'I almost feel more productive!' / Home-learning students feedback to their school principal
As schools close in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the students at St Luke's Grammar School in Sydney are relishing the responsibility of managing their own learning.
It would not be surprising if some children and students were a bit adrift with all the home learning they are expected to do at the moment. And a bit daunted by the responsibility, not knowing if they could organise themselves, resist distractions, and keep themselves on track, without the presence of a teacher to regulate the learning for them.
But not, apparently, at St Luke’s Grammar School in Sydney, where my friend and co-author Jann Robinson is the principal. Jann has been working for six years to build her students’ ability and appetite for managing their own learning, using the Learning Power Approach framework – from Kindy up to Sixth Form. (You can read her story in Powering Up Your School: The Learning Power Approach to School Leadership, by Guy Claxton, Jann Robinson, Rachel Macfarlane, Graham Powell, Gemma Goldenberg and Robert Cleary, published, all being well, on 30 April). It seemed to be working, and her students were getting even better results than before – but the last week has been the acid test. How would St Luke’s students react to the sudden shift to ‘off-campus learning’ as the school closed down in the face of the coronavirus pandemic?
Jann emailed them and asked them. Here – with her permission – are a few of the replies.
"On Monday 23 March at 10:43am, we all received the expected, but unfortunate email… Unfortunate, because it means “our normal” has a new normal. This new normal means learning from home. Adapting is never easy but we are fortunate that we have our 5 R’s [resilience, resourcefulness, reflection, reciprocity and restoration]. These will remind us to have a growth mindset, stay positive and be patient with ourselves as learners. I am looking forward to experiencing the technology at hand to maximise and continue to improve my learning. Some of the challenges I might face are managing distractions, slow internet connection and reduced practical learning. However, through the disposition of Resilience, it will help us adapt to this sudden change in our School life."
- Azaniah, Year 7
Clearly, Azaniah has her anxieties, but she is able to articulate them, face them head on, and even see them as challenges to be looked forward to, rather than as real threats.
"It is safe to say, I didn't see this day coming! After setting up my "Learning From Home Space" ensuring it was a well lit, spacious and comfortable area... Here we are, Day 2! Originally my main concern was how I was going to manage my distractions and persevere through challenges in a different environment. However… these challenges have not arisen and have in fact built up my own resilience. The work has been engaging and meaningful: I almost feel more productive [than at school]!... My group has decided to set up virtual lunches three times a week where we can catch up, just like we would at School. We are also taking part in a challenge to ensure we are upskilling ourselves, at least once a day, both physically and mentally."
- Hanna, Year 11
Hanna certainly seems undaunted. She seems well-organised and mentally prepared to take on the challenge of managing her own learning. She is a little surprised to find that her ability to self-organise and concentrate are well up to the challenge – in fact she (almost) feels able to be more productive, in some ways, at home than she has been at school. And she and her friends are just naturally resourceful enough – without any prompting from the school – to organise regular ‘virtual lunches’ to check in with each other, and to generate their own challenges to ‘keep them on their toes’.
In fact many of the students seem to be relishing the novelty and uncertainty of the situation. Here are a variety of responses from the Year 6s':
Trinity said, “I am excited to work at home because I want to see how I react to new learning environments.”
Amelie said, “Even though off-campus learning will be different, I am looking forward to it because it is something I have never done before (plus I don’t have to wake up too early every morning now!)"
And Arne wrote, “When I heard about online learning I was excited and intrigued… I am looking forward to being a bit more independent even though I can still email my teacher and peers.”
Although Arne thinks he will “have many more distractions around me than at school” – but he construes the challenge of “being able to manage these distractions will help me grow my ‘Learning@StLuke’s’ muscles.”
Even young Mason, who is only in Year 2, said, “At home…we have set up my own office desk in our rumpus room… I am enjoying being in a new learning space with new resources (with my own cold water fountain next to my desk!)”
If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then this particular pudding tastes quite sweet. The Learning Power Approach is based on the idea that school is a preparation not just for exams and further study, but for meeting the real challenges of life. At St Luke’s at least, it seems to be working.
(By the way, the maturity of the students’ language, and the quality of their insight, reflects the ‘language for learning’ that permeates the school, and the continual emphasis that teachers place on meaningful reflection on how their students are finding their learning. They have been deliberately coached to be this fluent and perceptive. It doesn’t happen by magic, but we do know that all students can be helped to develop such skills – if teachers focus on it.)