Monday, 18 February 2008

Learning with company

Stephanie led the circle time this morning and what session it was.

I am constantly amazed by the difference in kids’ reaction to being led by an adult or being led by a peer. The fact that we said nothing for the entire session helped and it also meant that the thread which emerged was much purer than it might have been if we had thrown in our tuppence worth.

On reflection the time we’d spent last night talking about the issues and how she might draw out the ideas from the circle had been important and perhaps that’s the role we should be taking here – not leading up front but supporting from behind. I know there might be some of you out there who will see this as adult manipulation – and I could imagine how this could easily be the case – but if we really trust that the end result will always be better if we don’t try to manipulate, then it’s certainly worth not even attempting to interfere with the outcome.

Stephanie had started off describing her own experience of trying to learn on-line. She was honest about sitting in front of the computer and being drawn to her Facebook/Bebo sites – “it calls out to me” – the kids loved this and were all nodding their heads in agreement. The problem seems to be focused on a single simple – yet vitally important question – “why should I bother?” They come to school for company, food, warmth and company – and more company – in fact company is why they come to school. Yet when they enter an on-line learning environment they feel alone – or as one of the kids said – “it’s as if I’ve been sent out of the room”. Is it any wonder then that they respond to the call of their networked friends? As the conversation went on it became obvious that the answer lay in mirroring the social networking world – both physical and virtual when they are going to be learning. One of the kids talked at great length that one of the best things she does on her Bebo site is when she’s sitting beside a friend and they write and comment on other people’s sites. Stephanie remembered what we had been talking about last night towards the end of the morning when she asked each family to come up with ideas about how we could try to create “social learning” worlds – where learning takes place with others or in sight of others.

When they returned in the afternoon – the problem seemed to be overwhelmed by the flow of creative solutions. The common feature was that on-line learning should be seen as a group activity – where the learner works with others and shares their ideas, problems and thoughts – “in just the same way as we did this morning”. Partner working – sitting, either physically or virtually, beside a learning partner – was seen to be a crucial element – and also that they could have different learning partners for different things was a recurring theme.

They also wanted to have access to “rooms” where they could learn as part of a group – where audio and video linked them – rather than just always contacting each other through text. But the really important thing, which came out again and again, was that they wanted to see how they would be tested. I had to sit on my hands at this point as I’ve always fought against “teaching to the test” – yet here were the kids demanding – there’s that word again – that they needed to know the tests and understand what they had to know to pass. They then wanted to able to sit tests as groups – and through trial and error get to the point where they could pass on their own. The other point here was about passing – not being the best – not getting an “A”, just passing. I think it’s got something to do with the utilitarian approach which is overtaking everything at this time – “if I need to know this then help me to know it” – how they get to know it doesn’t seem to generate the degree of hand-wringing that it used to do amongst teachers.

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