Tosca Killoran

Digital Learning Coach, NIST International School


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How do you promote, model and scaffold sustainable action within your classroom?

Action underpins many international schools as an important component that is linked with the types of learners teachers want to engender. Examining what planning, teaching and assessment policies and practices foster student self-­‐efficacy with regards to action, and identifying key understandings that lead to purposeful and beneficial action are important steps in facilitating a learning community that promotes and empowers student generated action. Many international schools' inquiry based education programs culminate with wanting the learners to take authentic action. Usually, that action is a one-off event, like raising money for children in far off places, less fortunate then those in the international school community. But is that what we really want as educators? How do you promote sustained action- or action that continues, evolves and grows beyond the classroom? How do you as an educator model taking action in your learning communities? How do you scaffold for that action? Do you assess your students' action? Where does action fall within the inquiry cycle? How do you celebrate action that is taken? Share your ideas and thoughts as we collaboratively build a model for best practice with regards to sustained action.

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    May 8 2012: Hi Tosca
    I am not a teacher so best to take my view with a pinch of salt but through a new idea I launched in March 2012 I have been invited into a few schools here in the UK to talk about it at second year level students. It involves teaching kids the importance of health & fitness and through new an innovative idea's it makes children more connected to a wellness movement that is badly needed everywhere in the world right now. Through this concept we get great ideas from the kids, it is so empowering for us to see what their young out of the box thinking comes up with but we can only implement around 5% of them because of rules covering the teachers and education system and the higher up the tree you go to the decision makers in councils and government the less interested they are in making any changes. Children need to be taught for sure I get that, but what I think most educators are forgetting is children want to learn. If we can't find a way to by pass the red tape and listen to the children and give them more of say I can't see how any action plan can be made and stuck to.
    How about a monthly meeting chaired by elected kids aimed at teachers with the sole goal of getting more out of their education? We have them for sports days or dances why not for an action plan for their education. I was 19 when I was told for the first time I am not stupid am I dyslexic so school years were not a big joy for me as learning was tough, had a teacher discussed with me how I would like to learn or if I had the choice to say hey this does not work for me it would have made a difference. The key to anything working in education has to start with the talking to those receiving the knowledge. That is my 2 cents worth anyway...

    Teachers have a tough job they really do but in my very short time of working with kids I can see it is a very rewarding one. Good luck with your student generated action.
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      May 12 2012: WOW! I love the idea of, "How about a monthly meeting chaired by elected kids aimed at teachers with the sole goal of getting more out of their education? We have them for sports days or dances why not for an action plan for their education?"

      This is something that Reggio does in its early learning centers and the PYP attempts to do by allowing the kids to guide their inquiry. BUT I love that what you propose, is a school wide systemic overhaul. Really delving into the minds of the learners. I wonder if we could look at a particular model anywhere as an example?

      One of the critiques of the Reggio model for upper grades is that by allowing the learning to be student generated the students possibly will not cover content that they need in life, like place value or phonemic awareness. Thus, students would be left with gaps in their understanding. Indeed, I am not sure how many kids organically come up with the idea of studying stoichiometry. BUT I do value the idea of making learning more student directed, beyond just the classroom inquiry.

      I am going to do some research on this. A question it raises immediately:
      How do we meet phases, standards & benchmarks when students direct the learning?
      Anyone want to weigh in?
      Thanks for the post Jeff!!
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    May 8 2012: Tosca, I am an outside of the box guy so allow me to wonder a little. Our subjects in the US are goal based. Once we get the right answer we move on. We send some can goods to a far off country and case closed. So kids are "taught" that once you get to the goal or end stage it's over. What if .... every six weeks (or so) we allowed the student to have an independent couse period for one or two weeks. The subject of this project would be agreed on by student and instructor and the amount of points / grade upon successful completion. This would allow for the feedback that you are looking for. If during this period a story about starving kids was presented .. it may have struck a nerve and you would get a project like, how to planting seeds, how to digging wells, raising funds, food drives, what are the effects of the Peace Corps efforts, etc ... I live in a small town and we have an excellent school. I am a coach. My kids and I do things together. We pull weeds, mow, and do service projects for those who need it at no charge. The greatest thing in my life is when these kids have their kids and go out and do service projects. I never ask any kid to come out and help. I post a list of where I will be and if they want to come they do. I seldom work alone.

    My point is that when you help your neighbor it is mopre meaningful than to send some cans off in the mail. Make it personal and local. "Authenic action" is not always measurable. The joy of a widow who gets help and offers her very sincere thanks because that is all she has is beyond a grade or a measure. It lasts a lifetime.

    Any ways just thoughts from a old guy. All the best. Bob.
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      May 8 2012: The program at my son's middle school sounds consistent with what you describe, Bob. Four times a year the entire school splits off into multiple locations for a day of service. Each student works as part of a team of 8 or 10 kids and works at the same location through the year. Some may work at a food bank, others in trail maintainance, and so forth. The students make selections at the beginning of the year.
      I like the projects for the fact that contact with the recipients of service is a step in building awareness and empathy. This seems more powerful and connecting to me than watching a movie and collecting money for a cause.
      Each service day involves pre-service reflections the previous day and a debriefing thereafter.
      The commitment of fourth full days to this during the year underscores the importance to the school.
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      May 12 2012: Rob and Fritzie,

      Yes!! These program ideas are great! I totally agree with you that start local- think global is important. I like that the schools/people you speak of are supporting the programs and that they are building community ties/empathy etc.. All super, and I am excited by your posts!

      Now, we take an additional step, I wonder how support the students' interests in order to sustain the action? For example there are a few websites that I frequent and they are: & These sites, are examples of action that is sustained. As a TEDXYouth organizer, I try to provide a forum for the students in my community to share their ideas and actions with the world. The students take local action, then the teachers help the students learn the skills to create ibooks, websites, published books, videos etc.. in order for others to share their passion and be inspired to take action themselves. This sustains the action beyond a one time occurrence for the student.

      You could also organize a TEDxYouth event in your community for the amazing kids you work with...

      The programs you speak of sound great, now how can we take that and make it part of a national curriculum? Something like Robert said, a Peace Corp for kids?
      Great posts, love the ideas!
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        May 12 2012: These certainly exist, though more typically for kids who are in secondary school or older, because of issues of supervision of them wherever they may serve. City Year, City Corps are names of some of these.
        Another program that may interest you is Bridges to Understanding, which connects younger children to a specific area of action, or what to me is part of action.
  • May 6 2012: Speaking as a part-time Scout Leader, marginal philosopher, and teacher in training:
    Service is an Aim, Action a result. Service is not simply "Good Turns" or kindness to some poor students in a Third-World Country. It is a root cause of Happiness. Service lets us understand that we are part of a grand Human Race.
    So, to try to reduce this to a measurable assessment. Scouting in general awards badges for actions, and we as leaders hope that Service takes root in the child's mind. I find in most cases, Service has a long Latency period. Actions can easily be evaluated. Service is a hope, and may not manifest, sadly.
    To promote Service rooting is simple however in my view: one must be a paragon of virtue.
    Volunteer, always listen, never judge.
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      May 7 2012: This raises an interesting side conversation. Hmmm, I wonder are judgments not simply a part of life? I judge the distance between the sidewalk and curb whilst riding my bike. I judge men based on gut reaction, or 'intuition' when walking down a dark path at night. Judgments are a part of our human physiology, the mental discourse of our brain with its chemical cocktail friends. I wonder if we listen and judge what others are saying we help to assess the meaning. Perhaps we need to define 'judge' as much as 'action'!

      I do understand what you mean about service and action being different- and additionally, I like that you separate the two as distinct and yet joined, like the Venn diagram of doing. But, I stall at service being the root of happiness. Simply because we are called to serve, does it make us happy? I know many individuals in social service, nursing and teaching who are called to give AND who are miserable. I do agree that it is a virtue, but that in essence is only my judgment of what is virtuous.

      I also was a Girl Scout leader for several years and so the idea of reward for doing really intrigues me. I think that when we provide extrinsic motivation as reward for anything, we train students to merely work for the carrot. When we facilitate self-efficacy and the dispositions behind learning we set up a habit of mind. I'm not sure if it is connected to my students' happiness- but it is certainly connected to their motivation.
      Thanks for the post!! You certainly sent me into another realm of thinking!
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    May 6 2012: @Fritzie- I believe there is a difference between 'action' and 'service'.
    In this context, I believe action is doing something that aims to result in a change to the benefit of the individual and/or a group. I like to help my students understand action as stopping doing something, starting to do something, or changing the way you do something. It might be as simple as starting to recycle at home, or walking to school instead of driving (both of these actions benefitting the Earth and, thus, people).
    I believe asking students, "What can you do for someone else this week?" would come under the umbrella of service.
    Perhaps this conversation needs to first define what action is, and what it isn't.
    Any suggestions, people??
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      May 7 2012: Currently, I am conducting an action research project at my school on sustainable action. I am examining curriculum documents, as well as teacher and student surveys to develop a baseline for what action is defined as at our school. If teachers, students and curriculum documents all fail to coalesce with one singular definition, it is logical that authentic and sustained action will fail within the learning community.

      Just as you state in your comment- we must first define action. Brent begins to unpack it from a philosopher's standpoint and that is a good first step. However, most teachers are more concerned with the pragmatics of action and thus, for my study I am focusing on how teachers build the skills and dispositions to elicit action in students. We would never demand children simply write a narrative, but would model, scaffold, practice and play with it before expecting them to engage, I believe we must view action in the same light, as any other learned skill in school.

      My research indicates that the grade levels which PLAN for modelling, and skill building sessions about action had a more successful rate of student generated action- even well after the unit of inquiry had ended.
      This may indicate that, when students are clear as to the ethos of action at the school, and teachers model and scaffold for 'local' action within their learning community the students are more likely to take action outside of the school.
      Thanks for your contributions! Great posts!
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    May 6 2012: I believe the 'bake sale' mindset that many accept as 'action' is, whilst admirable, doesn't necessarily encourage meaningful or ongoing action in students' lives, especially elementary students. Likewise the forced community service many secondary students are expected to undertake in order to gain credit for graduation.
    Before expecting students to take sustainable action, the curriculum must be geared towards the students and their lives, it must be made personal and relevant to them.
    I think the best way to start is to encourage action that students will see immediate benefits from- affecting change at home, or at school via student council activities, or having a role in decision-making- will allow students to see how their actions can result in real change. Then, allow students to explore bigger ways of taking action, perhaps in their local community, or with causes they are especially interested in and passionate about. Ideally, this would nurture an attitude of service, activism, and positive power that students will carry with them for the rest of their lives without the need to mandate action and service in the curriculum.
    I do not believe action is entirely 'assessable', as the one doing the assessing- educators, mostly- may not ever see the action that students take. It may happen when a student doesn't even realise they're doing it, it may happen after the perceived period of taking action has taken place, it may not even be recognisable to the educators charged with assessing it. This is not to say that action is not recordable or observable. How would it be assessed, anyway? What would *that* rubric look like? We don't want students to feel discouraged if the action they take is not 'good enough' according to standards that come from.... where?!?
    To help students take poster-making and fund-raising further, educators should provide opportunities for personal action, support students when they wish to take action, and explore un/successful action.
  • May 12 2012: Hi again. I ran across this in "Practical Wisdom" by Barry Schwartz recently, and thought of this conversation.
    The author was exploring how we can hear the plight of a million people living through some disaster in a far off land, but do nothing due to a feeling of powerlessness. But, if we focus on the plight of one poor person and their particular set of problems in the face of disaster, "the check is in the mail" as the author puts it. It seems that a secret to sustainable action of any type is to bring the emotional impact of the problem on an personally identifible person in question straight to the classroom in some way (teledocumentary). Children/Teens live very emotional lives, so one has to engage emotionally.
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    May 6 2012: The one you choose not to listen to, do everything for application.

    Second is if it is not fun you are doing it wrong.

    The 2 main impediments to fun are a absence of what ever it is you are studying the other is not having an understanding or a misunderstanding of the terminology of the subject.


    The impending crepuscule made the children run for home.

    Since you probably do not understand what crepuscule means you do not understand the sentence. This is an example of not understanding the word the far more damaging instance is when you misunderstand the word and think you know what it means.

    Make sure the children understand the terminology and make sure they have enough of what ever it is they are studying. Example if they are studying horses then get them a horse if they are studying history at the very least get them pictures of whatever that lesson is about.

    To the degree you are able to do these is the degree you will be successful in teaching.
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    May 6 2012: Let me put forward two thoughts, one untested and another of which I am confident. On the untested, one could instill in children a habit of looking for ways to serve by asking perhaps once a week as a thinking prompt in grade school, "What can you do for someone else this week?" And then the teacher would solicit an answer in a journal or orally if the child is too young. This might start a habit of self-questioning and action when a child is still young.
    In secondary school a great impediment in some countries, at least, is that the amount of homework students are assigned gives them very little discretionary time. One casualty of booking kids up this way is that they do not have time to commit themselves to social service beyond the social service requirements their schools may have.