Innovation in the Hunter Region – Part 1

Last year, in fact over the past couple of years, I’ve been lucky enough to observe classrooms where innovation is taking place and students are being effectively engaged in the learning process.

It started back in 2011 when a fellow English teacher I admire, Bianca Hewes, posted on a her blog about a videoconference she did with someone in my region, a certain Neil Fara, head teacher HSIE at Irrawang HS who was doing some interesting things centred around student engagement. (You can check out his blog here to follow the Project REAL journey). Neil kindly offered me the chance to come and visit his classroom.

It was a wonderful experience to say the least. Here was someone doing what I wanted to be doing, and it was working! Now, being the person I am, I couldn’t just sit back and observe so I walked around the room (actually two classrooms with the dividing wall removed – a great metaphor for change in education if I ever saw one) engaging students in conversations about what they were learning. There was a relaxed, yet busy vibe to the room that was inspiring.

Neil’s approach has been to “flip” (not just in the now trendy flipped classroom sense) the way the environment and learning is structured. His students have all the work for the semester loaded onto their laptops and make their way through the content at their own, personalised, pace. What was particularly interesting for me was where this change in pedagogy had come from- the students themselves. Neil and his staff had surveyed the students to find out what they disliked about the subject and about teaching, and their voices were heard. Student voice in action!

What I was also able to witness was their differentiated model of assessment where students were allowed to demonstrate their learning and mastery of the subject in diverse ways. A year 10 girl learning about the Vietnam war and the effects of post traumatic stress disorder had composed a song about a Vietnam veteran’s experience. The video is on the Project REAL website, well worth the look. Also included are several other examples of authentic, engaging assessment tasks.

I remember driving home from the experience so enthused about the possibilities of student engagement and student voice, and that one visit continues as an inspiration to me to help remind me of what is possible when change seems far off.

As Molly would say, “do yourself a favour” and head on over to the Project REAL website to find out more.

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