It takes a while before the children think of putting paper into this old typewriter to make it do something…
They wonder if the flat disks beside it are the films for the old camera!
They’re exploring a mini museum of historical artefacts on display in the library.
In another room, students use Google images to discover and examine ancient maps of the world and compare them with current ones. Next door, there are all kinds of images from the past and present as a stimulus for discussion. In the last room, the students are engrossed in investigating historical headlines. Every twenty minutes they move, so as to experience all four activities by the end of the session.
The task is the same each time. What do you notice? What do you wonder?
This is a series of provocations to get the learners thinking about history. They will be inquiring into how we find out about the past and how changes through time have shaped the present.
By the time they get back to their classes to pull the different learning experiences together, they are immersed in their new unit of inquiry, making connections, asking questions and ready to inquire. No need for teachers to ‘front load’.
The learners are curious, ready to uncover and discover for themselves.
Are the teachers ready to let go?
In a PYP school, the culmination of primary school learning is the exhibition unit, in which students carry out an extended, collaborative inquiry. The exhibition synthesizes the essential elements of the program: knowledge, trans-disciplinary skills, concepts, attitudes and action. It’s an opportunity to celebrate their learning and share it with the whole school community.
As leader of a PYP workshop on the exhibition recently, I wanted to ensure that participants thought deeply about the purpose of the exhibition, to support them in formulating their opinions and developing concrete plans for how it would look in their own schools.
Participants shared their what, how and why questions in groups and we set these aside to be addressed during the coming three days, including this one:
‘What should we avoid?’
Simon Sinek’s golden circle served as a trigger for initial thinking. It’s worth watching his TED talk, if you haven’t seen it, but the essence is that great leaders and organisations (teachers and schools!) start with ‘why’.
I shared my school’s journey: Our first PYP exhibition three years ago, focused on the ‘what’ (forms, sheets, protocols and guides to support us)… and we thought it was wonderful! Our most recent exhibition started from the ‘why’ and was all about the learning. The process became much more important than the product. The exhibition itself was an opportunity for students to really talk about their learning, with a choice of one means of presentation (a painting, a poster, a movie, an artifact…) replacing the mass of paper we used to have on display and discard the following day.
Keeping the ‘why‘ in mind throughout the workshop, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ fell into place and the three days flew by. We explored possibilities, deepened understandings, aired concerns, shared experiences, discussed issues and made plans…
On the last day, I asked the participants to answer their own question-
What should we avoid?
- over complicating
- anything that isn’t purposeful
- teachers controlling the learning
- focusing on product and polish at the expense of learning
While it’s clear that the teachers will have to deal with the demands and expectations of their specific school contexts, I could see that my dual messages of ‘keep it simple‘ and ‘start from why‘ had been internalised.
Back at my own school, the Year 6 Learning Team Leader and I have prepared a proposal to move our own exhibition to the end of the school year as a trial. We would like to replace the traditional, contrived graduation ceremony with a celebration of authentic learning. Graduation would consist of a simple student-created opening ceremony, followed by the exhibition: our students presenting all that they have learned, displaying the attributes of the learner profile, demonstrating their skills and sharing their knowledge with pride.
Are the powers that be ready to shift the graduation focus away from product and polish?
‘Language is a vehicle for communication and self expression.‘
It’s a starting point for a central idea for a new inquiry unit in How We Express Ourselves and no-one in the room is excited. The draft central idea seems like a statement of the obvious and teachers are concerned that it might not have the potential to invite student inquiry. We can see opportunities for the development of skills and outcomes in our English scope and sequence, exposure to Aboriginal culture, obvious links with second language learning and wonderful ways to incorporate the arts. If we can come up with possible directions and some great provocations, we’ll be happy to let the learners lead the way…
… Inquiry teachers are not afraid to let go.
It’s the pre-thinking stage and we have yet to explore the potential by investing some time in our own inquiries. An interesting way to provoke initial thinking is via google images. A quick search for ‘language’ generates pictures of different kinds of scripts, people communicating, sign language charts, ancient writing, translations, symbols and signs. We’re off on our own tangents, considering different perspectives, exploring in different directions. My personal inquiry has already taken me to Steven Pinker, Mark Pagel and the National Geographic Enduring Voices project…
… Inquiry teachers are inquirers themselves.
The range of questions teachers generate themselves is an indication of what’s possible… What is language? How can we communicate without language? How do writers use language effectively? How is spoken language different from written language? How would the world be different if everyone spoke the same language? How has language evolved over time? How does slang develop and evolve? How does body language impact on communication? How do gestures communicate meaning in different cultures? Why do some languages not have words for concepts we have in English? How does language shape culture? How does culture shape language? Why are many languages becoming extinct?
… Inquiry teachers are more interested in questions than answers.
We consider the conceptual focus. We might explore language through the lenses of function, connection and change. The big ideas (related concepts) might include communication, expression, culture, systems, relationships, adaptation, literature…
A tentative articulation of the desired conceptual understandings looks like this:
- We use language to communicate and express thoughts, ideas and feelings. (function)
- Language is a dynamic system that evolves over time. (change)
- Language and culture are interdependent. (connection)
… Inquiry teachers focus on conceptual understandings, not just facts.
A range of provocations that involve slang and text speak should pique students’ interest, before taking the learning further…
… Inquiry teachers help learners make personal connections, so that learning is relevant and engaging.
Not everyone is excited (yet). We’re on the lookout for some inspiration relating to the big ideas so let me know if you have anything to share!
I recently co-presented a workshop with an educator who is very different from me. She is both experienced and knowledgeable, but our beliefs about teaching and learning don’t coincide, so the planning process involved much disagreement and compromise.
According to the dictionary:
Collaboration is ‘working together’, but is ‘working together’ necessarily collaboration? Or does true collaboration require specific conditions?
As I prepare for a coming PYP workshop, I find myself content to be presenting alone. Using Simon Sinek’s golden circle principle, I start from the ‘why’, rather than the ‘what’. My approach is based on my beliefs about learning and my presentation has the stamp of my personal style.
I’m still collaborating.
Input from my global learning network adds another dimension via blogs, Skype and Twitter. I have invited other experienced educators to share their perspectives, requested permission to include others’ examples, sought opinions, discussed ideas with and gathered resources from my global community of educators.
As recently stated so beautifully by a group of 8 year olds inquiring into community:
Year 3 GBH
Thanks to my PLN for contributions to the cartoon. What else do you think should be added?
A brief letter to young parents about choosing a school…
Dear Mums and Dads,
I’ve heard from a few of you lately about the schools you have chosen for your children. I was a little taken aback to hear that you did this by checking online for the schools’ Naplan scores.
What matters to you?
An environment where…
- your child’s curiosity is nurtured and inquiry is encouraged?
- her unique abilities and preferences are taken into account?
- social and emotional needs are addressed as much as intellectual and physical?
- your child feels secure and valued, able to take risks and build resilience?
- learning is engaging and purposeful, relevant to the future in which she will live?
- creativity and initiative are valued over mere compliance?
- understanding, empathy and compassion are fostered?
- your child learns to be reflective and understand herself as a learner?
- education looks different than it did when you went to school…?
Naplan scores won’t reveal any of these.
PS. Try visiting the school, talking to students, teachers and parents and asking questions about the things you really care about…