Monday, March 22, 2010

Wrong 'default' position?

A lot of people students still know lived their formative years in the 1940s and such individuals would make a great primary source to research to note similarities and differences between then and now. Such topics make authentic, or rich, research studies for children in upper primary and middle schools and would to help such students get a 'feeling for ' life in such times as well as reinforcing inquiry mindsets.

When visiting primary and middle school classes it is not hard to see the 'default position' of most teachers.Literacy and numeracy times take up the 'prime time' during the day - study topics and the creative arts are all too often a 'tack on'.

This is the opposite to my own position and the creative teachers I have worked with over the years. For 'us' the current study topic played a central role and provided the 'energy' for much of the rest of the day - particularly the language block ( now called by the narrower term the literacy block).

If I were to ever be a teacher again ( not very likely as it all looks too hard to me) I would place inquiry central to almost all learning and make use of a language arts or experience based approach to develop students deep understanding. Language time needs to be integrated with the afternoon inquiry programme. I know this happens but it is the emphasis that worries me; the lack of emphasis on the study content in literacy time.

Maybe it is times to give up literacy and numeracy almost ruling supreme.

I was pleased to read recently of how a research based organisation that had outlined how their innovative strategies could be applied to learning ( ironic because this was once the case for many teachers).

The 'default' position to achieve this would be to place student creativity at centre and see literacy and numeracy as means to achieve in depth learning - a change of emphasis; a 're framing' of literacy.

The problem solving research model suggested was:

1 Start with project brief - the set of challenges and questions that give the class a framework to begin and some benchmarks by which they can measure progress. The final results , class, group, and individual, become authentic assessments of the learning that has been achieved. At this stage it is important to gauge the current understandings ( 'prior knowledge')and skills the students have. Some of the outcomes will also include aspects of creative language and the arts.

2 Ask 'How might we..?' Well crafted inquiry questions will drive the process. If answers can be provided by 'google' they're the wrong questions! By requiring such things as similarities and contrasts such superficial learning can be avoided. It is at this stage the language arts time can be used to introduce content and to teach necessary inquiry and expressive skills. A range of resources that contribute to the study needs to be gathered as primary resources to sift and sort through requiring real information gathering skills. The classroom walls can begin to show the inquiry process and be added to as ideas are developed. Displays can be set up to motivate thinking.

3 Form research teams. All good projects require both individual and team effort. Such teams in business are typically small, focused and interdisciplinary. Groups will be working to research different aspects and requires considerable teacher input to see tasks chosen are focused and suitable.

4 To begin teams might start with brainstorming to develop ideas to follow up. To work well rules need to be in place - defer judgement, encourage wild ideas, stay focused on the topic and , most important of all, build on the ideas of others. Such brainstorming and idea clarification make ideal language time tasks.

5 Embrace the mess. Nothing in real life works out as planned.New ideas and directions will emerge and may need to be followed up. This 'emergence' is at the heart of real research. Design thinkers learn how to embrace the mess - such research is a creative process not one of following pre-set plans. Students need to be helped to see the patterns and relationships as they present themselves and a creative teacher is great asset to assist students draw things together.

6 'Go with the flow and learn to let go'. As the project unfolds ideas will come together to produce finished pieces of research, art , language or whatever media students have settled on. There are range of media available for students to present their idea to each other (and to their parents and the wider community). The classroom walls need to show progress, completed artifacts and work in progress. Keeping all the 'stuff' visible is important to assist students see patterns and possibilities. It also gives students opportunities to see and talk about each others work.

Many teachers currently use aspects of such an inquiry model but to work well it needs to be the 'default mode for' all teachers. Learning is an 'emergent' activity and not one that can be planned in advance as is all too often the case.

It is how some of us used to work in the past.


Learn Japanese said...

I like the ideas you present in this post. I hated high school. The learning environment was void of life and boring.

In particular I had trouble with exam and greatly feared them.

I think social interaction and creativity should be encouraged and rewarded in learning environments

BeginningTNorthland! said...

This blog made me, as a beginning teacher remember and re think again my position in the classroom and my delivery! Thanks again for helping.

Ms F said...

I am currently teaching a range of children from Years 0-2 and am amazed by the difference in ability between a 5 and 6 year old. It is incredible how much is learned in the first year at school and children I am working with now as Year 2s who were Year 1s in my class last year have made remarkable progress. We do centre our teaching around inquiry, however, I do believe that for open ended questioning to occur children need to have some base literacy skills. I will often use audio tools like an Easy-Speak microphone, voicethread etc to record a Year 0/1 child's ideas and opinions so they are not limited by the usual discrepancy between oral language and reading/writing skills whereas a Year 2 child with more advanced literacy skills has more independence. I was lucky to hear one of Mark Treadwell's keynotes in which he stated that the Junior teacher's role is to teach literacy - especially building oral language/vocabulary and while lots of this is possible through the motivating experience of Inquiry learning I still think that there is a need for specific, focused literacy teaching for young children.

Bruce Hammonds said...

As long as you work with what chidren bring with them to any learning situation and then to help them express their ideas you can't go wrong. It is when teachers' think they have the answers for children's problems that the rot sets in.