The great thing about being led by a friend is that you trust them to help you find your way. Today’s educators find themselves navigating through a difficult terrain and are expected to provide the information learners want, when they want it, and in route to create the necessary scaffolding so that the learners are both invested in the process and feel that the outcome was “successful.” This is the challenge that lies before them in the near and distant future.
The challenge for me from day one has always been how to help learners grow in ways that are visible the second they walk in the classroom door. They are excited to be there, vested in the process. Lots of things can get in the way of this and my inner voice has always sought to walk the balance between pacifying expectations by parents and administrators on one hand and making the moment magical on the other. I am passionate about looking at learning in unique ways and from unique viewpoints. I know that so much around us is amazing and if you create the right kind of learning experience students will jump on the opportunity to participate in the process. This applies to all ages, and the younger they are, the easier it is to see. What do I mean?
Once for a math class my fifth graders were sent to the gym to shoot baskets. The first basket they made as they took turns with their partner was worth 1/2 of a point. They next basket was worth 1/3 of a point. Every score was a new fraction. The object was to get the highest score. My students loved it. Why did it work? The athlete suddenly became a winner in math, the reason for the math was immediate, I could laugh, watch, and support, and we got exercise (something every single child needs at every opportunity). Once for a social studies unit on ancient Egypt my class put on a play for the school. I wrote the script, and every child had significant speaking role and every kid helped. Why did it work? They were completely vested in the process because kids love to be on stage. They wanted to share what they had learned. In a study on the atmosphere in science I brought in the art teacher who spent an hour teaching us how to watercolor a skyline on a landscape. The students loved it and it brought about connections and reflections that made the learning richer. There was no backwards based “Backwards by Design,” just an opportunity for students to celebrate the wonder of scientific nature through the eyes of an artist.
The thing that I always enjoyed most about teaching was making those magical opportunities where my students and I could love the learning moment and in that moment every student’s life was enriched. It was not the benchmark I was looking for, it was the time for us to dive into the journey itself as we grew together as learners, as global citizens. It was setting up the opportunity for each of us to move forward in a way that worked.
And yet here I am, today, looking back on my career so far, now a “technology integrator” in an international school. But my goal is still the same. The great thing about technology is that it creates lots of new opportunities for teachers to be great teachers. As my friend keeps reminding me, great education revolves around great relationships. And I agree and add that it is about loving to grow and setting up the framework for all that to happen in the most delightful and meaningful ways.
Technology reformers try to bring us lots of “cool stuff” and the best of those are more wonderful examples of fertile opportunities for enjoying the journey of learning.
I need to close with a thought about the wave of “flipped classrooms.” The idea of mixing up the traditional learning paradigm by “serving content in the format of podcasts or other kinds of video” to be discussed and enriched with activities has led many teachers to new ways of creating those great teaching moments I mentioned earlier. While this flipping has many pedogogical benefits, I would rather advocate much more radical flipping as a way of making the moment magical. Let me provide an example. One night I was about to wrestle my decidedly stubborn daughter through the routines of getting ready for bed when an idea struck me. Just as the battle was about to begin I announced “OK. Tonight is a very special night. You are going to put me to bed.”
“I am?” she said?
Then for the next hour she tried as I resisted.. the bath, the teeth brushing, the pajamas, the getting into bed. By the end she had me all tucked in and she was very proud of herself. To me this is flipping the learning. I have occasionally tried flipping in the classroom by doing something like asking the kids to create the review questions or similar situations where kids are teachers. There are a profusion of great opportunities available and interestingly, some schools and classrooms are turning to service learning opportunities to facilitate those magical “flipped” moments.
For a more academic discussion about the value of the content vs. the value of the moment, check out this article on Limitations of Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism at: