Working together for learning

Papamoa Primary School teacher Frances Pitts and her students will be learning how to work collaboratively to improve learning.

Collaboratively. It’s a hard word to get your tongue around when you’re only five.

Heck, it’s hard to get your tongue around when you’re 45.

But it’s a word that students at Papamoa Primary School will hear a lot from now on as their teachers embark on a two-year research inquiry looking at whether teachers working together more closely – collaboratively – improves student learning.

A team of six teachers at the school, led by deputy principal Gen Fuller, has been given $71,500 from the government’s Teacher-Led Innovation Fund and will work with researchers from the University of Melbourne and local iwi Nga Potiki.

The inquiry will look at collaboration between students, between teachers, between students and teachers, and between teachers and the school community.

The project gets underway in the next few weeks with a visit from an expert from the University of Melbourne who will not only work with teachers but also talk to the local community about what collaborative learning looks like.

“It’s quite different to what our parents have experienced as learners themselves and sometimes that’s a little concerning because it’s change,” says Gen.

Papamoa Primary received “an extremely positive” review from the Education Review Office last year and didn’t want to lose any momentum – hence the desire to go a step further.

“Schools often reach a plateau and end up skipping down. While we’re at the top we want to create that upward momentum so we’re developing further,” says Gen.

“We know what we are doing is working for our kids but now we want to focus on this idea of collaboration and preparing our kids for a world of adulthood where their challenges are going to be significantly different to ours.”

Gen says while technology and collaborative teaching spaces are important – and the school has new teaching spaces currently being built – the quality of teaching is always going to make the most difference to student learning.

“Our role is to build the capacity of our learners to learn. Our focus has to be on what it means to be a learner, what is learning and what are the strategies and tools I need to be a successful learner.”

One of the conditions of the TLIF is that the results are shared with other teachers, which Gen says the team is looking forward to.

“That excites us too because we’ve been fortunate enough to draw on the experience of other environments and other leaders. An important aspect of this is that we’re contributing to learning for many communities across New Zealand.”