The Practice
Experience Oriented impressions
In 1990 I stood with Paul Bouw, Jeanette Deenen and an enthusiastic group of parents at the cradle of the first school for Experience Oriented Education in the Netherlands. We founded primary school Uilenspiegel in Boekel (Noord Brabant) and started with twenty-three children. Now about some fifteen years later, it is an adequate medium-sized school which has made a large contribution to the development of Experience Oriented Education. From the time I counselled groups, I was an internal counsellor and later an educational counsellor I have recorded a number of exemplary situations. They have been included in this book in various places. They are not coincidental descriptions. However they are not exceptional either. The concept is easy to describe. It is less easy to explain the practice. In order to express the fullness of the practice more is needed than just a written recording.

When we started in 1990 our school was attended by children who already had a complete history at other schools. We were searching for an approach that was linked up with our vision. Of course the children were acting from a for them familiar pattern.
So all children asked me ‘if they might go to the WC’. I had groups 4 up and including 8 and had no time to answer those questions. It struck me that if I said ‘that they could determine that themselves’ that children went to the WC very often the first few days. To be honest I thought it was exciting if the children went to the toilet with so much pleasure. However I had always pointed out to myself that I could organize the classroom more interestingly than the toilet. And .. after a few days they came back and only went when they really needed to go. Except for the one who goes more often but that does strike you then!

Who cannot make the classroom more fun than the toilet
must agree upon who may go when.
The ways of working in practice
Normal is different
Janneke is a teacher in groups 5/6. She asks me to come in her class. She wants to have a conversation with six boys. She has spoken to them more often about the behaviour that they show towards each other. ‘Tough’ and ‘mad’ that is what the boys call it when they are discussing it. Janneke has the impression that it is harmful to a pleasant, relaxed development. When she asked two days ago what would happen if she ‘played’ someone else the whole day, Kees said: “In fact you are nobody then; not yourself and neither the other person.” The boys had indicated that they in fact did not want it that way. It is also Kees who says when I sit down next to them: “I think that I know what we are going to discuss.” Janneke stretches out two fists in front of her and opens: “You know that we have recently spoken about yourself (she puts up one fist) and the one you are playing when you are acting toughly or madly (and she puts up the other fist.)”
“Yes” Rob says, “then that one (and he points at the fist representing ‘yourself’) is not used.” “And..?” Janneke is inviting. “I am actually curious who the other one is,” Kees says. “But how are you releasing that one?” Joris laughs. The solutions are ‘simply funny’. They think the funniest suggestion is about the zip; you open a zip inside yourself and you open it if you want to show yourself. “In fact we must act normally then,” Jan says. He is also looking at Janneke. I ask him how that could be possible. Kees is beaming: “That is not mad and not tough. So in fact the opposite of ‘mad and tough’, is ‘normal’.”

“Yes,” Jan adds, “so in fact normal is different…” “And that while normal is in fact normal,” Rob finishes. I ask them if they can tell from others if they act normally of in fact toughly or madly. “By the eyes,” Rob says and looks as somebody who is not himself. “I can tell it very well from Joris,” Kees says, “and then he does something, but you can tell by his smile that he in fact does not really want to do it.” Joris distorts his face. “Yes.. that smile…nice, isn’t it.”

Joris shakes his head. And that is what Kees obviously also meant. “How could you help each other in this?” I ask. “By acting normally,” Niels says who had ducked in the sofa so far. Also Gijs opens out: “Yes that you say for example after four times that you must not do it.” “For me you may say it right away,” Niels reacts. “For me too,” Jan shouts. But about that no agreement is reached. “Or wink?” Kees says, while he tries it and experiences that it is not handy.

“No, it is not easy to do that secretly.” Gijs tells that Janneke sometimes mentions his name when he does something that is not good. The others think that is an excellent means, for now everybody knows what it is about. I ask if everybody thinks that we have finished this conversation. “Marleen has heard everything; she has been listening all the time,” Joris says. I ask him if he was going to do arithmetic if we had this conversation with a couple of other children. Joris is laughing scornfully, but he does not risk that they will have to call his name already.
The circle is the moment a class or group comes together in view of exchanging thoughts and experiences. The circle as meeting place is pre-eminently a place where the contact between pupils mutually and between pupils and teacher is realised. Next the circle can be used for planning and evaluation aims.

Ara has been a teacher at a school for Experience Oriented Education for three years now. Formerly she planned one or two fixed circles every day. At the moment she determines together with the children at the beginning of the week which circles they want and when. This has increased the involvement very much. In one of the many different kinds of circles, the evaluation circle, Henk (10) tells that he has not worked well in the arithmetic corner for the umpteenth time. He knows that he is to blame himself. He does not take the initiative to look for another seat if he is disturbed. He remarks that he works much better in the language corner. According to Henk that is due to the position of the desks in that corner. He proposes to change the position of the desks in the arithmetic corner. The teacher takes up this proposal and asks Henk if he wants to make a ground-plan of the arithmetic corner with the formation that he likes to see there. Henk agrees on this. Some days later the new formation in the arithmetic corner has been realised according to Henk’s proposal.

The forum is a moment at which more classes of the whole school come together in view of exchanging thoughts and experiences. The keynote of the forum can be meetings or planning and organisation.

Sandra is a new teacher straight from the teachers training college. She still thinks the week openings that she has to lead herself very excitingly. That is why she does this together with a colleague. Together with the whole school they sing the school song. She tells who the persons are celebrating their birthday this week and there is also a song for them. Next to that it also really is her turn. Together with a colleague she does a play as an introduction to the children’s book week. She is the spider in a big web. That her colleague has a giant vacuum cleaner frightens the kids. The higher classes think it is hilarious. Sandra’s week starts with an extremely pleasant feeling.
During the week’s ending on Friday she is relaxed and apparently presents with ease. At the end of the week’s ending Sven (10) comes and calls forward Kamir (4). Kamir wants to show his dwarves’ house which he has made in one of the workshops. Dressed as a dwarf he tells what can be seen inside the dwarves’ house and how dwarves live in it. Together with a lot of dwarf friends he sings a song. He has learnt it during a project about dwarves. The project developed with reference to a dwarf story. Then the children brought everything from home connected with dwarves.

Being a laughing-stock  
I have a group 3/4 this year. An exciting job. Twenty-six children who are among others very busy learning the reading-writing process. I know the phases of Kees de Baar already by heart. The reading-writing corner has been organised nicely. Even for the children in which the ‘budding reading process’ does not get started I have well-structured material.  
Besides colleagues are prepared to advise by word and deed. A heavy, fascinating start. Safe enough to go for it.
In fact I see progress for all children, now we have been at work for about two months. Except for Bart. Bart is a sociable little chap of six years old. He likes to play football and likes to be outside (perhaps because of this). Inside he says clever things but reading remains ‘a tight squeeze’. He does know the letters and reads several words. But it is not from his heart. Writing is not favourite at all. Bart is very creative when it comes to reasons why he in fact does not have to write. In the weekend I came across a beautiful poster.

A picture of a monkey which dressed as a goalkeeper is leaning against the goal post. The class is working. I have not discussed his contract letter with Bart. I stick the poster on the door and I put a card on it with: ‘This is Bart.’ I leave the classroom, close the door and I am having a cup of coffee. Coffee, some milk, stirring quietly, drinking slowly and another cup. As if I can see Bart through the door, I am already enjoying his possible reaction. After some ten minutes I cannot hold it any longer. I walk into the class. Everybody is working in an exceptionally ‘quiet’ way.

Without looking I close the door behind me. Bart has a red head that sticks above the arithmetic cupboard. In a powerful way he points at the door behind me. I turn around and read during loud shouting, applause and laughing the texts of more than twenty cards. Many different handwritings have recorded many different comparisons. I recognize Bart’s handwriting. He really thinks I am the monkey.

And I do know that ‘realy’ has double l but I will tell him tomorrow (at the earliest).
Contract work is a form of organisation in which an activity programme is laid down formally for every individual pupil for a specific period e.g. for a week. To finish this programme the pupil has part of the time (contract working time) at his disposal in which he can decide relatively independently about the duration and the order of the distinguished activities.

Pim had been a teacher at a Jenaplan school for years before he started working at a school for Experience Oriented Education. He was used to a differentiated approach. Most children can cope with a week’s task. Some have individual tasks, adapted to their pace and capacity. For the contract work he can make use of a number of basic principles.
Pim indicates as well as possible before to the children:
1. How much time they get. Planned instructions etc. are in the contract.
2. Which rooms children may use and may not use. Some noisy rooms for example are closed in the morning.
3. What the criteria are. So children must know when they are doing ‘well’.

He distinguishes 4 types of children while working:
1. Children that can work autonomously; they hardly need the teacher.
2. Children that can work autonomously after instruction; they can work independently after they have exchanged strategies and ways of working.
3. Children that have to be taken by the hand (temporarily); they experience insufficient support from ways of working, methods and materials.
4. Children that are working with a plan of action; they are counselled intensively.

His challenge has been every time to get children to a level higher. He keeps asking himself what he can teach the children to be able to do it themselves.

He gives his instructions in a sloping way:
all children that need instruction come together. Pim lets them have a look at the material of the new contract. Children that have questions, ask them to each other or to Pim. Together they exchange strategies. The children that can start working leave. The children that stay behind can go into problems more intensely with Pim. Finally one or two children usually remain which he can counsel separately.
The most difficult thing for Pim is to find out quickly what the real questions of the children are. Nevertheless he has made great progress in this. Some children say they do not understand arithmetic or do not understand assignment 7. Formerly he started to explain immediately. Now he starts the search for the real question. A simple strategy works well in any case. He asks what children do understand, makes them tell and draw themselves. From this it becomes clear what they do not understand yet. He notices more and more often too that children after they have been explaining things to themselves cry ‘Oh yes’ and walk away. He has the children made the habit of asking real questions. For a while he closed the book when children said they did not understand the assignment. Mostly children did not seem to know at all what the assignment was. He was inclined to give an explanation while he in fact did not know what the question was. Now most children are coming to tell already what they do know and what they do not know. Recently Inez came with her arithmetic book. She looked at Pim and said: “I understand everything but I do not want to sit with you for a while.”

Why would you answer a question that has not been asked?

Petra (10) is sitting in the arithmetic corner. She puts the headphones on and listens to a cassette on which the tables of up and including 10 are sung. In this way she checks which tables she cannot sing along fluently enough. She makes of the most difficult tables a complete series in her arithmetic exercise book while making use of a table slide. In that way she checks the result of each table so she can be sure that everything is good. Finally she puts on the recorder and tries to sing along with all the tables.

In the evaluation circle she explains what she has been doing. She discovers that she has been doing arithmetic almost the whole morning. She does not mind because she wants to get to know the tables as soon as possible. Moreover she could not stop it. It becomes clear that she has used her time very usefully and that she has learnt much. She thinks that she will have less trouble doing arithmetic in the little shop.

Mental motor
Searching for the zone of near development.
The teacher of group 7/8 is sitting at the instruction table with two children. He asks me to sit with them. Simon and Karim are thinking of project questions. They want to do a project about cars and lorries. It is remarkable that the two of them know a lot already. That seems to be the case more often. The teacher has become ‘stuck’ with them. No real questions are coming up that can result in research. I heard part of the conversation. My first estimate was: idle talk but what is true about it? I ask Simon and Karim to tell me one more time what they already know about cars. In turn they tell about power, pistons, accelerating, ticking over etc. I am in my advantage.  
Actually I know nothing about cars. When the bonnet opens, I open a Chinese book.

Because I cannot follow them I ask them to draw it. “Tell me what you are drawing and how it works,” is my instruction. Simon begins. He is drawing pistons inside the engine. “Do you know the commercial of those dwarves that are going up and down very quickly and..” I get an idea of how it works. Then he is drawing a connecting shaft. Then he starts again an ‘idle talk’. I am not satisfied with that anymore. I want to know how it exactly works. None of them can tell me that. Karim puts a question mark to it. Then they are starting to draw from the tyres and they start reasoning.

From the wheels to the shaft it is clear. They also indicate to me that the connection then looks like that of watches. Of course it is much bigger. But what it is exactly like and what the connection is like to the engine is unknown. Again we write down a question mark. Simon and Karim are looking at the drawing and then at each other. There are no project questions on the paper. But together they have gone outside already. There are builders. The bonnet is opened. The drawing is the paper with the points to be discussed. No garage owner or mechanic and yet an answer to their questions. Quickly and efficiently. Real questions develop only if you know what you know and what you do not know.

Project work is a series of intrinsically motivated activities of pupils aimed at the exploration of a piece of reality. Project works when children meet with certain questions, problems or themes that strongly appeal to them.
It takes its shape by a cyclic movement of research (exploring) and reporting (processing).

Amaira has worked with project work for years. She thinks a lot has changed since there are computers with an internet connection in the classroom. Some children just want to type a word and then print everything on that ‘project’. It turned out to be a reconnoitring. After arrangements had been made about the use of the internet and the number of prints per person the computer became one of the sources (just like PowerPoint became one of the ways of processing information.) Especially in individual projects it gives children a quick start. But in class projects and school projects there is more attention for doing and discovering things together. Since some time it has been an agreement that children, provided they are well prepared and accompanied by a parent, can set out during school time. Suddenly a lot of initiatives seem attainable and parents are also challenged to visit interesting people and places. Three months after her grandmother died of cancer Cecile (12) comes with the wish to know more about this illness. She starts collecting material. At school she finds nothing at all. In the local library she finds a number of leaflets. The leaflets are from the cancer foundation. She writes to the foundation to ask for material that is suitable for children. In the letter she asks a number of directed questions. She is mainly looking for answers to questions such as: how cancer develops, which kinds of cancer there are, how the chances to survive are for every kind, what the counselling of cancer patients and the people in their environment is like and how big the taboo is to talk about cancer. Furthermore she arranges an interview with somebody she knows and who has had cancer for thirteen years and she wants to have a street interview to find out how big the taboo is. She wants to make a book in which it becomes clear for children of her age that cancer is a life threatening disease about which there is much uncertainty, but with which patients and people in the patient’s direct environment have to cope with difficulties. She wants to present the book to her own group and not to all children of the school.


Working in projects
In former times Nomads travelled around the world in search of areas where surviving was possible. An old story, which has a Hebrew origin, tells that the oldest person of the tribe threw a stick in the morning. People walked into the direction in which the stick pointed. The Hebrew word for throwing is ‘jarra’; the French ‘projeter’ (throwing in front of you) has been derived from this and our word ‘project’ has been derived from that in its turn. In its oldest meaning the direction was determined in ‘the project’ but not the final destination. Literally not, because there was no image of it. That is a beautiful metaphor for our project. By the way that it was the eldest person in the tribe who threw the stick , will not have been a coincidence. He had most experience and knew the circumstances best.

Made too salty
  It is workshop time. Many parents are guiding small groups of children in different corners. I am ambulatory and approachable for all parents. Last week there were soup and a one-dish meal on the menu at the cooking workshop. The children had cooked enthusiastically. In the meantime they had worked on their own cookery book.
The table had already been laid and most kitchen utensils and a number of pans had already been washed, when a few children had ‘finished’ the soup with a few spoons of salt.
I had been invited for the meal. Nervously they had waited for the reaction of the others. After a few distorted faces the joke was discussed. The workshop counsellor and I had not pronounced a judgement. Some children had. They thought it was a nasty trick. The food was ruined. Nevertheless they all ate the soup. A conversation developed about the influence of salt on the flavour. Spices, where did they come from? Which ones do you know? How many different tastes would there be? Are they expensive? Do you need much of them?
Together some answers are found. Nevertheless the experiment proved to be worth while. It was agreed that everybody would bring a few spices at the next workshop.
Today we only have a basis of macaroni. With little bites the pasta is tasted with a kinds of seasonings. Paprika is really something different from real peppers. And curry had different tastes. Combinations seem to be surprisingly delicious or exceptionally awful. In short, a situation that was in danger of becoming nasty got a pleasant process as a sequel. And so the soup was not eaten as salty as it was served by the children who initially could not appreciate the joke.
We define workshops as separate time units of about half a day, in which children can choose from a range of activities that suppose specific materials, a specific spade or sometimes specific counselling. In these activities the emphasis is on doing, acting, being active.  

Some time ago Wim had together with his colleagues in the middle and upper forms sufficient parents. Now the interest has become less, all teachers and parents have organised four different workshops in their classrooms. The children choose from the offer and are working in the workshop for four weeks. A retired painter, a volunteer from the first aid association and a judo teacher have taken care of the offer for months. These workshops are still chosen in plenty.

With bright red heads the children are catching their breath in the circle. While other children are reporting about their workshop activities of that afternoon Mart is still panting. When he asks for a turn, he tells excitingly that his condition is improving every time. The exercise lessons to music at the local sports school have taken care of that. When he felt his heartbeat the first time after an exercise, it was 135 beats per minute. Now this is at the same burdening still 120 beats per minute. Proudly he tells that he can follow the movements to rhythm much better. He thinks it is a pity that it will be over very soon, although he is looking forward to the presentation that he will give together with Carl (11) at the sports school. They have already started with the preparations. They have made up movements to the music of Ali B. and are practising together now. Perhaps they are so difficult that the others will not be able to follow them. They want to perform the presentations which they will show to each other in the last lesson at the sports school in a week’s closing.

Fasten your seatbelts
Folding or flying?
  I am visiting Suze’s class in group 1/2. All children are working in corners when Kevin comes up to me and asks: “How do you make an airplane again?” His questioning glance is fixed on an A4 sized paper. With verbal support I fold one for him. Kevin is hopping away. Soon Alexander comes to me with the same question. I give the A4 paper to Kevin and ask if he wants to help Alexander.
Together they are looking at Kevin’s plane and they fold a new one. They walk onto the stairs to the highest point in the classroom. From the platform they throw their folding papers into the classroom. Because it can be improved and because it is fun they repeat it a number of times. Then they come and ask if they may go outside.
I am walking behind them and see that they climb onto a wall to start new flights. After a few times I ask what is better, inside or outside. “In fact outside”, Kevin says. “But inside you can go higher,” Alexander says. “Is there still a better place?” They look at each other and run towards the climbing frame at the back of the playground. That is the place to launch A4 sized papers really well. In the circle before the break Kevin and Alexander share their experiences with other kids. In the break very many children want to have an airplane. Suze and I are considering for a moment to give a ‘folding lesson’ but we interpret the need differently: taking care that there are many airplanes as quickly as possible. Children from upper forms assist immediately. At the ‘control tower Schiphol’ many interesting experiences are shared: “It is better this way.” “You must fold it differently.” “That is because you throw is down.” “You must pay attention to the wind.” At the end of the break Suze picks up a few crumpled and moistened papers from the playground.
After school time we share our experiences. Now the broken down plane meant the end. But which one would fly longer, the wet one or the crumpled one? Which material would be better than paper? Can you still make an airplane form the crumpled one? And can it stay in the air as long as the wet one?
Is not every ‘mistake’ a moment of learning? Is not every end a new beginning? There always seem to be moments of a renewed start. In any case tomorrow is another day.. So, fasten your seatbelts. We are ready to take off.
The free activity is a form of organization in which children can choose from a relatively wide range which is tuned to their needs and for which there are as few restrictions as possible.

Sonja has noticed that free choice is not the same as ‘doing what you want to’. For a time she overrated the children or rather: interpreted free choice as ‘doing what you want’. Some children were not activated well because of that. Now she has the offer – the choices – on the blackboard. Children can choose from this and may also always come with a plan of their own. She looks at the plan together with the children so that everyone knows what he has to keep to. Games, technical Lego, chess , draughts etc. are still popular. Nevertheless there are always children who use this time to work on their contract or project.
In the circle the offer of choices for that afternoon is explained. However, two children, Marga and Miranda (both 9) do have an addition to the offer. They are showing a map with examples of filigree which they have made themselves at home. They come up with the suggestion to include this activity in the offer. Then the children make their choices. Five children choose for filigree. They are children of different ages. They find some space in the room for arts and crafts. Marga and Miranda explain to the other children how certain figures must be rolled. In the evaluation circle at the end of the afternoon there is an exhibition table with on it all kinds of rolled filigree figures. The group gets appreciation everywhere and filigree is a fixed part of the free range of choice for a several weeks.

Experiments do not rust
Free initiative gives room to come to grips with the surrounding world.
An afternoon in group 7/8. An afternoon with project education. We had received a folder of the national tree planting day. There were several nice assignments in it. Some children chose to get going with these in the afternoon.
Toon, Marij en Caroline were doing several assignments. When they were comparing kinds of trees, they were also talking about heights. Outside there were large trees, of which they estimated the length. Other children joined them. The estimations varied from four to forty metres. One of the children had seen in the TV programme ‘Klokhuis’ how you could measure trees…
The children that had joined the discussion, followed the instructions. An isosceles triangle on the top of your nose. Keep the upper part at the same level as the upper part of the tree. “If the tree was cut down right now, it will fall with its top right in front of your nose”.
  So the distance on the ground is the same as the height of the tree. So it can be measured. Nevertheless the children were sitting and lying in different places. The results were far less apart than the estimations. But there was not an unambiguous answer at all. Esper proposed to measure the flagpole. “He, who is right at the flagpole, will also be ‘believed’ in the case of the trees…”
  The screw of the flagpole turned out to be rusted. Jeroen knew (also from ‘Klokhuis’) that you had to pour coke on it. He knew that in the working cupboard there were still a few cans. There was special attention for his trick. A very successful trick by the way. Only half a can was needed to loosen the screw. ..
The pole was measured. Nevertheless the result was less interesting than the discovery of coke. The experience that coke loosened rusty objects, caused a new experiment. The children put the pole upright and started looking for rusty objects in the neighbourhood of the school.
Locks, nails and screws were collected. All objects were brought inside. Jeroen, who had looked around well in the working cupboard, knew that there were also still some orangeade and lemonade. He proposed a research. He wanted to know if other beverages had the same effect….
Together they decided that the objects that must be compared should be about the same size and equally rusty. In that way you could see the difference as precisely as possible. Making an experimental formation draw other pupils who were interested. They were explained the experiment extensively….
  During the following days the nails were looked at and the differences were put down in a graph. It was surprising that not only coke removed rust. But whether it was orangeade or lemonade is something you had better (have) find out yourself. Of course good initiatives must be celebrated. And since there happened to be some soft drinks left….
  The whole process was discussed in the circle. The measuring, the results, the coke experiment etc. I could introduce the terms ‘gauging’ and ‘comparative research of products’. The children were proud of their research. It was typical that the outcomes did not get much attention. The strategies had clearly won. The children must have felt in their bones that they could get on better with this in the long run.
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