One of my proudest achievements of recent years is breaking down the silos between secondary and elementary in the Dundas community. It began by chance. I happened to be teaching a student whose mother, Jennifer Warren, taught at Highland. Jen’s daughter would regularly share how learning happens in our classroom which led to conversations between Jen and myself and a discovery that we both have a passion for good teaching. When I formed the Inquiry Working Group as a way for teachers to support each other as we tested ideas, high school teachers were included. When Audrey Hensen and I submitted a proposal to bring Integrative Thinking to our board, one of our priorities was to include high school teachers in the training. Since that time there has been regular sharing of pedagogy and practice between our local high school and Dundas Central. In fact, on the last PA Day, the English department from DVSS came to my classroom to learn about the pedagogies I use to foster deep learning.
Jen and I are now part of a group participating in Rotman IThink’s Practicum where we are deepening our understanding of the tools and processes of Integrative Thinking. We are currently exploring a process called the Pro-Pro Model. It lies at the heart of Integrative Thinking, providing problem-solvers with a way to move out of conflict when faced with either or choices and into solution. Jen’s grade 12 English students have learned part of the process and my grade 6 students have experienced the full process one time. Today we brought them together for a one hour Integrative Thinking challenge.
The problem they are solving has been created by Rotman IThink. Grade 12 and 6s were placed into small groups to work their way through it. My students were very nervous about working with older teenagers. They had many preconceived ideas – including that the 12s were much smarter than they were, that they wouldn’t be listened to or that their ideas would be dismissed and that they would not be treated seriously.
I am happy to report that none of that happened. After some initial awkwardness, the groups set to work and it wasn’t long before a problem-solving discourse emerged. My students were pleasantly surprised to find they had more experience with the Pro-Pro Model and could teach their grade 12 partners about how to consider stakeholders when finding value in competing models. The 6s loved that the 12s had a more advanced vocabulary and could frame ideas in interesting ways. They also found them funny, engaging and to be regular people with ideas not that different from their own. They appreciated that the 12s treated them with respect and were very proud that after the initial awkwardness, they were able to express opinions and ideas to older students. This was empowering. My students had to work with a new level of maturity. Grade 12 Advanced English students take their work seriously and were not there to mess about. They were task oriented and fantastic role models for my 6s!
After the 12s left we debriefed – with some hilarity. A few groups said they had no idea how to begin conversation with people they were completely unfamiliar with yet had to work with. One grouped laughed that they sat silently for several minutes until finally someone stepped forward and began a conversation. Another group laughed that their grade 12 partners introduced themselves and then waited. The 6s sat silently. Finally one of the 12s prompted them, “and what are your names?” The 6s realized that there was a set of social skills lacking. Others mentioned how comfortable the 12s made them feel.
One of the things my 6s noticed was that some of the 12s need to learn strategies so that they don’t shut down each other’s ideas. At certain points conversations became circular, centering on how an idea wouldn’t work. I was thrilled that my 6s recognized the dynamic, could name it and knew what solution was needed: “They don’t know how to ‘Yes … and”. This is something we can teach them when they return – which we are hoping will happen next week. Groups only made it half-way through the challenge and the 12s have offered to come back to finish the task.
I want to let the DVSS students know that the one hour they spent with my students today had impact. The 6s have a new level of confidence – something that only an experience that requires everyone to step out of comfort zones can provide.
Given the success of this spur-of-the-moment idea, Jen and I are already planning for next year. We’ve realized that high school and elementary students have much to learn from each other and are now wondering how we might leverage this insight to make learning and social interactions better.