Students as co-creators of Learning

While sitting in on the level three and four a planning session recently I observed the team starting their planning day.  It was a typical looking planning session, teachers sitting around a table surrounded by laptops, a long agenda written on the board, a screen for sharing ideas and planning units, plenty of snacks to sustain the thinking and eight passionate and dedicated educators.

One thing that did come as a welcome contrast to the usual planning day was the presence of the butchers paper.  Not just the butchers paper itself, but what was written on it.  This team had consulted with their students on what the next term is going to look like each teacher had done a brainstorm with their class about their passions and interests as they moved into term four.  This guided all of the planning from that point in the meeting on.

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I’m pleased to say that this is not an isolated strategy at school at the moment, it is becoming an embedded part of our practice across all levels.  The foundation team are continually teaching with agility and following the student’s passions which has led to an impressive weather twitter channel, a chat with a man who is going into space and countless other lesson ideas that have captured the imagination of the students, which makes sense because they’re the students ideas.

The year one and two team have dedicated some time to “20% projects” in which students are contacting experts and learning about fields that they are interested in.  There has been billy carts made, animations, coding, 3D animation and many more exciting student led projects.

The five six team have now made it common practice in their team to spend the first 100 minutes of planning day with the students.  In this time the teachers work with their classes to brainstorm ideas and form ideas about how the next term is going to look.  Contrast this with a planning day from earlier this year, all the teachers sitting behind closed doors, planning the next term for the students, without a student or student idea in sight.

I heard one student in year six say in regards to planning day.

“In the past teachers have planned what they THINK we want want to do, now they are asking us actually WHAT we want to do”

If you listen to this little clip you get more of an idea of the learners opinions of how planning like this suits them (specifically between 1min 25sec – 3min).

This is a seemingly small shift for us to make as educators but the impact on student engagement has been profound. 

This whole school shift has risen out of a conscious decision from a teacher to take a risk, to trust her students and to loosen her grip on the control in her classroom.  She prototyped a planning approach that she had never tried before and had success.

I think when we are looking for innovative ways to change our schools and classrooms for the 21st century context we should encourage this prototyping in our teachers.  Leadership consultant Simon Breakspere talks about the concept of “rapid prototyping”.  Rapid prototyping is the idea that if we are trying to innovate new styles of teacher and pedagogies we should be rapidly cycling through new and innovative ideas that address the needs of our students and move away from teacher centred pedagogies.  This is not to say that we throw what we currently do completely out the window.  On the contrary, we need to use the best practice and evidenced based techniques that we know to be trusted and effective as a foundation for our exploration into the new and exciting territory.  We need to rapidly cycle through ideas, celebrate and embrace the ones that work, learn from the ones that don’t.  We need to be agile enough to change our practice, even if it is what “we’ve always done” and we must have a continual and relentless focus on improvement for the benefit of the students and the system.

6 thoughts on “Students as co-creators of Learning

  1. Such a simple idea, yet very powerful. It’s great to see teachers co-constructing the learning with the students. I think the message that it sends the students changes their perception of what a teacher is and does and also their role as a learner.

    • I agree Marc, the comment from the student on this subject was pretty telling. Here we were thinking we were doing the right thing by trying to develop really engaging plans for our students when asking them and trusting their judgement was what we should have been doing all along. The marriage of ideas from a quality educator and a group of empowered students is where the magic happens.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this Matt – what great progress you have all made at CPS! Very proud of you all.What a wonderful place to learn (for all of you 🙂 and great to see you are documenting this progress.

    • Yes, we’re all learning! Students, teachers and leaders alike! It has been a great year and celebrating the wins along the way has been a rewarding thing to do.

  3. Wow, very impressive! I really liked hearing what the students had to say about it too. My first action upon going back after the break will be to talk to my class about how they’d like to approach our term 4 concept of ‘The Future’. As it’s a new topic there’s certainly lots of scope for new ideas, too.
    It’s so interesting to read about innovations at a nearby school. I love the idea of rapid prototyping. I read an article about how, in Finland (isn’t it always in Finland?) teachers are expected to be constantly doing research, innovating, testing and experimenting, as well as sharing their findings – and this is part of their overall educational success.
    Looking forward to your next post!

    • Hi Amanda,
      All staff have done an Action research Project here this year, completed over 8 months. All staff were given time (50min APT a week) over the whole year to complete some research of their own, any topic as long as it improved them as a teacher. We’re holding our celebrations and presentations on Wednesday this week. There have been such a diverse range of projects too. Research on addressing student anxiety in the classroom, developing strategies to enhance boys writing outcomes, embedding technology in the learning, researching the most successful team teaching models, the effects of learning space redesign on students engagement, the list goes on. We really wanted to model ourselves as learners, we don’t know everything, we’re still learning!!

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