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? 

Empowering our learners…

One of the most exciting things we saw during our recent visit to ISHMC (International School of Ho Chi Minh City, where Sam Sherratt is based) was the unstructured inquiry set up in a Grade 4 class by Adrian Watts, the principal.

Learners were given a choice between four different explorations (although they didn’t know the precise task until after they had selected what seemed interesting to them):

  • Reassemble a computer so that it works.
  • Fix the motor on a scooter.
  • Knit a finger puppet.
  • Sew a pair of trousers that fits someone in your group.

Participants were permitted just three questions over the course of the day. It was interesting to observe the thoughtful way they approached this, writing down possible questions and carefully considering what and whom they would ask.

It was more difficult for the observing adults to adhere to the rules. Most found it hard to overcome their natural inclination to step in and help, instead of stand back and observe the learning (and the range of trans disciplinary skills in action).

What did we observe during this exercise in child driven learning?

  • learner agency and empowerment.
  • total engagement in meaningful learning experiences.
  • curiosity and willingness to experiment.
  • competence, creativity and problem solving.
  • resourcefulness and fearlessness in approaching the unknown.
  • interesting group dynamics and differing gender biases within groups.
  • risk taking, learning from failure, persistence and resilience… in varying degrees.
  • collaborative decision making.
  • and more…

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The transferable messages…

We need to believe that children are capable, curious, competent and creative and, given the opportunities and encouragement, can lead their own learning.

We need to rethink contexts where the teacher controls the learning and the students jump through hoops set in front of them by the teacher, the school or the system.

We need to stop ‘doing school’ and think about what it means to really learn, because real learning often has very little to do with traditional notions of school.

Playing the game of school…

Grab a dice and play the game of school…

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This was the provocation for my Unleashing Learning workshop, entitled ‘From Doing School to Real Learning‘.

How did playing the game make people feel? It seemed pointless. You could win without doing anything meaningful.

What was missing?  Purpose, fun, discovery, feeling, thinking and, indeed… learning!

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This was not a workshop about answers, its intention was to provoke thinking, to unsettle and to push. Hopefully, it left participants wondering about these questions and more…

  • What are the conditions for powerful learning?
  • How much time do we spend on things that do not lead to powerful learning?
  • What do you believe about learning?
  • Does your practice align with your beliefs?
  • To what extent do children create their own learning opportunities way beyond what school can offer? 
  • Does school slow down learning?
  • Is it easier to do something the same way than to rethink learning from scratch?
  • What’s one change I can make, starting tomorrow?
  • Is your planning time spent thinking about what and how you will teach?
  • Do you think about how best each student will learn?
  • Are old pedagogies suited to a rapidly changing world? 
  • How might we unleash learning rather than doing school?

What does student ownership look like?

‘Imagine if we did this with kids’… I said in my previous post and, within a few days, some teachers have!

The learners work in mixed groups across two Year 6 classes and respond to the same question that we gave the teachers last week: ‘What does student ownership of learning look like’? 

The teachers move between the groups, asking probing questions, encouraging the learners to think more deeply.

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IMG_4826Responses are quite revealing!

  • Teachers tell students where to go, but they choose their own route to get there.
  • Teachers tell the students what to do, but they decide how to do it.
  • People can have their own opinions and points of view.
  • Freedom to learn and independence.
  • Taking pride in your own learning.
  • Thinking and reflecting about what and how you learn.
  • Doing your work without letting yourself be distracted.
  • We are all unique in our learning and thinking styles.
  • Teacher opens the door, but only we can walk through.
  • Choosing wisely where to sit and who to work with.

It’s only Day 2 of the school year and I know things will develop as the year unfolds. These young learners have teachers who value student ownership and will work at establishing a culture where this is real. They are part of a learning community where ownership of learning is valued and beliefs about how this takes place have been articulated and agreed upon.

Yet I can’t help but wonder:

  • Have our learners really experienced ownership of their learning within a school context?
  • Are the children saying the sorts of things they think teachers are looking for?
  • Can our learners imagine what really owning your learning looks and feels like?
  • Do adults really believe that children can be the owners of their learning?
  • Is ownership of learning compatible with traditional models of school?
  • How can we help children (and teachers) separate the notion of learning from that of ‘doing school’?
  • Does our practice align with our beliefs?