Intentionally Cultivating Abundant, Intrinsic Learning #TeacherMom

I wonder how often I’ll be surprised at the abundance of learning that can happen for kids without the personal intervention of adults.

The latest episode occurred when my 8 year-old asked Google to show her a picture of the solar system so she could create her own LEGO model. This launched when she decided to build a spaceship, which got her thinking, “where will the spaceship land? It’s more fun if there’s a place for the person to land and explore!”

Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Can you tell which is which?

Her exploration was packed with play, discovery, pleasure, energy, and joy.

All this was all fueled by her own delighted fervor to learn. No assignment. No sticker chart. No carrot and stick.

While this learning venture was all her own, there have been intentional steps toward a culture of intrinsic learning. Steps like…

saying no to reading programs that would get in the way of self-selected reading.

…setting up a learning environment with invitations to explore.

intentional language (“what amazing science you’re exploring!” “your interesting connections really make me think.”)

…discussing independent time-management & balance.

second-guessing my agenda before second-guessing her developmental readiness.

treasuring play. As written in a recent Washington Post article,

“the art of the joy of childhood is doing things because they anchor you to the moment, not because they will reap future benefits or rewards. There is a sense of mindfulness children feel when they play that so many of us long for as adults.”

Leaving a child to their own learning devices still actually does involve quite a lot of effort on our part. Sometimes the things to which we say “No” are just as important as the things to which we say “Yes.” As I’ve shared before, in the words of Seth Godin,

“If it’s work, they try to figure out how to do less, and if it’s art, they try to figure out how to do more.”

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Third Teacher At Home #TeacherMom

I’ve often mentioned the importance of creating a rich environment to help invite learning (rather than relying on more contrived programs and flashcards that put learning on the adult’s timetable all the time). But like everything else, this has been a bit of a journey for me.

Weird fact about me: I have subscribed to the magazine Better Homes & Gardens since I was 13 years old. (A major influence on my continued loyalty was when they replaced a copy that my very helpful then-2-year-old had “put in the bathroom.” ie, watery toilet grave. I still hope that email with my pitiful story and request for a new copy is pinned to some break-room somewhere).

So while I’m nothing even close to an expert on interior design, by the time kids came along, I had some difficulty consolidating my notions of home decorating with kid-friendly-play.

So for today, I thought I’d share today a little of what that learning environment currently looks like in our home. Some of the learning environment elements include…

Sensory Play

At first, I restricted access to all sensory play (like the box of beans below and play dough) so that they would need to ask each time they wanted to play, because who wants to spend days constantly cleaning this up?? But then I learned how wearisome this can be for all parties involved, which ultimately inhibits play.

I ended up replacing the box with one on wheels, storing it under a daybed where the kids can slide it out to play as desired; play dough storage became similarly accessible. As for picking up stray beans, it turns out the dog really likes them, so that helps with the mess factor. But most importantly, sensory play has become a more readily-available choice in our home.

…Book access

I mingle the toys with the books, and try to provide a cozy spot nearby (like the sheepskin rug pictured below) so that reading is always a convenient option. I’m also always shifting the way our books are organized and displayed (more on that in last week’s post).

when I saw this print by a local artist, I knew it needed to be framed near our books.

Open-ended play

I try to provide “toys” that have open-ended possibilities. Our loose parts toys (photo below) are one of my favorite ways to watch my kids’ imaginations fly, but another factor has been simply arranging toys together. Safari LTD animals near a school bus near wooden trays.

…occasionally setting up invitations to play

Leaving shelves open so that we can find new ways to invite play on their level has been helpful here. This little “dining area” has been set up for a while so my kids have largely forgotten about it by now, but it’s often the first thing visiting kids notice when they come over to play.

Design for togetherness

This has been perhaps the most influential element of creating a rich learning environment at home. I used to think that I needed to keep toys and books corralled in a corner so that the grown-ups could enjoy grown-up space. Now I know that when I integrate play into the design, I can cultivate more comfortable spaces in which everyone feels they belong, which in turn invites more shared play.

For us, this looks like no separate play room, plenty of seating for everyone use the space, and shared bookcases arranged so everyone has what they need on their level. But of course, the possibilities are endless and should be based on your family’s needs.

What about you? What are ways you provide that “third teacher” at home?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What Happens When We “Let Kids In On the Secret” of Development #TeacherMom

It started with a conversation over birding. Having been raised to share love of bird-watching with her dad, my daughter was casually checking out a few species when she mentioned she wished she had her binoculars with her. That’s when I told her, “Did you know that some people can identify birds with other senses besides sight? If you were blind, what would you use to learn about birds instead?” This led to watching the video entitled, “Blind Birdwatcher Sees With Sound,” followed by all the other videos I recently included in an inquiry into the senses.

All this led to a fascinating conversation about the senses, absolutely packed with “aha moments” for my daughter. The baby video in the above-mentioned post particularly made us think together — we ended up talking about how important sensory experiences are for kids. That’s when she made the connection to why we call our bin filled with dry grain a “sensory box,” as well as other items in our home that she suddenly realized were deliberate choices based on her parents’ understanding of child development.

All at once, and to her delight, she was “in on the secret” on her own development as well as that of her brothers. She started to not only recognize but make suggestions to her environment when it comes to providing sensory experiences (particularly keen to share her pearls of wisdom on bettering her little brothers’ experiences). And quite apart from the learning element from it all, it has simply been a wonderful relationship-builder as well.

What does “letting kids in on the secret” look like at school? 

This phrase is regularly shared by inquiry educator Kath Murdoch. She writes,

“inquiry teachers have a transparent style. It’s not just about putting learning intentions up on the wall – they constantly ensure their kids know why they are doing what they are doing.”

In another post, she adds,

“We know that for many students, school is like a jigsaw puzzle…only no one has given them the picture on the lid of the box. We know now of course that when we hold on tightly to those secret intentions, when we fail to tell kids why they are learning what they are learning…when we take purpose away from the equation – we reduce motivation, engagement and understanding.”

Letting kids in on the secret might mean…

…letting a committee of kids design the next seating chart (after discussing the how and why behind it)

…regularly discussing learning standards/objectives and what they mean and how we get there (and how kids might help in the planning to get there!)

…having meaningful conversations about metacognition, and what specific strategies we seek to better understand our own thinking patterns and self-regulation

…teaching kids to recognize their own time-use and purposes, and then gradually providing them with opportunities to exercise agency in how they spend their time (such as in this Daily 5 example).

…frequently talking about the why behind everything we do!

What about you? What are some ways you have “let students in on the secret?” What has been the impact when you see students with a greater understanding of the big picture of school?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Taking Context Seriously” to Cultivate Student Ownership

In the video below (recently shared by AJ Juliani in my PLN — thanks, AJ!), Todd Rose shares the following story (starting at 22:07).

In the 1960’s scientists were puzzled why the infant reflex to “walk” disappears after around 2 months, later returning when they are ready to walk at around a year old. Based on a method of averages, they determined it had to do with the fact that our brains mature and therefore suppress that reflex. This belief ended up in pediatrics books, which landed babies getting checked for developmental brain delays and remediation if their reflex didn’t go away by 2 months. Fortunately, Esther Thelen later proved this false; by looking at individuals rather than averages, and by varying the contexts with each of these babies, she discovered that at 2 months of age, infants’ thighs simply get chubbier, rendering their legs too heavy to lift that way.

“So here we have this really complicated story about brain maturation that we’re sending kids off to remediation off of, when it turns out it has nothing to do with that, just by taking context seriously.”

As an educator, the phrase, “taking context seriously” jumps out to me. We know we are in the business of working with people. We know learning is a messy process. We know that we need to see our students as individuals first.

Yet all these truths seem to take a back seat when it comes to testing, GPAs, and report cards.

Why? Because we consistently sweep away that context of the individual in favor of finding and measuring up against that ever-supreme average.

 

Fortunately, research like Todd Rose’s is finally shedding light on just how misleading the average is when we are looking at the individual (he makes the point that it can still be very valuable when looking at large groups, but that when it comes to individuals, average does not exist). Though the longstanding belief has been that we use the “average” because it matches the largest number of people, the truth is that we are so complex that the average actually ends up matching virtually no one.

So in education, it’s when we “take context seriously” that we find out where a learner really is on their journey.

We take into account all the nuances and complexities of the individual to not only analyze just how far they’ve come (ie, taking into account poverty, developmental delays, etc) but to identify their strengths that will help them work toward mastery.

As Rose says later in the talk,

“Empower students with self-knowledge to make choices on their own behalf.”

We have the tools in our 21st century world to help our students understand their own contexts and leverage that knowledge to take ownership over their own learning process. We need to resist the idea that certain skills and knowledge need to be attained by certain, average benchmarks in time because these averages, in fact, apply to so few people.

Our individual contexts are just too unique to be lumped into the average.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Note, at the end of the Google Talk, Rose addressed some excellent audience questions, including how we measure success in the education system in lieu of the average. Rose shares two fascinating possibilities I also wanted to share here:

1. As tech is giving us greater opportunities for individualized learning, we’ll soon see a shift, especially in higher-ed, toward “Micro-credentials and competency based measurements” instead of the traditional semesters/grades system.

2. We need to use clearly defined, competency-based outcomes to measure success. To know how well an individual is doing, we need benchmark them against their own progression in that competency, and you don’t have to look at anyone else’s progress to know that. (“A diploma with a 3.2 vs. “I have these competencies.””)