Let’s wipe the slate clean

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:

The Campfire

  • 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

  • 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.


13 thoughts on “Let’s wipe the slate clean

  1. Even though this plan seems very far fetched, especially for young students that do not have the experience or maturity to be independent learners. Then there are those that don’t understand how to use technology, those that are totally unmotivated and creating the desire to head in that direction is very difficult. One of the most important factors, yet one that the teacher has no control over is the home environment and the parental influence.

    • Cindy, thanks for your comment. There are certainly a number of factors that would need to be developed in such a scenario, namely self management skills, the ability to reflect and goal set and of course buy in from students. Then there’s also reality! Haha. But I do find thinking about far fetched plans can sometimes inspire more realistic change. I assume you, Beth and Anthony are all at some professional development… I hope it’s going well.

  2. I would like to try to set this up in my classroom except 7th graders are very social and all but a few will go to the campfire and watering hole.

    • Thanks for your comment Beth. Given the right skill building, you might be surprised by what your kids can do when given the responsibility. I’d love to know how your 7th graders can use their social skills to strengthen their learning.

      • I agree Ben, their social skills can strengthen their learning through sharing of information, collaboration and good communication skills. (and yes, we were at a training in Pasco County, FL called Project Orchestr8: Integrating Digital Literacy in the Classroom) I predict a great increase in relevance, hence engagement.

  3. The idea does seem a bit out there; however there were some great ideas that can be utilized in the classroom. I really liked the Campfire and Watering Hole Concepts, this helps to separate students who are struggling with the content to those who understand it and can give the teacher a better idea of who to help. The Mountain Top concept was excellent, I enjoy giving my students a chance to share their successes.

  4. I would love to see students in charge of their learning. They would definitely have a richer learning experience. I realize at first it would take a lot of practice to help them understand the concept, but I wonder how students would be motivated to do things that they don’t like to do. Most of my students have very little motivation. However, I was surprised when I tried out an activity in Math that was similar to being in charge of their learning. I could not believe the overwhelming change in behavior. Maybe this is just what we need for students today! 🙂

    • Anne, thanks for the comment. I agree there would be a huge shift in thinking and skills to see something like this come close to fruition. The issue of motivation is an interesting one. How well do we do with things we don’t like doing? For me, not very well 🙂 usually for me the only things I do that I don’t like to are part of a bigger picture – ie. Report cards, cleaning, meetings, etc. So the question for me is how do we find the bigger picture for kids? What motivates them and how can this be a drive for learning?

  5. This article has plenty of ideas however, I wonder which idea is more productive for my students.I would like to choose the strategy that fit my students’ needs.

  6. I like the idea of students taking charge of their learning. Even with younger students I can see that if they have a clear purpose and are able to map out how their learning time will be spent, then they are going to be more focused and excited about their learning. Now, time to brainstorm the structures that need to be set up in the classroom to make a move in learning like this successful with some of our youngest learners.

  7. I love the idea of giving students more of a voice in their learning. When even limited choices are given engagement definitely increases.

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