all worthwhile.

EdchatNZ MOOC Portfolio

I have to admit that I began this course with blue sky thinking that plunged into a dark discontentment as the content opened my eyes to a bleak and complex future. I become dark and cynical and then I got scared. The future and talking about the future is rather scary. But to talk about the future we must turn to the past…
My assumptions were that everybody understood the purpose of school. That even I understood the purpose of school. I also assumed that change was manageable and could happen in my lifetime. This bubble was quickly popped as I realised that society’s view about the purpose of school was not ready to change with as much vigor/passion as I was (am?) willing to give it. There is still so much out of my control. People are the sum of their experiences and everybody has experienced being in school. There is all drag and no lift when people discuss school. Most interestingly, those who I tried to engage in the discussion were apprehensive about giving the “right” answer, like they weren’t qualified to have opinion on the subject. Not what I expected! Maybe I assumed too much community voice and perhaps there is not enough. The ladder of inference has everyone (including teachers) stuck in a loop of past experiences. To move forward we need to examine our values closely.
The future
I took a break from facebook for a whole day recently. It took sheer willpower to disconnect for the day. I missed 2 birthday notifications and it took me a good hour to catch up on what happened that day. But what an awesome day I had. I got sh!t done!
The unplug from the system task made me realise how much we rely on automaton. Everything we do is connected to technology. When the media says “robots will take over our jobs” they ain’t kidding! We strive for efficiency and speed yet the contradiction is that we are so tied to the system that we are missing out. I don’t think teachers will be put out of a job though. This article and quote resounded with me:
The new rule is that if you are a participant, you are, by default, a moderator, a curator and an editor for others. (Kilpi, 2016)
I like to think of teacher’s fitting this role no matter what the context or content, no matter what “school” ends up being. Not everything needs to be automated. Humans are still important.
“Love. That was what she had that IT did not have.”
Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
Science Fiction/Speculative writing has made predictions that are scarily true. I am still in awe with this particular quote as this book was written in 1973 right before personal computers came into our lives. L’Engle recognised that technology could never take the role of a human. That to be human is the ability to reason and empathise.
There is purpose within school to help our students survive in an uncertain and contradictory world. We need to them to be able to connect and disconnect, make and consume, work and play. But most importantly I believe we need to humanise them. They need to be social, to use language and symbols, and keep using their incredibly complex brains. On a more philosophical level this includes building relationships, problem-solving, increasing reliance, being resourceful and expressing themselves creatively. This is one aspect that has not changed for me during the course. I felt strongly about this before and perhaps even more strongly now because I have engaged with bigger ideas about the future, about education and about being a human. Humans, not technology, have the ability to shape the future.
Knowledge is a hard concept to pinpoint and I think that is because it is contextual. I also think that our view of what constitutes knowledge has changed. David Weinberger pointed out that we have so much access now to information via the internet and we now have to shape and filter that knowledge and apply thinking to it. Our students need to learn how to do this and find information that is valuable and credible. This increase in content is also rather exciting. We can dip into new knowledge and we can dip out. To paraphrase Weinberger in his EdchatNZ webinar “this better to have MOOC’d a bit than not have MOOC’d at all”. We can also get overloaded with knowledge. How do we determine what is important? Again this comes back to the curation of knowledge. That we can curate knowledge for our students and co-create it with them too. So then the argument becomes “Who decides what knowledge is important for school?” This I feel comes back to what we value in society and in our communities.One person/government cannot decide this and this will look different in different communities. Literacy and numeracy – yes, we’ve already decided that these are important but what it is to be literate and numerate should be discussed and debated frequently within our own schools and clusters.
Futures thinking
To quote myself:
Bad decision making from current political leaders and so called experts leads to disarray and chaos. From the ashes rises a new group of changemakers ready to take on these problems and shift the focus to future-ready solutions. It’s the hacker culture, its people being resourceful and showing resilience. Power to the people! – MOOC entry Week 7
There is hope! There is a horizon! Futures thinking allowed me to see that the most important future is the one I can shape, the one I can reach out and touch right now. I don’t have a crystal ball but I do have the ability to make immediate changes that will have an impact tomorrow. Again, empathy is at the heart. I can determine the future based on the actions I make today for my students (Keri Facer).
Where to now?

There is huge potential in the role of tools like design thinking, spirals of inquiry and fail-safe experiments to make small yet important changes to that way that I teach. All of these are processes, not outcomes and because the world is changing we need to be adapting as we go not finding permanent solutions. I will use these tools to help me make future-focused changes that are within my reach. I would really like to engage in more discussion with a wider group of people about the themes of future education. It is scary to think that decisions are being made in schools all over New Zealand that are not being informed by current thinking and discourse. I wish to be the knowledge curator, to get other people thinking and to make these ideas and resources accessible to them. I need to keep asking the questions, laying the wero for others to join me.