#1146 Secret Learning

Shhh!
Don’t tell them they’re learning.
But keep up whatever keeps students excited.

A Finnish teacher describes her kinder class’ “secret” learning as they learn early math and literacy through very non traditional activities such as stomping puddles. I’ve seen children gleefully learning traditional material in puddles, mud and snow with full engagement. If they are enjoying their activities, they will be learning.

Before modern school, people supported their life through trades, skills or professions for which they had aptitudes. They learned what they liked to do or where they had skills. And the learning was not a chore. In essence they were experiencing secret learning – following their passions or skill sets…

And so secret learning can support many modern students – challenged or traditional. Allow the student to learn through their passions and the learning becomes easier…

learning

What learning expectations relate to frogs?
Photo courtesy https://pixabay.com

What early learning expectations relate to frogs?
• Math – Early numeracy: Count the digits (fingers/toes).
• Language – Vocabulary: Describe how the frog feels.
• Science – Habitats / Life.

For more advanced learners more complex passions can draw out their learning.

The biggest challenge of “secret” learning? Time and resources to connect with students…

#1145 Fall Down Seven Times

I was paralyzed on a rock wall, not by the difficulty of the climb, but by the fear of falling. What if I made a mistake? Would the ropes save me from pain or death? I could not go up because I could not face falling (and failing.)

The Downside of Success
Recently, I attended a STEM conference with a small group of students that regularly achieved exceptional successes. Their small team was pitted against similar teams of students. After the morning’s challenge I reacquainted with our team. One boy grumbled “We needed a chemist on our team…” Translation: “We didn’t do as well as I wanted. I am disappointed.”

He always did well. It was expected. He didn’t know how to cope with failing (or even not excelling)…

education

STEM conference – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Learning to struggle
In 1984 I wrestled my way through Grade 10 Electronics. I regularly got stuck & frustrated. I pushed my way to a lack lustre average-ish mark. My teacher recognized my struggles.

One day he came up to me and pointed to the students that, today, are likely brilliant electrical engineers. He said “They’re really smart. This is easy for them. One day, though, they’ll get stumped and they’ll be in big trouble… You, Harry, are learning a valuable skill – to challenge yourself to get through tough work…”

Life has thrown me many first world challenges – small business challenges, technological disruptions, loss, grief, etc. That tough electronics class was an early lesson on how to get through tough times.

Learning to Face Challenges
Similar circumstances affect students in the classroom. I’ve seen students, young and old, who either expect to score at the top or choose not to participate. They’ve never learned to handle mediocrity (being average) or to fail.  Excel or abstain is their way. Why? Possibly fear of failing? Or being seen to not exceed?

A parent told me once their son’s Forest School experiences expanded his horizons enormously. He was the oldest in his traditional school class and an only child. Things came easily to him. But in adversity, he crumbled quickly… Tears flowed, tempers flared and he was quick to quit.

In our class that year he was in the middle of the class, age wise. Skill wise, he was also in the middle. At the beginning of the school year he was afraid to try, quick to quit and his wobbly chin announced the frequent arrival of tears. He wasn’t used to not being the best, easily.

Throughout his school year his defeats were supported, his emotions were coached and he learned how to pick himself up and try again. His smile (and confidence) grew two sizes by the end of the year.

success

Climbing and success

Paralysis
Back to my paralysis on the rock face – a guide gently came to investigate my disabled state. He realized my predicament. He told me to “Allow yourself to fall (fail)… See what happens.”

Trepidatiously, I climbed until gravity peeled me off the granite.
Petrified, I fell.
In that failure, I learned I could climb higher next time.

Nana korobi ya oki” – Japanese proverb.
Fall down seven times. Get up eight.

#1140 Losing Recess

A friend was upset recently that his elementary-aged student lost recess time for minor misdemeanors in the classroom.  He was upset. I would be, too. Why do kids lose recess? It’s complicated…

Children need time to play, run and explore in unstructured ways. Often, that means recess.

If the child is like me, sitting still in rows and quietly learning, is purgatory. Moving, exploring and learning through experiences is how I learn best. Taking some of that away – even just one recess – creates more stresses than successes. Thankfully classrooms and schools are changing from past norms.

Schools from the past often placed students quietly in rows where they were supposed to diligently do their work, quietly. Some suggest ‘modern’ school was an industrial idea to prepare workers for factories.

Luckily this thinking is changing.

I still hear of instances of active children who are denied recess for misbehaviours. In my mind, ‘busy’ children should receive double recess for misdemeanors. Disallowing active free play can escalate challenges.

Reducing Misbehaviours
I currently teach a little bit of Forest School. What draws me to their learner led philosophy? Students lead the learning. Kids are engaged and active because they follow their passions. Teachers build the curriculum around the student interest. Consequently, there are very few mis-behaviours to manage.

learner led learning

Following student interests keeps them focused on learning.

What’s going on with some kids in traditional schools?
I teach mostly in traditional classrooms. Misbehaviours happen. Recently, I sat beside a boy who had consumed much of my attention as I got the class going. He squirmed and disrupted those around him. I looked at him. “You’re bored aren’t you?” He looked at the floor and nodded his head. Instead of threatening a consequence – like taking his recess – I asked what he wanted to do. We worked a way to combine his interests with curriculum elements. Happily for all, his behaviour improved.

Why teachers take away recess.
Teachers threaten students with losing recess, I believe, because they’re often strapped for time, energy and need a quick way to keep a student in line. Although it’s short-sighted, some teachers have their limits and, despite best intentions, resort to recess loss as a way to keep the class moving forward. Without an outlet or release, the student’s behaviours can escalate and create more challenges.

What others say about recess and taking away recess:
The Atlantic offers discipline research, suggestions and alternatives to taking away recess:

Education Weekly suggests the practice of taking away recess is declining and offers support for recess.

The Huffington Post cites findings on the subject from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Two alternatives to losing recess:
1. Differentiate.
This is education lingo for meeting all students where they are. It means keeping all students interested in learning whether they are at grade level, or way behind or way ahead. Keeping all students interested will help reduce unwanted behaviours. It’s the ideal in classrooms.

However, differentiation takes planning, insight, resources (time and $) and experience.

It also means teachers need to account for students who are chronically hungry or have a stomach ache or who live with a single parent who struggles to make ends meet. Sometimes the behaviours stem from stresses or traumas beyond the context of school. Some students never develop the basic social skills to get along in a school environment.

I have seen classes where one student can consistently derail an otherwise well functioning learning environment. Sometimes, that student has little support at home and may only be operating at the lowest tier of Maslow’s hierarchy. It’s hard to be ready for learning if you’re worried about food or shelter or safety. Which brings me to alternative 2 to losing recess.

differentiate

Keeping students learning means keeping them interested like in this learning environment.

2. More support.
And I mean more support on many levels such as:
Support in the class for students that need it. A good educational assistant is worth their weight in gold. Smaller class sizes help.
Support for families that are struggling. This could mean support for families that do not have the basics of food and shelter… or families that have developed poor coping skills for life’s ills. Support could be for families struggling with loss, mental or physical health challenges, stress.
Support for schools: More teachers, more educational assistants, more people, more time means better student development.

All this support means more big picture $. That’s a big issue that will not always welcome support. However, The CBC documents that money spent on early education / family support goes a long way in saving money down the road.

The NY Times offers research and more research that equates more educational spending benefits society.

The American Prospect suggests that (in the USA) there is a correlation between jails and education: “The lowest-performing schools tend to be in the areas where incarceration rates are the highest.

Would more support for schools and neighbourhoods lead to less need for jails? I think so.

So… taking away recess from misbehaving children?
Think again.

Support schools. Support teaching staff. Support social services. This support will create better lives for all.

#1127 Curiosity, Passion and Learning.

I have vivid memories of my early schooling days.

I worked hard to get on the school honour role…  but never achieved it. I took courses because they were a “good idea,” not because they interested me. My first university degree was in finance and economics – a good career path – but not for me. Every day was un-inspiring. I obtained my first degree in a lack-lustre way.

The schools I attended and the courses I took were well respected. The problem, I now realize, was the approach I took to education. I did not look to my passions for guidance.

passionate learning

Passion leads to learning – if you enjoy what you’re doing,  it’s easy!

Passion
Once I started pursuing what actually interested me I performed at a much higher level. A trend emerged when I pursued my passions:

Arts/photography. I didn’t go to school for arts / photo but as far back as I remember I loved drawing, photographing, creating. I started a business.
I worked crazy hours producing commercial art. It didn’t feel like work. Before technology transformed the industry success developed through enthusiastic hard work. My best photo sale? A car driving up a city street in a Go-Pro style (before Go-Pro existed) licensed for $32,000 – and that was almost 20 years ago. Not bad for a self taught career based on passion.

• Creative/Innovation. I got excited about two interesting photo processes that required acquiring a big camera that I could not afford. I built the camera instead and needed to learn math/physics of focusing to make it work. Math and physics never excited me before but I loved the whole camera design/building process including the math. Math became important to my art! Watershed / Sunstreaks continue to flourish.

large format camera

Learning math and science through art – building a large format camera.

• Teaching. I went back to school in recent years for a Bachelor of Education. Taking a year to go back to school in my forties with a young family was an expensive luxury. I focused on learning as much about learning/teaching/development as my head could hold. I told myself I didn’t care about marks. That didn’t seem to matter. My passion led to Magna Cum Laude (high marks.)

I recognized a correlation. For me, success depended more on passion than blind perseverance. Passion led to knowledge that led to success in some form.

Learner-Led Learning
I’ve been investigating different ideas in education. One that speaks strongly to me (and supports passion in education) is “Emergent Education” or the idea of leader-led learning.

In traditional schools, students are presented what to learn. Current practices urge teachers to develop engaging ways to teach so that all students will consume the knowledge. Engaging all in direct or deductive learning can be hard to do with a large group.

In one of my elementary English classes students wrote a standardized exam. One of my very capable (and spunky) students had no interest in the creative writing component of the exam. What she did write earned her a failing mark on that part of the exam… despite her capabilities. If she had been allowed to produce a language assignment that interested her for the evaluation, her marks would have been better!

inquiry based learning

It’s easier when it’s interesting! Intrigue and inquiry based learning make learning easier…

In an inductive (learner-led) learning scenario students are supported, guided and evaluated based on their passions. Music? Computer coding/web development? Horses? The curriculum is built around student’s interests.

Criticism
Some opponents to inductive learning suggest that the students using this approach will miss important aspects of a well-rounded education. Remember my mention (above) of building a camera while I pursued my arts passion? To succeed I had to design and build the box camera using physics (focusing) and math (geometry.) When my goal was an arts project the math learning became more successful because it was interesting for me.

All-encompassing
• Music involves math.
• Learning about coding and web incorporates syntax and language skills.
• Horses can pull students into reading, writing, science, math, physical education.

In my classroom, when facilitating a lesson that draws on more than one core subject (cross-curricular teaching), I sometimes abruptly stop the class and ask “Is this math… or art?”

Deductive vs Inductive Learning – Summarized.
The traditional school approach is often based on a deductive or direct approach to teaching. Material is presented and students are expected to learn through different activities and platforms. This approach works for many students and can produce excellent results.

A new (but very old) approach is growing and supports people in different ways. The “emergent” or inductive approach to education differs in that students lead the learning and the curriculum is built around their passions.

More organizations are using this learner-led model to teach. The theory is old. Historically, people learned by pursuing what interested them. People are naturally curious and naturally seek the appropriate skills to succeed. This usually involves concepts of math, language, science and arts that fit their passions. With the right steps and support, that leads to a satisfying life.

Learner Led Learning

Positive Mentors

Time with Positive Mentors
Another factor that is important to successful learning is time with strong mentors. Interpersonal connections can make or break learning opportunities. We’ve all had teachers or mentors with whom we’ve connected. Spending time with them is fun and easy!

One boy in a class I was teaching came from a tough place. He had challenges and his academics suffered. At the beginning of the school year he was reluctant to come to school and reluctant to share his work. He asked “What happens if I make a mistake?…” I looked at him and, with a smile, announced “… It shows me you’re learning.”

By the end of the year his family sent a lovely letter saying how the boy had thrived during the year. He was also closer to meeting expectations. His biggest success was that he was coming to school and learning. That happened because he enjoyed it. Positive mentors make a pivotal difference.

Options for Different Students
I’m curious about learning. I’ve explored different options for teaching/learning and realize there are so many good options – it’s heartwarming!  Many students thrive in traditional schools. Some students perform better with different models of learning. Below are a few alternate options I’ve explored:

Forest School
Forest School caters to younger audiences and builds learning around children’s natural curiosity. They follow the Emergent Education Theory of Leader-Led Learning. Math, arts, language and science are all built around student’s discoveries as they explore the forest and nature around them.

Compass Centre for Self-Directed Learning
Compass supports youth’s learning passions through Leader-Led Learning by first investigating student’s passions and collaborating with community experts / organizations to access relevant learning for the individual’s goals.

Astolot Educational Centre
Astolot places emphasis on connecting teachers to students. Classes are very small and I saw a strong connection between the learners and teachers as they navigated the individual’s learning.

My life path has not been a traditional one but it has been exciting and (mostly) enjoyable. Looking back helps me navigate moving forward in positive ways. Seeing more options and ideas available for all learners makes me excited about the future of learning.