Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What's the Issue?

I have been ruminating over a thought since the school year ended. 

There has been lots of debate here in Texas over state testing, whether it's a good measure, whether it's too hard, whether the accountability is taking the joy out of learning and putting too much pressure on the kids.Curriculum and standards are changing nationally, and there are people who are questioning those as well.

My thought has been about how we are spending too much time debating the wrong things. There will always be people on both sides of the spectrum...there will always be disagreement.

We should, and I do, shift my attention to the thing we ALL agree on...we want the absolute BEST education for our child, we want them to come out of our classrooms armed with the ability to be successful in our world. RIGHT?

In my 20 years of teaching, I have been a part of enough presentations with teachers, grad students, and administrators. I hear a lot of buzzwords: "I want them to become life long learners," " to love learning," and "I am using best practices." 

But...I hear a lot of "I want to create," "I want to make my classroom," "I want the kids to understand..." I may be picking at language here, however, those statements are lacking. I don't doubt the sincerity and the good intentions, but those statements feed into the arguments above: that there is some sort of perfect "method" that works best, and it's our job to have that all in place in order for kids to learn.

I completely disagree. Our world is all but static, stable, and predictable. We need to be teaching kids to be flexible, to take on challenge, and to look at things as problem solvers. That's what's going to make them successful.

Intrinsic learners, capable of looking at any test, any piece of literature, any math problem, any science query...and THINKING. Not just searching for a set of steps they memorized to get through the task, but LEARNING through doing it. 

Behaving like learners means treating life like a puzzle without a box top to show you it's completed picture (which, in my life for sure, it is). When you are doing a puzzle, you know certain things...edges have straight sides, corner pieces look different, and each has a specific cut which matches somewhere. You are fully capable of figuring how it goes together. It just takes time and THOUGHT.

Those of you who know me know I have done a great deal of reading brain research and brain based teaching. It's amazing. The brain/body/emotion connection is huge. So are there ways that are better to teach? Yes.

Do I sound contradictory? But ways/materials/strategies (for lack of a better word, stuff) is merely that. It's more that what you do with's YOU. 

How many of you have ever heard your kids tell you they had fun learning on the computer? Think about the words they use to tell you and their emotional attachment. OK, now think about your kids talking about a favorite teacher - things they said/did - and how long they remembered them...Yes, there is a distinct difference.

Here's another example of what I mean. I have always taught reading from literature. From books. Not a textbook. Textbooks have come a long way in including good literature, and there is nothing inherently wrong with them. But think...did you prefer reading your college textbooks, articles, or  trade books that discussed the same subject matter? Think about the way in which you approached each of those types of reading. Which is the most motivating? Think as your child...which would give you the impression that reading is a task...reading is for fun...reading is part of life? 

Teaching has definitely grown in this area. Teachers are using book sets more than ever. However, I don't want to make the issue about the kind of material, the structure of the classroom, or the routines. Again, those are so very important to making the environment prime for learning, BUT...and here's what I want the focus to be...the PEOPLE factor is the key.  The approach is not "You need to learn to read" but "you ARE a reader."

Add RELATING and CONNECTING to kids with respect, admiration, and high expectation - they will TRUST. With trust in me, I can teach them to be trusting of THEMSELVES. I can show them, through whatever content, that they are capable beyond their wildest imagination. They have things INSIDE that are not only worthy of sharing and's ESSENTIAL to the world that they do.

That's how they develop the sense that they matter. That learning matters, because they get to think. 

That is what is going to take away the issue of what the test looks like, what the standards look like...because teaching will have shifted the focus to teaching kids the one important thing...that THEY ARE THINKERS.

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