On 26. September, I visited a Graduate level teacher education course at the University of Helsinki Finland. My friend and colleague, Finnish professor of education, Dr. Kristiina Kumpulainen, invited me to work with her students on their 2nd day of class for the autumn term. The 15 students, are in the last phase of their teacher preparation. After the mandatory basic requirements to receive licensure in basic teaching, Finnish teacher-education students can elect an emphasis for deeper study. This course was part of that emphasis selection for candidates seeking to develop expertise working with 5, 6 & 7 year-olds (K, 1, 2 grades in U.S.).
We began with Kristiina introducing me, in Finnish, with a brief translation (to my benefit) in English. Finnish and Swedish are the compulsory languages learned in the public schools, and most Finns speak English fluently. Luckily for me (and them) I was to enact my guest lesson in English. We began by first unpacking what counts as ResponsiveDesign, where candidates discussed what comes to mind when thinking about the words "Explore, Envision, Enact." If we are to devel0p a shared theoretical and methodological approach, then rather than assume that just because people understand those words that they understand what is meant by ResponsiveDesign, we engaged in co-constructing a shred definition of what constitutes those three verbs.
I provided a bit of history of how ResponsiveDesign emerged, for us as CoLab, as our theory of innovation and central to a teacher's longevity is her ability to innovate from less expertise to more expertise in all she enacts within the learning classroom. This is an aspect, in educational research, we don't seem to pay much attention to: "teachers as innovators of practice." Resplendent in our literature are studies and conceptualizations on the process from moving from beginning to experienced teacher, the role of professional learning communities, and, the roles that reflexive/reflective practice plays in supporting entry-level teachers to grow into competent practitioners.
CoLab's claim is that in order for teachers to grow, they must have been able to enact learning activities, in all their emergent forms. And by breathing life into them, with all the normal "flaws" that a beginning lesson entails, the lesson is talked and acted into being. It thus is endowed with physicality, and the participants bring it to life. And when it becomes alive, then the teacher is able to modify it. It is this explore, envision, enact process that occurs hundreds of thousands of times over in our practice, building upon each other, that pushes us to refine, make personal, and thus evolve our teaching practices. BUT, it all occurs from enacting on small-scale resolutions, repeating that process until we develop expertise.
Art & Design does this all the time. For example architects never enact their plans on a high-resolution scale. They never start their project from beginning to end by first building the actual physical sky-scraper. No, rather, they explore the design needs of the client or structure by first building rapid prototypes on a small-scale of that structure. It is then tested multiple times with the clear expectation that is MUST FAIL. Failing early on will lead to greater successes later on.
Thus, this "building to learn" perspective is one we hold dear as the CoLab. And this evening, this approach would frame the 'lesson' I would teach my Finnish friends. Using ResponsiveDesign's "Explore, Envision, Enact" process, Kristiina acted as my ThinkingPartner by engaging me in a PreBrief discussion about my lesson "Artful Looking." We sat together on chairs in front of the students, and she asked me:
1. What will you explore in your lesson?
2. What do you envision will happen?
3. When all is said and done and you enact it, what do you want people to walk away with?
The PreBrief process pushes me, the lead teacher, to talk aloud what I expect of my prototype. It also forces me to enter into a collegial relationship with another teacher, my ThinkingPartner, whose task is to support me as I enact an experience for my students. Her job was to observe me in action, and at the end of the lesson, she and I are to DeBrief or collaboratively reflect upon the lesson prototype I enacted.
The Artful Looking Lesson unfolded as follows working with Joan Mitchell's painting Ici:
B. Then we made "telescopes" with a piece of paper and looked at the painting again to notice what was new. We shared the new things we saw with our partner.
C. We then added to our basic tools thus far of observing, discussing and sharing with a partner, by summoning an even more powerful tool, that of inquiring or asking questions. Participants posed a question to the painting, as if it were a person. They wrote the question on half-sheet of paper, folded it, and then sat on the question.
D. Participants then viewed the painting again, this time, on a larger sheet of white paper, they had 1 minute to sketch the painting, top to bottom, side to side.
E. After which participants then wrote words on the painting to label aspects of it, based on what they saw in it. They shared their words with each other, and if they fancied one they heard that she hadn't thought about herself, she could "steal" it from her partner and add it to her own sketch.
F. Participants were then guided to create a "Found Poem" using only the words they had between the two of them from their two sketches. Each person was to create her own Found Poem.
G. After the poems were completed, participants retrieved their questions (from under their bums) and arranged a gallery space arranging their sketch in concert with their question and Found Poem.
H. We all stood up and wandered around our classroom that had just been transformed into a Gallery Space of poetry, art and questions. All were silent as they examined the words of their colleagues, while I played Enya music in the background.
Once my Artful Looking lesson was completed, Kristiina and I DeBriefed it. She began by following-up on what I had said during the PreBrief:
1. You said you were going to explore...What happened?
2. You envisioned...What happened?
3. You said you wanted them to walk away with...What do you think?
We had this conversation publicly in front of the teacher candidates, and then, I introduced them to a graphic for how to think about the Artful Lesson as it unfolded in space and time. Drawing on Vygotsky's notion of "Consequential Progressions" and Engeström's "Knowledge as Expansive Phenomena," I characterized the phases of the lesson visually, as ever expanding ripples. CoLab calls this process as PILA (Principled Intentional Literate Actions), or ways to scaffold and build upon what came before, to what could come next in any learning experience.
Kristiina then guided the group to think about the lesson they just experienced, the PILA process, and, the learning that emerged in light of the group investigations that the teacher candidates had just begun earlier in the week during their first class session on Monday. Groups had diverse investigative foci they will take on this semester including:
1. How do we support learning in a multi-aged classroom with 5, 6 and 7 year olds?
2. What can we learn when contrasting a traditional Finnish classroom's pedagogy with a progressive learning one of Montessori or Reggio Emilia?
3. What is the process of mathematics learning in an early grades classroom?
4. What are the processes for literacy learning in the classroom.
Students shared aloud how ResponsiveDesign as a collegial process might assist them to think about their own investigations as prototypes, which can then be debriefed later using the RD DeBrief process.
They also discussed how the lesson unfolded and build upon itself, and the very critical part of the lesson was developing questions, ones that would be revisited later. And the then discussed how revisiting that question should lead us to asking bigger questions.
One student said she was so moved during the Artful Looking experience that she wanted to read aloud her found poem. And it was with that lovely performance that our evening came to a conclusion.