Lessons in the Everyday

Yesterday, something happened that confirmed for me the shift in thinking that I have gone through.  It was lunchtime, and I was outside supervising the K-3 playground.  It was -18, but no one complained.  They were all busy.

It had snowed, and because of the frigid temperature, it could be cut by snow saws into pieces. The end result, a snow fort.  Normally, my only thought would’ve been a silent prayer that nobody beat each other with their saw.  But yesterday, I saw something different.

As I watched them, I wondered, “Is there something in the curriculum we could teach with this?”  Something authentic.  Not playing in the snow, and then writing a poem about it.  Something that has to do with math, science or architecture that they could learn in a real hands-on way.

As I continued to watch them build, I noticed a number of things.   There’s a great deal of negotiation and teamwork required to build a snow fort, especially considering these are kids of multiple grades and ages working together, and learning from one another, students who may not ordinarily work together outside of this context.  They also needed to be able to problem solve when the walls collapsed.

As I evaluated this process, I realized that many of the 21st C skills we need to impart to our students, were happening right there: problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation.  Wow.  We need to make more of this stuff part of “school”.

I find  that I am beginning to look at everything with the thought, “I wonder what this could teach…”

I think this lines up with Ackoff & Greenberg’s view that, “In the educational process, students should be offered a wide variety of ways to learn, among which they could choose or with which they could experiment. They do not have to learn different things the same way. They should learn at a very early stage of “schooling” that learning how to learn is largely their responsibility — with the help they seek but that is not imposed on them.”

I think this is a huge shift in thinking for most of our students, especially by the age that I teach them. I’m in the process of teaching my students that learning how to learn is largely their responsibility.  And so far, it seems to make sense to them.  I think it’s important to tell my students why our class is different, and how it’s important to them.

Of course, the best real-life example I have of this, is my grade 10 students and their idea of raisng money for Schools for Schools.  The surprising thing is that this whole venture hasn’t stayed contained in my classroom;  they’ve co-opted students from grade 7-12. Our school has students from six grades taking chances and learning life skills.  And there are only a few adults directing it from the periphery.

At times, this makes it feel somewhat chaotic.  And we discussed that as a class one day because they felt it too.  Helping to coordinate this venture are a few adults on the edges.  We’ve never spoken to or contacted one another, and to be honest, one of them I’ve never met.  I explained to my students, that normally, the adults would have gotten together, planned everything, and then told the students what to do.  But that’s not what’s happening here.  Most days, my class feels a bit like this video:

Our class is being “built” as we go along.  There’s no script to follow.  I’m not even sure it’s replicable.

And I’m not sure how to categorize what is going on in my classroom.  But it’s been the strangest teaching experience I’ve had, and I often find it difficult to explain to other teachers, especially when many have a teacher-centered model of teaching.

There’s something humbling about not being all that necessary in your own classroom. And yet, for their sake, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

While I have a basic plan of what we may do for the day, there have been many times this has to be drastically adjusted in the moment.  I basically arrive at class each day to find out from my students where we’re at and what we need to do.  Sometimes there’s a crisis we need to solve, other times details that need to be attended to.

Last Sunday, two of our grade 7 students explained Schools for Schools in front of their church of about 400-500 people. Afterward, they collected over $400 dollars in our Change for Change jars.  I realized, after hearing this, that I’ve never spoken in front of that many people.  What incredibly courageous things our students will do when they believe in something.

I find this class incredibly exciting to teach. I walk in excited to find out what has happened between classes. To see how they’ve grown and learned.  To find out what challenges they’ve faced and conquered. I think my students learning should continue to take place after they’ve left my classroom.

Yesterday, we received a donation of $2000.00, and it confirmed for my students that what they’re doing matters.  Seeing the joy on their faces, as they burst out clapping because of their excitement, that’s why I do this job.

picture courtesy of creative commons by circulating

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About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. I am currently a PhD student in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is play-based learning in high school, and it's impact on brain development.
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4 Responses to Lessons in the Everyday

  1. Rod Murray says:

    Read @wilrich ‘s compliment and revisited your blog for a better read. You’ve created journal of the changes you are making in your teaching practice and made it open and reflective, so that others can not only read it, but be compelled to go along for the ride. I intend to revisit.

  2. wrtngtchr says:

    I will be one of your regular readers thanks to @wilrich who shared your gem of a blog on Twitter. The description of your students’ first encounters w/technology as an integral part of learning rings so familiar. I have similar frustrations but I also share those wonderful class periods when it all comes together for the students. I love it when students first discover the simultaneous typing and the chat in the margin on g-docs.

  3. Pingback: Edustange » Lessons in the Everyday | Wright’sRoom

  4. Alan Stange says:

    This reflection by Shelley Wright resonates with my own experience last year at Sunningdale School with a grade four-five combination. As I approached the beginning of this year I wanted to duplicate the learning environment I had last year and make changes that would move us toward more autonomous, student centered learning. As September approached I realized I could not reduce my practice to a comfortable system I could replicate with a new group of students. So much of the success for connected learning in last year`s room can be attributed to the students themselves. I stepped back. Stepping back was difficult for me and I agonized a good deal about the appropriate pace for relinquishing control and offering autonomy in my classroom. Last year connected learning grew gradually over months as each student accepted (or did not accept) ownership by degrees. So much depends on your group.

    I had the forethought to recognize this before the year began. I realized that reducing my authoritative footprint in the classroom meant that I could not recreate the exact conditions that had led to my modest success last year. The new group of students would bring their own uniqueness to the room`s learning culture. As I anticipated, it has been different. They have different strengths and interests.

    Shelley’s comment about a basic plan transformed by the day is the experience of most of us I think. Learning is connected. If we forget that learning is a conversation among many people and only hear our own voice many things happen. The classroom becomes a frustrating struggle and learning diminishes. I think we have all tried the experiment where we have to give a person directions for doing something without dialog or visual cues to their progress. The more interaction we are allowed, the more successful the task. It is a salutary lesson for teachers. We are connected learners. Our plans are simply guides.

    Shelley describes watching students collaborating in the snow. That was a description of authentic connected learning. Sure we need to bring that into the classroom. I think another important point to gain from this is that we are not central to human learning. Schools simply represent an institution of formal education. We don’t create life-long learners nor do we discourage it. Our humanity makes us life long learners. What we can do is help people become better life-long learners. When my class gathers together in the morning, I am aware that they have come with more than I can give them and at the end of the day they will likely accumulate and reflect on so much more.

    Open doors and step back; offer questions and paths to follow; always remember you are in a conversation with someone just like you. There is no reliability to our practice because each person, group, and experiential moment is unique. Resist anyone who thinks differently about learning.

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