"The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn't need to be reformed -- it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson in The Element, 2009We were most fortunate to have educational consultant, Kath Murdoch visit our school recently to explore inquiry and literacy. Teaching in a big and busy PYP school, collaboration and inquiry is an integral part of our practice, but we do tend to have a lot going on and as a result reflecting on our own practice is at times pushed to the side. I am not referring to the reflection we do as a team on our planners, looking for evidence of student learning and thinking about the extent to which we achieved our purpose. I am referring to personal reflection, asking about the practices in our own teaching and what is happening in our own classes. Having the opportunity to talk with Kath about how children best learn was a wonderful invitation to take a closer look at the inquiries taking place in my classroom.
One of the aspects of the PYP that I have always loved is the belief in a constructivist approach to learning and the importance of student-driven inquiry. The tension I find is in the planning - if the teachers are deciding upon the central ideas for the planned units, how do we allow for student voice? Yes, we strive to create provocations that invite students to engage in open-ended inquiries, but in the end, we have a 'programme of inquiry' and this has been created well before we have even met our students. I shared this tension with Kath and my teaching team and I was introduced to the idea of Genius Hour.
Genius Hour is a time set aside each week for students to pursue personal inquiries. I loved the idea of this for it would allow for authentic student-driven inquiry, something that I feel passionate about. It would also be a vehicle to help students to uncover their own passions ~ what interests them? So much of our time in class is spent engaged in activities created by teachers, Genius Hour would empower students to create their own investigations, formulate questions to which they were truly interested in finding answers.
It did not take long to find a host of resources to support the introduction of Genius Hour to my students. I discussed it with my Grade 4 class and they were keen to give it a go. After some initial set up and determining our essential agreements for this time, our Genius Hour was born.
It has been amazing watching the students during this block of time each Thursday. They are so engaged in their own learning that you would never know there are 25 students working on different projects at the same time. Their choices are also varied ~ from learning more about quasars and atoms to investigating art forms and ancient history. While I expected the engagement to be high, I was not prepared for the how interested the students would be in each others' learning. Listening to classmates ask questions of each other and the proud way in which they share what they have discovered ~ this was nothing like the way my students have typically shared findings during our unit investigations.
I have no regrets about implementing this change to my classroom practice. Yes, it does take a considerable amount of our time, but it is worth every minute of it. The students are still developing the transdisciplinary skills and attitudes that are a part of our PYP programme and more importantly, they are acquiring a love of learning. They are becoming more curious and confident in their own abilities, willing to take risks and try something new. They are becoming inquirers.
We may not yet have created the school environment envisioned by Sir Ken Robinson, but I believe this is definitely a step in the right direction.