Aristotle wrote, “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” It is “a slow ripening fruit.” While he was writing about friendship with another person, what if we thought about learning as friendship with a question, topic, or challenge? We cultivate a connection with it was we study, explore, analyze, create, seek to understand and apply. We take or time with it, invest time and seek to truly understand. Do we treat learning as a “slow ripening fruit” or do we rush through tasks, hurry to complete the next assignment, or seek optimal efficiency as we strive to make sure that each student performs well on some set of standards?
Imagine a middle school that is organized into centers, not too different from what we see in many early childhood classrooms. At each center, there is a written challenge provided by the teacher(s). Student are able to choose which challenges to complete each day and how much time to devote to each of them. However, there are certain rules to govern how often one can return to a given station for a new challenge. The learners document their progress and they are largely self-directed, with teachers facilitating as needed. This short description represents a relatively new school model know as Slow Education. It takes on a different style depending upon the school or grade level, but the central notion is that learners spend significant time working through challenges and projects. What appears to be similar across the few slow learning schools that I have learned about so far is that learning is not focused upon students meeting short-term standards and targets. It is slow and deep learning where learners cultivate a myriad of skills and character traits over an extended period of time. Process matters.
Most of the examples that I’ve learned about so far are taking place in the UK, places like St. Silas Primary School (the video available through that link is worth the few minutes) or Matthew Moss High School. This is a seemingly new phrase to me and most of what I am just shared comes from this Slow Education blog and the accompanying Facebook page. At the same time, this does not seem to be an entirely new idea. In many ways, it has parallels with self-directed learning, project-based learning, challenge-based learning, and certain aspects (although not all) of free and democratic schools, at least in the sense that there is ample room for student self-direction. As I understand it, this approach places heavy emphasis upon the cultivation of a certain type of ethos in the school or learning environment. It is a place where learning is active but not rushed, where there is time and interest in who one is becoming and not just what one does or does not know, and where high value is placed upon the quality of interactions between the teacher and learners.
I definitely want to add “slow education school” to my list of schools to visit.