Making it Personal (Part 2)

In my last post I spoke about the value of Third Space at the Identify stage: allowing the personal interests and passions of the student to find synchronicity with the curriculum. Allowing students the opportunity to select an area of personal interest, and to allow them the choice of presentation mode goes a long way to ensuring engagement, a quality product and a wonderful sense of achievement and improved self-esteem for the student.

So can “Third Space” be applied to the Open phase? At this beginning phase, surely the “Hook” to engage all students with an item of personal interest would be impossible to find. And isn’t that the aim of Immerse and Explore: to allow students time and space to find their area for study? So, is “Third Space” relevant during Open?

To me, finding the “Third Space” during Open is all about asking students to become personally involved with the topic. They are not asked to find a specific area of interest yet, but engaging activities in this phase still employ the same principle: of connecting the student to the topic, and making it “relatable”. I have tried to employ this principle when working with a Year 5 (10 years old) class who were studying the Gold Rush in Australia in the mid 1850s. The objective of the unit was to consider the effects of the Gold Rushes upon the people involved: the miners, their families, those who plied a trade on the fields, the government etc. This clearly required a level of personal empathy; as this was somewhat out of their immediate experience (!), I tried to think of how to engage them with their heart, and not their head. So I devised an activity where they would adopt the role of a miner. We provided groups with a map, and a box of goods. Some boxes contained useful items, others not so; some contained a miner’s licence, others not. We spray painted some rocks gold, and “buried” them in an area of the school (in long jump pits, inside tyres, behind posts etc. They were then given 20 minutes to try their luck! I posed as the Licence Inspector; those without licences were sent to gaol! Some found little, others a lot; some stole in order to get rich! (just like the real thing!) The students were amazingly engaged, and most of all, during our de-brief, they demonstrated that they had a very good understanding of some of the difficulties the miners encountered, and the feelings that they might have experienced. They were now ready to learn!

open-gold-rush open-gold-rush-2


Making it Personal …

When sitting down to consider what I would write for my blog posts this week, I realised that the topics I had chosen, all had one thing in common: an emphasis on “making it personal”. So for my first post, I’d like to reflect upon the importance of Third Space.

I believe that the concept of Third Space is so critical to the GI approach. How often do teachers hand out “generic” / whole class assignment tasks?  How often is it a task that will elicit only a small range of “correct” responses?  How often have the learner’s needs been factored into the construction of that task and valued more highly than the need to address curriculum content and requirements? I cringe when I think back on some of the tasks which I have set in the past: uninspiring, unoriginal and definitely working at the lower end of Mr Bloom’s taxonomy! Recognition of Third Space within a Guided Inquiry approach offers students something very appealing: the chance to find the intersection between what needs to be taught and their personal interests. For many, this opportunity is also a challenge. Particularly for those in the Middle and Senior years, so used to being given a mandated task with limited choice, students may sometimes baulk at this opportunity for choice. Sometimes ill-prepared for individual and innovative thinking, the chance to find their own avenue of interest may be difficult. To me, this is Guided Inquiry’s most necessary and crucial Zone of Intervention: helping the student to find that intersecting space.

Third Space In Action!

For the past three years, the Head of Inquiry Learning at St Paul’s (Des Hylton) and I have had the pleasure of collaborating with the Health and Physical Education Department on a Guided Inquiry unit for Year 10 students. This unit was developed initially after one of the Year 10 PE teachers had attended a Professional Development course which Des and I conducted at our school. The teacher had seen the value  of a GI approach and could see clearly how it could be applied to a unit which they were about to teach. After many conversations, plenty of tweaking, lots of learning, plenty of “to-ing” and fro-ing”, and a healthy amount of trepidation, we were ready to give it a shot!

Entitled “Safe Choices”, the unit asks students to consider an Overarching Question: “In a world full of opportunities, how can we encourage adolescents to make safe choices?” Their responses were to be uploaded to youtube, hoping that an authentic audience would assist them to produce a work of which they would be proud, and one which could help adolescents and others, to make safer choices. Students were led through interesting Open, Immerse and Explore phases, and then invited to find that Third Space….. where did their personal interest lie? It was here that the team approach, so important to the success of a GI unit, was really helpful. With four teachers working with the group, talking to students, posing questions, probing and challenging, we eventually (for some this took quite a few lessons!) found that third space for each student. Some found it difficult to become the “asker” rather than the “answerer”; others found it difficult to find enthusiasm and focus; yet in some we saw  a spark that was truly wonderful.

For one girl, in particular, this task offered her a chance to produce a work that was most definitely situated in the Third Space. Fuelled by personal interest and a strong desire for societal change, she chose to investigate the choices made by victims of domestic abuse. The choice of  presentation mode also allowed her to work in her Third Space: her artistic ability was able to be employed as a tool to add effectiveness to her presentation. I believe her video is a wonderful testament to what can be achieved when students find that Third Space.

Judy Bolton