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.”

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5 Ways to Leverage Student Ownership for Improving School Communication

Communication shows up on just about every school’s plans for self-improvement in one way or another. A school might work on newsletters, automated texts, or social media, all of which are worthwhile.

However, as I recently learned at an active transportation conference,

Good solutions solve many problems; access to active transportation solves mobility, but it also addresses obesity, isolation & depression, and connecting with ‘the other'” (Tyler Norris).

Similarly, focusing primarily on student ownership is a good solution that can address many problems; it solves students feeling more invested in their learning, but it also strengthens the school/home connection, lifelong learning, and a more empowering school culture.

Here are some examples of how leveraging student ownership might help improve school communication in particular:

1. More transparent process. Ownership might look like students planning how to spend their learning time, leading workshops to teach peers, co-constructing success criteria, and more. All of these lend themselves to a tone of transparency that will most certainly make its way home to students’ families.

2. Authentic audience. Rather than waiting for that unproductive “what did you learn at school” conversation, students can provide their families with a window into their learning as it unfolds. Tools like Seesaw, student blogging, and more make this doable even for young students.

3. Students’ ability to identify and develop learning goals can grow in ways they can articulate to parents…

4. …which also lends itself to more meaningful conferences.

5. Students learn how to take more meaningful action that often carries over to their local community.

 

Student ownership has so much potential to strengthen our students and our schools. Putting more of the planning and decisions in their hands can yield astonishing results if we are courageous enough to control less and share more.

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Messy Beautiful Learning Happens When… #TeacherMom

…play is seen for what it really is: “the work of childhood.”

…children are permitted to make a space their own.

the desk of the 4 year old. Play dough, dinosaurs, magnetic letters, arctic animals, and some super heroes, all with an important and cohesive role for him.

…they are permitted choose to toss the instruction manuals, mix-and-match, and re-imagine what’s possible.

She decided to mix all the “sets” together to design her own city.

…they are encouraged to plan their time while also given the skills to identify balance and foresight.

…we stand ready to guide, shape, and support their inquiries, while also respecting their choices, voices, and sometimes messy ownership.

via Kath Murdoch’s blog

…we respect our students as the human beings they are, giving feedback grounded in relationships rather than judgement. (much less tidy than a clip chart for behavior, but much more likely to yield growth and learning).

What do you find to be the best conditions for messy, beautiful learning?

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“A” is For Captain America: Following Their Lead for Learning

Despite my commitment to follow my kids’ lead when it comes to their natural developmental learning pace, I still find myself worrying at times. What if they never indicate readiness? What if I miss the signs? What if I wait too long before possible interventions might be needed?

Once again, it has proven to be unnecessary worry. Over the last few months, my 4 year-old has started to indicate interest in identifying letters. This began with, “A is for Captain America!” He began identifying “A’s” everywhere, connecting both to the shape of the letter and its sound.

When he started to add others, like “B is for Black Widow,” I decided to turn to our environment help build this growing interest. We put some vinyl sticker letters to use, reinforcing both superheros and household objects that begin with each letter. How many can you name?

While this was a simple exercise, we’re already seeing him make even more connections beyond the home environment. It stands as a reminder to me that building early literacy does not need to be very complicated. Following the child’s lead is more powerful than we might think.

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“Where’s The Mom?” #TeacherMom


Sure, they may be building independence, problem-solving, time-management, confidence, physical health, risk-taking, and more. But the neighbors don’t see any of that. What they see & think is, “Where’s the mom?”

Never mind that when we were kids, such unsupervised play with a pack of neighbor kids was the norm.

Never mind that contrary to popular belief, the world is actually safer today than it was when we were kids.

Never mind that outdoor play actually addresses dramatically more threatening issues our kids face today, such as anxiety and diabetes.

When a someone recently told me that “Where’s the mom?” is the question asked when they see my kids play, it led me to revisit the way unstructured, unsupervised play has declined since when we were kids (sidebar: what about “Where’s the dad?” If we’re going to be judged, at least let it be equal opportunity judgement!). I have started to wonder whether this is less about protecting kids and more about protecting ourselves from judgement (offline & online) from other adults.

Ultimately, we need to find the courage to set aside those fears and focus on kids’ needs. We have been told, “You can’t be too careful when it comes to kids’ safety.” But the truth is that “an obsession with safety carries its own risks,” not least of which include a child’s diminished sense of autonomy. (see “Child Safety Up, Child Anxiety Up. Hmmm.“).

As a teacher, this seems to have direct parallels in the classroom as well. Both teachers and parents are pressured to make all the decisions in the name of safety or future success. Both are put under such an intense microscope, challenging the status quo is risky business. Both face an ever-present risk of severe judgement.

As a result, child autonomy is suffering, but we have the power to change that. We can:

And of course, it always helps when we find our tribe! There are many Facebook groups (one example here) and Twitter hashtags (#StudentAgency & #studentchoice) where you can find supportive teachers and parents who are similarly working toward childhood independence.

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Inquiry into Skills: Research

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

What measures do we take to help our students cultivate research skills? Teach them to google? Help them take outlined notes? These and others might be helpful, but it might be time to go a little deeper and help them further break down what research skills really entail.

According to the PYP, this break-down includes:

  • Formulating questionsIdentifying something one wants or needs to know and asking compelling & relevant questions that can be researched
  • ObservingUsing all the senses to notice relevant details
  • Planning: Developing a course of action; writing an outline; devising ways of finding out necessary information
  • Collecting data: Gathering information from a variety of first- and second-hand sources such as maps, surveys, direct observation, books, films, people, museums & ICT
  • Recording data: Describing & recording observations by drawing, note-taking, making charts, tallying, writing statements
  • Organizing data: Sorting & categorizing information; arranging into understandable forms such as narrative descriptions, tables, timelines, graphs & diagrams.
  • Interpreting data: Drawing conclusions from relationships and patterns that emerge from organized data.
  • Presenting research findings: Effectively communicating what has been learned; choosing appropriate media

This week’s provocation is intended to help students investigate the nature of research skills for themselves.

Resource #1: Fistful of Stars 360 via The Kid Should See This

Also see (also via The Kid Should See This):

Resource #2: Urban Nature hunting tips from Mr. O’Shea

Resource #3: What is dust made of? via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: OK Go Sandbox (lessons on the science behind their amazing videos!)

Resource #5: Biography picture books on scientists. Here are a few great ones!

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to conduct research?
  • What does it mean to be a researcher?
  • When are you a researcher?
  • What tools do researchers use?
  • What are the processes of research?
  • How does research change throughout a project?
  • What is a source? How can we use them
  • What is the role of perspective in research?
  • How can we develop/strengthen research skills?

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The Problem With Our Early Reading Obsession

When I write about how my daughter is succeeding as a reader even though (or because?) I did not force sight word flashcards or memorizing the alphabet on her as a preschooler, my thinking inevitably returns to readers we would term “at-risk” because of their sorely limited book access.

I wonder if my talk of autonomy and following the child’s lead and student choice & voice are another facet of our privilege, overlooking the needs of kids that need to “catch up” with their peers? Is my priority to cultivate the reader over the reading level potentially damaging for these children?

But this question, and all initiatives out there that insist every child must read by a certain level by age fill-in-the-blank (usually implemented in areas with higher number of at-risk kids), leads to a rather slippery slope with regards to development & choice. We must be wary of practices that suggest that honoring developmental readiness is only reserved for children of a certain class.

This wariness should become sharper when we are faced with programs that overshadow books themselves. When programs > books, we run into equity issues every time because only the kids that quickly finish up their program assignment get time to simply read books of their choosing (Matthew Effect, anyone?)

So, how do we…

…work to eliminate the reading ability gap our low-income students face while still honoring developmental readiness and choice?

…seek out accountability that all students are receiving high quality reading instruction while also avoiding silver bullet programs that promise guarantees?

…ensure that in our zeal to help them find words, we do not allow our anxious agendas to swallow up their voices & choices?

Even as we work to identify diverse literary needs and developmental readiness, we can find a more joyful, inviting reading community for all as we focus more on nurturing readers & cultures than on pushing reading levels.

“For too long we have focused on the development of reading for skills, not for the love of reading.  Yet, we need both types of experiences in order to fully develop as readers.” ~Pernille Ripp

(so many practical ideas from Pernille on establishing that culture in her post).

For our early readers, we seem to have been especially caught up in the skills side of reading. We need to stop packing in skills so tightly that they crowd out reading itself.

As Donalyn Miller recently summed up,

Each and every one of our early readers deserve librarians just as much as they deserve high-quality reading specialists. They deserve books in their hands just as much as they deserve guided reading groups. And they deserve teachers who share their authentic love of reading just as much as they deserve teachers who effectively build decoding skills.

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by fear of kids falling behind. But when we start from a place of love of the reading instead of fear, we ultimately lay a literary foundation that is much more lasting and meaningful for all our readers.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto