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The Right to a Progressive Education: “The child, unhampered, does not waste time.” ― Caroline Pratt

“The child, unhampered, does not waste time.” ― Caroline Pratt

The world of education is a tapestry of beliefs, values and philosophies. Each is created through an individual’s personal experiences, social, political and cultural factors (Schunk, 2021). I would argue that all philosophies in education are developed with good intentions which can manifest in different ways. As I reflect on my own personal experiences within education I have observed a continual development with regards to  my own educational philosophy. 

Initially, I was influenced by the British educational system, first as a student and then as a graduate teacher. I was never a particularly ‘good’ student at school. I would often become distracted and disengaged with the lessons. I realised that as long as I sat quietly and did not disturb the teacher my lack of participation had little impact on the process of the lesson. School was just somewhere I had to be and, in the end, my success or failure was determined by tests that involved my ability to remember dates, facts and figures. Something I was not particularly very good at. 

Once I began my teaching career I was determined to create a classroom that children were excited to be. At the beginning of my career I was still working within the confines of the British National Curriculum but I would spend hours creating resources and activities that engaged the children. I was delighted when my classroom was buzzing with excitement, children discussing their activities and moving around, instead of sitting in rows. And, to the annoyance of some of my colleagues, my classroom was often quite noisy and messy. I also enjoyed the connections and relationships I developed with my students. I would take the time to listen to their stories, share their ideas, and personal experiences. In my own time at school I often felt anonymous and would be surprised if my teachers knew my name, let alone know that I had a cat called Cleo, I liked writing stories, and that I was excited that my grandma was coming for dinner. As I reflect on my teaching career I realise that my approach to teaching and learning was formed through defiant opposition to my own educational experiences. I offer what I believe the children in my care need and deserve. It is only since that I have continued in my career that I have come to understand that much of my philosophy towards education is regarded as progressive.

I believe that children have the right to be recognised as unique individuals, and they should see themselves within the school environments we create. The learning spaces I help to develop are culturally responsive, recognising and supporting the cultural and social influences of the individual children. This may be achieved through the learning experiences, visual imagery, class library, or building positive relationships (Burnham, 2021). ‘Learning and thinking occur in the context of learners’ beliefs about cognition, which differ as a function of personal, social, and cultural factors” (Schunk, 2012). 

Progressive classrooms recognise the importance of social interaction as part of the learning process. Within my current school we allow the children to move freely. As a consequence they interact with one another. This provides opportunities to develop communication and social skills, such as cooperation and tolerance for different points of view. We believe that ‘children need to grow and learn in their relationships, identity, emotional understanding, and overall well-being’ (Flook, 2022). The social and emotional aspect of learning is integrated throughout our curriculum starting with the relationships between the educators and the children. We believe in a curriculum that teaches the whole child. 

In contrast to the isolated subject focus of my own education, our curriculum is transdisciplinary and organised around related concepts. A variety of learning experiences are created and developed that support the children’s exploration of a concept. This progressive approach allows the transfer of knowledge, skills, and understanding to different areas of the curriculum and real-life context. The learning environment provides a range of learning experiences that engage active participation, curiosity, exploration, discovery and are connected to the interests of the children (Labaree, 2005). ‘Knowledge is created through a process of discovery and cannot exist in a vacuum apart from the experiences of learners’ (Tippett, Lee, 2019). ‘Progressive inquiry-based learning, that is driven by students’ interests, boosts their motivation and develops real-world skills’ (Flook, 2022). The children are not passive but are active agents. They are recognised as confident and capable learners with the capacity to take responsibility for their own learning journey. 

In contrast to my own school teachers, who stood at the front of the classroom, I learn alongside the children. Throughout the process there is an emphasis on supporting the children in learning how to learn, ‘and subject matter as a secondary concern, valuable mostly as a medium for skill acquisition rather than as the substantive focus of learning’ (Labaree, 2005).  My role is to guide, facilitate and develop the learning process by observing, listening, and asking questions in order to engage learning and support critical thinking. I document the children’s process and use it as a point of reflection with the children. Reflection plays a significant role within our systems and the learning process. ‘In contrast to traditional forms of education that seek to discipline students in particular ways of knowing, reflection is key to the progressive philosophy. Reflection empowers the individual to take agency in the production of knowledge and ensure that knowledge is made relevant to the individual in the contemporary world’ (Tippett, Lee, 2019).

As an educator I believe that I am in a privileged and unique position to make a positive impact on the child in my care and society as a whole. Through a progressive educational approach we support the students in developing the skills and aptitudes that help to create socially engaged and internationally minded citizens of the future. The emphasis on skills and aptitudes prepares the students for the uncertain future of tomorrow. 

Bibliography:

Labaree, D. F. (2005). Progressivism, schools and Schools of Education: An American romance. Paedagogica Historica, 41(1-2), 275–288. https://doi.org/10.1080/0030923042000335583

390, 10, & 65354. (2016, November 3). Philosophies of Education: 3 types of student-centered philosophies. The Edvocate. Retrieved September 17, 2022, from https://www.theedadvocate.org/philosophies-education-3-types-student-centered-philosophies/

Course hero. Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner | | Course Hero. (n.d.). Retrieved September 17, 2022, from https://www.coursehero.com/study-guides/teachereducationx92x1/progressive-education/

Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories: An educational perspective (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.  https://www.researchgate.net/file.PostFileLoader.html?id=53ad2847cf57d75c068b45c5&assetKey=AS%3A273549456019456%401442230680395

Burnham, K. (2021, March 9). Culturally responsive teaching: 5 strategies for educators. Northeastern University Graduate Programs. Retrieved September 17, 2022, from https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/culturally-responsive-teaching-strategies/

Flook, L. (2022). Four ways schools can support the whole child. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved September 17, 2022, from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/blog/four-ways-schools-can-support-whole-child

Tippett, T. P., & Lee, J. J. (2019). Looking back to move forward: Understanding Progressive Education in … Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1285555.pdf

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Creative by Nature. The importance of allowing creativity to flourish across the curriculum

Everyone has a creative potential and from the moment you can express this creative potential, you can start changing the world.” – Paulo Coelho

‘Creativity has traditionally been the battle cry of the arts in education’ (Kraehe, 2018), yet it is implied that more recently there has been a change in mindset with both education and business sectors recognising more value to the concept of creativity. And, according to the World Economic Forum, creativity will be the third-most-important skill for employees by 2020, behind complex problem-solving and critical thinking.

Screen Shot 2019-04-13 at 10.46.58 AMIt has been said that ‘creativity has often been maligned, neglected and misunderstood’ within education. With this in mind, just how important is creativity? Is it just a matter of providing more lessons for the arts or is there something more? Through this blog, I will explore the role creativity has played in our past and present, and how allowing greater opportunities for creative expression within our classrooms will influence our future.

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for creativity as the crucial 21st century skill we will need to solve today’s pressing problems. I would go further and argue that creativity, or innovation, is not just a necessary 21st Century skill but has always been a driving force in human evolution and will continue to be a vital skill driving our progress. Creativity is not only a quality that has set us apart from other animals, but  also defines who we are as a species. Augustín Fuentes explores this concept in his book, The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans ExceptionalHarnessing the latest findings in evolution, biology, and archaeology, he creates a new synthesis to show that the great drivers of human progress have been creativity and cooperation. From the emergence of cave paintings and the development of simple tools, human evolution has been shaped by our ability to approach and explore abstract concepts to apply creative solutions to pressing problems. If this is to be the case, then providing an “education system that denies the learners individual expression or creativity denies in essence the nature of who we are.”

Our relationship with creativity begins at a young age. From about eighteen months old all children begin to engage in creative play. They engage in imaginary conversations or they pretend to be engaging in a wide variety of adult or fictional activities. Give a child a cardboard box and some inspiration and imagination comes to life. It may look like ‘child’s play’ (excuse the pun) but play is serious business to our young learners and is vital to their healthy development. The experiences children have during their first years of life can significantly enhance the development of their creativity. In the process of creative play children open up their minds to possibilities, take chances, solve problems, collaborate and develop their creative thinking. All the critical 21st century skills that Sir Ken Robinson is talking about.

Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 5.11.03 PMThe work of Peter Carruthers (2002) suggests a more deep rooted application in that ‘the evolutionary function of childhood pretence is to practice and enhance adult forms of creativity’. He states that ‘the two capacities can be seen as sharing essentially the same cognitive basis, in so far as both involve exercises of imagination. It will then be plausible that adult creativity in thought and action is what childhood pretence is for. (This is yet another indicator of the importance of creativity as a phenotypic property of human beings.) That is to say, it will appear likely that the function of pretence should be to practice and enhance the kind of creativity which acquires so much significance in our adult lives.’ 

As an early childhood educator I more than recognise the importance of creative play as an essential tool in a child’s development and a means for children to demonstrate their creative expression. There are far too many benefits to go into any depth here but in short, play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, emotional well-being of children. Creativity emerges through the children’s  exploration, curiosity and self-interests. Creative connections are made while children play, stimulating opportunities for self-expression and building social relationships. Yet despite these numerous benefits many children have often had the time for free play reduced to make room for more academics. Many children are being raised in an increasingly hurried and pressured style that may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play.

Unfortunately, I believe these views are driven by the more traditionalist view of creativity that has often discredited, undervalued and underappreciated creative endeavours. Many parents believing that creativity is an intrinsic ability of certain people with unusual talents. ‘Creativity has often lost its importance and worth in the hierarchy of ability that society has created. ‘Cleverness’ and one’s ability to memorise textbook facts and figures seems to have become a respected skill, one that directly correlates to importance and intellect’ (Fearon, 2015)

Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 11.34.39 AMCertainly within my own thinking creative expression is something that should not only be confined to the art and music rooms but also should be allowed to flourish across the curriculum. Our thoughts, actions, and words can all be forms of creativity. Creativity is the ability to reimagine traditional ideas, rules, patterns and relationships and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods and interpretations. When we think about creativity in this manner then it transcends the curriculum. It is no longer just about having more art and music lessons but a way of approaching the curriculum as a whole. Sir Ken Robinson states that a misconception is that “people associate creativity with the arts only, and that creativity is really a function of everything we do. So education for creativity is about the whole curriculum, not just part of it.”

When I think about the learning that happens within my own classroom, it is the creative application of concepts by the learners that I believe demonstrates the deepest understanding. An example of this is when these young learners create their own number sentence using triangles after our work on addition. They had not simply mimicked the teaching, but had applied their understanding in an abstract and creative manner that demonstrates new ways of thinking. Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 6.31.21 PMThey had not only understood the concept, but had made progress in their learning. One of the same learners also transferred his understanding of addition in the art classroom, demonstrating his understanding of mathematical symbols and concepts using colour. Again, this creative application of knowledge not only demonstrates a deep understanding of concept but also that the learner is capable of transferring and applying skills across the curriculum and in new situations. 

Creativity, as I understand it, will normally manifest itself in new types of behaviour, going beyond mere re-applications of established scripts or action-patterns. And creativity itself is constituted, in part, by a capacity to combine together ideas in novel ways in abstraction from any immediate environmental stimulation‘ – Peter Carruthers

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.21.24 AMMany learners will simply show their understanding by mimicking the activities demonstrated during the teaching process. By simply mimicking the teaching, we only have the opportunity to assess whether they have understood the idea and have retained  the knowledge. But if learners transfer their knowledge to ‘real-life’ situations or apply creative application of the concept, then they are able to demonstrate a deeper understanding and take next steps in learning. If as a society we only mimicked what had come before, then no progress would have been made, using the example of primitive tools versus advancements in technology. There can therefore be an argument that creative application drives progress demonstrating it to be a vital component in human evolution.

I think it is also important to mention that we cannot always rely on creative application as a means of assessing a learner’s deeper understanding of a concept. It may be the case that they possess the understanding but lack the skills or  inclination to apply it in new or creative ways. For a lot of our learners there is a desire to ‘please’ the teacher and this can be achieved by just simply mimicking the teaching with little need to apply creative thinking. If we consider the possibility that learners possess the creativity but lack the skills to apply it, then we have to ask: can creativity be taught?

“Creativity is a disciplined process that requires skill, knowledge, and control. Obviously, it also requires imagination and inspiration. But it’s not simply a question of venting: It’s a disciplined path of daily education.”  Sir Ken Robinson

The ability to teach creativity is an ongoing debate but the consensus amongst a growing number of educators is that everyone has ‘tremendous creative capacities’ but often lacks the skills or knowledge to apply them. “One cannot think creatively unless one has the knowledge with which to think creatively. Creativity represents a balance between knowledge and freeing oneself of that knowledge” (Johnson-Laird, 1988, p.207, cited by Sternberg, 2012, p.4).

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.26.24 AM

For creative thinking to deepen and extend learning, rather than be an enjoyable but superficial activity, it must be grounded in understanding of the content being investigated. It is vital that learners have sufficient understanding of the material with which they are being asked to be creative. Creative practice needs to complement diligent and deliberate practice that develops foundational skills – not be a substitute for it. Creativity is a learning habit that requires skill as well as specific understanding of the contexts in which creativity is being applied. Developing creativity ‘We really need to stop considering thinking as simply ‘intelligence in action’ and think of it as a skill that can be developed by everyone.’ (Edward De Bono, 1982) According to De Bono (1982) fostering creativity in an effective way we must develop some techniques that are specific for thinking because our brain is not designed for that purpose as the first purpose of its function and it is not capable of creating great things or ideas. Over the years, De Bono and other writers have promoted the view that creative thinking is something that can be developed by anyone.” (Developing the Cambridge Learner Attributes)

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 6.48.13 PMI would agree that skills and understanding of a concept play an important role in supporting creativity within that area of learning. Without the skills and understanding, a learner may have the vision but lack the capabilities to implement. However, it is clear from the observation of many learners that skills and understanding are not a gaurantee that creativity or new ways of thinking will occur. Indeed it may be the case that a learner possesses the necessary skills but lacks the vision or inclination to apply them in new and creative ways. Also, a learner having the skills of a specific learning area without the creative inclination may find it challenging to transfer this understanding to other areas of the curriculum or to ‘real-life’ situations. An artist may know how to paint but without vision or purpose is unable to transform that skill into a positive difference. So the question would be, how do we move students beyond skills and understanding to a place where creative  and positive expression occurs?

From my own experience there must be some form of stimulus provided in order to begin the spark of creativity. I would consider myself to be quite creative but I often require the stimulus of others’ thinking to stimulate my own. I suppose that would be the essence of collaboration and why Augustín Fuentes argued for “creativity and cooperation” being the driving forces for human progress. Nobody works within a vacuum and it could be argued that all the great artists, musicians or innovators have been influenced by others or the cultural environment in which they were in.

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 8.40.16 PMI am made to think of a personal experience I had during a recent workshop that is a good reflection of my own creative process. We had been given a range of coloured pencils and a blank piece of paper and asked to create four designs for a specific purpose. When I stared at the blank piece of paper in front of me I was terrified. I had no idea how or where to begin and certainly had no spark of creativity. I remember clearly each step of my creative process after the initial sense of fear. First, I began to look cautiously at the work of others and study their work. My first design was almost a copy of my neighbour with only slight alterations. As I moved to my next two designs, I grew more confident in my understanding of the task and the expectations. As I became more confident in my understanding of the task, each design became more personalised representing new ways of thinking. I was no longer just mimicking the designs of my neighbour but applying my own creative thinking to the task. As I came to my final design, I was confident enough in my understanding of the task and my ability that I created something that was uniquely my own. Pleasingly, it was the final design that attracted the most interest from my colleagues.

Throughout the process of creating my designs I could not help but think of the learners in the classroom and how a blank piece of paper could cause the same anxiety that I felt. Arguably to others, the same blank piece of paper may represent new opportunities free from the influence of other people’s ideas. We must therefore be mindful of the learners needs and how much stimulation or guidance is given. Each of them has the capability to express themselves creatively but each will require varying levels of support to make the difference. I am reminded of a quote by Kath Murdoch when talking about student agency, “Choice without support can leave us feeling lost/anxious. Choice without responsibility can make us feel over-entitled, choice without purpose can be confusing.” 

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 8.39.27 PMSo how do we teach creativity in the classroom? Well firstly, Sir Ken Robinson makes a distinction between “teaching creatively” and “teaching for creativity”. When educators are teaching creatively they are bringing their own creative skills to the classroom to make the content more interesting to the learner, they are finding innovative and creative ways of connecting the learning to the learner. But when we are talking about teaching for creativity we are implementing a curriculum that is designed to encourage the learners to think creatively. We are creating a learning environment that allows and encourages learners to experiment and innovate. Not giving them all the answers but giving them the tools they need to find out what the answers might be or to explore new avenues.” – Sir Ken Robinson

It has been said that educators often claim to value creativity, but we do not always prioritize it. Traditionally we have often had bias against creative students fearing disruption in the classroom. We have often devalued creative personality attributes such as risk-taking and impulsivity and even stifled creativity by focusing on the reproduction of knowledge and obedience in class (Gabora, 2021). This would suggest that regardless of whether creativity can be taught it can certainly be repressed by our attitudes towards it or the environments we create.

Every child is born creative and imaginative, but this capacity can be restrained if we do not create the right environment for our learners to behave imaginatively and release their creative energy. It is therefore crucial we nurture this behaviour and thinking as it plays an important role in developing the soft skills needed in life outside of the classroom. We should be empowering our students to push the boundaries, question the norm and to think outside of the box. It is crucial that we encourage our students to recognise that not everything goes to plan and to seek alternative and unique solutions to challenges and in turn helping our students to build resilience and confidence in their abilities. Embracing creativity in the classroom is a great way to challenge the notion of static learning: the idea that there’s merely one correct way to solve a problem or come to a solution. Whilst one plus one will always equal two, there are a multitude of ways to teach that concept. We are all creative, and indeed, creativity permeates our everyday actions (Duch, 2007). But these talents are often buried deep (Robinson, 2010), and the challenge for educational institutions is to provide appropriate environments and skills for learners to discover and maximize their creative potential.

It is important that we provide our students with plenty of opportunities for creative play and creative thinking. These activities should not be restricted to the art and music rooms but should flourish across the curriculum. After all, the world doesn’t come carved up into different subject areas. Every subject can be creative! Even the more defined and structured topics like maths and science have areas where creativity can be embedded into the topic to encourage a greater depth of understanding with students. Creativity doesn’t need to be a subject of its own, instead, it should be weaved into absolutely every aspect of learning and teaching.

We need to create safe and welcoming environments where ideas can flow freely with persecution and where students can try and test their own creative solutions, without the fear of failure or the pressure of getting it right. Activities should follow the students interests and ideas so it is imperative that we listen intently to what they are saying. Activities should not produce a predictable product, allowing the decision making to be in the hands of the students. This includes time to think about how to plan, design, construct, experiment and revise project ideas.

We must remember that being creative is more than drawing and painting so it is important that we offer our students a wide range of creative materials and experiences. And perhaps because we have so often aligned creativity to artistic ability, we must not assume that every student who draws or loves to paint is creative. Creativity and the ability to have a vested interest in learning comes in all forms and will mean something different to every child.

BoardAdapting to the learning needs in the wake of a global pandemic to empowering and building a digital generation capable of starting billion-dollar companies overnight; creativity and abstract thinking have become prerequisites in a student’s repertoire of skills needed for the future of society (Canva, 2020). 

Inquiry, Uncategorized

Re-Thinking Education in the Wake of the Pandemic

For over a year, the world has faced what can be described as “a tsunami of suffering”, but there is now some hope that the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines represents some light at the end of the tunnel. With such optimism now in mind, and many now hopeful of a return to some sort of normality, we can begin to question what is next for education? Given the magnitude of change that has occurred during the previous years, is a return to normality even possible let alone desirable? I would suggest that we should use this crisis driven opportunity to push for positive change and reimagine an education system that works for everyone.

The move from classroom to computer screen has impacted our daily routines, systems and human interactions. It has tested our basic ideas about instruction, attendance, assessment and the role of technology. Yet, in spite of these challenges, what has been achieved during the last couple of years is nothing short of phenomenal. Almost over night the education sector globally was forced to adapt and innovate creating an environment in which we have developed new skills, re-evaluated our systems and routines and ultimately have had to think of new ways of doing things. “We should seize the opportunity to reimagine education and accelerate change in teaching and learning, finding new ways to address the learning crisis and bring about a set of solutions previously considered difficult or impossible to implement” (United Nations, 2020).

Many of the changes may be considered short term as a way of dealing with the immediate problems of the pandemic but I would argue that there have also been many positives that have long term potential to improve education. There has been more flexibility added to our schedules offering both teachers and students the ability to work at their own pace without the confines of timetables, providing greater agency and choice. Opportunities have been given to demonstrate better time management and self motivation. We have improved virtual communication and collaboration and through a collective world experience, developed a broader global perspective. Although working parents have certainly taken the strain during these times, they have been given an opportunity to observe, explore and understand their child’s education like never before. Hopefully developing a greater appreciation as they gain an awareness of what life is like without teachers, day-care workers, after school clubs, bus drivers, and other essential staffers who keep our schools running.

Like many, I have found aspects of the past couple of years challenging, but given the time to reflect on my own experiences I can honestly say that it has not all been bad. In fact, there have been many positives to come out of this situation both on a personal and academic level. There was certainly some level of anxiety as I gave up the comfort of my classroom and moved into the unknown, but there was also a certain level of excitement. I quickly discovered a renewed sense of enthusiasm as I explored new ways to create content, make connection with fellow educators and parents, and make the online environment as engaging as possible for my young learners. In the process I developed new technical skills and approaches to learning that I may never have considered had it not been for the situation I found myself in. I have enjoyed the added flexibility to my working day giving me the opportunity to spend more time with my family, personal pursuits and more importantly to work at a pace and time that is suitable to me. These are times that I will think fondly about and many of the skills and practices learned I will take back to the classroom.

Although the pandemic has certainly shown that most students learn best in person, in my own experience I have observed a range of responses to the online environment. There have been students that have struggled but there are also those that have flourished. For some of our students the online environment has created a space in which they feel less anxious and provided them a platform in which they are more willing to share their voice. Those that were less confident in the classroom have found new ways to express themselves.

The pandemic has also challenged the idea that students must be in one location for education to take place. Equally important is that their learning time does not have to be synchronous with each other or with that of the teacher. Some of my students have relished this flexibility, allowing them to work at their own pace and even to follow their passions and strengths without the restrictions of a traditional timetable. As always in education one size does not fit all, but I believe that it is possible to create a learning environment that capitalises on the strengths of both synchronous and asynchronous learning, whether that be online or face to face. I believe that this hybrid approach would provide greater flexibility to both the teacher and students schedules providing the perfect environment for agency and personalised learning to occur. Through these conditions, we can empower students to have a genuine voice, choice and ownership in their learning. A well-designed mixed mode delivery of online and face-to-face education could be a more effective approach to teaching and learning.

As educators, we must always consider the future work place that we are preparing our learners to enter. The pandemic has prompted many companies to change the way they work, with some employees having no choice but to work from home. Leaders suggest these changes could remain in place once the global health crisis is at an end without being detrimental to the workforce. Most notably, some governments have proposed a four day working week, instead of the usual five, with other suggestions including flexible working hours, remote working and growing interconnectedness, which are all posed to be beneficial to employees. In fact the world’s largest ever trial of a four-day working week has been claimed to be an “overwhelming success” with evidence of boosted productivity and wellbeing. I would suggest a similar approach would work with our schooling. This would again provide greater flexibility to our timetables. When students are not learning in school they can interact with others through technologies. This can have significant impact on learning activities. If allowed or enabled by a teacher, students could be learning from online resources and experts anywhere in the world. Thus, the where of learning changes from the classroom to the world.

Unfortunately, the global pandemic has also highlighted glaring inequalities of race, disability and income. For many families, accessing educational content through technology is not easy. The issue of digital divide remains a significant dilemma around the globe. It is important, therefore, that we reimagine a better education with technology and find creative ways to make education more equitable with the hope that a new, more equal educational system can emerge out of the crisis. “We cannot accept the levels of inequality that have been permitted to emerge on our shared planet. It is particularly important that the world supports developing countries with investment in 21st century education infrastructures; this will require the mobilization of resources and support from developed countries, in particular with debt cancellation, restructuring, and new financing” (UNESCO, 2021). In the words of UNICEF’s chief of education Robert Jenkins, “build back equal,” after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold devastation across the world, yet it’s also revealed some interesting truths about education. It’s taught us that teachers, learners, and caregivers are incredibly resilient, but not indefatigable. It’s taught us that technology can be wonderful, but it will never replace the value of people in safe but rigorous learning spaces talking, playing, and working together. It’s taught us that a 20th-century model of schooling must be updated to prioritize the human aspects of education—not the mechanical ones—and push education to be simultaneously individualized and of common purpose. It’s taught us that we ignore opportunity inequities at our own cost and at the expense of the most vulnerable. It’s taught us that teachers should not be taken for granted. It’s taught us that not everything in the curriculum matters and not everything that matters fits into the curriculum”(Olsen, 2021).

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Agency Driven Curriculum.

The most dangerous experiment we can conduct with our children is to keep schooling the same at a time when every other aspect of our society is dramatically changing.” ~ Chris Dede

‘Is it our curriculum that allows for the scope of student-agency or is it student-agency that should drive the curriculum?’ This is a question that I have pondered on considerably in the past several months. I believe the distinction is important and has implications as to how we approach the curriculum and how we manage our time. The answer may also suggest what we value within education.

Through conversations with educators it seems that the current trend is that many are still working with the curriculum and timeframes that they have had previously. Within these already fixed curriculums and timeframes they are looking for greater opportunity to allow for student-agency. It is amicable but in this scenario student-agency may occur but it is very limiting and arguable unauthentic when the scope and timing of learning has already been predetermined by the teacher? This approach to the curriculum creates an unnatural learning environment, drastically limiting the opportunities for agency to flourish. We not only increasingly limit the choice of the learner but fail to recognise student voice and ultimately ownership of their learning. 

I would argue that rather than developing a curriculum that allows for agency we allow student-agency to develop the curriculum. If we dictate the how, when and where of learning we are sending a clear message that our learners are incapable of making these decisions on their own. As we follow our set path of learning objectives and routines we are sending a clear message to our learners that their wonderings, interests and self-inquiry have less value than the learning objectives of our curriculum.

I don’t think the answer is re-inventing the curriculum rather than re-imaging our approach to it. I believe that it is more about breaking it down and co-creating it with our learners in a way that is meaningful and purposeful to them. Creating a less structured curriculum that allows for flexibility of learning, authentic inquiry naturally leading to authentic student-agency. A more flexible approach to learning, coupled with strong academic advising structures allows our young learners to find their strengths and interests, and to change direction if needed. Flexibility does not mean that teaching isn’t without structure. Our learners are still dependent on their teachers for providing some element of structure so that they can put in context and make sense of their learning. What we are doing is transferring ownership so that you are working for the learners and not the learners working for you. Being flexible allows educators to respond to different learning abilities, needs and interests. Authentic learning environments should be in constant motion, filled with disruptions, discussion and new ideas. The more flexible a teacher’s approach, the better they are able to adapt to the room and the higher the chances are of increased student participation, engagement and ownership creating a more natural learning environment. It allows students to naturally explore subjects through their own questions, ideas, previous knowledge and level of intelligence. Real learning rarely follows a predictable and clearly linear pattern.

Please read my previous blog posts on how I have worked towards creating a less-structured and flexible approach to the curriculum:

From Learners to Leaders.

Adopting a Flexible Approach to the Curriculum

Teaching Learning Behaviours and Why the Process Matters.

Student agency is nurtured when teachers see learning as layers of choices that are made increasingly by students as they develop their ability to use the information in front of them to make them.Sam Sherratt

They see or seek the possibilities for layers of choices and providing the time, space and resources to ensure the layers are accessible to all.” Tania Mansfield

We often limit students’ agency and limit their imagination due to our own logical thinking. We are adults who come with our own culture, our own background and the wisdom of our world view. We often don’t recognize this as we plan provocation and provocative learning engagements.” – Kristen Blum

Developing a less structured approach to the curriculum is more than just an experiment but also has some grounding in research:

Consistent with Vygotskian developmental theory and programs that build on that theory, such as Tools of the Mind, less-structured time may uniquely support the development of self-directed control by affording children with additional practice in carrying out goal-directed actions using internal cues and reminders. That is, less-structured activities may give children more self-directed opportunities. From this perspective, structured time could slow the development of self-directed control, since adults in such scenarios can provide external cues and reminders about what should happen, and when. Findings offer support for a relationship between the time children spend in less-structured and structured activities and the development of self-directed executive function (EF). Children who spent more time in less-structured activities displayed better self-directed control. By contrast, children who spent more time in structured activities exhibited poorer self-directed EF. Executive functions (EFs) in childhood predict important life outcomes. Thus, there is great interest in attempts to improve EFs early in life. Time spent in less-structured activities would give children opportunities to practice self-directed executive functioning, and lead to benefits.’ – Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning.

 

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An Enhanced Mindset: Principles to Practice

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” – unknown

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 5.28.52 PM“Exciting times for education,” is a common phrase I have enjoyed using in recent times.  I feel positivity in the air and can feel the winds of educational change blowing across my face. The likes of Sir Ken Robinson has called for a ‘learning revolution‘. I for one am firmly convinced that the revolution is already in full swing. With learning communities around the world at various stages of readiness for the implementation of the Enhanced PYP, moving from ‘principles to practice’, I believe we are on the verge of a monumental shift in educational thinking, and philosophy with regards to the direction and purpose of education. A new generation of educator is asking more than ever, ‘What if’ with regards to what education could, should or ‘must’ be.

The changes won’t be easy and will feel uncomfortable for many community members, educators and learners alike. It will involve a cultural, social and structural change within many educational institutes. In the storm of this re-organising will come the inevitable re-distribution of power and responsibility to all stakeholders and members of the learning community. A reassignment of roles and  none more so than to the learners themselves, and with it will come great responsibility. The burden of power and responsibility can no longer be shouldered by the few but must be carried by the many. Throughout this process and beyond the concept of ‘learning community‘ becomes increasingly important and vital in establishing and maintaining the values, beliefs and culture of learning within all schools.

Education is a social or collective endeavour and a benefit to the community as a whole, as well as to the individuals within it. Everyone in the learning community has agency; they see themselves as contributors to its ongoing strength and success, and take action to bring about change.’ The Learning Community in the Enhanced PYP, May 2018

As the monumental shift in practice is a social and collective endeavour then the success or failure depends on the engagement of a collective learning community. It is my belief that the greatest challenge to any learning community will not be their ability to implement change on an immediate and superficial level but to ensure that the change becomes part of school culture, touching the hearts and minds of all learning community members, creating learning partnerships that are supportive and inseparable from each other.

Establishing partnerships among all stakeholders, and recognizing what each member independently and collectively brings to the community, is the first step in building relationships. Through these partnerships, members of the community come together to develop and to support a shared vision, mission, beliefs and values. The Learning Community in the Enhanced PYP, May 2018

I believe that the importance in sustainable and positive change is not just about a ‘shared vision, mission, beliefs and values‘ it is much more than that. It is about a shared mindset. The creation of an ‘Enhanced Mindset’ within all members of the learning community that not only recognises what we are doing but ‘WHY’ we are doing it. In short, and not to be understated, we have been given an opportunity to develop an educational system that benefits the whole of humanity by the creation of generations of autonomous learners self-driven by curiosity and a love of inquiry. As Warren Berger has recognised, ‘curiosity and inquiry’ will be the attributes most valued in the future world. It will be the ‘WHY’ that will be the question that drives positive and sustainable change within learning communities. Without really understanding and appreciating the the ‘why’ our actions can never really have true purpose or any real sustainability.

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 7.16.49 AMTo be able to support the development of a shared and ‘Enhanced Mindset’ amongst all learning community members it is important that the journey from ‘principles to practice’ not be rushed. The process of change must be organic and it must be allowed to develop and grow at its own natural pace. We should be going through a process of planting the seeds of change and then tending to them carefully over time. The process should provide enough opportunity for different members of the learning community to become involved, to digest, understand, and recognise the “Why’ at each stage of our preparation. There must be time allowed for all voices within the learning community to be heard, from staff, student, family and community partners. All these community members have a shared power to make a change and a shared responsibility to support the emerging values and beliefs of the school. To be able to achieve this it is vital that all members have an ‘Enhanced Mindset’ of what we are trying to achieve and more importantly, ‘WHY’. These voices must be heard throughout the process if sustainability the values and culture are to remain. Community members not working in isolation but as part of a unified learning community in which each and every member is fully aware that they are they agents of change and the power and responsibilities that brings. Over time the principles that we hold so dear will naturally become practice within our learning communities.