Archive for the ‘SelfDesign Thinking’ Category:

Emergent Learning in SelfDesign

Conversations about education are often dominated by opinions about what education should look like based on visions of the future. Social media, trade show flyers and school bulletin boards show warnings about the future, and what education should change to meet these needs.

While this vision may be compelling, we know that the future isn’t so reliable. This kind of anticipation of future needs is unproductive. Nobody – not Warren Buffet nor the sharpest midway card reader – can accurately foretell the future or future trends, be it next week, next year, or 25 years down the road.

It stands to reason, then, that learners (of all ages), parents and educators should question any assertions that future prosperity can be linked with any certainty to training based in, for example, STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) subjects, as is currently fashionable.

Interestingly, no one knows this better than the biggest kid on the tech block – Google, which recently learned through its in-house ‘Project Oxygen’ that, over time, its most successful managers were neither its engineers nor straight-A recruits that they were prioritizing but employees with so-called ‘soft skills’ steeped in relational and communication-based competencies. These people were actually working against the company flow to help shape and inspire Google to become the dominant force it has become.

Google’s discovery prompted it to change its practices to reflect and leverage this lesson, which I also perceive as important to education and to SelfDesign.

That lesson is to recognize the importance of the present day where, if one is willing to slow down, test one’s assumptions, and carefully observe what is emerging, we can and will see different things than we perceived before.

This lesson lives in SelfDesign where our praxis as educators and parents is to, first, slow down and carefully observe children. Through this we will perceive learning unfolding in play, conversation and interaction, personal projects, and free-ranging exploration. One reason for this is because we’re primed to learn, biologically, 24 x 7. And with some nudging or just tacit support, this emergent learning, individually and socially, can be impressive.

I have witnessed this in countless learners over the years I’ve been a SelfDesign educator. Supporting ‘here-and-now’ emergent learning is an act of confirming the legitimacy of all learners as-and-how-they-are-now and what they are learning. This confirmation, subtle as it is, strengthens self confidence in learners, leading to deeper and wider exploration, and opening many new avenues of learning to discover.

I recognize that future-oriented curricula may contribute to motivating learning and goal-setting, but it’s time for it to share the stage with ‘here-and-now’ emergent learning as a prime for learning, and not strive to be the dominant voice. You can Google it.

Written by Michael Maser, Stakeholder Focus Support Coordinator at the SelfDesign Learning Foundation

SelfDesign IS True Personalized Learning

SelfDesign Learning Community has been a model for personalized learning since its 2002 inception, placing the learner at centre and supporting the development of fully-customized learning plans for each individual. British Columbia’s move toward a personalized curriculum began to be implemented for K-9 in 2015 and for 10-12 in 2016, and SelfDesign has continued to enhance its own progressive model within a provincial environment that is now more supportive than ever of educational advances. We have been a leader in our province, and this year our grade 10 learners will step out to explore course-free, integrated learning while continuing to gain credit toward their Dogwood diploma or follow the path to completion that best suits them.

SelfDesign’s philosophy is formed around a set of beliefs about how learning happens and how learners flourish. We see learning as a continual process rather than as a product, and we foster an iterative, conscious approach to developing competencies. We trust that each child is accumulating and broadening skills and understandings in individual right timing and that because we as humans are designed to be learners, all children will move toward engagement if the environment is rich and nourishing and if the topics are relevant to their lives.

We believe that each learner has a unique set of interests and ideas. As a part of fostering the self-agency of our young people toward 21st century living, we have historically designed our K-12 program based on individual learner desires or curiosities instead of a prescribed curriculum. Rather than simply modifying a set curriculum for learning styles or other ‘differentiating’ aspects, the SelfDesign program is grounded in a philosophy of self-authoring, assisting learners toward ownership of and supported responsibility for their decisions, building competency and resilience lifelong.

We believe that learning at home and in community sets the ground for strong relational learning, and we recognize that in the various phases of development a child or youth benefits from differing levels of parental or peer involvement. As such we focus initially on building the parent/educator relationship in the early years of our program, adding and strengthening both learner/educator and peer-to-peer relationships as our young people mature. Deep family commitment to the learning program from the beginning sets a foundation for children’s increasing ability to step out on their own on the developmental path.

We believe that lifelong learning is integrated learning, and as such we support environments that model how learning happens in action. SelfDesign learning planning is dynamic and responsive to the shifts of young people’s curiosities and interests as they occur. Our approach is wholistic rather than separated into the study of isolated subjects. We now find ourselves in the good company of innovative educational systems like Finland’s, where integrated, course-free learning will soon become the norm.

These SelfDesign foundational beliefs, framing the structure of our program, give us a grounding that is strong yet nimble and responsive to scientific, cultural, and educational breakthroughs as they emerge. We fully expect to keep innovating — it’s in our very nature as a progressive, transformative learning program for the 21st century!

Contributed by River Meyer, Director – Organizational Learning/Communications

SelfDesigning Stories Define a Broad and Humbling Narrative Arc

In the last few weeks I’ve been weaving together a bounty of stories from selfdesigning learners and parents to share with elected officials beyond our community. This project has been a continuation of work begun two years ago, when we determined that it would be beneficial to our organization to begin sharing our stories. This has been challenging and rewarding work, encapsulating details about SelfDesign in a compelling ‘elevator pitch’ for ultra-busy politicians and others.

This winter we decided to call the families of SelfDesign for stories about your experiences. And boy, do SelfDesign families have stories to tell. This past fall almost 70 families provided glimpses into what selfdesigning looks like (from their unique perspectives) and how SelfDesign has influenced the learning lives of their children and themselves.

Subsequently I shaped many of these stories into coherent, post-card-sized narratives for sharing, and out they’ve gone to MLAs and government personnel across the province. So far the response from recipients has been very positive. But what I’d like to share here is how these stories, collectively, have changed and broadened my understanding of SelfDesign.

In a nutshell, these stories help to define as many ways of nurturing self-engaged learning (my working definition of ‘selfdesigning’) as any parent might possibly conceive – reflecting the unique dispositions and sensibilities of children.

Some sleep in, some stay up late, some bring home cart-loads of library books for reading, others are writing and creating their own books. Some are relishing a freedom from expectations, others are heaping new skills on existing ones at breathtaking rates. In some cases learners are experiencing breakthroughs that were not predicted in other learning environments.

The stories shared by SelfDesign families have moved me greatly, to delight as well as to tears. I find myself humbled by the simple notion that in extending support to positively and respectfully ‘confirm’ children in their learning lives, SelfDesign has set in motion a powerful force that also confirms our humanity and potential.

I am honoured to have had the opportunity to hear these stories and to repeat them to those who might listen, and to stand for this orientation toward supporting learning, along with my fellow educators and you, the families and supporters of SelfDesign.

“In SelfDesign, our abilities as parents and educators to love, respect and nurture our children in a way that honours
human design and integrity allows for the infinite wisdom of each individual to unfold.”

– Brent Cameron, SelfDesign founder, 2010

Written by Michael Maser, SelfDesign Learning Foundation and author of Learn Your Way! SelfDesigning the Life You Really Want

SelfDesign knows imaginative and creative character development starts in early childhood

According to developmental psychologists, the foundation of human imagination emerges in childhood and its lifelong trajectory reflects the nature of the support that nurtures it during this time.

Bolster a young child’s budding imagination at home or in school with encouragement and she will sense this and accept more risks in whatever activities and challenges she faces. Such encouragement will prime her to get up and try again when she faces setbacks that would otherwise discourage her. Multiply that a thousand or ten thousand times and a young adult will emerge with the confidence to try, stumble, and try again until she’s satisfied with the results produced.

On the other hand, if you habitually seed a young imagination with doubt or fear or conditional “yes, but” responses, the emergent character of that person will be hesitant and wary of really extending himself for fear of censure and loss of self-esteem.

The first example identifies the foundation of a life characterised by enduring resilience and an increasing ability to live an adventurous, creative life. Such a life will be characterised by stubbed toes, literal and metaphorical, but also by grand, imaginative visions.

Some such visions come to fruition in SelfDesign. As in the case of the 13-year old learner who, last year, successfully designed and tested a prototype for a robotic (prosthetic) hand. And another learner who created and uploaded more than 200 music compositions, including many on self-created instruments. This is the seedbed for innovation that so many social scientists and business leaders are now calling for, including the esteemed Conference Board of Canada.

The tenets of SelfDesign may also be seen in the ‘Manifesto for Children’ published by a leading creativity researcher, E. Paul Torrance, in 1983.

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At the end of the day, or rainbow, we need to clearly see or identify the character of the young man or woman emerging from our education system. If we want that person to be resilient, self-determined and confidently imaginative then the education system they encounter throughout their schooling experience needs to prioritize that kind of character nurturance, something we do in SelfDesign.

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
– Albert Einstein

Written by Michael Maser, SelfDesign Learning Foundation and author of Learn Your Way! SelfDesigning the Life You Really Want

Personalized Learning: A Rapidly Rising Tide in Education

Students returning to schools across British Columbia in coming weeks may well experience new approaches to engage them more personally in learning than previously. The tack in this direction towards more personalized learning reflects the new education plan being implemented by the BC Ministry of Education.

This trend towards personalized learning – for which SelfDesign is an acknowledged leader – isn’t confined to BC, however, but marks a rapidly rising tide across North America, and other parts of the world, too.

The new direction reflects a convergence of insights from neurological science and psychology and trending breakthroughs in social media and technology.

Recently, neurological science has confirmed that each person, no matter their age, has a unique learning ‘ecosystem’, reflecting different experiences and genetics, and other factors. And psychology has confirmed that people are more enthused to learn when they have a personal interest in a subject or the learning approach matches their preferred inclinations and dispositions.

SelfDesign, which traces its origins to the mid-1980s and the Wondertree program begun by Brent Cameron,  has always shaped its program offerings around these insights, and helped thousands of children and youth experience learning breakthroughs they might never have otherwise enjoyed in conventional settings. Both Brent and myself also completed graduate-level degrees that confirmed the efficacy of supporting personalized approaches.

Elsewhere, other educators have also acknowledged the importance of personalizing learning, though implementing such approaches has proven very challenging in the face of conventional approaches in which learning achievement has been largely defined by standardized curriculum and testing.

Today, with the help of new technology options coupled with social media, there’s no denying the opportunities for all students to be supported in learning through a spectrum of personalized approaches.

The spectrum of personalized approaches includes both a ‘differentiated instruction’ model, which is oriented to helping students of differing backgrounds, competencies and dispositions reach teacher-defined curriculum goals, to a more self-directed model that supports goals based on student-declared learning interests.  

Both models may be seen in SelfDesign and offer learners more opportunities to design the what and how of their learning, to ‘dive deep’ into areas of learning interest, and also influence how their learning is assessed. In providing these opportunities learners also strengthen self-responsibility, something educational leaders across the board confirm as a vital goal of ‘21st century learning’.

With organizations like the Harvard University-supported Students At The Center creating infrastructure support for schools introducing personalized learning approaches, and the rise of global movements like ‘DIY’ and ‘Makers’ – both alive and well in SelfDesign – this new model of education has a promising future.

Written by Michael Maser, SelfDesign Learning Foundation and author of Learn Your Way! SelfDesigning the Life You Really Want

Keeping Track of (SelfDesign) Time

Time may be an illusion to some but for most of us it’s a precious context of our lives. We value personal and family time, despair over ‘wasting’ time, and it’s something we most often want to ‘make the most of’.

Time and timing is an issue that is often overlooked in education discussions, but it merits closer attention, and especially the notable differences between how we view time in SelfDesign versus other learning situations, and especially school.

In general, the most notable differences include the enabling of learners in SelfDesign to take the time they want to explore and linger on subjects of interest, our sanctioning of longer contact periods between educators and learners (this often stretches to years of contact), and our validating of time spent ‘in-process’ (practicing, thinking, daydreaming) as equivalent to time spent acquiring and confirming knowledge.

I believe all of these confer many benefits to learners, including leading to deeper learning experiences and the creating of more supportive relationships. I see this latter point at this time of year when SelfDesign educators deeply reflect and report on learning accomplishments during the past year, a process that is generally enriched for learners, parents, and educators when it touches back to previous years. Personal growth and development, after all, arise through their own schedule, unique for each of us.

In school, the most obvious point is that it prioritizes its timing issues and agenda over a learner’s. School, after all, is where bells ring and classes change on time, testing and assignments are timed, and the duration of contact between an educator and a learner is meted out according to block-scheduling for 45-70 minute classes, over the duration of a course. Often, there is little additional contact time between kids and educators.

Every day, excepting some agreed-upon breaks, the system marches on and everyone adheres to its timing or endures the consequences of interrupting it as defined by its controllers. Detentions, grade penalties, and even expulsion are fairly common consequences for this. (*In the UK, head teachers and administrators may now fine parents for removing their kids from school during term blocks for non-emergencies, such as trips abroad).

Personal learning activities, on the contrary, are rarely set against a rigid time frame or block schedule. Personal timing has no other purpose than to serve personal interests which often reflect a natural rhythm determined by autonomous individuals, individually or collectively. “I can meet you at 10:30. Is that good for you?” “Wow, I sat and read this whole book! It was so amazing, I just lost track of time.” “I just want to practice this until I get it, and I don’t know how long that’ll take.”

That rigid timing parameters may be counter-productive to learning, and harming kids’ health, is the clear conclusion of a recent book by author-parent Vicki Abeles, ‘Beyond Measure; Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation‘. In the book Abeles writes that a false “push for productivity” by schools robs kids of the valuable time that might otherwise serve other important learning goals.

“Building a fort, daydreaming, or inventing a game might seem like dreamy luxuries,” says Abeles, “but these idylls of childhood are far from idle. It’s in these unstructured moments that children develop essential capacities for reflective thought, creativity, social skills, and self-control. And these opportunities, which now grow ever more rare, are irreplaceable.”

As a long-time SelfDesign educator, I can confirm the rich rewards Abeles speaks of from the enabling of what many indeed call ‘unstructured’ time. And despite the labelling, I have observed that such learning experiences may be highly structured and foundational for all kinds of future learning. In fact, we know this across the board in SelfDesign because we ask children and youth directly about the meaning and value of such experiences for them, and they tell us on their own terms and reveal the answers in their own time.

Written by Michael Maser, SelfDesign Learning Foundation and author of Learn Your Way! SelfDesigning the Life You Really Want

The Makers Movement: SelfDesigning In Action

by Sheri Lucas, SelfDesign learning consultant and K-9 support coordinator

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I made the realization that my childhood had been different than that of most of my friends at that time. As a young mother, building my first home, I eagerly (yet blindly) took on several household building projects which earned me a surprising number of accolades from friends and acquaintances. Whether tiling a floor, reupholstering my couches, or building a set of kitchen cabinets, I was keen to ‘do it myself’. Don’t get me wrong, I was by no means skilled at any of these things, but that didn’t deter me from making an attempt. To be honest, until then, I thought that was what most people did. You see, when I was young, my parents did everything themselves. My dad single-handedly built an addition onto our house, fixed our car, rewired light switches, and could seemingly fix anything that broke. My mother, among other things, started her own business teaching sewing classes in our basement. I never did learn how to do most of those things from them, but they instilled in me something far greater: the belief that I could.

While I have no official data to back up my assumptions, it seemed to me at that time, that DIYing (Do It Yourself-ing) had become a bit of a dying phenomenon. Whether or not that was actually the case then, I would also unofficially say that DIYing has now made a comeback, and with a vengeance! The term DIY (or Maker) has grown to mean so much more than, “how to sew on a button” or “how to repair a leaky faucet”, to encompass just about any creative project whereby something is made, designed, repaired on your own, or in collaboration with others. In essence we can all be makers in one way or another.

Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE magazine and Maker Faire, says in his TED talk, that the Maker Movement is about tapping into what you love to do. He emphasizes that a maker is simply “an enthusiast . . . they are people who love what they do.” When I heard him speak those words, I was struck by the similarity between his description of a ‘Maker’ and my description of a ‘SelfDesigner’.

Over the six years that I have had the pleasure of being a SelfDesign learning consultant (LC), I have witnessed learners (aka Makers) who are in the emergent stages of their creative, curious, wonder-filled explorations all the way through to those who have written, directed, and filmed their their own movie, worked on a Lego robot that can ice cookies, invented a slug trap, started a dog-walking business, or designed and painted art to be sold.

In all of these instances, the starting point was a curiosity about something and a desire to explore that interest at a new level. Coupled with that was the magical ingredient of the involvement of a peer, parent, or mentor who served as a sounding board, helped fuel the fire, encouraged and inspired. The common thread among all of these learners seems to be a desire to create and use their hands, to invent – to contribute. I see kids and adults alike, yearning to take part in activities that feel meaningful to them!

In witnessing Makers (SelfDesigners) in action, I would venture to say that the far more valuable skills come not from the mastery attained in any given skill, but from allowing one’s curiosity to take him/her down a path of discovery, exploration, problem-solving, and tried and failed attempts. It just so happens that these same skills are at the very heart of the SelfDesign program as seen in the SelfDesigning LOs (learning outcomes) of Enthusiasm and Wonder, Flexibility, Learning to Learn, Engagement, and Systemic Thinking Skills. Additional skills are also cultivated in the areas of Relational Skills and Creativity as folks come together in creative collaboration. When participants work together, co-inspiring each other, sparks are ignited, imaginations flourish, and ideas emerge that are greater than what one might have devised on their own. It has been said that we are preparing today’s youth for a world that has not yet been invented.  What better way to prepare them, than by encouraging and nurturing their brilliant, creative, curious ideas!

Imagine the Look and Feel of Learning!

In SelfDesign Learning Community our praxis is to support learning in all its shapes, forms and guises and so we ask each child or youth, “What do you really, really want to learn about?” as a way to initiate a learning plan process. In this way we enrol learners as collaborators and co-designers of what will emerge as their de facto curriculum for the school year. 

 

Following many years of this practice I can confirm that learning is as varied as each learner, reflecting their unique and diverse learning interests, something that will likely come as little surprise to educators or parents. 

 

As a SelfDesign educator wearing various hats ranging from instructor to learning coach to supportive observer (which is pretty typical of our educator role), the learning I have seen emerge over the years has come to form in my imagination as a caravan of the most exotic, delightful, interesting and profound insights I could ever have imagined as an educator. 

 

From this perspective I see children developing skills, accepting challenges, surprising me with their innate wisdom, and consistently surpassing expectations and limiting beliefs I and many others might otherwise hold of what learning ‘should’ look like. In focusing on the learning about which they are most passionate, children cook, focus on athletics, experiment with robotics, have experiences of living like medieval serfs, design and make their own movies, and they don’t stop doing these things – and learning! – until they are satisfied with the results they create. And I don’t have to coerce them to do this, they are impelled by self-motivation. 

 

In this learning I sense children experiencing a plethora of emotions: excited by a journey of discovery, delighted by their own breakthroughs, frustrated by bumpy challenges, and determined to try again. Some are playful and confident while others are serious and anxious. And I believe that what most sparks these learners, and their learning, are opportunities to explore subjects on their own terms, without fear of reprisal, and sometimes some support to keep learning, and trying.  

 

The end result of this, as I’ve experienced so many times since the inception of SelfDesign, are learners – people – who are comfortable with their own sensibilities and confident in their own abilities to learn in and through all kinds of situations, again and again.  

 

Learning looks and feels differently for each one of us, reflecting our human nature. And that’s all educators need to know and nurture to set a magical caravan on its way.

Written by Michael Maser, SelfDesign Learning Foundation and author of Learn Your Way! SelfDesigning the Life You Really Want

Learning Anytime, Anywhere, Any Way 

We live in a remarkable age for nurturing formal and informal learning in our children. Think of it: in community centres, clubs, studios, workshops, the internet, living rooms, parks and classrooms, learning opportunities have never been more plentiful.

 

Whether your child wants to improve their doodling or explore atomic physics, or both, you can find resources and maybe a mentor in a brief internet search. Chances are quite high that you’ll even find a community of like-minded people honing their skills or sharing their knowledge on the subjects you’re seeking to explore. You might even find a dedicated gaming platform helping learners “level up” their skills and interests!

 

In SelfDesign we are committed to supporting personalized learning and helping ensure children tap into this world of “anytime, anywhere, any way” learning. And you’ll see that commitment reflected in our support systems where childrens’ learning – of all kinds – is thoughtfully considered  and validated.

 

Beyond SelfDesign we also see education authorities and a few other pioneering schools seeking to support broader notions of learning than schooling has conventionally recognized. It’s true here in British Columbia where the Ministry of Education recently announced curriculum reform measures to support the new BC Ed Plan and personalized learning.

 

Of course it’s not a foregone conclusion that such reform will be easy or expedited because the conventional  schooling system was not designed to support the kinds of innovation now being introduced. But we see it is an eventuality that the era of prescribed coursework will give way to personalized learning.

 

And as we launch our new learning year in SelfDesign we are more excited than ever to play a role in supporting and validating childrens’ learning, anytime, anywhere, any way.
Written by Michael Maser, SelfDesign Learning Foundation and author of Learn Your Way! SelfDesigning the Life You Really Want

On Learning and Happiness

A grandmother regarding her grandson’s learning experience in SelfDesign, comments:

“I do worry – he seems so happy now – how can he be learning?”

What a profound statement about our culturally-held expectations for education! Do we really associate learning with being unhappy, bored, disaffected, and disenfranchised as this boy had been in public school? If a child is engaged and excited about things, does that mean he must be playing, and that if it looks like play or passion it can’t mean learning, especially as children move up in age? When exactly do the curiosity-filled explorations of the child become questionable or even unacceptable as representations of learning and do we begin to see learning as ‘work’ that is by definition the opposite of play, or even of happiness?

 

When we take the time to remember that as adults we are still learners in this lifelong journey, we can perhaps take an additional few moments to visualize the times we drop deeply into a book or movie that fascinates us and broadens our world. We can notice the rich conversations with others who have similar interests or others who hold significantly different views and how those talks can grow us immeasurably. We can feel in our very bodies the timeless moments that creativity carries us to a magical place of being totally present and connected with everything. This is our learning as adults, not very different from the young child’s learning other than perhaps in the specific form … and the emotion and engagement is as powerful at 40 as it is at 4. I want that for our k-12 learners as well.

 

SelfDesign is built on the belief that engaged, relational learning coming from an “I can” rather than an “I should” place is what we want our young people to be experiencing. It doesn’t mean that everything is easy or that struggles to find meaning along the way don’t occur… in fact, we encourage opportunities for those very exposures. This thing we call life is rich, complex, contradictory sometimes. It’s not for the faint of heart, I suppose, and yet its very challenge is what hopefully evolves us into adults who are passionately engaged in enriching our world. Can we give value to our own happiness as lifelong learners? Can we give the same valuing when it comes to those who are in the age range between young child and us as adults? I hope so.

 

Written by River Meyer, SelfDesign Learning Foundation and co-author of SelfDesign: Unfolding Our Infinite Wisdom Within

 

Growing a Foundation for Prosperity to Flourish, Now and in the Future

Thanks to insights pouring in from neuroscience, psychology and sociology, it’s exciting to note the opportunities we see in SelfDesign – as parents, educators and advisors – to positively influence the directions of learning and wellness among children and youth.

 

This is underscored in two recently published articles, the first reflecting research into the emotional health of children, and the second the degree to which children are inclined to higher levels of self-agency in their lives.

 

With respect to the latter, research conducted through the ‘Wellbeing’ research programme at the London School of Economics and published last summer (see article here), concluded that a child’s emotional health is much more important to their satisfaction levels as an adult than other factors, such as if they achieve academic success when young, or wealth when older.

 

The second paper, published last summer by University of Colorado researchers in the journal ‘Frontiers in Psychology’ (found here), reported children who spend more time in less structured activities—from playing outside to reading books to visiting the zoo—are better able to set their own goals and take actions to meet those goals without prodding from adults.

 

The former research links participation in less-structured activities to growth of ‘executive function’ abilities and notes that executive function skills correlate to important outcomes like academic performance, health, wealth and positive socialization, years and even decades later.

 

Both of these research articles align with SelfDesign philosophy, oriented as it is to recognizing and boosting emotional health, and stoking self-agency in children and young people. We actually see these as complementary facets of the same gemstone turned to let the light of learning and living shine most brightly for each individual learner!
To this end, SelfDesigning educators and parents support a multiplicity of approaches for building a broad foundation on which prosperity and health can flourish, now and in the future.

 

Written by Michael Maser, SelfDesign Learning Foundation and author of Learn Your Way! SelfDesigning the Life You Really Want

Look Beyond Education ‘Miracles’ and You’ll See Natural Learning Reflected. SelfDesign, too.

A common subject in this year’s back-to-school stories, as it has been for the past few years, is the ‘Finnish Miracle’. That is, the Finnish education system, made over by government in the 1970s and now considered a startling success, worldwide. To most reviewers, ‘success’ is attributed to the Finnish education system because of the top-level scores 15-year old Finnish students have tallied since 2000 on standardized, international  tests, including last year’s testing in math, science, and literacy.

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, ‘Why my children were lucky to get accepted to a Finnish school in Qatar’, the author calls the Finnish system “one of the best in the world” and she correctly points out ways the Finnish system is strikingly different from the conventional schooling model of most North American, European, and Asian countries.

Characteristics of Finnish schooling may strike you as startling, too. Here are a few:

  • students don’t start school until they are 7, reflecting a Finnish belief in the importance of play and being with family,
  • students stay with their first teacher for 7 years from the time they begin schooling, reflecting support for the cultivation of deeper, longer-lasting relationships between students, educators and families,
  • schools days are only 3-4 hours long with little homework,
  • there is no standardized testing until students matriculate at 17 (*students are chosen at random to participate in the international testing)

In SelfDesign we’ve known these characteristics for years and we see much of the Finnish system reflected in ours, which Brent Cameron pioneered 30 years ago.  To us, the results arising from both approaches to nurturing learning go far beyond test scores and strike us as less “miraculous” than they reflect insights about how human learning – and particularly that of children and youth – might be optimized.

Written by Michael Maser, SelfDesign Learning Foundation

Relational Learning at the Heart of SelfDesign

Though there are plenty of trends in education today, “relational learning” is here to stay. Relational learning is when learners and educators co-create learning experiences and engage in dialogue to learn from each other—fostering social and emotional growth for all. The blog post “Relational learning . . . .say what?” by AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) features a white paper by the Carnegie Institute detailing how young people need these types of educational opportunities. Amongst its recommendations is the call for students to have easily available mentors and for teachers to be trusted role models—both of which are features of SelfDesign.

AERO adds to Carnegie’s suggestions with even more qualities of SelfDesign. For example, AERO and SelfDesign similarly believe that schools should be “real” communities: places where learners share the responsibility of educating themselves and each other and where opportunities for co-operation and the exchange of ideas and energy are frequent and inspired. Learning aboutrelationships and inrelationship are at the heart of relational learning and SelfDesign. Everything we experience is shaped by the relationships that surround us. So it seems natural that our happiness and contribution to the world depend on our ability to learn and grow through these connections.

SelfDesign Mirrored in BC’s Education Plan

Personalized learning offers every child a place in our future. BC’s Education Plan is clear: students must be at the centre of their learning. The plan calls for families to be more involved in education; for greater flexibility in what, when, and how someone learns; and for learning that occurs outside of school (such as artistic or athletic pursuits) to count toward educational requirements. With an emphasis on problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity, BC’s Education Plan stresses above all that we must help kids learn how to learn.

SelfDesign’s approach embodies all of these qualities and is recognized by the Ministry of Education for doing so. It’s based on the idea that we are all natural learners with learning styles and interests that are as legitimate as each of us. Born from the roots of personalized learning, the core elements of SelfDesign have been evolving since the early 80s, allowing us to witness the rewards of this approach in decades of learners. In that time, we have also observed parents rediscovering what education can look like as they see the unique spirit of their child acknowledged and honoured. The province-wide dialogue emerging through the Ministry, nudging education in this direction, reaffirms our experiences and promises an exciting future.

Myths and Misconceptions about Socialization

“If I take my children out of the classroom will it make them socially awkward?” This is a common question for many parents. Cautionary tales abound if you look for them, swaying curious parents back to traditional education. However, Frontier Centre for Public Policy researcher Brianna Heinrichs asserts that these are misleading stereotypes. In her article, “‘Home-schooled,’ not ‘socially awkward’”, Heinrichs looks at misconceptions about learning at home—including lack of socialization, fostering dependency, naivety about drugs and sex, and indoctrination in religious beliefs—and refutes these claims with research from the Fraser Institute and others.

SelfDesign is distinct from homeschooling in that learners are supported by BC-certified educators. However, learning similarly unfolds at home and in the local community, and we consistently experience the same shattering of stereotypes. SelfDesign learners, especially those entering the impressionable tween and teen years, talk of peer relationships that are far less driven by media and social ideals compared to their non-SelfDesign friends and that are far more focused on authenticity and sharing ones passions with one another. Parents notice an increased self-confidence in their children, including more curiosity and creativity as they take charge of their own lives. As founder Brent Cameron noted in his dissertation, by providing learners with a high degree of freedom, choice, and respect, the relationships they cultivate become open and authentic. Most SelfDesign learners come to embrace diverse community and develop a rich and meaningful relationship with their parents. Above all, they learn to follow their own values in choosing their beliefs and behaviours.

A Desire to Learn Differently

Like SelfDesign, Quest University readies students for a globally-connected future guided by heart, head, and soul. While not formally affiliated with SelfDesign, it lives by a similar family of values in the post-secondary world. On Quest’s website, enrolled youth praise the school’s experiential education model, noting how the interdisciplinary format and hands-on approach provides them deep and broad perspectives. Also, many students credit their conversations with other learners and faculty for shaping their personal growth.

These experiential and relational qualities of learning are central to SelfDesign. With no bells to structure time, SelfDesign learners explore their interests hands-on within everyday life, uncovering insights into one or multiple disciplines. Through this engagement and through sharing these experiences with others, they become aware of their own learning and discover themselves in the process. This sharing takes place within ongoing conversations with parents, learning consultants / mentors, and other SelfDesign learners and families. Quest and SelfDesign’s success in shaping education by these qualities suggests a growing shift in how people seek to interact with the world.

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