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Learning Futures guest blogger: Schrödinger’s student

Guest blog post by Martin Said, Teacher at Cramlington Learning Village

If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Our friend Erwin would say that the tree neither falls, nor doesn’t fall in the first place but that’s not really that helpful, or is it? So if a student is sent away to somewhere other than under the watchful eyes of their teacher, are they actually working and how do you know?

The answer is that you don’t – or at least you can’t know other than implicitly through your knowledge of the student and the training (yes, training) that you have given them.

Our school is heavily involved with Learning Futures and their themes of:

  • School as Base Camp (not just a location)
  • School as Learning Commons (with all users sharing access to and responsibility for its resources)
  • Enquiry Based Learning (by seeking out and evaluating information)
  • Extended Learning Relationships (i.e. reciprocal between adults and young people and supporting learning)

If we are to hold true to these themes then it seems sensible and right that we should open the door to our classroom from the inside, and that is what I try to do. I say try as there are a numbers of issues at play here. Firstly to some of you reading, letting students leave my classroom might seem a very natural thing to do. Indeed when I visited High tech High recently and observed a teacher ask her students “Shall we take a comfort break?” I found myself thinking “How humane!”

I am guessing though, that there are many of you who would worry at the thought of children wandering the corridors unsupervised. Well, you would be right to do so, because if children are simply wandering the corridors then we as teachers or actually more specifically in my practice, I haven’t got it right, and that is why I say try.

We are currently working with Year 8 students on making “sweded” (see the movie ‘Be Kind Rewind’) versions of movies on a shoestring budget. As part of the filming process they go out onto the campus with a camera and film. I don’t see any way that this type of exciting project can be done without opening the classroom doors from the inside. The trick though is in how you do this, and this is where I am still learning. Last week I “wandered” out onto the bridge over our school’s central street during the lesson to observe students filming a scene from Harry Potter using a huge chess board borrowed from a member of staff. It was a great picture to see the kids so engaged in what they were doing, except for one who was pulling faces at children in another classroom.

I have to say this is a pretty typical picture. The mistake we made was in not training the students in how to use the corridors and spaces. It is true that the majority do not need this training but for some they simply cannot handle the freedom or responsibility unaided.

I had a great conversation with a colleague who has loaned me some footage that he had shot clandestinely of a similar scenario, which he is now showing to his students before they go out to film. The effect he says is magical, as students are able to identify straight away what is right and wrong with the picture as it speaks for itself.

So, where does this time in the curriculum to train students come from? We must surely be losing valuable minutes that could be devoted to packing in knowledge and factual content rather than these soft skills. Well for us it comes from an inherent culture in the school that allows us to experiment, take risks and innovate.

Indeed, the scenario of kids wandering round the corridors unsupervised is entirely unacceptable, but the only word I would quarrel with is wandering. We must open our classroom doors from the inside and in turn let the outside in. We must allow our students to use our buildings on the proviso that it is purposeful.

If I may return to San Diego and High Tech High for a moment where children adorn the corridors and common spaces equally as much as their beautiful work. At the end of the first day I was really struggling to get my head around how they achieve such incredible outcomes. My problem was that I had observed lots of lessons, but saw very little actual teaching or pedagogy, in fact almost none.  It was not until days later that I was able to figure out that here was an inherent culture also, one of trust between adults and children, to the point where students were so independent that teachers were able to teach less. Now there is a beautiful paradox!

May 4, 2011 at 9:21 am 1 comment

Learning Futures guest blog post: Accountability

Guest blog post by Martin Said, Teacher at Cramlington Learning Village

Its funny how many times the point of accountability has come up over the last couple of days on my return to school (from High Tech High in San Diego) in the run up to coursework deadlines.

I think I work in a great school which does a tremendous job in taking a comprehensive intake and helping them to be better and more independent thinkers and learners, yet I still perceive a shift in emphasis from the beginning of my short career.

It may be the “rose tinted glasses effect” but it seems that the locus of accountability in quality assurance has moved further from the student towards the teacher. Coursework (seems funny using that word in the new spec vista) was the responsibility of the student to hand in on time to a good standard, now it feels like it is the teachers’ responsibility to get coursework from students. This is not a specific observation to my school but from conversations with colleagues in other schools also.

What is the determining factor here? I don’t know is the honest answer. League tables maybe and pressure upon teachers to meet targets (self imposed or otherwise), and I’m sure that students recognise this. Kids are canny.

Anyway, what struck me about accountability in HTH was one instance where a girl had not completed her engineering project but was still expected to stand by her empty table in exhibition and of course every visiting member of community asked the same question: “Where is your project?”

What a powerful thing to have to describe the mistakes you made, a real learning experience and extremely formative!

I asked the question many times at HTH, “What would you do if you didn’t have Carte Blanche?” and the first response was invariably “Get carte blanche”.

A reframing of the question to “If you could change just one thing in the inherent system…” yielded similarly homogenous responses:

“Start with public exhibition.”

Oh and DTPF!

(Do the project first)

May 3, 2011 at 9:21 am Leave a comment

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