Monday, 29 August 2016

Hard Fun

Over my many years in education I have had the pleasure to work with some very special teachers. These teachers had two qualities that can’t really be taught: one was an intrinsic desire to seek out ‘best practice’ and the other quality was the ability to connect with children so they were fully engaged with their learning. I could go on but the point of this entry is to unpack the second quality a little more and drill down to an essential point.

The ability of a teacher to create an ‘on task’ working atmosphere used to be one of the key indicators of good classroom practice. But, as thinking and experienced educators know, ‘on task’ behaviour does not necessarily mean that the students are enjoying or getting any educational benefit out of their school work! They are just on task. A study in Australia called the Fair Go Project concluded that when students are strongly engaged they are successfully involved in tasks of high intellectual quality and have passionate or at least positive feelings about these tasks. No surprise here! Rather than just being ‘on task’ with teachers’ wishes and directions, students need to actually be ‘in task’. That is, to have some substantive engagement.

Some years ago I was talking with a teaching colleague who I valued enormously for his understanding of education and his desire to seek out ‘best practice’. He talked about an article he had read where someone was describing substantive engagement in children’s learning as ‘hard fun’. That was a real ‘a ha’ moment for me. That was so brilliantly summing up what we all know from our own learning experiences. Mostly the thing that drives us to learn is when we are intrinsically drawn to it. Around the same time one of our students came up with the phrase ‘edutainment’. This boy called Theo said the best learning is based on a series of events sneakily intertwined with education. He said “schools need to be a place of education, entertainment, friendship and memories.”

I believe Theo has got it in one. This is not a woolly or flakey approach. There has to be rigour!  The best education is ‘hard fun’---we all learn better when there is a bit of tension and stretch combined with enjoyment. This fits so well with the important concept of ‘learner agency’ where the aim is support children incrementally to take more control over their learning. “ When learners move from being passive recipients to being much more active in the learning process, actively involved in the decisions about the learning, then they have greater agency.” ( Core Education: )
The concept of ‘learner agency’ is huge, complex and powerful in the learning process. Best practice here transforms children’s learning and is central to this idea of ‘hard fun’ but more on this another time.

Monday, 8 August 2016

A Bit of Struggle is a Good Thing

I have been talking to the children about the importance of having some ‘struggle’ in our lives.
I know it is a bit of a cliché but ‘no pain, no gain’. As you know this applies to all of us.

I told them the following story I heard many years ago. I don’t know whether it is true but it hopefully helped illustrate my message.

“A little boy came upon a butterfly struggling to emerge from a chrysalis. He helped it by gently pulling the chrysalis apart. When the butterfly tried to fly, it fell to the ground and died. The strength it needed to develop to emerge from the chrysalis was the same strength it needed to fly. The boy trying to help had inadvertently made the butterfly helpless.  Sometimes we need to struggle to build up our strength to grow and develop so we can cope with what life will throw at us.”

This concept of ‘struggle’ is going to be a bit of a theme this term at Waterloo. It ties in so well with one of our key values---resilience. We are encouraging the children not to give up easily when they come across a challenge at school or in any aspect of their life but to try and overcome it themselves. These challenges will come in many forms from school work to relationship issues. There is no shame in asking for help after giving the challenge a fair go and we are encouraging the children to ask for help once they are ‘stumped’.

In our desire to be good parents and/or teachers we can step in too much and prop up children and create ‘learned helplessness’. We have to allow our children to make mistakes because from these mistakes comes a learning opportunity.

Life can be tough and if we help our children to help themselves, then we are doing them a big favour. The hard thing is to know when to step in and when to insist on more effort. Praise is so important too! Praise for trying and doing one’s personal best. It is destructive to praise mediocrity.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice inside your head that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.” (MA Radmacher)