Starting in August 2014 I set a goal for that academic year to try to develop Discovery Time in my classroom. I did my research using sources like the Discovery Time New Zealand website. I scheduled the sessions in several times a week to be sure that this initiative happened in my classroom. I set up a separate documentation space for my own notes and student projects. The underlying idea of course being that all this would support and provide children with an opportunity to pursue personal interests and inquiries and truly take control of their own learning. (In retrospect, to replicate - in a new way - exactly what I make sure happens in my classroom every day).
- High levels of student engagement
- Commitment to a project or activity over an extended period of time
- Participation in activities with personal significance & connections to lived experiences
- Cooperation and collaboration when personal interests merged into group projects
- Independence (students taking out materials for themselves, solving problems)
Something kept nagging at me though that I couldn't quite make sense of or even form into questions until recently:
children already have in the classroom?
My students also pursue projects, passions and inquiries during this unstructured play time.
And in fact it's probably more spontaneous and authentic.
Am I trying to impose a structure on something that doesn't need it?
Am I trying to dress something up in a new way that's actually already happening?
One of the challenges we continued to face with scheduled Discovery Times was that it often just didn't align with children's own schedules. The point is that you can't determine an exact and set time for personal explorations - especially in the Early Years. Peter Gray explains the "enormous amounts of unscheduled time" required for self-education and I absolutely found this to be the case. Rather than Discovery Time creating more opportunities for authentic, self-directed, and self-motivated learning, it actually took away from it. By imposing structure on discovery and exploration, I had actually minimized the freedom students had, as well as undermined my own role as an active listener and partner in the learning, always ready to be flexible with plans and follow an emergent idea or a passion.
While I'm now nearly back to what I did originally, the experience has had positive results:
- I have refined my documentation process and strategies for students' personal projects and inquiries.
- I have evolved and strengthened the pedagogy of listening (careful observation) that exists in my classroom.
- More than ever, I respect children's personal timelines and the natural moments that arise during the day for authentic discovery. I am re-committed to the idea of flexible scheduling and emergent inquiries.
- I continue to experiment with finding the ideal balance between free play, child-led time (personal projects or class-developed emergent inquiries), and teacher-directed time. (It is of course critical for children's development and feelings of security and safety that some parts of the day remain routined and dependable).