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Trust in Noticing

Noticing is the core of learning. Yet it’s rarely trusted as enough. It is enough. It’s what children most need for innovative learning.

Trust in Noticing is an approach for teaching and learning. Although trust may seem obscure, “anything essential is invisible to the eyes” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery). This approach supports children’s practice with open-ended noticing and growth of intrinsic motivation for learning. It allows innovation to evolve from children’s finding of something new inside something known.



HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.

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March 2019
Not only is a learning approach based in trust relevant, it is of utmost urgency if we want all children to know how to find and follow their own questions as curious citizens in our world.

About the innovation

What does it mean to Trust in Noticing?

Trust in Noticing is an idea and approach, not a program. And it’s not new. But it is needed and rarely practiced now, especially in our current educational context saturated with shiny objects and technological buzzwords marketed as viable pathways for children’s learning.

The simplicity of the idea holds potential for its scale to be deep, not based in an effort of replication.

In 2010, Trust in Noticing found its way into development of Children’s Innovation Project, which embraces innovation as finding something new inside something known and technology as raw material for learning. Through a focus on the language-logic systems of technology, children gain access to the thinking of technology, instead of just the stuff of technology. At its heart, Children’s Innovation Project is about deepening children's learning about learning itself. Trust in Noticing has always been its primary approach.

Learning since 2010 has resulted in re-thinking about what kinds of ideas are best sharable with others. Many of the core ideas of Children’s Innovation Project were lost in translation because people equivocated the Circuit Blocks (physical material) of the project with the ideas of the project. We tried to communicate ideas about learning through the Circuit Blocks, but the "stuff" of the project tended to overshadow the ideas.

Trust in Noticing focuses exclusively on an idea of learning so it might be shared as an approach that grows across various contexts, such as: an arts-based summer camp, Grade 3 mathematics classroom, home-based preschool, seminar for administrators, museum maker space, outdoor classroom, mentoring program, STEAM lab, course for pre-service educators.

As an idea, how might Trust in Noticing support others to think about how learning is framed, how questions are asked, how materials are offered, how programming is designed in their contexts, without being another program to add on top of what they already do?

At first glance it might not seem new enough or significant enough to warrant attention. But noticing is the foundation for everything that happens—and might happen—in a classroom or other learning context.

An open question of "What do you notice?" allows children to find something new inside what they already know. It allows an opportunity for children to grow language to talk about their thinking, daydream and imagine, and connect ideas with others. When children are trusted with time and space for noticing, they can bring all of themselves to their learning, including their feelings about learning itself.

A teacher who has worked with Children's Innovation Project since 2010 and has extended a Trust in Noticing approach into all of her teaching says: Adding"What do you notice?" in any lesson immediately invites every child to the discussion. It is no longer about the "right answer" but sharing your view with another. Even the least confident learner can engage and notice something about what we are observing, be it numbers, a leaf, a geometric shape, or a piece of fruit. Noticing leads to wondering, and good questions lead to great discoveries…(Jennifer Ernsthausen, Math-Science Teacher, Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5)

An open frame for noticing allows educators to practice what it means to trust children in their authentic inquiry, notice what children say and do in their process, and find new kinds of questions to ask children that support the growth of their internal motivation for learning.

When children are trusted to learn in this way, they practice how to find their own questions, follow them through exploration with others, deal with struggles that arise, accept being wrong, change their minds, listen to others, and reflect on their overall approach to learning. Children are allowed to create their own learning from their own curiosities, rather than rely on an adult to direct or motivate them.

Trust in Noticing matters in practice at a program level with children and also at a broader meta-level of how we think, operate, and lead inside our systems of learning:

Trust in Noticing allows us to focus on where our systems trust (or don’t trust) educators and how this impacts how educators trust (or don’t trust) themselves and how they trust (or don’t trust) their students.

Trust in Noticing allows us to focus on where our systems try to entice or “motivate” children into learning instead of believing that meaningful motivation for learning can only grow from inside of children themselves.

Trust in Noticing allows us to focus on what is already there—and more than enough—inside any classroom or context, and shift away from deficit models trying to solve for the lack of something.

As an idea and approach,Trust in Noticingis something you can start today by reflecting on what already exists in your context (even if you think it is small). Any program, classroom, or initiative has layers full of opportunity for more trust and more open-ended noticing. Shifts towards this approach are subtle, yet significant. Openness to trusting a process of growing towards more trust in noticing is how to begin.

Implementation steps

Notice yourself.

Investment in this part of the process is important and shouldn't be rushed. Most of what is taught to children in schools is indirect. Most of what is taught to children indirectly comes from the dispositions of the adults around them.

If you are an educator... reflect on your own dispositions for learning. Where do you like to be wrong? Right? Do you think it is better to know or not know? What feelings arise in yourself when something is hard to do? How do you feel about boredom?

If you are a leader of a school or organization... reflect on yourself just as an educator reflects (above). Then... reflect on the entire learning organization. Where are educators given space to engage and reflect on their dispositions? How does knowledge operate in your system of learning? What do you think children in the space think it means to be intelligent? Good learner?

When we were growing a Trust in Noticing approach through Children's Innovation Project, we spent years working with both children and educators to engage and shift learning dispositions. With educators, we spent two years using the Simple Interactions framework to build trust among the group. This investment of time allowed us to use video noticing about instruction (of teachers using a trust in noticing approach with their students) much more significantly than had we bypassed the process of slowly building trust.

This stage doesn't happen before engagement with children, it happens during and alongside supporting children in their noticing. Time for educator reflection about what happens during learning with children is an important piece of the process. This will directly impact children's opportunities and abilities to reflect on their own dispositions for learning as well.

Too often programs are "given" to educators in forms that are "easy" (boxes, packages, kits). These sorts of things might be "easy" to start, but they don't easily shift the approach of teaching and learning. Trust in Noticing is not easy to start, but it is simple enough in its focus to support depth of learning for all involved, if the time is invested.

Slowly building trust among educators and supporting them to shift their own dispositions for learning as part of their classroom practice is a necessary investment. This investment is directly related to how children will learn to think and feel about learning.

To get started, you'll need to trust in the potential of trust.

Reflect on design and materials.

Start with materials: Instead of giving children many options of materials for learning, try the opposite. Arrange for experiences where everyone has one rock or one penny or one small seed. Limits with materials expand the open space for thinking and allow children to figure out what it means to motivate their own learning.

Tweak your framing of learning "assignments": Instead of giving children a clear task to complete or arranging for a project with a rubric attached, say something open-ended instead like "Explore." An open frame will allow children to find all sorts of ways to think and engage with learning instead of doing what they think is "expected."

There are many other small shifts in language, materials, and design of experience that allow for children to learn how to find and follow their own questions. A focus on trust in children's interest in learning and a consistent focus on expanding a space for noticing will allow these to emerge in any context.

Time for educators to come together to share ideas is important. Collaborative reflection about student learning is far more impactful than lesson plans, planning templates, or curriculum guides.

Thus, it is important that professional learning for educators about classroom practice and decisions about design/materials for children's noticing be based in trust and generative practice. Again, Trust in Noticing is an approach, not a program.

No "training" of teachers or "improvement" models are needed. Teachers are already enough and they have all they need to make decisions about design and materials for children's noticing-based learning if they are trusted and afforded the time for reflective practice.

Start small.

Encourage children to collect small objects and bring them into the classroom.

Allow children to organize and sort objects for classroom use.

Begin exploration with sets of small objects so children have an opportunity to practice with limits and learn what it means to find something new inside something known.

Grow conversations with children about what emerges from their process (feelings about it, approach to finding more, ways to learn together, etc.).

Support observational drawing as a method for deeper noticing and metacognitive reflection about one's own seeing.

Grow educators' approach for supporting such kinds of noticing practices through investment in their professional learning.

Allow practice.

Growing Trust in Noticing takes time and it will be messy at first. Keep going. Arrange for many times during each day for children to practice noticing (and for educators to practice holding trust in this approach).

Allow for whole class, small group, partner, and individual opportunities to practice noticing.

Allow for noisy as well as silent opportunities for practice.

Allow for practice with all kinds of objects and situations throughout the day. Notice what is happening outside the window. Notice a sound that is far away and unknown. Notice the face of another child. Notice a feeling after reading a book.

Keep expanding a space for noticing and trust that learning will emerge from inside children themselves because they are finally being offered a space for it to grow.

Expand space for trust in learning.

One specific way educators and learning organizations can sustain a focus on Trust in Noticing with children is to document small moments when this is observed.

Educators can write short descriptive notes to each other when they observe a colleague putting into practice something that comes from a trust in children's noticing.

Administrators can arrange for professional learning opportunities based in description of learning (transcripts of learning in classrooms, video of practice, short vignettes of children's conversations with each other). When educators are allowed opportunities to deeply notice the impact of children's noticing, this practice is more likely to continue and grow.

Warning: The mixed messages inside a school (or learning organization) are often what prevent a Trust in Noticing approach from growing. Trust (or lack of trust) trickles down, so how educators are trusted (or not) matters directly to how much space there is for them to grow a trust-based approach with their students. A wholistic approach to reimagining Trust in Noticing is essential for its impact to most deeply impact all children's learning.

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