Futurelab / Microsoft Enquiring Minds and Year 8 Local History Project

I recently read the enquiring minds guide put out by futurelab, which has chimed with some stuff I’ve been thinking and reading about.  I’ve been thinking alot recently about the question of knowledge and knowlegde production – I’m writing something for podesta.org.uk, and if I’m ever allowed to finish it, I’m going to explore the nexus between knowing and doing, knowing and naming that I’ve been reading about in Friere.  The futurelab guide references Friere in discussing the ‘banking’ concept of knowledge, which sees teaching as an exercise in filling vessels with knowledge about the world, where the knowledge and the ability of the vessels to receive and retain it are fixed and given.  The guide takes a different, more constructivist view (as does Friere).  Instead the authors of the guide put forward three different types of knowledge:

 

 

Functional – this is knowledge that allows us to operate in the world. It is often technical or ‘factual’ information. An example would be the knowledge required to read a map to navigate around a town.

Cultural – this is knowledge that is concerned with understanding the meaning of objects or events. An example would be the type of knowledge that allows us to understand why a particular place or landscape is considered valuable.

Critical – this is knowledge that allows us to understand and critique the forces that shape the world. An example would be the type of knowledge that allows students to understand the reasons behind things such as housing shortages or climate change.

 

They also offers a pedaogical approach which reflects these ideas. The model takes students (and teachers together!) through five different phases, which at first sight might seem familiar if you’ve seen things like the "big 6".  The main difference (as far as I can see) is the emphasis on the experiences, interests and views that students bring with them. 

This really chimed with me, following the reading I did for my Diploma about the power and strength of preconceptions that student teachers bring with them to their learning.   I’m trying more and more consciously to reflect on the position my students have in relation to the topics I’m asking them to study.  I’m also really inspired by the element of choice and student empowerment.  One of the (few) things that OFSTED asked us to think about at Little Heath was how independent and responsible for their own learning our students were.  I think that sometimes we confuse ‘taking responsibility’ for ‘doing what we tell them with little fuss’. This guide seems to be offering me a way of thinking about empowering students in a classroom environment which goes beyond this into meaningful ‘responsibility for learning’.

So, I’ve decided to give it a go, and what’s more I’ve decided that I’m going to record my reflections on this website – so that others might be able to avoid any mistakes that I make!  I’m just starting local history projects with my year 8’s.  They are a nice bunch, but some of them find history hard (and probably dull if I’m honest, despite my best efforts).  We run a fairly tight project normally – there’s a list of topics and they get to choose one.  We then go to the library and they ‘do’ their projects over the next few weeks.  For a couple of years, as a department, we’ve been worried that this often led to a cut and pasted document ‘about’ something, rather than an enquiry asking a question.  The fact that I was dreading doing the projects, coupled with my desire to try this approach, meant that this small class was an ideal place to try it out for the first time.  Watch out for further blog posts whilst things progress.

 

 

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