Blackburn Slow Education Research Network – An opportunity for emergent learning across communities. By Dr Phil Wood.

The Blackburn Slow Education Research Network has brought together teachers from six primary schools across Blackburn to develop teacher-led research and project-based learning across a network of schools interested in supporting each other in creating learning experiences which place depth, creativity, understanding and purpose at the heart of education. Dr Phil Wood outlines the process and its value to professional and school development.

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The new video exploring the work of the Slow Education network in Blackburn gives a great insight into the potential for real and positive growth in education. In a sense the messages which come from the video and the work carried out by the teachers, children and communities involved are somewhat ironic given the plans coming from government for yet more national testing. The video captures the impacts that a sustained and embedded approach to project based learning have had on all involved, the antithesis to yet more standardised testing.

Teachers have spent a year reflecting on practice, developing and sharing ideas, and creating new project opportunities for children. By slowing down the process of development they have had time to share expertise, support each other across schools and take the lead in their own professional development. With the emerging projects has come the use of small-scale research to capture and evaluate the impacts. As the teachers themselves make clear throughout the video, a Slow approach to project-based learning and their own development has had a major positive effect for all concerned. This approach to professional growth shows Professional Capital (an idea developed by Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012) at its best; teachers developing their own expertise through meaningful collaboration with others. But central to the process has been the decisional capital teachers have retained throughout the project. The chance to reflect and develop ideas over time has given them a central role in developing curriculum innovations in their own contexts, challenging the children with whom they work to develop and produce projects which reflect their knowledge, creativity and hard work. The research element of the projects has allowed the teachers to capture more nuanced and detailed accounts of the innovations they have developed. In many cases the research has illuminated and exemplified the processes which have led to successes, but in a few cases it has helped in gaining critical understanding as to why a project has struggled, an invaluable process in its own right.

The video also shows children having the opportunity to immerse themselves in extended projects which help them develop new knowledge whilst also gaining experience through problem solving and independent study. Having the chance to ask questions and use knowledge they have already developed alongside new insights gained in the project process, the enthusiasm and confidence with which children discussed their work at the end of year event is apparent. And beyond the classes themselves, there are great examples of involvement of the wider community in the learning process. Community and intergenerational involvement is a real strength in the work of the Blackburn Network.

The philosophy of Slow Education centres on the philosophy of taking time to enjoy the learning process, to give opportunities for questioning, investigation and reflection. This means not attempting to reach an outcome prematurely for the sake of being able to say a piece of work is finished. What this video captures so well is the positive engagement and enthusiasm of all those involved in the projects, the result of opening up spaces and time to engage with educational issues in a sustained way.

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The Blackburn Slow Education Research Network is currently looking to expand to include more schools in Blackburn and the surrounding area. This will be a fantastic opportunity for schools and teachers to…

  • … develop a supportive, networked approach to professional and school development which will be able to continue and progress beyond the life of the project.
  • … develop a culture of teacher-led educational research to improve teaching and learning within a network of schools in Lancashire.
  • … be supported in developing artist residencies and creative, project-based approaches to teaching and learning.

 

If you’re interested in joining the Slow Education Research Network, or have any further questions, please contact Joe Harrison-Greaves (Co-Founder of Slow Education)

“Having those different research methodologies will lead to us being able to better assess” and “without his input and training on research methodologies it would’ve been difficult to assess the impact.”

(Teacher from the first year of the network) 

This way of working seems to have freed the teachers to, “allow children to be children and drive their own learning” and given many of them an enjoyment and satisfaction from their work they had felt was missing.

(From the evaluation report of the first year of the network)

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