Sunday, September 29, 2013

Name that tune!

I’ve never really been an “in the box” kind of girl.  The thought of going off somewhere on my own is exciting, taking down a wall on my own to “surprise” the hubs is exhilarating (well, for me anyway!), tearing into yards of fabric to reupholster a chair for the first time is get the idea.  I guess I didn’t realize it or become okay with who I was until mid-thirties, but I have come to embrace who I am.  Different?  Yup.  Odd?  At times. March to (not just my own tune!) my own darn band?  Absolutely ... thank you very much!

While avoiding those obnoxious household demands meandering around the house this weekend I was thinking about my own learning history.  I distinctly remember getting in trouble in elementary school for “tapping” during Math – it was the best way I knew how to make sense of numbers.  There was another time when my teacher was FURIOUS that I was doing “some nonsense with numbers” and not doing “what I was told to do” on my paper – again with math.  Apparently I wasn’t thought of as a “numbers girl” and yet, thirty some years later what I did is now coined and widely encouraged as Touch Math and Base Ten or friendly numbers.  When, in middle school, we had to memorize the Preamble I decided to make up a tune to sing it to (and yes, I can still sing it today!).  But that wasn’t acceptable to that teacher and although I don’t remember my grade, I assure you it was a traumatic experience.  Musical ingenuity wasn’t valued over pure, rote memorization.  It struck me out of nowhere how inflexible my teachers were in finding out why I was doing things – all they knew is that it just “wasn’t THE right way”.  I wasn’t trying to push anyone’s button or be defiant (that came years later!!!!  ;-) I was simply doing what I had to do to learn what I was being asked to learn – it worked for me and made perfect sense to me, but that wasn’t considered, nor was it acceptable. 

As I shared my story of “tens” the other day, I showed the kids what I used to do when I added anything to a nine – if it was 9 + 7 I’d take a one from the 7 and “give it” to the 9 making the 9 into a 10, then I’d simply add the 6 remaining.  One of my kids literally jumped up from the rug and yelled “Oh my God, I D-O that!!!” – quickly mortified that he, a VERY quiet boy, had spoken out he slunk back on to the rug.  I praised him for speaking up and talking about his learning because it would help others see that there really are many more ways than one to do things.  He cautiously looked up at me and said, “But why did you get in trouble?  I just don’t get that.”  How do you explain to this 8 year old, with big doe eyes looking up at you with genuine concern & questioning, that you just don’t “get it” either?  Many days I’d like to pour a steamy cup of coffee, pull up a few cozy chairs, and talk with those teachers – for my own understanding and to become better in who I am for each little life I touch every day. Years of being told I was “wrong” sure took a toll on me.

I guess what strikes me even more is that in a way, so many things are the same in elementary schools some thirty years later – some classrooms continue to seem archaic, lines are really blurry between the two.  As the saying goes, “Would you want a doctor who still practiced the way she/he did thirty years ago?”  How often do we try to get into kids’ heads or do we just stay safely in our own?  How willing are we to listen to how kids learn and decipher information or is it easier to listen to the way we’ve always done it?  How “okay” are we with valuing kids working at their own ability level, producing in a variety of ways within given learning outcomes or are we only okay for them to produce the exactness of what we want?  Would noise and movement from kids constitute engagement & deeper understanding or would you rather encourage solitary learning forsaking depth?

Yes, my kids are 8, but already at week 3 they understand the value of learning with others, that there are many ways of learning, and that everyone has something of value to offer.  We began the year with the kids making up “essentials” for our room (not traditionally posted, teacher imposed rules) to function as a successful team, we are working to embrace the Swahili philosophy of Ubuntu (focusing on the importance of community, friendship, achieving together, sharing & that each of our actions affects the rest of the team), and I’ve worked to set up a safe learning space for every one of my learners.  It has taken time to teach my kids to rely on their own, as well as others’, understanding and abilities – we’ve become such a solitary society, but kids are resilient and have the power to make change.  They are working to share information, gain new ideas, and seeking more challenging ways to solve problems.  Yes, I do teach within the Common Core, regardless of my feelings for it, but I do it in a way that I know is developmentally appropriate and appropriately challenging for 8 year olds.  I do it in a way that allows kids to become intrinsically motivated to learn; usually gaining more understanding than I ever expected.  In third grade, we study communities of the world.  Why have every student study the same country?  If we need to find out geographical location, various features of a country, and cultural differences, why does every child need to get that information from the same country?  Is it wrong that we, as a learning community, learn so much more about many different countries and then share that information to help others gain understanding?  That is learning. 

Is there one thing you might change to make learning different?  Is there a topic you’re studying that you might change the learning outcome or even allow student voice in that outcome?  Is there something you can differentiate so each learner is appropriately challenged at their level – maybe reading?  Possibly Math?

So, many states have signed on to the Common Core which is now being pushed hand in hand with high stakes testing.  Unfortunately, I see more and more people equating learning to prepping students for a test & achievement number rather than prepping them for navigating challenges that they will face as learners. 

As I think back to my own school career, I just don’t see many things that are different now than they were then.  In a time when we have the power to have a voice and make changes for our kids, it doesn’t seem that many people are willing to take that risk.  It WILL impact kids if we continue to teach in the same ways we were taught and they learn in the same ways we learned.

I’ve got a new tune stuck in my head ...... anyone interested???

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