Individualization and Collaborative Learning

Willa, at Every Waking Hour, talked recently about my Collaborative Learning and Unschooling. She made some great points that I would like to expound on.

. . . perhaps the collaborative learning component has something to do with the visual-spatial RB learner’s needs. The reason I’m wondering is that both Cindy and Stephanie mention that a collaborative form of unschooling has been the best suited for their family and children. Stephanie’s description of how she gives the children some structured things to do, but they consent to it though they have not suggested it themselves, is a description of how things have gone best in our household too.

I don’t think the collaborative learning process is especially a right-brained rhythm. In fact, I feel it reflects human learning rhythms of childhood. Now, I will definitely credit my strong right-brained learning firstborn son for my ability to “discover” the process that unfolded from his learning journey because he is so set in how he learns that he would be heard or we would all suffer the consequences! Once he taught me that there is a process that can be trusted, it was easier for me to offer that to each of my subsequent children, no matter their learning style. What each child shared was how individual it would look as it built upon the foundation of the learning process.

I spent all last year pretty much radically unschooling. It was a leap of faith and trust for me, and it was difficult. It taught me a lot. When I write on this blog about math books and handwriting practice, and well, “assignments”, it makes me feel a bit uneasy, because it isn’t “pure” unschooling. But I am seeing that the kids respond to it. So I like that word “collaborative”. Other unschooling friends of mine have used metaphors like “dancing”. I think sometimes of how I used to bounce Aidan on the mini-trampoline. He had sensory integration dysfunction and the bouncing really changed his mood, sometimes; it helped him organize. He did not ask for the bouncing, because he could not talk or even gesture for what he wanted — part of the source of his frustration was that lack of communication ability! but he responded to it, and it helped him.

I actually wrote a long post about radical unschooling, and decided not to publish it. But, it helped me get some thoughts out. And you touched on it here. I wonder if it is human nature to become “extreme” in order to push past our present conditioned thinking into new ideas? In other words, the basis of radical unschooling is a good thing because it can be a catalyst to push us far enough out of our comfort zone to “wake us up” to new thinking and ideas. However, the extreme practice itself doesn’t necessarily follow reason, thus, eventually one modifies it to fit their real lives, or as one practices it fully, there is a “cultish” view on “pure living”.

That said, as I adopted “unschooling” as an educational representation of my beliefs on how we live our lives, I viewed it as a foundational belief. My firstborn child showed me how that looked in practice. My putting together words to the Collaborative Learning Process was another step to sharing what the journey emerged as through my children’s lives. My definition of unschooling, and what my collaborative learning process offers, is an understanding that there are some foundational beliefs about learning, and then each family and individual builds on top of that. The foundation, therefore, is similar, but the house looks very different!

Some of the foundational points to me are that children have worth and are fully capable of being active participants in their learning journey. Another foundation is that each person learns in their own way and has unique gifts within them as well as shortcomings. Another foundation for me would be that we are all here to help each other grow into who we are meant to be. Another would be that there are stages of learning that help us in our discovery process, whether for self or for others, and we can capitalize on these moments.

I could see where it could be overdone — become a trap rather than a helpful support. In the past, I too often worked my way into a structured trap. My kids would respond to a small amount of regular academics. So I’d pile on more and more incrementally, trying to get to where I sub-consciously thought we “should” be. Of course, they would then get overloaded.

I notice a sort of joyful peace with my kids when the work they are doing is not too much, not too little, and “just right” in kind (you can tell I’ve been reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears to Paddy recentlySmile). Obviously this is not happening all the time every day. For one thing, I make mistakes — break the rhythm of the dance, step on someone’s toe, lose my concentration. But the challenge of that dance– of doing my part in that collaboration — is very invigorating.

I believe learning comes in all shapes and sizes. Personally, as a person who liked school and did well in it, as did my hubby, when we chose an unschooling perspective, we had no intention of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. As a left-brained learner myself, I absolutely loved workbooks and overall learning from books. To this day, if I want to learn something, I prefer to find a book versus seek someone out. My hubby being a whole-brainer, he easily soaked up lectures, didn’t need texts, and intuited abstract information from being exposed to concepts. To this day, he loves to listen to others talk as well as giving self tours with historical and architectural locations. In other words, we recognized that learning happens in books, through people, through experiences, self-guided, through formal avenues, through experiences, with activity-based materials, with lectures, in homes, in communities, in other words, in all facets! What we wanted to change in our learning environment was that each way of learning would be equally valued.

Discovering ones learning style is one component to joyful growth. It shouldn’t limit, but simply create opportunity to give value to diverse ways of learning. My oldest is highly visual and enjoys creative outlets, but loves a good lecture. My daughter equates writing with breathing, but regularly finds herself in nature and studying it. My builder son understands the visual-spatial concept of connecting things together through math and music, and yet curls up with a good book these days. One preference doesn’t negate the benefit of others. I don’t think it’s all or nothing. I truly believe it’s about individual balance and rhythm.

My collaborative learning process is a foundation. It shows how to recognize in order to trust that a learning process exists and what a person can gain from each. It shares that each individual brings their own gifts and purpose to their lives and this world and it is meant to be excavated, grow, flourish and bless. It reveals how the insights, experience, and knowledge of mentors, adults, and parents can be integrated to enhance, lift, and strengthen the young or less experienced. In essence, collaboration opens the door to all the good that is available in assisting us in our individual, unique learning journey.

Although there is a foundation, each house built upon it is glorious onto itself. We are all unique creations of a loving Heavenly Father, built upon His rock. Let us guide our children’s learning lives by principle, not rules. Self before system; self above system!

3 responses to “Individualization and Collaborative Learning

  1. “I wonder if it is human nature to become “extreme” in order to push past our present conditioned thinking into new ideas? ”

    Good point — I will have to think about it! I do think it functioned that way for me with regard to RU.

    I find your Collaborative Learning layout so useful. I may post on it a bit more since it corresponds with my experiences with my kids.

  2. That bit about foundations is excellent (not that the rest of the post isn’t, too). thanks for thinking these thoughts out loud for us. they do really help.

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