Reflections on the Beginning of a Learning Circle


On September 7, we began a new project — for the time being, it’s being called Pasajcap Learning Circle.

WHO * This circle consists of myself and three learners in a classroom of sorts. They are 10, almost 11 and 12 years old. Two girls and a boy. All children of expats who have lived here long-term at Lake Atitlan. All three were born in Guatemala and speak English and Spanish (one also speaks Czech). The two girls were in my 4th grade class last year at LIFE School (well, until I quit/got fired in January). I tutored the boy in English every week for several months this year. The larger circle includes their three mothers and one other teacher, Ed.

WHAT * What we are doing is being defined as we go. It’s not a school. It’s not not a school, either. It’s a paradox! It’s a semi-school, semi-unschool learning experiment. (See also: Why and How)

WHEN * I meet with the learners, Monday through Friday from 8:00-10:00 a.m. We practice mindfulnes11953417_10207963219143286_5555651634712168147_os, we talk, we write, we read, and soon, we will begin to do individual and group projects. They meet with Ed from 10:30 to 12:30 and learn about history, maths, and sciences through role playing, projects, mapmaking, music and other cool techniques.

WHERE  * For the moment, and until the end of October, we are at one learner’s home. She lives right on the lake, hence the ability for students to jump in and take a quick swim during recess! She happens be my neighbor in an area called Pasajcap, and it takes me all of ten minutes to walk to our makeshift school each morning. (It was a large art studio/storage shed that they transformed into a classroom.) However, in November and December, we’ll be at another learner’s home, a considerable hike up into the San Marcos valley and in January and February, we’ll move yet again to the third learner’s home in Tzununa.

WHY & HOW * Well, we are figuring that out as we go… Two days into the experiment, I realized I am way more “out there” tha12000869_10207963235583697_5838777169627311230_on the learners—meaning I want less structure, less schooliness, if you will. I want more of them coming up with ideas and getting excited about their own projects. I realized very quickly that a lot of unlearning needs to take place (for example, they want to ask permission for everything!) in order for them to be able to shape their own educations.

Two weeks into the experiment, I have realized that I need to offer more structure and leadership in order to foster their passions and interests. I have assessed their reading and writing skills and they are certainly lacking for their age, or the 5th grade level they are supposed to be at (all three have been in progressive schools since pre-kinder). In that way, I need to do some un-learning as well as a trained schoolteacher. They are each at the level they are at. They are not fifth graders, they’re developing humans, and I am a developing human, too. At the same time, I know how to spell and craft a quality sentence and they don’t, so I do need to incorporate grammar lessons into our daily meetings.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on the Beginning of a Learning Circle

  1. What a beautiful “experiment,” Michelle! Is the choice to change locations one of need or a choice you are all making? I’d be interested to know what the discussions were around location.

    How very interesting that the students wanted more structure than you! Well, I should say they were “used to” more structure than you wanted to provide. That’s the beauty of taking something from theory into the real lives of people – you can find out pretty quickly when something needs to be shifted or re-imagined!

    I love how you have adjusted to meet their needs, rather than their “supposed” needs. I am very excited to learn how everyone gets on as you all progress. Thanks for sharing your process!

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Lori! The changing of locations was a choice by the families involved… the thinking was that each mother would host the classes and provide snack/lunch for the kids during a two-month period. We will have to see how it goes. The benefit is that each learner gets the chance to “host” and feel ownership/responsibility for the “school.” The possible drawback is that we may upend our established routines by switching locations so often… but then again, this experiment is all about upending our established routines. Thanks for following along!

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