Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Tuning in - the critical first step

...or why my kids all "failed" at decimals.

We'd been doing lots of inquiry into fractions and it was time to explore the link with decimals.

"Easy," thinks I, "Just jump in and start with a few simple decimals that they already know like 0.5 and 0.25 and then we can escalate it from there!"

So why were they staring at me with blank faces when I started going on about tenths and decimal points and converting and notation?

Because I had made a big mistake - I had overlooked the importance of tuning in as the first step in inquiry.

And because of this omission, the learning that did eventuate was uneven, unsystematic and unreliable - the kids didn't really have a stable base on which to build their new thoughts and ideas.

So who "failed" - the kids or the teacher?

If I had looked at the results of the pencil and paper test that followed this experience, I could have justifiably "failed" a large proportion of the class. 

But I'm smarter than that.

Of course, alarm bells started ringing the minute someone tried to explain to me that ¾ was the same as 0.34. 

And it was at that point I started to reflect on my own professional practice and I came to the conclusion:

"Tuning In" is the critical first step in inquiry.

To "tune in" is to:

Establish "the Known" 
- for we are about to embark into "the Unknown"

Connect to students' lives 
- so that it is going to make sense to them

Define the sense of purpose for the inquiry 
- validates that what we are about to do is important

Identify first thinking 
- what are our initial thoughts?

A first invitation for questions 
- an opportunity to set a few directions

(This is paraphrased from the work of Kath Murdoch, Australian inquiry educator and well respected education consultant)

FAIL - First Attempt In Learning

In our class, we have stolen this acronym for "FAIL" - it is quite common on Twitter as it is a pithy little quote that is easy to remember. And it's less than 140 characters.

So, as a life-long-learner, I am ready to put my hand up and say, yes I failed - but I'm still learning.

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