Tuesday 14th August -
Sorry it's such a long post! I've blogged quite fully this week - partly to help me process the lesson for my own sake, and partly because I know the student teachers will be focussed on talking about what might have been done differently - or added to the lesson to break up the whole group focus. Look forward to reading those ideas team!Today's session was a testing one for the members of "Mystery History Toys" - they were challenged to take a position on a very difficult situation. Another real challenge was how long they were asked to work in a whole group... Having spent last week in quite high-energy small group activities, we decided to try to sustain a whole-class focus. (As the teacher for this week's session I wondered if the class could stay working together and listening to each other for the whole hour-and-a-half...)
When I arrived in the class (slightly late - oops!), children were silent reading - several came over to tell me excitedly about the bear that had been delivered and sent for restoration.
As usual we started with the Agenda on the board...
I invited the children to come to the 'meeting room' and bring a pen and refill paper.
Rather than break into groups to catch up with news, as we have done in the past, we stayed in a large group and I invited individuals to recap on what had happened since we last met. I noticed some of the shyer children volunteering to speak.
Children were really keen to use the pens and paper they had brought over, so I gave them some time to write at this point. To be honest, this felt a bit unfocussed with different children making notes about different things, some doodling and others just copying what was on the board. But they all seemed intent on what they were doing and I guess it's like this in any meeting?
Next there was a 'visit' from Josh - Teacher in Role again. Josh had a large colour photo of the old bear and black and white copies for all. These were handed out. Josh then asked for help in detailing exactly what restoration was required... (this was framed as a request from the restoration group "I've had them on the phone and they're not quite clear what you want done ... could you label the picture and maybe draw arrows to the parts that need attention).
Originally I had intended to group children by ability for this task - and even have different types of task for different levels (e.g. For one group to write a list of words to describe the current condition of the bear, for another group to detail what restoration was required, and for the third group to describe what the finished bear should look like). However, in the event the task was left fairly open ended with everyone simply asked to label what work was needed. Where children needed help spelling words, these were written on the board by "Josh." I noticed children using a whole range of different strategies to approach this task [e.g. N created a checklist on the back of the paper, D used a highlighter to show areas that needed work, and just wrote the first couple of letters of each instruction "because I'm not great at writing - it goes crooked"] So maybe it was quite good that there wasn't too much structure to the task?
I felt at this point that I wanted the children to put their pens and paper away - so we could focus on discussion to come. So, the papers were "faxed" (ie put in their desks)... I realise I was showing my age by talking about "faxing" - but N helped with a quick definition for those who needed it - he described how a fax is like a teleporter that zooms something to another place. I asked the children to agree that our labelled pictures had been faxed to the restoration team, and that they had used a computer programme to generate a new image - of what David's bear might look like if it was completely restored.
I asked them to close their eyes and 'revealed' the picture to them. The new picture showed a much smarter bear and there were lots of "yes yes yes!" responses...
(I wonder what would have happened if at this point, I invited them to take the role of David and look at the picture through his eyes...)
What happened next was really the crux of the lesson.
First, the children were asked to think for themselves about their position on this issue - should we restore the bear to what it looks like in the picture? Then they were asked to whisper their opinion to a neighbour. Then we moved into a physical continuum with 'strongly agree' - 'not sure' and 'strongly disagree' groupings. Once children were grouped, I put a hand on someone's shoulder and asked them to state their opinion. This was another opportunity to encourage the quieter students to speak up.
Some of the things the children said here were quite complex and thoughtful. The DP watching the session said that for her this was a 'philosophical' moment... Things I remember hearing students say included:
"We don't want our customers to think we don't look after the toys - so we should make it clean and shiny" "I like new things (implication - our customers will too?)" "David asked us to clean up and restore the bear - it's in the letter he sent, so we should go ahead"
"I'm not sure if we should restore the bear - because I don't know what David would want us to do"
"We definitely shouldn't because if he looked at that one, he wouldn't recognise it" "That's like a different bear - not the one that's full of memories"
As the discussion went on, some people moved their place in the continuum... perhaps they were working out their own opinion, and realising it was OK to take a different stance from a friend? I certainly thought the children were respectful of others with a different point of view - no one said "No, you are wrong"
I confused things a bit when I accidently 'reversed' the ends of the continuum, but I think we recovered from that blunder (my overtired brain!)
As the activity progressed, children's arguments got more sophisticated and I heard various arguments I would not have expected, or thought of
"I think we shouldn't do it because it's a lot of work to do all that"
"Maybe if it does get restored it will remind him of what the bear looked like when it was new - which would be a GOOD thing"
At one point I asked the children to point to the picture they thought represented the bear that David would recognise as 'his' bear.... and to point again at the one that they thought he loved most.... This brought up the discussion of whether it was David's choice or our own what happened next.
To break up the whole group dynamic a bit, I asked those in the firm "yes" group to mix in with others who disagreed and have a 'civilised conversation' about the issue. I was very impressed with how children managed these - as I circulated between the pairs and threes I could hear lots of intense conversations occuring - and some people changing their minds.
However, we had been thinking hard and quite static for a long time by now... so I decided to make a shift of focus.
"No one has mentioned the possibility of asking the bear's opinion!" [One child said - "we can't, he's away at the restorers in Auckland!] Lucky we have that drama magic...!
A small chair was placed to the side of the group and I asked them to gather in. I don't think I overtly declared that I would be taking on the role of the bear - just indicated that they would know him by his floppy neck. Before going into role I asked children how we could look after the bear. D was very clear that we shouldn't crowd him. Another child mentioned putting up hands. I asked children to think of questions that we might ask...
I noticed a real shift when I went into role - lots of attention. I started with my eyes closed and D reminded the group not to shout out [lovely, given that he is often the one who does so during class discussions!] Questions came quickly. It was tricky to answer them without 'skewing' things too much - I wanted to encourage the children to gather data to help them take their own position - rather than delegate their responsibility to the bear.
I think the hotseating was fruitful.... I remember saying at one point as the bear: "I think everyone who is old like me WISHES they could be young and beautiful again - but I'm not sure that's the same as actually wanting it to happen." At one point, the restoration process was compared to plastic surgery for humans. The option of a partial restoration was mentioned - perhaps just working to strengthen the neck? And the bear asked a question too - "Do you think I'm broken or less valuable because I look like this?..... because I don't feel less valuable - I feel loved"
After the bear had left, we spent a moment recapping what we need to do next. I suggested to the group that it might be important to write to David and give him some choices.... 1) Full restoration 2) Leave it as it is and 3) partial restoration. The company agreed to write to David and spell out these stories, along with a piece of personal persuasive writing giving their own point of view...
Why take it back to David to make the final decision? Well, I believe the final choice needs to be made by someone outside the company.... there were still some widely differing views on what was the "right" thing to do and it's not a matter of making everyone see things the same way - more a matter of what we do when people see things differently!
We will make sure that when David receives the letters, he is appreciative of all points of view. But I suspect he will choose the partial restoration option!
The children had been sitting for SUCH a long time by now - and doing some seriously complex thinking and talking - so to finish the session I thought we would do something more 'playful'. Picking up on the "computer problem" which one of the children had reported at the start of the meeting, I handed out (imaginary) computer / phone fixing kits and advised the company that the instructions for fixing their equipment could be found in the boxes. On the count of 3, they were free to return to their offices and carry out the repair. This allowed students to get physical - clambering over and under desks, hammering, attaching wires. Some felt inclined to have a bit of fun, saying "the instructions say to bash it and throw it on the floor and it will come right" - fair enough! The only resistence that I saw to this exercise was from one child who said "there's nothing even wrong with my computer".
The children were gathered one last time in the meeting room and given an opportunity to head out for lunch 5 minutes early - they'd worked HARD. We didn't "reflect on the learning" or ask them to articulate what they had learned... and I don't know if this was necessary - or whether they would have had the words to articulate what they had learned...
But in my opinion, they learned that some questions don't have simple answers, that it's OK to have a different opinion from your peers, also that it's OK to change your mind as you learn more about a situation. They practiced listening, persuading and reflecting on theirs and others' points of view - and they sustained their focus on one issue over quite a long session. Phew - no wonder we were all tired!