Freinet and Collaborative Learning Processes: DAY 15

Freinet and Collaborative Learning Processes: DAY 15

In this post we’re continuing to have a look at Célestein Freinet’s pedagogy and educational principles. We will in particular be having a look at the more practical dimension of Freinet’s philosophy; the ways he believed that a child was best taught.

As mentioned in the previous post, Freinet believed that children were best educated in a space of ‘work’ and he was amongst other points inspired by his life with the peasants in the French alpes. And since most work is done in some form of collaborative process, so did Freinet believe that children were best taught together in group work and in production processes.

A concrete example of this that I can share from my own time at a Freinet school is that from the first to the sixth grade we weren’t taught in age divided classes. Instead I belonged to a group of thirty students that shared a space with two class rooms and a group room. The group was then divided into two smaller groups and as such my ‘class’ was a group of approximately fifteen students all ranging from the ages of six to twelve.

In grade seven all the students of the same age from the various smaller groups were then gathered into a ‘regular’ age divided class for the remainder of the basic level education lasting nine years in total.

Since my group or class wasn’t divided by age, we obviously couldn’t receive lessons in the exact same material. Therefore our days were spent; often in our group room each student working on a particular project or with a particular book. In the school there was a principle that the older students were responsible for assisting the younger, so often it wouldn’t be the teacher that would assist but an older student. Once a week we had a group meeting with the entire group of thirty students where we would discuss the passing week and any incidents that might have come up. All students were allowed to contribute with points to the agenda and a student would be responsible for directing the meeting with the assistance of a teacher. On each meeting we would have a ‘pro’s and cons’ type of segment. Here the students could bring up any cool points for example of students having assisted each other in a cool way or reversely bring up for example topics of bullying.

As such I once in the second grade, with a little shaking hand in the air declared that I would like the two girls from the sixth grade that had been teasing me to stop teasing me because I didn’t liked being teased. They stopped.

From the first to the third grade we were responsible for – entirely according to Freinet’s pedagogy – creating our own schedule. As such on Mondays I was handed a week schedule with blank time slots. It was up to me to fill them up and though I weren’t allowed to write ‘play’ or ‘sleep’ I was allowed to for example draw or spend an entire week working on learning how to read and write.

We also had many projects and as I was reviewing Freinet’s pedagogy for this blog series, a particular project came to mind: we had a week’s project about the history of mankind specifically focusing on for example the Stone Age. In this particular part of the project we were working with the Bronze Age. And so instead of reading a lot of books and looking at pictures, we would build replicas of the houses that the people lived in in the Bronze Age out of clay and wood. We would make clay cows and straw roofs as we learned about how these people lived. As we did, we talked about how it must have been to live back then, what they might have experienced, how their families were.

As such, through a collaborative process we learned about the Bronze Age in a direct ‘hands on’ way that was a lot of fun. I don’t at all remember it as boring or tedious or hard. It was simply fascinating and fun. And it was as though we, through the modeling process were close to the people of the Bronze Age. Many projects were done in the same and similar ways. And I can only say that I was never bored.

Now – let’s have a look at first the benefits and subsequently the downsides of such processes and ways of learning.

The collaborative processes between students have many benefits. There’s absolutely no reason that older students shouldn’t be able to assist the younger. Often such set-ups have really cool results because children naturally look up to older children – more so than they do adults. Furthermore, such a set-up can assist in initiating compassion because it is directly stated as part of the school’s core-principles and as such it becomes part of how the students interact with each other. To know that you have a responsibility for assisting younger children, gives you a different perspective on these children but also on yourself. I am quite sure that there was a lot less bullying in our school than in most, though it did obviously occur.

To learn in a way that is natural, where students collaborate on projects is quite a cool process and in many ways I didn’t even realize that I was partaking in a learning process. Such lessons can also be a great preparation for work life where one will often have to be able to collaborate in teams.

If I were to mention some downsides to what I’ve here presented in context to Freinet’s pedagogy – a particular point that comes to mind is the fact that we had to create our own schedules. Because a concrete consequence of that was for me that I never actually learned math. I didn’t particularly like math and so I would just skip it can every day I’d rather work on writing and reading which the teachers more or less allowed. In grade seven where our lessons became more ‘regular’ to prepare us for graduation in the ninth grade, I was therefore still at a third class math level and I wasn’t able to catch up.

One of the particular reasons why I disliked math was because my mom disliked math and she pretty much said straight out that it was a genetic problem – lol – so I simply believed that I had some kind of deficiency and besides, I simply liked other subjects better. The problem with giving children absolute freedom over their own education is that they might not know or understand what is best for them in all cases. This is also due to the fact that the school is a particular environment that perhaps doesn’t counter for the home environment. As such my decision to not do math weren’t exactly a ‘sound’ one and can be argued to have been made based on a dysfunction in my family. As such, in an optimal education environment were such principles of freedom were to be applied, the teachers would have to know about the child’s background and family situation to be able to actually assist the child in making sound decisions. There’s an odd logic to concluding that it is more important that a child has freedom than it being provided the support to learn math.

All in all, I find a lot of Freinet’s practical teaching principles to be cool and effective. One of the reasons for why they work so well – meaning in a way were it is a joy to learn and be taught, is that the starting-point is a focus on and a consideration of what the optimal way to learn is. In the current education system, there seems to be a focus on instead seeing children as part of a production line being shaped and molded into ‘competitive’ human resources.

Something else that is odd is that school in the current system is separated from the rest of life. School is like an artificially set-up environment where the rules are different from anywhere else, from family and from work-life. It makes sense thus that Freinet wanted school to be an integrated part of the community with similar processes as those existing in the work environment. There certainly aren’t any common sensical reasons why school should be its own world, separated from the rest of life. There are so many ways we could create schools and education environments that would actually be fun and enjoyable, not only for the children, but for the teachers too. So why it is that school is often boring and tedious and leaves so many behind? Because the focus is not on honoring children as life in equality. The focus is not on assisting children to become the best possible human beings they can be. The focus is not providing children with the type of education environment that we ourselves would have wanted. In the end, everything is about money – about optimizing the production process and lowering the costs. So many children don’t even get an education. Others get educations that are useless.

Again – I can only stress the importance of an Equal Money System. We need a political and economic system that prioritizes the lives of children and as such, the lives of all of us. If you agree – go place your vote here.

Pedagogy of work – Célestin Freinet’s Educational Paradigm: DAY 14

Pedagogy of work – Célestin Freinet’s Educational Paradigm: DAY 14

In this post we’re continuing to have a look at educational philosophies and principles as presented by theorists, teachers and pedagogues throughout the years. We’re continuing from where we left of with the Reggio Emilia approach and in this post we will discuss the educational principles set forth by the French pedagogue and educational reformer Célestein Freinet.

I have a particular personal view on the theories presented by Freinet because I spend the first eight years in school at a Freinet based school. As such I can also here provide a more personal account of the benefits and downsides to a Freinet-based school system while also investigating the principles from a professional point of view as me being a pedagogue, teacher myself as well as my background in educational sociology at an academic level.

As with Reggio Emilia, Freinet took his philosophic point of departure in his own experiences in his community. He grew up in the mountains of rural France in the late 1800’s and experienced a school system that was rigid at best. He also spent a lot of time among sheepherders in the mountains and was inspired by their communities when formulating his ideas about education. He educated himself to become a teacher and later went on to creating his own school, eventually having national as well as international influence.

Freinet believed that children only play because they can’t work or that play is always a reflection of the real world and as such the ideal learning environment is one where children are co-creators and producers and get to work alongside teachers and adults.

He believed that it was vital for children to learn in and about the real world. The Wikipedia article on Freinet sums up his pedagogical principles as follows:

Pedagogy of work (pédagogie du travail): pupils were encouraged to learn by making products or providing services.
Enquiry-based learning (tâtonnement expérimental): group-based trial and error work.
Cooperative learning (travail coopératif): pupils were to co-operate in the production process.
• Centres of interest (complexe d’intérêt): the children’s interests and natural curiosity are starting points for a learning process
• The natural method (méthode naturelle): authentic learning by using real experiences of children.
• Democracy: children learn to take responsibility for their own work and for the whole community by using democratic self government.

Freinet also made use of distinct methods and techniques that can be summed up in the following list:

Freinet techniques:
• learning printing technique,
free writing (texte libre),
• class journal (livre de vie),
school newspaper (journal scolaire,
• school correspondence (correspondence scolaire),
• the public educators’ co-operative (cooperative de l_enseignement Laic, C.E.L.) = Freinet Pedagogy or the Freinet Movement,
• working library (bibliotheque de classe),
• field investigations (sortie-enquete), work schedule (plan de travail),
• self-correcting files (fichier autocorrectif),
• classroom assembly (reunion cooperative, conseil)

I will in the following posts go through these educational principles, primarily reviewed from my own personal observations having attended a Freinet school for eight consecutive years and will accordingly also provide my professional assement of the benefits and downsides to Freinet’s philosophy. I will also have a look at the working methods or techniques introduced by Freinet.

Let’s start by having a look at the first and primary principle of Freinet’s educational paradigm:

Pedagogy of work (pédagogie du travail)

So when I went to school, we had to learn how to print our own books using various techniques. It was before the time computers had gotten into every classroom though we did get our first computer in our class when I was in the second grade. So we would print books with our little child hands using oldschool materials such as stamps. I remember that I thoroughly enjoyed this, but I don’t remember learning anything significant from it.

Another way that the notion of ‘work’ was present in the school – and something that had a more significant influence on me – was the fact that we the students were responsible for cleaning the school. See, the school is located on an old lamp factory and since it is partially a private school (a free school) it didn’t have extensive amounts of funds. So I remember it as always being a little bit dirty, a bathroom door broken here and there, and the windows being old and rusty in their industrial quaintness.

So each student had a rotating area of responsibility, to every day clean an area of the school. So I would for example be responsible for booming the classroom floor or wiping down the lamps in the hall. What I remember from this time is mostly how I was unsatisfied that I had to clean. But I did it and so did the other children. And it gave us a sense of ownership over the school. It was our school – I mean we cleaned it every day. As such kids would also advise each other and I don’t remember that things at school got broken or vandalized often, though it did happen.

If we have a look at the benefits of introducing children to the principle of ‘work’ in relation to their own education, I’d say that it is this point of ‘ownership’ that is the most relevant to consider, though not so much in context to ‘owning’ something, but more in context to being a co-creator and active participant in one’s school. We also had a very active student counsel and several decisions about the school were made in collaboration between teachers and students. When we got into the older grades, from seventh grade an onward, we would for example decide together where to go on school excursions. And every week the entire school had a meeting in the gym speaking about relevant topics, new teachers or upcoming events.

The sense I got from all of this as a child, without having anything to compare with – was that “we’re in this together.” When I see children at big public schools these days it is a totally different relationship between children, teachers and the school itself.

We could also for example walk into the teacher’s office without hesitation unless something else was stipulated and I even participated in the hiring process of a new teacher, reading applications and interviewing prospects.

Freinet said that children play because they aren’t allowed to work. He said that the optimal learning environment is one were children can observe and participate in the work of the adults. This makes a lot of sense, but obviously we’re not here speaking about us then going back to the dark ages or suggesting that we should then completely remove any form of formal education. What Freinet suggested can interpreted into a greater symbiosis between school and real life.

It can be argued that this is exactly what is required in current education, because at the moment school and real life has been completely separated and school is all about what is going on in our heads. Many students – especially boys – don’t fit the rigidity imposed by the school system and it has long been known that children – and people in general – learn best when several senses are stimulated at once, when they can try things with their own hands.

In the current education systems around the world children learn to invert and suppress themselves. They learn that real life goes on inside their heads and that only in their heads can they be free to be themselves. They learn that they have to suppress their bodies and that the real world doesn’t really matter as much as their ability to ‘visualize’, ‘imagine’ and ‘think abstract’. And the result? An entire world disconnected from actual life on earth, mesmerized by flashing images and glittery glossy photos.

We can learn from Freinet to establish a connection between school and real life. Though it is really basic common sense.

In the next post we’ll continue with examining Freinet’s educational principles.

Reggio Emilia and Democratic Education: DAY 13

Reggio Emilia and Democratic Education: DAY 13

In this post we’re continuing to look at the Reggio Emilia school system and philosophy, looking closer at each cardinal principle and what possible benefits and downsides there are in context to the system contributing to a world that is best for all.

For context, please read the previous blogs in this series:
Reggio Emilia: The Space of Education – The environment as the 3. Teacher: DAY 12

One of the cardinal principles in the Reggio Emilia approach is the principle of equality between adults and children, where the child is seen as co-constitutive for his or her education and where the teacher is seen as also taking part in the learning process.

As I explained in the previous blog-posts, the Reggio Emilia approach was created after World War 2 as a response to a society in ruins, socially as well as economically. Therefore the approach was meant to not only educate children but also to educate adults in general and the entire community as a whole. Furthermore, the approach had its roots in the idea that education was key to changing the future and as such the approach was established with the intent of showing children how to become independent democratic citizens – through living in a democratic system together with teachers, other children and the general community.

In recent years, in many schools across the western hemisphere democracy has become a part of the educational curriculum, so this is not something only the Reggio Emilia approach has on its agenda. Kids are to learn how to corporate effectively and ‘corporative learning’ is the new buzzword across many different school systems.

But does it work? Do children become democratic citizens based on what they learn in school? Yes and no.

First of all, in my meeting with the children at a Reggio Emilia school, I have found that these children were eloquent and had self-confidence and weren’t afraid of expressing themselves, also to adults. In several instances I’ve seen children and adults speaking with what I can only describe as mutual respect and consideration. This is very different from the interaction I’ve seen between children and adults in public schools, where the relationship is more distant and traditionally authoritarian. One of the reasons for this is most likely also that the Reggio Emilia schools are smaller than public schools, with a small faculty and student body. But still – the difference is striking. And one can only wonder who those people become that are raised and educated in either system.

So from what I have seen, presenting children to a directly democratic system by providing them rights as equals in the space of the school – is effective, none the least because of what such a school system is NOT.

However these children still has to grow up and enter a system where, let’s face it, democracy is a farce. They have to grow up and exist in a system where they even as adults have little voice or ability to make a difference.

The thing is that we can’t change the system in its entirety by simply changing the curriculum and live with children in a form of instrumental equality only to send them out into a world that is based on inequality. WE have to change first – the adults have to change first. And then the change has to be simultaneous, meaning that we both change ourselves, the education system AND the larger world-systems.

It is not enough to simply teach children to be democratic or to change the education system. Just like it is not enough to for example remove money from the equation and then imagine that people magically change. The changes required have to be total, complete and global. As much as each of us requires changing for the world to change, we also require changing the whole.

Therefore, as in the previous post, the Reggio Emilia approach to equality between teachers and students as well as to the democratic process, would be cool in an actual system of equality. In an Equal Money System we can utilize principles as taught by for example Reggio Emilia and actually make a real difference. Because when the children grow up, a society will be ready to embrace them within the same principles as they’ve been taught in school.

A flower needs sunshine to grow. But it also needs water and fertile soil to live and become its full potential. A child is no different. And that is how we ought to see education – as a collaborative process between all of us on earth, in the best interest of all.

Reggio Emilia: The Space of Education – The environment as the 3. Teacher: DAY 13

Reggio Emilia: The Space of Education – The environment as the 3. Teacher: DAY 13

 As mentioned in the previous post, we’re starting to look more closely into the various educational approaches that exist in the world. As such I will present an overview of a particular approach and discuss its advantages and disadvantages in terms of it being applicable for creating an education system that facilitates change towards a world that is best for all.

In this post we are going to look further into the Reggio Emilia approach.

The Reggio Emilia approach was created after World War 2 in a rural community in Northern Italy after the area was completely destroyed. The people faced grim poverty and high unemployment and a group of activists decided to restructure the school system with the specific purpose of restructuring the community itself.

This background of the Reggio Emilia approach is important – because it shows how we as humans seem to only be willing or able to move and restructure our societies when we’re at brink of despair and destruction. Only when we have nothing to lose, do we seem to be able to look at new ways of living together.

So the Reggio Emilia approach was born out of despair. And a particular aspect of the background for the approach has to be seen in the wake of World War 2 in Europe and fascism in Italy in particular. Because something that the approach specifically focused on was the right and might of children to have a voice of their own. There was a longing to provide children with the kind of lives that the adults themselves would have wanted to grow in. This in itself is significant – because it might give some clue to why the Reggio Emilia approach has become so popular in our current western societies in Europe and in the U.S.
Because in some ways the approach is based on the principle of doing onto another as you would want done onto you – the principle taught to us by Jesus – a principle that is often preached and seldom lived, but here it is put into practice.

The activists looked at how to restart society in a wholesome and peaceful way, where children wouldn’t be encouraged to grow up and become fascists or nazists and nor the victims of such, but to co-exist in a way that was best for all in the community.

School was seen as a symbol for change and a primary function the new Reggio Emilia schools were to serve was to not only educate the children but also the parents and the larger community. As such the schools also provided jobs for women and involved parents actively in the development of the school.

Now – let’s look at some of the basic principles in the Reggio Emilia approach. I will firstly introduce each principle and then I will provide a reflected perspective on that.

The Space of Education: The environment as the 3. Teacher
In the Reggio Emilia schools (or those inspired thereof) the environment itself is seen as a teacher. Therefore a great focus in the schools is the way the rooms and surroundings are created. In some schools there is spared no expense and the school I mentioned in my previous post, for example resembles more a caste than a school. All the walls are packed with the children’s art and everywhere there are science projects and paints available for the children to grab and use. Nothing is locked away.

Another example of Reggio Emilia’s emphasis of the environment as a teaching facilitator is that the schools are created to resemble more a home or a living environment – and thus not, as on many other schools, an institution that more resembles a church or a hospital (or some would say: a prison). There are couches and comfortable chairs, all the children has their own place for their jackets and shoes and books and most noteworthy, there’s often a mess of colors and crayons everywhere, not unlike most children’s rooms at home.

Now – let’s have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.

First of all, it is obvious that space is educational. In other words: the way our societies and cities are structured affects how we live and interact as well as how we see the world. Did you for example consider how straight streets with tall houses affect how you walk around a city? Or how a classroom resembles a church with the teacher standing as a priest before a congregation?

Similarly nature affects us and the rooms children are placed in to learn affect how and what they learn.

This aspect of children’s education is often overlooked or not prioritized at all which can be seen in almost every school around the world. So the fact that space is considered within the Reggio Emilia approach is most advantageous. Because the educators are taking something that is often taken for granted and overlooked and questioning it, its purpose, function and value. And from there it become possible to also find out what kind of environment is the best for children to learn in.

However at the same time, having all the walls plastered with art might not be the best for all children or in all circumstances and as such it can be argued that the Reggio Emilia approach, especially when it comes to art, favors a specific expression – an expression that might benefit a lot of kids but where others might get distracted who would have benefitted from a room with plain white walls. So this is something I would consider were I to create an educational environment that is best for all. Because ‘best for all’ doesn’t have to mean ‘the same’ – it is more ‘the same in value’ so that all children’s needs are carefully considered and cared for.

Obviously this is not something that the current education system and supply: an environment where each child’s specific needs are taken into consideration. And as such, some form of uniformity is required because the schools budgets simply can’t handle providing a space that is actually best for all. And why is that?

Schools are either private or public. The public schools often have small budgets because they have to compete with the defense budgets and the budgets for creating new tourist attractions to a society. In private schools they often depend on a small group of benefactors with a specific goal – a goal that is more focused on results than on processes.

This is thus also a point where the Reggio Emilia approach to educational space can be criticized because it is predominantly wealthy people’s children in wealthy countries that attend Reggio Emilia schools. The demand for space and art supply and a rich environment is something most schools cannot afford nor provide. As such, in many countries, for example in the U.S the fees to attend Reggio schools are extremely high, which means that it is only the elite of the world who are able to benefit from this type of school environment.

Within this we can ask what it is worth that a tiny proportion of the world’s population are educated to become ‘creative’, ‘independent’ individuals when rest of the world suffers, when millions of children can’t even go to school? Wouldn’t goal number 1 be to make sure that ALL CHILDREN have access to the kind of school environment that Reggio Emilia proposes?

As such, the Reggio Emilia approach is cool – but only if it was actually applied at a global level. And as such, the way it exist now it is primarily a point of self-interest from parents who wants THEIR child to have the best possible education. But what is even more important is firstly that ALL children get education and then we can work together on finding out what type of educational environment that indeed is the best.

I am sure Reggio Emilia’s approach to educational environment is a point worth considering when developing a new education system in an Equal Money System. Because in a way, the basic principle of Reggio Emilia is the same as the basic principle of Equal Money. We’re standing at the precipice between a decaying world system and a new system that we have yet to formulate – but we have the opportunity to start over and through education create the best possible community for all of us living together here on Earth.

The space we live in – this world – our societies – this earth is not simply a backdrop or stage that we’re using as we go about our lives. We’re co-existing and are living inter-dependently with our environment. The environment is as alive as we are. It is about time we consider it as such.

In the next post we will continue looking at the principles of the Reggio Emilia approach.

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