6 Journey 6 Shifts in perceptions of roles

Issue 114, page 25
November 2013
Ian Mitchell Pedagogical Purposes Group, Monash University

Some important elements of metacognitive learning do require students and teachers to take on some new roles; to put this another way, there are significant limitations in what can be done if students do not understand and support the sorts of roles the teacher is intending. For example, if students are to restructure strongly held views, they cannot just wait for a teacher answer to memorise; they need to engage in active retrieval and reflection on their views, moreover they need to explicitly understand what this means and support its value.

As a second example, a number of the changes in roles relate to students, in different ways, taking more responsibility for their learning, this involves extra effort and perceived risk and, once again, students need to understand and support this. We now enter what are significantly more sophisticated challenges of classroom change. Much worthwhile progress can be made without achieving much in changing studentss conceptions of how they can learn, of how teachers can teach and building support for significant changes in perceptions of roles, but experienced PEEL teachers have found they can achieve much more when they do this and develop year-long agendas in this area. They begin early in the school year, but expect that significant change will be gradual and will take some time.

New roles involve new learning behaviours such as suggesting alternative ways of doing a task (Journey 1) often involve students and teachers using a language for learning (Journey 3). Many teaching procedures stimulate or scaffold thinking and/or learning behaviours associated with new roles (Journey 2) such as Ask three before me being associated with the role of students being a resource for each other. Many procedures also involve the teacher-taking a different role such as not being the source of all knowledge.

Shifts in (articulated) perceptions of roles related to collaboration will, to some degree follow the development of the understandings, skills and trusts in this area (Journey 5).

Changes in perceptions of roles do not flow from a single experience that did involve different roles. Being aware of and able to talk about changes in roles requires multiple experiences of reflecting on what has occurred during an activity, lesson or unit (Journey 4).

Some ideas:

6.1  Students build very narrow, conservative and passive conceptions of the roles of teachers and students. These do not change quickly

This was one of our early and most important lessons from the first year of PEEL.  Once we became aware of the sorts of changes in conceptions required, it is much easier to set out to change them.


6.2  Crudely, the changes in roles can be put in two groups, one is that students become

 more intellectually active


Changes in perceptions of roles flow from changes in conceptions of learning and teaching. The table below details some changes we have found important about students becoming more intellectually active using this distinction


Conceptions of learning and teaching

Consequences for roles

Learning is about permanent changes in understandings, not short term memorizing for assessment

Students should think about the reasons for particular answers being right or wrong   (when this is the case) and the reasons for the steps in algorithms

Studentts beliefs are relevant and likely to be useful

Students should be prepared to retrieve and reflect on their views and to share and explain/defend them

Students can learn from each other, either because some have relevant expertise, or because their ideas and contributions can be useful

Students see each other as a resource

Students engage in social construction of knowledge,


Discussion is real work

Students see that they all should contribute

Different lessons/activities are not isolated, unconnected events, but are linked by an agenda of key ideas and skills

Students seek to link different lessons and activities to each other and to key ideas and skills, this means thinking about the purpose of activities

Assessment can have a formative function

Students seek to learn from what they do on assessment tasks


6.3  The other group of changes relates to the phrase students take more responsibility

for their learning.


By itself, this is too broad to be useful to either teachers or students, the table below attempts to make what this means more specific.


Conceptions of learning and teaching

Consequences for roles

Students become more independent of the teacher

getting unstuck

Students become more independent of the teacher

directing their own learning in another context

Students become more independent of the teacher

planning part of what they should do


Teacher as not always the source of knowledge, but often a facilitator

Students can often work out some or all of the content for themselves (PEEL principle 2)

The teacher s comments should not always be accepted uncritically, challenging them can be useful

The teacher is often in a learning situation about different aspects of planning what to do and interpreting what has happened

Students share thoughts about how things are going



6.4  Set out to build a learning community with shared trusts, educational values,understandings of quality learning and a sense of shared intellectual control (PEEL

principle 1)

The sense of community matters. Talking at students about how they should learn has major limitations. Sam Scheele develops classroom rules (perhaps expectations is a better word)

by starting with a focus on building agreed values: rules, norms and roles then flow from these.

6.5  Journey 6 is a hugely important issue of teacher chang -  if you do not want to see a change in roles then nothing much will happen

Quite reasonably, teachers also have strongly held conceptions  of the roles of teachers and students and teacher buy in needs to be genuine.

6.6  Work from and so use and value students ideas and questions

Working from and using students views and questions provides concrete experiences of changes in roles

6.7  GLBs are not roles themselves, but are commonly manifestations of roles and can be discussed in that way


For example, there are several GLBs associated with working from students prior views in Science such as offering and defending their ideas and making links to their personal lives. . As students become used to these behaviours being promoted and used, it is possible to contrast a situation where the teacher is being extremely responsive to what students say and believe and the. students are therefore exerting considerable influence in what is discussed and how, with an approach where the teacher just announces and explains the correct science. The student role in the second approach is to listen and passively accept (albeit with little or no actual rethinking). The students   role in the first approach is far more intellectually active and independent. Mirror image statements can be made about the changes in teacher roles.

6.8  Good debriefing sometimes includes broadening students  perceptions of when they are doing work

One example is that many students do not regard discussion as real work. By bringing out how much was learnt in a successful discussion, as well as the teacher and student behaviours that made it work, a teacher can help develop shifts in perceptions of roles.

6.9  Student change requires change in attitudes (as well as in conceptions, behaviours and trusts); look for opportunities to highlight the value of changes in roles

To continue with the above example, students may changes their conceptions that discussions where they are actively involved are real work, but not support making all this extra effort. It is well worth getting students to think about shifts in attitudes as well as in conceptions when debriefing on an activity that they are likely to have enjoyed or felt was successful.

6.10 If you want changes in these areas, then look for activities that can promote them and then build in a language for learning about them

Being aware of the kinds of changes in conceptions of learning and perceptions of roles makes it much easier to construct episodes that are likely to be helpful in the change process.

6.11  If you want students to be more independent as learners, look for tasks that give them the opportunity to do this this and then stand back and give them space to make mistakes 

This is an example of 6.10. It can be hard to not intervene when you can see students are taking a path that you know will be unproductive or not very efficient, but sometimes students need to experience mistakes in order to avoid them

6.12 Getting students to see you as a learner can be useful

This helps break down the perception of the teacher as all knowing expert. There have been two broad ways that this has been done, one is by doing a task (such as planning or editing apiece of writing and talking aloud about the often provisional thinking that you are engaged in. The other is when teachers share their uncertainties about how a lesson may go, or what they have learnt from something that did not go entirely as planned.

6.13  It is easy for teachers to lose track of how far they have come with a class, maybe the same applies to students

We found in the first two years of PEEL that teachers could forget how far they had come with a class as activities and student behaviours that were new and exciting in March hadbecome part of the classroom routine by July (without losing any of their value). Hence, without going back to their records (including journals) they underestimated what had occurred. It seems likely that the same could be true for students, but as yet we have not thought about how to deal with this.

Relevance to later journeys

Changes in perceptions of roles are important for Journey 7 - understanding the teachers purposes. For many students, their perceived role is to complete the teacher set tasks, not to think about the role of these tasks in developing understandings of key ideas and skills. Shifts in perceptions about these roles help Journey 8. Building increased decision making and independence (Journey 10) requires some shift in perceived roles. Part of this is recognition of the need for active monitoring (Journey 9) and Journey 6 helps students see reasons for investing the energy and extra effort required for this.