Learning is not about covering the curriculum…

Are you a good teacher? Do you know your subject well, prepare lessons thoroughly and cover the curriculum efficiently? Do your students respect you? Is your classroom management effective? Are you organised and reflective?

Here’s the thing… It’s not about YOU.

Everything changes when you start with the child.

Starting with the child means building relationships and connecting personally with every learner. It means hearing his voice, knowing his story, caring about what matters to him and understanding how best he might learn.

Starting with the child means having a strong image of the child as creative, competent and capable of controlling her own learning. It means letting go, trusting the process and having faith in her capacity to lead her learning.

Starting with the child means understanding that the language you use has the power to affect his self image. It means using words purposefully to build self esteem, confidence and ownership, to support him in seeing himself as an empowered writer or mathematician, learner and human being.

Starting with the child means creating a sense of calm, a mindful context within which she can flourish and her learning can thrive. It means promoting positive emotions, providing opportunities for engagement in purposeful learning and helping her to achieve her dreams.

All of this and more was explored in our teacher led workshops at our ‘Start with the Child’ professional learning day last week…

Start with the child…

Start with the child, not the curriculum. Schooling is currently organised the wrong way around. The curriculum becomes the structure for the learning and is delivered via a timetable. Yet we know that every child is different so there cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to schooling. Learning and teaching should be designed around each child’s learning strengths and needs. In this way, the curriculum is the reference point, not the blueprint. 

~Greg Whitby

On the first day back after the summer break, we introduce our 2017 focus to our team of educators:

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Check in: Choose a word that describes one of your strengths and then one you would like to work towards.

Sharing the justification for our choices serves both as an ice breaker in the cross campus, multi-year level groups, and as a provocation to think about and value the diversity amongst us.

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A provocation: Watch till 2:38 and create a title that sums up the essence.

The video provokes a range of responses and lively conversation ensues. To what extent are we guilty?

Pre-thinking: Create an image that represents your first thoughts about the notion of starting with the child.

There are rich conversations about the possible connotations of the phrase and an exchange of ideas about what it might mean to us.

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An appreciative inquiry…

Discover: What are we already doing?

It’s important to acknowledge the many ways in which we already start with the child.  This activity creates a space for cross pollinating ideas and sharing practice.

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Dream: What are the possibilities for taking it further? 

Teachers are encouraged to imagine. What if…? How might we..? Could we…? How would we…?

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  • How do we ensure we cater for diverse needs and interests?
  • How might we rid ourself of the idea of a controlled classroom?
  • Imagine if we didn’t have grades and reports.
  • What if we could get rid of Naplan?
  • What if we had one free choice unit of inquiry every year?
  • What if the children wrote the curriculum?
  • What if we didn’t have timetables?
  • How might we increase opportunities for cross age learning?
  • How might we build a culture where all children value each other?
  • How can we ensure social and emotional wellbeing of every child?
  • What if there were no bells interfering with learning?
  • How might we help every child to believe in himself?

Design: What will you do?

We ask teachers to record something they will start working on right away.

What will you do? Try out? Think about? Explore? Change? How will you ensure that you start with the child?

Learning stories…

Me: What did you learn about yourself as a learner?

Student: I learn much more when I’m inquiring into something I choose for myself and am really interested in.

Me: What message do you have for teachers?

Student: We need more opportunities to explore things we care about. Having a choice and working independently makes us learn more.

Me: So it’s better than ‘school subjects’?

Student: My inquiry had lots of school subjects! Maths, Science, English, Art.

I had many such reflective conversations about learning with Year 6 students at the end of their PYP exhibition (expedition) process.  Each inquiry was unique, every journey different and their passion shone through in the ways they chose to tell their learning stories…
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Some focused more on what they had learned, others on how they had learned. They spoke of skills acquired and knowledge gained, about what had benefited their learning, who had influenced them, how they overcame challenges and action they had taken. In many cases, they referred to sketch notes of their journeys, as they talked…

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It was fitting to end the school year with such a powerful example of student ownership.
Our Year 6 learners had agency in what they chose to explore and how they chose to explore it. They chose with whom to collaborate and how to support each other. They chose how to express their learning creatively through art, film, dance, model-making…

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They chose how they might make a difference, what impact they want to make and what kind of action to take…
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Learning in the cloud…

‘Where do our families live?’ ‘Where do we go after school?’ ‘Where do we play and do homework?’

Aditya, Diya, Jayesh, Vishaka, Sairaj and the other children with whom I connect weekly via Skype in Granny Cloud sessions, are generating questions, the answer to which is ‘home’. I’ve written before about this Grade 6 class and their school and about the special opportunity I had to meet them in person. This session is a follow-up from last week’s introduction to children’s rights, for which I have googled a Marathi translation, before checking the accuracy with them – मुलांचे हक्क.

Are homes the same everywhere in the world? We look at images of homes, an igloo, a mud hut, a house on the water, a tree house and an underground house (Coober Pedy, Australia) and the children wonder who built these houses, where they are, who lives in them, what materials were used, how they are accessed. Aditya wonders if there is oxygen in the underground house. Atharva asks what would happen if the tree (in which the house is bulit) fell down. Gaurauv asks if I live in an underground house (it’s in Australia, after all) and I take my laptop to the window to show them the garden.

As always, I delight in the fact that the children who once stared blankly back at me from the screen, a strange looking woman talking a foreign language they did not understand, now chat confidently, ask questions, make jokes, think and laugh with me.

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The other group with whom I currently engage is at a government girls high school in urban Delhi, relatively close to the original office from which Sugata Mitra began his Hole in the Wall experiments, a school that has been involved in his experiments ever since.

Anshika, Priya, Shivani and the others choose the song ‘I have a Dream’ to sing for me and I ask what dreams they have. ‘I want to be a politician so that I can reduce poverty’, one girl says confidently.  One girl dreams of being a doctor, another wants to be a soldier to protect her people and a third hopes to teach the poor who don’t have access to education. Nazreen dreams of being a singer but her parents have forbidden it for religious reasons. Nikita dreams of being a famous singer too… so that she can make money and buy her parents a house and help other less fortunate people.

In the middle of one such session recently, I receive an unexpected call from a Skype number that’s been in my contacts for years. I’m incredulous to see Gouri, whom I have not seen for six years, since she engaged in Granny Cloud sessions as a lively teenager, in the rural village of Shirgaon, in Maharashtra.

Gouri has been selected by the BBC as one of 2016’s 100 inspiring women and camera men lurk discreetly in the background for a news piece as she and I re-engage after all this time. We talk about what we’re doing now and what we remember from the old days, in particular a series of interactions in which she and her classmates talked and sang with a group of Grade 6 students at my school in Australia. (I still recall their wonderful reflections from 2010!) This lovely, poised young woman is an impressive ambassador for the Granny Cloud project.

I marvel at the simplicity of an idea that is so powerful in its implementation. I wonder what Jayesh and Digvijay, Anshika and Farheen will be doing six years from now. And I imagine who they might become in the future…

Beautiful questions… and a whole school unit of inquiry

 ‘A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.’ Warren Berger ~ A More Beautiful Question.

This generally starts with a ‘why?‘ question which identifies the need for change, followed by ‘what if?‘ which imagines new possibilities, and moving onto the ‘how?‘ which leads to action.

A couple of years ago we asked ourselves: Why do we spend the first few weeks ‘setting the tone’ in the classroom and then start the first unit of inquiry? What if the first unit of inquiry at every year level helped create classroom culture and set the tone for the learning to take place? How might we go about that?

A recent visit to ISHCMC provoked us to ask: Why do we need a separate central idea for each grade level? What if we tried one overarching central idea for the whole school? How might a whole school approach influence school culture?

And then: Why reinvent the wheel? What if we adapted the central idea we saw at ISHCMC and tweaked the lines of inquiry from our previous units? How might feedback from other educators support the development of this idea?

And now…

PYP Trans-disciplinary Theme: WHO WE ARE

An inquiry into the nature of the self; beliefs and values; personal, physical, mental, social and spiritual health; human relationships including families, friends, communities, and cultures; rights and responsibilities; what it means to be human. (IB Primary Years Program)

Central Idea: Our choices define who we are as individuals and as a community.

Possible lines of Inquiry:

These are still to be refined with input from teachers, students and the world. (As our junior school learning spaces will be redesigned over the summer, all grades have a line of inquiry about how the new spaces will be used.)

Prep

  • How our choices help us build a learning community (responsibility)
  • Choices in how we express our learning (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning  (function)

Year 1

  • Choices that help us learn (reflection)
  • Choices in how we we interact with others (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning (function)

Year 2

  • How humans learn (function)
  • Choices we make as learners, individually and collaboratively (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning  (change)

Year 3

  • Choices that affect our learning community (causation)
  • How diversity enriches a community (change)
  • How we use our learning environment to support our learning community  (connection)

Year 4

  • How communication affects relationships (connection)
  • Choices in how we communicate – audience, purpose, context (causation)
  • How effective groups function (reflection)

Year 5

  • Personal values (perspective)
  • How our values influence the choices we make (connection)
  • The choices we make as learners (reflection)

Year 6

  • Active citizenship
  • Decision making strategies (reflection)
  • Our choices as individuals – personal interests and passions (perspective)
  • The impact of choices/decisions on other people, our community, the world (responsibility)

The central idea provides possibilities for authentic trans-disciplinary inquiry too. They might inquire into how our health and exercise choices affect us, how our choices affect others in games and sports, artistic and musical choices…

Teachers might inquire into how our choices define us human beings and as educators; the impact of our  choices as educators on the social, emotional and academic learning of our students; ways to increase opportunities for student ownership and agency…

And a few more beautiful questions of my own:

What if this was a year-long unit of inquiry?

What if, instead of a central idea, we had an overarching big question?

What if, instead of lines of inquiry, the learners came up with their own why, what if and how questions?

What if everything we did was about real learning instead of ‘doing school’?

10 ways to make learning meaningful…

Whether your students are completing assignments, inquiring into areas of their interest, covering curriculum or exploring their passions, to what extent does it feel (to you, as much as to them) as if they are simply complying and ‘doing school’?

How can we extend learning ‘beyond the project’ and ensure it’s a powerful learning experience, rather than a task for school? (Hint: the answer does not lie in assessment criteria, rubrics or grades.)

1. Do you LISTEN more than you talk?

2. Are the learners really inquiring, in the broadest sense of the word?

Look at the description of inquiry from Making the PYP Happen. Are they doing most of these things? Or just researching?

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways.

3. Will this inquiry be worthwhile? Will the learners experience challenges and figure out how to overcome them?

Support them in feeling comfortable in the ‘learning pit’?

4. Is the inquiry concept driven? Are the learners doing more than just finding facts and information?

  • Are they exploring and developing an understanding of big conceptual ideas.  
  • Are they looking through the lens of one or more key concepts?
  • Can they identify big ideas and apply them in other contexts?
  • Can they articulate conceptual understandings developed along the way?

5.  Do the learners have ownership? Will this inquiry help them grow, not just in knowledge of content, but as learners?

Some questions to support their ongoing reflection:

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6. Are the learners thinking critically and creatively about the content they explore?

A variety of less common thinking routines that can extend their thinking:

Think Puzzle Explore
Circle of viewpoints
Generate Sort Connect Elaborate
Tug for Truth
Parts Purposes and Complexities
People Parts Interactions
Think Feel Care
Imagine if…

7. Are the learners able to think about how their inquiries impact on other people? Will they be motivated to take action?

8. Will they explore ways of extending the learning beyond the classroom?

  • Look for opportunities for collaboration across the year level.
  • Extend it to other year levels. (Can older learners create for an audience in lower grades? Can learners seek feedback or support from another class or year level?)
  • Encourage interactions with primary sources within and outside outside of school.
  • Use your network and theirs to help extend the learning to the broader community and the world.
  • Use Google docs, Twitter and blog posts to reach out globally. (click links for examples)
  • Connect with experts face to face or via Skype. (eg Skype in the Classroom)

9. Will there be opportunities to identify problems and issues and develop solutions?

For some learners, the design thinking process might be useful:

10. Will learners have opportunities to express their  learning meaningfully and creatively?

How will learners present, represent and/or share their learning? Will they choose to express their learning through a creative medium such as art or film? Will they paint or sculpt? Will they write poetry? Set it to music? Do an expressive dance? Create a stop motion animation? Build a model? Develop an app? Design a website? Write a book? Organise a debate? Start a blog? Make a speech? Create a campaign? Lead a workshop? 

Will they do, say, think, feel, want… or be something different as a result of this learning? 

Looking closely and exploring complexity…

A fan, a mobile phone, an umbrella, a computer monitor, a toaster… We ask the kids to engage in the Parts, Purposes, Complexities thinking routine.

Examine the object carefully and record the following:

What are its parts? What are its various pieces or components?

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What are its purposes? What are the purposes for each of these parts?

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What are its complexities? How is it complex in its parts and purposes, the relationship between the two, or in other ways?

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Now take apart your object and record further parts, purposes and complexities that you discover…

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There is total engagement, excitement and a sense of purpose. Groups form naturally based on curiosity and everyone works collaboratively and inclusively. And it’s fun!

Their reflections are insightful:

“Everything around me is fascinating in its own way and is made in order to achieve its own goal”

“All parts are really important and small parts can be really important. We didn’t realise till we took it apart that one little screw was holding the entire umbrella together. We have to look deeper to discover amazing things”

“There are so many more parts than just what you see. This activity kind of reflects people. We can see a lot on the outside but the parts on the inside make us function. There is always more on the inside..”

“This tells me things are not as simple as they seem and not to accept information about something, look deep see what else is part of this object or person.”

“This shows I can always dig deeper and go further in my learning. I wonder if everything in my inquiry is useful”

“This helps us with problem solving and helps us create. If you can visualise how something is made and how it works, you can make it.”

“I realise now that everything has a purpose and there might be more than you can see from the outside… it makes me feel more curious about things and appreciative of many little parts inside one object.”

And that’s why I make my mistake…

Because their reflections seem so insightful, I make the assumption that they will readily be able apply this to abstract contexts. I ask them to think about an object, an idea or a system in their current inquiries and use the thinking routine to look more closely and explore the complexities.

I miss the point entirely, which is to get them to SLOW DOWN their thinking. Next time I will go all the way back and take one step at a time. We need to start from here:

Examine the system or idea carefully and record the following:

What are its parts? What are its various pieces or components?

What if education was about improving the world?

12-year-old E is passionate about changing the world. While some of her peers struggle to extend their personal interests into deeper or broader explorations for the PYP expedition, E wrestles with how to narrow her focus down.

She cares deeply about everything. Her ‘top 10 list’ includes a range of human rights and environmental issues and she can’t decide which to explore further first. I ask if she’d like to begin by identifying a change she could work on that could make a difference at school, before taking on the world, and she likes the idea.

E quickly sees a way to take this further. She will ask the children of the world (well, those she can get access to!) how they would change their schools and how they would change the world. Analysing the data will answer a range of questions about which she’s wondering and might help her decide on her next move.

Can you spread the word to help her reach a broader audience? Here’s her survey, if you can share it with young people you know. This is E’s investigation, but I’m looking forward to seeing the responses too.

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I’m intrigued by an idea in the first paragraph of Marc Prensky’s book:

Our current education is wrong for the future not because we haven’t added enough technology, or because we haven’t added enough so-called 21st century skills, or because we don’t offer it to everyone equally, or even because we haven’t tried hard to incrementally improve it. Our current K– 12 education is wrong for the future because it has— and we have— the wrong ends or goals, in mind. Up until now, education has been about improving individuals. What education should be about in the future is improving the world – and having individuals improve in the process. ~ Education to Better Their World by Marc Prensky.

It seems that while encouraging E in her exploration, I’ll be pursuing my own parallel inquiry…

How are all learners’ needs for catered for?

Have you thought about whether or not all learners needs are catered for, as highlighted in an earlier post?

Which of these images resonates with your perspectives on inclusion, differentiation or simply catering for every learner’s needs? 

Multiple different entry points, well planned in advance, to allow access for every learner?

Or one broad, interesting, open-ended provocation that allows each learner to go to a different place…?

Image by Dominic Walter

 

How do you cater for all learners’ needs?

Do you plan for differentiation in advance of the learning? Or do you wait and see what the provocation reveals?

Do you teach first, then observe what learners need? Or do your learners have a go, before you step in to teach or support?

Are there opportunities for all learners to engage in a complex, meaningful problem in different ways, depending on interest, ability and preference?

Does agency and ownership allow learners to learn at their own pace, seeking support when they need it?

Does an inquiry stance in itself ensure differentiation and inclusion?

Related post: 10 ways to differentiate learning.