Suppose for a moment that we could wipe the slate clean and start fresh with our students on Monday morning.
That means, no:
- national/state curriculum
- standardised testing
- allocated classes
- no schedule
- no bells
- no time restraints (other than the hours the kids are with you)
Where does that leave us? Well, we have 20-30 kids, 6.5 hours, a classroom, whatever resources and technology you have at hand and yourself, the teacher. What would you do to allow these kids to learn to their best?
Here’s one idea flowing around in my head at the moment. Picture this:
Students arrive to their school at 9am on Monday morning. They put their belongings away safely in their lockers and enter the classroom… if they want to. If they don’t, they head out to the soccer pitch or gather with their friends elsewhere, or perhaps they take out their book and find a nice tree to read under. It’s up to them because learning in this school is up to the students. They know that there is a teacher, or perhaps mentor is a better choice of word, who is there to guide them through whatever learning they may wish to or need to do.
So how do we ensure kids are moving forward? In this school, students would have a record of their learning based on a continuum of skills and knowledge. Students, no, learners, would meet with their mentors regularly to set short and long term learning goals based on their stage of learning as indicated and recorded on their continuums. Perhaps another aspect of learning focus is through units of inquiry that are directed and guided by the mentor. Once goals are set, students are responsible for making use of learning spaces to ensure that their goals are achieved, or at least worked towards. For those who do nothing, appropriate consequences would be laid out and followed through on. Perhaps limiting the freedom they have in their learning for a period of time.
The learning spaces I am referring to were first introduced to me by Stephanie Hamilton at the Apple Education Leadership Summit in Singapore 2011. The learning spaces are based around the following concepts: the campfire, the watering hole, the cave, the mountain top, and (my personal addition) the hiking trail. The way each is used is as such:
- Based on the idea of when people used to gather around the campfire to listen to the knowledge and wisdom of another person. Most of the time, this would be a scheduled lesson organised by the mentor, although it could be another learner. Students would be aware when a campfire session is occurring, and its focus, ahead of time so that they can plan ahead to attend or not.
The Watering Hole
- The watering hole is based around the idea of the informal gathering of people that used to occur around, well, a watering hole. In the classroom context, this could be both informal and formal gatherings of learners and/or mentor to share learning, problems, ask questions, etc.
- The cave is not a place to escape to, but to find shelter and comfort for time of reflection. Learners need to use this time to set personal goals and reflect on learning. Some form of record keeping should take place as a result of reflections.
The Mountain Top
- What do mountain climbers want to do when they reach the top? Shout at the top of their lungs for the world to hear. Well, the mountain top in the classroom is a place for learners to share their successes with other learners and the world.
The Hiking Trail
- This is the journey of learning that occurs when students are pushing forward, by themselves or with others, in the quest to find new knowledge and skills and to understand and connect concepts. Access to technology, resources and knowledge are paramount at this point. Without a compass and map, learners get lost or are confronted by overwhelming forrest that cannot be navigated. Along with goal setting, the mentor’s job is crucial here. They act as the wise man waiting by the watering hole to guide the lost or weary hiker to the next part of their journey. When the mentor enters the learner’s path, the learning has entered the watering hole. When the mentor feels the learner is set to continue, the learner is free to re-enter their hiking trail to continue their journey.
While this all seems a little pie in the sky, I think it’s important to think like this sometimes in order to take even a few steps toward an ideal. I have taken a few tiny steps and seen huge results.