Rules of Engagement

This week I’ve attended a couple of functions with Ron Ritchhart of Project Zero (Harvard Graduate School of Education) talking about some of his most recent thinking on thinking, teaching and learning.

Ron has been working with some of the teachers at my school, and others, for several years now and always seems to connect with teachers on some level. Tonight, I was at a joint-schools meeting which opened up with a ‘see-think-wonder’ routine around a painting of children’s games, which generated good discussion and opened up his discussion about the ‘rules of engagement’ and what we might learn from games in terms of accessibility, ownership and purpose.


He talked about accessibility in terms of ‘inviting the students to the learning’, about making complex ideas accessible. He questioned whether the concept of ‘wonder’ was prevalent enough in our learning opportunities; ‘when, where and how are students invited to pose questions, puzzles and ponderings about the topic?’ and asked whether the entry points were appropriate: ‘how can students enter into the topic?’.  Finally, he talked about where is the ‘edge’, the controversy or urgency in the topic?

We watched a video of a teacher opening up a study of the text, Good Night Mister Tom  using narrative and physical action and drama as well as interpersonal skills involving interactive collaboration. These are entry points that Gardner as developed, along with others such as numerical/logical, the aesthetic and existential/foundational entry points.  He emphasised that Gardner did not develop his theory of intelligences as a guide to ‘teaching’ although many have tried to use them in this way.


This is about to what extent we allow students to shape and direct their own learning; how much meaningful choice they do actually have about things that shape their learning? When and where do students experience the power of their own ideas and thinking in their learning?  When and where do students act as assessors and evaluators of their own learning? He summed up these as ‘choice, power and reflection’.  The video we saw here showed a teacher using virtual reality games (in this case the Myst series) to generate an immersive, inspiring environment for creative writing which seemed to work well although I had some questions as to how much student ownership there actually was, with the teacher’s hand pretty firmly on the mouse.


This was to do with how learning is contextualised and connected to the students’ lives and how authentic is it in the sense that does the activity of students mirror what is done in the real world and within that discipline? It’s what David Perkins calls the ‘junior version’ of what people do in the real world. He also talked about the audience and asked what is the audience for students’ learning? Where and when is the learning shared?

The feedback from  other teachers there was very positive. As someone said a while ago, ‘It’s not rocket science: it’s more complex than that’. And more important.

The 9 wants of professional learning communities

Went along to a Australian Government Quality Teacher Program (AGQTP) network meeting last week and one of the documents we looked at was ‘The 9 wants of professional learning communities for sustained “long haul” culture rather than short term buzz’ by Ron Ritchart, who we’ve been working with over the last couple of years.

I’d seen this list a while ago, but it was good to be reminded of it again, and to checklist what we’re trying to do, against this set of guidelines. Here’s the list.

  1. Adequate time (protected, built into the schedule, sufficient, sustained)
  2. Facilitative structures (use of protocols, action research projects, classroom observations, professional reading groups)
  3. Common language (for discussion of teaching and learning)
  4. Visibility (documented, shared, valued)
  5. Perspective (cross year level, cross subjects, cross management)
  6. Based on student learning and thinking (focused on “something on the table”, talking to the issue of learning and thinking, rather than talking around it, focus not on what we do but on what we get from students.
  7. Action (must affect classroom practice and student learning)
  8. Challenge (push and challenge teachers thinking and beliefs about learning)
  9. Valuing (senior management take it seriously and participate)