Kath Murdoch, an inspiration on how to learn within a social context.

Readers of my blog will know that we have had Kath Murdoch working with our teachers at Elsternwick Primary over the past 4 years. Kath initially worked with the whole staff to develop some shared understandings about inquiry learning and then shifted to supporting teams. Her team work phase focused on effective planning and modelling key thinking strategies in classrooms. This team focus continues as well as the third phase of coaching individual teachers in instructional strategies and skills.

Last week Kath engaged us a whole staff in setting up and layering learning environments with not only rich tasks that challenged our thinking and understandings but also setting some norms and making explicit a few social competencies. She really challenged and inspired us to help individual students publicly set a learning and social goal for some sessions each week. She has recently published two books with lots of the strategies she used on the day: “Helping your students to work cooperatively” and “Personalised learning in the primary classroom” – both worth a read.

I was inspired by the multi layers of teaching she was able model during a session: provide a rich task, organise explicit social competencies that are chosen by students [in this case us] to work on, moving around the groups supporting them in their thinking – commenting where appropriate on the social competency chosen by the learner but also to write quotes made by learners during the session on the inclusive language they used. I did pose a question on how long it took to learn to layer lessons like that – her reply was that’s it’s all about the intentions – what are intentions of the lesson – if they are clear then the practice can follow.

Throughout the day there were little gems that stuck with me:

  • modern small families that are complete with multiple TV and computers etc… are usually not structured in ways that demand our youth to negotiate with lots of siblings – school now takes that challenge.
  • using a ball of wool that passes to students who are scattered around a room students can learn and visually reinforce the interconnectedness of learners. 
  • like a car needing to be serviced several times a year so do teachers in classrooms need to go back and workshop the social competencies we need to practice to build a cooperative learning community.
  • use wait time not only after the initial question but after the response as well – for this allows learners to piggy back off each other in their thinking.

My thanks went to the two teachers who pubically shared their learning after being coached by Kath. Being open to receiving feedback that challenges aspects of our instructional practice is truly the act of a learner.

An inspiring day.