Friday, April 29, 2011

Crop Rotation and Classroom Practice

These last couple of weeks on holiday, I've probably spent more time planning and preparing than I have for a long time, and as a result, I'm really excited about getting back into the classroom. It's not that I haven't spent time planning in past holidays - rather that in 2011 I have had more time available to think about my classroom practice and where to take it.

Since 2003, after returning from Japan, I have been (almost non-stop) studying part-time while teaching full-time, and I have say, it has taken its toll. Mostly in lost sleep, but also in lack of mental space and available time. Last year I finished a Postgrad Diploma in Education in e-learning, and was preparing this year to begin my thesis research for my masters, looking at children and adolescents' attitudes to privacy and risk when using social networking websites. 

For one reason or another, this year I decided to break from the study for a year and to be honest, it's been liberating! Now that I'm not studying I wonder how I found the time to do it. I really do enjoy studying, but when the only time in the day available for it is after the kids have gone to bed and the dishes are done, it can take more than it offers to life. Already one term into the year and the study break has breathed new life into my teaching - ironic really, as that was what I was hoping the study would achieve!

I think I was feeding the theory and starving the practice. More ambitious for qualifications than tried and true experience on the ground. No amount of journal articles read and annotated, no amount of APA referencing, will improve classroom practice - unless one is very deliberate about, and has time to reflect on classroom implications of theory and let these change your practice, and all this requires time.

I think there are some parallels in agriculture, especially around the notion of crop-rotation.  I don't know a huge amount about gardening and that kind of thing, but as I understand it, different crops draw different nutrients out of the soil, and if you keep planting the same crop in the same soil, season after season, the soil becomes depleted and the crops weaken or fail. To avoid this, farmers/gardeners will plant different kinds of crop, or leave the soil to rest altogether, to give it a chance to recover.

That is where I am at right now in my teaching. I've been growing academic crops for a long time, and it's time to give it a rest. Time to have the space to experiment with some of the great ideas that I often hear and read about from others, and see how they work for my learners. Time to reflect on practice, and feed this into future planning; time to provide meaningful feedback and create authentic learning experiences; time to redesign my classroom space and try new things.

I'm excited to be a part of the E-Learning Classroom wiki, a project in transforming classroom practice towards genuine e-learning integration, and reflecting as a community of practice, under the guidance of Jacqui Sharp. This wiki, and others that Jacqui has developed, are so rich in resources and ideas, that it will be the hub of my professional development for the foreseeable future. I strongly encourage anyone to spend some time on these wikis and refer them to other teachers you know who are looking to transform their own practice.

Will I return to study and finish my masters? I'm sure I will, but I want it to be from a firm foundation of practice, and that's what I'm thoroughly enjoying building at the moment!


  1. Great article Craig. What I like most in this is the sense that this year the 30 odd kids in your class are going to benefit most from your activity - and that's what we went into teaching for, isn't it? Maybe your next round of academic study should be full time so you don't have a split focus :). There are a few scholarships out there for this. Keep sharing, I am enjoying your thinking.

  2. Cheers, Dorothy. I have been thinking the same thing myself, about studying full-time. I had a go at a Study Leave grant for this year but unfortunately was unsuccessful. I'll try again! Interestingly, taking the break from study has made me re-think what I want to research - definitely something with a focus on learning, as opposed to just investigating young people's practices. So the break is good for taking step back and developing clarity. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Craig...we are immensely proud of you & your achievements...what a lucky bunch of children you have in your class :) Great article!