Dispositional Thinking, Changing the Game

 

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the importance of developing students’ ability to think beyond themselves and beyond knowledge as the be all and end all. In fact I’ve been thinking about it so much I signed myself up to give an EduIgnite talk on it at the Emerging Leader EduIgnite Evening in Wellington at the end of the month.

It’s about developing dispositional thinking, and in researching and reading about dispositional thinking as I write my presentation, I’ve realised something important. Dispositional thinking is a game changer, and for me to might just be the game changer.

Dispositional thinking is about changing the focus from learning being something you are good or bad at, to something that is learnable and changeable, something that you can practice and improve; moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It’s about developing the skills that support learning and are, at the same time, invaluable in 21st century workplaces.

It means that as a teacher my practice no longer centres around increasing students’ knowledge. Instead I focus on skills, strategies and concepts. If they can Google it in 5 seconds flat, is it really something I need to spend a whole lesson teaching? So, we deal with the contextual, the ungoogleable – and through those contexts we uncover learning, together. Sometimes we miss things, so we loop back and take a second look, sometimes we screw things up, so we talk about where we went wrong. But mostly we ask a lot of questions – questions that aren’t so easy to answer.

In the process of exploring these contexts and asking questions, my students are developing skills through learning in action. It is practical, but at the same time theoretical and those two develop naturally, interwoven sometimes, and deliberately made separate at others. The ideas don’t come before the practice, they come alongside, with and through the practice.

Our learning is becoming increasingly holistic, allowing more opportunities for creativity, problem solving, and collaboration. And I can see the effect that this focus on teaching to develop learning dispositions is having on my students’ confidence. My learners are more articulate than they were at the start of the year, they are more resilient, they are more creative, and they are far more open minded. And yet I wonder is it enough? How can we achieve greater depth, allow for more creativity? Increase collaboration? Develop a sense of wonder and a need to adventure in their learning in our students?

Reflecting on the development of my students’ learning dispositions has solidified my belief in the importance of dispositional curricula, thinking and learning in the classroom, and luckily for me the New Zealand Curriculum agrees mandating a three-way focus on values, learning areas and key competencies (dispositions). But I know I’m only at the beginning of this journey, with so very many things yet to explore, to refine, to uncover, discuss and reflect on. I don’t yet have the answers but I do have the questions. So many questions.

 

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Reflecting on Camp

Kayaking in the beautiful sunshine: Image by author

Kayaking in the beautiful sunshine: Image by author

I have just recently got back from our 4-day camp with my class of year 7 and 8s. We go on camp every year at my school, but we alternate which camp we go on. In odd years we do an overnight camp at Kaitoke Regional Park, where the students are responsible for planning all of their menus and cooking all of the food – the focus is on responsibility and self-management. We also have a noho marae at school at the end of odd years too. Every other year we go on a 4 day camp to the Wairarapa Outdoor Pursuits Centre – this is our challenge camp.

Our week of camp started on Tuesday, and I have to say the weather did not look promising. Compared to the previous camps which had all had 30+ degree weather, our gale force winds and squalls were a little more dramatic! After almost being washed out/blown away when we were camping up Mt Holdsworth we were evacuated to a local marae. It was lovely to be welcomed on with a Powhiri and our year 8s were able to draw on their experiences at the noho marae at the end of last year to role model for your year 7s. In fact, the evacuation was so successful and our students so fantastic that the school is now considering making this a permanent part of of the camping experience (hopefully minus the wind and rain).

Tramping in the rain: Image by author

Tramping in the rain: Image by author

This camp is designed to challenge our students and activities include kayaking and rafting, high ropes course, rock climbing, tramping, caving and the flying fox.

This is the second time I’ve done this camp now. Last time I was a second year teacher and I have to say that now, two years on, as a fourth year teacher it definitely felt so much easier and I felt so much more confident. It’s funny how you don’t really notice how much more confident you are until something like this forces you to see it.

Confidence in action (yes that girl is me): Image by author

Confidence in action (yes that girl is me): Image by author

I loved this camp – even with the crazy and wild weather I still loved it. My students were awesome. Not only had they taken everything we’d talked about beforehand on board and come prepared – physically and mentally, they all challenged themselves to overcome their fears.

We had some really deep conversations during circle time on camp about the things that challenge us and how we feel about these, and it was eye opening to me that most of the students had been really anxious about a lot of the activities because they certainly didn’t let it stop them! Every single one of my students gave every activity a go, except for one who didn’t try the high ropes course. Proud teacher moment!

Intermediate is such an interesting time for kids, they’re not quite teenagers, but no longer children. They’re figuring out who they are and they’re starting to push their own boundaries. I think camps play an important role in this self-discovery. It’s an opportunity to sink or swim. To step up to the challenge or fall down.

Camp fire: Image by author

Camp fire: Image by author

As a teacher it also gave me a chance to see who my students could be and who they wanted to become. I saw their resilience, and now coming back I have all these shared experiences to draw on when learning gets tough for my students or perseverance wanes.

As a class, my students are more connected, they know each other better and and I know them a lot better too.

The view from the top: Image by author

The view from the top: Image by author

So the conclusion? Camp has really helped to take my class culture of our shared agreement on the page to a living, breathing, flexible and dynamic reality. Bring on the rest of the year!