The one week trial of ignoring the bells in our class has concluded, with mixed success. On the first day, the freedom went to their heads and I was really surprised with the lack of maturity and focus on their learning. The lesson was learned by most in time for the second day, but a new problem arose – we were distracting other classes from their work. Following a stern chat from the Principal children lowered the noise level when taking their break during other class’ learning time. Crisis averted!
The rest of the week continued with no restrictions on the lengeth or frequency of breaks children had. As long as they attended group and class meetings, they were free to come and go as they saw fit. It’s been an intriguing experiment!
This afternoon, we reflected on the week. Everyone finished on time and to the required standard but how was their learning effected? The purpose of the trial was to improve their learning capabilities so I asked was their learning improved, the same or worse this week? If it was worse, did they still want to have no bells next week? And, if so, how would they make improvements to ensure their learning was improved by the flexibility of be allowed to ignore the bells? The following are the responses I received:
- I had too much freedom and didn’t use my time well. Next time I won’t take advantage of all the freedom. I know how to use the time more wisely now – Nathan, Jasmine, Boston, Jack, Margaret and Nicole.
- I got more tired so next time I’ll take shorter breaks – Isabella.
- I forgot what I was doing when I returned from a break so I’ll keep working at a task until I’m finished, before I take a break – Louie.
- All students whose learning was adversely effected – after the initial difficulties, we improved and used the time more wisely later on in the week.
- The breaks we have are at the right time and are the right length anyway – Angel.
- I managed my time the same way and as well as usual. I learned everything as well as I normally would – Rikka, Akanshi and Carlos.
- I became more independent as a result of this – Liam.
- I was able to limit my break times, I’m not sure we need so many breaks – Erika.
- I could go outside and clear my mind when the work got tricky – Emily and Jessie.
- I gave myself a little reward after finishing tricky things – Mia.
- I stressed out less – India, Dylan and Jessie.
- I got to exercise more often, which got my brain working better – Chester and Liam.
- I didn’t get hungry and therefore I concentrated better – Kerry.
- There was more choice in how I arranged my day. If felt more grown up – Dylan.
- I managed my time better – Dylan.
- You could keep going on a task if it was going well – Callum.
End result? It looks like this is the way Room 3 could operate from now on. Exciting stuff!
I’ve found it difficult to portray the intricacies of My-learning to fellow educators. People tend to pick up on the self directed part of My-learning only, which is really a relatively small part of the entire pedagogy. So I started down the road to putting it in diagrammatic form, which I hope will clarify what My-learning actually is in its entirety.
To begin with, I sat down with the D.P at school and our Assessment for Learning facilitator, Judy Munro-Keene, to nut it out. Below is what we came up with, which is by no means a finished product. (I apologise for the lack of artistic ability and poor handwriting!)
I then asked for the class’ feedback. Did this accurately portray who we are, what we do, how we think about learning and how we operate? At first, students sat in groups like stunned mullets and drew faces on the figure in the middle. EEEK! I thought, this is way too hard! But it wasn’t long before they started to have really in depth conversations and intense debates. It was impressive that this class have come so far, with regards to their critical thinking, analytical skills and ability to work in groups. Below are examples of a couple of group’s ideas, which will influence mine in determining the final product.
Do you have any feedback to help me with my diagram?
At the very beginning of the year, I suggested that we did without bells – that we just went to lunch when we were hungry or needed a break. This suggestion was met with outrage! The students hated the idea and I was forcefully opposed!
Two terms later and the children have suggested it to me. I guess the seed was sewn and they just took a while to get used to the idea. So we emailed a proposal to the principal and met with him to iron out any concerns and discuss just how this was going to work. In short, students must complete all their tasks for the week and attend any meetings they need to attend. So long as this happens, they can take their breaks whenever they like. If they are hungry, they can grab something to eat. If they aren’t concentrating as well as they could, they can go and have a run around. In theory, this sounds brilliant (to me anyway!) but I wonder how this will work in reality?
So today we gave it a go and it was really quite intriguing! For many children, the freedom really went to their heads and very little learning was done. About half the class utilised the freedom beautifully and balanced food, work and play extremely well (and it was quite surprising who those children were, in some cases).
We had a class reflection meeting at the end of the day and talked about what was succesful and what wasn’t. Children liked the freedom and enjoyed being able to go outside and have a break when they needed to clear their head. They thought the exercise, fresh air and getting a bite to eat when you were hungry was beneficial in enabling them to work more efficiently. However, they recognised that some children abused the privilege and came up with possible solutions for this problem, to implement tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the week goes…
There seems to be a bit of tension between personalising learning and encouraging collaboration in the classroom. I would like to argue that, to ensure our students are successful learners, we need to have both personalisation and collaboration in our classes.
Personalisation is integral in allowing students to learn at their own pace, to learn what they need to, to reflect on their learning, have ownership over their learning and therefore have success. I believe that students should also be able to, and be given the opportunity to, personalise their own learning too.
Collaboration is also important. We know that the word is moving, and has already moved, towards a more collaborative model of working. Problem solving is a key skill for a 21st Century learner and collaboration allows this to occur organically. It also allows for students to have success in areas that would not be possible without peers support and enhances students’ learning opportunities.
So how do such apparently contradictory models ‘work’ together? In my class children tend to choose when and when not to collaborate. For example, each child has individual, personalised writing goals. They are all on different learning pathways. However, students will get together with others who share the same goal, they will offer support to peers who are struggling with a goal they have already met and they will seek help in the same manner. In this way, students proactively collaborate to meet personalised goals.
I think that to educate 21st Century learners effectively, we must allow for both personalised and collaborative learning to occur in our classes.
The question “why?” is vital for us as teachers.
For students to ask teachers.
I try to keep this in the back of my mind at all times – if a child was to ask me “why are we doing this?” I should have a decent answer. “Just because” doesn’t cut it. Nor does “because I said so.” If I can reply that it is going to further their learning in a particular way, then this is at least a start towards ensuring all learning in the class is relevant and meaningful.
For students to ask themselves and others.
An awful lot has been said on this subject and we are all well aware that schools can systematically suck the creativity and curiosity out of children. We must ensure that our students question the world around them and are allowed retain their natural curiosity.
For teachers to ask themselves and their fellow educators.
We must also question our own teaching and the ideas posed by others to incorporate in our classroom practice.
- Why am I doing this? How does it further the students’ learning, capture their interest, motivate them or help to instill confidence in them as a learner? Just because I have always done something, does that make it the best way?
- Why is this technology considered valuable? Is it the best way for my students to learn?
- Why should I adopt this approach to teaching and learning? Will it improve student outcomes?
The importance of critical evaluation and questioning is imperative in successfully educating and learning.
I believe it is imperative that teachers consider themselves to be learners (and to practice what they preach!). To engage in conversations, proactively look for professional development opportunities and to expose themselves to their students as fellow learners is vital to improving practice and creating a culture of continuous and ongoing learning for all in the school.
I follow the “What Ed Said” blog which I often find thought provoking. Edna Sackson’s latest blog post is about Communities of Practice, which is well worth a read. This is a excerpt from the beginning of the article:
A few years ago, we articulated our beliefs about how learning takes place – It didn’t take long to realise that these learning principles applied to all learners, teachers as well as students. We moved away from the traditional model of ‘one size fits all’ teacher PD and embraced choice, reflection and relevance instead.
This week, the Year 6s have been doing their Student Led Conferences. There have been a few differences this year that I have noticed, in comparison to previous years.
Firstly, the students have found it comparatively easy and it has been a much faster process in preparing for the conferences. I think this is because students are really used to talking about their learning. They know how to read their assessments, what the assessments mean and how this relates to their learning as a whole. They are so accustomed to reflecting, that articulating their learning is almost second nature to them. Students are also totally aware of where they are at and what their next learning steps are.
The other major difference I have seen at these conferences is in the parents. Comments have come out such as, “oh yes, I’ve seen that on your blog.” They are already aware of a lot of the learning that is going on in the classroom because students blog about it, have e-portfolios, take their “one books” (where all work for the unit except maths is) home at the end of every unit and know enough to effectively talk to their parents at home.
Which begs the question, will Student Led Conferences become pointless exercises in the not so distant future?