creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs

The other day while getting material for my Easter bonnet I bumped into an ex-student. I taught her six years ago. We chatted as she served me. She asked how my daughter was going and whether I was still at same school. She then told me that she had started university this year, studying science at one of Melbourne’s top establishments. She then said something that startled me, “who would have thought?” We kept on chatting, before she moved onto her next customer, but it was this comment that really stuck. Obviously, she didn’t think that I thought highly of her and that her success was almost in spite of her teachers. It made me consider two things: firstly, how much do we restrict students with our perceptions of them? While secondly, what growth and potential is within my own classes that is left unfulfilled?

In a recent post, Steve Wheeler touched upon the phenomena of labelling. That act of hardening our attitudes and feeling that we know students, subsequently predicting what they will do next. As he wonders:

How often do we label our students? He’s very bright, she’s brilliant…. he’s not such a hard worker, and that one over there is a real trouble maker…. Often we spend just a short amount of time with our students before we build an impression of their characters.

He discusses two self-fulfilling consequences of labelling:

  • The Pygmalian effect where students are ascribed with great expectations often perform better.
  • The Golem effect where students seen as lazy and time-wasters will under perform.

The most dangerous thing that we do though is handover from one teacher to another. This is often where such habits are fostered and perpetuated. Another situation where habits are fostered is when we teach students from one year to the next.

Even if the subject may change and the student grow with their learning, it is so easy to fall into the trap of preconceived ideas. I was recently faced this problem with my Robotics class. I had taught some students for three years, taking them for intervention amongst other things. As I have reflected elsewhere, I had decided to simply let students make. One of the biggest challenges with this was letting go. This was not only my sense of control and ownership of the classroom, but also my preconceived ideas about students in general.

These ideas were challenged early on when one student decided to start wondering around the room. Instead of automatically requesting that the student in question return to his seat, I stopped and watched. What happened next was amazing. He went from one group to the next checking out what people were doing. Talking with them, helping them out, while getting ideas off others. He finally returned back to his team re-enthused and attacked the problem of making a fast car. Six years ago when I started teaching Robotics, this would never have happened. I would have sprouted something about safe learning environment and students’ right to learn. Feeling that as duty. Yet, ironically, in letting the student in question walk around he learnt so much more. I don’t think that this would have worked six years ago because that was not the culture I created in the classroom. My next challenge is to help students celebrate such moments themselves. To recognise the untapped potential that they come to class with each and every day.

I am not going to say that I never box students. In my view we all have fixed moments now and then. However, when I do, I would like to think that there are always those around who are pulling me up on it. For at the end of the day, learning takes a village and working together we are always better.

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creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs

I have been wondering for a while about all the hype around the Reggio Emila Approach, an early childhood program that focuses on relationships, documentation, project work, personal expression and active listening. Initially my attention was sparked by Dan Donahoo’s keynote for ICTEV13 Conference and the notion of the digital village. More recently, Cameron Paterson piqued my interest. Firstly, with a post about the links between Project Zero and Reggio Emilia through his discussion of the book Visable Learners. Then more recently in a post exploring the use of documentation in the Secondary classroom. I have been left thinking about what Reggio might offer my own teaching practises.

One of the things that stands out to me in regards to Reggio is the power of play and discovery. The idea of students driving their own projects and inquiry with the teacher providing a space and documenting the various experiences has a lot of potential. Although this could happen in any context, I saw a real opportunity through the teaching of robotics.

I felt particularly challenged by Steve Brophy in regards to letting go. In a post talking about developing a Makerspace, he explained that:

From a facilitator point of view, I purchased everything but opened nothing. I left the whole process to the kids and was constantly amazed by how much the kids would ask “are you sure we can do this?”

Although I had brought in inquiry in regards to wondering about robotics, I was still reluctant to let go of control of the building process. What I noticed in reflection was that for some students this was fine. They liked the structure that I provided. However, there were some that just wanted to explore and I was only inhibiting, rather than harnessing, this.

As I could find nothing in the AUSVels documents that specifically said students must be able to build and program a NXT Mindstorm robot, I decided instead to provide them with the requirement to ‘make’. What unravelled when I handed out the kits was amazing. Some started with instructions, others tested and tinkered. Some explored programming, others making. Some scrapped the instructions part way through, while others picked them up after some initial open explorations. Some walked around to check what other groups were doing, while others supported different groups with their questions and issues. Although I answered a few questions and found some missing parts, I just moved around and documented what the students were doing. All in all, most students demonstrated a depth of understanding and engagement at the end of the first session far beyond what I had ever seen before in a building session.

in a recent post about play, Tom Barrett suggested that:

It is not simply the timeless nature of immersive play but also the way that physical barriers, and even the rules of physics, become non-existent. They are changed, thwarted and ignored. Superpowers ON!

What was so exciting to observe in the lesson was seeing students enact the greatest superpower possible, the ability to not only learn together, but to in fact drive their own learning.

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