How we learn matters. How the children learn when in our care matters. As I began thinking about the process of learning and what matters, I started looking at the messages we give to children about learning. More specifically how our curriculum or the method we use to deliver our program affects the learning mindset of the child.
Eduardo Briceno in a TED talk from 2012 talked about two types of mindsets, a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. Mr. Briceno based his talk on research by Stanford Ph.D. Professor and author Carol Dweck.
The characteristics of a fixed mindset include; worry about grades, scores, or praise and concern about being judged. Effort is considered a bad thing because it means the person lacks intelligence. In a fixed mindset there is a growing lack of interest and an avoidance of difficulty. A growth mindset views learning as important, and believes effort is what makes more intelligent. In a growth mindset the focus is on the process, and failing at something is not the end, it is the stage of “not yet” which gives the learner a path into the future. The research found that the brain is most active when receiving information about what we could do better.
Over the course of many years, and much trial and error, I have come up with guidelines that we follow in my current program, which I believe make the program engaging and also nurture a growth mindset.
Be open to possibilities. We want to be open to the possibilities for learning and discovery by getting out of the way and allowing the children to choose their own work. We want to support this work through scaffolding and providing materials for the children to expand their learning. We make discoveries together though conversation and documentation.
The children are in control of programming. In school age care the predominant method for curriculum is what I call the camp model. It consists of created projects based on a theme. The projects follow a pattern, which is copied, by all of the children who end up with a product that looks the same. Our program is based on a rich environment with choices for the children. These choices lead to experimentation and discovery that become the basis for our work each day.
Understand that creativity is messy. The amount of materials and the mess that can be created by experimentation often makes teachers uncomfortable. I like to call this ‘mess adverse” and it can influence the openness and creativity of the children in a program. We are not mess adverse and encourage the free use of materials, and we like to promote the rights of materials to be other things. We employ this though a liberal use of recycled materials and free time.
Open to discussion. We encourage the children to be open and honest with the teachers though discussion. The children have guidelines to follow, but these are suggestions the group has come up with through agreements. The agreements are honored not because a teacher “told you so” but instead because this is what our community has agreed upon as how we treat each other socially.
Value Children. Maria Montessori said, ”Children are human beings whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future”. We value the children in our school and their participation with our learning community. We value the contribution each child makes to create our unique blend of learners, who challenge and learn from each other. We value that they have moments of joy and confusion. As we value the time we spend together each day playing and learning.
Encourage independence. Long time newspaper columnist Ann Landers said, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves. That will make them successful human beings”. We encourage independence in our program for all the choices the children make each day. We want them to choose their work, who they play with, what and when they eat, when they do their homework as a few examples. Our role as a teacher is to help the children when they are stuck. We coach the children and help them acquire materials so they can make choices about their day and the direction of their learning.