Our teaching and learning group recently developed a project using wallwisher. For those people who haven’t used wallwisher before, it is a very simple to use web 2.0 tool that acts as an interactive, web based post-it board. We have worked with partner schools in Australia for a few years now and always used video conferencing to connect the children to allow them to share their work. We have to connect at certain times of the year when the timings are just right, which isn’t always ideal. Subsequently, the VCs tend to be about sharing end results and we wanted to share the working process this time. Wallwisher has enabled the children to ask each other questions, share ideas and thoughts as they occur which has allowed us to share in a different way.
For this particular project we have been looking at the qualities of effective learners. This is the culmination of a lot of work the teaching and learning group have been engaged in for the past couple of years with our partner schools in the Kaizen Group. We have researched Guy Claxton and Chris Quigley’s work with the children looking at the practical ways of being reflective, resourceful, resilient and risk taking learners. The wallwisher enabled the children to share their thoughts on how these qualities can help us become more effective learners.
Our partner schools’ teaching and learning groups contributed their own thoughts on the qualities of effective learners and the contributions gave us more food for thought generating further discussions within our group leading to more practical ideas within school.
The teaching and learning group are currently using the findings of this wallwisher project to help them in creating a resource to help their peers in assessing which effective learner qualities they possess and which they need to develop further. Wallwisher is a simple tool that has lots of potential to support learners in and out of the classroom, we are certainly benefiting from this user friendly web 2.0 tool.
Our latest Comenius trip enabled three staff to visit Finland, a country I have read so much about in terms of its approach to education. Finland consistently tops most educational surveys, it leads in children’s achievements and has a system that many of us envy. Schools receive no inspections, no Ofsted, no SATs, no end of key stage assessment or league tables to measure one setting against another.
The staff we met certainly didn’t appear stressed and loved their work. The curriculum showed a leaning towards creative work, but it was far from radical and innovative. Children’s attitudes weren’t markedly different from those you’d find in our schools but they only start their formal schooling at 6 or 7 so they’ve learnt a lot of social skills before they begin. This means more formal learning can happen quicker and the children are more receptive to it. I have spoken to people in the past who think that by starting school later they will remain behind their global peers but the reality is that because they begin school when they are ready to learn, their rate of progress is quicker.
Finnish society also seems to place great importance on schools and learning. In the afternoons after school, many of the children could be found in the library, a well used and inviting environment that children readily access. Indeed the schools showed a relaxed, calm atmosphere that reflects the life in general.
Teaching is a Masters profession and as such held in high esteem. The parents we met fully supported school and life seemed to work in harmony! School dinners are paid for by the state and in the main trips and outings are also provided free of charge. There is a healthy love and respect for the arts and society in general seems to value culture and learning in a way we don’t here.
What did I learn from this trip to Finland? I learnt that education is about society not just school. The classes I watched didn’t show me any great pedagogy, no hidden formula for success, no magical insights into a radically different approach that produced superior results. Finland sees learning and education as everyone’s responsibility, parents and the state don’t simply hand children over to schools and say ‘your job.’ That collective responsibility, respectful partnership and shared investment in their children’s future is where we really need to learn from our European colleagues.
Last week we celebrated our Comenius Project with a joint day across all partner schools. This British Council funded project has been a fantastic experience for us at Hawes Side and we are gaining an awful lot from our work with schools in Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany and Italy.
Last Friday, 30th April was agreed by all partner schools as a day of celebration. We all began the day with a celebratory assembly (we played a photostory for the children showing previous visits and asked them questions about differences and similarities) we waved flags from different countries and told the children all about the project and what we’ve learnt.
10.00am gmt was agreed as the moment we would all release balloons at our schools – a collective shared moment greeted with much excitement by the children (particularly the ones that escaped the net in the hall before we got outside – I like to think this helped the build up!) Following a countdown (rehearsed several times to ensure we were spot on 10.00am) we launched the balloons, with designer address tags attached courtesy of the children, to a fantastic ovation from over 550 of us on the playground. I didn’t realise how exciting this would be for the children but they really enjoyed the moment and asked lots of questions after. By lunchtime our first emailed responses were coming in as balloons drifted their way across Lancashire and on into Yorkshire – sadly none have yet reached any of our partner schools! We filmed the whole event and will be sharing stories and findings at our next meeting in Finland next week.
The rest of the day was devoted to creating work in classes to share with children in our partner schools. Again, activities were filmed and the results will be put into our European Treasure Box to share with our partners. The day was a big success and heightened everyone’s awareness of the project. I think it gave us all an idea of how we might further benefit from such work. It allows us to be creative, imaginative and resourceful. The children’s work has a sense of purpose, a real audience and allows them to get genuine feedback from peers around the EU. The work we receive from our partners also gives the children a real sense of differences and similarities not only in partner schools but in the children’s lives. The Comenius project has benefitted the school in so many ways and continues to do so. Long may our partnerships continue!