Monday, May 9, 2011

The Whole Game

Apologises for the lateness however the last 4-5 weeks have been mayhem to say the least. An entire school moved and although that simple sentence starter doesn't do the 'move project' justice just trust me when I repeat...MAYHEM!

Mayhem is a good way though because we finally have left buildings which unfortunately for the last however many years (at least 15/20) have had a lingering smell of defeat. The new school buildings are fantastic, sure we have teething problems but overall facility wise you cannot compare the old with the new. I've been thinking long and hard about what to write in my next blog. I've been reading a book by David Perkins 'Making Learning Whole' which has again opened my eyes to the issue of transforming teaching.

Perkins talks about learning with a 'whole game' flavour and with that mentions it's no so much PBL, or problem-based learning or even case-based learning it's as we often acknowledge the content and thinking that ultimately determines the success.

The point of learning through whole games is not to liberate learners from textbooks and engage them in personal exploration. The point of whole games is that they involve student is what we really want them to get better at.

The principal challenge of constructing the whole game is not one of choosing a framework like problem-based learning, but filling the framework with an insightful conception of the game

I really like this quote from Perkins as it helps summarise exactly what I've been trying to convey in my previous posts - we have to directly look at how we deliver in the classroom. MOC is truly alive and now for significant change in our student population we will all have to begin the conversation, construction and implementation of a change in teaching practice and delivery. Personally I see it as - do the same with sprinklings of technology and you'll end up with much of the same just sugar coated. And that is definitely not what we want.

The practical aspects of getting teachers around a table to delve deep into how they teach and what they teach is challenging. But we have to and we have to do it on a weekly basis...maybe even twice a week. We will need to start talking about team teaching situations with 3 teachers working with a group of students (Heppell aludes to these scenarios on a number of occasions - one teacher leading, one managing differentiation, one intervening for remedial repair work), we will have to bring teachers together to talk about using our new spaces. We are in a critical time now - last week my Year 9 students responded when I asked why they weren't participating, 'Your all treating us like we are in a private school'. The fact that these students had not attended a private school wasn't the point, the students were sensing a shift - from the actual physical building to the talk of 'change is here and you have an opportunity to do great things'.

Some of our students are fighting to hold on to the old - that mediocre to failure is fine. And if we let even one term go on without some significant change in our teaching approach then WE will have failed the students. I've mentioned it before in my previous posts but one suggestion I would bring to the table is the conversation of 'overload'. Often we talk about this generation of student being multi-ability, being able to do a thousand things at once. They learn by having the TV on, music blaring and 3 pieces of technology within hands reach. I'd suggest that to get the most of this particular student you don't then throw the entire curriculum at them but you carefully select and construct a curriculum that incorporates 2-3 'learning areas'.

Learning has to be deep - our students need time to reinforce what they learn, and where will our students reinforce what they learn? At our school. One of my good friends at school who is now studying to be an anesthetist studied on average 3-5 hours a night after school. Will the majority of my year 8-10 students study 3-5 hours a night after school to fully understand the programming language of robotics? No they won't. We have to teach what it means to nail a topic and cement that knowledge - we have to teach this to our students while they are at school. We can't as my teachers did, give the prompts and then expect our students to go home and cement the knowledge themselves (well...we actually can but we first need to help the student develop this ability).

To learn is a skill - it requires time, effort, patience, resilience, passion. It will not happen magically. Some schools will teach students how to learn. Some students will teach themselves how to learn. Some will struggle. Some will grow to resent learning. If we have nothing to lose at MOC then we must look at challenging the replication of 'the old with a new paint of coat'. To that end my first practical suggestion would be to push for a literacy block for our Year 8-10's. In that block every middle school teacher would have a set area to navigate around with the student aim to be:

- Actively engaged in reading (comic, game manual/tutorial, sports article, news interest, crime story etc etc)

One of the teachers aims:

- Actively encouraging students not reading by taking them aside and conversing on a topic they love with the main aim getting them the right reading material they need to become active readers.

From the topic the students are reading could we as teachers have the skills to channel this into a project that incorporated writing, the skill of selective searching, the skill of publishing and ultimately build the understanding within the student so that they know the feeling of deep knowledge acquisition and retention? I definitely think so, we just need to change a few things first.

Cheers for reading,



  1. Thanks for posting this update, which is hugely helpful for Tom and I as we prepare to engage with your team, starting in about a fortnight. It's so reassuring to see that the learning ethic we believe in is alive and well at MOC. Hopefully we can help your journey from Great to 'Stratospheric' ;-)

  2. Thanks for the comment Ewan. Look forward to working with you and Tom in the very near future.

  3. Thank you- once again incredibly insightful

  4. I was struck by what your student said. "You're all treating us like we are in a private school." As a teacher, it's not easy to overcome the attitude that ambition and high expectations are for other people.

    You've written a fascinating piece. I look forward to hearing more about your efforts to bring a new learning culture to your new school.

  5. Thanks for the feedback John. Definitely a challenging environment but with huge potential for significant success in the student population.


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