Scott (after explaining the community of this school), then stunned the attendees by explaining that his students for the most part are on individual education plans (IEPs). Now we're all no doubt heard of IEPs but the way Scott and indeed his school do IEPs, it is somewhat extraordinary. Not only are his primary school students to a significant extent in charge of their learning, they can learn in any space within the the confines of their syndicate and can learn from any teacher within the syndicate. Now just to be clear, Scott was not joking at all. By the time he had finished his presentation, people were not only in awe of the ambition for these students but even more for the fact that the implementation was in place and working. Needless to say, Scott was bombarded with questions during and after his awesome presentation!
This got me thinking at the time and even more so now, the best part of two weeks after the presentation. If such agency worked for primary school students, could such freedom exist in and work in high schools. To be honest, I'm not convinced; certainly not in the traditional high schools that are still in the majority. Here's why?
- High school timetables. Most high schools still operate on multi-day timetables with set period lengths and subjects in concrete locations. Our school has experimented a little this year by having a double-period in the mornings for our senior students. The result? Well for many teachers, they initially struggled by seeing this block of student contact as nothing more than two periods adjoined and a result, questioned the effectiveness of such extended learning. In stark contrast, I've loved it from the start and so do my students. Having had previous experience of double periods, I knew if done right, I'd get 1+1 =3. What is required to make this element of the timetable work is to think of it as project time. Students for the vast majority of this time need to be self-learning and collaborating and producing over consuming. If a teacher teaches theory in Part 1 and then attempts practical in Part 2, for most classes, the horses have already bolted. Interestingly, the teachers who had no trouble adapting and likewise love these periods are the Design & Hard Materials teachers as such length of contact ensure their students get plenty of learning time subsequent to resource set-up. For me personally, I would now like us to go to double-periods twice a day for seniors and juniors before our lunch break, having seen first-hand the effectiveness of learning for my students.
- High school teachers. There exists in many high school teachers' mindsets that they are not only above primary school teachers in terms of the age of students they deal with but also in terms of the difficulty of their profession and the technical elements of the teaching and learning. Having had significant exposure to both my boys' kindergartens and now primary schools, nothing could be further from the truth. Many high school teachers although great vessels of academic knowledge struggle with students, let's just say "on the move." The ideal classroom construct for these teachers involves students walking into their classroom, sitting down for the extensive majority of the period and only changing their physcial location once dismissed from the class at the end of the lesson i.e. to get up. I have to be honest, I don't know how primary school teachers manage and educate their students. I'd be too worried about them running off! At least with high school age students, I can reason with them to some extent (well most of them, that is). If the vision of the Scott Mackenzies of the world are to be realised in high schools, high schools and most certainly the teachers of traditional non-movement subjects would have to accept the increased agency of students to go and explore in and outside of the classrooms.
- The physical construct of high schools. Anyone walking through a traditional high school arguably anywhere in the world would be left in no doubt how closed off individual classrooms are from each other, and to an extent the outside world. In contrast, open learning spaces are common and increasingly so in primary and intermediate schools. To give students in high school legitimate learning agency and freedom, would require literally and metaphorically a tearing down of the classroom walls. I've blogged previously of my frustration at the limitations of traditional with the whiteboard at the front and the rows of student desks. Thankfully in the classroom I now share, no student desk faces the whiteboard and my students have a break-out space adjoining our learning space and outside is literally just a step away.
Hopefully in time, more and more high schools are prepared to give real agency and freedom (physcial and academic) to their students through the ideas discussed above. Many students would initially struggle with such freedom and agency but this does not such aspirations should be binned. Learning to use the new freedom would require on behalf of many students, a different mindset and arguably an additional skill-set. Come to think of it, the same would apply to many high school teachers as well... wouldn't it?