Thursday, October 27, 2016

Multiple ways of knowing - an inquiry into conflict resolution

I couldn't resist sharing the progression of this inquiry as it unfolds among our grade three students here at BHA. The UOI that our three Grade Three classes are currently exploring falls under the TDTheme of 'Sharing the planet' and the central idea is: Effective communication can resolve conflict. The focus on this post will be on the important role that our single subject teachers have played in this inquiry so far.

The students were prompted to consider the last time, or worst time, they were involved in a conflict with friends or siblings. They were asked to think of this as a story with a beginning, middle and end.

Beginning - what happened to give rise to a conflict situation?

Middle - what happened during the communication process to try and solve the conflict situation?

End - how was the conflict resolved and how did it move into peace?

In small groups they then chose one story to represent in a drawing. The students were given long sheets of paper and asked to think about the kinds of colours, shapes, lines, forms and patterns that would best describe what was happening in the three different parts of the conflict story. The drawings below show the conflict stories and their 3 parts; conflict, communication, resolution/peace. The next step is for the students to add emphasis and further structure to the drawings using collage shapes. They will then transition over to our music teacher and consider similar concepts such as dynamics and rhythm that represent the ideas of conflict and peace. To synthesise everything, the students will cut-out and re-arrange their designs as they compose an original score to reflect their stories.

This process clearly offers a tremendous insight into the students' understanding of the process of conflict resolution. Conflict starts out as a range of different opinions and ideas all jostling for the front position. Sometimes it's messier than what it started out like before it gets better. There's usually a breakout moment that occurs prior to the solution. When you get to a stage of finding common ground it is like the pieces fit together. Peace and love may not always be the outcome - sometime we try to cover up a conflict with a resolution. These are all big ideas that are worthy of inquiry into peace and conflict at any age.

So it teaches us two very important lessons about inquiry. (1) Students of any age are able to think conceptually and (2) Teachers must be open to providing multiple pathways for their students to express their understandings.

It is highly unlikely that the students at our school would have been able to articulate these ideas in written form alone. Yes, the teachers helped to tease out the verbal responses from the students (with translation required for some), but that's their role - to listen, not to tell. The point is that those responses were constructed by the students themselves and they may not have seen the light of day if this opportunity had not be available to them. This is succinctly summarised by any Reggio-inspired educator when they talk about the hundred languages of children.

The other beautiful thing about this connection to the UOI is that it was completely unplanned in terms of collaboration between the homeroom teachers and specialists. The idea started as a conversation between our Music and Visual Art teachers and they thought they'd give it a shot. There was no pressure to ensure that they fit in with what was happening in class* so there was a lot of freedom to test out different approaches. When the connections began to appear as significant and highly relevant for the learning that was also happening in the classroom, a lot of discussion between all teachers followed. Although making a strong connection with the unit of inquiry may not have been the first priority for music and art, creating an authentic learning experience certainly was. This idea grew legs because of the teachers' commitment to genuine learning and the lens of the unit of inquiry provided this without being forced.

* To clarify this, at this stage in our school's journey we ask that subject specialists meaningfully collaborate on at least one UOI with each grade throughout the year. They can certainly contribute to more than that, but one is the minimum requirement.