"What are you passionate about? What do you like? What do you love? What do you do when you aren't in school? If you could learn about anything, what would it be? What do you wonder about?"
These are the questions I asked some first graders this last Friday after school. For the next 8 weeks these kiddos will be spending Fridays after school with me at Genius Hour. This splendidly open-ended inquiry based learning model has me excited about the learning these kiddos will be doing, but also disheartened about the missed opportunity for enlightened and adventurous learning that results from scripted curricula and other 'rigor' focused learning initiatives.
It happens in my classroom; it happens at my school; I assume it happens everywhere (is this true?). The 'institution' gets so focused on results that passion is left by the wayside and curiosity is swept under the rug. We need to finish this module; we're already behind. I'm in meetings all day- can I hear your class read next week? It's time to rotate centers- save your question for later. Prioritize the information you cover by what will be on the exit ticket. Implement this. Justify that. Address these concerns. Submit your attendance!! Improvement plans for..... Behavior plans for.... What does the data look like? Anecdotal notes? Juggle, juggle, balance, balance, jump, skip, hop, pat your head and rub your belly.
But for what?
We analyze data daily that informs our lesson planning to ensure that we offer the greatest learning opportunities, tailored to the specific needs of our students. We sit in meetings hammering things out, and pushing for clarity, and trying not to step on each other's toes. We arrive at 7am and leave at God knows when. We take work home and we are always on call. We are flexible and we change our schedule multiple times throughout the year. Juggle, juggle, balance, balance, jump, skip, hop, pat your head and rub your belly.
But for what?
Our students walk in a silent line, with hands by their sides. They sit perfectly on the carpet and perfectly at their seats. They know the steps, they know the rules. They raise their hands and they talk at the appropriate level. They track the speaker and they meet expectations. Shoes tied, shirts tucked. Juggle, juggle, balance, balance, jump, skip, hop, pat your head and rub your belly.
But for what?
What does it matter if my students make a 100% on their exit ticket when they hate math? What does it matter if my class reads a passage fluently when they're eyes glaze over while doing it? What difference does it make if they can meet school expectations when they would rather be anywhere else in the world?
I want my students to see the world, but not because they can't wait to escape their current reality.
How do I inspire students to take ownership of their learning while juggling expectations and requirements that I believe are entirely beside the point?
I fear we work steadfastly for the things in education that make positively no difference in the life of a child. Can we stop planning for perfection and start the messy work of turning the fragments before us into a beautiful piece of art?
Step 1: Teach kids to take ownership of their own learning.
Step 2: Let them do it.