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This year at our school we have been working on implementing negotiated learning in Key Stage 2. For the past few years our school has been introducing the use of curriculum content negotiated with the children from the Foundation stage up, and this approach has this year been introduced in Year 2. Further up the school we are incorporating some of the concepts behind this into our more conventional curriculum with the first hour of every day set aside for ‘Learning Agreement Time’.
This time has been set aside for groups to work on their own project ideas, negotiated and planned with their teachers to ensure they are worthwhile and real learning is taking place. Over the last term in year 4 this has resulted in many successful projects (a few examples are here). The children involved have worked on a wide variety of skills, from technical skills in the radio station, speaking and presenting, script writing and I.C.T. skills.
Recently the year 4 team have been reflecting on the direction we have taken this and decided that whilst valuable learning has been going on, what we really need to be concentrating on in this time is the skills of conceptualising, planning and managing projects. In order for the children to be able to achieve the vision of truly child-centered learning in these projects they need to be equiped with these skills, and we have decided to shift our emphasis away from learning outcomes in the projects themselves, and towards these more abstract skills.
To achieve this I really think we need to develop some kind of framework for this kind of work. Something along the lines of the frameworks provided by Alan Peat for scaffolding literacy skills. When we began Learning Agreement in September many of my class had no real idea what could constitute a ‘project’, and it has taken focused work for them to begin to generate ideas for things they could do which follow their own interests. Now that they have all experienced working on a couple of specific projects, to move forward they need to start understanding the process that they need to go through to take them from ideas generation, to planning, to a finished outcome, and reflecting on the process they have been through. Thus, I am trying to come up with some kind of abstract framework which we can use to scaffold the children in undertaking this kind of work.
For this to be of maximum benefit I think this framework needs to be something that can be universally adapted to a wide variety of project processes and outcomes. Ideally it also needs to have a progression that the children can use to enhance their project skills as they move from years 3 to 6, developing their independence and the scope of their work as they do so.
I have a few ideas, but I am really blogging about this to invite comment from other educators to supplement and challenge my thinking before we begin to develop this.
What stages do you think are essential to successful project work?
How could we integrate a progression into our framework?
Can we expect to design a framework flexible enough for true child-initiated learning?
Does the concept of such a framework go against the values of child-initiated learning?
During guided reading yesterday I was sharing a book of short stories with one of my groups who find reading challenging. We looked at the contents page and I asked what it was. One of the boys confidently replied, “I know, it’s the home page”. He continued to describe that the page contained “links” which “take you to” the different content in the book.
To me this offered a fascinating glimpse into the way he sees books, with some interesting implications. When I see a book of short stories I see it as a linear text. Granted, you can read the stories in a different order but I still see it essentially as a book with a start and a finish. My pupil’s comment made me realise that to him it is conceptually a non-linear text, potentially to be dipped in and out of like a website. At the age of 8 he has assimilated the conventions of a web text and appears to be bringing this abstract concept to bear on his developing understanding of more traditional media.
Although it feels like a bit of a paradox I find myself trying to explain old media to these pupils by comparing it to new; something which is difficult for those who have not grown up with technology to do. When introducing the class to email the best concept they could find to explain it was not as an electronic letter (which most of the visual clues in email software are based on). Instead it was described as ‘like a text message on a phone but longer and on your computer’.
To quote an old Apple slogan, these children really do ‘think different’.