I heard a good story recently. I’m not sure if it’s true but it sounded good. And if it is not true then it definitely needs to be made a reality.
The topic of the conversation was Disneyland. Apparently, the people responsible for the design of the layout at a Disneyland did not initially designate the location or direction of the paths. Instead, they presented a blank template of grass for visitors to walk on. The visitors voted with their feet. They wore paths in the grass by choosing their priority destinations. These informal paths informed the designers where the visitors were going. The designers created the final layout based on these informed observations.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will already understand why I like this story (or would love for this story to be true). In the world of urban design, these human made paths, that people create in urban settings, are called ‘desire lines’. I see them all the time. And the fact that you do see them is actually a reflection of the city designers failing at their job.
In our classroom, critical thinking is an action, not an abstract construct. For 5 year olds, it’s about how to share a box of blocks, it’s about building friendships and alliances, it’s about collaborating on a building a tower of blocks.
As much as possible, I try to run my classroom in a similar way. I know what I want/need the children to achieve. I know what the curriculum says. And I also know the children; what their interests are, how human psychology works, what developmental levels are appropriate for their particular age group. Even with the constraints of a cumbersome education system, you will still see my classroom operating in a dynamic and organic way. If I see a ‘desire line’ starting to develop, I investigate. Is it a problem? Does it need to be solved?
The day is full of ‘deliberate acts of teaching”. This level of deliberateness allows for spontaneity and authentic, student-led, inquiry learning.
It’s most likely these days that the children will be active participants in achieving the solution. As much as possible I try to accommodate their needs and wishes. Sometimes by accommodating their needs and wishes, it results in new problems being created and needing to be solved. But these are the problems teachers should be wishing to have in their classroom. Negotiation is an action, not an abstract construct, in our classroom. It’s their classroom and it’s their learning experience that’s important.
“the biggest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers”.
It may sound chaotic and exhausting. But it’s not. It’s carefully choreographed and deeply rewarding. The day is full of ‘deliberate acts of teaching”. Some of those acts of teaching are direct and teacher led. As in, “you need to know this.” Some of those acts are deliberately provocative; to encourage the children to think and be curious. I use those moments to assess the children. I find these moments to be more informative than the regular formal testing that is done. They are also excellent for informing me about my teaching. Check out this example of what I am trying to describe.
“Does it work?” is the question that matters. I will do everything I can to remove any barriers that are stopping the children from achieving their learning goals.
At other times, my input into the learning process may not be so obvious to the children or to the casual observer. Even when the children are engaged in an independent activity of their choice, it has been curated and scaffolded to ensure the learning is meaningful and successful. This level of deliberateness allows for spontaneity and authentic, student-led, inquiry learning. We thrive on positivity, consistency and routine. And it’s sustainable. A ‘burnt out’ teacher is not an effective teacher.
I am not a fan of unnecessary process. I don’t care that “we have always done it this way”. “Does it work?” is the question that matters. I will do everything I can to remove any barriers that are stopping the children from achieving their learning goals. And maintaining happy and enthusiastic learners is something that I will move mountains to achieve. Happy learners make great learners. Of course, that’s social learning as well as academic learning.
Blaming the child for failing to respond appropriately to teacher direction is to ignore the real issue.
This matters. Because too often I see children excluded from the classroom or disengaged with their learning. Too often I see ‘bright’ children being labeled as naughty. Blaming the child for failing to respond appropriately to teacher direction is to ignore the real issue. “What will it take to get these children into the classroom, engaging with their learning and showing their true potential?” That is the question I continually ask myself. That is what motivates me. That is the question I want other teachers to start asking themselves. To stop blaming the child, the circumstances, the environment, the whatever. To reflect on what is being offered to the children – that what is being served up to them, may in fact, be boring. To stop making compliance the end game. To assume that, with the right input, all children will be willing and cooperative learners. It’s about being pragmatic; about being a problem solver.
This is not an attack on teachers. Teachers are decent, hard-working and well-meaning people doing what can be a difficult job in difficult circumstances. But somewhere along the line, they have been given some poor advice, or something. I really don’t understand why teachers feel compelled to perpetuate this reality. What will it take to move beyond this? Beyond this ‘deficit’ approach to learning?
So, I invite teachers to be scientific and strategic. Oh, and human. Once again, a teacher’s task is two-fold. 1. to get the children to the point where they are their own teachers, and 2. for teachers to reflect effectively about their teaching.
Get to it, I say.
Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.