Unlearning in Barbados
Last semester I taught a course called Human Growth and Development Throughout the Lifespan where we learn about the Physical, Cognitive and Social-Emotional development of human beings from birth to death. Part of our unlearning in this course was to engage with community as much as possible. So we went into classrooms at the elementary school across the street from us, invited parents and babies to join us for a mini play group in our library, had a BYOG (Bring your own Grandparent) day where the students got to learn about the lives of some of our Grandparents, went to a retirement home as well as worked with an ELD (English Literacy Development) class from WHS. All of these experiences have been so rich and I love watching the students learn as they DO, I am convinced that they are getting so much more out of this experience then they ever could from listening to me talk about it. One of our most favourite groups to work with over the past few years have been with the General Learning Program from Woodroffe HS. This program has AMAZING teachers that do AMAZING things with their students. This is how five students and myself ended up unlearning in Barbados!!
In the GLP classes at WHS students learn by doing. Many people would say, well this is how this population learns and the teachers in this program do a great job at providing these experiences for their students. It has been amazing working with them and seeing them learning as they DO. In their program students interact with community for almost 90% of their time (if not more) in the program. They volunteer in the community, they take swimming lessons, do bus training, go winter camping, travel internationally, take cooking lesson, connect with the local community colleges, they do coop in various places depending on their capabilities and for many they end up with paid employment as a result. Everything that they do has purpose.
Currently these students are working on the Duke of Edinburgh Award and are going for their gold medal. You can check out the award info here. Jamie Hughson who is one of the teachers in the GLP program is a huge advocate for these students and really challenges them and the people around them to understand that they can do anything. In order to achieve the gold medal the students must travel internationally. As a result Jamie arranged for 20 special needs students and 11 mainstream students to travel to Barbados.
I have been so fortunate to call Jamie a colleague and friend since I started teaching. . As a result we have had the opportunity to work together on some pretty amazing things. Jamie has been unlearning with his students for way over a decade and it his program that has inspired a lot of what we do in my classes even though I teach in the mainstream and work with students whose post secondary destinations are very different than his. This year, what started out as a connection between my Human Development class and the GLP classes learning together turned into an international trip to Barbados….not too bad!!
So here I write this latest blog post from Christ Church Parish in Barbados. For the past few days we have been learning about the geography and history of this beautiful island, watching history be made with an election that ended in all 30 seats in their parliament won by one party (Barbados Labour Party) and the inauguration of their first ever female Prime Minister (Mia Mottley), eating in the local fish markets and observing the culture, shopping the local markets and exploring the capital of Bridgetown, interacting with new students from different schools and different programs, met children from a local orphanage and brought them presents from Canada and have learned a lot about the GLP program, its teachers, its students and how it works. As we sit and have great discussions about all of these things I have been thinking, why can’t our mainstream students program mirror that of Jamie’s and his GLP’s? Why can’t what we do at school have more purpose and connection to community? Why can’t our students – all students, no matter where their destination is after school be more involved in the community and do more hands on learning? I am not saying that some class time is not necessary at all, but sitting in desks, 4 periods a day for 75 minutes per class is not right. I have seen this change happen in schools like Iowa BIG and the Met Schools and wonder why this is not happening more? Why do we need to segregate subjects into 75 minute periods when we could be learning cross curricularly in a way that makes sense to each individual student?
Check out Iowa Big here to see that it can happen!!
Now, I understand that learning in Barbados is not necessarily reality, however I think it is super important to point out how much learning has happened for my students while being here. It is not the fact that we are in Barbados, but it is about the experience and I believe this can happen anywhere. I wonder if we approached learning in a way where we didn’t say…I have to teach this specific thing in this specific order, rather approach teaching by asking what do you want to learn, and then look to see what skills I (me being the teacher) will need to support you with while you learn it and then look at connecting curriculum / subjects afterwards to see what has been covered. I asked my students what they think they have learned since being here and then quickly categorized their experiences into areas of study in school. Here is what we came up with…
Working with students with special needs (Human Growth & Development, Leadership)
Harrison’s Caves – SO cool, if you are ever in Barbados you have to go! (Science, Geography, History)
Visit to an Orphanage, meeting and playing with little kids (Human Dev, Social Justice & Equity)
Bus Tour of the Island (Geography, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, Politics)
Election – first Female Prime Minister was voted in and sworn in – she won ALL 30 seats available in their parliament. We have had a ton of discussions with Barbadians about this and what it means for their country. (Politics, Economics, Gender Studies)
Oistins Fish Market (Anthropology, World Cultures, Food & Nutrition, Science)
Converting US dollars to Bajan dollars (Maths)
Creating friendships, meeting new people from other countries (Hum Dev, Sociology, Geography, Politics)
This learning experience will be memorable and they have touched on so many different areas of curriculum all in one go. Now couldn’t we do this in regular school? If you look at models like Iowa Big it is evident that this type of learning is not just for students with special needs, but can benefit everyone no matter where they are going in life. As the school year winds down, I am already thinking of all the new unlearning that we will be doing next year.
Thanks for unlearning with us in Barbados 🙂
Cheers, R, J, J, H, S, E