Learning isn’t easy . . . embrace struggle . . . GROW
“If we orchestrate lessons to increase student voice, will engagement increase?” Three years ago, teachers in Year 5 began working alongside their students in conducting action research on this question. This past term, a unit of study was developed that allowed and even required that Year 5 students make a range of decisions and get involved in aspects of designing their own learning. The overwhelming feeling, based on student feedback and parent comments, has been that the students were engaged even beyond what we anticipated. Does that mean it was easy? ‘No by design’ is the short answer to that very important question. Students faced a number of challenges and setbacks ranging from frustration working with others to running out of time at the end of the given time (due to a lack of planning, interruptions or absence). Through these challenges and setbacks, students benefited from applying a range of learning dispositions. This process of encountering challenge, applying and growing in learning dispositions and reflection proved to be a ‘sweet spot’ for students acknowledging their own growth as learners. They will need these dispositions or ‘soft skills’ in their lives at school and, more importantly, as they encounter the world outside of school.
Curriculum content covered included developing research skills, comprehension through art and literature, writing a biography, creating a timeline (1770 – 1860) and writing and illustrating an historical narrative. Students needed to imagine, plan, persevere and, at times, collaborate. The idea of craftsmanship was woven into these weeks, and students produced several drafts of their stories prior to satisfaction with the final product. Through weekly journaling and reflection, students provided evidence of growth through the aforementioned challenges and triumphs.
As a culmination of completing this rich task, Year 4 students from Junior School visited the Middle School campus. The Year 5's proudly read their picture story books, dressed up in character, shared artefacts that they built and gave the Year 4 students activities based on their books. The afternoon was very well-received, and we were again pleased with the level of engagement witnessed.
Allowing students to make decisions in their own learning increases engagement. As teachers we are continually challenging ourselves to avoid underestimating our students’ ability to self-organise. They will need this skill as they negotiate new challenges in Year 6, Senior School and beyond.