‘Joining the dots: making connections by drawing from the slow movement in the classroom’ was presented at the Imperial Festival of Learning and Teaching in May 2022. This post will introduce the slow movement and slow ideology, and show how this might inspire thinking and talking about making connections in the classroom, scaffolding those moments of connection and relating connectedness to learning.
This post is an expanded version of an article first published on THE Campus: Make classroom connections by drawing from the slow movement on 25th August 2022.
What is the ‘slow movement’?
The slow movement “has no singular or prescribed content but may be variously embodied by subjects or practices depending on the context in which ‘slow’ is being configured against forms of ‘fast life’” (Parkins and Craig, 2006). Even just a quick dip into Carl Honoré’s ‘In Praise of Slowness’ reveals that proponents of the slow movement are not insisting that ‘slow is best’. Rather they are calling for balance within our increasingly technologized, streamlined and efficiency-maximised experience – a deliberate and mindful inclusion of slow moments within our busy lives. Slow living “does not imply that all actions must be taken at a tortoise’s pace. Rather it means resisting the pressure to do everything quickly, and instead consciously choosing when to be slow and when to be fast. It is […] about finding the tempo giusto, or the right speed” (Honoré, 2004).
In fact, perhaps most importantly, “it is about valuing the everyday and making connections between ourselves and others in our increasingly fragmented lives” (Gearhart and Chambers, 2019).
Why is this important in the classroom?
In our pacy and technologized world, isolation and alienation are evermore prevalent and problematic. Many aspects of learning are inherently social, and often – especially in on campus classroom learning, we imagine that the sociable nature of students will take care of this important element of the learning experience. However, our recent online classroom learning experiences have highlighted how much we, as lecturers and teachers take this for granted. In the online classroom, deliberate and scaffolded opportunities and spaces are required to facilitate these important interactions. What can we take away from these online experiences to enhance the on campus social classroom experience and perhaps create more inclusive social learning experiences for all students?
What are the key elements that can be drawn together from the online learning experience and the slow movement?
The key thing that we have learned from reconceptualizing the classroom and social, collaborative learning for the online space is the need for deliberate action and time. And these two elements are readily transposable back to the on campus space.
We all have handbooks full of codes of conduct, classroom values, guidelines for team working and even policies on bullying and harassment. But do we ever go further than stating what behaviour and practice we want to see, and even more likely, what we deem unacceptable? Do we create space to facilitate good interactions, provide feedback and support on furthering those connections and even model those behaviours ourselves?
In building effective connections in the classroom, our approach as educators must be
We must place value (and time) on these moments – including being up front about the nature of the activity.
Here is an example from one of our online classrooms this year, that we used repeatedly to help students begin to connect with others and normalize their own experiences within the context of studying in higher education. We set the following prompt in our classroom:
And at the end of the class, we asked students to reflect on what they learned from other students during the class (this did not have to be related to this initial activity, but most students commented on this early discussion activity).
But even further than this, to make these connections meaningful and long lasting, there needs to be something more than just a series of good but isolated connections. There needs to be a culture of connecting. And for this, the educator needs to ensure that this activity is:
- Structural – built into the fabric of the class
- Modelled – embodied and enacted by the teacher
- Acknowledged and positively reinforced by the teacher
- Linked to learning
In a further activity that aimed to set a tone for our classes together and establish a more connected culture, students were told at the beginning of the session that by the end of the session, they would be asked to report something kind that another student had done for them during the session. This required the student to think beyond their own activity and take an active role in creating a culture of kindness. What could the individual student do to prompt another student to offer kindness to them? This might be modelling kindness themselves, it might be sharing a vulnerability to allow another student to show them kindness – this was left completely open for the students to puzzle over. By the end of the session, we had a message board overflowing with kind acts. As the teacher, I had been a little nervous about appearing over emotional, embarrassing myself and the students by using the word kindness, but in fact the students were hungry for this activity and embraced it both in this session, and without further prompts in future sessions.
A further stream of activity aimed to normalize a range of emotions within the classroom – and specifically within class activities and learning. During class activities, we had a special chat stream for ‘Secret Tasks’. These tasks asked students to reflect on their learning as they were enacting it – identifying different aspects of the learning experience. In this way, we were able to begin to establish links between the emotional, social and interactional elements of our classroom with individual learning and success.
In this low-stakes, three-part quiz, students collaborate to answer a ten question, multiple choice quiz. They receive their score, but no feedback. They have two opportunities to resubmit their quiz responses – but obviously without knowing which questions they have got wrong or right. This is a golden activity that highlights the importance of feedback, works on negotiation and critical thinking skills, and also allows for the ‘safe’ examination of our emotional responses to uncertainty, (minor) failure and success. We are aiming to normalize the experience of anxiety, disappointment and exhilaration in the service of learning – finding ways to share and understand these very natural responses.
Building good academic practice
More moments of connection, of showing ourselves and seeing others allow us to establish good working practices – such as seeking feedback.
Finding confidence and courage from others
And lastly, as well as helping students initiate and build meaningful connections with each other, and establish a classroom culture of support and collaboration, the same types of activity can support those relationships to develop into networks of peer support and celebration.
Approaching a final assignment, with a classroom full of uncertainty and nerves, the students are able to displace that anxiety and fill the space with confidence and encouragement – sharing what they know to be true about each other. It can be difficult to find our own confidence, but easier to see what other people are capable of achieving. Sharing those insights builds our own sense of positivity and seeing the views others hold about us helps us to reconsider our own doubts and fears. If other people believe in us, perhaps we can believe in ourselves too.
And, of course, it is important to celebrate and value each other – here students are noting what they enjoyed about an afternoon of student presentations.
Key take aways and a final thought from a student
- The slow movement is about establishing meaningful connections and engagements rather than about acting ‘slowly’
- Building meaningful connections and engagements takes time
- A deliberate, explicit, purposeful and foundational approach can help signal the value that we as educators place on these moments, allowing students to also see their value
- Building these elements into the structure of the class, modelling and embodying these same connections and values, acknowledging and positively reinforcing these moments and linking them to learning are key to establishing a unifying culture of connectedness beyond those individual moments
And this is a final comment from a student, left spontaneously in their module feedback:
It was all the time we spent together. I mean, we did an awful lot of things, I don’t think I’ve ever done so many things, but we also just spent time together. We had time to do everything, and we worked very hard. But we also had time. It’s like, being at [university] is like being on a train. You’re rushing along, and you can’t really see everything passing by out the window because you’re moving so fast. And coming to this class was like stepping off the train for a couple of hours. Just standing on the platform, watching the train rush on past, and just being still.”
Gearhart, S. and Chambers, J. (Eds) (2019) Reversing the Cult of Speed in Higher Education. London, Routledge
Honoré, C. (2004) In Praise of Slowness. New York, Harper Collins.
Parkins, W. and Craig, G. (2006) Slow Living. Oxford, Berg.