Communities of Learning

To follow on from my last blog I had some great feedback and discussions. The most useful was from my friend Emma who (quite rightly) questioned the fact that I am asking people to reflect “on demand”. Reflecting on our actions and emotions is a complex process and when you ask children and young people to cease the activities they are enjoying and come over and do something you want them to do, it is unsurprising that the outcome may not offer any deep insights. Recently I have been trying (quite unsuccessfully at times) to facilitate reflection with the group I am discussing below. The main problem being that they are always having such fun and reflection signals an end to that fun! I have found two strategies that are working to some degree. Having informal discussions with people while they are engaged in an activity such as sawing or swinging in a hammock, seems to work well. As does asking school staff to facilitate reflection with the group back in the classroom setting where the alternative is school work which is not as appealing as climbing a tree or playing a game with friends.

Communities of Learning

Recently I have been running a forest school programme for a group of KS4 young people with emotional issues including severe anxiety. The group come once a week for a session at the garden. Within the group there are many different needs, issues and types of behaviour. Some of the group are extremely lacking in confidence, and need a lot of support to even give something a go (like lighting a fire or using a tool). Others can at times be aggressive and violent towards peers and staff.  Overall most members of the group seem to enjoy coming into the woods, and are generally actively engaged in their own activities, challenges I set them, or games we play together. A few will only really engage if given one to one support.

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Within this group there are 3 young men who seem to enjoy coming to the sessions and seem to really enjoy each other’s company. They will always choose to work together and seem to be constantly giggling and joking with each other. However, they also do this when I am talking – at the beginning of the session letting people know what the options are, or during a break for food and drink, or at the end when I am trying to hear from the young people what they have been up to, what they enjoyed, and what they are planning on doing next week.  If the hammocks are available, they will always choose them, and will put them up and swing each other a bit too vigorously for our 20-year-old trees. If hammocks are not available they will often entertain themselves with an activity that challenges me, and challenges our forest school agreement (look after yourself, each other and nature) even more; like hitting apples with a big stick onto a footpath nearby, or hanging a piece of wood off a tree and taking turns to whack it.

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The last activity doesn’t actually challenge the forest school agreement, but is indicative of what for me is the nub of the problem. I don’t feel like these young people are benefitting enough from the sessions. They are not really challenging themselves, or learning new skills, that I would hope would help them develop their confidence and self-esteem.

I took this problem to the Forest School Tyne and Wear network group, where we were testing out a procedure developed by Newcastle University to facilitate reflective practice and communities of learning. We agreed ground rules, I presented my problem, and then the rest of the group asked questions and made suggestions for ways forward. As part of the process I promised to write up the suggestions and report back to the group… which is coming up in the next blog. In the  mean time I’d value your thoughts…..

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