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Learning conversations and key competencies

The following discussion tools each pick up on an aspect of the key competencies – learning conversations, student voice, de-privatising practice, and monitoring through noticing – as raised in the Kelburn Normal School digital stories.

Additional ideas are provided for how you could go about trying these strategies in your own context.

"Learning as dialogue between students and students, and teachers and students, in which meaning and learning is constructed."

Learning conversations for strengthening key competencies

The Kelburn Normal School digital story 'Learning conversations' describes:

  • the importance of learning conversations in strengthening the key competencies
  • the importance of making conversations shift from being random and irrelevant to being focused, relevant, and purposeful.

"Children are attentive to each other – they are really listening to each other. The students come to realise the KC 'relating to others' is a vital part of their learning because the other people in the class are the key resource to them for their learning."


Ideas for thinking about learning conversations between students in your classroom:

Create a group/class matrix for students to track who they have 'learning talk' with on a particular day or over a period of time.

Take photographs of learning in action. Use these photographs as a resource for students to reflect on their learning. 

Notice and give feedback to students who talk with their classmates in ways that help each other to learn.

Co-create 'learning talk' prompts such as: 'the hardest thing is...' 'another way of thinking about this is...' it's easier to do this when...' 

Ideas for thinking about learning conversations between teachers and students in your classroom:

"A learning conversation is first and foremost entirely open ended. ...to build on the natural learning dispositions of children, in particular their wonder of the world, sociability, creativity, their love of invention and play."

Student voice - 'going curvy'

The Kelburn Normal School digital story 'Learning conversations' gives an example of teachers taking student voice seriously, not just listening to students' suggestions, but being responsive to them. In the clip the student describes this as learning 'going curvy'. Students are involved in decisions about teaching and learning, and make choices about their learning pathways.

"Everybody has their individual style of writing and learning...not everybody has to do the same thing...they can make a task their own by writing it in their style, so that it doesn't have to end up looking the same. Everybody can do something different whereas in some cases, they want everything to be perfect and quite outlined and straight and sort of really exact, whereas you can sort of go curvy in class."


Other ideas for promoting student choice in learning:

When teachers are responsive to students, different students will require different learning tasks and activities. Model considering possibilities for the next activity, and speak out loud the decision making process. "If I did this next...", or " I need to get clearer about _____ so I could _____".

Be explicit in giving students permission to make suggestions about what they could do next in their learning.

Share teaching and learning plans with students, and revise these together with students.

Teachers and students develop strategies for monitoring the diversity of activities that may be happening. For instance a whiteboard or chart dedicated to recording who is doing what.

Make offering possibilities, and deciding together about the programme, a routine part of the decision-making process.

If the notion of multiple learning activities happening at once is a new one, begin with specific times for learning to ‘go curvy’, while maintaining some more structured times.

"People just became so passionate about it because it was so exciting going into class and doing these lessons with the kids...and then the conversations were about those lessons and about the things kids were saying. It really helped to make the conversations about the learning, and you'd feed off each others' ideas."

De-privatising practice in teaching as inquiry

The Kelburn Normal School digital story 'Teaching as inquiry' describes how teachers de-privatised their practice through classrooms being opened up and teachers freely discussing their practices with each other. At Kelburn they used action research for this, but de-privatised practice could occur in a range of ways.


Other ideas for de-privatising practice:

De-privatising could occur in a range of ways – through:

  • classroom observations
  • modelling
  • co-teaching
  • sharing work samples
  • sharing digital records of teaching – movie clips, audio files, photographs
  • collaboratively analysing student feedback.

Use tools or frameworks to choose a focus for de-privatised practice.

Develop norms and expectations for the conversations that happen following an observation.

Take one of the principles that underpin the key competencies – active, real/purposeful, relevant, empowering and discuss together:

  • ways that your current practice reflects those principles
  • opportunities for improving/strengthening the extent to which learning is active, real/purposeful, relevant, empowering in your programme
  • the barriers you face in efforts to strengthen key competencies for your learning, and ideas for overcoming those barriers.

"In a junior class, where once they may have stood up and said 'I made this' or 'I drew this picture', they are now starting to say 'I helped this person by doing this.' So the conversations that the juniors are having moved away from the actual task into key competency speak, which was happening in class."

Monitoring through noticing

Reporting to parents involves how students have progressed in relation to key competencies that are appropriate to the student. There are no separate sections on a report for reporting to parents on key competencies, but key competency progress is embedded into comments that are made, particularly those competencies that are most developed or need most work.


Ideas for noticing key competency progress:

Take time to closely observe your own students. In the business of teaching, important things can go unnoticed.

Ask students to give examples of when they used key competencies (in a real context).

Ask students to choose a friend who they focus on for the day to notice their learning. Talk together about the kinds of things that are important to look out for, when thinking about key competencies.

Keep notes of things students say and do that exemplify their competencies – use these to share with parents.

Create learning stories together.

Students keep an ongoing thinking book or journal that includes reflections on both the content and process of learning. This could be developed both at school and home, with entries made by both students and others.

Updated on: 26 May 2009