[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
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).
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)
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.
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
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.