Seize the Opportunity: Spontaneous Learning

NINA SHARMA, HEAD OF LOWER SCHOOL: Learning happens anywhere, any time. In school, learning is mostly driven by curriculum that has been thoughtfully planned and designed to appropriately align with pedagogy. Foundations are laid and every year skill sets are built upon this scaffolding, resulting in productive learning and academic excellence.

Learning happens anywhere, any time.

Typically, students are inspired to learn because of an immediate desire to know how to do something, or understand a topic, and teachers are there to provide them with the resources and to give them guidance. This formal method of teaching provides the outcome desired, and students acquire the necessary skills to take them to the next level of competency. However, the power of ‘informal’ learning or ‘spontaneous’ learning should not be underestimated. Informal learning is what keeps young minds vibrant, mentally active, and interested in the world around us.

At Peck, we have always looked at ways to broaden our students’ educational experience. Teachers embrace every opportunity for ‘informal’ or ‘spontaneous’ learning and take advantage of a ‘teachable moment’. A teachable moment is an unplanned event during the day that teachers can use as a learning opportunity for students.

At the drop of a hat, teachers do not hesitate to put planned lessons aside, and take an opportune moment when either something grasps attention or a student displays an action or behavior that can be used as a learning tool. Teachers capitalize on the moment, and provide the opportunity to extend or expand learning, making the experience truly student centered.

The unplanned quality is the essence of what a teachable moment is. It’s about taking full advantage of the moment. It’s spontaneous and addresses what may initially spark an interest, or lead to more questions and gives an exciting flavor to learning. Teachers find that during teachable moments students become more enthusiastic and energized. As a result, learning becomes not only more meaningful, but engaging, exciting, and memorable.

Most recently, ‘informal’ learning was evidenced in the upper school school during ERB testing week. The Peck School Upper school students participated in ‘Mini-mesters’. This was a highly successful opportunity that made productive use of time after a morning of testing and allowed students to engage in a range of collaborative explorations, culminating in an afternoon of celebration and presentation at the end of the week. The regular schedule was put aside and replaced with a more student centered, project based schedule. This approach for students to stretch their brains and skills beyond the traditional classroom. Student feedback was extremely positive and they shared how much they enjoyed participating in all the activities.

The recent heavy snowfall gave cause for more spontaneous learning and provided yet another opportune moment. Lower school students took advantage and embraced free play in the snow with their peers during an extended recess. All faculty were encouraged to participate, and the result was creative construction as snowmen, snow lions, and igloos began emerging around campus. The energy, squeals of delight, laughter, and excitement could be heard as students challenged themselves and collaborated to do their best. Priceless!

The first grade students recently read the book, ‘Cherry Pie and Lullabies’ which prompted a discussion about cherry pies. When a student suggested that the class make a cherry pie (since they had never sampled one) the teacher immediately embraced this teachable moment to discuss the possibility. Students took into account all that needed to be considered in order to make this happen. What followed was class planning: the logistics, personnel, recipe and ingredients all of which were essential to the making of a cherry pie. The first grade did in fact go on to execute this project, and it resulted in a final tasting and enjoyment of their final product. So much was gained from this experience, aside from a collaborative activity: sheer delight, math, reading and writing skills were incorporated, and most of all it was a memorable experience.

Similarly, a third grade grammar lesson, expanded from reading types of sentences, to creating and acting them out in skit. This led to a suggestion from a student to record the skits using a green screen. What a creative and memorable way to learn all about types of sentences using technology skills. Once again, we see teachers who are willing to take these unplanned teachable moments, take the diversion, and make the most out of student centered learning.

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