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Reflecting on Involving Learners

I recently mentioned the powerful questions which my S1 class came up with when I involved them in planning our first topic together. Well, I’m pleased to report that we’ve recently finished this topic with a high degree of engagement and learning, from my perspective at least. However, an outstanding question for me was what did they think of being involved in planning the learning? There’s an obvious tension in my pedagogical approach here in that I’m trying to involve them in the planning process, but without first asking them if they want to! I’m comfortable with that tension as I believe that as a teacher I have a role in leading the learning still…however, although I had no real intention of stopping this approach, I did need to find out what their perceptions of it are in order to review, adapt and improve it.

It just so happened that the night before I was planning on asking their thoughts on our learning in the first topic that I was reading this paper in preparation for the Edinburgh Uni professional enquiry masters module I’m involved in delivering. The paper shares an approach to supporting learners to share their thinking by using thought and speech bubbles – I reckoned this would be perfect for my purposes and so gave it a go the following morning!

The class completed various thought and speech bubbles in pairs for the stages in our learning process so far, including being involved in the planning process. You can see the full document I asked them to complete by clicking on the image below.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 13.47.18

Their responses were fascinating. I’ve included the raw thought and speech responses for the planning stage in the table below.

Write the things you were thinking here… Write the things you were saying here…
“i was thinking i hope i will learn a lot”
“i was thinking i think this is going to be fun!”
i had lots of different question to contribute when we were writing them on the post it notes.
i had lots of different ideas and questions that i wanted to find out while doing the topic.
I was thinking about all the questions we were writing and how we were going to learn them.
I thought the planning of the topic was a bit boring because it took over 3 lessons to have a planned topic.
i was wondering what topic we were going to do.
i was wondering if this was going to be fun.
This planning just plain boring can’t we just do it.
i was thinking i barely know anything about biodiversity or the other things the teacher was talking about.
i was thinking what a wierd name for a topic
If it was going to be a hard topic.
What will be the name of our topic and what will it be about? this class is funny!
i wanted to do it on volcanos
What if I don’t know anything about anyone of the topics.
i was saying “i dont know a lot about this”?????
i was saying “i think i am going to learn a lot!”
i was saying some of the questions i was thinking of to contribute to the topic .
i had lots of different questions but most of the time i didn’t say them in front of the class.
I was saying about how long is the topic. I was saying that the topic contains alot of variety in the tasks we would do. (experiments,writing,reasearch)
what topic are we doing.
what do you do in this topic
wow this is fun.
will it be very hard and will i understand it
i was saying what order to do things in.
Saying ideas for the topic.
lets call our topic the wonderful wizard of life?! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!
same as thought
What if you don’t know what the topics were.

There were a few interesting responses here. Firstly, some of them thought that the planning process had taken too long, or was ‘boring’. Also, others clearly felt a bit threatened by the process and so I then asked them the following question in order to stimulate a discussion around the purposes of involving them in the planning process.

photo 1

Obviously, my question was clearly loaded in the positive, but that is because I had no intention of stopping…the purpose was to share the reasons for the approach, which I think we managed.

I also responded to their request to try and complete the process quicker. So, for the next topic I set a homework task which involved a few pictures which were related the learning and asking them to come up with some questions with someone at home to bring to our planning lesson.

The planning lesson then consisted of a series of quite controlled stages which they completed in groups within the hour…

  1. They shared their homework questions with their groups and transferred them to post-it notes.
  2. They then organised their questions with the four experiences and outcomes associated with the topic.
  3. They then devised further questions which they would need to be able to answer in order to have successfully learned each of the four experiences and outcomes.
  4. They then had to decide on the order we should learn the four experiences and outcomes and come up with a title for the topic.

You can see their completed planning sheets in the images below. The yellow post-its are their own homework questions, the green post-its are their added curriculum questions.

They completed this process remarkably effectively in the hour, so they were right – it can be done quicker! We were lacking in time though to discuss the topic as a class and I’ve had to bring their separate plans together on my own without their input, which is not ideal. It was great though for them to have responded to the challenge of completing the process in an hour.

And so, we now begin the process of learning our new topic…I’m not sure what it’s called yet as they haven’t voted yet…but it will be one of the following titles;

  • We are Stardust
  • Everything is Atoms
  • #supercalafragilisticexpiealadoshusubstance
  • #Atoms
  • #supercalafrajalisticexpialiatoms!

Now we’ll see how we get on with our new Chemistry topic…


So, what do you think ?