My little heroes this morning are this kid, and the other guy just behind him.
The basketball court was covered with earthworms this morning. Many of our little city-dwelling students were screaming mindlessly or stamping on them. These kids are scared by nature. Part if it is cultural – many people in this part of the world think the utterly beautiful and harmless Gecko is evil, for example. Part of it is their increasingly sad, air-conditioned, sanitized, concrete, screen-based lives. Show them a bug and they run for their lives… and usually an adult comes with a can of poison to kill it.
But these two Grade 2 students saw me picking up the worms and helped me out. They were a bit squeamish about it at first, but they soon found out nothing was going to happen and promptly returned all the worms to the soil. I made sure I made a big deal of how proud I was of them, but I walked away thinking a number of thoughts:
- We teach kids they must take care of their environment, but do we get them out there properly experiencing it? I have written about this here.
- How can we say we are developing curious students if their reaction to things they don’t know or understand is to scream or kill?
- What do we do about cultural beliefs – particularly damaging ones – that we believe are ridiculous?
- Caring for things – anything really – needs to be modeled. It is clear that this is not happening at home for many of the students in this part of the world – quite the opposite it seems. So, how do we put adult modeling at the forefront of everything we do in schools?
- If a student goes all the way through an international school and still screams at worms but gets into a good university, can we say we’ve “educated” them?
Walking into Kellie Oxlade’s Grade 1 classroom is an invitation to play. The whole room has been turned upside-down and into a fully-functioning, living-breathing community. Their unit of inquiry is all about communities… and Kellie is determined to introduce more “learning through play” into her Grade 1 classroom.
On entering the room, I was given some “local currency” and asked to consider what role I would be adopting while in there. I decided to be a tourist. Straight away, my choice of role challenged the students -the airport was set up for departures, but they hadn’t yet thought about arrivals!
This is the whole idea that Kellie is experimenting with. She is putting the kids into the context, letting them play with it, letting them come up against real situations and letting them learn from other people that come in to play too!
The learning is complex and multi-layered – yes, they’re getting to grips with the realities of communities out there in the “real world”, but they’re also learning about themselves as a community. Yes, Kellie has a fairly good idea of where it may lead, but she also has no idea where else it may lead… and she’s excited about that! Yes, Kellie is aware of the types of issues and problems the students will have to deal with, but she also understands that the students responses will be more conceptual – and long-lasting – if they happen “just in time”.
A fundamental aspect of this type of learning – understanding it and allowing it to be whatever it will be – is realizing that everything is an assessment. This simple idea unlocks us from many of our old teaching habits because when we understand that everything is an assessment, we also naturally come to see that everything is learning. With that realization… poofff… all our old narrow interpretations of learning, our worksheets, our predetermined outcomes and our over-planned lessons vanish in a cloud of smoke!!!
“Action” is the most abstract of the PYP Essential Elements. We know it’s there, we know its important, we know its designed to encourage students to do good things… but we so often misinterpret it, forget about it and trivialize it.
Jane Goodall’s quote, below, puts it in the most simple terms. Students (and teachers) need to see how everything they do represents their “actions” and that reflection on what they do helps them to consider the difference – either good or bad – that their actions make. This could range from putting their shoes away when they get home to reaching for a book instead of an iPad to helping a friend with a problem to noticing a child beggar and mentioning it to a parent to… the list goes on.
Our problem, very often, is that we narrow down what “action” means so much that it has little or no value. Are we surprised, then, that so many of our students go through school believing it is a bake sale?
How do you guide your students towards a sophisticated understanding of Action?
Our Grade 2 students are currently learning about emotions and emotional intelligence. They went on a field trip to the cinema to see Inside Out and the movie has inspired some very interesting thinking.
Cathy, one of the G2 teachers, gave her students a blank piece of A3 paper and asked them to draw what’s inside their heads. She got back a combination of ideas from the movie and original ideas developed by the students. This kind of open task brings out creative ideas, misconceptions, interesting language and unique interpretations that can drive inquiry in ways that teachers would not be able to predict. All too often, teachers provide their students with closed tasks designed to elicit predetermined responses that the teacher determines to be right or wrong, good or bad. When they design ways that create space in the learning for the students’ genuine responses, things are very different!
When I saw the drawings, I immediately wondered what it would be like to photograph them, put them in one of our green screen studios and film the students inside their own heads taking us on a trip around what’s inside their heads! This extended the task into new territory as the students stretched their ability to explain their thinking and to coordinate both sides of their brain as they watched themselves live on the monitor!
So, next time you’re trying to think of a way to find out your students’ ideas, thoughts or feelings, don’t design a closed set of questions to which you can anticipate the answers. Instead, design something open that creates space for them to release information that you couldn’t predict – it’ll be much more interesting.
Sharing assessment pieces with students at the start of a unit, and coming back to them as the unit progresses, allows them to see what it is they need to do to achieve the desired outcome they set for their learning.
How many times have teachers not shared what it is they are looking for from the students until the last minute?
It sounds incredibly unfair to expect them to meet or reach a certain level in their learning if they are unaware of the expectations. By being transparent and sharing with them in good time – and sometimes co-writing assessment criteria with them – allows students to know what they need to do to rise up, develop plans and bridge the gaps in their understanding.
Students will always meet and exceed expectations if they have a clear vision of the learning behaviors and knowledge they need in order to be successful.
Learning always spikes when they know where they are going, or what they need to do to get there!
The Grade 5 students at ISHCMC are currently artists. For their How we express ourselves unit, each students is working on two significant pieces of art – one optimistic and one pessimistic.
This video shows one student discussing her work, her techniques and her thought-processes. This student is utterly engaged by what she is doing and has a very deep understanding of why she is doing it.
Mindfulness practice creates a mood, and skillful educators use that mood to help students be at their best.
Often, the mood that is necessary is one of independence, self-management and self-direction. I find it effective to give students a decent 10 minutes of mindfulness practice. Then, in the final stages of that practice, I ask them to consider what their intentions are for the time that follows. What will they try and achieve? What do they need or want to do?
We work towards being very detailed in the description, so rather than say “I will work on my project” they give specific details like “I will research how to split video files so I can edit my movie”. As you can see in this video, some of the students are quite specific and yet others are very vague. With regular practice, they would all be outlining their intentions with more detail.
This sort of strategy not only creates a mood and helps students be self-directed, it also gives the teacher a big picture of what stage each student is up to with the things they’re working on and how organized they are. In this sense, it is also a formative assessment. After the session in this video, I knew exactly which students I needed to give some time to and follow up with.
Visible thinking is nothing new.
Many people do it, at varying levels.
This got me thinking about how people use visible thinking beyond just using visible thinking strategies. Do we use this to drive student inquires and interests by taking the time to read everything students write or is it just decoration that looks good on the wall?
Let us share something that worked well today and consider the possibilities and potential in the “new doors” that visible thinking strategies open up. At the moment students are exploring, interacting and creating through the arts as a way to launch into their next unit of inquiry. We set the rooms up with different art zones and they had total freedom in what they could do, and choose where to go and when. We just stepped back and let it all happen. 30 minutes into the experience we brought them together to respond to some questions and statements that were written to provoke thinking.
The results were incredibly revealing.
We started to read all of them carefully and noticed that just about every student made a connection that opened up new doors to learning. This is responsive teaching. Could you imagine what doors would open if we gave the students time to explore, create and interact with the powerful statements and ideas they have revealed to us? Whether it be revealing their personality, learning style, knowledge, skills, attitudes…….. it is all telling. They are telling us how to teach them and maybe what they want school to be more like, if we gave them the time to do so. Where could these lead? How could they spark new connections and learning? Are we opening doors and walking through them, or shutting them closed?”
Life is short.
Childhood is even shorter.
Children deserve to come to school and be excited, challenged and motivated. We have our students, in our space, for one year. During this time, we are creating narratives – stories – with them. What are those stories? What stories do our students tell about their days at school?
On Sunday night, my daughter said “I can’t wait to get back to school to work on my project, Daddy. I love what I am doing.”
Wouldn’t it be great if each student said those words to their parents on the night before school? Wouldn’t it be great if every student was totally engrossed in their inquiries. “It feels like playing” she said later.
The first half of the year, in many schools, can be very business-like. Some things that have always been on the agenda may now be expected to be done with consistency and quality. Some familiar things may be done in unfamiliar and better ways. Some new things may be added to the equation in order to take teaching and learning to the next level. This all takes time and effort. It is hard work.
In the second half of the year, however, there may be no surprises. So, focus on those narratives I mentioned above. Focus on working with students so that each day, each week and each month of their lives at school unfold as interesting, exciting, surprising stories of personal growth and learning. If some old habits need to be discarded to make that happen… discard them. If a few risks need to be taken to make that happen… lets take them. If a few people need to be challenged to make that happen… challenge them.
Teachers put a lot of work into figuring out what our students should or could be doing. But, we also need to take a good long look at why. How do we get our students to want to read, question, write, draw, build, listen, design, argue, solve, play, win, collaborate, research, experiment, notice, think…?
Each day, ask yourself these crucial questions:
Would I want to be a student in my class?
Would I be interested in what we are doing?
Would I be inspired by me?
Would this unit excite and motivate me?
Would this experience stimulate my curiosity?
Would I be at my best here?
You want the answers to those questions to be “ÿes”. You are teachers. It is your purpose in life for each of your students to feel that way. It is your source of pride and satisfaction when they do feel that way. It is what gives you a thrill and makes you feel as though all of your effort has real meaning.
Life may be short. But it is shorter when waiting for each day to end, when waiting for the weekend, when waiting for a meeting to be over, when waiting for the next holiday to come. This time is your time, and it is the most important time for your students.
It is their childhood. Help make it an amazing one.
Image by Patrick Breitenbrach
What really matters in life? We all hear this a lot. True.
I’m sure most of us could rattle off an extensive list of what really matters to us. Ultimately, it would boil down to a very small number of things. Family, happiness, and…..well, happiness.
It is so easy to get sucked into things which often sit on the circumference of what really matters. Think about the people and relationships in our life. Why is it that we sometimes treat them worse than complete strangers….. because we know they will always be there. Well, hopefully. This is quite telling and also really stupid. It tells me that people don’t really know what matters or even who matters. Now, let’s think about arguments we have with people. This includes colleagues, friends or family. The real reason the confrontation surfaced often gets lost, and you start fighting about other things. Things that have no connection or relationship to how the initial argument started in the first place. Vexing!
We need to make time for what matters. This requires a lot of effort and awareness. It is all about closing the chasm on what we know we should be doing against what we need to do more of.
This also applies to learning too. We should be asking our students this question every day. “What learning today meant something to you?” I wonder what responses we would get if we asked the students that at the end of each day. Let us make no assumptions about what they would say. Imagine the natural inquiry to extend and explore on the learning that mattered to them. Spending time on something they are on the edge of knowing to help construct their own meaning about learning.
Alright, now I need to bring this posting back to the center. The real purpose and motivation for sharing this points to human interactions more than learning (even though there is an obvious connection to learning). If people could focus on the things that really matter all of the time, our interactions and dealings with others would improve dramatically. If people dump problems, concerns, dilemmas or issues on you challenge it in a way that asks, does this really matter? At what point did things turn sour and what triggered it? People need to find alternative ways to communicate on what is really happening without judgment or ego. Be very clear about making a choice on what is at the center and focus on the ‘one thing’ that needs to be addressed. Stick with it until there is a resolution or a conclusion. Don’t get pulled into the things that end up making us feel overwhelmed or inadequate, either indirectly or directly. A lot of what other people dump on us often says a whole lot more about them, than it does us. Step back, take a breath and take stock of the things that deserve your attention right now. I challenge anyone who is reading this to try it for just one day. Observe any noticeable change in how you feel and/or make others feel too in the process. Challenge people to be better and have the same expectation for yourself. What really matters?