Monday, 7 September 2015

The kids just want to learn!

The Toads don't watch cartoons and kids' shows.  It's not so much that I haven't let them (although I freely admit to having philosophical issues with so much of it) as that they just aren't interested.  Once they got past Disney junior (a long-awaited day!) they moved straight into Mythbusters and Top Gear. Now they are starting to branch out, from info-tainment to real documentary stuff.

I know this because of a conversation I overheard: 
Toad 1: "No, I want to watch Living Channel ... O it's the Antiques Roadshow, I love this." 
Toad 2: "Okay, yeah, me too."

And because the blue Toad's latest addiction is National Geographic wildlife documentaries.  Or anything National Geographic.

Both Toads, in their different ways, want to learn stuff.  The blue one wants to know facts and details; the pink one likes to fit things together and know how things work, in a societal sort of context.  Their ways of thinking are very different, but both of them want to do it.

A lot of secondary school professional development for teachers seems to be based around engagement.  There is a belief that students don't want to learn any more once they reach high school.  That whatever they had when they were young has gone.

I don't think it is gone.  I think what they want to learn isn't being given to them.  

I admit that I am being strongly influenced in my thinking on this by the professional learning that I am doing this semester. I have begun a course called 'Modern Learning Practice', which is showing me the changes in thinking that have happened while I was at home producing Toads. 

One of the most important things to come out of the course so far for me has been this quote from Andreas Schleicher
"the world no longer rewards people for what they know - Google knows everything - but for what they can do with what they know." 

For me, this resonates so much because I have always felt that it is not the information which is important, but what you do with it; and I hate teaching something I loathe simply because 'we have to do a short story study now'.

Okay, this post has been slightly high-jacked by all the pedagogical stuff that is happening in my world at the moment.  I'll get back to my point.

One of our topics in the staffroom at lunch today was a student in a colleague and my combined PE and English class.  She is really interested in what we are doing; as a class the goal is to research, design and implement a fitness trail for the community around the school, while making a link between physical fitness and mental fitness.  A couple of weeks ago she had completed the research task we had set about the links between physical and mental health and wanted some extension.  I don't know a lot about PE, so I sicced her onto google scholar. We had a look at what a scholarly article looks like, how to read them a bit, how to search them, that sort of thing, so I didn't just throw her in the deep end.

There are several awesome things about this that I would like to point out:
  • Kim is a year 10 student, and she is voluntarily reading scholarly, tertiary-level articles, and understanding them!
  • She is doing this because she wants to.
  • She is learning in an authentic context; this is the sort of thing that could be a job in the real world, not just a school assignment.
  • That one blog post is all the evidence you could ever want as a teacher/assessor for both research skills and reading comprehension.  What more could I ask?  A test?  Um, no.

In another of my classes, a combined Science and English one, several of my students have asked whether they can "just have some time to work on/finish my writing".  They want to do all that good stuff that previously I had to ram down students throats, like crafting, and drafting, and understanding the reason for the grammar bits, and having a theme, and ...  

The reason is that the context is right for them. They have chosen this course. These ones are 'off-task' and having private conversations while something is going on - about the research they are doing themselves, on scientists we haven't covered but who are in the same period as the ones we have.  And making links, and understanding context.  They are driving their learning in all sorts of directions where my co-teacher and I are just providing the framework.

Because they want to learn. Isn't that cool?

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