Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Give your Learners True Control

It’s Monday morning 11am and I’m sitting in a classroom in a remote New Zealand village with 50 adolescents from Year 6-10 who are becoming some of the most engaged learners I have worked with in 27 years of teaching. They are all learning about different things and they have each planned their week and their day. I have just watched them all come back in from a morning learning break, no bell was rung, they just all wandered back in after their 30 minute break and got on with their learning. There were adults drifting around but not a single learner was asked to get on with anything. Within 3 minutes all learners were working. 

There is someone playing a guitar in the corner using a youtube clip as a teacher. There is a learner meeting with a teacher to plan how to explain his learning from his latest inquiry. There are a couple of sets of learners sprawled together on couches using Minecraft to map out the East Cape before a community learning trip around the area next term. There is someone sprawled on the floor completing a piece of highly intricate art. There is someone completing a video for their youtube channel. There is someone else taking some notes about proteins and carbohydrates. There are a group of learners poring over an iPad together interpreting a graph and writing some summary statements about it. There’s a small group of students out capturing some images from around the school on a camera.  And thats just a small sample. Each of them has their own planner for the week and for the day which they completed when they arrived at school and they hold themselves accountable for following this.

@cleansweep_ wrote a piece comparing two different learning scenarios with the same students. 
For many the second scenario might seem the ideal to work towards. For us it is the reality we see happening every day.

@ClaireAmosNZ                posted this morning about handing power over to the learners 

It was fabulous and has inspired me to write about how that is happening in our Middle Years at TKAS.

It didn't happen overnight, but it is happening now. Some of these students were extremely disengaged with learning at the beginning of the year. 

Slowly during Term 1 we set them up; learning muscles from Guy Claxton. We started introducing a simple inquiry process they could take ownership over and gradually led them to establishing the things they would really like to inquire into.(

Our learners have three different inquiries happening on the run all the time: Flow inquiries are their opportunity to “inquire into the stuff you are interested in”, Zone inquires are their chance to “inquire into the stuff we think you need to understand about the world you live in”, Groove inquiries are a chance to explore the world outside of the classroom with a link to learning trips.” 

This is their entire learning programme. Its not something they do a period a day, or in the afternoons. This is their whole programme.

We set up the experimenting phase of their inquiries for zone and groove, they still have ownership over the other three stages. In their flow inquiries they have ownership of all four stages. The balance between flow, groove and zone inquiry learning is up to them and can differ from day to day and from learner to learner.

We meet with learners and help them reflect on the learning areas they have engaged with and what level their achievements are at. We use SOLO taxonomy within our school progressions to help clarify this learning with our learners. 
But we do all that from the basis of the learning they have completed, rather than setting out our expectations first. When some math or science or literacy learning has occurred out of their inquiry that needs facilitating to the next level we schedule a workshop with that student, and offer that workshop for other students to attend.

A statement Claire made in her blogpost about what stops true engagement rings so true:  
“It is the teachers need to maintain power and control in the classroom.” 

We have worked hard to give that power back to the kids. 
When our students who range in age from 10 through to 15 arrive at school they use technology to go to a google site and check any significant instructions for the day. If they have a required meeting with an adult, it will be listed there, so will any workshops that it might have been identified they need to attend. 

They then plan their day. Some of them still check this plan with an adult. About half of the community of 50 learners do not need to check their planning as they have been identified as completely self managing.

And then they get on with their learning. They might see an adult and request some assistance or meeting to clarify the next step of this inquiry.

Before they go to a midmorning and lunch break some music plays in the community and learners use this as their signal to stop learning and reflect on a school electronic forum about what they have done, what they have learnt, what their focus level has been and what they are going to focus their learning on in the next learning period. (They use their daily plan and review it through the day as necessary.)

Claire asks: “Why on earth would you bother to get to know your learners, if you weren't in a position to actually be responsive to their learning needs and their interests?”

We still teach, all the time. but we teach individuals and we are completely responsive to their individual needs. 

I agree Claire. Saying we know our learners and then continuing to teach them off our own long term plans developed from some curriculum documents and aiming for curriculum coverage is not engaging our learners. 

All educators need to be finding small and large ways to challenge the status quo. 
Do not accept that you are working in an environment that won’t allow this. Find small ways to challenge every day. 

And for those of us fortunate enough to be in environments where we are allowed to change the face of teaching keep going, and keep sharing.

Its hard, and its tempting to fall back to the ‘known’ when things don’t work - and they won’t always. 
Put yourself in the position where you are working with someone else who won’t let you accept the status quo and will pull you up when you want to drift back to what you've always done because its just easier.

Here I am sitting in this classroom of really engaged collaborative learners on a Monday morning and remembering how difficult Monday mornings used to be with them. 

Whats the difference? They have real control over their day. As teachers we have set up those systems and we are here to facilitate the learning and help the learners link that back to learning areas but they are definitely the ones in control. And so they should be. It’s their learning, and when they have control over it, true control, then maybe we really will see the life long learning that the NZ curriculum aspires to.