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Sue Fenoughty, an environmental education consultant, gave me a very memorable analogy many years ago:
“Many youngsters lead what could be described as an artificial ‘box-like’ existence: going from a box (the home) in a box (the car) to a box (the school), where they are attached to a box (the computer), then back in the box (the car) to the box (the home) where they spend another 2 or 3 hours attached to another box (the computer, Playstation, television).”
I have a dubious theory about all the box metaphors used in eduworld and beyond. If you accept Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory then, it’s not unreasonable to assume all children are gifted. That’s why adults have to place them in boxes (like gifts). Then we can spend hours in schools examining the boxes into which we’ve categorized them and peeling off the wrapping paper. Some children are even wrapped in cotton wool before being put in boxes by their parents. Children are reduced to being ornaments.
We also seem to like and encourage thinking outside the box. I wonder where this leaves children who are stuck inside the various different boxes. I find myself imagining scenarios of having to teach kids ESP and how to have out-of-body experiences to escape and gain first-hand experience of the world beyond their boxes. I hope they are allowed and encouraged to think inside the box in which they live and have been categorised.
Now at this point, I have to flag up one of the significant UK education books of the past decade. It’s called Inside the Black Box by Black and Wiliam. These professors recognised the issue of boxing in education 10 years ago and offer suggestions based on research about how to raise standards through classroom assessment. It is important reading for every teacher.
In a previous post I mentioned using a wrap-n-mat to solve my plastic box problems. I am now proposing a wrap-n-mat solution to edubox thinking. Take the advice of Black and Wiliams and apply it to teaching outside. We need to stop being boxed in and to physically get children and teachers out of the boxes.
This may be a challenge to those who love living in their box. Try not to panic - I’ve come up with a few box therapy solutions to assist with the process:
As I mentioned in my previous post, I wear more than one hat. I am a part time supply teacher in addition to running my own outdoor learning company, Creative STAR. This is a deliberate decision inspired by meeting a Romanian school inspector on a Comenius funded outdoor learning course in Sweden several years ago. She was required by law to spend a minimum of half a day per week teaching. Imagine that!
Now extend this line of thought a little further. Consider the impact of education directors, quality improvement officers and everyone else involved behind the scenes having to take up a weekly front line position at the chalk face - oops! - interactive whiteboard.
To help us think rationally about this scenario, let’s don our de Bono’s Thinking Hats. For those of you who are not familiar with this approach, it is a handy tool for talking through a subject or gaining feedback from children and adults of all ages. There are six hats, each a different colour representing an area for discussion, thereby making fullest use of everyone’s intelligence, experience and information. For example when wearing the black hat, the negative consequences or happenings are considered. The red hat is about feelings and emotions evoked, etc.
I have an enormous yellow hat super glued on my head when it comes to this topic. The yellow colour is for thinking about the benefits or positive results. In Scotland, the non contact time could be covered without the need for additional staff. The education officers and inspectors would have a pay cut, as teachers are mostly paid less than non teaching promoted posts. This will help financial accountability. Everyone in the education sector will have current firsthand experience of the impact on and outcomes for children of policy changes. It’s a win-win situation.
Back to learning outside....I often use de Bono’s Thinking Hats for reflective discussions after outdoor activities. They are memorable and can be carried around in your head rather than on a piece of paper. For more information, read Edward de Bono (2000) Six Thinking Hats. If you want to see how this works with children, contact me for an example.