Friday, 21 February 2014

Feeding the Writers

Recently, as part of my facilitation of a week of EJ School (Edmonton Journal) I had organized a poetry reading and interview for a class of Grade 6 students with Kevan Lyons, the Poet of Churchill Square. When we finished, I asked them to get up off the floor where they had been sitting for the last 40 minutes spellbound by the formerly homeless poet and go the tables in the Sunshine Café at SAGE (Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton) and write. 

I suggested they could start with “I just met Kevan Lyons…..”

And so, in a matter of a minute they were all seated; quiet, writing; coats and backpacks dripping off their chairs, cafeteria hum around them, friends close enough to touch elbows as they leaned on the small round tables. Quiet, writing. 

After about 15 minutes, I asked the teacher if she wanted to wrap it up since the yellow bus was sitting outside the door to take them back to their school. 
She said “Not yet. They’re all writing and I have students writing that have never sat this way to write all year.” 
Then she took one quiet girl over and read the shy writer’s journal entry to Kevan. They formed a lovely trio, their heads bent into each other, soft smiles and Kevan listened. I had a tear in my eye, really.

Kevan’s message about how writing healed him and helps him suggest a path of healing to others is powerful.
But just as powerful is the experience of watching children carry a blank journal out into the real world, slow down to take things in and sit to write. It is one of the simple but transformation things about a site-based program and I feel privileged every time I am there to witness it.

I was prompted to write this by a blog I read this morning from Deanna Mascle. She says some very interesting things about the waste of precious time preparing for standardized testing. I agree wholeheartedly with her on that topic and most who know me hate to get me started on it. 

But the words that really hooked me came near the end when she said: 
 "I get a little misty-eyed whenever I think about what we have accomplished together and what my students have achieved – ultimately because I remembered to feed the writer as I designed the class, assignments, and activities. Because I remembered to feed the writer, my students have achieved things they never thought possible."
Here, here.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Case for Classroom or Meeting Place

In the last few months the changing circumstances of some of our Edmonton Inquiring Minds sites as well as the possibility of some new ones led to a discussion among site coordinators through email and at meetings around the topic of classrooms on site – from “what would be a dream situation” to “are they even necessary”. 
These days, much of the talk about classrooms is about how to bring the world into 21st century learning spaces through the creative use of technology.  Brain research is showing us that concrete experiences in rich real world activities are actually the neuron synapse way to lay down the foundation of deep learning through connections. But a "box" out-of-the-box can facilitate it! 

So here is the case for a classroom out-of-the-box. 

I discovered early on in my ICE School experience that the space we called a classroom was used mostly as a staging area: a place to hang up coats, stow boots, lunches and backpacks, a spot to get away for a period of time from the distractions of real world work and noise (much of the space in an NHL hockey rink is in almost constant motion), touch some of the interesting artifacts of the game, check out my library of books on hockey, horse and history, eat lunch, access a bathroom, keep a water bottle (there are not many water fountains out in the working buildings of the real world) and leave a few things at the end of the day so they could welcome learners back to the “routine” of another day on the site. Much of the day unfolded somewhere else.

During the development of the ICE School program I realized that the experience of a site based program was to take an education “known” and turn it around (it is all the rage to call this process “flipping”). Spending 5 full days away from school moves students from the “Wow” of arrival to developing the ability to look longer and more deeply and facilitates seeing beyond the first impression. It takes a while to become calm and comfortable and a space to lay down the routine of coming and going plays a grounding role.

In the section titled “The Classroom or Meeting Place”, Campus Calgary/Chevron Open Minds’s generous sharing through Implementing the Open Minds Education Concept in Your Community – a guide states:

       It is necessary (my bold italics) to have a room or space that will serve as a base for the teacher and their students. They need a place for sharing journals, discussions and snacks/lunch, and where they are away from the other visitors and staff.
The following description is the ideal – this isn’t always possible.
·         a colourful, bright space. Classrooms that have a glass wall have been very successful as the public can see what is happening and the students feel more connected to the site
·        in some programs the students sit at tables in five or six groups. Many sites use trapezoid tables that can be rearranged easily into groups or other formations for other users of the space. If the chairs are medium height they can be used by all ages.
·         It’s useful to have a carpeted area so the teacher can have discussion time with the students sitting near her. A white board or easel also is helpful. An overhead projector and LCD projector may also be useful.
·         counter with sink, coffee maker, cupboards
·         coat racks and runner for shoes/boots
·         tables/counters for display of books/artifacts etc.
·         access to washroom facilities

The final words go to the godmother of week-long, site-based inquiry programming, Gillian Kydd. After reading the above she sent me this:

"Made me think back on all the “meeting spaces” I’ve experienced since the program began, from the damp smelly panda theatre at the Zoo which was the first one, to the dark storage closet at Glenbow, to the tiny conference room at the Calgary Arts Centre, to your colourful locker room type space at Northlands, to the small lobby at our local museum, to the old school house with pot bellied stove and minus 25 in Fort Mac, to the round windowed room at the top of the ski jump at COP, to the gorgeous glass wrapped sea to sky views in the OM classroom at The Rooms in St. John’s.
Many of the cramped ones have been replaced but you are right – they are simply meeting places – the real classroom is the world.

The real classroom is the world.