Eat Organically, Teach Organically


You would definitely have heard of organic food being a “thing” given it’s popularity these days, but have you heard of “organic teaching”? Apparently it’s a thing!

I know it sounds like it, but no, it does not mean that you encourage your students to eat organic produce or that you only use organic beeswax crayons when teaching lessons. It refers to teaching and learning naturally evolving.

The idea is that you capitalise on opportunities to to teach as students show interest in the world around them. For example, if a student finds a bird’s nest on his/her way to school, you base the student’s learning around the bird’s nest. The student may investigate the reason why birds have nests, which kind of bird owns the particular nest, the materials that were used to make the nest or another point of inquiry.

I have engaged in this sort of teaching and learning with my two and a half year old nephew and it worked really well. It happened as follows: One day we were walking along the road near his house and he excitedly pointed out a digger. His mother and I then decided to walk around the developing suburb where we saw the digger and took a closer look at the construction sites. We guided questions to deepen his understanding of what diggers do. He was very interested in what we were saying and started using language such as, “machine”, “dirt”, “building” and “lifting” which were words he had not previously used.

Although this approach worked extremely well one on one with my nephew, I have some concerns about implementing organic teaching and learning into classroom settings. To truly teach organically in the classroom you would need to cater for each student’s individual interests at any given time. This would mean that an educator of 21 students would be planning 21 different units of work at once!

Another challenge to teaching organically is the need to satisfy curriculum organisers who determine when certain concepts need to be taught. If students’ interests don’t easily integrate with what the curriculum requires then would you have to steer away from teaching organically?

I had been thinking about these issues for a while when I recently overheard some educators using the term ‘organic’ to describe their teaching practices. I took the opportunity to ask them how they manage the approach in their classrooms. One of the educators explained how she organised a particular organic task for her students. Basically, when it was Easter time, she had her students practice counting and adding actual Easter Eggs.

It was interesting that this educator used Easter as a point of interest for the whole class. I imagine that this was because many of her students celebrate Easter and showed excitement about the holiday.

It was fantastic to hear that this educator was making steps towards using organic teaching in her classroom, however, the task she chose could have allowed for more of an inquiry into the topic of Easter.

This conversation got me thinking. Could we implement organic teaching and learning in a way that is more manageable for educators?

Instead of following the interests of each student individually at any given time, you could focus on one or more students’ interests at a time. In revisiting the bird’s nest idea, maybe the student could share his/her story with the class and everyone could engage in bird nest investigations. This way it would be more manageable for the teacher. This would work as long as you ensured that a range of students’ interests were connected with over a given time period. Also to avoid thematic approaches to teaching and learning, specific concepts that are required by the curriculum (that don’t fit into organic topics) could be taught separately.

Maybe it is too optimistic to assume that you can make your classroom entirely organic. However, elements of organic practice could improve your teaching and learning.

Credit to Creative Clips for the graphic.