Designing and Causing Learning

Wednesday morning as a staff we focused on what the learning will look like at Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

I shared a blog post by Grant Wiggins entitled Beyond teacher egocentrism: design thinking which is absolutely brilliant and provokes teachers to think of themselves as just one element that influences learning. This had really struck a chord for me and so I was rapt to see the rest of our staff enjoying the reading as well.

There are lots of good points in this blog but one line that sticks out for me and was mentioned by others in our discussions was:

we are in the business of designing and causing learning instead of merely in the business of teaching

Our activity focused on what Grant sees as the conditions necessary for optimal engagement and active learning to occur. Staff were broken into pairs or 3s to think about what that condition will look like for our specific context of HPSS. Below are the conditions and what we believe they look like for us:

Thought-provoking intellectual challenges (inquiries, questions, problems)

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Sarah and Pete performed a role play to demonstrate the thought provoking challenges. Focusing on a Maths lesson on measuring distance, Sarah first took us through a visualisation of a textbook lesson. Pete then walked into the room asking various people what they had for breakfast, finishing with his baked beans. Then asking where we thought his baked beans came from and introducing the idea of Food Miles. The class were then set the challenge of working out how many miles each of their breakfasts had clocked up.

A discussion then broke out about challenges and inquiries taking more thought beforehand in designing the lessons but what powerful learning it can cause. It was also pointed out that these can be 1 lesson or 6 weeks plus in length.

The challenge has been designed to optimize self-sustaining and productive work by learners, related to a clear and intellectually worthy goal

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Lea and Megan made the sculpture above to represent this second condition. The cup representing the innovative, sparky just in time teaching that will occur to immerse students in the key concepts and skills. Followed by the arrows as students spring off on personalised learning paths appropriate to their own learning goals. This is very much how our modules are being envisioned for next year to capture the vision of personalised learning.
The learners have become reasonably competent in classroom routines that foster productive goal-focused work

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Liz and Martin really liked the early focus of the blog about “the teacher is merely one resource for learning” and saw the routines of the classroom allowing for this. Their picture encapsulated the varied range of learning they expect to see occurring at the one time at HPSS. The routines would allow students to be learning as they need to at that time. Some may be working independently, with the teacher, with community members and in a range of roles.
The challenge cannot be accomplished by a worksheet, checklist or recipe. It requires strategic use of knowledge and skill, creative problem-solving, and critical thinking; and the eliciting of multiple perspectives on how to address the challenge and gauge progress.

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Kylee, Georgi and Jill really saw our dispositional curriculum in action for this condition. Our Hobsonville Habits and the 4 quadrants of the model (Strategic, MetaCognitive, Relational and Innovative) along with the portfolios of learning they foresee students developing to provide the evidence of this. The challenge should lead to various paths representing each students personal progress on the challenge.
There is an unambiguous product or performance goal (even if there is ambiguity about how to achieve the goal), supported by clear criteria and standards, thus permitting ongoing student self-assessment and self-adjustment.

2013-11-06 10.31.56Lisa, Di and Danielle started by pointing out a problem they found with this condition. Rather than an unambiguous product, they felt an unambiguous purpose was the right wording. They talked through the challenge needing to hit the right level of constraint for creativity to occur. Too open-ended and too specific will both restrict what learning occurs. This will be supported by ‘Just in Time’ learning of skills etc. to help students’ divergent thinking.
There is enough feedback within the challenge (and resources) that the work can be maximally self-sustaining and productive.

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Cindy and Bryce raised the idea of it being even better learning when the feedback is occurring regardless of if the teacher is in the room. After initial discussions of feedback occurring from a range of sources, they really focused on the idea of how rubrics can support this. Cindy described a range of rubrics that can assist and prompt students’ learning: generic, specialised, targeted, cognitive, skills-based etc. The common language that we are starting to develop around SOLO will help these rubrics come to life.


The teacher is therefore freed up to coach for a significant amount of time, permitting personalized feedback and guidance (as well as just-in-time mini-lessons). This coaching role also permits the teacher to determine what is and isn’t working in the challenge, and thus enables the teacher to quickly change gears if the desired learning is not occurring or the process is not working.

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Sally and Yasmin were really excited by getting this final condition as the Coaching role is a real passion for both of them. They focused on how each learner at Hobsonville Point Secondary School will have multiple coaches – within their learning hub, the various modules they are taking and with the projects they get involved with. There will of course be links between these but the coaching role will look quite different within the different structures. The final point was also critical for the vision we have of learning at HPSS: the learner as coach due to the self-regulation we are looking at developing.


When I first read Grant’s post I Thought “This is Gold!” What I hadn’t realised was just how powerful it would become for us as we visualised what these learning design conditions would look like for our specific context. It was a great morning session as the discussions around all of this were some of the best learning conversations I have been involved in at any time of my career.


2 thoughts on “Designing and Causing Learning

  1. Pingback: Beyond teacher egocentrism: design thinking | e-Odyssey

  2. Pingback: Ready, Set, Go! | Steve Mouldey

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