Things Just Aren’t the Same

If someone who had not been in a school for a while walked into one of our classrooms I think they would be shocked by what they would see.  There have been so many changes on the educational landscape that nothing much remains of the typical classroom so many of us imagine and remember from when we were in school.

I think the first thing you might notice is the lack of desks and collaborative groups of students sitting around tables or working at various places throughout the classroom from the floor to any number of alternative learning spaces. There are a variety of different learning activities going on rather than the entire class focusing on one activity at a time.   Gone are the days when learning was an individual activity and the different subjects such as math, English and Social Studies were taught in isolation.

The next biggest thing I think people would notice would be the teacher not being in front of the room feeding students with the regulated chunks of material they were responsible for learning. In today’s classroom a lot of the learning is done through inquiry and the teacher is more of a facilitator, guiding students toward individual learning goals.

On Friday as I walked around the school I walked in on our grade 3 students during math class. The classroom was noisy and busy and the energy of learning could be felt. The students were working at various stations around the classroom. Some were at the SMART board doing math activities.

Math on the SMART board
Math on the SMART board

Some were playing multiplication war on the carpet and were very engaged in the competitive nature of knowing their math facts faster than their partner.

Multiplication War
Multiplication War

Some were working together at the tables using 3 dimensional shapes trying to figure out how many faces, sides and vertices the various shapes had.

Learning about 3 dimensional shapes.
Learning about 3 dimensional shapes.

The teacher and the educational assistant were moving around the room  helping where necessary and checking in with different students assessing their learning. I could not resist getting  down on the carpet to see what the students were doing.  They were getting good at math facts and were motivating each other to keep going in the spirit of competition.

I couldn’t help but think this was the very reason that children needed to be in school…that attendance is important…that not all things can be duplicated outside of the learning environment the teacher and students have created.

We often have children that are out of school for extended periods of time, sometimes a week, sometimes a month or more. Parents will want teachers to prepare work for those students when they will be away. This is a reasonable request and we certainly appreciate that it is important to parents to try to support their children’s learning.  However, when we were in school working through textbooks and workbooks from page to page preparing work for students might have been easier.  Now that learning is so active, student focused and question based, planning for students absent from the classroom is a much more difficult task. So much happens that depends on the learning environment, created by the teacher, but carried out by the students.

Things going on in classrooms today have changed in many ways. Expectations of learners have changed and teachers have made many adjustments to provide the best learning environment for our inquisitive, digitally confident, 21st century learners.  Different does not mean the way most of us learned was bad or ineffective, but changes are necessary to  meet the needs of today’s learner.

Please come and check out what happens in our classrooms on a daily basis- you are always welcome.  You can check out our grade 3’s on their blog or follow them on twitter @plesdale3 to find out what else they have been up to.

To Inquire or Not to Inquire?

As I have previously mentioned, I have gone back in the classroom this fall for the first time in about 5 years.  In that five-year time span, I have moved to a new school division in a new province, worked in two different schools, moved into school administration and completed my master’s degree.  I have a special education certificate and have worked as a learning support teacher for a number of years.  Returning to the classroom has been something I have wanted to do for some time and even though I have been frustrated numerous times so far,  I am enjoying it immensely.  I think returning to the classroom will make me a better administrator as well because I will be walking my talk every day.

Anyone who knows me will know that I am very passionate about education and learning and I feel very strongly about the importance of putting learning back on our students and allowing them to be in charge.  Inquiry based learning is something I believe in and hope to keep moving toward that model in my own classrooms and work with my staff to do the same.  I am constantly amazed at the things going on in classrooms around my building and the favorite part of my job as an administrator is being in the different classrooms watching the learning and growth going on there.  We all believe in the same vision for our students and have decided to take a leap past the talking we do and into the action of inquiry.  We are all in this together and will help each other out.

Now that I am back in the classroom as a classroom teacher, I am realizing it is difficult to balance  the pull  of curricular outcomes with my desire to put my students in charge of their learning.  Before I was in this position and spent my time reading, sharing information about my passions, but not having the opportunity to put them into action, I did not understand the reluctance of teachers to let go, move back and let the learning happen.

While spending time on twitter this week (which really has become an obsession of mine) I came across and link to an article by A J Juliana where he described what he called, “The Inquiry Dilemma in Our Schools.”  The two reason he gives for teachers not jumping into inquiry are the curricular demands I already described and teachers who are reluctant to approach their principals for support.

Countless research, points us toward some of the simple things we can do to engage students in learning:

  • Providing authentic problems connected to the real world.
  • Allow students to drive the learning, not the teacher.
  • Provide opportunities for collaborative investigations based on inquiry and knowledge building.

All of these things seem to point toward inquiry learning don’t they?

I am busy re-reading the book “Who Owns the Learning? by Alan November.  In the book he describes authentic learning situations and gives simple processes we can use to help our students research, publish, collaborate and communicate within our classrooms and with global audiences. Our student need to be able to efficiently find and evaluate information.

There are many other useful sources of information available to help us move toward inquiry based learning.  Another great article I came across was on TeachThought website was a simple, but effective, question graphic to guide students with inquiry. We need to remember if we are willing to make the leap and step back for the learning growth of our students, we are not in this alone.

The next step for me in my classroom is to try a version of Genius Hour.  I hope to teach less and learn more by allowing my students  to use their own ideas and passions to drive their learning.  I will let you know how that goes.

“What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.”
                                                                         -George Bernard Shaw-