Monday, May 24, 2010

Creating a new learning program involves a number of distinct challenges

This applies to the creation of a school, a skills training program, an adult evening class, a children’s playgroup, a sports program, etc. Formal learning programs do not just grow naturally, they require constant planning, attention and maintenance in order to develop and sustain the curriculum, teaching practices, leadership practices, organisational structures, social and welfare support systems, human resources, infrastructure, communication processes, etc.

As the Glebe Pathways Program is a community-based learning program, the development and maintenance of different parts of the program is a collaborative undertaking that is shared among the partners. For example, Sydney Secondary College and the Glebe Youth Service have accepted responsibility for the day-to-day running of the program. The University of Sydney is supporting the professional development of teachers and the implementation of the curriculum. The City of Sydney is coordinating communication among the partners. Community volunteers have taken up a range of responsibilities including guiding governance, mentoring teachers and students, and supporting the breakfast program.

Developing and sustaining the different parts of the program requires innovation and creativity in order to design new practices and processes tailored to the specific needs of the students within the context of Glebe while making use of the available resources.

The type of innovation and creativity that is required in a learning environment is largely shaped by the type of curriculum that is being implemented. Personalised learning requires different pedagogical and leadership practices to problem-based learning, or skills-based learning. It is sometimes possible to adopt designs that have been shown to work elsewhere but the unique setting and context of the Glebe program call for more purpose-built designs. Figuring out how to develop and sustain the parts of the program requires a number of problems to be worked on simultaneously. This requires coordination and communication.

One way to approach this complex challenge is for each person involved in the program to identify and work on a specific issue related to their practice, in other words what they contribute to the program. It is possible to liken this task to an individual learning project similar to those that are central to the Big Picture curriculum. This highlights that solving a practice problem usually requires learning something new. It also provides a means by which we can experience the type of learning we are providing for students under the same conditions.

At the last curriculum design meeting for Term 1 2010, teachers took on the task of developing individual learning projects that will allow each of them to investigate a pedagogical issue of relevance to their practice. Since they work together in the classroom, these individual projects have the potential to support their collective practice, particularly when the problems, investigations and solutions are jointly negotiated and communicated.

Examples of projects might include: feeling more connected and part of a team; developing shared strategies for supporting students’ interests; creating learning activities related to students’ learning plans. These projects have an individual and a collective dimension. Each step of an individual project has the potential to contribute to collective practice: developing a project requires identifying parts of the program than can be improved; investigating solutions requires exploration of possibilities for change; communicating what we learn about our individual practice has the potential to contribute to the quality of the learning programs we offer.

From Term 2 2010, I’d like to propose that everyone involved in the Glebe Pathways Project undertakes an individual learning project. What will your project be?

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