This is a question that at first read made me stop and think about the play on words and I could easily blow it off as semantics; only that the question has played around in my head over a couple of days, clearly, no blowing it off!
We all have dynamic classes, with mixed abilities, diverse needs and individual personalities who all deserve the best that they can get out of a day, a week, a year of school.
So we can be driving the train, ploughing forward hoping everyone is in for the ride; or we can do something more than hope.
As the year begins; we have start with a new class, wide eyed hopeful students accompanied by families who have expressed their hopes for a great year; improved learning outcomes for their children and experiences that will stimulate thinking and curiosity to lead them to being fully engaged.
We begin the journey to get to know the children. Each one an individual with interests, passions, curiosities, fears, strengths, needs and challenges who has a place in the class.
The challenge we face is to build relationships with each child, to create a trust that they will know we care, we are interested and that together we will work to create an environment that is safe, that feels welcoming, where they can shine, they can be brave and where they feel they belong. We will develop past individual relationships and will build a community that respects one another and is there for the whole group. Together Everyone Achieves More
So the journey goes . . . the 'in-house' jokes have started, new routines are established and we are building the 'culture of Grade 5' . . . so how will this be any different to last year and the year before ?
The dynamic nature of a group of students means that as teachers we can feel that we have to be 'the show' that students are waiting for a 'delivery' . . . but thankfully I work in school that does not subscribe to that idea.
We encourage students to follow passions and curiosities, to ask for help and ask again and again and again if that is what they need. To be agents of their own learning. To develop their wonderings into meaningful inquiries.
As teachers we need to demonstrate creativity - creativity in the way we manage student needs, the way we reduce the wait time they experienced; in the way we transition students; how we engage them in learning; and in the way we gather data, encourage action and document as we go. Creatively managing within school schedules, managing to multi-outcome one task without creating overload and providing time for deep learning. It is at this point when the 'hum' or 'the flow' or 'the music' starts and students are really in a place where we can engage in teaching and learning that is relevant, inspiring, challenging and engaging.
This is a constant focus; expecting to achieve it I means I feel I step closer to that point every time I question how I can change, how I can improve, what I can develop and what would make something more productive, would waste less time or would create an opportunity for students that would allow for deep learning.
The hum! The sound of engaged students. I have to say I love nothing more than standing in the middle of out Grade 5 space and just observing. It is messy, it is noisy, lots of people doing lots of different things. The hum of action and engagement.
Our students have worked together to build a community that respects each other and works together. They run Cafe5 every Monday; it is like a class meeting; it is time to have a conversation about issues, ideas and action. As teachers we sit outside and listen. We join the conversation when invited; as a team we believe strongly in the concepts of student agency, autonomy and independence and this is time for us to really action these beliefs. Yes it can be hard not to step in and try to 'fix' somethings.
Cafe5 is a springboard for students they take different responsibilities and look for different perspectives from within the group. They are not afraid to call each other out but they are also quick to give positive feedback as well.
No it isn't always 'peaceful'; yes they disagree; they have to agree to give each other time and space. They have learnt that sometimes saying nothing is actually more powerful than being the loud one in the crowd. The minutes they take make them accountable for their words and actions. Negotiating the time allocation is interesting! They discuss budgets, action, supporting school initiatives and basically they make the class flow; having the time to engage in meaningful conversations means that they can develop the environment that provides a safe place for them to be agents of their learning.
The hardest part for us is to sit on the side; not waiting for our turn, but sitting and listening, observing and just being witness to a group of 44 eleven year olds have robust and thoughtful conversations.
The power of having a conversation and committing to what you say is a life skill, sometimes working through conflict or having an opposing point of view; it is not just for a unit, or a grade or a 'report card'; it will impact the way you choose to interact with others in life regardless of how old you are.
Skills for life that are authentic will develop over time, creating time opportunities is where the teachers step in; we need to be creative in the way we plan and structure as many opportunities for students to lead, discover and follow curiosities.
Are our "Digitally Native" students really native to the effective use of tools to support and enhance their learning?
My students were all born in the age of digital technology. They work in a microcosm that has a myriad of tools available with 1:1 iPads, laptops, ready access to the internet and teachers who are active users. Is this enough?
We have policies and agreements for use, we have expectations around what is appropriate, we have an inbuilt radar that tries to create a symbiotic relationship between the traditional and new.
This is where my questions start to play on a loop in my head.
Is it new? Really? We talk about 21st century skills like the 21st century is new - We are nearly 20% of the way into the 21st century. . . it's not new!
We need to see IT tools as part of the class, much the same way pencils and scissors are seen. If teachers are not confident to use the tool then that needs to faced. It is an issue; face it head on and change; teachers can not wait for mandated training.
As learners we need to find ways to up-skill and build confidence. As teachers we have a responsibility to operate in the 21st century with all that it offers.
I am eagerly watching and reading snippets from the #ISTE18 news feed of @twitter and am inspired to try to attend one of these events; even if it is on the other side of the world.
Inspiration comes from so many places; you don't need to attend a conference or go to special PD (although the ISTE18 looks fabulous); you need the mindset to face the issue, you need to develop intrinsic motivation to build your skills, face the difficult conversations and ask others for support.
When our students move from one class to the next we have expectations of the incoming class; will they have the skills, knowledge and understanding we expect for the learning to come in this class. Students have expectations as well; questions: will this teacher be someone I can connect with, will I build a relationship that will ensure I am supported in my endeavour to learn; will I learn & improve, will I have the opportunity to take charge, to invest in my learning and develop skills, will my voice be heard? Will the teacher be IT skilled; will I be able to use the tools I know how to use and will I be able to extend my skills and applications.
We need to be cognisant of the fact that students expect IT to be part of their life, their learning & communication. The challenge is knowing how to ensure that this is seamless from class to class, year to year.
Together with our students we worked for 41 school days on a journey of inquiry.
There are many words I could use to describe the experience of being a class teacher with Grade 5 students who are 'doing Exhibition'; but now as I reflect on the process, interactions and staging, just one word comes to mind - 'amazing'.
To have the opportunity to work with a large number of students who are all on a quest to inquire into something that really matters, something that they passionately believe in the 'So What?' is really quite an amazing feeling. The energy that comes from conversations, interactions and their excitement, frustration and challenges is really tangible.
Our students collaborate and communicate; they create individual working offices; they work on independent inquiries; they manage themselves as 11 year olds do, with support and robust structures that are part of the learning environment. They discuss their research, challenge one another to dig deeper, to push further, to do more in the quest to get to 'So What?'
Watching students checking in with each other, following up on conversations, sharing resources and contacts, making suggestions, connections, giving feedback and feedforward whether it was asked for, or not: is where the magic starts. Knowing that these students are applying knowledge, skills, attitudes and understandings that they have developed through their school career is very satisfying.
We encourage other teachers to come into the 'learning space' to observe and connect with students, those conversations are a powerful way for our students to reflect on where they are at and what their next steps could be. When a teacher sees a student the worked with 2 or 3 years ago they can see the development of the students and know that they were part of that journey. We also have an 'open house' for parent check ins; we do nothing to 'get ready' - we are ready! There are no appointment times. If a parent comes to see a child then the student engages in the sharing using what they are doing at that moment as the catalyst for the conversation. It keeps it very real.
Reflect . Choose . Commit . Act .
As a regular practise in our class we develop our commitment to planning our time and learning in what we call RCA Time. Students have dedicated time at the start and end of the day to reflect on the learning, the process, the successes and challenges, the what ifs? - sometimes we have a reflection prompt other times students generate a shared prompt or they create their own. They record their thoughts, then they decide what are the next steps - what needs to happen next - and they write it down in an "I will ...' type statement to commit to it.
Act speaks for itself! We expect evidence of action to be recorded - students need to prove they acted on what they said they were going to do. Accountability.
Students work together in so many different ways, they share skills, they reflect and challenge one another. Practically when they need help they request it.
I believe collaboration is about the culture you build in a class community.
Exhibition is not the time to create new structures, it is the time to bring together all the things that have been happening and see the synergy.
Systems and structures of organisation that support a class community are developed over time. How we organise ourselves is the transdisciplinary theme that underpins our unit, as such it provides a structure for students to have a strong foundation to guide their learning as they develop their inquiry.
'Ideas Reveal Possibilities'
students may also develop inquiries that connect to Sharing the Planet, How the world works, Where we are in place and time, Who we are or How we express ourselves, but How we organise ourselves underpins the learning.
This provides a framework for students to develop the curriculum connections that tie the learning together. They justify passionately why they are connecting to 'materials and matter' (Science) while also connecting with 'Humans and natural environments' (Social Studies) and this goes further of course. At the same time their peers will challenge them to provide evidence; these conversations are powerful.
As a teacher I have found Exhibition to be inspiring, and energising; knowing that our students have the skills and abilities to develop an inquiry that matters to them and that they still feel passionately about when staging days are done is the ultimate. The possibilities continue . . .
I read blog posts; lots of them! Lately I read one that was challenging the notion that the classroom is the third teacher and way teachers control the space. So this got me thinking!
At the start of this year we asked the students to design their learning space. They spent time drawing, planning, discussing, negotiating, thinking, moving and rearranging furniture. This process has not finished! I know we are seven weeks til the end of the year but the thing is the process is ongoing, because the purpose of the space keeps changing.
Students move tables and seating many times in a day, they create the spaces that work for them within the space that we have; and have done this all year.
We are in PYP Exhibition mode now and each student has created their own office space. They are developing and changing and the students are really invested in making their space work for them. We have asked them to document the evolution of their space over the time span of the unit, and I can't wait to see those film clips in June.
So with a space full of 40 individual offices plus a 'mini' space for group gathering and the 'teacher table (we removed our individual desks to take up less space and share a wooden table), we are really aware of things that don't need to be in the room.
This is the challenge we face.
As teachers we look at the space with different goggles! We have 'stuff', a nicer term is 'resources' or 'materials' that will be used during a unit or maybe two. Things that are left from years gone by, things that have 'never been sorted, donated or simply thrown away'. Things that no student actually uses 'yet'!
Our challenge is to remove the 'visual noise', those things that really don't deserve space in the learning environment; the things that don't have purpose and are there 'just in case'. When 'in case' happens we can source the materials and until then we need to clear space for clearer thinking and less clutter.
So today I challenge myself to start removing the clutter, boxes, books and 'stuff' that is not vital to the learning. To create opportunities that we don't even know that we have restricted with 'visual noise'.
Clear goggles and a more open space is coming soon.
We are about two weeks out from the official start date of our sixth and final unit of inquiry for this school year. It is the eXhibition unit!
At our school we purposefully align our eXhibition unit under the transdisciplinary theme of 'How We Organise Ourselves' and we deliberately place it as the last unit of the school year.
This is my second year of teaching Grade 5 and I started the year with the eXhibition in mind. While I was excited about the journey last year, and I thought I was ready for the student learning and action and the process . . . oh did I learn ... so much more than a workshop could provide; being in the 'fire' meant I was in a constant state of reflection & response. I wasn't new to the exhibition process but like everything that is exciting about teaching and learning the idea of the eXhibition grows and changes depending on so many different factors. There were the 'tomorrow . . .' reflections, and then there were the 'next year...' reflections!
Fast forward . . .we are now looking at the start of exhibition we a team of excited, energised teachers and a group of 38 students who are filled with anticipation. What did we learn from our experience last year. What were those '. . .Next year reflections ?'
We have kept some things; the TD theme, the central idea, most of the unit framework (some tweaks always happen); the positive intent to provide students with the opportunity to take their inquiry on its own pathway; the staging day and presentation space organisation; the idea that students are driving individual inquiries and are collaborating through the process and the belief that what we do we do well. Ok, so we have kept lots of things!
We have tweaked; the way we will integrate experts, connectors and mentors; the documentation of learning; timing and connections with parents; the way we will support our language learners and engage with their parents; the time frame; the integration of P.E. and how the final inquiries in Visual and Performing Arts can connect to the start of the eXhibition.
AND, we have changed; a day out into a Learning Retreat Camp at an eco-resort; the way we connect with our Middle School to embrace the transition initiatives as part of the eXhibition unit; the timetable to increase time and restructured the breaks to align with Middle School schedule; we started planning earlier; we connected with the Grade 10 students during the MYP Personal Project, where students interviewed students with questions about their interests and passions, how they documented their learning and how and why they chose their presentation mode; and our students have had opportunities through the year during 'MyTime2Inquire' to conduct passion/interest based independent inquiries and have reflected, grown and changed as part of the process.
Experience changes the way we look at things but with the balance of a core team that is 50% new and 50% one year in we are looking forward to the process of the eXhibition just as much as our students are . . . or maybe even a bit more!
Sitting on the mat seems to be a measure of something ... I am just not sure what we are measuring when we expect students to sit for extended periods of time listening to one person speak.
Teaching in an IBPYP school; interests: student agency, technology integration, growth mindset & the continuous cycle of improvement that is the world of education, learning and being!