Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Discovering Learning... inspired by #EdBlogNZ challenge

My little boy is about to turn five and will soon begin school. It has been an awesome journey watching him learn and grow over the last five years, he continues to amaze me daily. It has been unsettling at the same time however. Watching him learn through play, trial and error, persistence and the emotional attachment to caring adults around him has made me reflect on my teaching philosophy. I have learned a lot about child centred learning through playcentre training and through continued learning about the brain and behaviour. The best teachers I have had are my little man, his friends, our other playcentre families and now the children in my classroom. I have always felt that we are unique and learn in our own time in a conducive environment, not that which is dictated by birthdays, curriculum levels, national testing standards or someone else's policy. The question that screams at me often is who decided that at five years old play is no longer a relevant way to learn? It serves us so well in the first five years and then becomes relegated to what we do when the bells go after we have been 'learning'.  
Now I know I am not the only one thinking about this and I know great stuff is going on that is challenging that final perception. I have been exploring learning through play and discovery time (as well as genius hour and project based learning) over the last wee while and have embarked on at the very least sharing more control with my class. It has been a journey as we have been building more self management in for our class since the start of the year to be able to operate successfully at this point. One resource I have read is Discovery Time by Brenda Martin and Gay Hay (http://www.discoverytime.co.nz/), it is an easy read and I love the relation to our key competencies. 

So what's been happening lately... 
During term three we have been opening up our reading activities so rather than dictating set activities per mixed ability group per day, the students have the opportunity to choose literacy activities. This has been much more successful than I had envisaged. The big rule: students must be able to tell us what they are learning in the 'activity' they are doing with a focus being on literacy learning at the time. (Not that we ask very often but it creates a mindset of thoughtful selection... well that's the hope anyway) 
As an aside, towards the end of the term I had one child ask me if he could type out some of his writing and so he undertook that considerable challenge over consecutive days, in doing so he has discovered various aspects of the keyboard and shown real perseverance. Another child is really interested in Dinosaurs and wanted to find out more about them so we have started talking about what things he might like to find out and there where can we look. These are real and relevant literacy tasks that are child initiated and this is another branch of what I would like to see happening in our reading programme going forward. 
I am planning to introduce something similar with our maths learning time as well- when they are not with a teacher or participating in a specific learning activity then they are free to choose from a range of activities but they must be maths related and they need to be able to say what they are learning by doing what they are doing. 
We need to spend some time on working out what we mean by learning however and this is what I want to do at the start of the term with the class. If learning is creating and/or strengthening pathways in the brain then doing stuff that is challenging, stuff where we might have to think hard for answers, stuff where we can do things in lots of different ways, stuff where we are exploring and asking questions, stuff that helps us get better at something by practicing is some of what I envisage. 
It is important at the end of these open-ended sessions there is an opportunity for children to share what they have learned- either by doing a walk around, creating a display, talking to a partner or having a sharing circle depending on time available as well as having seesaw available for recording learning. This is something that I picked up from the Discovery Time book and see the value in making sure that the learning done is valued.  
I trialled Discovery Time with some focus on fractions on the last Friday morning of the term. Initially we spent a little time talking about what self management looks like and then I took them for a wee tour around the classroom to show them what was on offer- we had beads, weaving (a project that some needed to complete), maths books (for recording patterns), a collage activity to demonstrate fractions, computers (although WiFi was down so they weren't all that helpful), writing and painting, IWB (but the game on there didn't work as WiFi was down), varied literacy and maths activities from around the classroom. (Obviously I need more open-ended, messy play type options going forward) I was expecting a lot of noise to manage but that wasn't actually the case, in fact it was quieter than normal! The kids really responded to the openness and one student even completed his weaving task before getting on with the varied options where as earlier on he was really reluctant to complete his weaving when asked. I taught one student how to work out fractions for bead patterns and then she taught others, it was great to see that happen. We had a sharing time after morning tea and I was really stoked with how the kids could clarify what they had been learning. 
There is so much to develop here but I am pleased with how we have begun and stoked with the improvement in self management of our class from where we were at the start of the year... we have all come so far! 
Going forward- my thoughts at the moment: 
  • Morning meetings to clarify what is on for the day and clarify expectations 
  • Working with the class on what learning is, what it looks like... 
  • Calling open ended/discovery type times- Meaningful And Independent Learning- MAIL time  
  • Reading- continue with open ended time within the programme  
  • Maths- have some open-ended problem solving options available... need to review our maths activities to ensure there is enough variety and scope 
  • Ensure that there are movement activities (kinesthesiology movements) posted around the room and teach it to them so they can select them when they need to have a stretch
  • Have Discovery Time on Friday mornings first block- ensure that there is a range of options available, science focus, build in growing and planting learning into this time

This is obviously a work in progress and any suggestions and comments are gratefully received :) 
Childhood is not a race to see how quickly a child can read, write and count. It is a small window of time to learn and develop at the pace that is right for each individual child. Earlier is not better.

Read more at: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/881330

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