Is it ever ‘too soon’ to take the
training wheels off?
“Change Tomorrow Today” is the 2017 title for our Grade 5 Exhibition at UWCSEA. But I’ve been wondering…how might teachers use this mantra in our own pedagogy? Can we change TODAY to better prepare students for TOMORROW?
Although I’ve been teaching for ten years, this was my first year as a G5 class teacher facilitating the Exhibition with 22 eager, passionate and motivated ten year olds. For those who are not familiar with the G5 culminating Exhibition, it is an opportunity for students to apply the skills and qualities they’ve learned throughout their 7 years in primary school and take meaningful action. The learning journey is 6-8 weeks long and the focus is on the process not the product. Our school defines it as follows:
The Exhibition of Learning is a self directed inquiry for students in Grade 5 that highlights the UWCSEA skills and qualities, with a specific focus on being collaborative. Students have the opportunity to take their learning further through synthesising information to initiate meaningful action. Through the inquiry cycle, students will connect with members of the school and wider community. Students will celebrate their progress as a learner with a variety of audiences.
Starting the Exhibition Learning Journey felt a little bit like taking the training wheels off 22 bikes and letting go at the top of very steep hill.
Students visualised their own thinking and feelings about Exhibition and turns out I wasn’t the only one feeling the excitement, anticipation and uncertainty…as two students’ visual representations show:
With that in mind, my initial instinct was to provide students with as much guidance and scaffolding as possible to ensure they successfully made it down the hill unscathed and develop a love of biking…or in this case ‘learning’. But that’s not how true learning works.
Students needed to fall, and learn how to get back on the bike.
Luckily I came across this article by John B. Mahaffie that detailed 9 Skills That Will Help Make Our Children Future-Ready. These nine skills were a reminder to me that part of this journey was to learn how to FAIL. According to Mahaffie, in the year 2034 when my now ten-year-old students will be entering the workforce, their job landscape will look more like this:
- More work will involve international connections and citizenship will gain a more global focus
- More work will be multidisciplinary, involving new kinds of collaboration
- Far more jobs will mean working intimately with digital machines and intelligent systems
- More elements of work and life will use visual communications
- The world will be battling sustainability issues in ways that will affect most workers
- Citizenship responsibilities will only grow more complicated as societies confront new issues
(Excerpt from Wise-Qatar.Org)
To me this new landscape means we need to take action today to ensure students are given opportunities to become independent learners, and practice the skills necessary to be successful in the future. I decided to look at our G5 Exhibition through the lens of the 9 skills suggested in Mahaffie’s article.
Let Go of Control
To better prepare our students for a future we cannot predict, Mahaffie recommends we at least facilitate and practice the following 9 qualities and skills with our students. It was evident that student-led learning such as the Grade 5 Exhibition provide the ideal environment for students to showcase and practice many of these skills:
1. Love of Learning ~ Through choice students have the opportunity to pursue & research a particular passion that connects with a global issue such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals which launched their thinking about possible topics.
2. Skill at learning ~ “Learning to learn”: Students set goals and are given reflection time through their Exhibition Journals/Booklets and their Group Blogs. Some students connected with other classes and schools to practice digital citizenship skills and get feedback on their learning.
3. Self-knowledge ~ through collaborative group work over several weeks, students gain a better sense of themselves and gain both confidence and humility in their areas of strength as well as areas they need to improve in. This thinking has been visible in their ‘Pie Chart Reflections’ where they measure how much they are contributing and strategies they can use to support each other.
4. People sense — Two key concepts that we focus on during Exhibition are ‘collaboration’ and ‘perspective’. Students work collaboratively to define what ‘perspective’ means and use the Sustainability Compass to identify different lenses of one topic.5. Communication — Throughout Exhibition students are consistently challenged to communicate through a variety of modes with a variety of audiences. They may be given written feedback to group members, drafting an email to their Exhibition mentor or interviewing experts in person or on Skype.
6. Worldliness — The exhibition is an opportunity for students to look at several spheres of influence starting at a global level and moving inward to develop an action plan within their sphere of influence. Students interview community members and go on field trips to learn about the world around them and gain new perspectives.
7. Comfort with complexity — Students use the Inquiry Cycle and develop Essential Questions to guide their research. Several of them revise their questions or realise their focus has shifted after learning more about their topic. Students quickly learn that their focus is multi-faceted and there may be several perspectives to consider in their research and (most importantly) learning is NOT linear!
8. Goal setting — Students develop an action plan within their sphere of influence to achieve soon after their Exhibition Presentation on May 24/25th.
9. Open minds — No success is possible if we don’t raise children to become adaptable, thoughtful, open-minded adults (Mahaffie) The Grade 5 Exhibition provides students with an opportunity to practice being adaptable and open-minded as they Fail in different ways and learn to adapt and make changes to achieve their goals. Several students experience missing or being late for mentor meetings and needed to experience this ‘failure’ to learn how to be more organised with their time table.
Students are just three days away from presenting their Exhibition on May 24th to parents. If I’ve learned anything from ‘letting go’ of the control and trusting the students, it’s that ten year olds are surprisingly capable of leading their own inquiry and learning from their failures, when we give them the space to try.
No child has learned to ride a two-wheeler without ample time to practice, fall, and pick themselves up again.
As an educator I challenge others to let go a bit and watch your students surprise you too. After all, any failure they experience now is only preparing them better for an unpredictable future where adaptability and resilience are the keys to success.
4 thoughts on ““Look Teacher…No Hands!””
Thank you for this insightful post. My son is going through Exhibition and so it was particularly helpful to see from the teacher’s perspective the wonderful creative ways that you are scaffolding their thinking. I like how you intentionally linked your support to the 9 qualities. Some of the ideas like being comfortable with complexity are especially powerful when I look at high school students and the ideas with which they are engaging.
I had one question which was about the use of the term ‘worldliness’. I found this an intriguing term to use in this context – as worldliness implies sophistication and preoccupation with material things. Expressions like international mindedness or global citizenship are also used a lot in international education, and this is what I initially thought Mahaffie might have meant … but I don’t think this is the same as worldliness. I agree with you that its about broadening perspectives and that (gloriously geographical) concept of scale… the telescoping in and out of local to global. I would be interested in your thoughts on this.
Thank you Jocelyn, this really spoke to me! I’ve had many conversations in the last year about “failure”. I feel this word is often observed as the “final word” of a learning opportunity instead of a true starting point. The edge of failure is where the magic happens, where the unknown becomes known, and a system becomes understood, not the other way around.
I really appreciate your open minded list and willingness to let go of control. It makes for a scary ride for teachers and students, but if your intention is clear and the communication is strong, the benefits far out-weight the negatives. We need more educators with your mindset 🙂
Gosh what a wonderful glimpse into both your classroom and your teaching mind. The last quote really summed up so much that is right about teaching youngsters – they do this all the time with sport but do they apply this to their learning? I am so glad to read about your Grade 5s successes and the depth of their thinking, clearly guided by you. But I am constantly baffled as to why these eager minds start to change higher up the school and failure just isn’t an option – why is this? It resonates with me for, when I was writing about play (the 2 seem to go hand in hand – failure and play) I recognised this so much in Middle schoolers the older they get. How can I reinvigorate their playfulness to try something and risk that failure so that they can then try again? Elizabeth Perry’s L2 Talk “Play on” ( or her “Doing Something Badly TEDxASL talk) exemplifies this so well about being foolish. If you haven’t seen i do encourage you to watch it – it’s a wonderful message and sentiment. My own avoidance (or is it called procrastination?!) often stops me from trying something new and from accepting that failure is an option- do you think that this is common in adults? or is it just perfectionists?!
Which of the 9 qualities and skills do you find the most challenging? How did you find the Comfort with Complexity? That was the most interesting to me. I really appreciated the link to Mahaffie’s article as I hadn’t read it before your post.
Passion seems to be a common thread in so many posts I have read recently, I feel a visual note forming about this!
Your title coincidentally connected to a friend of mine’s post today about some wonderful cycle orientated illustrations he is exhibiting in a cafe in London called “Look Mum, no hands!” So, what are the next steps for you now that you have successfully managed 22 x 2 wheelers – unicycles?!
Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I think it gave a great insight into what children are capable of doing if we ( as educators) just gave children time and space. They can take control of their own learning if we just let them. However that can be scary for us teachers who like to follow a plan. But learning is “messy” and rarely goes to plan!
I really liked how you spoke about the process being more important than the product. This is a conversation that I have been involved with time and time again this year, with parents, teachers, and students. I think it is so important for all the stakeholders to be aware of the “messy” nature of education and that the process is more important than the product.
Thanks again for sharing your class’s Exhibition with us. It shows your class are ready are certainly ready to take the training wheels off, and maybe even ready for the Tour de France!!
All the best,