Friday, 28 December 2018

Invitations, Provocations and Backward Planning

Last year my primary inquiry was around provocations, I wanted to work on the way I used these in my class to deepen the play and discovery. What I discovered quite quickly is that first I actually needed to understand what a provocation is.

My understanding going into 2018 was that an invitation was specific, it invited children to play/discover in a specific way. A provocation was open ended, it allowed children to interact with a set provocation however their fancy took them.
After trying to set a few provocations, I quickly discovered that perhaps my definition was flawed and the way I was attempting to provoke simply wasn't going to work in the way I wanted to. What I discovered is encapsulated in the statement below.

Once you have taken the time to observe and reflect, it’s time to act on your thinking. After observation and reflection, you will be deciding whether you want to plan a response or if you need to find out more. One way to make that decision is to provide a provocation or a set of invitations for the children and then watch for the response (Stacey, Emergent Curriculum, 2009).

Although my provocations were well intended I wasn't actually tuning into the play to create them. I wasn't using them as a process of noticing, reflecting, recognising and responding, I was just setting what I thought were lovely provocations, but they held little interest for the children because that wasn't where their play was taking them. I was seeing fabulous things online and thinking I could recreate these in my classroom, the truth is, if it hadn't come from the children, it wasn't actually worth doing, no matter how interesting I thought it was the children simply were not interested.

Quite logically this discovery around provocations led me to further develop my understandings around planning, which I had been struggling with a little. Backward planning was born.

Before I go further I want to attempt to offer my definition of invitation and provocation as I find the are often offered up as the same thing and used interchangeably.

From various readings I like the idea that the environment we provide is an invitation. An invitation into play. For me an invitation is not based on anything I have noticed in the play and am therefore responding to, an invitation is based on what I know about the children, the age group, the way they like to play and designed to invite further play. To encourage curiosity, discovery, wonderings, various types of play, that may then reveal (or not) further interests and urges that I may be able to provoke further. The teacher may then choose to use the play and interests they see as a result to provoke further. This might be a simple "what if" could even be as basic as simple action or movement, a change in body language, an inclination, or as deliberate as a conversation.

When I think of invitations I think of intention. There is an intention by providing the invitation to inspire/encourage play in a certain way. I often use these specifically for writing, with the best example being our Spider Sabrina, who started out as just a web on the wall (pictured below), it was the children themselves that decided it was a web...if they had not done this, it would have evolved into something else this 'web' did eventually include a spider that would send us messages. The messages were my intention, but it was the children that allowed me to do this by sharing their knowledge of the book Charlotte's Web.

My intention here was to encourage talk, to provide a bit of magic that may or may not evoke a response from the children. The great interest in Sabrina, led me to do some provocation around spiders, which then evolved into insects and other living creatures. Had the children not at all been interested in the spider, I would have left it at that.

I really like this article around provocations and invitations.

The point I have got to with understanding invitations and provocations is to think of invitations as a way to spark play. As a teacher we then notice the interests being sparked from this invitation and provoke further, perhaps by providing several different invitations around this same interest. For me an invitation would only evolve further to guide further provocation if the children show interest or reveal to me certain understandings or questions. I will continue to provide provocations through photo, video, discussion, simple questioning, play, specific invitations until that interest dries up...we will then move on.  This may be the length of a day, a week, or even over a month.  Sometimes the interest may be fleeting and come to an end within an hour.

Within any classroom there may of course be several different provocations going on at once and this is the balancing act of the teacher. When to provoke further, and when to just leave them to it.

I like one teachers definition, taking straight from the article.

“an invitation is the spark, a provocation fans the fire”.

These quotes that resonate with me.

The materials we choose to bring into our classrooms reveal the choices we have made about knowledge and what we think is important to know. How children are invited to use the materials indicates the role they shall have in their learning. Materials are the text of early childhood classrooms. Unlike books filled with facts and printed with words, materials are more like outlines. They offer openings and pathways by and through which children may enter the world of knowledge. Materials become the tools with which children give form to and express their understanding of the world and the meanings they have constructed” (Cuffaro, Experimenting with the World, 1995).

Teachers endeavour to continually provoke children’s natural propensities to search for meanings, to pose questions of themselves and others, and to interpret the phenomena of their own lives. (Cooper, The Hundred Languages of Children, 2012).

So plain and simply a provocation comes from the children, it is part of the cycle of noticing, reflecting, recognising and responding. It will morph and change as guided by the children and within any classroom there is clearly an agreement between the adults and children that this is something we want to discover and learn more about.

From that understanding, backward planning was born. This year I had the courage to completely ditch any forward planning, other than my ingredients of play (you will need to click on the photo to enlarge.) That includes any timetable. Guided by the week before and my plan below I would set priorities for the week, but when and how these happened were fluid.

I would then, in my teaching/learning scrapbook keep a mind map of where the learning actually went. Tuning into interests, recognising the learning, noting these down and responding as was appropriate. Writing down what we had done, after we had done it. Usually the mind map is in handwritten scrawl, but this one below is neat and tidy so you can see what I mean.

To go along with this, we keep a class scrapbook where we document our learning in photos, captions, drawings etc. This is a document I refer back to constantly throughout the day.

We also share our learning on seesaw, so there is loads of documentation of the learning.

What I really want to try in 2019 is creating a mind map for each child. Having their name or photo in the middle and then documenting their interests, urges, social emotional learning and other areas of learning around the outside. I think this will create a very real and valid picture of the child as an individual and be a great discussion starter with whānau.

So as I end this blog post, I still feel a little vague on invitations vs provocations, but have come to terms that it doesn't really matter.

Very loosely and not assuming to be correct I offer this definition:

Invitations are the environment we provide, what we choose to put in this environment and provocations are what we do based on the interests and urges we see through children playing in that environment.

What I am clear on is this...nothing I do in the environment should ever say that there is one way to play with or interact with this invitation, it is not my job to tell, it is my job to notice, reflect, recognise and respond. To allow learning to be a mutual agreement between the children as peers and with myself, to truly allow it to be a mutually beneficial journey with no prescribed destination but lovely gorgeous places to explore along the way.

I hope everyone is enjoying their well deserved holidays!

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