Last term, Upper Harbour had the pleasure of hosting an Albany Junior High school (AJHS) info meeting. This was an opportunity for our parents and members of the community to find out more about some of the thinking behind what makes AJHS unique as a learning organisation. As this is typically the feeder school for our Year 6 students, the information was particularly useful, especially to those new to the community. The principal, Stephen Kendall-Jones, along with students (some of whom had attended Upper Harbour) shared both a broad view of the culture and experience of being a student at AJHS, as well as some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ about how a typical day and week unfolds.
What I hadn’t expected, but was pleasantly surprised about, was also hearing the voice of Michaela Pinkerton, Deputy Principal at Albany Sr. High. Along with Stephen, Michaela encouraged parents to consider the long-term Albany ‘pathway’ of learning. They also emphasised the importance of parents identifying a definition of learning for themselves.
I often have conversations with parents about how we all, mainly through past experience, hold deeply rooted beliefs about school and what it represents. As we have all attended school, our muscle memory is often a default when we consider our mental model of schools.
‘When I was in school, we had/didn’t have…’ or ‘I had to learn in this way, and I turned out alright…’ are often jumping off points for these conversations. There is sometimes a perception that classrooms have become these amorphous open areas where learning seems ‘free range’ and even a bit unruly. There is often a call to focus on a ‘back-to-basics’ approach to ensure our students have a strong foundation of basic literacy and mathematical skills and competencies. Like all of my colleagues, this is something I have always agreed with. However, the idea of how these ‘basics’ are taught is not always as straightforward. It was a lot more tangible to imagine a traditional one-to-many approach of teaching as that is what many adults experienced themselves. As teachers, as long as we covered the objectives of the curriculum, we would simply just need to get in front of our students long enough to deliver the right information. This is the ‘batch production’ mentality that sprung out of the industrial age. It is remarkable just how closely this model still resonates in the systems of many schools today. However, given the fluidity of information today, this isn’t realistic, equitable or fair.
It is now possible for our students to work around the teacher and the conventions of a school, and seek out information for themselves. I think back a few years to when my son was in Intermediate school. On a particular day at school, he had not understood the lesson on adding and subtracting improper fractions. When he arrived home, he decided that seeking out the same information presented in a different way, via Khan Academy, would give him a better chance of understanding the concept. The flexibility of accessing this resource when he needed to, and viewing the video repeatedly until he understood, was one of those moments as a parent when you realise just how profoundly different learning is in the modern world. Education thought leader, Kevin Honeycutt, called this the ‘benevolence of rewindable learning’.
The basics of maths, literacy all need to be understood in order for our children to succeed. But they also need a sense of ownership of their learning. Students need to be taught the skills to initiate what they need to do next to help themselves. It is up to the teacher and the school to create the conditions for our students to do this at an appropriate level. Of course, this will look quite different as students move through the year levels. Along the way, we will need to directly teach and model a particular strategy, but we also need to be able to offer choice and flexibility to our students so they understand what is needed for their learning to flourish. What and how do they need to access to further their learning? Encouraging our students to compete with themselves – setting goals, and tracking the distance between what they knew and how they have progressed, is more important than any comparison to someone else. Not only that but the ability to make a link to the world outside of school ensures that their curiosity is rewarded by authentic and long lasting connections.
In Term 4, Upper Harbour will be working with AJHS again as we consider their ‘digital readiness’. We will have former Upper Harbour students sharing their experience about the increased use of digital tools in Year 7.
- What advice do they have for our Year 6’s?
- How can they prepare themselves for an increased emphasis on these tools and resources?
We look forward to continuing our work alongside our feeder schools and supporting our students through the Albany learning pathway.