My learning spaces – everything, in every place

Prompt 2 of my newest challenge, a blog a week for the #edublogsclubs is all about our work environments. Since I am not in any one school and juggle quite a number of ‘different’ work, my learning spaces vary dramatically depending on the tasks at hand.

In any one week, I can go from a secondary school classroom, a boardroom, a meeting room, a conference centre, my dining room table, my home office space, a favourite coffee shop, university grounds, and even in my spa! I love the freedom of moving around for different learning activities. You see, as I mentioned in my first challenge post, there is learning in everything and I’ll add now – in every place.

Coffee shop treat while reading on critical pedagogy

In my final year of high school, many, many years ago, each of my subjects was allotted to a different study area in the house (much to my mum’s disgust!). It was almost like a switch on, switch off ritual while I was studying and as each exam was completed so the books and study guides disappeared from each place (to my mum’s relief!).

As an Education Consultant, my learning spaces vary from staffrooms to auditoriums, from conference centres to classrooms and school libraries. My audience numbers vary dramatically for 4-5 and up to 300 at national conferences so my learning space has to work accordingly. I like to do a lot of hands-on and movement activities with my participants, but I also need them to sit quietly and reflect, or to work more collaboratively on certain tasks.

Developing coaching relationships

The learning spaces for workshops with teachers may vary but there is nothing like a nice round table where teachers and learning support staff can collaborate to make learning for students with special needs and indeed all students, more accessible.

Collaborating

When teaching and learning with students the spaces outside of the classrooms are just as enticing and so again the learning spaces change. Last year I really loved how my tutorial room had whiteboard walls!! Visual Art spaces are also enticing and prompt creativity even in everyday manual tools which are an artform in themselves.

Paintbrushes

As a part-time PhD student, I do much of my study and writing at home – and this is where I still tend to move around depending on what I’m attempting to do on the day. We have a very large dining room table and even swapping chairs along and around it help me to focus within the space. It is also a good excuse when my desk cannot be seen for the papers, books and stationery it sometimes holds.

My desk area

Dining room table

And of course, there’s also that learning space inside our heads – thinking! As an A grade procrastinator, I actually do much of my thinking while cleaning, cooking, driving and, yes, even while enjoying the spa -though this presents a problem when trying to write things down in my notebooks!

Ahhhhh…spa!

Finally, I’d like to also add that for me learning spaces are not only the physical places one inhabits but they can also be found within the pages of a lovely notebook or scrappy bits of paper, on a computer screen or in a painting.

Travel diary

There is learning in everything; in every place.

Thanks for reading 🙂

So what if the beach was a whiteboard?

In today’s classrooms on at least one wall, there exists a whiteboard – used to be a blackboard but those days are long gone. I’m wondering then if maybe it’s almost time to sign off on whiteboards. Yes, I know we have those interactive numbers in many schools but even so…I’m not convinced they are being used to capacity.

Since it’s supposed to be summer in Melbourne – I say ‘supposed to be’, cause I’m currently at the beach in a lovely new house on holiday, just a few minutes walk from the beach, and it’s freezing… aside from that… what if the beach was a whiteboard? What might this look like?

This post was initially prompted and began swirling in my head by a couple of photos sent to me in November when most kids were busy studying for upcoming exams. It was cemented in me last night when walking along the beach here and happening upon some wonderful sand drawings.

sand drawing

What prompts children (and adults) to write and draw in wet sand? Have you ever thought about it?

I bet you’ve done it.

Thomas was prompted to write in the sand while studying for his English exam. Yes, really. He scraped out quotes from his novel as a way to remember them. Funny. No one encouraged him to do it, in fact, he was on his own down at the beach and then…he picked up a stick.

He tells me he actually planned to walk down to the beach so he could write them in the sand.

Thomas’ sand quotes

Why?

“I didn’t have a whiteboard. I usually write them on a whiteboard, rub them out and write them again.” At the beach, he didn’t need to rub them out. It was expansive enough to just move on to another space and repeat.

Really?

Thomas purposefully adapted his preference for learning and used his immediate access to the sand in order to learn.

As he stands back to admire his writing, passers-by are curious.

“It’s okay,” says Thomas, “I’m just revising for my English exam.”

Clever.

Really?

Is that what it is?

Clever?

Thomas doesn’t think so – for him, he was just studying, thinking, adapting to his environment, taking advantage of what he had – a stick, a voglia, (desire) to explore learning, sand, prior knowledge and experience.

So what if the beach was a whiteboard?

How might you use it for learning?

Thanks for reading 🙂

Do more than ‘know your students’: Learn them

I’d like to propose a leveling up from ‘knowing’ your students to ‘learning your students’.

So how’s it different?

It is similar to holistic education where the student has the possibility to be developed in all aspects of humanism. It develops their physical, academic, spiritual, social and emotional being. In ‘learning’ students then, it becomes an ability to really know them beyond what they like to do, how they learn and what they got on their last test result. It’s about being open, allowing them to develop, take risks and all the while the teacher is watching, listening and learning. Only after this can one act accordingly. In learning students, one is compelled to take action.

What are the steps in such a proposal?

  1. When greeting them at the door go one step further beyond asking how they are going. Watch their body language, listen to the tone in their voice and distinguish if it was any different last time you asked. Then act.

    Watch, listen & learn

    Watch, listen & learn

  2. Reflect on the last class you taught. Who are the students that made an impact -that is- asked the questions, interacted with the teaching and learning, those you had to remind to get back on task. Now, picture those who did not. Why not? Have they interacted more effectively in previous classes? What was different this time? How can that change for next time without making them feel exposed? Now act.

    Classroom interactions

    Classroom interactions

  3. Do you know what your students like doing outside of class? Do you make efforts sometimes to include aspects of these things in the teaching and learning? Let me give you an example: You asked your class and this particular one has quite a few that enjoy sports -don’t roll your eyes – I’m not keen on it either but just bear with me. Keep in mind while you do plan that there are undoubtedly some students who do not like sport – but maybe they like games… what aspects of sport and games could be included in your class? I encourage you to think outside the box here, include ideas about skills- dependent on what year level they are: Might you include some healthy competition, or adding by goal points, even creating open-ended problems related to sport but reflective of the skills you require? Is there a story about sport/competition/achievement/training/teams you could use instead? Just because students like footy, doesn’t mean you have to ‘do’ and ‘talk’ footy. Perhaps you can cover their love of sport via other related means. Now act.

    talents

    Students’ talents

  4. Are you comfortable sharing something of yourself? Of course, I would expect that it be relative to the content matter being presented. This is a great way to reveal your own humanism and might move your students into telling some of their own narratives. Your role here is to model respect and trust when and if they do, to listen intently and thank them when they finish. Everyone needs to know they have a voice in your class when they want to use it and will be respected accordingly. One last point – the students don’t have to ‘talk’ their narratives, there are plenty of other ways to ‘show’ them. There might be an opportunity sometime during the semester to ask them to complete … ‘I wish my teacher knew …’ Now act.

    Lacking confidence

    Lacking confidence

  5. Stop teaching the content and start learning students. We are always talking about how we don’t have enough time…but time spent learning your students is much more valuable than always thinking you don’t have time because there’s so much content to get through. Content will happen, as will learning (which is the whole point of education) if we do more to ‘learn’ our students. Have open discussions about learning – discuss with them how they learn, talk about the brain and how clever it is and notice how, when, where and what students do in your class when you set learning tasks. I encourage you to change the language used – instead of asking them to get on with their work… try “let’s get on with our learning”. It just seems to be more inclusive and less burdensome somehow.

 

Matthys, 2016

Matthys, 2016

Now act. Let me know how it goes. Why not share your ideas below so others may also learn.

 

Thanks for reading 🙂

Not all gifts are perfectly wrapped

The other day I bought a gift for a very special person and asked the shop assistant if she would gift-wrap it for me. She agreed and asked whether the gift was for a male or female. “Female,” I replied. I didn’t pay much attention to her as she wrapped it and then out she came from behind the counter and handed me a bag. That’s when I noticed the wrapping and realised two things:

1. The wrapping did not suit my friend at all and

2. It failed to reflect what was actually within.

shop wrapped gift

shop wrapped gift

I remember feeling annoyed because I hadn’t bothered to pay any attention to the wrappings available, as I’m sure there were other choices. I left the shop feeling deflated after having been so pleased with the find. That night – you must believe me – I continued to fret about the gift and began doubting whether it was appropriate. By morning I had changed my mind and decided that I was not going to gift it all.

It was then I tore the wrapping away to expose its inner beauty. The gift was beautiful and I still loved it as much as I had when I first saw it and it did suit my friend as I had first assessed. My whole problem was the actual wrapping paper. I had failed to see beyond the exterior. It took so much away from what was inside. I decided that yes this was the gift for her and yes I would gift it after all. I rewrapped it leaving part of the gift exposed and tied it with a silk ribbon. The colours were better suited to my friend and the gift half exposed lived up to its whimsical shape and form.

gift rewrapped

gift rewrapped

Instantly I felt better about it both inside and out. The gift was finally exposed, it suited the wonderful person who would eventually receive it and it made me proud.

So why am I writing about a silly gift and its ill-suited wrapping?

Because it made me feel the same as when I meet students who don’t get the opportunity to shine. I spent many a sleepless night feeling anxious about students who just don’t love learning. As a teacher I feel that it’s my responsibility to ensure that all my students are given a chance to discover their gifts and talents and once that discovery is made to set up opportunities for them to shine.

We’ve all taught that student whom you just can’t seem to gel with. Who winds you up and makes you feel uncomfortable or annoyed, angry, or sometimes they make you feel you have failed as an educator. That student who constantly disrupts your class, back chats when reprimanded and fails to do any work at all. You’ve tried everything; had a chat with him after class, spoken to his other teachers, called home, perhaps dished out some consequences and still the behaviour continues.

Why?

Well, I think it’s simply because we haven’t torn away the inappropriate wrapping to discover that yes the real person is there. He has just been given an unfair wrap. We haven’t taken the time to learn him.

I encourage all of us to never give up on any of our students, no matter how difficult. Always believe in them, work hard to find the truth, to unearth their talents and interests and then give them as many opportunities as possible to shine. They’ll soon come round and the old wrapping will be disposed; the true beauty of their talents and abilities will shine but only with the love and support of a much better wrapping.  These are the strategies you teach them so they can become better learners.

You see, the shop assistant did not know my friend as I do and so the wrapping was all wrong. She didn’t really understand how much I loved that gift and hoped that my friend would too. So really it was my fault for not taking the time to let her know of the wonderful things I saw in the gift and of how much I really care for my friend. So I had to make an extra effort and exposed it for myself. It was only then that I felt I could share it with that friend and, well, celebrate together.

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

What makes me really angry…

It’s been a while since I sat to write a blog and as always it’s been brewing for quite a few weeks now. As I learn to learn all that goes with my new role, I have begun to get to know our students with disabilities a little better each day. I have had opportunities to speak with them directly, to learn with them, teach them, to meet their parents and spend time with other adults who work tirelessly to support and develop them as learners. I’ve seen and heard quite a number of things that reflect past experiences both positive and negative and it seems that there are some things that still surprise me.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 8.55.43 PM

Some days I’ve left with a heavy heart while other days see me leave happy and confident that things might change or that I’ve made a little bit of difference to something or to someone’s learning experience. Those days where it seems that there is nothing more I can do only gets my brain churning, sometimes through sleepless, anxious nights in search of a solution or at least the next tiny step we could take towards the ultimate goal.

Amongst the school action there is also my consultancy work. I’m still running workshops and visiting schools to facilitate PD. Lately I’ve been spending time learning with primary school educators. In preparation for these workshops I have been trying to think of more innovative ideas for promoting positive classrooms and igniting passion in both students and teachers.

The Pirate, Dave Burgess, and his book Teach Like a Pirate is still prominent in my planning and prep of workshops. Paul Solarz’s book Learn Like a Pirate also makes headlines as schools strive to get their students to become more independent. These promoted me to add to my teacher toolkit with a recent trip to Bunnings – yes Bunnings! Suffice to say that for a few dollars each I now own and promote plumbing equipment that can be used as reading props and language enhancers as well as instruments to assist with addition and subtraction. I’m saying no more…

So… what makes me angry? Oh yes.

1. Teachers who don’t know their students AND don’t take the time to learn them

2. Lack of empathy

3. Unfair consequences

BUT there are many things that make me happy…

1. The support of colleagues and friends

2. My family who keep me sane while allowing me to be who I am

3. My students who surprise me, challenge me, annoy me, and amaze me all in the one lesson!

4. My time, though rare, when I get to write this blog

5. Tweet chats

6. My supervisors who as soon as they find out I’ve hit a wall call a meeting and make arrangements to call and talk even though they are on leave

7. I could go on…


every student

Thanks for reading 🙂