Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

Posts tagged ‘ece’

Experiential learning

Ever since I participated in a three-day workshop about inquiry based learning with Lane Clark back in 2001, I have kept her words in my head: “Are we educating our children for our past or their future?” As I spend more time pondering the relationship between formal and informal professional learning, I try to keep in mind what is essential, what is desirable, and what is probably unnecessary in the programmes we develop. We take care to unpack and differentiate between the phrases ‘just in case’ and ‘just in time’ learning, but I can’t help but wonder where all the ‘just in case’ learning goes at the end of a programme or course. Two key thoughts arise for me:

  1. Just by describing a skill or competency as essential, we automatically make this a priority. But does this mean it needs to be taught via  a formal presentation or workshop before learning that is deemed desirable, or can learners participate when they are ready for this experience?
  2. What is the most effective way to cement essential learning and ensure that it makes it into our teaching practice?

I believe that in order for effective, long term learning to take place, learners need to be able to experience, experiment, fall back, fall forwards, pick themselves up and try again. It is a natural instinct to learn this way when we are young but rarely makes it into the realm of adult professional learning. Why is this? What is it about an experiential learning approach that is deemed less favourable for teaching educators essential skills and competencies relating to their teaching practice?

Babies and young children are the ultimate experiential learners, always figuring things out on the job. They don’t stick to a formal learning program. We have basic learning objectives and desired outcomes for them (walk, talk, etc) but they are not aware of our agenda; they probably wouldn’t care if they knew, anyway. Parents support their babies’ learning as they figure out each vital stage in their development, but ultimately they work out how to sit up, pull themselves up, experiment with sounds, start taking tentative steps, and do things when they are ready. A pre-designed plan doesn’t come into it, yet the outcomes are usually quite successful with long-lasting results.

Early childhood teachers recognise children’s natural tendencies for experiential learning and have used these concepts as a basis for the ECE curriculum. A good teacher recognises the value in finding out what their learners are currently able to do, knowing where they what their student to end up, deciding what the next learning step should be, and supporting them in order to achieve success. I would like to see us do more of this when it comes to professional learning in the workplace. Just as we wouldn’t expect a baby to go from sitting up to running in one giant learning step, we need to be mindful of the goals we want professionals to achieve and ensure well-scaffolded learning pathways exist

So how can we make professional learning for educators as experiential as the learning that we experience in our first few years?

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Walking the talk

I am a primary teacher by trade. Although I have held, and currently hold, other positions related to education, my roots are in teaching and I’m very proud of that fact. Throughout my career, I have had experience in working with educators and leaders from all sectors (early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary, including special needs educators). This has allowed me a very privileged view of each of the sectors, observing how they operate, how they are similar, and how their subtle nuances reflect and ultimately complement each other. There are many, many areas which overlap, as one would naturally expect.

Te Whariki woven imageOn Thursday, I attended a professional learning session that was given by early childhood staff. They were talking about how their tutors work together as a team to deliver their degree and diploma level programmes in an open distance learning environment. Their philosophy for working is based on the five strands of the New Zealand early childhood curriculum policy statement, Te Whāriki. As a primary teacher with junior school experience, I am aware of the principles underpinning Te Whāriki; it was good to able to revisit these today.

What became clear to me during the session was the way that Te Whāriki makes a philosophy for teaching and learning explicit through its five strands: belonging, well-being, exploration, communication, and contribution. For me, these are the fundamental principles for effective teaching and learning in all contexts, no matter what sector the students belong to. The five strands are a way of walking the talk, or putting the philosophy into action.

What was new to me was the concept of using child voice questions to articulate each strand. These are the possible questions that children might ask, if they are able to, in relation to each strand. For example, the communication strand could be represented by the child voice question, “Do you hear me?”, and the belonging strand could ask, “Do you know me?”. It seems to make so much sense.