Life is a series of experiences within which we have to make decisions, some of them more difficult than others. However, the need to make decisions cannot be taken away from you, even if you follow the instructions of the sat nav. You still need to be aware of the road circumstance and to override the instructions if necessary.
Life experiences are often subject to organisational need and planning to be effective, with an element of preparatory reflection preceding these aspects, perhaps perusing maps, making lists of necessary equipment, lists of jobs to remember to do. In other words, life is a bit of a project and like all projects, some bits need to be more prepared than others. The level of difficulty is likely to depend on prior experiences, so that the new one is put into context, with lessons learned from the earlier experience being used to guide decisions this time around.
In teaching and learning terms, for ease of memorisation, I reduce this to analyse, plan, do, review and record. Teaching and learning are further complicated by a significant variable; the children. Knowing the children who will be undertaking the learning, as well as possible, is likely to enable fine tuning of planning, especially at tasking level, with further refinement in-lesson to arising needs.
However, I think that, for many children’s learning, the tasking itself has become a significant issue, in that they are often brought into the task at the “doing” stage, so are required largely to respond, then to remember. Unless children are introduced to tasks that enable them to be partners in the whole of the learning process, they become reliant on the teacher for instruction, for resourcing and for the instruction of how to go about the task. They do not develop self-reliance, nor the attributes often classed as resilience and independence, as they do not have a secure overview of the task in hand, nor are they enabled to make appropriate decisions.
Topic; sorting things out…
I arrived one morning at the Infant school where I was deputy head, with a mixture of dried peas, lentils, sand, salt and paper clips. The story that I told was that I had been bringing these materials into school for a later art activity, but that they had spilled in the back of the car and been muddled. The problem was that we needed them to be sorted so that they could be used. A group of children were given the problem of trying to sort them out. (This was an integrated day approach; others were otherwise detailed to tasks)
They proposed and shared ideas, using what they knew to sort the problem in stages. The paper clips were removed with magnets, as one child knew that paper clips were steel and were attracted by the magnet.
Different sized sieves were deployed to sort the peas, then the lentils, leaving the sand and salt mix. This was the critical point, as it embedded the main teaching point; that some elements dissolve in water, while others don’t. Some children had experienced dissolving salt and sugar at home and were able, with carefully guided support questions, to offer this solution to the problem. The solids were put into water and stirred, the sand retained in a coffee filter, with the liquid left to evaporate in the sunny window.
The children, aged 6 and 7, were enabled to use what they knew and then to accept that at certain points they needed to know something more, if they were to succeed.
This style of activity also lent itself to high quality report or instruction writing, based on what they had done.
Repetition can lead to inadvertent short cuts being developed as teachers think about how something went the previous time and seek to iron out the areas that might have caused some concerns, wither to them or to the learners.
The introduction of the National Strategies and the accompanying QCA guide lessons, were, to me and many colleagues who had careers before the National Curriculum, as nothing more than the recipe for satisfactory teaching. They were introduced to achieve that, but, in so doing, had a reductive impact on those creative teachers who felt that they ought to do as they were asked.
I have a slight concern about too much sharing of ideas, unless this is surrounded by the background thinking, in that the act of copying could circumvent the need for both the teacher and the learners from the need to think.
Avoidance (nice, neat classrooms?)
Seeking to avoid issues in learning can reduce the challenge, the need to make decisions and the need to clear up and reflect afterwards.
In this way, certain subjects can be left until the “really important” ones have been achieved. The apocryphal story of art on a Friday afternoon is a case in point; more often than not, it does not then happen.
The question might be, “Do you run a learning workshop, or a space where your wisdom is dispensed?” Of course the answer to this will change over time, from EYFY to A level, depending on the subject.
A great deal is currently being said about character, with words like resilience joined for good measure. While you can also use notions of discipline and some then take this to organised cadet-style training, much character is already being shown by children who may be growing up in circumstances which are very demanding. Some already have significant levels of maturity, responsibility, order and organisational skills.
These can be downplayed, by constructing an imposed discipline model. I have a personal preference for a self-disciplined model, with children learning through encountering and overcoming challenges which might impact and improve their daily existence. While there is pleasure in personal challenge and, as I have written in other blogs, my childhood allowed for climbing trees and rock faces, as well as messing about in boats, real life has a greater impact and demand.
Parents divorce. People die. Money gets tight. People argue, fight, take risks, get caught, go to prison.
Some are born with disabilities with which they have to live. Some of these will be more limiting than others. Some will learn to overcome them, with help and support, others will need continual support.
Character is formed from thinking, acting, succeeding, reflecting, reorganising, taking stock, taking charge, developing independence, self-reliance, building a skill set that enables challenge to be considered from different angles, enabling finer decision making.
For an insight into the formation of my character, see here.
Life, which is about learning is a project, which needs to be carefully handled, if it is to make sense.
A project seen as a whole process can be reflected upon. Areas where the process can be improved can be noted for next time and the impact on the outcome considered.
So the idea of improvement can be embedded in the ongoing series of projects that make up life, as well as school.
Always recognising that some will need more guidance than others if they are to succeed.
As Esther Rantzen used to say “That’s Life.”