Delany College in Western Sydney has turned traditional schooling upside down – almost literally – by developing a contemporary model of learning and teaching that is responsive to the needs of its learners and one that faces head on the challenges of a globally-connected world, writes Julie Fewster.
In a bold, new initiative the future of contemporary learning and teaching is visible in the newly connected classrooms of Years 7 and 8 at Delany College, Granville, thanks to a first of its kind partnership between Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta and Telstra.
Called the Delany Connective this innovative partnership is aimed transforming learning and teaching by making schooling relevant to learners.
Officially launched in September, the Delany Connective is delivering a contemporary model of schooling to meet the needs of today’s learners and equip them with the skills and knowledge to thrive in a connected, global world.
Delany College is located in a low socio-economic area of western Sydney and has a highly diverse student population – 92 percent of students are from a non-English speaking background.
Like most schools, Delany has been using a traditional approach to learning and teaching which is typically experienced as teacher as expert, student as passive receptor of information, ‘chalk and talk’, ‘sage on the stage’; the learner has little input into the process of learning, with a focus on testing for content knowledge.
However, contemporary research and theory shows students learn best when learning is just in time, personalised and relevant to their experience of the world. Modern life and work requires new skillsets including the ability to learn and relearn; to collaborate and communicate; and to think critically and creatively. This requires a new model for schooling.
The need for schools to change radically has been driven largely by the demands of a knowledge age and the ubiquitous nature of technology saysGreg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta, NSW and author of Education Gen WiFi (2011).
“Technology impacts powerfully on every aspect of our lives and it offers opportunities unimagined by previous generations and educators,” Whitby said.
“Capturing the opportunities of today’s world requires a new approach to schooling that goes beyond simple changes. To participate and succeed in a knowledge age and economy requires learners and teachers to have specific skills and a deep understanding in order to manage the demands of a changing world – specifically, technology and future working conditions which will require enormous adaptability.
“Specifically those skills are known as the four Cs: collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. Deep learning comes by learning to be a learner,” he said.
“Deep learning is defined as the process through whichan individual becomes capable of taking what was learned in onesituation and applying it to new situations.The product of deep learning is transferable knowledge and skills.”
Embracing the need for change
The principal of Delany College, Peter Wade, said that teaching has changed along with the world’s technology and skill demands.
“When I started in the ‘70s we were given a book and curriculum and told to go teach,” Wade recalled. “In the last 20 years we have had a tight compliance agenda. In some ways I think we have become distracted from learning and teaching. Under increasing demands we certainly lost timeand the ability to see what a learner needs.
“The Delany Connective has given us the time and space – literally – to go back to the craft of being good teachers. Liberating us as well as the students to take risks and change our patterns of behavior. We haven’t thrown out the three Rs – we are seeing them through the lens of the four Cs.”
The National Research Council’s Education Life and Work committeeviews 21st century skills and competencies as important dimensions of human competence that have been valuable for many centuries, rather than skills that are suddenly new, unique and valuable today.
Partnerships are essential
Brendon Riley, Group Executive, Global Enterprise and Services, Telstra, said it has worked closely with Delany to drive thought leadership, as well as provide a range of innovative and connected learning technologies, and has been heavily involved in the development and deployment of the new connected classrooms.
“The Delany Connective has turned the traditional model of teaching on its head and shows what’s possible when the latest technologies are used to change how teachers, students and parents connect and collaborate,” Riley said.
“Activity-based working is a hot topic in the workplace and we are now starting to see this shift in our schools. The Delany Connective is a great example of what’s possible and Telstra is committed to helping other schools develop similar connected, automated and collaborative learning environments.”
Whitby believes that corporate partnerships, such as the one between Catholic Education Parramatta and Telstra, are vital to help educational institutes respond to the changing education landscape.
“It is clear that schooling has to be relevant to learners and presents a challenge – we think an exciting one – for teachers,” he said.
“To make schooling relevant requires new understandings about how we learn and teach. It recognises the need to personalise learning for each student and de-privatise teaching practice so that teachers are continuously learning and improving their practice. As a system we have expressed this in our strategic intent: improving the learning outcomes of each student and ensuring a professionally rewarding working life for teachers.”
The learning space
“We see that collaborative spaces support the personalisation of learning and the de-privatisation of teacher practice,” Whitby said. “Flexible environments not only support new pedagogies that personalise learning such as Project Based Learning (PBL) and the Delany Connective, but promote greater teacher collaboration to work and plan together.”
Flexibility is the centrepiece of the learning space for Year 7 at Delany College. They come together at certain times and they split up into different sized groups at other times. Students also break off into smaller teams to work on projects. They utilise the physical and technological space – mobile desks, media scape room and conversation areas to do this.
The Delany Connective offers a state-of-the-art flexible learning space, which includes education-specific and technology-optimised furniture, audio-visual technology, video conferencing and the ability to show, capture and share ‘teachable’ moments.
Seamless technologies embedded within the classroom play a significant role in the learning process allowing real-time collaboration and connection across the room or across the globe. All teachers and all students have iPads. They share their work via screens in the media scape room, via blogs or via a specially-created system where they upload their work.
The Delany Connective is delivering a collaborative model with an integrated curriculum focused on real-world outcomes and the process of learning, not just what the student learns but how the teacher learns. Students are definitely enjoying this way of working, with the technology providing immediate feedback.
Principal Peter Wade said it is a delicate art to bring the whole school staff on board but the Year 7 learning space core teachers are clear advocates.
“It has changed the way I work because we are not following the syllabus in a traditional way; it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Year 7 core teacher, Kata Collimore, said. “We are deciding what is appropriate for the students at any point in time and are able to change things up when required. So as teachers, we need to understand the concepts really well in order to integrate them into other areas that may not be written down in the syllabus. It is personalising the learning big time and the technology is allowing us as the teachers to see the work and where the students are at, at any point in time,” she added.
The Delany Learning Model
A traditional secondary schooling model is based upon a subject delivery system, where students engage with each subject in 45 to 50 minute blocks of time independent of each other subject. Such a delivery design disengages students from any possibility of deep learning, consistency of teaching, and further, as a result of having up to twelve different teachers over a two-week timetable, from developing strong relationships with their teachers.
A traditional secondary schooling model normally focuses on content, compliance and control rather than engaging students in the learning process and encouraging them to become lifelong learners
The Delany Connective Learning Model is designed to meet the needs of today’s learners and foster a deeper engagement that enables students to apply knowledge and skills from any given subject in more complex and meaningful ways (known as integrated learning). It enhances students’ understanding, the way they communicate and interact with others and their ability to know, understand and manage their own emotions. The social interaction skills our students develop throughout their learning are the foundations of a successful future career.
The model used in the Delany Connective, using the Learning Wheel, is based on original work and research by Dr Miranda Jefferson in the school setting and on international research.
The Learning Wheel is the about educating the whole person, the attributes students will demonstrate and how students relate to each other. Achievement is not seen as either ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ but rather as ‘awakening’, ‘applying’ ‘accelerating’, ‘advanced’ and ‘adept’ – a progression through each area on the Learning Wheel.
The wheel is not just about the learners, it is about the teachers – they have to live the wheel and model the behaviour for new learners introduced to the 4Cs – communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.
|Delany Connective Learning Model is designed, first and foremost, on Learning how to Learn. Students will explicitly:
Delany Connective Learning Modelfocuses on three domains, explicitly taught and learnt together in the classroom.
Delany Connective Learning Modelwill lead to deeper learning.
Delany Connective Learning Modelis visually articulated as the Delany Learning Wheel.
o The Learning Wheel captures the “Powers” (or habits) students are to master.
The approach centres around three domains:
Dr Miranda Jefferson, Teaching Educator, Challenging Pedagogy and one of the architects of the Learning Wheel says the Delany Connective has provided an opportunity to re-look at pedagogy and learning by changing the curriculum and teaching styles and focusing on the 4 Cs.
“We teach to all the 4 Cs and the kids learn in all those ways and it has actually revealed a new space for them to express themselves, to think for themselves, and to connect with the world through communication,” Dr Jefferson said. “It is a completely new approach to seeing students as a person and as a learner first and foremost and to work with their dispositions for learning. And these kids have some real issues and that exposes how much we have to work with the processes of how to learn.
“We are seeing learners taking a greater responsibility for their work and if there is one little kernel that is right back to what we are on about it, it is that they own their own learning – teachers don’t own it for them, they are not transmitting to students what they need to learn, it is learners having an environment; the constructivist idea of education where they grow themselves, self-directed. But they need skills to do that.”
Dr Jefferson said the change has not only been with the students, but also the teachers.
“In the last nine months, teachers have had a massive cultural change and a complete mindset change. For teachers, it is not about teaching but about learning processes,” she said. “There is a sense of excitement because there is such tangible, profound change happening – you can see it. It’s very challenging too because there is a lot of coming to terms with letting go of old practices especially if you have been a teacher for 30 years.”
What learning looks like
Every morning students engage in physical and mental exercises – known as brain push ups – to fine tune the brain and ensure that body and mind are in sync and open to learning. Research has shown that exercises like these get blood flowing and improves not only how you feel but means you can think better
“The brain push-ups really get the students focused for the day,” Principal Wade said. “But more than that it really is about connecting the mind and the body. So if we can excite the body and connect it with the mind it really deepens the learning. It is based on the concept of embodied cognition that recognises the way the body influences the mind.”
Following on from brain push-ups, communication and navigation (encompassing literacy and numeracy) which are the focus of each morning, the day then leads into the following topics:
• Being a scientist
• Being an artist
• Being a designer
• Being ‘us’
• Being ‘me’
Wade said the initiative had turned the timetable totally on its head to allow students and the staff to closely work together. “Our day doesn’t look like a school day in any secondary school,” he said. “Most secondary school students I come into contact with have 10 to 13 teachers – we have five core teachers plus our assistant principal and myself. In this space, using this model, we’ve gotten to know our students very well pastorally and as learners. It throws up challenges of course. Many teachers say, ‘I am a teacher of Mathematics or English.’ We need to say we are ‘teachers of learners.’ We have been teaching to give kids their HSC – we want to be teaching them to be life-long learners.
Nine months into the new approach, the principal and teachers say it’s not only the students who are growing in their confidence as learners and are more articulate. Assistant Principal and Mathematics teacher Richard Grech is very open about how modeling the Delany Connective has changed his own practice.
“Leading Navigation in Year 7 at Delany College has required a considerable re-think about how students best engage with Mathematics and more importantly how, as the leader, the teacher forms the engagement in learning of the students,” Grech said.
“My traditional mode of delivery for Mathematics would have included specific strategies and questions to achieve a desired response, namely the correct answer. This approach misses the key concept of ‘why’, the deeper conceptual understanding of how we navigate our way through our world. I have the opportunity to challenge students, individually and in a group setting, with open-ended questions that help build their conceptual understanding of their connections in the world around them, within a Mathematical context.
“Students of Navigation at Delany College are encouraged to be responsible for their own learning. Creativity, initiative and curiosity are fostered as they explore the world of Mathematics. The students are certainly engaged in the process, they are willing to explore new ideas, they look forward to the challenges of teamwork and remainin focused. The need for working collaboratively has brought a sense of harmony to the group that is reflected in their attitude and behaviour.
“Personally, this change of practice has revitalised my approach to motivating and engaging students in the learning process. It has challenged me to examine my teaching and method of delivery. This approach has heightened my understanding of the need to know each student as a learner.”
Bold vision for the future
Schools have tremendous opportunities to be bold and courageous in creating new and relevant learning experiences.
Powerful learning only occurs when powerful teaching connects with 21st century thinking and tools. We need to revolutionise – to transform – our schools and the way we teach, away from mere knowledge transmission to workshops where co-creativity, ingenuity and imagination sit at the heart of learning.
According to Dr Jefferson, the innovative model at Delany Catholic College is a taste of what needs to come – turning all schools into centres for interdisciplinary innovation with global connections.
For Principal Peter Wade it’s simple, “To be the best school, to be the best teachers and to be the best learners we have a moral imperative to have a change of practice – with the Delany Connective, we are doing just that.”
For more information about The Delany Connective please visit www.delanygranville.catholic.edu.au