12 November 2013

Starting with the Who

Last week saw the launch of Shared Histories, a France-New Zealand schools cross-curricular project  spanning the five years of the commemoration of World War One Centenary, starting 2014.
Initiated by the French Embassy in Wellington it corresponds with both the signing of an Arrangement of Education Cooperation between the Ministries of Education of France and New Zealand, the official launch of the Centenary Commemoration by François Hollande, President of France, and of many initiatives up and down New Zealand.
Shared Histories in New Zealand currently receives the coordinating support of the French Embassy, the Ministry of Education (NZ), NZAFT  and ILEP

Shared Histories is about fostering the Duty of Remembrance. Participants will interact around building a consciousness that human experiences are universal.
It provides a framework for New Zealand and French schools to form partnerships and work on common projects on the theme of WW1.

It is not about simply developing language skills:  it is about developing personal relevance for the all the students involved, through genuine social interaction and explorative reflection, supported with authentic documents and experiences.

This is a personal account of two extremely rich days, working with competent, visionary and courageous colleagues who see Shared Histories as the framework for cross curricular collaboration in their schools as well as the opportunity to engage with their students in the discovery and analysis of the world around them.

I was invited to facilitate the conversation around collaborative project building and the scaffolding role of ICTs.

inspired from Julia Atkin's Values & Beliefs about Learning to Principles and Practice
It is about project co-construction at all levels involving conversations and negotiations to establish grounds for collaboration and cooperation, to take action and make choices together but also independently from each other.

We worked around this starting with Who. Quite a few participants had already thought through and defined the project that they would like to carry. Starting with Who reminded them to consider who are the participants in their project  and potentially questions their assumption about the fact that the project they have in mind is the best idea until they know for sure that it is wide enough and encompassing enough for all participants to take ownership of it also.

WHO as identified by participants:
students in French class, History class, English class, vertical classes, librarian , Media studies , art, music teacher/students extra curricular students, principal, parents, school community, RSA, old boys network,

Considering Why also drew in a fair amount of conversation, as the Why? participants came out with is their Why, not the Why that is a common purpose designed and adopted by the community of Who which is going to give the project a life! This served as a reminder that in designing a project, it is important to consider who executes the project, their reasons, their motivation, and to provide a scaffold that allows participants to find their own drivers.

WHY as identified by participants:
opportunity for a cross curricular French led project, create a school partnership with a French school, create a product, opportunity to use language in an authentic communicative context, multilevel, identity, cross generational

Moving onto the How was about thinking of actions that will make the project happen. It was a worthwhile step as it focussed participants on the type of learning outcomes  they want their students to get out of the project. This was also a starting point to think about the type of tools that can serve the purpose and forced people to consider the capturing, selecting, curating of information, the creation of content during the process, the feedback and conversations emanating from this process…

HOW as identified by participants:
research, gather, archive, share, connect, build framework, involve, define setting, communicate for the project, communicate about the project, relate, reflect, build collectively, discuss, manage contacts, feedback, develop global citizenship awareness.

Arriving at the What, participants were invited to consider the value of capturing the process that leads to the completion of a project. Often the proposed projects at this early stage are prescriptive. The stages of development to lead to this are worth capturing as they will tell the story of the project and also allow to get feedback and tweak/progess. Building in regular check points also gives visibility to individual and groups contribution so that all involved have a clear view of their involvement, what they are learning and how they are learning. What is produced out of this process can end up being a range of creations, and a quick brainstorm around what it can look like indicated that participants were considering a product they could have control over (e.g.: a video, a wiki etc). This led to go back to Who? and to build a project framework that allow for creativity and interpretation for all involved to shine through.

Key Words for building a Shared Histories project as identified by participants:
Time, sustainability, partnership, flexibility, communication about the process, about the product, visibility.

Participants can use the Who, Why, How, What circles to work with their partners in their school as well as their French partners. Getting to know each other from the outset is essential to work towards defining a common framework that is negotiated and  actionable over time and distance, including a range of actors, supported by ICTs that are accessible to all involved.

Shared Histories provides an ambitious opportunity. The scope and range of the project came to life as teachers from French and New Zealand met on Saturday morning via video conference. Shared Histories is definitely real and the welcome as well as the input of the French from the Amiens academy was an amazing reminder that what we had been working on for the last few days was actually starting now!

Schools had been provisionally paired in the light of their initial project outline.  Each introduced each other, in their respective or the other's language, exchanged a few ideas around how they envisage to go about the project.

Shared Histories in NZ school actually started on Saturday 7th November. It is an exciting challenge ahead.

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