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How We Teach (Part 3): LEARNING TOGETHER!

Are we preparing kids for the future or for 1950?

Are we preparing kids for the future or 1950?

I think it’s a valid question considering most school layouts, school days and classrooms look the same as they did 70 years ago. In the past 20 years technology has quickly driven society forward in nearly every way - communication, travel, financial, and leisure looks different than it did in the year 2000, and almost unrecognisable from 1950. Despite this, our school year, school day, lesson layout, and lesson delivery still retains much of the "old guard". Kids with learning difficulties did not fit into that old model, and they still don't.

Think about your own school experience:

How did your teachers teach you? Did they tell you everything you needed to know?

What structures existed in your classroom? What about physical layout? Teaching/learning systems? Methods teachers used?

How much say did students have in developing a classroom culture?

If you are involved in a schools as a teacher, leader, school worker, parent, etc., answer these questions about your school/classroom (or a school you know well):

How is a lesson delivered to kids?

How do teachers (generally) teach the kids?

What does a classroom look like? Physical layout? Teaching/learning systems? Methods teachers use?

How much say do students have in a lesson?

If your answers are similar, we've got a problem. Even if your answers are different, the sobering reality is schools have changed less than almost every other social activity (if you know any others please do let me know). Sadly, I still see schools operating in a "Sit down, be quiet and listen..." format across the school day. In an age of societal evolution in almost every other sector, this is not OK.

WHY SCHOOL?!

Great question. As I’ve been writing about lately, Christopher Watkins (and likely others before him) laid out three different ways in which teachers view their classrooms:

  1. The classroom exists for the teacher to create, direct, and assess a student’s development.

  2. The classroom exists for students to learn to be independent and take control of their own learning.

  3. The classroom exists for students to learn to co-create, co-direct, and co-assess learning tasks and activities. (see image, right)

We’ve already talked a little about the first two views and I believe there is a place for them, but today we’ll look at the last one. I call his “Co-construction model” “Learning Together” (or collaborative learning) as it seems to be a bit more school friendly. It’s not a new concept, but I believe he re-framed the picture (for me anyway!).

MY EXPERIENCE

I work in a wonderful school for children and young people aged 4-16 with learning and additional needs (LAN). Kids come to our school if they have learning needs their local mainstream school could not meet. This includes students with learning difficulties associated with speech/language, autism, Down Syndrome, and a range of other conditions. If you’re ever in Guildford, England you should visit (but please phone ahead). If not, visit the Gosden House School webpage to learn more!

About a year ago I conducted a research project and experiment. which wrapped up a couple months ago (March to December 2017). I started by proposing the following questions in a school staff meeting:

Is it possible for our students at Gosden House School to engage in Learning Together activities?

If so, what are the barriers?

If not, why not?

I also gave our students a questionnaire. I asked Yes – No – Don’t know statements such as:

- I sometimes get to help my friends with their learning in my lessons…

- My friends sometimes help me learn in my lessons…

- I feel my teacher listens to and likes my ideas…

- I get to complete learning activities with my friends…

- My teacher does most of the talking…

- I get to talk with my friends to help me learn…

It seemed as if a spark had been lit. We had a small number of student-lead activities across the school (particularly in our secondary department, and a small number in primary), but this meeting focused us on collaborative learning which gave our students a greater voice within their “classrooms”. From there, each teacher moved forward however he or she wanted to. They gave students opportunities to begin various initiatives within school, they created more opportunities for our students to develop these types of Learning Together skills, and after 8 months or so of focusing on being a “Learning Together” school, those same students had much different views of school!

Perhaps the most wonderful thing is that these weren’t “cookie-cutter” activities and ideas we copied from other schools, websites, etc. We actually took our student’s interests and began utilising these in lessons – and their views of school changed dramatically! Here’s what the 2017 data said:

I particularly like the one about teachers doing less talking

This was not an empirical study, BUT my background in research efficacy and practice helped me to run this project as close to empirically integral as possible and I treat the data as an accurate reflection of what is actually taking place in our school. I interviewed more than 20 students and all but one student participated in both pre-project and post-project questionnaires.

We shifted our teaching from the first two ways (teacher directed and independence focused) to Learning Together. We still have to give our kids progress grades, levels, reports, IEPs, etc… but we are, in many regards, going about a new way to get there. We have a ways to go, but we are moving in the right direction and continue to look at how do our students best learn together (versus- How do I get my kids to listen to me so I can teach them/How do I look in front of my colleagues?)

The Future

How can/do you utilise Learning Together in your classroom and school?

It will require a shift in teaching and breaking from different mindsets.

It will require a lot of work.

It will require you to truly get to know your kids.

It will require everyone, including all school staff, to learn.

It will bring fantastic rewards.

We get to prepare our kids for a bright and modern future where genuine learning communities matter. Let's continue to move away from 1950 toward a modern/futuristic model where Learning Together takes precedent.

The rewards will be limitless.

Please get in touch if you have any thoughts or questions. I'd love to help however I can - even from my small little corner of the Surrey Hills.

 

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