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Application of World Cafe for Immediate Benefit

I looked for themes as I reviewed the responses to the question posed for the first World Cafe Event. The themes fell into several categories and I chose to look at these first responses through a lens that asked, “What does this mean to students right now? What could I change in my co-learning practice?” Although this is data towards my dissertation, it still applies to the more immediate moments of this practice.

The focus for the event was to think back to a time that participants felt was a high point in their learning, a time they felt most alive, effective, and engaged in the learning they had undertaken. They were asked to describe how they felt and what made the situation possible.

Some of the responses were replicated and some were phrased differently, but carried similar messages so I brought them together as I found links between concepts. For example, encouraging curiosity fits with directing one’s learning. The following serves as a brief summary to immediately begin a reflective process. What can I do to enhance my current practice?

Students can be encouraged to ask thoughtful questions and I can model this practice. Nurturing learner curiosity allows a process of inquiry to underpin learning and can create connections between people and subjects. Meaning is created when we ask “What makes this subject important? What relationship does it have to me?” Thoughtful questions fuel learning, motivating and directing the learner, unlike going through the perhaps mindless motions of learning what others prescribe. It is not my learning, but the learning of each of us that is paramount.

Several points stood out in the summary that fit with my reflecting on and carrying out my practice in the immediate future. Learners need to have their basic needs met before they can move onto the next level. What does this look like with my students? What do I observe? What works for them – for each student? What connects me to them and each of us to our learning?

Active listening provides a window into where students are in their individual learning. Students progress at different paces and learn in different ways; the questions they ask might provide insight into what they need next in their learning. Certainly they need to step outside their comfort zone and the key may be to identify comfortable. This might be seen as the “Goldilocks paradigm” of learning; not too hard, not too easy, just right. This seems to run contrary to the current model of schooling where we lump students into grade levels based on age rather than present ability or even interests. The ideal adult learning situation is when we see value in what we are doing. What can we do to apply this kind of thinking throughout education?

About ivonprefontaine

I have been an educator for almost 20 years. Prior to that, I worked in private industry for 15 years, then returned to university to earn my education degree. For the past 11 years, I have been a co-creator of learning in a unique, progressive, alternative educational school of choice. Currently, I am engaged in a doctoral program at Gonzaga University in Spokane. A main theme in my learning there has been the roles of systems thinking, complexity theory, and organizational theory, and how they apply to education generally and the learning environment I share with students, parents, and colleagues.

2 responses »

  1. kathleen gerwing

    Hi Mr Prefontaine

    You comments about learning at your own level instead of lumping students together in their age group is exactly what I am reading the Book called Learning For All byLawrence W Lezotte. He maps out how this can be done . I feel it is already being done at Stony Creek a bit. The students still go on to the next grade but parents and teachers can catch them up.
    When you talk about Community . I do feel there is a need for a teacher, but not on a daily bases. I feel most parents can help their students at home if they get rid of their own sometimes needless distractions.Parents would be surprized how much more they are getting done and learning at home then at school.
    I don’t know how they think putting thrity some kids in a classroom with one Teacher and maybe a Aid for five days is going to get the learning through to everyone.Most kids in school do not live up to their potential. Parents have to get more involved in what their kids are learning and doing. to pass their grades. to help the teachers . I feel most kids can learn the material giving if you take some of the load off the teacher and hand it over to the parent. Home work should go home to the parent to teach not the student.

    Reply
    • Thank you for responding, Kathleen. There is a lot here. I am familiar with Lezotte’s writing and thinking. I really like the way he maps things out in levels. There is no need to go from 0 to 60 mph immediately. There is literature about the need to recognize adults move through developmental transitions as they learn. Incrementally we add to our learning. We gain confidence, feel less threatened, and grow in confidence.

      When we put children, or adults for that matter, into environments where the teacher cannot learn who they are teaching, we are doomed to failure in learning. Parker Palmer said the most important question to ask is, “Who is the teacher?” That same question should be asked of every member of a learning community; both by them and by others. We build community through this process and within community we learn how to effectively support each other in learning. Another part of that question is, “Is the teacher always the teacher?” Each family, including the children, offers me so much to help me learn about the students and the family as a whole. I choose to see myself as a co-learner as the process of learning is a shared communal enterprise with parents, children, and extended family members.

      The parental involvement is the single greatest determinant of a child’s potential success in school. This has been researched and written about in various quarters, but many educators are reluctant to embrace that in their practice. Without question, the Stony Creek model takes involvement to a whole new level. Stony Creek parents are fully engaged in your children’s learning. I have not checked the numbers in an official study, but our high school completion rate is pretty remarkable. It is probably around 90% which is at least 15% above the norm in our province. I think many of our practices are usable in mainstream education and need to be better understood, but we would have to move forward cautiously. What works well for us likely needs to be thought out differently for other schools, but that takes us back to a key point you made: each child is unique; therefore it is reasonable to hypothesize that each community is unique. What does that mean for personalizing and democratizing public education?

      Reply

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