What kills curiosity, innovation and imagination? One could argue that a rigid, over-organised curriculum which is imposed on children and young people does precisely that. Enabling children to learn for themselves through their own real interests has to be the right way. More and more we have the technology to allow personalised learning for our young people; facilitated and enabled by teachers, of course, but ensuring children have a very prominent say in what they learn and how they learn it.
My youngest child has gone to school today for an off-timetable day of maths. I am wondering how much free investigation they are going to be doing, and I look forward with anticipation to see if the school uses this day to encourage these young people to develop their own learning through a sense of awe and wonder. As a student who was less than enthusiastic about maths, there was a time when I couldn’t imagine anything worse than a full day on the subject. Yet, as a teacher, I know there are so many exciting and brilliant activities that you can do in the name of mathematics; real activities – activities that ignite interest and enthusiasm.
This whole issue of personalised learning is huge, and has yet to be tackled comprehensively. Every single piece of factual information that you would need to pass an examination is available at the tap of a button on a computer. Good teachers understand this and have willingly and effectively embraced the miracles of affordable technology that are now available. But there still isn’t enough investment in the technology or the systems to create truly innovative personalised learning agendas.
Teachers are our greatest asset in bringing about this revolution in learning. They just need to reconsider their roles as enablers and motivators of learning, rather than fact feeders.
It’s always good to hear stories about children who have developed something entirely on their own, perhaps with a little encouragement from parents or carers, but essentially independently.
Martha Payne is one such character.
Returning from school one day, she discussed the fact that she was rather disappointed with the school meals and the quantities offered. Her father suggested that she write a blog about school meals. So Martha thought about this, decided how she was going to set it up, what she was going to report on . . . and off she went.
Little did she know what an impact this blog would have. It went viral.
The local authority tried to ban her blog as they felt it was unnecessarily critical. In actual fact, Martha, as a thoughtful and intelligent human being, had already discussed the blog with her school, ensuring that she didn’t write anything defamatory and didn’t identify anyone in the school.
Eventually, after great support from famous chefs to Radio Four presenters, the local authority backed down and allowed her to continue scoring her school meals – thus ensuring that the school and the caterers were very mindful that they were being watched.
For a browse, here is Martha’s blog.
Not satisfied with doing her bit to improve the meals in her school, Martha decided that she needed to improve provision elsewhere. Since the site had been visited so many times, it started to generate an income. Again, Martha’s thoughtfulness and imagination led her to doing some research on how this money could be used that linked to the initial purpose for the blog. She linked into Mary’s Meals, a charity that provides much needed meals to children in a range of countries.
Obviously with assistance from her family and friends, Martha set off on a mission of raising £7000 for a school kitchen to be built in a school in Malawi. Once she had raised her money she was going to call the new kitchen “Never Seconds” after her own website and in celebration of the fact that, had it not been for her blogging idea, these children on the other side of the world would not be getting this new facility.
All of this is documented as Martha and her family travelled to Malawi to see how her money was being used. It’s worth a watch, as it’s fascinating to see Martha and her brother respond to an entirely different way of life that they witness in Africa; something that no amount of studying books and even DVDs could ever give.
(You can also find a link on the Mary’s Meals website).
Martha has exceeded her target by a staggering 1758%, raising £123,061 to date.
This story demonstrates just how much can be achieved if children are free to imagine, to share opinions, and encouraged to write about things that really matter to those children.
Admittedly, Martha is a fortunate child who has backing, encouragement and resources to do this, as well as a very healthy dose of publicity, but it shows what can be done with a bit of reflection and imagination, and the will to use that imagination for the benefit of others.
We have long been advocates of blogging in schools and it sometimes beggars belief that this brilliant tool is not being used more frequently in schools. In days gone by, we sat our children down to write personal diaries about what they did on the weekend, which were quite frankly a little tiresome and repetitive for the children, let alone the poor teacher who had to read them. Holiday diaries were encouraged in some schools – which often became a laborious chore for parent and child alike. Encouraging children to write of their own volition, about their own interests, with equipment that they enjoy using, has to be a way forward. Even young children who can’t write can maintain a blog once they learn how to copy and paste, which even the smallest of children can be taught to do. Then they could keep a picture diary of sites they have visited or places they have been.
The opportunities for this type of personalised learning are infinite, and it’s up to us as parents and teachers to enable children to get involved in their own learning – for their own benefit.
Any school that would like to develop this work further can contact us through our website, www.3diassociates.com
We are particularly keen to hear from schools around the world who would like to join up with schools in other countries through the medium of blogging.
Personalised learning has to be embraced as the way forward for learning, as outlined so effectively in one of our favourite books, “The New Learning Revolution” by Gordon Dryden and Jeannette Vos.
Since places like China are wholeheartedly adopting the strategies and learning advocated in this book which encourages the use of IT in independent learning, then we really should sit up, take note, and like Martha, do something about it.