Monday, June 22, 2009

Tapping into the student's world

Every student brings with them memories and ideas gained from the experiences they have had. All too often this personal form of motivation is overlooked by teachers who seem to think they have better ideas to use - their own. It is as if students come to school as blank slates ( tabula rosa) when instead they come with a wealth of ideas to share but to do their ideas need to be valued.

The idea of school that many people have, unfortunately including many teachers, a place where students come to learn. Such people see children as not knowing much and school is the place where they will learn what is required as defined by adults who presume to know.

There are those of course who have the opposite view that from birth children are programmed by evolution to learn from their experiences and by the time they arrive at formal schooling they have achieved the amazing ability to walk, talks , draw and develop theories about everything; theories they continually revise as their experience enlarges.

The stance taken about how children learn is vital. Those who think they know more than the child work out prescribed curriculums and, as part of this, develop elaborate systems to see thing as are being learnt - including National testing. This is the 'jug and mug' theory of learning where the teacher is the full jug and the teachers job is to pour knowledge from the full jug to the empty mug.

For others the aim is to do everything to keep alive those innate desire to learn - or to 'recover' it if it has been subverted by prior experiences. No child is ever an empty mug and every child comes to school with their own 'knowledge'.The teacher's job is to find out what the students know and help them develop better understandings by providing the necessary conditions and challenges to do so.

To help students value their own desire to learn teachers need to tap into their student's experiences and to value their questions and concerns. To do this we need to be concerned with their culture rather than judging them on how well they fit into adult expectations.

There is an endless range of topics we could introduce to find out what they really think and many could well evolve into a curriculum of real depth and challenge - one the students feel represents their own lives. The need to write, draw, read, and, most of all, think is a natural outcome of such teaching.

Before anything is learnt comes the experience - really experiences and learning are one and the same thing; the richer the experiences the richer the learning.

Creative teacher need to be alert for the 'teachable moment'. Seasonal changes provide wonderful opportunities to gather children's poetic responses question and theories: storms, heavy rain, flooding gutters, vicious winds, thunder and lightening, hail, a still day, clouds, frosts, Autumn leaves caught in the fences, all provide experiences to make use of.

Many such experiences might only take a few moments but some will evolve into extensive studies if they catch the students curiosity.

The immediate environment provides another source of inspiration - both man made and natural.To take full advantage of such events students need to be skilled in using their senses and be encouraged to express their ideas poetically. Digital cameras are ideal to capture aspects to later write or draw about. Most schools have access to parks, flowering trees and shrubs, pieces of bush, cemeteries, churches, car wreckers, and all sort of shops and local industry to explore.

Students all have special interests and hobbies they can share with class members -and one again some might develop into studies. Parents interests are another rich area to tap into.

When it comes to motivating topics for oral expression and writing every child has their own rich store of memories to tap into - the stories of their own lives should be the first stories they encounter. All sorts of themes could inspire personal writing:time in hospital, accident, parties, celebrations, exploring emotions ( fear, being lost, moments of sadness, punishment, worrying times, happy events etc), favourite food experiences, things I love to do, secret adventures, the wedding, birth of my bother/sister, getting revenge, in trouble, the accident, all about my mum, dad, gran or grandad, family stories, best holiday ever, things I wonder about, adventures with my pet, so embarrassing, it's not fair,secrets, my room, thoughts about the future, whats good about school, the argument....

Such events are part of the life of us all and provide material for personal writing or drawing/painting. Often literature, or poems, or artwork, can contribute to, or inspire, personal thoughts and in turn writing (and reading).

If the classrooms belong to learners their response to ideas above ought to feature. Even in class themes there is plenty of room for personal interpretations.

Teachers who wish to capitalize on such experiences would be advised to begin the process by sharing some of their own remembered experiences modeling the types of language they want to encourage.

A good idea for teachers is to encourage their students to choose one thing ( or the important moment)and then to expand on what has been chosen if they want their students to feel the power of story telling or writing ( or drawing).

Teachers who see their role as one of ensuring students value their own lives will ensure students develop a positive sense of self -students who are able to learn through their experiences and to continue being the 'confident life long learners' able to 'seek , use and create their own knowledge' as required by our 'new' curriculum.

Links for Ideas for themes and the writing process.

The writing process.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that educationalists can be divided into three groups on continuim. At the far right are the technocrats who see learning as fragmented, measurable and testable -a process where teachers transfer to their students what they ought to know. At the extreme left are those who see teaching as holistic and connected to the learners experience, where the teacher's role is one of creating the conditions to help students learn for themselves. Such techetrs beliee there is more to learning than what can be measured. In the 'muddle in the middle' lie the majority - going which ever way the official wind blows.

Unfortunately tbose who wish to measure and classify, who want to narrow learning down to testable 'next step' basics, are in the current 'official' camp.

However creativity and ideas underpin those who see things more liberally - they wait for their time as the creaky traditional system ( cf the financial world)continues to fail and new ideas are called for.

Does this ring true? Unfortunately so called research backs up both extreme approaches - research is anything but objective.

The philosophy of the teacher, or lack of it, is everything.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Coudn't agree more - the technocrats will continue to rule the roost unless teachers can claim back their professionalism.

Allanah K said...

We seem to be over-run with university types who think the answer lies in a multi-choice AsTTle test. I am getting increasingly concerned about the fine range of what is tested with AsTTle- we then get to be 'fill in the gaps' teachers who construct programmes based around perceived gaps in learning.

One mis-ticked box or a lucky guess and whole chunks of learning will be required or deemed not to be needed.

Teaching is about lighting the fire not filling the pail.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Allanah. You are so right. We do seem to over-run with university types of the 'if you can't measure it it doesn't count types' and, as you say, 'fill in the gaps' teachers. Certainly doesn't sound lke the thinking required for a new creative century!