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Editorial April 2024

EDITORIAL, April 2024

Good ideas revisited

Conversations about education these days are dominated by the need for change. In many ways this is absolutely right – everything moves on. Emerging technologies can shoulder some of the load for teachers – fantastic. The environment in which children are growing up is being transformed and we need to respond to changing needs. Quite right.

However, are all the ideas that have been around for some time necessarily outdated and irrelevant as we move into the second quarter of the 21st Century? I don’t think so.

In this April’s edition of ITM Richard Human looks back to 1996 and a school expedition to climb Mt. Kenya. The trip was transformative for all participants as they got to know each other outside of the classroom and did something difficult together. I strongly suspect that 2024 expeditions will all have a similar effect.

Old ideas justified by new research are also interesting. As Smita Bannerjee argues, making handwritten notes with pen and paper is just as good for you today as it has ever been, and now there is the research to demonstrate a positive cognitive effect.

Which brings me to Michael Ter-Berg. It has long been good practice to rule out simple explanations for any possible cognitive difficulties. Always, always, always get hearing and vision checked first if something seems wrong. If possible, screen children regularly so that kids with emerging hearing or vision issues can be referred for a full diagnosis conducted by a specialist quickly. But regular screening is easier said than done, especially, perhaps, in international schools. You know the problems.

Which is why Michael Ter-Berg’s article is my favourite example of a ‘good idea revisited’ for a long time. It has always been a ‘good idea’ to screen for sight and vision if you could. But it has never been easy. What I love about the approach first developed by the researchers at City, University of London, is that it connects an old idea about screening with a new approach made possible by innovative R & D. In this case old and new thinking are combined to make larger scale screening for sight and vision issues possible without schools bringing in very busy clinical specialists. As a result most schools can now screen for vision and hearing difficulties for themselves.

Now – that’s the kind of good idea revisited (and improved!) that I really like and I have no doubt that there are lots of other, older, good ideas out there just waiting to go further with a little bit of help from new technology.

Andy Homden 

Editor, International Teacher Magazine

 

 

EDITORIAL, March 2024

What really sets your school apart is a good story

Too many years ago than I care to remember, I was sitting at the side of our little school hall for the weekly primary assembly. There must have been singing – there always was – and then a presentation or two. Certificates were being given out and then a Year 6 boy was called out to receive a medal he had won in an inter-school-sports meet the week before. He beamed as we applauded. At the end of the row where I was sitting a small boy turned to his friend:

“That’s my brother!”

His smile of pride was, if anything, broader than his brother’s. His friends smiled back and a girl in the row in front of him turned around:

“Isn’t that your brother??” Again, smiling, slightly incredulously.

Schools are full of stories. Here the headline story was on stage, but perhaps the real story was going on all around us. The whole community had created an amazing culture in which young people took enormous pride in themselves and each other without any kind of one-upmanship. We had our medals (there was some debate about that!) but most importantly, we had our friends.

Teachers are great story-tellers and, dare I say, yarn-spinners. And schools need their stories – it makes them what they are. However, schools don’t always do so well in sharing their stories. Writing the weekly newsletter piece becomes a chore and an exercise in beating the clock. And then there’s the website and social media: website content can be impressive but soulless. As Martin Skelton argues in this issue of ITM – can we really be that amazing?

So where are the real stories? The stories that will reach and engage different audiences of parents, teachers, visitors (and inspectors?). Stories that will tell them what the school is really all about? The answer is that a school’s stories are all around us. They are about the lesson that has had an unexpected impact and is then discussed in the staffroom. They are about the planning and achievement of an initiative that has worked and improved learning, perhaps in a small way, and not just on a grand scale. They are about the little acts of kindness, humanity and growth that happen every day in a school. The sort of story an enthusiastic member of staff or a student will tell off-the-cuff when I met them while showing a prospective family around the school.

Schools need these stories to be written and shared, on line, in print, in podcasts and on YouTube. It’s just good practice – a win for the school in defining what makes it a great place to be and an opportunity for a member of staff to reflect on something they care about and even learn to do better through the very process of writing things down. A link to a published piece also looks great on a CV!

Sharing these stories is really a form of ‘inbound marketing’ – the kind of marketing that a variety of audiences interested in education prefer and which educators actually enjoy writing, for a number of different reasons.

Even if someone thinks they can’t write this sort of story, they can. Like everything else we learn to do, they need a little time, a little space, someone to suggest what works and what doesn’t work and someone to listen to them.

Sound like anything you enjoy doing already?

ITM Editor, Andy Homden will be talking about ‘Finding your school’s stories’ in the latest Outstanding Schools Webinar on Thursday March 7th at 1:30 pm UK time. 

You can register here.

 

 

FEATURE IMAGE: Unsplash+In collaboration with Getty Images

Support Image  : https://www.istockphoto.com/en/portfolio/MakhbubakhonIsmatova?mediatype=photography

Think tank

Learning synthesis

Holly Warren describes Think Tank, an innovative studio environment in which children learn to synthesise their learning experiences as new design and art pieces.

The Think Tank environment.

The Think Tank (Warren, 2015) is an immersive, interactive studio setting (atelier) designed by students and an atelierista (art studio teacher) to celebrate, stimulate, enhance, and develop creative thinking patterns that connect children with a range of other experiences, both inside and outside a school. The concept was initially inspired by the educational approaches of pedagogues Loris Malaguzzi, Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner and Kieran Egan, which allow a child to express ideas, interests, concepts and theories by creating visual narratives without restriction. This approach sets the ground for exploratory adventures that will tell the story of a child’s research and findings and has evolved into what the children have described as “the place where your ideas come true.”

The Think Tank never requests, it proposes, shares, presents, and inspires its community to create art pieces that are expressive of their own experience. A constant inter-action with the students’ environment allows an ongoing dialogue of the parts. Think Tank therefore embraces and celebrates the different environments in which the students work, whether at home or at school.

Materials

Designing and making activities in Think Tank draw on materials which are readily available and are sourced locally either at school or at home. Recycled, repurposed and natural materials are valued, while the language, movement, and sounds that are part of the materials are used to enhance, document, and create narratives.

Think Tank is also a research hub for children’s ideas, concepts, and interests. As a child-centred learning setting it documents the ever-changing processes and themes the children spontaneously engage in.

How experiences unfold.

During Think Tank sessions, the mentor meets small groups of 6 to 8 children in a Pow Wow format to share ideas and thoughts. These can be experiences, recollections of past explorations or new proposals. If needed, a quiet moment of recollection/thinking is proposed as a way of linking with the students’ self. Then the group creates a dialogue and decides how to proceed. This is the three-step process of visible thinking that accompanies the experiences.

The environment is set up with a selection of materials that the Think Tank mentor proposes in different areas of the room. These could be glass bead on the light table, a video installation with sounds and an area for exploration with light such as light pebbles and fairy lights.

Having welcomed each other, participants start a conversation about a continuing project or make an initial exploration of something new. Beads can turn into spaghetti in a make-believe restaurant, the video installation might become a walk in the woods or the lights may turn into a fire requiring firefighters to design a new generation hose.

Recently, due to the requirements linked to the pandemic the students have been given working and exploration areas that are not shared with other classes but are still trampolines of inspiration.

Links with class work and the curriculum

The Think Tank is its own setting, created with the children’s input. It is dynamic and changes according to the moment, the situation and the projects involved. This requires a space that can morph and adapt easily, but its salient characteristic is the mental space needed to create it.

However, there are strong links to what children are learning elsewhere, and which they bring to the studio quite naturally. Think Tank enables them to talk about these ideas and skills in a new context, which is invaluable. Surface learning becomes embedded into deep learning as the children make connections that are meaningful to the projects. Think Tank discussions therefore involve personal know-how and knowledge acquired in class from all areas of learning. Literacy, numeracy, knowledge and understanding of the world, social and emotional skills and predispositions, fine and gross motor skills, creative thinking and problem solving meet in the Think Tank, demonstrating the uniqueness of each student that becomes a vital element in the creation of projects that celebrate multi-perspectives:

“Nothing of me is original, I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve known.” (Palahniuk, 1999)

Celebrating community.

Think Tank therefore celebrates and brings together the school as a learning community. Parents become partners in exhibitions and performance art pieces when everyone adds to the outcome. During the lockdown parents themselves became Think Tank mentors themselves by stepping inside the experiences and working with the children to produce family pieces in a process of incredible educational value.

Student perspective

The richness of the Think Tank experience is best expressed in the words of the children themselves, as in the poem spontaneously presented by a seven year old participant to her parents as a gift:

The Think Tank is full of ideas,

If you listen with your ears, just peer through here,

And maybe you will see a pear,

You will see oysters and monsters.

But don’t worry you don’t need to say sorry.

Now watch this film (Ripples) and you will be surprised

With what your child has learnt.

 

Holly Warren Self Portrait

 

Holly Warren is an atelierista, or art studio teacher, working in an international school in Italy. She is the creator of Think Tank – a new project environment that links the creative process of art with Montessori, Steiner and Reggio Emilia educational methodologies.

 

To learn more about her ideas see:

https://hbfwarren.com/

hbfwarren@blogspot.com

http://www.educationthatinspires.ca/2020/10/13/creative-and-imaginative-online-adventures-in-the-think-tank-environmen

Images kindly provided by Holly