To me as a teacher, the best thing that could happen was a child coming back to school the following morning saying something like “After that lesson yesterday, I went home and…” This might be accompanied by a page of notes, a drawing, a model or some other offering. I meant that learning was a continuous thread, not just what happened in the classroom.
If there’s one thing certain in life, each of us, given the opportunity, gets older, hopefully a little wiser as a result of reflection on the wealth of experiences that pass us by each and every day. I know I am nothing like the person I was, as life has taught me significant lessons. In fact, as I’ve now spent far more of my life as an adult than as a child in school, I’d have to look back and think that school learning provide some of the early entry into the broader needs of work and home life. School learning on it’s own would not have been enough.
I’d like to share a diagram that arose out of a school visit, where the quality of discussion was very high and I was looking for a way to capture the holistic approach that I had seen. I allowed me to elaborate my thinking to encompass some broader themes, which enabled a rich discussion of aspects which were less clear. I’d argue that for me, to capture an idea in such form supports my broader thinking, where a written narrative might not.
The diagram is a composite which seeks to articulate some aspects of a child growing up, through a variety of experiences, home, school and outside, each of which contributes to the maturing learner, ultimately leading to their preparation for life beyond the education establishment.
They all start school at different stages, which can be compounded by other factors, such as physical disabilities, English as an Additional Language, undiagnosed learning or social and emotional issues. Their home environments will be different, ensuring that their readiness to learn will be variable. Early Years Foundation Stage teachers, and nursery teachers before them, if the child attends one, will work hard to try to understand where each child’s strengths and areas for improvement lie. Many pre-school and EYFS settings undertake home visits to see the child in their environment, as well as to meet with parents in a place where they are comfortable. They may be young, but these children have started learning, have a long way to go and need to be encouraged to become learners within a more formal setting.
From this early stage, the child becomes better known as a learner, with formalised tracking of progress and development allowing greater information to be passed from professional to professional.
A rich school environment will provide stimuli that engage the learner in new ideas, building on their prior understanding, or offering challenge to already held notions. As the learner progresses through the system, new strengths and areas for improvement may become apparent. They will not all progress at the same rate and achieve the same outcomes, without significant support and guidance for some at different times. Even then, it is not possible to ensure that all will retain that which has been taught, unchanged, or as intended.
Home, as a variable, will continue to offer different support to their offspring, dependent on finance, housing and available quality time. For some, their own educational experience may be a barrier, either in school relationships, or in their ability to work alongside their child.
The locality may also play a part in the child’s development, depending on it’s richness or poverty of freely available, accessible, cultural elements, such as a library or museum. Inner London children, despite possible low income households, and very high rental costs, might still be able to access the very best of art and culture, free, as long as they are prepared to travel, whereas children in rural area might have to make a long journey to access anything similar, at significant cost. Therefore, the backdrop to a childhood is likely to be a significant variable. This can be compounded by the home access to ICT and broadband access.
It’s probably a simple truism then that a child growing up in a poorer household is likely to be significantly disadvantaged compared to better off peers, but should not become an excuse for lower expectations from teachers.
The dynamics of the school experience are a significant factor in a child’s life, offering, as they do, the opportunities to make sense of the wold around them and to build the essential knowledge and skills bank necessary for them to engage at their own level with experiences as they impact on them, directly through presence at an experience, or second hand through images and the words of a teacher or other adult.
The early experiences are likely to develop their sensory awareness, looking, listening, touching, smelling and tasting, where appropriate. These are developed through interpersonal dialogue, sharing thinking enabling further questions to be asked or their own descriptors becoming the basis for adult scaffolded questions designed to broaden and deepen their understanding.
Learning deepens and becomes more complex with age, becoming more abstract as the child can retain information and manipulate it without the aid of memory joggers, such as concrete apparatus and diagrams. This is based on the earlier ability to sort, organise, classify, seek patterns and essentially hold a clear image when something is discussed.
The next phase is taking information and testing it, modelling, explaining, checking, clarifying, questioning, predicting, speculating, retesting, refining, exploring and experimenting. These are followed by comparison and evaluation, reappraisal and generalisation.
As with the previous diagram, someone will dislike some element of this one… someone dislikes Piaget, another dislikes Gardner, a third finds Vygotsky’s ZPD baffling. Each of these was seeking to explore and explain their current thoughts about learning. Every teacher is probably baffled by the process, some seek to argue that you can’t see it happening at all. In that case, we have to give it our best shot, offer the broadest range of opportunities within which to learn, then check whether the learners have picked up what we needed them to do. Teachers have to travel hopefully and reflectively, broadening their experience with every encounter.
I’d like to think that school experiences, combined with life experiences, offer the developing learner the opportunity to look, to listen, to touch, to count and measure, to work with others and on their own as reflective individuals. I’d also hope that they have experiences that enable them to experience the joy of sound and music, as well as encountering wow moments, where they can feel awe and wonder.
School experience can sometimes be a limiting facto for some, depending on the teacher approach to providing challenge, but this can be enhanced by incorporation of external experience, enabling further depth and breadth to the experience. Extra-curricular opportunities, experienced and synthesised back to peers, shared as report talks, with accompanying images, provide others with insights into possibility.
Some learners require additional support to learn alongside their peers, in the form of intervention activities. The best of these enable sufficient progress so that the learner’s time away from peers is limited and re-entry is easy. Intervention should be a minor detour, rather than a major road block.
Homework is often the bete noir of the teacher and the learner. Where homework is designed to clearly enhance classroom, it has purpose, might encourage engagement and on return to the class, might enable the child to contribute additional information to support peers in their learning. More often, it can be an activity plucked out of the internet, to satisfy the need to set homework.
When at teacher training college, the lecturer set us a homework for the holidays. We had to spend time looking around us at the natural world and write down in a notebook questions that arose. I can remember watching a bird in flight and noting a question about it’s curved flight pattern. That wasn’t the only one… I did my homework!
actively collecting images and experiences, from a wide range of sources, first, second, third hand,
always checking or questioning the validity of the evidence,
playing with thoughts and information,
sharing their developing ideas, with peers and adults,
allowing others to ask questions, clarifying and refining,
exploring, testing out their thinking regularly,
always prepared to accept error and the need to rethink,
In so doing, making their way as learners in a world where there is just so much to learn.