Melissa A. Butler, founder of reimagining project and director of Children's Innovation Project
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Trust in Noticing
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 Noticing is 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.