Friday, August 03, 2007

Learning vs discovery

Because we are studying the novel Millie and the Night Heron in year 7 (which features this type of writing) I tried some stream of consciousness writing with the students. And what a successful activity it turned out to be. I got the idea from another teacher who had used an image of a kaleidoscope to start the students off. I guess it was a way for the students to become aware of their thoughts and, seeing that the main character in the novel uses techniques like this to adapt to changes in her life, it feels a bit like we could use ideas like this to teach resilience. Initially the students found it impossible to contemplate writing down their thoughts as they were having them. But they persisted with some encouragement. Soon the room was totally quiet as the students wrote. When I asked for volunteers to share they were so interested in each others' writing and so many wanted to share that it felt like a great ‘getting to know each other a bit better as a learning community’ activity. I may start the next lesson with them with a video What we can learn from the geese, that I found via Chris Betcher to continue with the building a classroom learning community.

Later, in Year 12, I presented the students with the difficult task of reading their text critically, focusing on the decisions made by the author, specifically the decision for Xinran the author of Sky Burial to include herself into the narrative in such an obvious way. A heated and interesting discussion ensued and later I asked them to reflect on the discussion. Some students found the discussion most useful, others found that the new insights caused them to more critical of the text, and enjoy it less. It became apparent that some students still think that the teacher might have a special insight into the author’s mind and want a definitive answer, instead of seeing the teacher producing a reading done out of thought and effort. The need for effort tends to be resisted by some of the students and I think these students find my constructivist teaching style to be less than helpful. Nevertheless, this class always makes me reflect on my teaching and I think this will be the class that I will concentrate on in my Annual Review Meeting and have it observed by a fellow teacher.

The best part of today was an incident at the end of my Year 11 Literature class. The assessment for the John Donne poetry section is a difficult task, where students are researching and will present their findings on an aspect of the poet’s context: the history, culture, politics, religion of his time and how their reading of one or more of the poems is affected by this research. One of the students complained how hard the task was. I said, “But you wouldn’t expect me to give you anything easy, would you (I suspect that the answer might have been yes)? I want to challenge you.” This student smiled and said “I have made a discovery.” She had been looking at the role of women in the Elizabethan era and had seen what she perceived to be a contradiction between the way women were seen as less than men, and the way Donne seemed to put women on a pedestal. It was a happy moment as it was genuinely something she had thought about even though there is a lot more for her to discover there.

It made me think about the word “discovery” that she used. I have sometimes asked the students to reflect on their “learning”, but I think I like the word “discoveries” much better.

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