Kohimarama School‘s experience of implementing SchoolTalk
Kohimarama School is a co-educational primary school catering to Year 1-8 students. Our children learn to belong and achieve through rich and varied learning experiences as we prepare them to be well-rounded learners and leaders of the future.
The Kohimarama School teaching team bring a wealth of experience and have embraced a range of learning approaches to prepare our children to thrive in our changing world.
The physical school has a mix of traditional single cell classrooms and learning hubs. Year 3-8 students have the option of bringing a specific personal device, a Chromebook, to school, while students in Years 1 & 2 share devices.
1. Initial motivation
Before SchoolTalk was adopted at Kohimarama, most teachers were using Google slides to plan. There were expectations for what needed to be included in planning but no consistency about the tool that was used. A number of teachers also used Google sites to support their programmes. There was collaboration within teams with shared team drives and non-core curriculum planning had always been done together.
Learners in years 3-8 had learning progressions shared with them digitally - Google docs for reading and maths progressions and slides for writing progressions. While the progressions were accessible all learning was teacher directed, and parents were not able to see easily what their children were learning.
In 2017 we had a school-wide focus on developing learner agency and were shown SchoolTalk by Stonefields School through our Community of Learning (CoL). We saw SchoolTalk as an opportunity to improve teacher pedagogy and reduce the variability in our practice, across teams, and across the school.
We had strategic goals that not all teachers were doing at that time e.g. all teachers using our school progressions in reading, writing, and maths as well as all teachers using digital modeling books, and we recognized that using SchoolTalk would enable us to develop some consistency of practice.
2. Products considered
Initially, we picked three enthusiastic teachers who were teaching across different year levels to trial SchoolTalk. The three teachers attended weekly induction meetings at Stonefields for a term, to learn how to use and adapt it to suit our context.
At the same time, we also had two teachers trialing the free version of Seesaw, as they had used it in their previous school and wanted it to be implemented at Kohimarama. Because they were using the free version of the Seesaw tool it was mainly used to share learning with parents.
We trialed both of the tools for a term and half and then evaluated the pros and cons of both and made the decision to roll SchoolTalk out schoolwide in 2018, as its functions suited us better.
The main benefit of SchoolTalk over Seesaw, during the trial, was that it increased learner agency, our students were more confidently able to talk about what they were learning and their next steps. This meant they could make more informed choices in their learning.
Our learners in the year 5 and 6 classrooms that trialed SchoolTalk, also saw the benefits of the tool as soon as we started using it. These learners used Chromebooks daily, and most were confident digital learners.
3. Reasons why SchoolTalk has been selected
As a school, we saw SchoolTalk as a far better option, although the teachers who had used Seesaw still wanted that to be the tool that we used. Without those teachers making use of all the tools available in the paid version of Seesaw it was difficult to compare completely as the capabilities in the version they used were limited.
SchoolTalk had far more advantages than Seesaw in the areas of: teacher collaboration; customizing the progressions; gathering evidence; the gap analysis tool; flexible grouping; and integrating learning areas. Another factor was it would also enable us to incorporate all of our reporting requirements.
Being part of our CoL had a big influence on our decision to use SchoolTalk as we had seen the tool being successfully used at Stonefields. We also had Stonefields as a resource to continue supporting us as we implemented the tool with all of our teachers. We also saw the benefit of being able to use all of the resources that were already loaded in SchoolTalk by Stonefields.
Other key features of SchoolTalk were the clarity of learning, using the calendars and the ease for teachers to design learning and share with learners. By being able to pin calendars easily, teachers could share practice, and parents could see what their children were learning.
4. Successful implementation strategy and timing
The process and timelines for implementing SchoolTalk at Kohimarama were developed by the leadership team (see the picture)
Firstly, we shared SchoolTalk with our whole staff in term 4 2017, with the three teachers who had trialed it sharing the journey they had been on and the benefits we saw with using the tools.
In Term 4 all teachers were informed that we would be using SchoolTalk in all classrooms in 2018.
In Term 1 2018 we began SchoolTalk induction with all of our teachers every Wednesday morning. We initially did this as a whole staff, but after a couple of weeks, we had teachers who were ready to move faster with the tool so we broke off into 2 separate groups.
In Term 2 our teachers, who could confidently use the tool, attended fortnightly meetings to discuss how it was going, often these discussions were based on gathering evidence as well as how to use the tool to flexibly group students.
Our teachers who were learning the basics of SchoolTalk continued to attend weekly Wednesday workshops to build their knowledge and capability.
In Term 2 we sent all teachers at different times to see SchoolTalk in action, in the learning hubs at Stonefields. This was particularly useful for our junior school teachers to see how it looked in a junior classroom, and to learn from their experience.
In Term 3 we ran fortnightly meetings on different functions of SchoolTalk, that were optional for all staff. Occasionally we asked all teachers to come to these meetings if it was something everyone needed to know e.g. backfilling progressions for reporting.
During Term 4 we continued to run fortnightly meetings and often asked all staff to come as we prepared for reporting and focusing on students writing reflections, aligning Overall Teacher Judgments (OTJs) with SchoolTalk, and aligning assessment information with SchoolTalk progressions.
To involve our community we invited all parents to workshops on how to use SchoolTalk and we ran these 2 weeks after parent invites went out in Term 2. We ran four meetings for each of the teaching teams in the school. In Term 3 we asked that teachers make SchoolTalk a focus of student achievement discussions by checking that parents were able to access the tool and showing them how to access resources relating to their child's next learning steps.
We invited a selection of parents from across the school to be part of a focus group discussion on SchoolTalk reporting, in Term 4 week 1. We wanted to ensure that they understood the new reports and the communication that would go out to all parents about the new reports was clear. We also got their feedback on key differences between our previous report and the new reports.
A parent meeting during Term 4 was focussed on how to read/understand the new reports.
What a parent thinks
‘It helps me understand my children's learning goals and is useful information to pass on to after school tutors. It's interesting to see what's on their calendars and helps to engage dinner time conversations. The resources that are loaded in to SchoolTalk are helpful to use at home. ‘- Hilary
When teachers started using SchoolTalk we encouraged them to have their learners using the tool as quickly as possible. This meant they were able to see the efficiency of the tool as their learning design was being used by students. Some of our students could instantly see the benefits of the tool and how it could support their learning. Initially, students liked having their progressions all in one place and being able to see their calendar for the week.
As students have become more confident with the tool they are beginning to use the resources attached to the progressions more independently. Our learners often check calendar and learning design before coming to school. One of our next steps is to work with families on how to get the most out of the tool at home.
5. Possible roadblocks to watch out for
While implementing SchoolTalk some of the obstacles that needed to be overcome were:
Teacher’s digital capability related to how they were using devices i.e. use of modeling books, to design learning.
Teacher efficiency when using SchoolTalk to plan i.e. spending too long planning. The solution was to run workshops on planning, time management.
Teachers of junior classes gathering evidence in manageable ways due to the volume of small step learning progressions.
Teachers understanding of learning progressions i.e. the developmental nature of incremental steps. This became an ‘Aha’ moment for some teachers.
Teachers not wanting to use SchoolTalk, as they preferred Seesaw, needing encouragement to switch.
For some teachers, our implementation moved at a faster rate than they were comfortable with, but we were mindful that if we moved too slowly we would lose momentum and there needed to be some time pressure in order to have teachers making the tool part of their daily practice.
To enable this we continued weekly induction meetings for those teachers who required more support for two terms. In Term 3 we moved to fortnightly meetings for teachers still requiring support.
We also continue to run optional after-school workshops aimed at increasing teacher efficiency in using SchoolTalk as a planning tool.
Because some of our teachers were not using digital modeling books as part of their practice before SchoolTalk we needed to upskill teachers in this area. We used an external facilitator to provide additional support with learning how to do this.
We also introduced coaching sessions for all teachers to find out what was working for them with SchoolTalk, what the challenges were and what support they need in order to achieve their next steps with the tool.
Providing in-class support was a useful way to overcome some of the challenges our teachers of junior classes were facing. This was done by modeling how to gather evidence in a manageable way as part of their practice, as well as team teaching.
6. What change did SchoolTalk bring to the school
Our current situation after a year of implementation is that we have consistent use of SchoolTalk across all classrooms with goals being set, and resources attached to learning design.
Teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) has changed, by using the gap analysis tool effectively to identify learners’ needs and design appropriate learning.
Teachers are more open to learning from each other and sharing their practice. There is more consistency in practice, more visibility, and collaboration across the school.
There is a richer collegial dialogue about learning - what’s happening for learners, connected to agency, and understanding of why it is a schoolwide focus. Teacher agency has increased with a shift in practice - sharing planning, developing digital capability, and designing and using modeling books.
We recognize that we still need to work on spreading effective practice with integrating learning areas, flexible learning, authentic task design, gathering rich evidence.
What our teachers think
‘I use SchoolTalk for planning and to share resources with learners. It means students can easily look back at resources I have shared. I look for and use resources that other teachers have made rather than always having to make my own. I use gap analysis, especially in Reading, to work out what gaps a group of students have. I use SchoolTalk to check students’ progress and see where I am going to next. I flexibly group students for workshops. The progressions in SchoolTalk give me a broader understanding of where students are working. It gives my students more ownership with how they are going with their goals, they can upload evidence when they think they have achieved a goal.’ - Keely
‘I like having all of the progressions in SchoolTalk, it gives me direction and clarity around learning. It has meant that my students and I have a better language of learning and my learning design is goal-focused rather than task-focused. Sharing resources and collaborating has improved my practice and reduced the time I spend creating resources.’ - Tom
There is increased learner agency, as our learners have the confidence to talk about what they are learning, and know why they are learning it. Through using their devices they can access, see and use their learning goals with their parents at any time. There has definitely been a shift in control from teacher to learner.
With all teachers and learners using progressions and digital modeling books we now have the capability of teacher collaboration, tracking students and being flexible with our grouping that we never had before we used SchoolTalk.
Without all of the resources that are sitting in SchoolTalk our students wouldn’t have the same opportunities to move forward in their learning, independently
What our students think
‘SchoolTalk helps me with my learning because I can look at my schedule and learning goals and it makes me become a more self-motivated learner. I know what I’m doing and when, so I’m self-managing my time. It helps me to know what my next learning steps are and gives me resources to help achieve my goals. I like to share my learning and the work I’m most proud of with my parents and SchoolTalk makes it easy.’ - Violet
‘SchoolTalk gives me all of the goals I need to achieve in one place, it helps me because there are resources you can use. The calendar really helps me know what I’m doing and when I’m doing it. It shows me how I can achieve my goals. My parents like to see what I’m up to and what my goals are. It also shows them what I’ve progressed in and what I need help with, in my learning.’ - Margo
‘SchoolTalk helps me with my learning because it has goals that I can work towards achieving. SchoolTalk helps me achieve my goals because it has resources and examples that I can use.’ - Theo
7. Maintaining and Sustaining the implementation: Where to next?
After a year of implementation, the focus for the next phase includes:
Working on reporting with our staff - aligning assessment information and OTJs with SchoolTalk.
Developing progressions that relate to our dispositions to be added to SchoolTalk by the beginning of 2019.
The next step for our teachers is to continue working on gathering rich and varied evidence and also moderating evidence so that there is greater consistency across the school.
In term 1 2019 we will run a term of SchoolTalk induction for teachers who are new to the school.
Continue working on engaging parents with SchoolTalk - through meet the teacher evening, and student achievement discussions
From the start, a clear decision was made that the implementation of SchoolTalk was the key strategy and PD focus for the year, as it incorporated all key elements of teacher pedagogy and practice that we wanted to develop across the school. Our Principal consciously turned down other unrelated professional learning opportunities to enable SchoolTalk to be the major focus for teacher development. Alongside the work we were doing with SchoolTalk we had facilitators working with staff on learner agency and using digital tools to enhance learning.
We have evaluated the effectiveness of using SchoolTalk by gathering voice from our learners and teachers about how they use SchoolTalk and the impact it has on their learning. Our teachers believe that SchoolTalk enables learners to know where they are in their learning, what they are aiming for, and what their next steps are. Teachers use the learning progressions in SchoolTalk to inform their practice.
Teachers have gathered evidence of the shifts in their practice, by setting inquiry goals related to SchoolTalk and analyzing the impact it has had on their learners.
8. From our perspective
Adopting SchoolTalk as a tool to support teaching and learning at Kohimarama has been highly successful. It has enabled us to develop a better understanding of our teachers’ knowledge and practices. Our teachers now openly share their practice with each other as well as resources, resulting in more efficient practices.
SchoolTalk has given our parent community a better understanding of their child’s achievement by breaking curriculum areas down further, providing the opportunity to identify strengths and weaknesses. Parents are beginning to see the benefit of the tool and engage with it more regularly.
Our students consistently talk about how much SchoolTalk helps them in their learning. It has given our learners greater clarity in their learning this is evident by the way students across the school can talk about what they are learning and how they have been successful. Our students in some areas of the school are able to use SchoolTalk to extend their learning.
SchoolTalk has given us the opportunity to move towards the pedagogy we wanted with learner agency much quicker than we could have done on our own.
Through the CoL, teachers from Kohimarama are sharing what has been learned from our experience to support teachers at Orakei School to become efficient users of the tool, and we are sharing our practice shifts with Stonefields. This means that rich conversations about teaching practice and learning are happening across this Community of Learning. Teachers across the schools are encouraged to observe SchoolTalk in action and students have opportunities to connect and learn from other student users in other CoL schools.
Our plans at Kohimarama in 2019, are to complete our graduate profile by adding progressions for our learner dispositions. As a staff, we will continue to work on the key pedagogies of SchoolTalk including flexible grouping, clustering learning intentions and designing rich learning opportunities. This will enable us to gain a more holistic view of our learners
Another goal is continuing to build students’ understanding of their own learning to help them make decisions and plan for their next learning steps. We believe that using SchoolTalk as a tool to design effective teaching and learning will enable us to achieve that.
Kohimarama School Resources
Website communication https://www.kohimarama.school.nz/tools/SchoolTalk/
The Kohimarama Way https://www.kohimarama.school.nz/about/our-values/
Kirstin Hensman, Kohimarama School