I have to say I was one of those kids for whom “school was okay.” I didn’t hate it, but neither did I love it–and I was, and am, a lifelong learner. I like learning, even when it’s hard–I get great pleasure out of figuring something out, gaining new knowledge that I can then use, and then, often sharing it. I like the struggle that comes with solving a puzzle of some kind. I have handheld games (that require strategy to play, such as Othello and Yahtzee) all around my house and lake place. I have a game shelf in my classroom kids drool over-and then go home and ask their parents to get those games. My kids know I love it when they teach me a new game, especially one where they (initially) can beat me. (Okay, I’ll admit it, sometimes they keep beating me!) But what really gets me going is an opportunity to interact with others over a topic of interest and depth–one like discussing an issue like in Hurt Go. Happy about animal testing, or looking at articles online and trying to help kids think like historians as they debate whether John Smith was an historian or liar. (See Did Pocahontas Save Captain John Smith? and Was John Smith A Liar?) I have to think, I have to study and I have to question, debate, infer, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize to participate thoughtfully in those kinds of conversations. In other words, I am learning at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy as I struggle to make sense of complicated issues. Hmmm, much like real life, yes?
Recently I read one of Dianne Ravitch’s posts where she quoted a teacher named Algot Runeman (@algotruneman) as saying,
“Let’s start talking about the reality of learning. It is incremental. It is a constant struggle. If it isn’t a struggle, it isn’t worth doing.”
“Keeping a positive attitude, getting up after a fall. Moving ahead to the next challenge. Those need to be our expectations.”
What hit me about Mr. Runeman’s comments was that we, as educators fighting the fight for high tests scores, have completely lost sight, in many places and in many classrooms, of what learning is and how it affects us. In many schools, it’s about scoring highly on the post assessment after the unit has been taught. It’s about passing the weekly or bi-weekly tests that predict how the student will do on THE tests. PLCs are called “data parties” because we list which kids are proficient, which are “bubble kids” (almost, but not quite, proficient OR failing) and we list the kids who failed. What we don’t talk about is what the kid already knows and how to move him or her from that level to the next. What we don’t talk about is how to help kids learn how to learn for themselves, or what they can do when they don’t know what to do. What we don’t talk about is how to help kids develop perseverance when they hit the wall and need more information, or a different strategy to try to solve the issue with which they are struggling. What we don’t talk about is how to help kids develop stamina as they struggle with really hard problems–ones where it takes more than a few minutes to solve the issue they have been given. What we don’t talk about is giving them the strategies they need to become those lifelong learners we talk about in our vision and mission statements.
What we need to do, as teachers, is to look at kids as learners, not test takers. We need to remember what learning feels like–the sense of accomplishment we feel when we solve a problem or suddenly understand something or the pieces click together to make sense! We need to recall the sense of power we feel when we work on something and our prior knowledge helps us complete or build or make it. The feeling of success when we accomplish something we’ve never done before builds confidence in our own abilities and others giving us positive feedback reinforces that confidence. Confidence allows us to face the next challenge stronger and more likely to persevere. That ability to persevere and build stamina for struggling with a problem allows us to attack harder work with confidence and so the cycle continues.
We need to find ways to excite kids to the topics at hand, and allow them to find their own topics and explore them as well. We’ve all been asked “Why do we need to learn this?” and we need to be able to answer that beyond “You need to know it for the state test.” We need to understand what kind of world our students are growing into–and we need to help them, even at an early age, understand things like media literacy, norms and rules and behaviors of social media, and world issues. We need to help them understand where we have come from as a country–whatever country you teach in–and the injustices we have done as a nation, the successes we’ve created, the problems we’ve set up and we need to help students paint a vision for themselves as to where they want to go–both in their personal lives and in their lives as a citizen of their country.
Teaching is bigger than going in every day and working through the textbook.
And so is learning.