“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?
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.
Last week, Yoojin and I were talking about new ideas and possibilities to consider for her Passion Project. On the following Monday she came to school and everything we had talked about she had followed up with by taking action. She didn’t do what we were talking about, but our chat inspired other ideas which then lead to more ideas. Clearly, Yoojin had thought deeply about the conversation we had and then put those words into purposeful action.
This then gave me an idea and I saw an opportunity to extend this to every student in the class.
Each student had till Friday to do one thing that they have been talking about doing and never got around to it, or do something that connected to learning throughout the week. The conditions were really simple, they had to prove with evidence of how their words and actions had come together.
Students are really good at talking about ideas and most of the time don’t do anything about it. They often take action only as a result of an adult telling them to do it.
We all had a remarkable week of learning, connecting and accepting responsibility. Every student had something to show and share. Here is a list of some of the things students did as part of their Yoojin Project:
- Two girls arranged to ride to school together;
- Washing up the dishes;
- Playing with their brother or sister;
- Putting more effort and detail into their exposition writing;
- Taking photos of graffiti in the community;
- Spending more time with their mum and talking about their day….. and so on.
Everything that students did was timely. It was always connected to learning, knowledge and skills. Most important of all this experience was developing them as people.
Students saw the value and meaning in what they were doing and why they were doing it. They received feedback about their Yoojin Project by their peers. They felt really positive and good about themselves. This is what successful people do – they are doers.
How much time do you take away from the other ‘stuff’ jammed into your schedule and put it into something that is authentic, purposeful and meaningful naturally? Sometimes we need to teach beyond the curriculum to reach them in other ways.
We all need to carefully listen and observe our students in what they do. We also need to take it one step further and make time to take these opportunities and treat them as priorities in what we teach.
The Yoojin Project is now part of us and what we do. The students know that this term means putting their words into action. Now how special is that for Yoojin!
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
From what I have observed as a teacher and as a pedagogical leader, perhaps the fundamental questions teachers need to ask themselves are “do you know your personality, do you know how your personality affects the way you teach and do you know if your personality is willing to be malleable?”
To experiment with the pedagogical approaches that are shared on this blog, I have found that the following personality traits would be a good start:
– a curious person
– knowledgeable about all of the weird and wonderful things people do in their lives
– willing to learn from any experience, including those created by kids
– willing to know your curriculum and treat it as a friend
– willing to allow uncertainty into your teaching domain
– willing to allow things to become messy
– willing to resist peer pressure to conform in order to do things that feel right for your students
– willing to reeducate parents so that they too may see learning differently
– willing to make things happen rather than dictate what happens
– willing to set aside your agenda in order to watch, listen to, notice and begin to understand your students
Many of us are this way already. But, others may become more like this…
To be a teacher who truly has an effect on students you must know learning. To know how to teach is not sufficient, instead you must become skilled and dexterous at noticing learning. And this is learning without predetermined boundaries. Contexts yes, boundaries no. For when we establish too narrowly the boundaries of learning we instantly rule out learning that is new and different.
To know learning, you must know life. An adult who “lives to work” will struggle here as a direct result of inevitably becoming rather narrow minded. An adult who is aware, who is regularly challenged and exposed by new situations, an adult with knowledge beyond her own area of expertise is much more likely to be able to see learning of different types.
This type of person sees and makes connections that enrich life in their classroom. Most of these connections are spontaneous and not planned for. This type of person responds to students in a way that makes the student feel that they are part of a wider world, not a classroom bubble. Connections are frequently made with media, knowledge, literature, ideas, people, businesses, organizations and aspects of society that lie within and beyond the walls of the school.
When this culture of connections exists in your classroom, learning can take many forms… sometimes being so “disguised” that it looks unlike learning in any traditional sense. Learning lies in the background and provides forward momentum for students regardless of what it is they are doing.
If you were to walk in to the classroom of a teacher like this, you would see them:
- Creating contexts in which students are engaged and energized.
- Differentiating – in a sophisticated sense – so that students are pursuing their own inquiries or working on their own projects.
- Getting out of the habit of playing “guess whats in my head”. Sharing ideas and making connections with and for students as and when they are needed has a profound effect on the directions students can take.
- “Noticing and naming” the learning that is taking place in order to validate what students are doing and help them plot their way forward, navigating their way through their curriculum.
- Establishing a meaningful reflective process that creates a culture of intrinsic motivation for students.
- Taking steps to set classrooms up as “learning studios” that are dynamic spaces that change according to what students are doing.
- Skillfully and intelligently documenting learning using different forms of media.
- Empowering students by deliberately creating a “culture of permission” in which students feel that they can give things a go and that their teacher is able to work with them to make things happen.
Do you know any teachers like this? I do. And all too often they are in the minority. How do we change that?
In the market, on Saturdays and other special days, he sits and mends broken chairs. Not just any chairs, but those made with wicker or weaved rope. The immediate reaction is “how does he stay in business?”. I mean, do people really get their chairs repaired?
As I stood there, a middle aged couple brought their wooden chair up, a gaping hole in the weave where someone had clearly put their foot through it – probably a grandchild – and handed it over. They chatted for a bit and he pointed at the areas that would need to be worked on in order to restore it. Then, the couple bid him a good day and they wandered into the market, stopping for a moment to greet an older couple pushing a trolley full of paper bags of fruit.
This little scene, which probably lasted only a few minutes, had such a profound effect on me that I felt it in my chest. I felt like I had been learning as I watched, and the learning was of a melancholy nature. I felt I had witnessed several aspects of humanity that were on the decline, that were losing their place in society because of their inability to compete with other aspects of humanity that are most cost-effective.
The man who repairs things seems to be a thing of the past in most societies. It is now too easy to simply go and get a new object for less than you would pay for the old object to be fixed. As a result, we discard things freely and attach little or no value to things which less than a generation ago would have been prized possessions. I don’t know the provenance of that chair, but one could imagine that couple’s parents may well have sat on it eating their breakfast when they were in their 20s. By getting it repaired, their great-grandchildren may well do the same. That has to be the right way, don’t you think?
A side-effect of all of this for education is that working with your hands is also becoming a thing of the past. My three-year old son was transfixed watching the Chair Repair Man work the wood and twine and wicker in his strong, nimble hands. I could see that my son wanted to have a go, to touch the materials and see if he could make them do the same things. But, sadly, the schools I work in will educate this tendency out of him. Sure… he’ll be allowed to build with blocks and other stuff in Early Years. But, sooner or later, all that will be dismissed and he will end up like the rest of them sitting in rows staring at screens.
He may also never know what it feels like to walk up to someone and chat about their trade, learn about how they will do something for you and then negotiate a price – to make human interactions a valued part of daily life. He will probably interact purely through a device, if that involves anything that can actually be called an “interaction”.
And, as we become more and more convinced that staring at a device having surface-level conversation with groups of people who like everything we say is “socializing”, I would say his chances of bumping into someone he has known for many years and stopping for a regular conversation are pretty negligible. Which is sad, not old-fashioned. Just plain, simple sad. Don’t you think?
So, I’m starting to sound like some anti-technological, retro-Dinosaur type aren’t I? But I wrote this on a laptop, I will upload it to a website and I will share it with my PLN using Twitter. I know how to use the stuff… I just don’t want it to use me, or for it to replace what is real and right, or for it to rob my children of what it feels like to work with their hands and hang out with people face-to-face.
It is down to our generation to fight for a few things, to embrace the new while preserving the old. Being progressive has never been a synonym for being submissive. Personally, I think it is education’s duty not to be submissive.