My two daughters are in Grade 1 and Kindergarten.
These days, we return from work, feed the kids, wash up, play or relax with them for a bit and then start the routines of bathing, reading and preparing for bed.
But, we are bad parents! We have been neglecting their homework. It is strange though… we are educators and, quite frankly, we believe there is more value in us spending a little time just being with our children, involving them in the cooking or letting them go for a bike ride, than there is in sitting them down for thirty minutes and doing more school work.
To be perfectly honest, eight hours at school should be quite sufficient for kids of this age – or, indeed, for kids of any age. Time invested in the family, in active play or just relaxing, is far more important… don’t you think?
Of course, it isn’t the teachers’ fault – they are usually just responding to the demands of fee-paying parents. It also puts them into an awkward position – after all, they may not agree with giving these kids homework anyway but still have to be seen to expect all the kids to do it. Those were certainly my sentiments when I had a class of my own.
What other kids would do with their time is also an issue. When TV, iPads, Playstations and other electronic devices are in the equation then there is the danger of those kids not having the chance to do more positive things with their time than stare at screens and ignore (or be ignored!). But is homework, or certain types of homework, actually worse or better than that?
Anyway, its a little rant of mine, but one I am sure many parents would empathise with and another example of schools just continuing with something they know is not philosophically a good idea simply because some parents demand it. The role of school in the education/re-education of parents is very often neglected.
On the eve of publication of The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald removed more than thirty pages from the novel. This was at the ‘galley’ stage, when the author is sent proofs to check for errors before printing proceeds.
The pages Fitzgerald struck out consisted mainly of Gatsby talking to Nick about himself. By taking them out, the novelist created a gap in his narrative, posed the question implied in the title, and preserved the mystery surrounding his central character. It is this gap which has driven the fame of his masterpiece in the 88 years since its publication.
As in narrative, so in inquiry – it is the gaps which drive engagement. The gaps are where the imagination plays. Reading is a creative activity; narrating a collaboration between storyteller and listener.
But you can’t have a gap by itself, of course. It has to be a gap in something. Through the outsider Nick Carraway, we observe Gatsby staring at the green light across the bay. We hear his party guests swapping wild rumours about him, we learn of their fascination with this gentleman thug, we wonder why he doesn’t attend his own parties…. a little later we hear his fantastical life-story from his own lips and don’t believe a word of it.
At the last moment, Fitzgerald decided to leave it like that. And so Jay Gatsby remained a living, breathing contradiction, and became immortal.
To create the space for inquiry, you need to plot your curriculum. The word ‘plot’, by the way, is not synonymous with ‘story’. It means the way the story is told – its narrative structure – what we learn in what order, and how – and when (if ever). A storyteller never tells the whole story. As a storyteller it’s good to leave out the boring bits – but leaving out the most interesting bits is sometimes a stroke of genius.
Know your curriculum… and then make it accessible to students in a way that helps them to develop their own knowledge. The thing is that the curriculum is complex and a little wordy. Breaking it all down and in a way that makes sense to students opens the door of genuine inquiry.
Once students know what it is they need to know they then become more knowledgeable. This happens in two ways:
- They know what it is they are learning about,
- They know what knowledge they will need to move deeper and further into their inquiry.
From here, all the other essential elements of the PYP will open up for real inquiry. Before they even get to the knowledge component, they need to know what it all actually means. Let me walk you through step by step something that supported the students in developing their own understanding and meaning.
Students recorded their first thinking about what each of the 4 science strands meant to them. This informed me what they already knew about each one and gave me a very accurate picture as to their knowledge base as scientists.
Next, the students had the opportunity to read a lot of non-fiction text all about science across the four strands. They skimmed and scanned a wide range of books. They had a lot of time to do this on their own.
After reading independently they were able to share and connect the things they had noticed and discuss and explain together.
They then teamed up again and connected the things that they read and saw in the books and transferred to their second thinking. The language and details really lifted to a deeper and wider range from being exposed to scientific books.
As a result of finding out what they first new and then allowing them to research in a very informal setting, their second thinking was now very solid and they had made a huge step forward in knowing much more about each strand.
Our next step is to gather all their curiosities and then sort and categorize them into the correct science strand. By following the above steps the students informed my teaching on what they already know, what they need to know and what knowledge we need to develop as we look closer at each of their questions and thinking.
Students wrote as many questions as they could about the things they were curious about.
They also wrote questions from the things they recorded from the field trip the day before.
Students put their questions to the science strand that it naturally connected to which helped to develop and see how science connects to so many things.
Now we are ready to take one of their burning questions and start to connect it to the concepts to channel and focus the way they will approach and plan the next steps.
By Paul Dunbar, IB Literature and Theory of Knowledge Teacher
Time and space are the dimensions we live in.
As a literature teacher, my field is narrative, and I point out to my students that all stories must take place in time and space, just as our lives do. A story is not a photograph, but a movie. Narrative is a linear form: it takes time to tell a story, and time within the story must also elapse, though not at the same rate that it passes outside of the story. Likewise, a story must occur in space – it is very difficult to imagine a story that does not have a setting of some kind, that does not take place somewhere. Place is the performance space the characters will occupy.
All of that is rather obvious, of course, but it points us to the most fundamental questions the storyteller has to engage with. How will I handle time in telling this story? And how will I create space?
In formulating these two questions, I’m not sure I have the verbs right. The idea of ‘handling’ time for instance – is it possible to touch time with your hands? Isn’t that a bit like putting your hands in water and saying that you’re ‘handling’ the water? To handle implies being able to encompass and direct something with your hands – money, for instance, or food. Is it a bit arrogant to speak of ‘handling’ time? And ‘creating’ space?
But the storyteller – the novelist, the film-maker, the poet, the graphic novelist – must do exactly that: create worlds, populate them, fold and unfold sequences of events within them. If your narrative fails to create an imagined space – a storyworld – which the reader can enter, it will be just words on a page.
And if that space is not filled with the invisible, dynamic flows of time, your audience will not be engaged.
So is teaching a kind of storytelling?
Yes! And I mean that not metaphorically but quite literally. Teaching isn’t like storytelling – it is storytelling.
If your students look forward to your class, they do so for the same reasons that they look forward to the next installment of a story. (Something might happen in the class which will carry the plot forward. Or not!)
The idea of a course as a narrative and the teacher as a narrator is not just a fancy metaphor. The parallel can have a profound, empowering and literal truth for a teacher, and I’d like to take the idea forward in future posts. If as a teacher you accept that you are a storyteller, not a social engineer, a programmer or a bureaucrat, suddenly there is a great deal you can learn from the art of narrative.
I suppose the first thing to learn is that what you are doing is as full of creative possibilities and challenges as telling a story, whether in the form of a novel, a film, a comic-book, or any of the myriad other forms of narrative. And the first of these possibilities and challenges are:
How will I handle time?
How will I create space?
This year we have introduced something called a round table discussion. The students sit together and face one another. We then have them read an article or will tell them something to spark a conversation. It may be something controversial which will invite a debate or be something to simply share their personal view on the subject.
To begin with the teacher will need to guide and manage the flow of the conversation. Once the students have had enough experience it can be handed over to them. A lead student (tracker) can then record who speaks and contributes to the conversation by mapping it on a piece of paper.
We have found that it is best to start with the whole class. This will model how to conduct the discussions. Once they get the hang of it, then reduce the number of students. The dynamics will shift immediately and the quieter students will feel more comfortable to express and engage with the conversation.
This is such a powerful way to promote speaking and listening skills. The students then summarize the conversation and gain a deeper insight to different perspectives. From here they may either shift their original thinking because of someone else in the group or just strengthen their own conclusion.
Experiment doing this in your class to suit the students you teach. We will be doing this a lot more and will share these films with you in the near future. If you do try it please show us how you approached it with your students.
Most educators agree with almost everything that Sir Ken Robinson says. But, how many of us fight tooth and nail to make what he says become a reality in our classrooms and schools? We laugh at his jokes, nod meaningfully at his nuggets of wisdom and shake our heads mournfully at his painful truths. But, what do we do about any of it?
This is his latest piece of brilliance. As he speaks, think carefully… what lessons have we learned from him and are we actually making them happen?
The skills and talents that students develop in their specialist lessons should come back into the homeroom and be explored further as a means of expression for their learning. This is particularly true during the PYP Exhibition, but is actually equally true for any unit of inquiry.