Did a bit of a social experiment this afternoon. Don’t really like to use the word experiment when referring to our learners, but a respected colleague has been encouraging me to do just that all year- saying if we are not experimenting then how can we be innovating.
So today I suggested a wee experiment.
We have not used bells all year. When we started three years ago we used a bell to indicate the start of school, the end of morning tea and the end of lunchtime. This year we went to no bells at all. We talk about a language of learning. We hear kids reminding each other when its time for learning to start again, and we hear duty teachers gently reminding learners its time to head back to their learning. We consider this a much more brain friendly, calmer way for students to return to their learning than the sharp disruption of a bell which can actually foster feelings of fight or flight or other destructive feelings- things we don't want to set our learners up for before they even start the learning.
Today 5 minutes before the end of lunchtime the adults in our middle years all happened to gather in the community space together preparing for the afternoon learning. We sat having a bit of a chat about kids and the learning that we were seeing. And I suggested we see what happened if we didn’t remind the students it was learning time. We left the outside door to the classroom remained shut.
By 1.05pm when the learning is meant to start we watched students who were out playing games on the court directly in front of the community turn and look, see the door closed, and continue playing for another minute, continually turning and watching for the door to open. Individuals and small groups of students started to gather on the verandah outside the door. No duty teachers were in sight reminding students about it being learning time and the adults inside kept “chatting.”
Over five minutes larger numbers of students kept looking with puzzle at the door and then returned to playing.
About seven minutes after learning time should have started I casually got up and opened one door, returning to the circle of adults sitting on the couch and ottomans in the middle of the large space. Learners started roaming through the door, a few making comments on their way past about their learning starting a but late this afternoon.
We have 45 learners aged between 10 and 15 who all work together in this learning community.
Within three minutes every one of them was inside the learning community and within five minutes all were actively engaged in their learning for the afternoon. There were students who had gone and selected their piece of incomplete art work and set themselves up with pastels to complete it. There were a group of learners who came and got their inquiry folders and music gear and were outside on some beanbags singing and composing for the band that is their self selected inquiry at the moment. There were other students finishing some assigned writing tasks, and others working on some teacher directed inquiry tasks. Other students were researching their own inquiries previously negotiated with teachers. Another group were working in a team finishing a video presentation.
At no stage was any signal given- apart from a door being opened- or any adult speak to any student and ask them to come inside or ask them to get on with their learning.
In my experience often teachers think they have true self directed learning happen, but it all falls apart as soon as the teacher stops quietly directing from the side. Take a class where the teacher says the kids can operate by themselves completely and take that teacher out for the day and see what happens.
This little experiment showed me that we have truly moved way down the continuum of self directed learning.
These kids were not easy to manage or engage at the beginning of the year. But this was the vision we had and slowly we have moved students towards it. What is happening now would not be happening without the strategic steps we have taken on the way. It couldn't have happened in one step. But it is real self directed learning. And it is real engagement. And its very exciting to be part of a team that has worked very hard, alongside these learners to give them the skills and the space to take the lead in their own learning.
As a team we started off the year by reading the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I love many quotes from this book but this one has always stood out:
“We want to show up, we want to learn, and we want to inspire. We are hardwired for connection, curiosity, and engagement. We crave purpose, and we have a deep desire to create and contribute. We want to take risks, embrace our vulnerabilities, and be courageous. When learning and working are dehumanised—when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform—we disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs from us: our talent, our ideas, and our passion. What we ask is that you engage with us, show up beside us, and learn from us. Feedback is a function of respect; when you don’t have honest conversations with us about our strengths and our opportunities for growth, we question our contributions and your commitment. Above all else, we ask that you show up, let yourself be seen, and be courageous. Dare Greatly with us.”