Kieran Dhunna Halliwell is an educator from England, currently working in Oxfordshire with year five and six students (9-11yrs). She has worked in a variety of schools and uses these experiences-as well as her previous career as a football coach-to inform her view of learning. Kieran is passionate about child-led learning, the benefits of play and critical thinking skills. You can see some of her work here and connect with her on Facebook or Twitter as Ezzy Moon.
On February 17 at 5pm UTC, Kieran will deliver a free webinar on WizIQ entitled Exploring Perceptions and Values using Project Based Learning. This webinar is part of the Featured Teachers series, hosted by Fluency MC. To sign up, click here.
In an interview with WizIQ, Kieran talks about her experience as a classroom teacher and offers advice on strategies teachers can use develop students’ capacity to learn.
How do you feel teachers’ perceptions and values affect the learning environment in class? What impact do they have on students’ capacity to learn?
Just as learners bring history, experience, and knowledge to the classroom, so do teachers. I feel values are everywhere and are the fabric of society. Within a classroom, school values, teachers’ values and government values will be present, making it hard to discuss how the teacher’s values affect a class. For example, many schools have a Code of Conduct or ‘Golden Rules’. The teacher affects the learning environment by implementing these, but it is hard to separate them from teacher values and external factors.
However, I feel a teacher’s personal values can have quite an impact on children’s capacity to learn because of the teacher’s position as a role-model. I think teachers should be open to the fact that they have values but be wary of sharing too much about them – the focus of discussion and influences should be between children and their peers, with the teacher having a role as facilitator.
Could you share a pertinent anecdote from your classroom?
Although using projects is a good way to explore values, so is using your influence as a teacher. When issues of unpleasantness cropped up in one class, I did the usual teacher response of talking to those involved, considering how others felt and asking what the children would do differently; but I didn’t feel this had really touched the pupils as people – I didn’t feel we’d gained a human understanding, but rather a curricular ‘don’t behave like this’ understanding. To help them realise what bullying could be and how they could be participating, I spent a day bullying one student in my class (I sought his permission first!) whilst another student would laugh at or support anything unpleasant I said or did (the second student was also in on the role-play). I began with subtle things such as commenting on his being slow to pack up, messy or not listening. For his part, he smiled nervously and acted unsure of himself as the day went on. After a couple of hours of this, we made things more obvious, At one point I said “I can’t believe you’re so stupid” to him in front of everyone – the look of hesitant surprise on the children’s faces was obvious, yet nobody said anything. They continued to laugh at my comments to the bullied student. My accomplice also joined in by doing things like moving away from the ‘victim’ saying he had nits because he was scratching.
By late afternoon, I asked the children to reflect on who they thought had had a good/bad day and why. Several (not all) of the children picked out the bullied child, but instead of blaming me, felt his day had been bad because he wasn’t trying hard – they blamed him for his bad day. Interestingly, none of them correctly identified the accomplice to my bullying. From this, we opened up discussion about what I’d been doing, the effect it had had on the victim and how we could sense the victim’s confidence lowering (although he was acting). After revealing, several children said they’d wanted to say something or tell someone at the point I’d called the child stupid but didn’t know who; and many stayed quiet in case I turned on them, and some just trusted me and decided that whatever I say goes, leading us on to discussing keeping safe and that it is ok to tell if you think what an adult is doing is wrong. The activity gave children time and space to reflect on their views and actions at different points in the day and to articulate what they thought was right or wrong. Values do not form overnight and often develop when they are questioned, which is what this activity did.
Whilst it is rare I would use this method to teach, I am confident in saying it was successful in developing the children’s understanding. If you are to do anything like it, always make sure you have explicit permission from the children involved and at the end make it clear it’s been a role-play for a specific purpose.
What strategies do you use to help your students develop their thinking skills?
Conversation and philosophical debate! I feel the formation of values is based on the ability to think about, evaluate and articulate beliefs, whether that be your own or an alternate view. With this in mind, I have a philosophy display in my classrooms, encourage children to give their opinion on world events, and sometimes use objects to develop thinking skills.
How can teachers implement these strategies in their classrooms?
Please see: http://www.ezzymoon.blogspot.co.uk for some of my ideas.
Have you seen changes in the learning outcomes of your students using your approach?
The biggest changes I’ve seen are in teacher-student relationships, student
confidence and student independence, which has aided them when completing classwork. It is thought that positive well-being of students contributes to positive results and the projects seem to develop this.
Personally, I feel the world of technology and fast paced, results-based working is creating an impersonal culture, where values seem dormant unless called upon. For me, this isn’t what values should be. Values are ever present, always reforming and are what the rest of an individual’s identity is built around. When children have time and space to openly share their thoughts without a target or reprimand for an understanding, they are able to think in more depth and be challenged. This leads to a ‘view → questioning → re-evaluating → re-constructing’ cycle, ensuring that learners are aware of their developing identities and taking responsibility for them, which in turn creates a sense of well-being.
We hope you will join us for this Featured Teachers webinar with Kieran Dhunna Halliwell. Click here for more information and to sign up for free.