Designing learning that matters? How might shift in understanding be captured?

This session by Sarah Martin and Chris Bradbeer was opened and the presentation team was introduced. The Stonefields School was also described (it is pretty new, and only opened its gates in Feb 2011), as well as their focus on the curriculum and the aim to measure shift when changes are implemented.

Sarah described a journey that was a personal and professional challenge as well as one in which the whole school contributed to a vision of a different school. Looking at the research and respected mentors, the team at the school started philosophising as to what might be done differently. The four vision principles are building learning capacity, collaborating, making meaning, and breaking through, and the vision for the school acts as a filter for anything that happens there.  As a team. the next part of the journey was to voice a graduate profile, and this is a touchstone to see if the students are working towards their aspirational vision.

To realise the vision they needed to develop the mindsets and norms that would help the students develop. Two of the main significant points of differences are the learning spaces at the school (on the site there are several images and a couple of videos you can watch to see the learning spaces). And Breakthrough day is another big point of difference, and this is the day where students can work on their own projects and to develop their talents within areas that interest them.

There are many milestones along the way that have been reached as part of the development of the school, but they wanted to pose the question – what learning matters?  And to help answer the question – why a concept curriculum? A curriculum that is just based on content no longer cuts the mustard. Dealing with the complex issues now needs to be a focus, and students need to be supported in their development of the necessary skills to rise to the challenges.

Peter Newell believes that 90% of what we teach is a “waste of time” – so 90% of what we teach – the nuggets of knowledge – will never be used. As such, we need to teach in a way where students look for wide scope…the areas outside of a topic or discipline that inform it in a sometimes tenuous,  but very important way. This will enable students to develop large understandings to cope with the unexpected.

The idea of a concept curriculum is not a new one. One of the things did was as a team (and the process included the students) they looked into the macro areas that underpin many of the curriculum micro concepts. They also asked questions such as what are the major concepts emerging? What micro concepts sit beneath the macro concepts that had been identified? And finally they started back-mapping the key concepts (a process that took a number of terms to complete).  The process was one of creating and re-creating, imagining and re-imagining. Then there was a ‘so what? What next?’ moment.

To evaluate they started by gathering baseline data of student understanding (and used video as part of this process). Using a ‘shift happens’ bridge, and the middle bit seems to be most tricky, when the try and tried seems not to be working. The learning process is conceptualised as a framework for students to use around building knowledge, making meaning, and applying understandings. The model includes verbs that pop out and help the students actualise and verbalise the process.

The presenters then provided a glimpse into how the teachers plan when provided with this conceptual understanding input. The audience was split into groups, and each teacher provided an example of the process. Planning is split into 2. The first half of the term is planned up front, and then the team meet halfway through the term to plan for the second half (this is done collaboratively in Google Docs). Videos were taken at the beginning of the term (and captured on video) – the example provided was 3 students talking about the macro concept of collaboration, with an example from the very beginning of the term (very sketchy understanding), which was compared with one from after 3 weeks of engaging with the concept (where the students were a lot more confident, and had the vocabulary and personal / general examples to talk about the concept of collaboration). The teachers were rapt as this was a concrete example of the students developing an understanding of collaboration.

The evaluative data that is collected is used to inform reporting, and achievement data. One of the aims is to change the mental models around assessment and the learning that matters (so for example, the report back to the BOT often takes the form of video clips showing significant shifts in understanding).

This is gold dust! I can imagine that collecting the data, collating it, and crunching the numbers is quite a big job, but the results – especially the personalising of the curriculum and learning experience in response to shifts – are heartening.

Image: ‘Into the light (Explored)‘ – Found on

About ictenhancedlearningandteaching

I am a director and consultant at Ethos Consultancy NZ ( I have a keen interest in all aspects of ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) where the focus lies on ways of scaffolding and empowering learners. In particular, I am interested in the way that creative, blended approached to Academic Professional Development can create trust, rapport and encourage reflective practice. As such, ICTELT is approached from facilitation, design, evaluation and assessment as opposed to the tools and what they can offer. I am a strong advocate of the potential of Web 2.0 to empower learners from all walks of life and cultures, especially after my experiences working for 6 years in the Middle East. In particular, I am interested how ePortfolios can be used in the VET sector (especially where Literacy and Language challenges are faced), in Recognition of Prior Learning, and in authentic, applied assessment. I have been involved with designing and developing ICTELT approaches and programmes for ten years. Following research informed approaches and design, I apply a qualitative, iterative process to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, programmes and tools, encouraging learners' voices and input from all stakeholders.
This entry was posted in All, Design, Evaluation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s