Sunday, August 31, 2014

A SOLE Response

Teachers are interesting creatures of habit. They adapt thoughts and ideas to suit the needs of their students but really to test further ideas of their own. They often do so within the safe confines of their school not pushing outside the box very far. They don’t want to be seen as the rebel or the outsider. Conformity is an issue. So it is no surprise that many have used their adaptation of SOLE to their understanding of teaching. Why would they not? It has been a mainstream of education for years in their eyes. It is Project Based Learning turned sideways..

Those who see it and use it view it as a Project Based Learning concept that allows them to take a small step further by allowing the students limited autonomy. They adopt it without all the intentions and benefits it brings because as teachers they need to adapt it to their way of teaching. That is they need to apply it to extend the curriculum rather than expanding the knowledge of children. They do not understand the basic premise of SOLE, to give children the right to pursue their thoughts and interests. Throughout history it is this exploration of these thoughts and interests that has provided some of the greatest inventions. Do you think a wheel would have been invented without this type of exploration? Exploration is an evolutionary process that the brain understands. It cannot be confined to rooms and books with eloquent explanations. It is the use of the mind to explore and develop theories that develops the reasoning and thinking skills. As a teacher I can try to teach it all I want but without the actual experience developed through their interests students cannot learn. They do not own the experience when they are led by the hand through it. Recently I was at the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. I stood for a long time reading and listening to people explain about the trial and error that went into developing their product. These were 18 and 19 year old boys exploring their ideas. It explained how when they reached an issue they could not solve someone would join them or they would ask someone questions to understand it better. There was no Internet so they relied on the experiences of others. That is what the essence of SOLE is about. Encouraging the mind through exploration.

I find it hard to develop some aspects of SOLE as I have to teach curriculum. The growing realization that a combination of asking the right questions and providing some important background knowledge is essential. I put it out there for the students to develop. We discuss the curriculum and what they are expected to know and be able to demonstrate. Then they explore. It is how I see it occurring in a school.

I also allow them to perform SOLE as it was intended, to follow their own ideas and interests, to control their environment and develop the relationships necessary to be successful. In short I give up control and cede freedom for them to learn. Some would assert that I am being negligent in my duties as a teacher. I counter with every child in my class was reading at Grade level to well above Grade level. My behaviour problems became minimal. Their confidence and belief in each other soared. They would pose and rephrase questions even while they asked it to me.

One benefit of all this hard work was evident this year. School hasn't even started yet and it is paying off. I cleared two thirds of the desks out of my portable. I have three long tables that are pushed against the wall. My Principal informed me that the desks had to remain in the portable because it was Board Policy. I countered with I believed in SOLE and was able to prove that it worked and was far more successful than people believed. I read about how students don’t need desks to learn. I want to try it. He conceded because of my success. I am not sure how the French teacher will feel about it but that is small issue. But every little success begets more success.

I know that Sugata Mitra has strong convictions about his work. He wants it to be followed as it is and as he developed it. And it is important that we respect this because at its core SOLE is everything a child needs to grow and mature. But we live in a society whose understanding of education is rigidly entrenched in past practices. SOLE, step by step takes us past these past practices into new ways of learning. It is successful because the students believe in it and the freedom it gives them. The same freedom that developed thousands of years ago and has been whittled down to obedience by well meaning and misguided people. Time to encourage students to be who they are. It is already inside them. Let it grow.