Setting the foundations…

I come from a long line of great chefs, caterers and foodies – in fact my Nana, Mother, sister and daughter are real foodies, and I’m just not one of them. I make food to sustain, comfort and for sharing with others. Now I can cook and indeed do and really enjoy it – not just at the level of the rest of my family.

When I find a new recipe I give it a go. Once I have made that recipe several times, I often become more confident and start changing it… In soups I will add different vegetables, replace lentils with chickpeas or experiment with different herbs or spices. A family favourite in our house is a  bread roll with chocolate chips rolled between the layers of bread. Lately I have been changing the filling to jam and chocolate, or coconut, jam and custard.

This reflection has had me thinking about our classrooms … surely one of the main purposes of education is to create a strong base of knowledge, skills and understanding so students can then create and innovate – like my soup and bread… I am confident in the foundation and technique of my tried and true recipes and can now add, subtract and alter with the confidence that it will still be edible.

So how does this apply within the classroom?

How do we ensure that the foundations are laid so students have the confidence to then add, subtract, combine and alter to create their own meanings and experiences.

Just doing a task once, does not mean learning has occurred. Completing an assignment, project or homework sheet is not necessarily an indication of a foundation being set. Much of the learning in a classroom stops at knowing – however we need to move students beyond this.

The knowing coScreen Shot 2014-07-02 at 9.29.48 pmmes in the practice – you start at unconscious incompetence – when you don’t know that you don’t know. Next comes the awareness that you don’t know – conscious incompetence – this can feel awkward and vulnerable. To move through the next 2 stages takes practice – as you start learning a new skill (conscious competence) you may go through frustration, failure and eventually success. This stage takes persistence and often a strong reason to keep going. Eventually, with more practice you arrive at unconscious competence – the ability to perform the task without having to think about each step.

It’s like learning to drive; when you were young you were not aware that you don’t know how to drive (unconscious incompetence).  As you got older the awareness set in that you did not know how to drive (conscious incompetence), Once you start learning, the conscious competence kicks in and this sometimes feels overwhelming as you have to think about everything at the same time – gears, brake, mirrors, steering, hazards, directions and so on… Over time and with experience you can drive from point A to point B without recalling the journey (unconscious competence). Perhaps the real skill comes in the reflection and this takes time. Taking the time to stop and think about what you are learning, your results, checking against criteria, receiving feedback, thinking about your journey, having a willingness to want to improve – these are all part of this important step.

Professor Art Costa teaches a feedback spiral – the idea that it is continuous and never ending journey… see the diagram below…Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 8.48.52 pm

It starts with the purpose and goal. From there you plan, take action and assess or gather evidence, study, reflect and evaluate and then modify your actions based on the new information.

For example: When students learn a new art technique they may need to practice it many times before feeling comfortable with the method and approach. However once they can perform the skill or sometimes even before they can, teachers often move onto the next technique without allowing the embedding, nor the creativity to expand, subtract, embellish or enhance.

Similarly, if you want children to think, they then also need a base to do this from, structures that they know and understand and once comfortable with these can combine, change, innovate and think differently. This base is so important and in a busy curriculum it is paramount that we slow down and ensure the foundations are in place.

Some questions to ponder…

  • Where in your curriculum can you slow down, combine ideas, create a cyclic pathway to ensure the foundations are not only laid, but you provide opportunities so they can be layered upon?
  • How might you allow your students time to practice and engage through the 4 stages of competence?
  • What factors might you need to consider to create an environment that allows for both failure and success on the road to learning.
  • In what ways might you ensure students keep using a technique, even after the lessons are complete?
  • How do you encourage growth?
  • How do you know that your students have learned the information/skill/technique and are confident using them?

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Published on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014, under Curriculum design, Learning, Teacher Effectiveness

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

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