Back in 2015, Estelle and I ran a workshop on talk in the classroom. I was in Grade 3 (Year 4), Estelle was in Grade 1 (Year 2), and we were sharing ways we encourage students to talk more in our classrooms. To prepare for it we visited each other's classes, watched some established ways, and tried some new ideas too.
'There was a lot of space for the students own creations and explorations. I was keen to keep a sense of agency, and tried to respond to any initiative. This was as important, I feel, as the exact direction we went in. That sense of 'this is an inquiry we're following because B started us off with this; let's see where it goes' is something I really want to nurture again, and even more so, next year.'
|Whole-group experiences at pertinent learning moments|
Actually, we were already well on the way to the right hand side, but there was more travelling to be done.
We've been thinking a lot about our pedagogy. During lockdown, we zoomed about Kath Murdock's Power of Inquiry. And when it was over, we met in peron after reading Anna Ephgrave's Planning in the Moment.
We're becoming more and more interested in listening to children. And finding out that our questioning is often not helping. Julie Fisher's Interacting or Interfering: Improving Interactions in the Early Years crystalised for us how some of the tools we might use in adult conversations, such as questioning, are often actually a hindrance with young children.
And as John Mason writes in the context of teaching mathematics:
"The secret of effective questioning is to be genuinely interested not only in what learners are thinking, but in how they are thinking, in what connections they are making and not making. Genuine interest in the learners produces a positive effect on learners, for in addition to feeling that they are receiving genuine attention, you can escape the use of questions to control and disturb negatively. Instead of asking for answers, which in most cases you probably already know, you can genuinely enquire into their methods, their images, their ways of thinking. In the process, you demonstrate to learners what genuine enquiry is like, placing them in an atmosphere of enquiry which is, after all, one view of what schooling is really intended to be about."
Especially as most of our young students don't have English as a first language, we're finding that watching can be an important part of listening. Seeing what our students do, trying to guess their lines of thiking.
Slowing the pace down, giving students our attention for longer periods of time.
Here's Estelle in the forest the other week. I managed to video part of a much longer conversation.
Young students like this don't usually respond well to the direct approach, to questioning. It's more about creating the conditions for relaxed conversation. Here Estelle establishes a slow pace, peeling open acorns, seeing that some of them have turned to powder inside, seeing that there are holes in those ones, talking about worms. It's a comfortable situation, and sure enough, a student begins sharing his knowledge about worms.
"G is sitting in the sun and holding up a jelly digit. What catches my eye is his quietness and his gaze on the object. I go over and ask what he’s noticed. I try to go carefully and softly with my interactions wanting to avoid taking over.G says these things at different points in the play and conversation.“I just cut it in half and it did that.What is this? (holding up the digit zero)Every time I do this it does that (points to two bubbles as they move in opposite directions when he presses his finger down.I made four now (bubbles).”Observations, sharing, trial and error, comparing across objects that are similar but not exactly the same. Counting the number of bubbles. Thinking about letters and numbers. It was G on the number hunt who was asking about the zero and saying it was an o.A joins us:“It’s broken into more!” Bashing it and making loads of tiny bubbles....There is a quality of being in the moment, attention and pause which was noticeable."Documenting together (and thanks to Anne Van Dam for encouraging us in this) is making us more keen to listen. Reflecting together on what we've documented is making us realise how much there is in what we hear.
It's kind of odd that it's hard for us. Estelle, for one, has listening as a superpower. I know how good she is at listening to me and other friends, and to colleagues at school. But, the challenge is harder now. Making space for students who, at 3, 4 and 5 years old, and are still building up the confidence to speak in English. Making our interactions carry little weight, to not swamp their tentative beginnings at expressing themselves.
Now at least, and at last, our antenae are twitching, waiting to hear what our students want to say, trying to read in their play the theories they are building. (Thanks again to Anne Van Dam for that emphasis. See the previous post for more on this.)
"In listening to others, accepting them in their irreducible difference, we help them listen to themselves, to heed the speech of their own body of experience, and to become, each one, the human being he or she most deeply wants to be." from D M Levin, The Listening Self, quoted in this piece by Brent Davis.