Lost in the Learning

After reading Michael BondClegg’s post about timetables, which got the wheels turning in my mind again, I remembered that I had been meaning to write about two reflections by one of my students in response to the learning she had planned.

Students have been planning their days for a while now. Taryn helped me get the ball rolling, and it’s one of those things that has changed the face of our learning so much that we can’t go back; we don’t want to go back. It’s incredible how it has transformed the environment from ‘waiting to learn’ to ‘can’t wait to learn’. The benefits to the students’ time-management and reflection skills has been enormous, and it has also helped me identify better where, when and how to intervene to amplify the learning.

Anyway, here are the reflections:

March 5th 2018

This is my daily plan of today! So today I started with science, and I answered the Galileo questions, next i did some unit. After break and P.E. I planed to do some maths, but then I said my self today I was not in the mood for maths like everyday.😂 So I concentrated in genre writing, and wrote some poems. 

March 14th 2018

Today most of the time I did maths, because I wanted to improve my knowledge in time. I didn’t do the writing because I did science but, you know when you do something and then you get SO concentrated that you don’t remember what you wanted to do next? That, that happened to me. Next I want to do some writing, I didn’t do writing that much this week. 📝✍️

This is the line that got to me the most: ‘you know when you do something and then you get SO concentrated that you don’t remember what you wanted to do next? That, that happened to me.’

That’s kind of what Michael is talking about when we respect students’ choices, help them access deep learning, and not cut off their creativity.

First, it made me happy, I mean this would never have happened if I was making all the decisions. But then I realised that the students were still thinking of all the tasks they had to do. Not easy to get lost in your learning if you’ve got a list to tick off each day. Also, some students were disappointed if they didn’t do what they had planned. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen!

There are always bumps along the road…

So, recently students have not been planning their whole day from start to finish but, instead, they are setting goals for the week, deciding how they will achieve those goals and thinking about how they will know they have achieved them. At the end of the week, they reflect on whether they achieved their goals, what helped or hindered them, and set new goals for the following week. This has helped students avoid thinking that they must change task just because they decided that they would do so at a certain time. This tended to happen because that was what they had been doing for so long, and the planning sheet they were given was too similar to a regular timetable. Now, they have the option to add more goals and make adjustments throughout the week, and they refer to the planning sheet on a daily basis, but they needn’t be overly concerned by time constraints when they are ‘in the zone’.  My job hasn’t changed much from guiding them to balance their choices during the week and helping them develop their skills and understanding through conferencing with them and offering workshops tailored to their needs.

Now it’s enough for me to ask them what they want to learn, and off they go. Hopefully to get a little lost.

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Studio 5- Too Much Too Soon?

I want to be a rebel, but I feel like things are getting a little outside of my comfort zone.

(UPDATE: I realise that being out of your comfort zone is probably what being a rebel is all about!)

Don’t get me wrong, I’d bite your hand off to be pushed to innovate as much as Studio 5 has done, but I want to ask a few questions to understand how far we should go.

  • Is the last year of elementary school too late or too soon for the level of student agency that Studio 5 is proposing?
  • Is it too much to offer this level of freedom outside the Exhibition?
  • Can we not still offer voice, choice and agency whilst following a programme which offers a balance of disciplines, ie. by following each Transdisciplinary Theme?
  • Is there not enough space within each Transdisciplinary Theme in the PYP for students to still take control of their learning and direct it around the breadth and depth that each theme offers without students having to create a unit from scratch?

I get it, they should have choice etc, but are we actually doing them a disservice by exposing them to the multitude of subjects that exist? Can we still provide space for student agency even if students are not all planning their learning from scratch?

I’ve been wondering about what agency means and if a ‘choose anything you want to learn about’ limits the possible options students can have access to. Can a student find their passion or talent unless they explore every element of language, art, mathematics, science etc.? When are they ready to decide what they want to learn? How long does it take to expose students to every strand of every discipline?

Of course they’ll develop interests away from school and these should be respected and we should be aware of them, but are we redefining school as a place where learning about the world, even though you didn’t choose that topic, is a considered a opportunity missed?

Should we be asking how student agency can exist in a programme that still offers a spectrum of opportunity to learn from a predetermined list of disciplines, or should students be able to choose to learn anything they want at any time?

I think we should try first of all not to create a system which provides too much structure and predetermined lessons which do little more than provide an opportunity to test comprehension. That’s obviously not helping anyone develop curiosity or maintain what was there to start with.

Let’s provoke, challenge, question and make space for our students to inquire about the world around them, and let’s take the opportunity as their guides to open their eyes to the wonders of the world whilst allowing them to bring who they are to the table, too.

I’m imagining something like this: take the theme How the World Works. We want the children to be scientists, to observe, to question, to experiment, to challenge themselves. What if we provide them with provocations, stimulating images, stories about the universe, information about scientists, about the different strands available to choose for their inquiries and then see where their curiosity leads them. Sometimes you don’t know that you’re fascinated by whale sharks until you discover them. Sometimes you can’t marvel at the power of nature until you see it in action.

My point is to offer them these options at each grade level instead of focusing on one in particular each year; that way they can still develop deep conceptual understanding about how the world works whilst developing knowledge in the area that fascinates them. There’s no need to necessarily teach natural disasters in grade 3 and biodiversity in grade 4, for example.

We can let their curiosity take the lead whilst sparking the fire.

Studio 5 has created something which challenges the preconceptions of the school model and taken it into the stratosphere, but has it also given the students too much freedom of choice too soon? Have the students explored enough to know what they want to do? Has personalised learning gone too far?

I’m just wondering, of course. Any thoughts and opinions would be greatly appreciated.

UPDATE: After sleeping on these thoughts, I have also realised that I’m looking for a way to go as far as possible towards what Studio 5 is offering students, whilst imagining an easy transition model for others to follow towards student agency within the POI that we currently use. I know full well that I need the support of school leaders to make my dream a reality.)

Unlearning Everything

This is me scrambling around with new ideas, trying to get my thoughts in order.

Trying something new.

A ‘new’ way of learning. The kids take it in their stride. They’re amazing. I’m always inspired by them, but maybe it’s not so amazing at all, really. Kid’s are like that.

I’ve been working hard to develop more student choice and voice in my classroom, and greater student agency. I use these words now because they’re in vogue, but I don’t think they’re anything new or extraordinary; I just think we’d lost our way. But the resurgence of this focus, especially with the enhanced PYP, has strengthened my endeavour to create a learning environment and learning climate which respects and fully caters for each child’s interests, learning habits and curiosity. I knew that this was needed, and examples from educators sharing their practice online and supportive discussions across timezones have added wind to my sails.

It sometimes feels like it could collapse at any moment though. At times, recently, I’ve been waiting for the wheels to fall off. And there have been moments when I’ve hit a bump in the road and felt like it’s a complete failure; but that says more about me, to be honest. Each new hurdle has a tendency to get me down and I have to work hard at becoming the model of perseverance and growth mindset that I ‘preach’ to my students. Trying something new can sometimes be a little terrifying. To me. But the kids deserve it so I press on.

A desire to improve my practice has been helped immeasurably by the teachers in my PLN and my study of the Montessori method whilst my wife and I considered different schools as my daughters were nearing the age of pre school. I’m happy with the progress I have made, but being impatient and a perfectionist certainly hasn’t helped me achieve anything stress-free.

Learning about the Montessori method, and Reggio-Emilia during my first years as an art teacher, was my first cue to try and respect each child’s natural curiosity and interests, and Taryn Bond-Clegg’s inspiring examples of student agency have helped me push on in my own classroom. Until these discoveries, I tended to follow what I had experienced and what I was ‘supposed’ to do: plan every lesson for the week, mark everything with a green pen, written feedback for each piece of work, display finished work only. It feels like a century has passed since those times.

So, where do I go from here? I’ve found something miraculous and I want to share it with everyone, but not everyone will find it miraculous. As I said, trying something new is always a little terrifying.

One of the most difficult parts of change can involve unlearning everything that we’ve experienced or been taught. It requires a lot of letting go and trust, and this isn’t always easy. Often it involves turning everything on it’s head but I believe we can get there one step at a time. This is me learning to be patient. It’s my #oneword. Yeah, good choice, Wes, a nice easy one for you.

My experience has taught me that some teachers, students and parents often believe that the way they have always been teaching, learning and informed about learning is the ‘right way’, and helping them see a new possibility is scary for some and confusing for others. I was recently asked if this new approach I have been implementing- students planning their days and leading their inquiries- is really what parents signed up for; should I therefore not consider the clients’ (parents’) expectations?

Maybe I am doing that, and more, but it’s starting to look so different from what school has always looked like that it’s regarded with some concern. “You’re starting a revolution,” they said. I’ll be honest, the first time I let go and handed the harness to the students, I was reeling. It was messy, I didn’t have control. I hated it. And then I saw that it was what I had been searching for. I had trusted them and they pulled it off, but I didn’t know what would happen and I freaked out, worried that two days would have been wasted.

Don’t you want the students to be empowered, I ask? Why can’t you see how a learning expectation for all is unfair and detrimental to learning?

Unlearning everything is hard and terrifying sometimes.

One step at a time.