What do they mean...Experiential cycle

9th January 2004 at 00:00
Experiential: one of a category of words which really do exist but which you rather wish didn't. Experience, that solid, upstanding noun from which "experiential" was tortured into existence, is, as we all know, something we learn from. Thus, experienced teachers don't leave 4B unattended in the school laboratory; they never ask classes what they would like to do today; and they never volunteer for anything.

Many of them, faced with another vast pile of DfES initiatives, or a class full of homicidal six-year-olds, have been heard to mutter, 'If I knew then what I know now'.

Experience, surely, is part of a linear progression in which you don't make the same mistakes twice (hah!). An experiential cycle, therefore, must be the stuff of nightmares, in which you progress painfully from "then" to "now" only to find yourself back at "then" and doing it all again.

So it can come as no surprise that it is a highly recommended teaching strategy. Come to think of it, we have all been doing it one way or another for years. It goes something like this: plan lesson; give lesson; do field trip; set homework; mark homework; realise nobody has been taking a blind bit of notice; take large quantity of drug of choice; start the whole ruddy lot all over again.

To be fair to DA Kolb, the American educationist who has developed the experiential cycle, the idea is that by the time you get back to step one again the knowledge and experience picked up the first time round will feed into the next cycle. (Either that, or he could never see anything wrong with MC Escher's prints.) His four-step process consists of planning, learning, reflecting, studying the theory, and getting back to planning again. Pupils are to be encouraged to set their own objectives and, later, to consider what they have learnt, how, why, and whether it could it have been done better. ("So Maurice, what did you learn today? Why did you learn it? How did you learn it? Is it all my fault?" Ah, the joys of educational theory.) We really must invite Kolb round to St Jude's sometime, to show us how it's done. But I'm sure he won't fall for that one again.


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