Monthly Archives: September 2013

Groveling with Freedom within Structure

ImageThe Primary Innovation Studio is in full Fall Mode, with students reaching for academic goals and maneuvering social exchanges (both good and challenging). The honeymoon’s over, and students’ true needs and colors are glimmering and beckoning. Among students’ needs and efforts, they are working within a structure. This has been a challenging piece for me in this space as the walls and materials beg for complete choice indulgence. While contemplating and studying 21st Century Educational spaces, most articles and ideas are focused on grades 6 and up–as students have more maturity to self monitor, self regulate and work independently.  I don’t think that it will ever change that the majority of primary students (when in large group in one space) have to have routine, ritual and structure first before they can make those fabulous decisions that drive authentic inquiry and learning. I have really been feeling like a lone pioneer lately as there aren’t many novel examples of what the future primary classroom will look like.  No one told me that this pilot would be easy, and stepping out of the old paradigm has been especially daunting over the past few weeks.  I have quietly concluded that there are many structures in our traditional primary model that will not go away, unless young digital natives’ self control and stamina suddenly evolve–(Which will not happen, thank goodness!).

I do believe in choice for students.  Alfie Kohn theorizes this better than anyone in an article which addresses student burnout and disengagement. (1993—bits and pieces..)

“Combine that fact with the premise that there is no minimum age for burnout, and the conclusion that emerges is this: much of what is disturbing about students’ attitudes and behavior may be a function of the fact that they have little to say about what happens to them all day. They are compelled to follow someone else’s rules, study someone else’s curriculum, and submit continually to someone else’s evaluation. The mystery, really, is not that so many students are indifferent about what they have to do in school but that any of them are not.

To be sure, there is nothing new about the idea that students should be able to participate, individually and collectively, in making decisions. This conviction has long played a role in schools designated as progressive, democratic, open, free, experimental, or alternative; in educational philosophies called developmental, constructivist, holistic, or learner-centered; in specific innovations such as whole-language learning, discovery-based science, or authentic assessment; and in the daily practice of teachers whose natural instinct is to treat children with respect.

In each case, students are almost never involved in deliberating about such ideas; their job is basically to do as they are told.”

This will not happen without tons of work beforehand. Young students must move within classroom spaces and boundaries which are umbrellaed by guidelines–many of these determined as a community together. Often the room has to stop, everyone has to regroup and discuss the learning that is (or isn’t) taking place.  When gold nuggets arise naturally, that is the time to bring them to the “classroom table”, give some loud “woot-woots” and let the kids SEE what authentic inquiry LOOKS like. Young children are such copy cats by nature, and when they see the great stuff, they will emulate it.  Is this easy?  No.  Are we making baby steps toward an environment in which students are actively engaged in choice and learning? Yes.

Word Work Craziness

Photo Sep 11, 10 47 48 AM

In my head, in my ears, in my eyes, students in this space often look “out of control”. Busy doing this, that, chatting, gesturing, calling one another from across the room….and on and on. However, last week, I decided to sit and take some deep breaths, and watch the kids. During this “chill pill time” for me, I was observing kids responding to personal word walls. These are ABC logs which (from individual conferences with me or a parent volunteer) house words that are misspelled in their authentic writing. They have many options in the room as they explore these words. They absolutely loved doing this. After watching and looking out the physical outcomes of their work, it is clear that often what my mind is “thinking” about what kids look like in this new space is the ghosts creeping in from my old paradigm. A trusted colleague reminds me of Maria Montessori’s philosophy, “…and so we discovered that education is not something

English: Portrait of Maria Montessori
English: Portrait of Maria Montessori (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. it is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.” This quote resonates as I put myself into this space as a creator alongside my students.

A Morning at Twenty1Five

photo 3 photo 2photo 1A Morning at Twenty1Five

Imagine: Kids being shown creativity in the works; collaboration being celebrated and emphasized; kids being involved in communicating their thinking about design and craft; artists discussing the importance of planning, problem solving and critical thinking. That is what we got today! A handful of students and I toured Randy and Josh’s woodworking studio as they thoughtfully demonstrated their artistry and what they are putting into our Maker’s Space table. Students wore earplugs as they watched planers, saws, nail guns and bench sanders at work. They were involved in the design aspects and were able to actually nail pieces of wood into THEIR table. It was one of those goose bump days. Josh (the wood artist) was (always will be) a teacher and led the kids, me and parents through the various steps of the process. A million WOOT WOOTS out to Twenty1Five!

The Primary Student: Education NOW

Making classrooms modern and teaching with the 21st Century in mind can be a daunting task, especially if you are a primary teacher. What does the shift for our digital native students look like, certainly when they are 5, 6 and 7? The last couple weeks have shown me that there are countless classic management pieces that are timeless for young students. For example: young students have to have VERY explicit guidelines, and practice them frequently; young students need to feel that they are a part of a community which holds them accountable; young students need to have a structure and routine that is solid and unchanging. Within these rituals, the great stuff can happen….without them, nothing will at all, and 21st Century teaching with all of its amazing tools is worthless.

This weekend I took 30 minutes to cruise the web, hoping find some phrases and thinking to guide me as I try to be an example of forward thinking for younger students. Recurring themes of global awareness, sharing, creating, and engagement started to emerge again and again. I know these are intertwined with the buzzwords of 21st century education, but these particular ones seemed to repeat in articles about young students and learning today.

I understand that all 21st Century students need to be a part of routines which produce content instead of continually consuming it and reacting to it passively. This goes along with my quest to not be the sole “giver” of knowledge for my kids this year. Also, it is clear that young students need to and can be connected to their world through technology. When they do this, they need to share their thinking, not only verbally, but through product sharing.  As we study Tony Wagner and other current educational thinkers, ‘play’ enters into learning more than ever. My students need to and hopefully will connect, play and create with a determination and engaged focus to pursue the world and their unique passions.

It was interesting to study the synonyms for the word guide:  counselor, mentor, model, pilot, adviser, attendant, conductor, design, convoy, chaperone, docent, exemplar, exhibitor, inspiration, monitor, pathfinder, usher.

My hope is to be a guide for my young students this year.