Why can’t school look like this?

The playground is covered in white and the children are pressed up against the window observing a new phenomenon. It’s hailing…

I know this because of a video posted on the regularly updated Facebook page, via which I observe my 16 month old grandson learning.

His environment can’t be called ‘child care’, as there is so much more than simply ‘care’ going on there, every minute of every day. It’s no coincidence that the Hebrew word ‘gannenet’ means both a preschool teacher and a gardener, since they both nurture those in their care and encourage them to grow!

The next batch of photos show a jug of hail being passed around so that all the children can observe and explore it. Some touch, some taste… each seems absorbed in their own discovery.

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On other occasions, the gannenet posts unedited videos or photos of both planned and spontaneous learning experiences, of free play and interactions between the children, who are aged from several months to three years. The learning is made visible to parents and grandparents via these instant updates. Sometimes she includes comments and observations, other times I observe for myself. Either way I find it fascinating!

I know this is nothing special to early childhood educators, but I’ve always taught older kids. When my own children were young, I was probably too busy being a mum to observe the process of their learning in the way a granny can, so I find what she shares appealing on a number of levels, beyond simple pleasure at watching Shai’s development.

Passion for learning…

I’m a teacher and a learner, passionate about learning in all its contexts, so I value this opportunity to observe inquiry learning at its best – provoking young children’s curiosity about the world around them and standing by while they explore and construct meaning for themselves.

Beliefs about learning…

It’s interesting and validating to see evidence of my school’s learning principles in these tiny, natural learners. Inquiry comes naturally. They construct meaning and apply their learning in different contexts. They learn in different ways. They are actively engaged, the learning is social and often collaborative. I believe I can even see them thinking about their learning🙂

Wondering about learning…

Observing the learning in this context makes me reflect on the typical school system and its limiting structures, designed for another era, within (or despite) which most of our students are expected to learn.

It makes me wonder:

  • Why can’t schools have multi-age classes, where kids at different stages can learn with and from each other?
  • Why are play, experimentation and exploration not valued more as ways of learning? (not just for little kids)
  • Why doesn’t schooling include a blend of planned learning, natural inquiry and free choice?
  • What if lessons stopped when opportunities for authentic learning occurred in the environment?
  • Why isn’t the process of learning shared regularly online, rather than via official reporting at the end of a semester?
  • Will there ever be a time when learning is assessed, not by comparative grades, but by teachers’ thoughtful observation and students’ ability to express their learning in multiple ways? (even in high school) 
  • What if all teachers in all schools valued curiosity and creativity more than compliance and completion of work? 

Thank you, Shai’s gannenet!

7 thoughts on “Why can’t school look like this?

  1. Yet another piece to add to my desktop “Ed Favorites”folder. This sounds like my dream school (all of it) and I wonder with all of the “education Reform” that has been going on, why are we afraid to embrace real education reform? What’s the worse that could happen?

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  2. Just makes good sense. It does worry me that many of us are still saying this and that parents seem to think that formal learning early matters. As a former Kindergarten – Year 1 teacher, I think many teachers need to experience learning from the grass roots.

    I guess change is occurring, its just like turning around an ocean liner.

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  3. Edna,
    So happy for your grandson to be in such an enriching environment and wish it for all kids. As a longtime educator, I wonder the same things you do. At this time, I do more than wonder….I do those things in my 4th/5th grade language arts classroom.
    And you know what? It is probably going to cost me my job. I can no longer fight the fight to teach the way I know is right. I am exhausted. I work so hard to share and have my students share what is happening in our classroom on a regular basis. Rarely does anyone read or comment.
    Many, not all but many, parents want old-school, rote memorization, everyone doing the same thing at the same time. They want controlled assessments so the kids can study (memorize) and get a certain grade. I value learning in its messy, unboxed, real, day to day glory. I value practice. I value everyone doing something different even though it is much, much more difficult for me as the teacher.
    Here are some of my thoughts about “messy” learning: http://edtechworkshop.blogspot.com/2014/11/personalized-learning-will-american.html

    Thanks for the great post!
    -Andrea

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  4. Thanks, Andrea. I’m so sorry that teaching the way you believe has turned out to be a struggle. Don’t give up!
    If you’d like an audience and comments for your class, how about connecting with grade 5 at my school? Two more weeks of summer break and then we’ll be back at school. Our grade 5s are starting the year with a unit exploring digital citizenship, with a focus on creating and connecting. They will be looking for collaborators!

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