My name's Jono Broom, I'm going into my fourth year of teaching, and this is my story of change.
In 2010 I went to teachers college in New Zealand. I did a one year diploma. I learnt all the usual things, how to plan lessons, how to manage a class full of bright eyed learners, how to be a good team member, how to use curriculum and progression documents, basically, how to teach.
I graduated at the end of the year, and in 2011 started my new job, at the brand new Te Karaka Area School. Our induction week was intense. I was overwhelmed with things that I'd never seen before, school charters, annual plans, school values. Things that I'd never actually seen before out in the open, but I was finding out existed behind the scenes.
I was assigned my first class of 30 6-7 year olds and, to be perfectly honest with you, I struggled. My classroom was a mess, my reading programme was atrocious and my maths programme was almost non-existent. The one thing in that year that I'm really thankful for, was when I went to our principal and told her I was struggling, she employed someone to work with me. Another beginning teacher. Together we sussed out some of the ins and outs of making a classroom work, and managed to get through the year. By the end of which we had amazing relationships with our students, and some pretty decent results to boot.
Our classroom looked like a pretty generic classroom that year, we had kids doing reading at reading time, and kids doing maths at maths time. We had PE where all kids were required to go for a run with us, or play a game with us, and we all joined in together when it came to art time.
The next year was slightly different.
I was teaching 5, 6, 7, and 8 year olds with Megan, my tutor teacher and team leader. We were team teaching, which was something I'd done in 2011 sort of, but not like this.
In room 5, we decided that we didn't need writing time, or reading time, or maths time, we wanted to try and do them all simultaneously. Ambitious? It would seem so. We'd obviously need some sort of timetable to make this idea function and our first one was not quite a complete disappointment. We made cards for the children with on them, which teacher they were going to go to for each lesson at different times of the day. They would have lessons with different teachers at different times for maths, reading, and writing. If they weren't with a teacher, they would be completing an independent activity based on a different curriculum area. It was chaos. Organised chaos, but still chaos. We rang a bell every 15 minutes so they knew to change stations. The youngest of our kids couldn't read, and every 15 minutes they'd come up to one of us, asking where they were supposed to go next. Something had to change.
Phase 2 was a picture-based timetable on the wall, that the children rotated around. Everything, including the children's names were Velcro and we often let the children choose who they'd like to work with. We called children out of the rotations to come and work with us in targeted ability groups. This went a lot smoother, and children were able to independently swap stations, and know where they were supposed to go next.
Our classroom was definitely not a generic classroom. All the children were doing different things at different times of the day. Some reading, some writing, some maths, some art, some developmental, we even had a science station in there sometimes. It wasn't a perfect system, but it was a start.
Guy Claxton in his book Why School talks about the three r's and three c's:
"The three r's - responsibility, respect, and 'real' - and the three c's - choice, challenge and collaboration."
I'm not sure how many of these we were actually hitting in this classroom, but the learners were definitely challenged, both at the independent stations, and during focused learning times with teachers. They had choice at most stations about how they would do the task, they worked in groups, and the groups changed to make sure they could collaborate with others. Most of them took responsibility for going where they were supposed to be next, and making a quick start on their learning.
The teachers of this year group continue to modify and improve this model, and are still using an updated version of it today.
In 2013 I was moved to the 9, 10, 11, and 12 year age group. I relished this opportunity because it would let me extend what I'd learned with the juniors, with a group of learners who were far more capable.
We set up our classroom based completely on the learners time tabling their own days. Both teachers in the classroom would put up a timetable on Monday, with the lessons that were being run that week, and the learners that were required to attend. At these lessons, learners would also be given follow up activities, that they were required to complete sometime before their next lesson. The class was also researching into an inquiry topic, which we would set up at the start of every term. They were required to research into, write up, and report back individual projects.
Each learner had a timetable. At the beginning of the week they were required to fill it in with: when they were having lessons with teachers, when they planned to do follow up activities, and when they were going to keep going with their projects. It was quite a hit.
This was the furthest from the conventional classroom I have come so far. There was no maths time or reading time, no writing or art time, everything was done, all day, everyday.
Going back to the three r's - responsibility, respect, and 'real' - and the three c's - choice, challenge and collaboration, our learners had responsibility over their own time, managing when they were going to do their own independent activities. They were respected, we didn't follow them around with an eyeglass, making sure they were on task. If they weren't on task we soon knew about it anyway, as the classroom was small, but it was their own responsibility. Their reading and writing was put to good use in their projects which made it real for them, however I think we could have done this better, and will be doing It better in 2014. They had choice, over when and often where they were going to complete their work, and even how they were going to present their project ideas to the class. They were challenged according to their ability through a series of matrices, and could timetable their days to work with their friends to promote collaboration.
I took unpaid leave from Te Karaka Area School to take up a job in the Middle East. What I found when I went over there and started work in September blew me away. The amount of rote learning, of teaching to tests, of punitive punishment, of repression and oppression, of holding kids back because they shouldn't be learning above their age, of humiliation of kids, of old, conventional chalk and talk teaching was unbelievable. I stayed in the Middle East for two months before leaving, and asking for my job back in Te Karaka, and I don't regret it for a second.
What we do for these kids in terms of r's and c's doesn't just make it more interesting and fun for the learners, it also makes it more interesting and fun for the teacher.
Times are changing. I've been doing a lot of reading lately, and looking ahead to 2014. Guy Claxton's book Why School is one of my favourites, and the one that has modified my practice the most to date. As well as the r's and c's, it also talks about learning muscles.
"Learning muscles. These are curiosity, courage, investigation, experimentation, imagination, reasoning, sociability and reflection."
I like the idea of learning muscles. It tells me that we can get better at these things if we 'work out' with them. We're basing our classroom around these learning muscles next year. We're trying to gear our kids up for the 21st century that they are going to go into and we want them to go in with confidence.
Times are changing. Education needs to change too. Our curriculum was being consulted on in the 1980s. Our curriculum is almost 30 years old. Our curriculum was being developed when CDs, walkmans, video players, answering machines and fax machines were being invented. These days our students have more technology in their pocket than that which sent Neil and Buzz to the moon. Even if our government starts looking at our curriculum now, is it going to be what the next generation of kids need in 10, 15, 20 years time?
We can't wait for the government to legislate change. Change needs to start at the school, at the classroom level. So I ask you now, how many r's and c's are you using in your classroom? Take a moment to reflect and see if you're hitting the learning muscles. See if you're preparing your kids for the future instead of the past.
If you aren't, should you be?
Leave a comment, let us know how you're thinking about doing things differently.
Collaborate a little.
Try out your own learning muscles.