In the next few weeks the Year 5 classes have to do a mini exhibition. For those not familiar with the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the exhibition is the culmination of the PYP where kids get a chance to showcase their learning to the broader community.
My school has mini-exhibitions for younger children. Year 5’s turn is at the beginning of June. If done right, the mini exhibition will be an excellent jumping off point for the big event next year. The Year 6 kids, who had just been through the process, were keen to share their experience and act as mentors to my students.
Learning, connection and collaboration – really the stuff I love doing in my classroom.
However on Monday afternoon my Year 5 class wasn’t seeing the mini exhibition as an opportunity to learn and share. It was just a big school project. Wednesday the kids had their first meeting scheduled with the Year 6 students.
Time was ticking and the kids were nowhere near ready. The foundation of curiosity wasn’t there and without it the students wouldn’t be able to really use this experience to drive their learning.
I’ll admit I was to blame.
I had let the task get ahead of the process. Dire warnings of the shortage of time, that their parents would be watching and how the kids needed to be prepared to meet with their mentors or they’ll be wasting their time. Fear of failure does little to encourage deep learning however it is a useful tool to encourage student compliance in the game of school. But that wasn’t the aim of the mini-exhibition.
I knew had to do something different.
What would happen if I turned the planning process over to the kids?
I told the kids how I plan provocations – I use pinterest to curate pictures and quotes to provoke thinking and share those inspirations with the kids.
The children loved the idea and worked in groups using a KWL chart they had previously created. They turned the chart into inspiration boards full quotes and pictures of their own choosing.
Within 30 minutes the class was a mess of limbs, MacBooks and paper yet the buzz in the classroom was calm and purposeful. A sure sign of how absorbed the kids were in their tasks there were howls of ”I want to finish this” went up as I had to disturb the class for a specialist subject. After morning tea, I let the activity run so the kids had to time to finish the board and share it with the class.
Each child sat with a sheet of guiding questions around interest and looked over other people’s inspirations. This quiet time was an essential part of the process.
Some children changed their interests, others felt more secure in their initial feelings but nevertheless had their curiosity provoked by seeing the images that other people had chosen. One of the students reflected that it would be useful for teachers as well as students:
“I really liked this task and I think it would good for teachers. My interest didn’t change much because I had my heart set on science in the rainforest. I found inspiration boards useful because it meant that I could see other peoples work and what they are interested in. It made me think as if I was the person who made it and it made me feel like was them so I could understand their point of view and what they wanted to learn about. “
While this task could have been completed electronically, the kids felt the process of doing something with their hands really helped them to really go inside themselves and figure what was important to them.
The art of creating and sharing had given the students the mental space they needed to focus. The images and quotes provoked curiosity and shared interest. Debates about what images to place and how to place them crystallised the students thinking and by sharing quietly they could make those ideas visible to others.
Through stepping out of the way I had enabled the kids to lay the foundation of their inquiry, understanding what is interesting to them. They were able to meet with the older students secure in their interests and still very much driving their learning.
What I was unprepared for on Friday was a group of kids who asked if they could share something with their class. Thursday had been a public holiday in Singapore however this group of children had decided to ask people living in their apartment complex why the rainforest was something worth sharing and recorded the answers.
“We want people to start noticing how important the rainforest is,” they said as they put their findings up on the wall.
An independent inquiry, taking action and connecting with the community by themselves and some of them weren’t even 10 years old. That IB learner profile suddenly wasn’t just a laminated display on the wall.
What a lesson I learned in the importance of taking time and making space for the kids to focus on what really matters.