The Student Led Learning Walk
A school-wide learning collaboration
The Student Led Learning Walk (SLLW) is a highly interactive and social approach to learning in schools. At our school, where we have now held seven SLLWs, it has had a positive influence on many aspects of our learning and teaching, especially with respect to instructional strategies, the integration of technology, student achievement and well-being, parent/community engagement and leadership practices.
The process of the Student Led Learning Walk challenges educators to:
- Analyze pertinent school district data to set school improvement goals;
- Commit to working toward goals using 21st century competencies and high-yield strategies;
- Contribute relevant learning on a continuum in community;
- Communicate as a learning community; and
- Learn from and with one another.
How it works
The process begins with an area of focus or “big idea” that can engage the whole school, in our case from Kindergarten to Grade 8. Teachers are encouraged to scaffold inquiry-based learning tasks for students that include 21st century competencies such as collaboration, creativity, use of technology, and skilled communication, while strategically interconnecting curriculum. They are also asked to exchange ideas, collaborate, and share strategies and instructional practices related to the focus of the SLLW with their colleagues. Ideally, the learning community comes alive as teachers and students engage in rich, relevant and meaningful conversations.
A visible continuum of learning: Student artifacts of learning from each class are posted on a continuum through all the grades in a community space such as a hallway, gymnasium, community centre, etc. Learning trajectories are made visible through this community knowledge building. Everyone – students, teachers, support staff, administrators, parents, family members, friends and community partners – is invited to participate in varying capacities. In doing so, all participants have the potential to benefit from the discourses that arise from the displays. It is important to note that the SLLW is designed to be an iterative practice representing a snapshot of the learning process at a particular point in time.
Once all the artifacts of learning are posted, teachers walk with their students through the displays, partaking in deeper conversations about the learning. All participants have an opportunity to see their own work on a continuum and in the context of the school community. They also see what others have contributed and make relevant connections to their own knowledge and understanding of the ideas being shared. Reich argues that learners need authentic opportunities to construct knowledge by communicating with others, mindful of cultural contexts and their interrelated roles as agents, participants and observers.1 Inevitably, students learn from the work of other students, colleagues learn from colleagues and learning is de-privatized.
Descriptive feedback: “Decades of education research support the idea that by teaching less and providing more feedback, we can produce greater learning.”2 As students narrate and navigate through SLLWs, they are well-positioned to provide descriptive feedback, discuss next steps or provide suggestions for extending their learning. They have multiple chances to communicate, exemplify, refine, challenge or revise thinking. In our SLLWs students have consistently demonstrated genuine enthusiasm and interest in one another’s work.
As Wiggins notes, to be valuable, feedback must be “stable, accurate, and trustworthy.”3 The consistent use and application of exemplars and rubrics at the classroom level characterize a sound pedagogical approach. SLLWs provide school-wide contexts that allow teachers to look at student work together and become more consistent in their judgements. They also provide opportunities for students to be trained in providing, receiving and responding to descriptive feedback.
Students lead the learning: Once students have had an opportunity to “read the walls” and talk about their learning, they are encouraged to lead their families through the SLLW at their own pace, communicating their knowledge and understanding in their language of preference. Communicating to authentic audiences is not only an important element of knowledge building; it also builds parent engagement and familiarity with the work of the whole school. Learning goals and related success criteria are presented in a family-friendly manner as children talk about what they are learning and its relevance to their lives.
One of the SLLW’s greatest benefits is the manner in which parents, grandparents and families are able to delve into the curriculum with their children. Part of the procedure in developing an SLLW involves creating a brochure to give parents as they enter the SLLW space. This brochure describes the area(s) of focus and Ontario curriculum expectations (e.g. “measurement in the math curriculum”) throughout the grades. As well, the brochure suggests home tips for parents to extend the learning. The SLLW process respects parents as their child’s primary educators.
Participation and interaction: During SLLWs students are routinely seen adjusting their participation depending on their audience. Learners interact with peers, teachers, community members and subject matter in meaningful and relevant ways. A recent example included two students from a large urban school board in Grade 3, who demonstrated ownership of their learning by confidently sharing their knowledge and understanding from Kindergarten through to Grade 8 while leading the Director and Associate Directors of Education through the school’s Student Led Learning Walk. Students with exceptionalities are also invited to dialogue with other participants about their perspectives; patience and understanding of different-minded and differently abled individuals was evident. The SLLW space is owned by the participant-actors and their audience and their discourses emerge as a result of their relationship.
There’s a strong element of trust involved in this kind of learning experience. In this social context, participants must feel that they have a place in the community and must feel at liberty to talk about their learning. All participants must be open to accepting, responding, disputing or advancing the ideas and views of others. The SLLW creates a social context for teachers and students to see first-hand that their contributions truly matter, both in their own lives and in the lives of others. With each iteration, students also begin to take ownership of their learning in new ways. This is evident when students are seen engaging in exciting learning conversations with authentic audiences.
A new culture is emerging, a culture that places student voice, engagement and understanding at the heart of learning. Student Led Learning Walks strive to embrace students, educators, parents and community partners as active, integral and valuable participants in the learning experience at classroom and school levels, resulting in exponential benefits to all.
What participants have to say about SLLWs
“The biggest advantage I witnessed during our first SLLW was the cohesiveness and the collaboration among staff, students and parents… I was really impressed with the quality of work from all grades and the way the students interacted with one another, giving natural, relevant and helpful feedback.” – Kelly Cascone Brown, school principal
“One of our challenges has been to bring the parent community into our academic conversations since the majority of our parents speak little or no English. The Student Led Learning Walks were an amazing way for our students to speak to their parents in their first language to describe and share the learning we have done… For our Grade 6 student leaders who volunteered to host special guests, this was such a confidence-boosting and exhilarating experience! Our own staff marvelled at the obvious connections along the trajectory of learning.” – Debby Culotta, school principal
“We worked together and were able to connect with the thoughts and ideas of others. From Kindergarten to Grade 8, we shared our understandings of similar ideas.” – Gielene, student
“It is nice to show our community the work we did. It’s not just about tests and assignments, it’s about our real work.” – Joshua, student
“The beauty of this practice is the depth of learning and connections that students make to ideas and curriculum content. The benefits are twofold: firstly, students deepen personal learning, secondly, students work toward a common goal of sharing their knowledge, ideas and wonderings.” – Laura Monaco, teacher
“The authenticity with which children engage in an SLLW is remarkable. They speak with passion and purpose, but even more impressively, they speak with understanding…The Student Led Learning Walk is a practice that brings the curriculum to life and reinvigorates the values behind conversations.” – Jan Murphy, School Effectiveness Lead
“The Student Led Learning Walk was a terrific addition to the parent-teacher interview night in February this year. It provided a very visual representation of the learning continuum with respect to Data Management across all the grades from Kindergarten to Grade 8.… It was exciting to see the students’ enthusiasm for the work and hear their personal perspectives on the experience.” – Janet Ainslie, parent
En Bref - Le programme Student Led Learning Walk (SLLW) constitue une approche collaborative, innovante, sociale et pédagogique très visible favorisant l’engagement à l’échelle de l’école. Par sa structure organique, le programme s’adapte à la vie éducative des communautés d’apprentissage ainsi qu’aux objectifs spécifiques des plans d’amélioration scolaire. Le SLLW situe stratégiquement l’apprentissage des élèves en contexte, permettant aux éducateurs, aux familles et aux partenaires communautaires d’interagir dans un contexte où ils comprennent et soutiennent un continuum d’attentes d’apprentissage pour tous les élèves. La collaboration, un curriculum intégré, l’enquête, la créativité, les compétences de communication, la participation des élèves, la différenciation et l’utilisation des TIC sont intégrés à l’expérience d’apprentissage. Ce programme vise à inspirer une éthique d’excellence active ancrée dans une vision communautaire qui place l’opinion, l’engagement et la compréhension des élèves au cœur de l’apprentissage.
Photo: Courtesy Mirella Rossi
First published in Education Canada, September 2015
1 K. Reich, “Interactive Constructivism in Education,” Education and Culture 23, no.1 (2007): 19.
2 G. Wiggins, “7 Keys to Effective Feedback,” Educational Leadership 70, no. 1 (2012): 12-13.
3 Wiggins, 15.