As I was scrolling through twitter this afternoon, I came across a tweet by Edutopia about ‘student voice’. Within the tweet is a short video about a high school in the US that was underperforming until they began to give a majority voice to their students as part of a site council. You could see the students felt valued and that they had a say in the day to day running of their school.
After watching this video, it got me thinking – could this concept work in the early years?
On the surface, it sounds like a silly idea to give our youngest learners a majority say in the day to day running of their spaces and classrooms. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that in a play based, child-led classroom we already do. That’s what child-led is, right??
But my confidence started to wain a little, are we really allowing children to take the lead in their learning if we are setting the units and assigning the skills, concepts and everything in between without their input?
Yes, we have created a classroom that empowers play, space for children to explore their ideas and thinking but have we ever asked them to share in the big picture?
In one of the many inspiring workshops, I attended with Kath Murdoch, I remember her sharing a story about a school in Australia that she was working with. At this elementary school, the teachers included the students in the planning stages of a unit. Here the students were able to share their ideas for the shape of a unit and the direction that it might go in.
Now asking a 3 or 4-year-old to construct a unit, choosing central ideas, key concepts and skills would be crazy and developmentally inappropriate. But I believe it is still possible to give them a greater voice in how we design our units.
In a previous post, I wrote about how the outcomes, standards and planning are made to fit the learning that is already happening. Teachers see themselves as interpreters of play and learning not the drivers of it.
In this environment, the children and teachers already fit the big ideas and constructs of units into each child’s play. But what if we went even further, to step outside our comfort zone and only create a bare-bones unit with just an expansive central idea? The skills, concepts and lines of inquiry are all added as the unit progresses or even added retrospectively.
Crazy, but it might just work!
I have experimented with adding lines of inquiry as the unit progresses. Our thinking was to give students greater ownership over the unit and enable them to have a stronger understanding of the skills and concepts.
At the end of the unit, we found that among the three classes the lines of inquiry were different but not vastly so.
I want to go one step further and explore looking at the learning retrospectively by adding in the skills that were learnt and the concepts understood at the end of the unit. My aim with this idea is to help myself get out of the way of children’s play and learning so that I engage with them and I have no agenda. By getting out of the way, I am not inadvertently disrupting their learning with my worries that they are not meeting the outcomes.
If there is no preconceived structure to a unit, then I can join in the learning, letting the children flow and stop as they want.
But what about assessment?
Using assessment of, for and as learning as our guide, we can break down how adding skills, concepts and lines of inquiry to a unit retrospectively might work.
Assessment of learning is through the documentation of each child’s play; the very act of documenting learning enables teachers and students to see the learning that has taken place. Sometimes when we are in the moment, we don’t always see it but when we come to put that action into words the learning always shines through.
Assessment for learning, is looking at a unit at the end and as a team asking ‘what skills and concepts did we see?’ ‘were there some that stood out?’ and adding these to the unit planner. This process gives teachers a deeper understanding of the unit and each child’s learning, enabling us to see the whole child.
Assessment as learning is looking at all the above information and using this to guide our next steps, our practice and to challenge our thinking. Through the lens of assessment as learning, we become the learners as well.
Adding the structure to a unit retrospectively not only gives our students a greater voice in their learning, but it also forces us as teachers to challenge how we see ourselves and our role within the classroom.
The way we educate children is slowly changing and maybe, just maybe this is another part of that change.