Dr. Judith M. Newman




[From Interwoven Conversations, p.15-18 ]

Coming to understand that learning is collaborative, universal, and incidental has meant learning to think about instruction, and my role in the classroom, in a radically different way. Frank Smith (1988) describes learning situations based on these beliefs as enterprises.

Enterprises are group undertakings whose purpose is self-evident. No one who participates in an enterprise ever has to ask, "Why am I doing this? “ (p.70)

There are unlimited possibilities for classroom enterprises: conducting a census, investigating family history or doing surveys on anything that catches students' interest, engaging in hands on science (not following textbook recipes or memorizing facts), creating and performing plays, exploring other performing arts, making videos and movies, writing letters (poems, stories, notices, cartoons, job applications, complaints…), a weekly publication, building boats and kites, a whole range of community projects.

There are considerable differences, Smith believes, between enterprises and regular school activities. In fact, he identifies four stringent criteria that must be met before he'd consider any activity an enterprise.

No grades. In everyday life, Smith contends, no-body gets 'marked' for engaging in any aspect of an endeavor. No one is tested. Enterprises are judged, but only in the ways in which all real life, out-of-school enterprises are judged—by how well they succeed in satisfying their intentions.

No restrictions. Enterprises aren't defined in advance by the teacher or restricted to what the teacher 'wants.' They aren't constrained by school timetables or confined to school buildings. Real learning ventures are bound neither by clocks nor by venue; learning occurs at unexpected moments, in unlikely locations: in bed, on the bus, in the shower. Enterprises result in interesting and often unpredictable 'products.' They are collaborative ventures; seeking and receiving help is legitimate and expected.

No coercion. No learner, Smith believes, should be forced to partake in any learning enterprise although learners may be encouraged to have a go. No one is excluded because of insufficient talent or experi-ence.

The role of the teacher is not to force children, which can never result in useful learning, nor to demand that they be interested and attentive when they are obviously bored or bewildered, but to ensure that sufficiently interesting and open enterprises exist to appeal to every child (p. 72).

No status.

The distinction between 'teachers' and 'learners' must be erased. There will always be some members of clubs and participants in enterprises who are more experienced than others, and there may even be management and supervisory functions, but these roles need not be filled by the the teacher (and never because the person is the teacher) (p.72).

In other words, in an enterprise everyone is a learner; everyone is a teacher.

Ah! Enterprises! Twenty-one grade 9s pulling together, giving up every noon hour for two weeks to plan, practise, and present a workshop for teachers. Now that's an enterprise! It leaves me with a nagging question, though: Why is there more learning occurring during noon hours than in my classes? Motivation, commitment, and choice must be the answer. My class is missing Smith's criteria. The workshop leaders are freed from the usual classroom constraints. Immediate feedback, not grades from the workshop participants, determines whether they were effective or not. I can see I need to think about the relevance of enterprises for the classroom.
Pat Kidd

Enterprises work, Smith believes, when learning is at the heart of what's going on. However,

If the teacher is automatically the person in charge, even in pulling strings from off-stage, then the activity may again become another school project, engaged in to satisfy or placate authority rather than for intrinsic satisfaction (p. 72).

Learning how to lead without being in charge has been difficult. I don't do it as well as I would like to. There are still times when I overstep someone's boundaries and interfere with their learning, or worse, stop it altogether. However, with each new teaching situation I learn more about how to create learning-focused enterprises. I am slowly getting better at engaging and sustaining people's learning and at learning along with them.