I must admit that I was a little excited about doing my teaching practice at a school that works a lot differently from the traditional model. Unlimited base their practices on experiential learning methods which allow the student to direct their own learning in consultation with staff and parents. This approach gives the students much more freedom by which they can engage according to their individual propensities and empowers them by allowing for them to ‘own their learning’.
In short, I like this method far better than the traditional classroom didactics; however, I think that there are many practical adjustments that need to accompany a methodology such as this which allows for radical variegatedness.
One such instance where this fact was made apparent was during my first lesson. I thought that we could perhaps employ a more traditional approach at the start of the lesson and then individualise the content according to the projects that the students were intending to create. As in a traditional classroom I asked the students to turn off their laptops and look at the front so that I could do my teaching part. Only a handful of students responded while the rest continued on with whatever they were doing. I was slightly peeved but I thought to be careful not to disrupt the methods that were already in place in this school.
Given the circumstances, I pitched my lesson at the few who gave me their direct attention and after putting the class onto task I roamed the room to see what the non-participants were absorbed in. When I could see what was on their monitors I was even more peeved. Some were browsing ‘tradeMe’ looking at auctions, some were checking out car websites, others were fully spaced out. I wasn’t sure how to handle this. On my first teaching practice I would have just given them an ultimatum to get on task or go and sit outside but at this school I thought to try something less authoritarian considering that I wasn’t really confident as to what policies were in place.
I consulted with each student on a one-to-one basis to find out what project they were working towards. Some weren’t sure yet and some were just procrastinating. I told them that they had 10 minutes to think of something they could build 4 webpages on and most of them sluggishly cooperated. I tried to be as congenial as the circumstances allowed and I think that this approach helped them to gain some trust in me and build a foundational rapport.
After class I consulted with my associate and was given some more information that helped to contextualise my experience. At Unlimited they try to operate as far as possible on a trust policy. They pretty much let the kids do whatever they want within certain parameters. This is something of a double edged sword in that the self directed learners tend to take hold and accomplish a lot while the less motivated tend to abuse the freedom and get up to mischief. In general the kids here are pretty good so their arent many intense issues but there is certainly a strong tendency for newcomers to the school to test the boundaries of their new found independence. My first class was full of such students.
My associate said that the next time I teach this class I can throw kids out who don’t want to participate. I was relieved to find out that the organic processes here also allow for some freedom of my own to exercise discretion in what attitudes I don’t want in the class. The students come to my class of their own volition but they can just as easily find something else to do during that time. If they don’t want to come to task then I have the right to invite them to find somewhere else to space out.
Another major aspect of my experiences here at Unlimited has been with one-on-one mentoring. This is by far the most satisfying teaching I’ve been involved in yet. The students are encouraged to make learning enquiries that involve a considerable amount of independent time. They are required to liase with their ‘homebase’ teacher for at least 1/2 an hour every week to let them know how they are faring with their project and to get advice and direction if needed. Some of the students are very passionate about their projects which creates a certain range of dynamics in their learning environment. I am convinced that this is the most effective learning taking place in our schools these days. They learn on a need-to-know basis which makes their inquiries relevent and practically applied. Also the confidence fostered towards their self-appraisal of their own ability to learn is tremendous. What other school can honestly say that they have to literally ask students to leave at the end of the day so that the cleaners can come in and do their job? There is very progressive and effective teaching and learning going on here.
As of now I am mentoring two students with their projects directly and liasing with several others on a less formal basis. Since they are both online projects I allow the students to call me at home for help on their project development which has been absorbing. I try not to do any work for them but point them to the right resources so they can both ‘own their learning’ in the immediate sense and develop the ability to educate themselves for the future.