“SelfDesign is not theoretical, it is something that you live! It is organic and fluid and a way of being able to support a deepening of learning.” – Marla Renn

Learning consultant Marla Renn had the opportunity to spend two weeks with a SelfDesign Global family who live on the Pacific Coast of Jalisco in Mexico. Marla was working with two learners aged 14 and 6 for four hours a day as their learning consultant. Some might even call her the “Mary Poppins of SelfDesigning.”

Initiating The Learning Journey

Marla began the learning journey by meeting on Skype with the kids, their long term learning consultant Monica Cochran, and their parents for a few sessions to get to know a bit about the context of their learning:  What had they explored in the past? What did they want to explore during their time together? This allowed her to arrive more prepared to meet the family where they are in their learning journey. Marla shares, “so much of the work that we do is supporting the parents and engaging them in the SelfDesign process.”

Exploring Passions

Marla engaged the two learners by first exploring their passions.The eldest said she was interested in music and performance arts, the youngest had a passion for superheroes and dinosaurs.  Marla believes “there is no limit when you bring imagination to entrance points and connect it to other areas of learning.” She began working with the eldest on her goal of working on her language skills, so they began exploring movement, talking about different modalities of performance art, and building drama-based learning activities that involved exploring the rhythm and cadence of both music and language.

Connecting Passions and Goals

 The eldest learner also had a goal to master the times tables, specifically moving them from short term memory into long term memory. They worked together to build a group of colour coded number cards which they laid out to so that they could see the pattern each one created on the 100 board.  Then they would play a multi-sensory game in which they covered up the times tables and said them aloud,  traced the numbers with their fingers, closed their eyes to visualize the numbers with the mind’s eye, and finally recited them with their eyes open. Marla recalls the level of pride and accomplishment that she witnessed in the learner’s face when she realized that she could, indeed, memorize her times tables, “it was moving and inspiring.”  After Marla had returned home, the learner extended the learning by creating a rap song of the 8 times table and performing it for family and friends

With the youngest learner,  the goal was to work on reading and writing.  Since he loves drama, storytelling and action, they arranged his favourite toys: a dinosaur, a few superheroes and other stuffed favourites and cards with sounds on them around the room. Then through dramatic play they created exciting  stories which Marla enthusiastically scribed.  He was thrilled to read aloud his stories.  After reading, he would  run around the room to locate and match the sound cards to the sounds he heard in the story. Later in the day, he was so proud to read his stories to his family at the dinner table.

By the end of the week the youngest was eager to begin setting up and creating his writing journeys, and he began to recognize the sounds and words and take on writing some of his favourite words, such as “spiderman” from the stories they had created. By Marla joining him in his current favourite imaginative play, they co-created a rich reading and writing learning experience.

Another rich learning experience that stood out for Marla was initiated by the learner himself. He had given Marla a recipe he had created, written in a combination of pictures and unique symbols.  Marla appreciated  his hard work and got curious and asked: What is a recipe? They explored the notion that recipes have to be able to be recreated, and together Marla and both kids discussed how this was similar to the scientific method and science experiments that can be re-created. They then began measuring ingredients, creating and documenting his recipe using more conventional symbols 🙂

While the dough was rising, they watched a video together on how to make bread and explored the fermentation process. Next, Marla helped the kids prepare yeast and sugar in a water bottle and put a balloon on top to capture the carbon dioxide. The kids enjoyed watching the balloon expand. As they held the balloon, they hypothesized that this balloon was heavier than regular balloons. This, in turn, led them to explore and discuss the elements on the periodic table. So much learning  about scientific method, chemistry, and physics emerged organically in the process of making home made bread.   Marla reflected, “If I had created a lesson plan with a pre determined outcome,  I wouldn’t have been able to do all this….the learning emerged and developed  out of spontaneity, creativity and flexibility.  As the learning consultant, I just have to show up strongly, actively, and ready to engage.”

Marla’s experience was a unique opportunity to provide in-person consulting with a family. She was able to model the SelfDesign process for a family, so that they can continue unfolding their learning journey together. Her experience also reveals how the SelfDesign philosophy can be applied to diverse cultures, backgrounds, languages and previous educational experiences.

To read more about Marla, check out her learning consultant bio, here!