Punk Learning

“This is hard core punk learning not fucking free form jazz”

It was a phrase which caught my attention while listening to @Geomouldy deliver his talk on ‘Agency and Ownership’ at ULearn15. (I blogged about it here when reflecting on #CENZ15).

It was subtle (not the phrase but the way Steve shared it in his talk!)… but it got me in a FLAP enough to want to ‘look into’ the origin of it!

What I uncovered was this…


I have read MANY things over the last 3 years through my journey into Future Focused pedagogy. This book was started and finished over 3 nights (read in between school, after school sport practices, writing reports, and other general whanau duties).

This book spoke my language – and although I sort of liked PUNK music back in the day (I did have a Ramones record, my second boyfriend was into Punk and introduced me to Sid Vicious tracks, I liked listening to The Clash’s “Should I stay or should I go”, and was somewhat interested in our Kiwi punk from the likes of Straitjacket Fits, The Clean and The Bats but especially Look Blue Go Purple’s “I don’t want you anyway”) …

I was by NO means PUNK or into any sort of chaos!

Crikey… how things can change… I can now say I have a punk attitude and ALWAYS look for different ways to do things.

What I LOVED about this book was that it is STRAIGHT UP! It was PUNK! Even down to the ‘greasy, smudged, grotty-looking’ pages which I kept thinking I had spilt something on!

I loved how each ‘chapter’ or ‘section’ cleverly used PUNK LYRICS to set the scene.


I loved how quotes from famous (or infamous) punk musicians are seamlessly integrated into the text.


I loved its ‘interactivity’ – sprinkled through the book were pages where we could ‘do things’ to excite our punk mindset!

(could I risk doing this for real?)


I loved how the book was not full of research data and statistics – it was full of quotes, arguments and thoughts from real punk learners.

quote#7 quote#6


It spoke of REAL mindsets which need to be changed before any sort of punk learning can take place.

It talks about constantly questioning established strategies – making sure you base your argument on sound pedagogy. The list of these established strategies (pg. 88 & 89) is interesting – some of these things I used to think were the way things had to be done because that is the way they had always been done.


NOW, my thinking is more ‘what is a different more memorable way’ to have my kids learn about…

I am big on ‘VIBE’ … and I love describing  MOMENTS as ZEITGEIST…

… those moments you ‘feel’

ZEITGEIST has German origins and it translates as “time-spirit” or ‘the spirit of the time’.

Zeitgeist moments in the classroom are shared on page 91. I can say  @MrsThorogood and I have had MANY this year and we are possibly moving from ‘punk learning’ into ‘hard core punk learning’! I look forward to another year when we can call ourselves not only ‘connected’ but


What we HAVE to work on now (and I have blogged about this many times) is creating some ZEITGEIST MOMENTS in our school! Some examples on pg 92 & 93.

THIS might be harder and take longer. Like the book suggests, it will involve convincing, strange looks, and people whispering about it…but…

We are PUNK and we need to be resilient – we need to develop a ‘belligerant stance’ pg. 91.


I LOVED this section … ‘Smash it Up’.

Learning VERSUS Performance.

I have come to understand over the years what learning really looks like and sounds like in a classroom. I am ashamed to admit that kids in my class might not have been REALLY learning before – just ‘performing’ and making ‘progress’ towards a destination set by someone other than themselves.

I HATE that thought.

True PUNK LEARNING is messy, it is not quiet, it is not linear, it does not have everyone doing the same thing at the same time, it is not an exercise book full of ‘work’ that a teacher has ‘marked’, it does not have to be planned, it is personalised, it is just in time.

Page 108 shares requirements of a great lesson from the perspective of a teacher who is focused on activities and tasks rather than pedagogy… (interesting to see data driven planning listed)


On the following page is a list of requirements of a great lesson from a teacher who has pedagogy as the focus…


This list is a great reminder of what it is to engage and motivate so our kids are truly ready for learning.

Teaching is an ART. It is a process which needs to be crafted and re-crafted.

“The whole ideology of punk learning is fuelled by the burning desire to do things differently, but also do them right for the right reasons” Pg. 112.


“Learning is too complex to hang numbers on” pg. 120.

Away from the numbers is where I am free too. Numbers do not tell us anything about what an individual knows. They certainly don’t tell us what a learner is capable of. They are one moment in time. They place kids in boxes where they are covertly (or overtly) sorted. Whether intentional or not, we create student hierarchies in our schools because of how we place them in boxes but also through the way we interact with them because of it.

I have the classic example this year. We have a truly intrinsic ‘punk’ learner in our class (we have many but I am thinking of one in particular) who does not ‘get the right numbers’ but who has embraced our ‘nearly hard core punk’ learning pedagogy (we call it LearningMYway) and has likely done more self-directed, creative learning than those students receiving the ‘Principal’s Certificate for academic success. This guy of ours manages himself and his learning, embraces connectedness, has LEARNT to think for himself, is creative in how he shows his learning, and uses social media as a way to reflect and share. He came to us having to ‘unlearn’ or ‘unthink’ the way learning had always been for him. He had to learn about Growth Mindset and learn that mistakes are when true learning is taking place. He is a PUNK LEARNER and deserves a Principal’s Certificate for this regardless of the fact that ‘his numbers don’t add up’… but he isn’t getting one be cause the criteria in the box doesn’t mention the punk learning attitude and skills he has developed….just numbers:(

On pages 123 and 124 are some ways we can assess learning which does not require numbers … “just a few safety pins!”

The student created PUNK LEARNING RUBRIC is for the kids to assess and improve how well they are going. An idea to take and have our own kids co-construct something similar for our classroom.


Towards the end of the book @Totallywired77 shares the essence of authentic PUNK learning; remembering that we don’t all have to be doing it the same


being truly punk means we don’t actually care that what we are doing IS punk … it just ‘feels right’ … it is ZEITGEIST.


An important suggestion is made on page 140 as ONE way to inspire our kids to be more imaginative when it comes to their learning.

Incite your kids to ‘unthink’.

This is definitely something which I have noticed is important to push kids to do. When my learners come to me, they have had 6 years of schooling  – punk learning means many kids have to ‘unthink’ the way they have previously thought about learning and also ‘unthink’ what they have thought about THEMSELVES as LEARNERS. Numbers and grades have told many kids that they just can’t do things or are no good at particular things.

I have seen this in my class. Kids who have had to learn the skills of self-direction because I am not going to TELL them what to do all the time, I am NOT going to answer questions that they can think about the answers for themselves, I am not going to insist everyone finishes things at the same time (but this doesn’t mean you should fluff around), I AM going to insist you find your own way to show your learning – yes you can be creative and artistic and be different to others, I am not going to spoon-feed you when you can find things out for yourself, I AM going to help you believe that you can do it – sometimes it might not be ‘YET’ – but you can.

Why don’t more teachers embrace punk learning?

The hardest thing I think for many teachers is the idea of giving over control to the students. When you really THINK about this and ask yourself… are teachers REALLY in control in the classroom? I think in a lot of classrooms, the kids have the control. It might not be over their learning but they do control the zeitgeist. Another thought I have had recently is this… ‘Can wanting control mean you actually lose control?’ As @Totallywired77 suggests on page 143 “Embracing the struggle between authoritarianism and freedom is what gave punk its authenticity and drive”. I like to think of this differently now… we are all learners rather than teacher and students so we can create a culture where we are all on a level playing field.

Another reason is that we go through College having it DRUMMED into us that planning every single detail of a lesson is a necessity. We have learnt that having a plan means we are organised. However, having previously used lesson plans, guided choices, pre-organised resources, and desired outcomes written by someone else will not produce creative learners and student ownership. We need to accept that Punk learning will be chaotic, it will look different. Punk learning needs to allow student thinking to be slightly out of reach and this will mean when they fail they will be encouraged to try again… they will learn ‘grit’.

“Don’t limit or inhibit your students’ opportunities by playing it safe” pg. 152

I have a long way to go in my journey of providing true hard core punk learning where kids have complete control over what they are doing. I know how to create the vibe, I know the culture which punk learning needs to embrace. I use myself as a model for punk learning. PROVIDING some choices (some created by me) was a start but it is WAY more than this. On reflection I think I would call this ‘nearly punk learning’ rather than true hard core punk learning. Having the kids make their own choices about what they NEED to learn is a next step. This requires us to TRUST that our learners can do this. Can they? I know many can because I have seen it. But I also know many need guidance to do this because this is ‘unlearning’ what has gone before – the teacher always telling them what they should be doing. SO many kids still EXPECT this and it is a ‘learned habit’ which is hard to break down. This is where creating the right ‘zeitgeist’ is crucial. A vibe in the room where kids know risk-taking is important, where failure is only seen as part of the learning journey, and where THINKING for themselves IS how their journey needs to continue. This quote really is where it is at for me…

“Discipline needs to be discovered not imposed” pg. 149

We MUST pass over the management of self to the kids. THEY need to discover discipline not have the teacher impose expectations.

This type of control is not punk.

Discovering discipline will not be easy for some. It will not be easy for teachers to watch kids discover it either because some won’t discover it at the start, some will discover it sporadically, some will not discover it by the time you want them to discover it …BUT … we must step back and let them try. Let go of disciplining and help the kids discover it for themselves.

So to finish…


Remember, as @Totallywired77 says in the book “punk is a frame of mind rather than a particular genre of music” (pg. 16). So “go and kick your own bins over” (pg.7)… what are you going to do to let the kids be centre stage, to encourage DIY learners?

Kids need teachers who are punk learners too.

 I will apologise for the use of inappropriate language in this post … but it had to be included because this is a punk post about punk pedagogy and punk learning… and to be honest … i don’t fucking care!








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