They Knew Much More Than We Realised

Teachers involved in the Learning by Design project discuss the power of the knowledge process, ‘experiencing the known’.

‘At the beginning we had some assumptions about what we would do and these were reflected in our plan. We planned for the kids to do some initial research into recycling, the usual stuff, books, television, magazines and the internet. Basically we wanted them to read and review stuff about recycling and then we would build on that,’ said Sally, a grade 3-4 teacher.

‘But they knew much more than we realised,’ offered Adam her teaching partner.

‘We discovered this because we started with some exercises to find out about their prior knowledge,’ said Sally. ‘We began with a bit of a brainstorming session to get ideas flowing then we had them working in groups of four to make mind-maps—we asked them to map the what and why of recycling.’

‘And we were just blown away by what they knew—it was amazing!’ added Adam. ‘Just amazing.’

‘They were sharing ideas from their own experience, what they did at home or what their grandma did, what they had learned from the television … really sophisticated stuff. They already knew why recycling was important, they said things like “less waste, less landfill, less pollution” and they knew that this would be better for the environment. Then we had them working in pairs going from class-to-class conducting surveys. One girl told the class about her experiences at another school where they already had a recycling program. And because everyone’s experiences were a little different we didn’t need these other resources. The kids learned from each other, they developed their own knowledge amongst themselves,’ said Sally.

‘And they were using their own language to pass on these ideas and to share concepts.’ Adam noted. ‘It was student directed … they came up with their own knowledge, they taught each other. We didn’t really add anything.’

‘So, what would have happened if you had started somewhere else? If you had begun with the initial research as you had planned rather than the brainstorming and mind-mapping exercises?’ Asked one of the researchers.

After a pause Sally responded. ‘Maybe a whole lot of bored kids going through the motions. And you know, I don’t think they would have learned nearly as much as they did from each other.’

Burrows, Peter, Bill Cope, Mary Kalantzis, Les Morgan, Kieju Suominen and Nicola Yelland. 2006. ‘Data from the Australian Research Council Learning By Design Project. Unpublished Manuscript.