Friday, February 24, 2017

What might we dream of for our learners?

Today and tomorrow we are hosting ASB Plugged-in at school.  We have lots of presenters, but for me I decided to take a deep dive into just one area - to work with Mark Church (an old colleague of mine from the International School of Amsterdam) to really focus in on visible thinking.  We started with some questions:
  • What messages are we sending students about what learning is and how learning happens? What do students think learning is? As teachers, do we know what we mean when we ask children to learn? 
  • What are kids learning about what learning is when they are with us? What is their conceptual understanding of learning?
  • How can we take more notice of the culture of our classrooms - and what it communicates to learners about the value and importance of thinking?
  • How might we make students’ thinking more visible, give it more value, and use it to navigate learning?
  • How can we send a message to students that thinking matters?
Individually and then in pairs, we discussed the 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions and habits that we wished students came to your classroom with that would serve their learning well? We came up with 3 broad categories:
  1. Social dispositions - attitudes and habits that relate to how groups and people function eg: cooperativeness, humour, empathy
  2. Work dispositions - attitudes and habits related to work and school performance eg: persistence, concern for quality, willingness to do one’s best, reviewing one’s work, putting forth best effort
  3. Thinking dispositions - attitudes and habits that facilitate and promote effective thinking, eg: open-mindedness, curiosity, skepticism, looking at both sides of the issue (perspective seeking)
We reflected on how early childhood educators tend to value social dispositions more than the others - the others matter but are not as prominent. With high school all 3 categories show up but work dispositions are more prominent. We talked about what a pre-school through high school continuum looks like? Time is given to social dispositions early on - leading to work dispositions later.  But what about the thinking dispositions?  Where do we take a stance to not lose sight of these - how do we get them on the front burner just as much as the other dispositions?

An observation that Mark made was that If the social dispositions and work dispositions are a mess, you would be hard pressed to find thinking going on in a school/classroom. But the converse is not true. Just because social and work dispositions are in place it doesn’t automatically follow that there is a culture of thinking.

So how can we shift a school or classroom culture? We can do this through the use of routines that foster our disposition wishlist (e.g. curiosity and wondering) and through time (which signifies what is most important in our classroom). We can offer opportunities to engage in the routine and use the interactions around these opportunities to explore the dispositions (e.g. reasoning with evidence). The routine is a model for thinking dispositions, something we can do that signifies the teacher’s wishlist. The environment also needs to allow for the routines. The interactions and expectations afford students the opportunities to engage with these dispositions.

Or as Mark put it - the culture is the co-teacher in the classroom.

And perhaps instead of asking what 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions or habits we want students to come into to our classroom with, we should instead be asking what 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions, habits do we wish that our students left our classrooms with that would serve their learning well - long after they’ve left us?

Photo Credit: NuageDeNuit | Chiara Vitellozzi Flickr via Compfight cc

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