Noticing, naming and not allowing “ready-made knowledge” in the classroom

The first time I came across the term “ready-made knowledge” was when I read the following quote by Seymour Papert:

“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge” – Papert

Ever since reading that quote I can’t get this notion of providing students with “ready-made knowledge” out of my head. It got me reflecting on my years in the classroom and I realized that like many teachers, I am guilt of providing my students with an endless supply of ready-made knowledge… and not much else. Worksheets, workbooks, textbooks, readers…. Knowledge that has been decontextualized, oversimplified and often sterilized.

Our students deserve better.

This notion of ready-made knowledge reminds me of a picture I came across recently on Twitter.

orange in packaging

Like selling peeled oranges in plastic containers, I am beginning to think that pre-packaging knowledge for students is silly, time-consuming and above all else – completely unnecessary.

This year I aim to shift my search for resources away from pre-packaged, made for school, sources of knowledge. This may have you nervously wondering “Then what will students use to learn?” To answer that I ask you in return (as I have asked myself while reflecting on this idea) “What do the rest of us use to learn?” Answer – tweets, YouTube videos, TedTalks, podcasts, news articles, blog posts, research journals, interviews, documentaries… and the list goes on.

So I’ve begun to curate a list of potential learning resources that could be helpful to support our Units of Inquiry this upcoming year. I started a Google Doc and listed the main concepts for our six UOIs and anytime I come across a tweet, a video, an article, or a podcast this summer that relates to one of our concepts I added a link to the doc. I will continue to do this throughout the year. This way when it comes time for a new UOI I will have a collection of sources of knowledge  to chose from that have not been ready-made for student consumption.

Here is what it looks like so far:

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Are these sources free of bias and error? Absolutely not! But that makes them even more valuable. They provide opportunities for discussions about critical thinking, critical literacy, perspective, sourcing, citations and the like. These are essential skills to be developed because these are the types of sources of knowledge students will be encountering in their real life that they will need to be able to decode, deconstruct, analyze and make informed decisions about… not worksheets and workbooks.

I look forward to letting go of years-worth collections of school-land learning resources and instead replacing them with the same sources of knowledge that people are exposed to in their daily lives. I also look forward to sharing this Google Doc with my students so they can add resources they come across during their inquires too!

What sources of ready-made knowledge have you used in your own teaching?

How do you avoid pre-packaged knowledge in your classroom?

What questions or suggestions do you have for me to stretch my thinking further?

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Re-thinking “morning work”

How many adults wake up and start their day with a worksheet?

None that I know of.

Whether it is called “bell work” “morning work” or a “a daily warm up” lots of students begin their day by completing a worksheet, answering questions or a doing a pre-planned activity – all of which have been decided for them by the teacher.

Just check out Google or Pinterest to see all the different varieties:

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But how do people start their day in their ‘real world’?

I start my day by scrolling through my Twitter.

My husband starts his day by meditating.

My mother starts her day by doing a crossword puzzle.

My father starts his day by playing chess.

My best friend starts her day by working out.

My mother-in-law starts her day by reading.

My father-in-law starts his day checking sports scores.

All different. All valuable. All self-chosen.

Why can’t students start their school days like this? Why can’t students choose how they start their own school days? Perhaps if we allowed students to choose how to begin their school day we would not have to stand in the halls and count down from 10 and compel our students to enter the classroom. Perhaps they would want to enter because they are excited and happy to be at school and start their day. I know teachers have many administrative responsibilities at the beginning of the day like attendance and collecting field trip forms, so a 10 – 15 minute window of time is needed to ensure these responsibilities are met. But why are we dictating how students spend those first 10-15 minutes warming up to their day?

Next year I plan to have a discussion with my students about how humans start their days. I plan to share how my friends and family begin their days, and I hope my students will share how their friends and family begin their day. I hope we can use this to create a list of possibilities about how students might start their day and post it somewhere in our room. Then I plan to respect their freedom and choice over how they start their school day while I am competing my administrative responsibilities.

Imagine the learning that might happen….

Imagine the connections that might happen….

Imagine the skills that might be developed….

Imagine no longer needing to find, photocopy and mark “bell work”…

What’s wrong with worksheets?

Worksheets.

worksheets

The pariah of the PYP. The enemy of inquiry.

But why? What could be so bad about worksheets?

Through many collaborative planning sessions, professional development afternoons and informal conversations our staff has discussed some of the limitations of using worksheets in the classroom. Here is what we’ve come up with so far:

One-size-fits-hardly-anyone: For some students the worksheet will be too easy and they will fly through it. For other students the worksheet will be too difficult and they will struggle through it.

Detached from student questions: Worksheets are usually selected by the teacher, based on what they want their students to learn, often before or irregardless of students’ interests and questions.

Work without learning: Students can complete a worksheet without learning anything. A student who already knows how to add two-digit numbers or locate a verb in a sentence can complete the 20 questions on the page without building their knowledge, gaining new understanding or challenging a misconception.

Work without thinking: Students can complete worksheets without really thinking. Many worksheets are watch and do, read and copy, fill in the blank, or find the ‘right answer’. This doesn’t leave a lot of room critical thinking or heavy cognitive lifting.

School land: Worksheets force students to operate in ‘school land’, a place detached from their  real life. How many toys does Adam have total? Who is Adam? Who cares how many toys this make believe person has?

Focus on finishing: When worksheets are being used, ‘finishing’ is usually the goal. “Finish your work before recess?” “Stay in and finish your work.” “Put your work in the unfinished bin.” If a student isn’t ‘finished’ their work, maybe that is a sign that it was too difficult for them, or too easy… or just plain boring. Who cares if they don’t finish anyway? Shouldn’t our focus be on their learning and thinking, not finishing a worksheet?

(Not to mention worksheets are wasteful, bad for the environment, clutter causing, hard to organize, time consuming to prep and mark…)

In the words of Leah Osbourne –  worksheets are to thinking, what candy is to nutrition. 

worksheet candy

What are your thoughts about worksheets?

What would you add to our list?