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Dynamics: learning with the learners

June 22, 2014


As summative assessments go, exams are a difficult act to follow. Couple our week 9/ closing stage of second term/ looming Country Week carnival state of play with a pre-service teacher on board this week, and my year 7 students assuming that our class work no longer contributes towards final marks, motivation becomes an unreliable quantity; emotions, too, are unpredictable.

Nothing unusual in chaos, you think. Situation normal?

I concur. Difficulties arose – I now see – in determining the ZPD of our pre-service teacher.

Current research tells us that effective professional development models include improving teacher knowledge, providing job-embedded opportunities to collaborate around issues that are very proximate to the classroom and investing enough time to create learning (Wei, et al., 2009, quoted in SRI International, 2009).

Here I step onto treacherous ground, and the difficulty lies in explaining intuition or  feelings.

First, background assumption: Practice emerges in dynamic process. Our steps:

  • Meet and monitor (this took place last term);
  • Share and clarify expectations (resources, coaching conversations, regular email updates);
  • Immersion;
  • Feedback;
  • Iterative practice.

Until this point, our process mirrors learning undertaken in a classroom context. Learners learning with student learners generates a vibrant and complex interplay. That is, if we assume signs are being read and applied. What if there are miscues/ misinterpretations? Noise?

Here is our year 7 program outline:

Initially, I took bearings from the rich background experience of our pre-service teacher: 8 years already consumed in learning with learners; different context – Australia is her home of choice – but nonetheless common shared experience of teaching arts; some familiarity and confidence, I assumed, were implied.

Second, what I learned revealed mistakes in my thinking. Nervousness and anxiety were the emotional turbulence that we navigated during debriefs. When I offered suggestions, they were taken as guarantees of success/ solutions writ large. Drawing on Fullan’s exhortation to

make menus, not mandates

I shifted gear into possibilities. This generated consternation if not frustration or annoyance. Why wasn’t I being clear and specific? Well, I had learned. The program, I thought, was specific enough to allow potential for innovation. Our students were willing.

What if fear is your driving motivation?

Next, judgments became clouded and confusion ensued. Blaming and defensiveness emerged as attendant behaviours.

This had me momentarily confounded until I realised I was looking at endpoints rather than attending to process or flow.

By now, Humanities team support was oxygenating these exchanges:


Together, our team undertook debrief and clarification.

Reassurance of shared experience enhanced uplift. Tears dried.

Where will this lead? Certainly, Wednesday’s first period deadline with the university assessor is crucial. Will there be certainty of learning/ teaching outcomes? Even with the best intentions and immense preparation, it’s difficult to predict. As with every other (typical) day spent attending to cues and feedback loops, learning can go awry.


  • Arm yourself with an open mind
  • Maintain a positive disposition
  • Be observant (with-it-ness)
  • When all else fails, adapt – fast!

Selected references

Fullan, M. (1992). Visions that blind. Retrieved June 22, 2014 from:

SRI International. (2009). Systemic vs. one-time teacher professional development: What does research say? Retrieved June 22, 2014 from:

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