By Cecily Heras
LiD Reflections in a K-3 classroom
I began my journey with LiD in a blended K-3 classroom at new ecological school based on the North Shore of Vancouver. As there was no previous interaction with LiD, and many of the children are very young (12 of the 20 are in kindergarten or grade one, and the pandemic has interrupted their learning from the previous year) certain ideas needed to be cemented before personal topics could be assigned. In order to address the basic questions such as “Where do we go when we want to find information?” and “In what ways can I express my learning?” I decided to begin a class-wide LiD project on sprit/kermode bears, our school’s animal mascot, found only in BC.
Though we will not necessarily go as far as a true LiD project, this introduction was designed to help children begin to understand how LiD will work.
Students shared their knowledge then were introduced to our school library, during which we explored several books about spirit bears. This was the first formal research many had ever done. Students then reflected on their learning in their LiD journals. Many students drew pictures as they are still learning how to read and write, but which nonetheless showed that they had gained some critical knowledge of our topic. Some showed the trees in which the bears build their den, while others depicted mother and child in different colours. Some of the literate students wrote down the ideas they had learned, while still others extended the learning beyond the journals, investigating just how tall a male spirit bear is by laying on the floor next to a measuring tape.
Next the students were introduced to the moving parts wall in the classroom and asked to make a spirit bear or something related to it. Students used a whole variety of blocks, lego, foam balls, wire, boxes, bark, sticks, paper tubes, and more, to build habitats, bear families, bear tracks, and individual spirit bears. In addition to this, I sang a song I knew about a bear, as well as shared the Gitga’at and Kitasoo legend of why some of the spirit bears are white.
At this point, our third session, I think it is time to gift the students their personal topics. Rocks have been painted with the LiD topics I have chosen for the year, which students can place around the classroom. Each relates to the natural world, and can be accessed within our community in order to follow the school’s aim of creating engagement in this place. Unfortunately, the reality of the pandemic has changed the way parents can interact in the classroom. Rather than having a large ceremony where family can attend, we will need to have a small, intimate ceremony with only students and teachers present. Regardless, the students will be gifted their topics in a formal way with accompanying fanfare in order to make the gifting memorable and special. Parents have been alerted to the project through a letter in the weekly newsletter. LiD will be updated every week, and parents will be asked to engage in the project through dialogue, questions, trips to the library and more.
September Newsletters to parents
On Wednesday afternoons students will be given a chance to delve deeply into their own curiosities and creativities in our Learning in Depth project. The LiD project is part of a wonderful new way of looking at education by actively involving children’s imagination in their own learning and was devolved locally at Simon Fraser University by Dr. Kieran Egan, an internationally recognized educational thinker named as one of 25 visionaries who are changing our world by Utne Reader magazine.
LiD involves an in-depth study of a single topic in parallel with the usual school curriculum. During this project, the work is meant to be entirely student-lead, with background guidance and support from teachers, family, and community members. Students will engage in self-assessment through on-going discussion and portfolio development. As students become more confident and elaborate in their related skills and the expression of their learning, their work for this project can take ANY FORM. Yes, any form: stickers, drawing, photography, essays, blogs, videos, dance, you name it.
As an introduction, our class has begun an inquiry into Spirit Bears. Over the next few weeks, your student(s) will be introduced to the type of research skills they may need for their own projects, as well as some of the different forms of expression their own work can take. We will talk, share knowledge, look at books, hear stories and legends, dance, sculpt, draw, and document in preparation for the students receiving their own topics.
Topics will not be pre-chosen or necessarily relate to anything the student currently knows. This is perfectly alright. Each topic will relate to nature and have within it the possibilities of learning across the curriculum. Every topic can be approached in all manner of ways and is accessible for all learners. The idea is that students will learn how to learn in their own time, in their own way.
Students often like to work on their projects at home, and this is great, though not at all required. Visiting the library for books or other resources, watching related shows or movies, playing games, singing songs, asking someone you know, constructing things, taking photos, thinking of ideas or strategies together, sharing stories, etc. will all help your student find their way.
Students were introduced to our classroom’s moving parts this week as part of the LiD project. These pieces will be built and rebuilt and will provide students more avenues to express their learning in creative and authentic ways. Personal topics coming soon!!
The gifting was opened with reference to our work with spirit bears. Students shared some of the knowledge we now have and the different ways we found that knowledge. We also discussed some of the ways we expressed our learning (words, images, building from the moving parts wall, stories, and songs). Once again, we discussed where to find information if we don’t know the answers in anticipation of their own LiD research (teachers, parents, cousins, friends, family). The gifting ceremony went well, with every child choosing their topic from a basket of rocks, each blind-wrapped in colourful tissue paper. The students also each had one of their journal books, now dedicated to the LiD work. Students sat down to reflect on their topics, and begin their documentation. Some drew pictures, while others wrote down research.
Most seemed to accept their topic without fuss, though one student did let me know that they did not like fish. As we discussed the possibility of there being many cool things about fish to learn, the student was still skeptical. It wasn’t until after school that the student began relating their previous knowledge about how fish can change colours, or can be the same species with different traits, that they realized that fish wasn’t such a bad topic afterall. Another student wanted reassurance that the various topics generally studied at school (Math, Social Studies, English, Science), which is the thing they like most about school, could be addressed within their topic, water. After discussion about the ways it can be looked at, the student began thinking about the need for clean water. Yet another student, this one just 5 years old, noticed that the forest, their topic, included some of the other topics such as bears and birds. This is an example of the type of high-level thinking that even the youngest students are capable of when approaching topics in their own way. Having the learning and outcomes open rather than prescriptive, allows students to really start from where they are and lead the way forward.
The students are young, and so will need much support from their community. Each student will be encouraged to take their topic rock home in order to spark conversation with parents and friends. As the ecology of the school is still being established, ensuring that students remain engaged with LiD will take deliberate effort. To this end, each week, I will check in to see how their learning is progressing, and to assist with any documentation necessary. I will also bring in various resources that I find related to spirit bears in order to keep them connected and model LiD for them.
LiD involves an in-depth study of a single topic in parallel with the usual school curriculum. During this project, the work is meant to be entirely student-lead, with background guidance and support from teachers, family, and community members. Each topic relates to nature and has within it the possibilities of learning across the curriculum. Every topic can be approached in all manner of ways and is accessible for all learners. The idea is that students will learn how to learn in their own time, in their own way. Along the way, students will engage with the skills related to research and inquiry. These include, but are not limited to asking quality inquiry questions, knowing where and how to look for answers, and exploring different ways to share learning. Students will engage in self-assessment through on-going discussion and portfolio development.
Throughout the rest of the week, students had been exploring creating questions, but had not understood the difference between questions and comments. Therefore, as a group, we discussed creating good inquiry questions related to what they might wonder about a topic. By inquiring into slugs together (not a LiD topic, but one of the group’s special interests), we shared a great many inquiry questions: Do slugs poop? Do they hibernate? Why do people not like slugs? Why are slugs slimy? How do slugs stick to things? Once they had generated questions by using the prompts of who, what, where, when, why, how, what if, do, how many/much, etc., it was quite easy for each of the students to apply these skills to their topics and create their own inquiry question. Some students were able to articulate and note their questions while others needed assistance scribing. Every one of the students finished the hour with at least one solid inquiry question that suited their current knowledge and their interests.
Upon later reflection, I wonder if having student choose blind topics was best after all. Initially, I had considered that this would be ok (and it is, for the most part) as I did not know the students well. However, one student refused to connect with her chosen topic, ants. While the student did not investigate her topic she did decide to explore water and during her inquiry question time, she wondered about the water table. The topic of rivers had not been chose, so I have allowed this student to switch her topic in order to get her engaged at all, and given that she has had a history of disengaging at school, the topic being gifted is less important than her active participation. No other students have required this, so it is an exception. Had I known more about the student before the gifting, I would have chosen a topic for her that I felt she could relate to. However, all has worked out well, and she can now feel in charge of her own learning from the very beginning of the journey, which is important for her.
Continuing with the Sprit Bears Inquiry will be on-going on my part, with pieces brought in occasionally in order to model long-term research, the various avenues available to them, and multimodal ways of presenting your learning. This month, I brought in a large stuffed bear for them to play with. Another time, I introduced an Anishinaabe song which a few of the students asked to be replayed as they enjoyed the drumming. This connection will be further explored with a small spirit bear stuffy which children will be able to take home and ‘entertain’ over the weekends which will be shared with the group, and recorded through a dedicated class journal.
Though the children had been able to come up with at least one inquiry question, overall, many of the students needed a great deal of support as their understanding of how to create questions in general (as opposed to comments) needed more work. As a group, we spend a great deal of time discovering how to create questions, which can lead to a variety of inquiries. We have played a ‘Guess it” game with the only rules being that they could ask questions about the object hidden in my pocket, but would not get an answer to a direct “Is it a…” type question. This forced children to take their ideas and re phrase and think more broadly. For example, “is it a toy” became “can you play with it”, and “Is it a key” became “can you unlock a door with it” and so on. At this point even the eldest students needed support with this skill. Additionally, finding resources in picture book form, which explored the idea of questions, was helpful and accessible to all. I was able to use Richard Torrey’s “Why?” which poses the answers but leaves the questions up to the reader. This helped students articulate various questions as a group. Overall, however, their general questioning skills are improving as seen in other areas of their learning.
This week our students were gifted their LiD topics, with every child choosing their topic from a basket of rocks, each blind-wrapped in colourful tissue paper. Students are welcome to bring their rock home to spark conversation and encourage their inquiry.
Students now have a journal book dedicated to their LiD work. These can go back and forth with the student as they wish, but please try to have them in the class for Wednesday afternoon. Keep in mind that not all learning will fit into a book…some may need a binder, others will want sketch pads or a canvas, and others may eventually need a box!
While some students already knew something about their topics, others will learn from scratch. While most were enthusiastic, a few were a bit hesitant. What’s so great about fish or ants? How can water be related to Math and Social Studies? Fungi, what’s that? These are exactly the types of questions they should be asking, and now it’s our job to help them find the answers.
Because the learning is student-lead, this allows each student to really begin their search in ways that interest them. Each week we will be checking in with students to hear about their investigations, and help them with their research.
The idea is that students will learn how to learn in their own time, in their own way. Along the way, students will engage with the skills related to research and inquiry. These include, but are not limited to asking quality inquiry questions, knowing where and how to look for answers, and exploring different ways to share their learning.
As you no doubt know already, literacy happens everywhere. Whether we are reading or listening to a book in the forest as a group, or in the class during DEAR time, our students are keen to look at, talk about, read, and share stories.
Building reading and writing skills are, of course, important, and we are all working toward fluency in these areas. This week, we focused on sound connections to letters for our pre-reading and early-reading students, while we also explored how to ask inquiry questions with everyone:
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY, HOW, WHAT IF, HOW MANY, HOW MUCH etc are all great ways to begin.
But literacy is about more than just reading or writing text. For example, we need to be able to read our own and others’ emotions and body language, as well as keep ourselves healthy (physical literacy), we need to be able to read the images we see everyday around us (visual literacy), we will one day need to balance our income and spending (financial literacy), we all need to understand our world and our place in it (cultural literacy), and we need to learn about the ways we can help our world remain such a beautiful and inviting place to live (environmental literacy).
Every week the students are engaged with all of these multiple literacies in various ways. Students are journaling, inquiring, working together, and creating relationships in and with nature.
This week, student’s each devised one (or more) inquiry question into their LiD topics in order to further develop their independent multi-literacy skills. Remember, there are no silly questions. Help your students find answers to the questions they want to know by sharing stories, visiting the local library, looking information up online, or asking someone they know.
As 5-8 year olds have very different skill sets and understanding, the students are at different stages and levels of engagement with their LiD projects. Some have already researched and taken many pages of notes, while others have still to draw a picture or pose a question. Some are ready to show their learning while others are still trying to find a way in. In an effort to engage all students in a fun way, I took them to the art room and introduced them to making representations in different ways. Through paint, wood, paper, glue, ribbons, beads, wire, tape, foam, stickers, etc, each student was highly involved with the creative process, though some were more engaged with crafting than with LiD. None the less, all were able to make a representation of some sort, and will hopefully continue to develop these skills.
In order to make the students begin to see the connection between their LiD projects and their own lives, I have asked each, over the coming week, to find an example or tie to their daily lives. Did you see something that included your topic? Did you find something that relates to it? Did you learn something new about it? This is very simplistic, but will help the youngest students begin to tie in their LiD learning with home and the larger society. One particular student found this very helpful. Initially and until now, the student did not want to engage or show any learning at all. Their LiD journal is filled with images, though unrelated to their topic, river. However, once they tried to tie it to their own experiences, they were able to come up with a song they regularly sing which features a river. Additionally, though this student had not seemed to engage, their parent assured me that they were asking, of other topics, the same types of questions that I am explicitly supporting in the classroom. This shows just how students in their lives apply the skills learned in LiD, even if they themselves are unaware or apparently disconnected. The power of students asking questions they are interested in and finding the answers in their own way and on their own time is readily apparent once I know where to look.