Wooranna Park Primary School takes pride in being an innovative, future thinking school in order to provide the best education possible for each and every one of its students. Understanding that student agency holds the key to a highly engaging curriculum, we have developed shared physical, pedagogical and theoretical structures that have drastically changed our practice for the better.
Experience and research tells us that it is vital to support the innate curiosity and desire for learning, exploring and making sense of the world that all children bring to school with them. This belief, embedded in our Raison D’etre (reason for being) has led to the development of pedagogical practices that support negotiation and autonomy in the school environment.
“People are born with the potential to be autonomous, curious, creative, powerful learners. They have a desire to make meaning of the experiences they encounter. Past learning is constantly evolving in the light of new experiences.” (1)
Our signature pedagogical practice is called Learning Agreement Time. (See Learning Agreement Time video; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRicbtMC654 ) While it varies in many ways from Prep to Year 6, Learning Agreement Time is the chief means through which children exercise their autonomy, selecting what, where, with whom and from whom they will learn. Negotiations take place between teachers and students and between peers in a classroom environment in which the ‘third teacher’ concept of Reggio Emilia underpins a wide range of ‘invitations for learning’ or provocations. Learning is personal, imaginative and playful in a context of social co-operation and collaboration and in an environment that invites curiosity.
(See “The Third Teacher” video; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXkMj33ReWI )
In recent years a variety of new initiatives have sprung from the principle that children are naturally curious and autonomous learners. The need for deeper learning in an increasingly complex society, a less content driven curriculum and the ideas of William Glasser (2) have contributed to further change in practice. We are prototyping new programs that personalize learning and draw on student agency to develop a new generation of adaptable lifelong learners. Prototypes of these programs were created last year and have developed through constant discussion, feedback from staff, students and parents in a cycle of adjustment and evaluation.
Professor Program - Kids teaching Kids
At a staff conference in 2014, we discussed the quote (below) from William Glasser;
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we discuss
80% of what we experience
95% of what we teach others.
Our Prep teachers took the discussion to their students, asking the children “If you were a teacher what would you teach?” The children thought that they would be good teachers and responded positively to the concept. The teachers were delighted to have a large number of student volunteers keen to share their knowledge and skills with others. The teachers and parents helped the students prepare their lessons and scheduled time for the delivery of the Professors Program. They recorded the students’ achievements, providing feedback and further opportunities. Video of the experience is available on the Wooranna Park website. Across the school, teachers now challenge students to share their learning through directly teaching as ‘Professors’ in other Kids teaching Kids programs or through creating and or facilitating new provocations for Learning Agreement.
(See Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQUutbxAUxg )
During 2013 we started to prototype a new type of project based learning for a group of students in Year 5 and 6 who had earned the acknowledged status of Autonomous Learners. As Autonomous Learners students have earned the right to co-create curriculum, plan their own learning journey and work in any space in the school without direct teacher supervision. Building on the video provocations supplied or on individual student curiosity and interest, students are asked to undertake research in order to produce a digital artefact of their own learning to share. Individual, pairs or small groups of students create questions for their enquiry, conference them with peer and staff mentors, refining them and writing new ones as they occur through the research phase of the project. They then draw on school, community and web resources, as well as outside mentors if no one in the school has the required level of expertise, to complete their project.
A forum for peer review was developed last year through which an oral digital presentation can be critically scrutinized by staff and students who question and give feedback. These ‘live forums’ take place every two weeks, becoming an ongoing source of reflection and formative assessment. Questions from the Enigma Missions may be reframed to take the student deeper into their research or to explore tangential ideas. The live forums assist students to understand whether they have a good knowledge of their research content while providing the opportunity for the learner to become the teacher and to develop his or her personal ability to articulate and debate around this learning. Some early ‘live forum’ presentations are available on our school website; https://plus.google.com/111926588313171462962/posts
A new range of important skills and feedback mechanisms are necessary for our Enigma Missions; research, cross referencing, bibliography and film making among them. Students embarking on Enigma Missions develop these additional skills and understandings through small group and workshop sessions and through connections with outside parties. One example of enabling skill development is the link we have established with a local Secondary College to teach film making skills. A connection with MyEd (See http://myedapp.com),
an online learning management system that enables us to individualize learning is helping us to shape feedback so that it occurs in real-time supplementing the weekly student conferencing and goal setting.
We have been collecting video, digital and artefact information showing that students involved in these programs develop a deeper understanding of the curriculum content, confidence in their ability to share and apply learning and have high levels of engagement and participation ; including the concept of anytime, anywhere learning. When students develop confidence in themselves as learners they will usually exceed both the expectations we place on them and the outcomes engendered in documents such as the national curriculum. Further, our stories consistently show that a child who discovers an interest in and ability with learning, pursuing it to an ‘expert’ level develops belief in themselves that begins to generalize to all areas of their education. Student Agency springs from this belief in self as well as from an understanding of one’s own autonomy.
We are pursuing the idea that these promising practices may be shared in a wider context, through digital collaboration in both virtual and real-time. Linking with MyEd is providing us with opportunities to better monitor and respond to student learning within shorter time spans, share learning across wider audiences and personalize feedback for further learning. We have been working with the Learning Frontiers’ Melbourne Hub partners to share our practices, to have fresh eyes and critical friends to help us continue to shape new innovations.
From embedded practice and philosophical belief in children’s’ innate autonomy for learning, Wooranna Park’s whole school approach is signposting new and promising practices for the development of greater student agency through prototype programs such as the Professor Program and Enigma Missions.