Monday, August 26, 2013

A road less traveled...

What inspires you?  Drives you?  What’s that something that you just can’t get enough of?  And my favorite three letter question...why?  

I L O V E to create......there’s nothing like a hammer and nails, loads of fabric and a well-oiled sewing machine, ripping a chair apart just for the fun of recreating it with new life, tearing down a wall because I think it will look better without it (too many school vacation “surprises” has resulted in dear hubby hiding his power tools on me!).  For my sister it’s shopping, for my brother it’s biking (yes, I absolutely and proudly am the rebel rouser in the family!).  Mazie Doo has recently been on a “rope kick” – ties it to her pedal cart to see what will hold & drag her big sister (sister hasn’t been terribly cooperative!), has been tying it to her swing set to learn to walk a tight rope (thank you Judy Moody), and is now obsessed with learning to water ski – using “just the right rope” and is having a blast even though we have yet to make it around the lake.   I know rope freaks people out and has caused many looks and comments, so what?  She’s safe and she’s motivated all by herself to figure this out and best of all?  She’s learning.....shhhhhh!  Don’t tell her!  THAT my friend is intrinsic motivation!!!

We get to choose what we love, to give however much effort we’d like on things we love, things we need to know more about, things that get a fire lit in us.  What about the kids we teach?  At what point in their learning do THEY get to find that thing that lights them up?  Not something WE think will do start the spark, but something they get psyched about? 

I’m always intrigued in talking with Dear Boy about his experiences in school – there aren’t many at all that were positive.  Forgive my bragging, but this kid is pretty dang smart...for “fun” he used to try to stump his grandfather with facts of history of our country (inducing nausea from the rest of the family!).  Always intrigued by family history & trivia, he couldn’t get enough.  Except.....well....there’s his transcripts, yep, that number thing again, something that a person is judged by with no knowledge of background or opportunity, looked like this poor baby didn’t have a brain in his head which couldn’t be farther from the truth.   Interestingly enough when I would ask him why school was such an issue he generally said, “When they give us something to do that is actually relative or decide to trust us to make our own choices I’d ace them.”  Have to say, I believe him completely – he has NEVER been inspired enough or motivated enough to intrinsically value or get excited about the “required topic” even though he loves learning and loves information.

Last year I began my journey toward inquiry based learning.  I L O V E change (hmm, wonder if there’s a connection with those missing walls!) and was hesitantly intrigued with the process of inquiry.  I had done some PD, discussed it with my cousin who is a retired Super from a large neighboring district, and done tons and tons of research.  This was something I knew I could love – the art of questions, wonders, discovering answers, and most importantly intrinsic motivation.  Full disclosure?  I have an awesome principal who is incredibly supportive and is always pushing us to question ourselves and what we do & has been unbelievably supportive in trying new, educationally sound things – we are exceedingly lucky. But truthfully, I couldn’t stay somewhere or work with someone who wouldn’t be supportive of my pushing the envelope, digging and trying new things (remember you’re reading from someone who has a bathtub in her classroom!!!)

My biggest hurdle in starting was that kids in general are losing their sense of wonder and discovery – this presented my first challenge, they truly seemed fearful of wondering!  I was A M A Z E D how bewildering hard it was for kids to question and wonder.  It’s not clear to me if it’s that life is so busy it’s just easier to hand over an answer, if there’s too much “danger” in discovery, or if television and the digitized world don’t leave opportunity to question & dig for the answer. 

It really was a new world for me too – a world where I gave up being the “lead teller” and became a lead learner and supporter, patience sure was a MAJOR virtue when I started, and I had to learn to be okay with busy-ness with discovery & outcome projects that I didn’t design.  Yes, it was more work for me to provide feedback on daily learning that wasn’t “canned”, but I CANNOT tell you the rewards that the kids reaped (okay, selfishly there were SO many that I didn’t just reap, but rolled in them!) 

On the first day, last year, I provided a treasure map for the kids to get supplies organized.  I explained that this was like a bird learning to fly and I would be there to catch them, but it was really up to them to work together and figure out how to get through this map.  I promised that I’d swoop in if they needed me, but otherwise I’d be nearby just watching – this was SOOO informative and so much fun to watch them (needless to say, on the last day of school, we were howling about this stumble!!).   We certainly had our growing pains, but I pressed on. 
By December, the kids knew there was not only safety in questioning, but there was a TON of satisfaction in finding the answer that would likely drive them to new questions.  We study countries in third grade and although my teammates and I came up with a general framework of mandatory study topics for each location, I began to move away from that – my focus was more on allowing student questioning & ownership within the parameters of Social Studies and ELA standards (one of the kids even added some Math standards by calculating how many miles it is and how many days it would take to DRIVE from New York to a butterfly cave in Mexico!!!!).  My kids who struggled most with focus and accomplishment suddenly had their faces glued to research books on native animals & insects of Mexico while others did some impressive research on the Mayan ruins.  I watched as issues with behavior dissolved, more kids kept themselves on task, and books were FLYING off the shelves.  Kids who needed support finding answers asked me or a teammate for help, those who struggled to read or write sought out someone who could help, and best of all kids were helping each other to learn more – intrinsic motivation to know, to learn, to question, and to understand.   There were bodies everywhere, I mean ALL over my room and we got some of those stares and comments, but every child was motivated to learn and to understand simply with a little guidance, a small nudge.   Every child knew what they were doing and why and were more than eager to share with any willing (or not so willing!) participant who walked by or came in to our room.  It was magical.

Many ask, “What happens with next year’s teacher?”  I can’t worry about next year.  I needed to take my place as lead learner, not as lead teller, for this year.  My job was to provide the best learning environment with as much rigor as possible for this year.  My goal was to get kids excited about learning and keep building on the value they placed on themselves as learners.  I needed to guide them, lead them, and let them soar as learners.   Needless to say I was a mess sad on the last day of school.  A mama couldn’t have been prouder of those kiddos – they not only took off, they flew ... and they flew fulfilled knowing what incredibly brilliant learners they were.

So, I’m gearing up for another year.  Another year that will start with growing pains.  A year where I’ll have to grab hold and help them get off the ground.  A year where kids will learn and grow and flourish and be intrinsically motivated to learn ...... and yes, that may even mean with a piece of rope.  

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