I is for ‘initiative’ and ‘incidental’ learning

Yesterday was a difficult day. To co-operate and research with a group of students in order to  share the learning with another group was too challenging for some of our emotionally fragile students. Yet learning did eventually happen in both the classes. It took longer than I anticipated but most of the students came away with new knowledge.

Today was different. It was a much happier day. On Fridays we have Parent Group in the morning. This group has morphed from being an English Language class to a Parent Support Group and now it is a supportive group for parents and their friends to learn English. How do I work out what to teach them? Well, they tell me.

Our group has dwindled from 14 mothers a couple of years ago to just two or three mothers at the beginning of this term. It so happened that my remaining mums were more interested in learning what their children were learning at school than doing craft or cooking. They asked to be taught the concepts we teach in the early years at school in Mathematics, Reading and Writing. So, our lessons together have been their initiative. Interestingly, as we have been learning the language of Mathematics and solving word problems we have come across Australian idioms as well as tier 2 and 3 vocabulary. This is their incidental learning and because it is in context it is meaningful learning.

This afternoon I worked with our Stage 2 and 3 EAL/D STEAM group. They have been working on a vegetable garden in our school with their EAL/D teacher Mrs Rios. (@melmollyrios). First they wrote to our Principal asking for a piece of ground, then they measured the area and worked out the capacity of the garden in order to buy the correct volume of soil. When all was ready they chose some plants and sowed their seeds. Some of their seedlings sprouted but overnight they just disappeared! The students weren’t sure if the garden had been vandalised or whether it had been a smorgasbord for the local snail population. Their solution … ‘Do Not Touch’ signs and a public announcement for the vandals and snail bait for the garden molluscs.

While I was reading A Kitchen Garden with two of these students during the week,  they noticed in the photographs that there were bricks in the garden to walk on as well as solid wooden signs to tell the plants apart. One of the girls thought it would be a great idea to find some pavers for their garden and to make the signs. This was her initiative.

At her request I visited the hardware store to purchase wood and nails and brought my hacksaw and hammers from home. This afternoon I watched this group of EAL/D students of various language backgrounds, problem solve. Labels on the wood told them that they were each 1.2 m long. They needed to make 9 signs from five lengths of wood and have two extra lengths for the Do Not Touch signs. There was discussion, a little guidance and incidental learning along the way as they measured, discussed and marked their pieces of wood. One student had the bright idea of using the pieces that had already been cut to measure the other pieces.

Next with supervision they needed to saw the wood and hammer their signs together. Some preferred to hold the wood and others enjoyed working out the best way to saw it. Everyone had a turn and all learnt by watching and doing. Hammering was a challenge. Through trial and error they learnt how to straighten nails, pull nails out and to figure out the best way to hit a nail. More incidental learning. Building is a Science!

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Today there was co-operation, team work and no fighting. The students of all ages had ownership of their learning and went away satisfied. Now all I have to do is to work out how to make this happen for my other lessons…

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One thought on “I is for ‘initiative’ and ‘incidental’ learning

  1. Awesome, Anne. Don’t you just love when learning flows like this, seeming effortlessly. Work that is initiated by the students is so much more engaging and meaningful, and the learning has greater impact and is longer-lasting. That these are real life skills is of great benefit. Likewise with the parent sessions. Their confidence will grow as they are able to discuss the work with their children. Great initiatives, wonderful responses and outcomes.

    Liked by 1 person

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