Sunday, February 08, 2009
Discovery Time is a most valuable book written by two New Zealand educators Brenda Martin and Gay Hay. To acquire this book visit their website. Discovery Time, an activity based programme held once a week, provides an exciting environment in which to strengthen the key competencies and bring fun into children's learning.
I have visited a number of schools that have introduced 'Discovery Time' but until now have not taken the time to discover what it was all about. All I knew was that the teachers in the schools involved were highly enthusiastic.
Last week, by chance, I became more informed about Discovery time and now have no hesitation in providing my wholehearted support. I was presenting creative teaching and learning ideas at a school in Lower Hutt where one of the authors, Brenda, a Resource Teacher Learning and Behaviour ( RTLB), was attached. The principal assured me that we would have much in common.
At the conclusion of my session the 'author' and I had a discussion during which I was given copy of their book.
Discovery Time was introduced to create a balance between the skills and knowledge demands of curriculum and the activity-based , student-directed focus that many teachers believe in.
One one hand, the authors write, there is large body of research that indicates young children learn best through developmentally appropriate, experience-based student-directed learning, whilst on the other hand there is a demand for measurable, outcome focused, highly structured and teacher directed programmes.
The authors believe that we have tipped too far towards the outcome focused assessment model at the expense of a more holistic experiential learning; that we have become so focused on academic learning that we have neglected important social and emotional needs.
As a result play ( 'the natural way children go about the business of learning') is being neglected and as 'children don't get a chance to test ideas, explore and experiment because they are always meeting imposed adult expectations. As a result young children are not as resilient as they no longer have the time nor the opportunity to try things out, make mistakes, fall flat on their faces and then pick themselves up.
World wide, the authors report, that the emphasis on improving test scores has neglected creativity and innovation.In order to foster creativity children need to be actively involved in wide-ranging experiential learning and able to participate in learning of their own choosing.
In order to redress some of these concerns new curriculum have introduced 'key competencies', 'the things all people need to know and be able to do in order to live meaningfully in, and contribute in , and contribute to, a well functioning society'.
Discovery Time was written in response to this need and is a programme that provides an activity-based student directed environment where students have the to opportunity to explore and develop 'key competencies'.
The authors write that, while their programme is loosely based on 'Developmental' or 'Choosing Time' a strong features of New Zealand junior school classrooms of the 70s and 80s, it provides a greater facilitative role for teachers; a greater emphasis on quality feedback and teacher interaction.
I particularly liked the structure the authors provide for the ninety minute discovery time. The teacher begins by introducing the focus for the day which may target a specific aspect of the key competencies as well as the content involved.
The children then select and participate in the activities during which teachers provide feedback, ask questions and generally encourage students to take learning risks and to expand their thinking.
At the end of the session the class comes together in a 'wrap up' session to share and reflect on what they have learnt.
The implications of each key competencies are clearly explained which I am sure teachers will find valuable.
Teachers are also provided with a planning format which covers the three steps outlined above to assist them make the best use of discovery time. Teachers will also find the assessment suggestions useful along with the extensive lists of possibilities to include in discovery time. Detailed examples of planned units are provided to give even greater guidance.
The theme of the book is that the possibilities are endless.
The philosophy behind discovery time could easily be extended to cover most of the school day and certainly can be used to introduce, or contribute to, more extensive class integrated explorations.
Discovery Time is a good idea, one developed by classroom teachers for classroom teachers. It is an approach that builds on the beliefs of creative New Zealand teachers and I am sure it will spread as teachers tire of the current imposed 'best practice' outcome based measurable programmes.
It is a programme that values the creativity of teachers and that is its real strength.
The book comes with a most valuable CDROM.