A window provides a viewpoint, a means by which to look out and survey the surroundings. Typically our homes have many and through each we get a different view, a different perspective of the world around us. Windows provide us with a means by which to reflect on what we see, to gaze on a landscape that changes over time and a chance to contemplate what could be. So think about our schools, our classrooms, our children’s books, are they not windows to learning? Windows to what has been, what is and what could possibly be?
For me, learning windows offer an opportunity for us to stop and reflect, an opportunity to take time to really take in the landscape of learning and a chance to stop and consider what really matters when it comes to making the best choices for learners.
At this moment in time our education system as we know it is the hot topic of conversation across the media and it seems like everyday brings a new story or press release. Educators up and down the country face a constant battle between what they feel is the right thing to do and external pressures. Yet this is just one way of viewing education and in some ways is just one of the many windows that we could say open onto the landscape of learning. For me, teachers need to teach and they need to be given the professional space to develop learning cultures that truly inspire the next generation of learners and allow an engaging curriculum to flourish. That professional space is their classrooms; the space through which they promote curiosity, nurture creativity, build resilience, challenge the status quo and make anything seem possible.
The class of children I teach talk with me all the time about their learning windows and they have come to see their books as a window through which they can spend time thinking about their learning. What is so interesting is how the term “window” has altered the way in which they talk about their books and how they reflect on their progress. I have always believed that feedback is ultimately the one factor that improves a child’s performance, but feedback doesn’t just take one form. There are no magic formulas, whole school rigid criteria or gimmicks that can provide effective feedback. Effective feedback comes from the dialogue that happens between a teacher and a learner.
For dialogue to be transformative it should be a two way street, be born out of co-agency and trust, so that both the teacher and learner work together to achieve the best possible result. When a teacher really knows their curriculum and invests time in understanding the learners that that teach, only then can feedback be most effective. For every learner it looks different, a word, a phrase, a tone of voice, a gesture or a model just to name a few. When feedback works, it is because it has changed the way someone does or approaches something.
The children I teach recognise this and it struck me today how much power a learning window has when the landscape on which you gaze becomes the focus of the dialogue. I was having a conversation with one of my learners about how they felt about their work over time and I was amazed at the response I got because it was about an honest appraisal of what a learner felt and what a learner could say about their progress over time.
“You see Mr Rhodes, at the start of year 2 this window (an English book) didn’t look great. I felt really frustrated and disappointed with the things I did, but now just look at it. I feel confident and I love looking at what I have achieved”
A learning window, whether it be a book, a section of a lesson, a look at a classroom on a particular day at a particular time, is a snapshot. Time is such a precious commodity as it seems to pass so quickly and it seems like there are not enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done, but is this the case or do we need to rethink what is important and consider where best to spend our time?
Over the years I have started to gaze more at the learning windows that surround me and to take notice of the landscape that unfolds. I have taken time to encourage my learners to do the same and tried to build in them the understanding of why reflecting on where you have been, where you are and where you might go is such an important thing to do. Recently I came across a topic book from 9 years ago that had lay hidden on a shelf gathering dust. Within that book lay frozen in time a snap shot of a year of learning. As I looked through that learning window I glimpsed a curriculum and an approach that no longer exists. It no longer exists because reflection and feedback have transformed what once was for the better.
As educators we need to open up all the learning windows that surround us, taking stock of the landscapes that unfold, whilst discerning where our gaze needs to fall. If we listen to learners and engage in a two way dialogue that aims to change the landscape we see for the better, then surely some of those other windows can be closed, looked upon for perspective, but not seen as imposing views that mask what is important; the hopes and dreams of our children.