I recently gave this talk at the Learning2 Conference in Manila. What I am basically saying is that things need to change, that we need sudden and urgent change in the world and that schools – if we stop deluding ourselves – can be a powerful source of that change.
There are many things about life today that we passively continue to accept:
- that success = money
- that waste is OK
- that pollution is inevitable
- that destruction = progress
- that new is best
- that media = truth
- that Hollywood represents social/cultural ideals
- that school = work
- that education is the key
- that its OK for technology to lead the way
- that we have no control over the future
I could go on… its really interesting to start a list like that! However, its more interesting, and indeed sobering, to look at education and schools through those lenses and to see just how much we perpetuate the things in the list, to see how much we transfer those ways of thinking to kids.
In my talk, I use the metaphor of moulds… and I think I can take this idea one step further by saying that moulds help us to play it safe. I think schools persistently play it safe – we go about our daily existences in fear of persecution from parents, governing bodies, governments, testing companies, universities, media companies, big business, religious groups etc… As a result, not only have we become passive, we have also become rather bland.
I challenge any school to seriously reflect on its impact on society. Has it made a positive impact? Has it made a negative impact? Has it made any impact at all? What is it doing about that?
Everybody goes through school. People’s school “careers” define their futures. So, what kind of futures are we defining? Do we know? Can we be bothered to find out? Are our alumni making a positive impact on society?
These are HUGE questions. But, surely its time to start trying to find out, trying to discover what our actual impact is as perpetuators of the status quo or as agents of change.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not happy with the status quo.
It is extremely powerful to change classrooms in order to reflect the kind of learning that is taking place at the time. So, for example, they become art studios during creative units, science labs during scientific units, museums during historical ones and so on. Students should be encouraged to think about how their physical space can enhance learning and how it can be adapted to help them do their best.
The move from the old building to this new, renovated building has been a revelation, I’m sure you will all agree. We have all had to rethink the way we set up our classrooms and consider our use of space with creativity and with the kids firmly in mind.
I was inspired to take photos of the Year 2 classrooms when I popped in there this morning as I felt that they were filled with language and visible thinking. Here’s a virtual tour.
Can any of you spot the object that Colleen went and bought for each class?
One thing I’m always on the look-out for is evidence of student thinking. I love to walk into a classroom or down a corridor and be able to get a sense of what the students are thinking about and working on even when they’re not there to explain it to me. The sort of displays that achieve this are often not the beautifully perfect, mounted, manicured displays that we have all been forced to do at various stages in our careers – the kind of displays that take so long to put up that we leave them up for months – long after they are relevant! They are usually messy, imperfect, full of errors and would give one or two heads of school I have worked for nightmares!
However, when teachers use their walls and windows to make thinking visible, they immerse their students in thought, they affirm and give value to the students’ thoughts and they map out where students have come from and where they head to. It is very powerful to see students walking up to a display board to remind themselves of something they put on a post-it note two weeks previously, or pulling a tag off the wall to help them write a reflection or to assess how much their conceptual understanding has developed in a unit of inquiry.
Here’s a slideshow of some examples of making thinking visible that I saw today: