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?

Imagine a library…

The check in for our meeting is ‘Imagine a library…’

We talk about libraries we have seen in different places and in our heads. Libraries that challenge prior notions of what a library might be. Tranquil libraries with waterfalls and vertical gardens, places to read, to imagine and simply to be. Interactive libraries that buzz with activity, places to gather, to socialise, to communicate. Wonder filled libraries that provoke curiosity to explore, to research, to find out about the world. Creative libraries, with equipment and inspiration to film, to make, to animate, to create…

Next we look at our learning principles, our shared beliefs about how children learn, and consider how practice should align with beliefs. How will these beliefs influence the way our library looks and the role of the librarian?

The new library at our junior campus will be an open plan, central hub, with access from all sides. There will be a decentralisation process… The younger children will have mini libraries in their own learning areas. Teacher resources will move from the library to the planning area. These shifts will not only ensure access at point of need, but free up space for a different vision. There are organisational problems to solve, logistics to work out, perceptions to be changed and understandings to be unlearned.

And it’s an incredibly exciting time to re-imagine possibilities…

Image credit: Deviant Art – EdCamp65RHH

Change…

We started the new school year after the summer break, with a focus on ownership of learning for teachers and students alike.  A couple of months later, our exciting Unleashing Learning conference provoked further thinking and action, followed by a week of learning and sharing with Sam Sherratt. And now, as the seasons change and we settle into the year, it’s exciting to observe bright spots of colour and evidence of new growth…

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One team is exploring a new project based approach to maths. Another is experimenting with unleashing writing through play. Year 6 is investigating a year-long approach to the PYP exhibition, allowing students time to discover what they really care about, with a greater focus on sharing the learning journey. Two different groups are reading and discussing The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.

Teacher A has let go of control and seen what happens when students have agency. Teacher B is well on the way and feeling the exhilaration of learning unleashed. C wants to rethink the school musical and find a way to give students more ownership. D has realised that authentic, meaningful learning experiences trump delivering curriculum… and noticed that much more of the curriculum is addressed incidentally via this approach! E is rethinking the way she used to do things and collaborating with others to reimagine her role. F and G are changing the way they reflect with their teams and refining the process as they go. H is breathing imagination and creativity into everything she touches… And I? 

I hear the steady drumbeat of hope for real and meaningful change.

Once unleashed, there’s no stopping the learning… 

The great divide…

I read Dale Worsley’s post this morning and thought about how lucky I am to work in a primary school with a dynamic learning culture, where passionate teachers constantly seek the most engaging and meaningful ways for their young learners to take ownership of their learning, where the learning is for ‘now’ AND for the kind of future in which they will live and learn.

I recently received this email from a friend whose daughter has just started High School (She’s 12. In Australia, children move from Primary School directly to High School. We don’t have Middle School as a separate stage).

My daughter’s education to date has been nothing short of remarkable. She has soaked up and been enticed by all that the school has to offer.

She has inquired and pushed boundaries. She has investigated and wondered her way through the most intriguing PYP journey. She is a thinker and has loved being knee deep in creative expression and pondering units of inquiry that encouraged her to be open minded and inquire into things she wonders about. With amazing guidance, she whole heartedly explored her area of passion and with excitement and exuberance presented her findings at the Year 6 exhibition.

Now in year 7, her school bag is full of thick text books (which also sit on her iPad) which travel to and from school. She sits at night working through pages of maths problems from the text books. Just as I had done when I was in high school (a million years ago) … A little archaic.

I understand it is very early days yet, but where has that amazing transformative thinking gone? The creative learning that is so full of colour and excitement…

Please tell me Ed, that it is on its way????

My sad reply: ‘I cant’

And again I wonder about the great divide between primary schools and (many) high schools…

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  • Why is that as soon as our students turn 12, they need to start preparing for the demands of VCE and university entry?
  • Why are the demands of formal education frequently out of touch with the reality of the world in which our students live and LEARN and contribute? (independently, without the assistance of school!)
  • Why do many high school students still do the same kinds of things their parents and teachers did when they went to school, while the rest of the world changes rapidly and dramatically?
  • Why did a parent once reprimand a high school teacher whom I know for encouraging the students to (gasp) think instead of preparing them for the exams?
  • Why should the focus shift from learning (in primary school) to work (in high school)?
  • Why should grades and results matter more than thinking, learning how to learn and contributing to the world in a meaningful way?

 

A thoughtful response by @alohalavina – Crossing the Great Divide

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!

Planning for an inquiry into digital citizenship…

Today’s collaborative planning session with the Year 5 team is both challenging and invigorating. There are 7 of us in the room and one digital participant. The conversation is impassioned and (mostly) focused as we debate, disagree and eventually reach some common understandings.

It takes over an hour to ensure our conceptual understandings are sound and to consider the evidence that will demonstrate these understandings in our learners. This part is the crux.

It doesn’t bother us that most of the planner is still blank and we have barely thought about the learning engagements. We know (now) that if this part is established, we only need a few good provocations, then (almost) sit back and see how the learning unfolds.

Observing and listening to the learning, will determine what happens… that’s how inquiry works, so how can you plan it in advance?

The unit is about digital citizenship, which could easily fit into any of the PYP trans disciplinary themes and end up looking quite different. We want ours to be in ‘How We Express Ourselves’, because, as Silvia Tolisano says, ‘We are preparing students for a time when what they know is not as important as what they can do with what they know…’

It quickly becomes apparent that

  • we can never rehash an old unit, because we are always learning.
  • some of the understandings from last year are no longer relevant and we need to shift the focus from consumption to creation.
  • having 1:1 iPads has changed the way students do things and teachers see things.
  • our approaches to teaching literacy and literature require some radical new thinking, as might our definitions of both.
  • we need to ensure our students are learning ‘now literacies‘, (Silvia Tolisano) so they can engage effectively in a world very different from when their parents and teachers went to school. (So why does so much of school still look the same?)
  • there is endless potential for global collaboration to enhance authentic learning within this unit and the teachers are finally ready. (See my first ever blog post FIVE years ago! We have been chipping away, but there is so much more we can do…)
  • the teachers will need to pursue their own inquiries if this unit of inquiry is to be a success… but then, that is what inquiry teachers do.

So how do I tag this post? Is it about planning? Digital citizenship? Inquiry? Concept driven learning?

Or is it about change?

 

Teacher as learner…

This is a guest post by Year 4 teacher Jina Belnick, an experienced teacher, although only in her second year of PYP and the inquiry approach. She is part of the community of learners at my school. 

I arrived as a ‘new’ teacher at a PYP school almost two years ago. At that time, I knew what PYP meant, but I had no idea what it really looked like.

Little did I realise that the journey I was about to embark on was filled with learning…

At my job  interview, I told the panel of interviewers that I was interested in using technology in my teaching and that I was keen to learn with my students. Little did I realise that the journey I was about to embark on was filled with learning – using so many different skills and tools – that I would no longer hunger for opportunities to learn, they would quite simply arrive.

Open eyes, open mind and a collaboration with other learners was all I needed.

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 4th Culture of Thinking Conference in Melbourne, Australia. My colleague and I arrived armed with our iPads and our eagerness to find out more. We chose different sessions and so we met up afterwards to share and discuss our learning. This type of reflection is indicative of the school at which we work and the way we model for our learners to think about their learning.

I’m grateful  to work at a school where learning (rather than ‘good teaching’) is valued…

By the end of the conference, my head was spinning. I walked away feeling incredibly grateful  to work at a school where learning (rather than ‘good teaching’) is valued; to have people around me who love to share ideas, explore opportunities and experiences; where questions are encouraged and discussion arising from disagreements take us to new places.

Being a good teacher is not just about well prepared lessons…

I am grateful that I now understand that being a teacher is no longer just about a well prepared lesson. For me it has become an understanding of what engaged learners look like; what the curriculum and all its interwoven components require – and how we need to listen to every child to help them to get to know themselves as learners.

I listen, I try new things and I learn…

Aha moments are regular and varied. Insecurities about how others do things in comparison to how I do, need to be buried. I listen, I try new things and I learn. Being with children who love to challenge, question and make meaning for themselves keeps me travelling on my journey.

Planning with people who value others’ opinions, share their knowledge in a non-judgemental way and share ideas freely has been the sunlight nurturing my growth.

I arrived as a teacher, I am growing as a learner. Every day is a surprise. Every moment is an opportunity.

Another member of our learning community, Hailey Joubert, reflects on her learning and growth as a teacher hereIf you like the sound of their journeys, we are currently advertising for new teachers! Leave your details here.

Student Ownership…

‘It was great last year’… 

‘The kids loved it’… 

‘No need for change’… 

‘Why fix what isn’t broken?’

It’s exciting to note that we rarely hear these comments in our planning sessions any more!

Change and growth are embedded in the way we plan for learning. We prefer to start afresh and reinvent, in light of our current understandings, new teams collaborating, different students…

And every time we plan,  we try to ensure more opportunities for students to take ownership of the learning.

Two years ago we had our first social justice conference for Year 6 students. The event grew from a random idea, blogged and picked up by a teacher on the other side of the world, who breathed life into the vision. We developed her ideas further and the conference was a great introduction to the PYP exhibition process.

The aims were-

  • To expose students to a range of issues relating to ‘inequity’, raise awareness and provoke thinking on related issues.
  • To provide the opportunity to hear from people who have worked in areas that are taking action to help right inequities.
  • To help students develop convictions about what is right, what is wrong, and what needs to change.

Last year the Year 6 team improved the structure of the conference, adding time for the kids to reflect in small groups after each speaker and opportunities to express their learning creatively at the end of the day.

While the conference was outstanding, with  kids choosing what sessions to attend and actively engaged in learning on the day, essentially it was still organised for them.

This year, it’s obvious what needs upgrading. The kids need more ownership.

So we’ve called for volunteers who will write to the speakers, organise groups, make programs, welcome and thank the speakers, take photographs, film, tweet, blog… and whatever else they decide!

I’m on leave at the moment, but delighted to find emails such as these in my inbox this morning:

My name is Jared and I am in Mrs B’s class and she told me that you were looking for volunteers to help with the conference next term. I would be very happy help with all the organizing that needs to be done. Jared

I would love to volunteer to help organise anything. I enjoy writing so I could make a blog post about the speakers, and I am very organised so I can organise anything. I could make programs or welcome the speakers too. I don’t really mind, I’m just happy to help. Thank you. Liora

Dear Morah Sackson, I am very interested in this project. Any jobs available will be fine for me! Thanks a million! David.

Hi Morah Sackson, I would love to volunteer to be an organizer for the conference. If I could I would like to write messages to the speakers with information. Thanks, Taylor

I would love to cooperate! I would love to do anything… I am passionate to help out! Mia

I would like to volunteer to work at lunchtimes. I would like to help create the program if I can. I am a great organiser and I really enjoy when things are in place. Ellie

Next year the kids can do the whole thing!

Welcome to the world…

Hello little guy,

Welcome to the world.

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Your mom and dad are teachers and learners. I wonder what kind of learner you will be…

  • Will you build a house of books, taken from the overflowing shelves in your parents’ home and read voraciously?
  • Will you be curious, continuously asking questions about the world, including how you can make it a better place?
  • Will you think deeply about everything, and courageously take a stand towards changing things that matter to you?
  • Will you care intensely about others, your family, your friends, the people of the world… and learn from them all?

… just like your parents do.

We look forward to finding out!

Love from

Your excited grandparents.