Thursday, September 10, 2015

Outdoor Learning v. Learning Outdoors

At the turn of this new school year I made a promise to my class and, in so doing, a challenge to myself: To spend at least one session a week outside.  The grand intention behind this seemingly simple pledge was to fill the hollow words of good intentions with some substance.
As a self-professed 'outdoorsy' type I realised that, in spite of so much bluster, the number of outdoor learning sessions I had planned and delivered was woefully small.  By endeavouring - and making public - my outdoor intentions it meant that I felt compelled to consider ways and means of stepping out of the classroom.
In order to better engage the children in the process I also mentioned to them that I'd be asking them which sessions they thought could be delivered outside.  This required that I be much more organised than has previously been the case.  Presenting the children with the Significant Aspects being delivered the following week and asking them which ones they thought could be delivered outside and then seeing which day was the most appropriate has meant that I have needed to be flexible in my planning and in my delivery, aware of when I have support and ready for anything from a weather perspective.
Children and their parents / carers have been advised that we would be going outside each week and, therefore, to come to school prepared.  In these balmy September days when the weather is still clement, outdoor learning can and often is fairly spontaneous, but as the nights draw in and the temperature starts dropping, that spontaneity evaporates.  By being organised and checking weather forecasts the hope is that there will never be a week when we cannot go outside.  I even made the most of the free waterproof ponchos on a recent open top bus tour in order to ensure that rain didn't get in the way.
So far ... so dry!
As mentioned in a previous post, I feel there is a link between the great outdoors and the SAMR model although I feel that we are, at best, prone to convincing ourselves that outdoor learning is happening when we are simply learning outdoors.  To my mind, there is a step change required in our approaches if the outdoors is to enhance the learning and not simply act as a surrogate or substitute classroom.  Yes the children love being outside and so any lesson is going to be more memorable as a result, but I do think that there's much more to it and much more that needs to be considered if such lessons are not to be contrived.
Has my teaching changed as a result of my outdoor yearnings?  Only marginally.  Why?  For the simple reason that simple substituting of "in-" for "out-" is just that, simple.  Transformation of the teaching side requires a re-imagining of the structure of the curriculum; a re-imagining in which the outdoors takes the lead.
Has learning changed as a result of my outdoor yearnings? More so.  Why?  In part I think this is due to the removal of the pressure to learn.
The classroom itself is, for some children, a highly stressful environment in which learning is expected of them and failure a grave concern.  In the medium of the outdoors, the lack of walls, desks, chairs - the lack of confinement in general - gives them headspace and takes away the usually implicit expectation that they will learn or, if not then they have failed.
Children who fear failure in the structured environment of things as simple as multilink cubes, lose their inhibitions and trepidation when said cubes are substituted for leaves or sticks or a combination of both.  They are able to apply a looser definition of what is right or wrong and, as a result, exhibit less consternation for the learning.
It's early days but watch this space!

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