Innovative Learning

Innovative Learning

Pam (1)


Last term I attended an Educafe session run by Emma Kingston.

Emma is a firm believer in privileging opportunities for face to face communication. She creates regular face to face events to enable educators to talk together.

What was particularly interesting at the Educafe evening was a chance to meet Professor Jane Gilbert. My virtual buddy Danielle Myburgh told me she had brought her professor along and would I like to meet her. Of course I jumped at the chance. After being introduced, Jane asked me some probing questions about the TeachMeetNZ project that I coordinate. I proudly told her that I have been gathering data since I began the project. The question Jane fired back at me was:

“How can you prove that what you do makes a difference to student learning?”

This is a great question – quite possibly the one question to rule them all. It is the provocation that comes from Thomas Guskey’s work on professional development (Guskey 200 p 85) and sits at the heart of John Hatties work on “know thy impact’ (Hattie 2012 p.169).

It is a question that encourage us to inquire into the effect of our actions on the learning of others.  Virginia Kung, Deputy Principal at Newmarket School, asked me something similar during my initial appraisal conversation around this year’s inquiry. She suggested I turn my teacher inquiry on its head and reflect on what it is I do that does make a difference.

I believe that one of the most influential elements to raising academic achievement over the past eight years at Newmarket School, is my and other teachers’ understanding of SOLO taxonomy and its focus on the student learning outcome. I have experienced this personally as I have used SOLO to drive my own learning to greater depth. When we as  teachers understand the importance of designing appropriately challenging (cognitively and physically) learning activities then that is when applied learning proficiency develops. SOLO has made me so much better at deeper or higher order thinking – linking my thinking with what I know, or knowing where to go to clarify what I need to know, or who to have a learning conversation with.  I recognise that unless I can make explicit links with my own pedagogy and my student’s learning then I am likely distracted from  the things that matter most.

I have used SOLO Taxonomy as the framework for what I do with all my various adult and student learners. My own reflective writing has deepened as a result. The overall outcome of my teacher inquiry is deeper in a number of significant ways.

Thinking about how I make a difference for the learning of English Language Learners

Thinking about learning and models of learning like SOLO taxonomy has deepened my understanding of the learning needs of my English Language Learners.

I am in the final stages of co-authoring a book with Pam Hook about my inquiry into effective pedagogies with English Language Learners. I join a group of incredible educators who have co-authored a book with her framing their pedagogy inquiry around SOLO Taxonomy. Pam has challenged several of my ideas around learning, so much so that a couple of times I have had to slink into a turtle shell and hide because I do not want to have further discussions. But that is what learning is all about.

Is this innovative?

I believe it is because I am being stretched to think about teaching and learning of L2 in new ways – to think at an extended abstract level. And my thinking has resulted in the design of learning experiences that have shown real gains in academic language acquisition for my ELLs students at Newmarket school.

Thinking about how I make a difference for the learning of teachers taking part in EdBookNZ

Thinking about learning and models of learning like SOLO Taxonomy has deepened my understanding of the learning needs of teachers in online collaborative environments  

As part of Connected Educator month I set up a learning environment for teachers. I wanted to see if  I could push boundaries on teacher’s learning. Could I make a difference to the ways teachers learn? This project has been ongoing as part of my personal inquiry that was selected as part of my Core Education efellowship.

I believe innovative learning is an iterative process.  It is not a series of over-hyped launches of the latest “new thing” – innovative learning is going back and finding out what changed, what worked, what didn’t  and then repeating the process until you find the real innovation – something that improves learning – something that endures.

Last year I had 10 educators agree to collaboratively co author a book around educator terms. The trial was so successful that this year I scaled the project to over 30 educators and coordinated them to work together in teams to co construct their understanding.

This year when I sent out digital feelers via Twitter I had the following fabulous educators respond.


In this iteration I have 5x “prods” working in teams of 6x educators each. I am a prod for one team. Scaling a project is a real way to test the tightness of my thinking about effective online environments.

The teacher “prods” in the EdBookNZ project have had to learn, unlearn and re-learn knowledge and skills and they have to think independently and interdependently. I have not led something on this scale before and I am learning alongside all the members. I have had fabulous cognitively challenging learning conversations with the prods as they look to me for guidance and I frame our next steps for collaboration and challenging existing thinking using SOLO Taxonomy.

Is this innovative?

I believe it is – scaling up (rather than adopting the latest new thing) means the new idea or innovative thinking I have gained from this project is that developing deeper teacher learning comes from having clarity  about the purpose of the project.  The number of participants is not  necessarily a barrier if the learning design is clear.  Much like clarity of learning intentions helps in  a classroom so clarity over the purpose of an online collaboration is a prerequisite for deep learning outcomes. Using SOLO taxonomy to design the learning environment has helped ensure clarity – learning is visible. And this has made a difference to the depth of teacher learning as evidenced in the teacher’s dialogue and written texts.

Thinking about how I make a difference for my learning.

Thinking about learning and models of learning like SOLO Taxonomy has deepened my understanding of who I am as a teacher and a learner working with students and with teachers across New Zealand and around the world.  

I selected “Innovative Learning” because I wanted to see if I could define it. Do I even know what it is? Could I say what it is in a way that was deeper than shouting edu-slogans.

“Innovative” is commonly understood to involve novelty or creating something new that is worthy to the culture it is created in.  With respect to SOLO Taxonomy it would be learning at the extended abstract level.

As educators we love adding descriptors to highlight our in-vogue education terminology. I suspect we need to be wary of the need for descriptors – to ask why we need “innovative” inserted. So I would like to start by rephrasing the challenge and ask instead “what is learning?

The dictionary would have us think that learning is


John Hattie defines it with more flair.

“Learning is spontaneous, individualistic and often earned through effort.  It is a timeworn, slow and gradual, fits and starts kind of process, which can have a flow of its own, but requires passion, patience and attention to detail (from the teacher and the student).” John Hattie 2009 p2

My understanding at its most simple level is that learning is about building on.

When I work with learners I liken learning to building blocks and I use SOLO Taxonomy to identify the gaps between the blocks. Part of those learning blocks are study, experience, and being taught using a variety of strategies. Other components include self effort, other learners, the teacher, whānau and community.

I love my learning tools and digital environments so I have to claim a place for the tools and the type of learning environment in my definition.  

Then there is the stuff you cannot see that affects learning – learner attitude, background, language spoken at home.

So where does innovation fit into all this?

I believe the conditions for “innovative learning” are most likely to occur when the framework that surrounds the learning makes it visible to students and teachers. For if you cannot clearly see what the learning is – how will you ever know if it is innovative or not.

For me the framework for “innovative” learning is a model of learning called SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs and Collis 1982).

Simply put, SOLO Taxonomy is a model for learning that looks at the structural complexity of learning outcomes as learning progresses from surface to deep to conceptual levels – SOLO –  Structure of Observed Learning Outcome. Refer HookED.

I believe SOLO lies behind the pedagogy that effective teachers bring to learning that makes the greatest difference as has been highlighted by John Hattie, 2003. In particular the part about ‘how they will organise and structure learning in the context of their particular students and their circumstances.’

Did I make a difference for me?

For this section I focus on changes in my learning when I was designing opportunities to encourage teacher collaboration and prompt deeper learning outcomes in the #EdBookNZ project that is part of Connected Educator Month.

When I listened to Jane Gilbert’s Educating for an Unknown Future  podcast I found myself nodding in agreement at some of the ideas raised. I made links between the podcast and what I have witnessed with teachers in the #EdBookNZ learning community.

In designing the teacher learning community for #EdBookNZ I wondered – to paraphrase Hattie – how to ‘organise and structure learning in the context of the particular [teacher] participants and their circumstances.’ so that they would engage in cognitively challenging discussions.

My intent was to challenge the teachers to think deeply and in doing so increase the likelihood they would provide opportunities and challenge for  their students’ learning. Those of you who know me well often hear me say, “We should focus on the teachers and the learners will benefit.

I believe professional conversation should be about how we can do things better. That is what the #edBookNZ collaborative and co constructions project is all about.

Last year the #EdBookNZ project was quite individualised because educators got together and wrote a blog post each debunking current educational jargon. The feedback from the educators was that they had more fun learning when their disruptive friend probed their thinking than they experienced writing the actual product.

When I use SOLO to frame my learning I understood that my design task activity was multistructural because I simply encouraged a list of educators to write down their ideas. Don’t get me wrong – the educators themselves are thinking relationally and at extended abstract levels because they are reflecting on their learning and technically we are creating a product. However the activity itself is multistructural from a design perspective because I have created the conditions for simply bringing in ideas – a list of educators reflecting on their learning.

This year I wanted to move the learning design away from bringing in the individual writers and create one to enable linking of ideas – a more collective writing experience or force to create a single piece of work. I wanted to design a space to be more cognitively challenging.

I know that the space was cognitively challenging for teachers because I used SOLO levels as a framework for the set up and prompting the ongoing dialogue needed to stretch their thinking. I did this with prodding questions designed to drive teachers thinking using the SOLO Taxonomy  Question Generator . You can view these driving questions under each week’s activity in the Google+ community. And I needed reflective questions as prods to help keep that cognitive dialogue momentum going.


The focus of this year’s collaborative project is a discussion around the Practicing Teacher’s Criteria (PTC) framed with Tataiako.  It is a work in progress. The real learning will surface when the teachers reflect about the process they went through. In all cases I made all dialogue visible so that observers could see the ‘messy thinking.’ However as a prod, I still had hidden dialogue available through the direct messaging of twitter.

I believe in lowering barriers to participation by simplifying access – to do this I amped up the teacher’s learning by asking my prod volunteers to create the artefact for all the discussion. For example I have chosen to use popplet with my team because I just love the way the Describe ++ SOLO maps created by HookED prompt for deeper and conceptual thinking.  I intend to use my understanding to guide ours.

Is this innovative?

Learning and pedagogy go together. So has designing and sustaining the various and varied collaborative #EdBookNZ learning spaces using SOLO Taxonomy had an impact on my pedagogy?  I believe it has.

What has come through strongly in my thinking about “innovative learning” is the need for co-construction using a common language or framework for learning conversations.  When I look at all the learning happening in schools using “Modern Learning Environments” or “Innovative Learning Pedagogy”, I look for evidence of co-construction. Are the children collaborating and co-constructing their learning or is the learning still individualised? Are our teachers working across schools or even more challenging across countries, time zones and cultures to co-construct learning? How visible is all this learning?


What am I still wondering about?

I am wondering:

  • if the #EdBookNZ space has been sufficiently cognitively challenging?
  • if I will see a shift in our teacher’s pedagogy at Newmarket School who are involved in the Flat Connections Global Project.
  • if you will find new learning in Pam’s and mine “awesome as” collaborative book.
  • if the environment I design has encouraged and enabled all voices to be heard?

The last question is the most interesting and ongoing.  This year several educators with Maori backgrounds and Pasifika backgrounds have joined the #EdBookNZ project. I encouraged a rural voice asking educators to look at sustainability from a rural New Zealand perspective and even managed to persuade a student to take time off exam revision to design a provocative cover. These are people whose voices are often not heard in the spaces we design for online dialogue.


We learn more through cognitively challenged dialogue. The most important part of learning is asking for feedback.  Those of you who are learning with me please see this piece as a request for ongoing dialogue.


Biggs, J.B., & Collis, K.F. (1982). Evaluating the quality of learning: The SOLO taxonomy.

New York: Academic Press.

Gilbert, J. (2015). On educating for an Unknown Future. Pddcasrt URL:

Guskey, T. R. (2000) Evaluating Professional Development. Corwin Press Inc.

Hattie, J.A.C. (2003). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference on Building Teacher Quality, Melbourne. URL:

Hattie, J.A.C. (2011). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

Hattie, J.A.C. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. Maximising impact on learning. London: Routledge.

HookED Functioning Knowledge Rubric Generator URL:

HookED Question Generator iTunes App URL:

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