At about this time every year I sit back and reflect on the year that is fast coming to a close. I think I have done many things right this year and learned a lot. Still, I know I have many areas to improve in and have been asking myself an important question over the past few weeks: Am I afraid to give up control of a learning experience?
By handing over the metaphorical reigns of learning to the students, teachers allow them to drive their own learning through their own curiosity. This usually results in genuine and significant inquires. This aspect of the curriculum - the role of students in decisions made about and for their learning - is valued by the IB, and particularly in the Primary Years Program:
Many different forms of inquiry are recognized, based on students’ curiosity and on their wanting and
needing to know more about the world. They are most successful when students’ questions and inquiries are
genuine and have real significance in helping them progress to new levels of knowledge and understanding.
The most insightful inquiries, ones most likely to move the students’ understanding further, come from
existing knowledge. (PYP Basis for Practice pp. 4)
It is also something that I don't find particularly easy to manage and one of my goals for next year is to really try and improve in this area.
Generally, I think I fall into one of two traps. I either expect (a) too much too early from my students and they aren't able to lead a learning experience (or don't yet know how) with their own curiosity, or (b) I don't give them enough of an opportunity.
These aren't done on purpose, of course. Sometimes I simply don't feel that I have enough time to let the students 'wonder and wander' for extended periods as I have to get through other mandated curriculum. Other times I haven't provided the students with enough opportunity to develop their knowledge of an inquiry before allowing them the chance to drive it. Then I feel worried that nothing is happening, the lesson is shallow and my reaction is to take more control.
Some strategies that I will be working on next year are:
Taking more time to really listen to my students - either as a class, in small groups or individually. Although I give my students plenty of my honest attention I am sure there must be some things that I'm not picking up. So I'm making a conscious effort next year to really look for indicators when the students are talking. I'm going to make a checklist of things to look out for during conversations so I can constantly remind myself. I'd also like to trial a few different ways of recording the information too, as this is something that I've found tricky to manage in other years.
I'm also thinking about the best ways to display student questions and inquiries as they arise. When I've attended PYP workshops in the past the facilitators have usually created a 'wonderwall' or something similar. Unfortunately these are not always re-addressed throughout the workshop but when they are I really like the way they work. It's not something I've successfully achieved in my own classes thus far so I want to try harder next year. I've tried using wallwisher
before but I think I'd really like something that is up in the class and can be accessed at all times.
The next strategy I'm going to try and employ is to try and work opportunities for student input into my planning. I know that many student observations occur 'out of the blue' and can't be planned for, but I think I can facilitate these better by thinking about the type and structure of my lessons. What are my students revealing to me? How will this inform and alter future lessons?
I think it is also important that these experiences are developed around an environment that really encourages this type of behaviour. Some students may not be used to this level of freedom, opportunity or responsibility from other classes they've been in so I think it is important to model the sort of behaviour I want from my students. I must admit, I regularly fall into the trap of expecting that my students know what I want them to do without me really modeling it for them. It will also be helpful for me to provide routines and structures which they can follow - scaffolding, not controlling!