Studio Time: Our Process and Observations

Recently a few people have asked how Studio Time works for us, and the process we’ve gone through and the thinking behind it. I put together a reply for someone, and although it didn’t cover everything, I decided it was worth using as a starting place to help document our experience and the complexities of Studio Time. It’s ever changing and evolving, but here’s a summary of 2019 so far.

First, some context. We have a whole school year long unit of inquiry under WWA. The central idea (Thinking beyond ourselves empowers us to act) is the same across all levels but the lines of inquiry are different. In summary, the Year 6 unit explores: dispositions towards learning, cultural forces and how they impact individuals and communities and the transformative impact of taking action. This unit weaves its way throughout all learning across the year.

We started the year with this unit and then a few weeks in, introduced our next unit, HWEO. In this unit we were looking at appreciation of the aesthetic, in particular, the interplay between maths and art, and the complexity and beauty in both. However, as a team we decided that what was particularly interesting was the idea of transdisciplinarity. This was something that become evident last year in Studio Time inquiries where students were learning about a whole range of subject areas and applying their understandings in a whole range of ways, and so the maths and art became a case study for the bigger understanding of the power of transdisciplinary thinking. It’s worth noting here that we decided to place our maths transformation unit within and alongside this UOI. We started by provoking student thinking about maths and art and sparking their curiosity. This part of the process can be found in this blog post. From this point it grew into exploring transdisciplinary thinking, which has many, many possibilities for making, creating, researching and so on. In fact, it has been quite natural for students to explore this idea and see how making connections between ideas, knowledge, skills helps them to build deeper understandings of the world around them. Their seeds of curiosity may have come from learning at school, or maybe from something personal which sparked their interest. Along the way, different students have dipped more into our WWA unit by looking at various ways that they can take action in their communities. We’ve ended up with a huge spectrum of inquiries including:

  • 3D pavement art
  • Developing and running footy clinics
  • Design and architecture
  • Continued inquiry into maths and art
  • Mentorship (mentoring younger students)
  • Authoring picture books and exploring themes within picture books
  • The art of filmmaking
  • The role of Fungus in the ecosystem
  • The physics of air travel
  • Why some girls stop playing sport in their teenage years
  • Designing and creating a quilt

Some things that have been helpful for us and our learners at this stage of our journey include:

  • Starting with a strong provocation within a UOI to kick it off and using this to set the purpose, tone and expectations of Studio Time within a unit, and allowing it to grow organically from there to move outside UOI
  • A focus on developing the skill of noticing and naming curiosity and creating a culture of curiosity amongst all of Year 6. We’ve noticed that curiosity breeds curiosity. A couple of questions worth asking here might be: If this doesn’t make you curious straight away, where can you find the interest in it? Where could the seed of curiosity be found? Sometimes we are curious straight away and questions immediately spring to mind, and sometimes it’s helpful to look deeper. Deeper understanding may sometimes bring new curiosity to light.
  • Running UOI provocations and learning alongside Studio Time. We’re aiming to constantly expose students to new ideas. Yes, they know what interests them currently, but we also want to expand those horizons. We’ve definitely seen many students take on new seeds of curiosity from within units and run with them in Studio Time. Also, dedicating time every couple of days to Studio Time has kept the momentum up. They need time.
  • Students pitching their inquiry to others. Where is the learning? What’s the point? These pitches change depending on questions that we use at various times to prompt their thinking in certain ways. For example, the idea of seeking complexity has been huge for us. Where is the complexity in this idea/inquiry? In the justification and articulation of an idea/inquiry, students often evaluate and refine their thinking.
  • Spending time unpacking what the potential possibilities when you have a question or an idea. Moving beyond research has been helpful. Now they are much more inclined to start in a different way and then research purposefully when required to find relevant and timely information. Students often start with making, creating or designing before research but we find the research they may end up undertaking is generally more meaningful.
  • Thinking about the programme of inquiry across the year and making decisions about how it can be set up to allow flexibility and time for deep learning. Time has been so critical. For example, our HWEO unit has finished and our WWAIPAT unit has just started, and will go for the next 9 weeks. The unit is around understanding how stereotypes impact how we think, and moving past these to better understand what it means to be a global citizen and be internationally minded. The unit also includes an inquiry into Geo Literacy and we’re trialling the use of the same central idea as our WWA for the unit. The unit will run alongside Studio Time and we imagine that some of the learning will make its way into Studio Time, maybe as new seeds of curiosity are uncovered or possibly as a way of deepening current inquiries using these big ideas. Another example of this is how our HWOO unit will be starting this term and will run across the rest of the year. We haven’t finished planning yet, but so far believe it will be about the social impact of language, how language adapts for different communities, systems and situations, and the concept of authorship. This will form a large portion (most? all?) of our language learning across the year, while also dipping in and out of other units and, no doubt, studio time. Our UOIs are no longer linear and we weave our way amongst them all year. In this way, Studio Time is supporting the rest of the learning, and the rest of the learning is supporting Studio Time by encouraging deeper thinking and new pathways. The interplay and cross over is an interesting thing for us to observe, track and explore further as a teaching team.
  • Students documenting their learning in a range of ways, for example sketchnoting, Google slides, videos etc. They’re not just documenting what they’re doing, but why and how and what they are learning, including skills, dispositions, knowledge, understandings, and how it is changing them as a learner. The curriculum links become quite evident through this ongoing process. Finding meaningful opportunities for students to share their learning journey with peers, teachers and parents has helped them to reflect, synthesise and communicate their learning, and identify their challenges and next steps. A bunch of students helped us to present on our approach to curiosity and Studio Time at a teacher workshop last week. It was powerful to see them engaging with teachers in a different forum and sharing their experiences.
  • Lots of modelling and discussing and sharing within classes and across classes and year levels is helpful
  • Workshops within Studio Time have allowed us to respond to what the students are revealing to us about their needs and wonderings. These have been run by teachers, students and experts.

Ultimately, we think it’s about us being curious about ALL the students and what they are revealing to us. What’s working well? What needs tweaking? What’s failed? What’s our next step? Where are the tensions? What’s the next layer? What does this student need right now? For a few students, the time is more structured, for a few students they require very little conferencing time with teachers – and then there is everything in between! What new or refined systems and structures do we need to move us forward overall? Then, what does this student need right now? Kath Murdoch’s post about the nuances involved in differentiating for students has been helpful for us. And finally, one of my new favourite questions: Where is the magic happening?

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