A query that keeps coming up.

Whenever I talk to teachers about My-Learning the same queries comes up – “What about Jimmy who is hideously behaved?” “What about Sally who has no English?” “What about Bobby who has high learning needs?” “What about children from low socio-economic areas?” “What about younger children?” How will all these children cope in a My-Learning classroom?

In short, I’m not entirely sure. I do know from my own experience that children who don’t have English as their first language, those who have behavioural problems and those who have learning and social needs have not only coped well in my classroom but grown hugely under this pedagogical system. I think the key is scaffolding all children, but especially those who you know will have difficulties. Then it’s important to fade this scaffolding away gently so the children can have success. From my experience, such children thrive on having this success as they feel so proud of their achievements. Another key idea is that children will rise to your expectations. They know I believe in them and will help them if they need it and will therefore meet my expectations for them. Lastly, this kind of programme allows for such differentiation and individualisation that, if you did have a child in the class who struggled immensely, you could tailor make a programme just for them, easily. My (biased) thought is that My-Learning actually is better for such children for this very reason.

However, what I don’t know is how children from lower socio-economic areas would cope. In my humble view, children are children and if you have a whole school culture of high behavioural expectations, high academic expectations and formative assessment practices you should be able to have success. I’d appreciate your comments on this though. As for younger children, I just don’t know. I do know that other self-directed learning models have been successful with younger children in the past and continue to work well. I also know that My-Learning has been implemented successfully in other schools from year 5-8 but again, I would appreciate your feedback on this.


Personalising our learning

I got a bit carried away today… but the kids really responded well. First I showed them Kahn Academy and TED Talks. Then we had a big chat about the importance of curiosity and taking responsibility for learning things we have identified we need to learn by ourselves. We went on to discuss how there was only one of me which meant I didn’t have the time or expertise to teach them everything they wanted and needed to know. Then we talked about ways of personalising learning, namely the internet, books and people (other children as well as adults).

Great response so far – at lunch half a dozen children stayed in totally unprompted to learn things all by themselves. This was a mixture of children in terms of abilities and general motivation levels. They learned all sorts of things ranging from heart failure (this child even took notes!) to extra typing practice because the child identified he wasn’t learning to type as fast as he wanted to. So, to encourage more of this, I made a board where children can add post-its when they have personalised their learning.

Exciting stuff for week 8! I wonder where we will be at the end of the year….?

Now’s the time to discover TED talks.

If you haven’t already, you really must discover TED talks. This is a brilliant resource of videos from all over the place on all different topics by a myriad of experts. Not only is is brilliant for PD and personal interest videos but I can see myself using this more and more with students. Below is one by Sugata Mitra called “The child-driven education.” I bet you can guess why I clicked on that one!

I love the way he says “children will want to learn to do what they want to learn to do.” So simple and we know this already, but do we do it in reality? In the clip he shows, this seems to be partially because of the novelty of the medium used and partially because of what they are actually learning to do. I was also interested in seeing the children learn how to use the internet (which apparently they hadn’t heard of before this) without assistance. No teacher was sitting there instructing them on how to log on, how to access programs etc. I think we make an awful lot of excuses, especially at the junior end of school for not utilising technology because of children’s incompetence. This of course is untrue. Let children discover things for themselves and they will develop their problem solving skills alongside whatever learning intention you have in mind for them. Utilise what Sugata Mitra calls the “method of the grandmother”!!

Another point to note, I think, is the fact that the recall of what the children researched was high because, according to Sugata Mitra, the children were discussing this. I have long thought that the so called ideal of one to one devices was flawed for this very reason. Perhaps the real ideal ratio is 1:3?


“Sheer bloody mindedness!”

I think I should explain the title for this one! Jeff, the Principal at school, and I were talking last week about how far the children in the class had come in a relatively short period of time.  I’m pretty pleased that the children can do a few things they weren’t able to do at the beginning of the year now. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still room for improvement, but I am happy with the direction things are going.

Firstly, they are more aware of their learning. For example, lots of children were struggling to write decent, informative reflections, so one child asked if I could teach them about it. Hooray, I thought! So I asked the class if anyone would be interested in having a whole class meeting on this, to improve their reflection writing skills. This was met with an overwhelmingly positive response. So the following week we had this meeting and I noticed another big change in the children – they were all actively engaged in the discussion and listening intently to myself and others. PHEW!

Later in the week we had visitors from another primary school come through our class.  They were impressed with the way the children could answer questions such as “why are you learning this?” Their behaviour is also much improved. They are more focused on their learning and have finally grasped the idea of only talking about their learning. I know all these things are small but they are big improvements from the way the children acted, behaved and approached their learning at the beginning of the year.

So, to come back to the title; Jeff’s answer to why this was occurring? “Sheer bloody mindedness!” Or, more specifically, ‘Good teachers know a balance reading programme with independent groups is effective and beneficial to the children. They will set up the organisation to flow well, role play working in groups, stop and reflect with the class if it is not working and through perseverance make it work. Knowing how beneficial my-learning is to your children and through your high expectations, perseverance and sheer bloody-mindedness you are ensuring my-learning is again successful in your class. As a consequence the children are responding.’ My Mum would say “because you’re a stubborn Taurian.” Both have some truth to them because without high expectations and that I just didn’t give up, this would not have happened.

Redundant? Not yet!

Viv, the D.P at school, has taken to asking me “are you redundant yet?” relatively frequently of late. To which the answer is always “not yet.” But, in a way, it is something I’m aiming for. Two years ago we were doing a unit on government systems and organisation of groups in society. We teachers had a brilliant idea – leave the children (under the transparent guise of going to Fiji) to organise themselves. A sort of social experiment whereby the children were meant to use their understandings of government systems and leadership, and so on, to organise their own class. Well, at first this came as a total shock as the children let the fact they had been abandoned sink in. Then, very quickly, they organised a leader (by voting very democratically, of course!), organised some work to do (which involved lots of P.E!) and organised some ‘expert’ children to teach them various subjects. I was well and truly redundant. This, to a less dramatic extent, happened last year too, and if I ever had a reliever in my class they felt rather surplus to requirement! Which gets me thinking about the role of a teacher in the classroom. Ideally, I think, it should be that of a facilitator. Children should have the behaviour, motivation, passion for learning, ability to identify where they are at with their learning, and independence to complete work on their own. Moreover, I’d like my class this year to get to the point where they can construct and personalise their own learning independently, both at school and beyond the gates. This allows the teacher to help children gain understandings of things they couldn’t independently or from their peers and also assist in creating goals. Redundant to a point, I guess. Preparing students for life without us, as opposed to relying upon us. In our class we have a wee way to go on this. It is only week 5 after all! A passion for learning and a value for education in general seems to be lacking. However, we are getting there and the children are slowly developing metacognitive skills and are significantly more independent. I am managing their behaviour much less and concentrating my teaching time on the learning instead. We are getting there!