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.
- Do teachers disagree yet remain friends?
- Do students learn to disagree and yet remain friends?
- Are students taught the skills of disagreement?
- Do leaders encourage disagreement?
- Do people have the time to disagree?
- Is disagreement valued?
I recently ran my first, official, “Time, Space, Education” workshop at Mt. Scopus Memorial College and have come away with plenty to think about. This will be the first of several posts in which I reflect on my experiences there, what I gained from running a workshop and what I gained from the feedback received from participants. This first posting is based on Edna Sackson’s posting called Communities of practice in which she refers to a “culture of thinking”.
Bill and Ochan Powell recently said:
“You can tell a huge amount about a school within the first ten minutes just by watching how adults relate to each other.”
I was struck, very quickly, at Mt. Scopus, by a willingness amongst the staff to have disagreements. People would regularly challenge each other openly, and remain friends. This is quite different to the culture I have found in international schools. Something about them frequently seems to prevent people from having disagreements, perhaps out of fear of “rocking the boat”, “wasting time”, “causing conflict” or worrying about being tainted as “difficult”. International school teachers frequently hold in their disagreements or challenges and can sometimes let them fester into negative emotions like resentment or isolation. I am wondering why this is and I definitely think we have a lot to learn from schools like Mt. Scopus.
Another key ingredient to a culture of thinking , in my opinion, is that people have the confidence to clarify their thinking if someone is misinterpreting them – or even simply not listening properly to them. Many times, as I observed or took part in conversations over the two days, I witnessed people saying things like “no… what I am saying is” or “hang on, that’s not what I mean” or “wait a minute, you’re not really listening”. I really loved this, simply because whenever someone does that it inevitably leads to a more powerful conversation for all the people involved, and everyone walks away feeling that they have been understood. Again, this is not always the way things are in international schools.
On several occasions, and particularly when challenged to really bash out ideas to try and reach consensus on what units of inquiry are actually about, the staff at Mt. Scopus displayed genuine, heartfelt emotions. People’s emotions about what and how they teach can often be interpreted as a negative thing. Perhaps they are upset because they put that unit together or because they really like that unit themselves or because they are resistant to change. When things became emotional at Mt. Scopus, however, it was very clear that the emotions were connected to a real sense of how important some units are to the students’ lives. These emotions are positive and are a very clear, outward indicator that you are working with people who care about their job and who take learning seriously. When we respond to something with emotion and then take the time (and are given the chance) to explain our feelings and thoughts, it leads to greater focus, creativity, innovation and ultimately improves student learning. When we hide, suppress or stigmatize emotional reactions to professional conversations, we forget why we are teachers in the first place.
These three things are essential if we are to continue to develop as teachers, and as communities of teachers. It was very exciting to be immersed in that kind of culture for a few days.
Something exciting happened this week. James Forsythe, from Phuket International Academy, has been reading the 6SS Class Blog. He noticed some similarities between what our 6SS have been thinking about and what his Grade 3/Year4 class have been thinking about. Both classes have been looking at wisdom and trying to understand what it means. He showed this posting from the 6SS blog to his students and used the 6SS students thinking to take his students’ conversations further:
Read the comments to see how the students’ thinking develops and to see where James adds his students’ thinking to the conversation.
James then sent through some photos to show the process he took his students through to arrive at their interpretations of what wisdom is.
This kind of cross-pollination of thinking using a blog doesn’t happen that often, but it’s great when it does. Has it happened to you? I am always happy to help people work on their blogs to make them work better as learning tools.
I have really been working hard on strategies to make my students’ inquiries visible, not only for my benefit but for theirs too. Over the last two weeks, my students have been conducting research as part of our unit of inquiry. The central idea is:
“People’s ideas and actions can cause a shift in thinking and change the course of history.”
I decided that I would base the whole unit on what the students already know, rather than try to fill their minds with information from videos and texts. I really wanted to take a wholly constructivist approach. To do this, I developed a number of resources and the kids used them in this order:
- The Prior Knowledge Tag
- The Construction of Knowledge & Understanding Tag
- The Research Skills Checklist
- The Knowledge After Research Tag
The students did not start any research until they had generated useful questions as a result of filling in the outer section of the “Construction of Knowledge & Understanding Tag”.
After completing each tag, the students pinned them up around the provocation question on the notice boards in our room. This makes their inquiries and their thought-processes visible.
It enables them to use each other’s thinking and it enables me to assess their thinking. It enables my colleagues, other students or visitors to get an immediate idea of what the students are thinking about and inquiring into right now. When our unit of inquiry reaches an end, the students will be able to pull down their tags and use them to reflect and to gather evidence of their thought processes and the paths of their learning.
Classroom displays are powerful when they are dynamic and truly represent the thinking that is going on at the moment.
Classroom displays are powerless and obsolete when they are static and represent the thinking that has happened months before.