I have had the most amazing week of learning. It began on the South Coast (see previous post), working with a group of teachers who are bravely searching for ways in which they can give permission to their students to take intellectual risks, and, more importantly, encouraging their students to accept this offer. Without doubt, one of the hardest tasks for us all. They are well on the way to develop ways that explicitly foster the characteristics of independent learning and that generate a love for learning in and of itself.
The following day, I was on the train, travelling to Nottingham ready to meet with some inspirational educators generously sharing their approaches that offer opportunities to ‘learn-things’ differently. This was an absolute treat. I was introduced to a diverse range of ways to encourage deep thinking, learning design that offers creative immersion and common-sense, insightful ways to foster positive attitudes towards learning.
Whenever I have the opportunity just to sit and listen to what others are doing to drive learning forward, my brain goes into overdrive. New connections are inevitably formed in my brain and any existing connections and ideas are consolidated. In the frenetic world in which we all work it shames me that I do not manage to do more listening and less doing, as I know this would most certainly make my ‘doing’ far richer. After all, I spend a whole heap of time banging on about this as one of the fundamental characteristics of an ‘expert pedagogue’: the need to be a professional reflective practitioner [Note to self: must try harder].
On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of meeting an Agent Of Wonder. Really. That’s his job title. I think that he must be the only “Agent of Wonder” in the UK Education system, if not the world. Dr Matthew McFall is an extraordinary man. He is leading an amazing project in a school that aims explicitly to foster curiosity across the whole school community. He has created a ‘Wonder Room’ which is packed full of interesting, unusual, out-of-time, out-of-context, thought-provoking objects (see photos). All members of the school community are encouraged to come into the room and simply explore, think and marvel at the objects on display. There are puzzles of all descriptions, abstract photographs, petrified animals, a typewriter, illustrated books, keys upon keys upon keys…
He held up a woolly mammoth bone. He explained that he had carried the bone around the school, inviting students to suggest what it might be. He invited them to look closely, to hold it, feel it and to sense it properly. Once they had decided that it was a bone, he asked them to look even closer, pointing out two distinct bulges; “What do you think happened here?”… “This mammoth must have had a tough life, don’t you think? A couple of serious blows that resulted in breaking his/her rib in two places…I wonder what sort of character the mammoth needed to be?” And then he went on his way, leaving students to imagine and to wonder.
When we were there, Dr Magic (for he also does magic tricks…well why wouldn’t he?), had just been into a Year 7 English lesson to work alongside the teacher and the group on developing their curiosity using appropriate objects from the wonder room to enhance their imagination and creative writing. Delightful.
I wish I could have reversed my week. If only I could have shared this very deliberate ‘curious-learning’ methodology with the group of teachers I met on Monday. I am sure that they would have loved it just as much as I did! What a great way to encourage learners to take those intellectual risks..to imagine…to question, to speculate and to take those much needed but very risky intellectual leaps of faith into the world of ‘there are no stupid questions; so have a go and enjoy seeing what happens.’ Now there’s a route to full on learning.