Scaffolding negotiated projects

January 11, 2010

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?

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Sentence writing with pictures

October 17, 2009

In the last few weeks I have been discussing IEP targets with children in my class (Year 4). A number of them have targets relating to writing simple sentences, and had been set targets last year to have regular practice writing sentences to go with pictures they were given. This struck me as a good idea, and is something I have done before with my year 2 class on the advice of my fantastic PGCE tutor Kate Glavina.

However, I had an interesting conversation with one of the more streetwise boys when I suggested this. He took offense at the suggestion he couldn’t write ‘simple’ sentences, and when I suggested the picture writing his response was along the lines of “Not again, that’s baby’s work writing about those pictures of girls!”. I asked him what he liked, and he replied immediately ‘Cars! Hummers, Porche’s and Lambourghini’s!”. Therefore, much to his amazement, we made the deal that if I found him some cool pictures of cars, then he would write me some cool (not simple) sentences.

Due to the fact  other things got in the way, we didn’t get round to making this happen for a week or so. Throughout that time he was asking me when he was going to do his ‘car work’, and soon some other children were asking me as well…

Last week I put together the pictures. I am a big fan of Compfight.com, a search engine that lets you search for high quality images which are creative commons licensed. It was obvious from our conversation that these pictures needed to be exciting and engaging, so I used compfight to find a set of pictures which I hoped would genuinely engage him and the rest of my reluctant writers. I feel strongly that you need to have high production values for things you make for the classroom, so I used Apple’s Pages to put together a sheet that would complement these exciting pictures.

Last week we began, and the results have been fantastic! There was great excitement when I revealed the full colour pictures I had printed for them, and a genuine scramble for children to get the ones that grabbed their interest (some had chosen to go for wildlife rather than cars as their subject). The best part is that in two short sessions several of the pupils who were making no attempt to organize their ideas into sentences have started to do so. We still have a lot of work to do, but they are really starting to try to improve their writing as they want to do their best at this activity. Our last session ended with them all imploring me to let them take them home, something which really surprised me coming from these children. “My Mum will work on it with me because she loves cars too and she will remind me to do my car work.”

Just a simple idea, but one I thought was worth sharing. It just shows how taking some time to listen to children’s interests can reap rewards in terms of their engagement and effort. Hopefully, as this is something they have engaged with well, they will be willing to return to it to try to edit and improve their sentences.