I was mid-conversation with a colleague today about the evolution of projects in the classroom when I had a revelation. Often teachers cling to their tried and true classroom projects and assignments not for the fear of change so much as for the fear of relinquishing control. Bingo.
Our society still embraces the old school picture of a classroom. Desks neatly in rows facing the front of the classroom where a smartly dressed teacher writes clean, even handwriting. Students intently watch the teacher and copy her every stroke into their crisp, spiral bound notebooks filled with meticulously and laboriously taken notes about a subject.
I used to be that teacher.
Now on a happy day, students are digging up earthworms which dangle from their little hands as they smile for the photo their classmate is taking of them. Special areas around the room are filled with busy learners wearing headphones listening to informational text about any number of high-interest content. Still yet, a few learners are singing silly rhymes while a buddy records them. I am usually flitting from group to group. Checking in. Asking questions. Every now and then I stop the class and say something like, "Boys and girls! Everyone take a look at what he's doing here!"
Sometimes I wonder what the hallway passerby must think about my class. It's funny how the word "structure" can be both a compliment and a negative. I'd like to call my class structured, but in more of a 21st Century way. We are busy, but everyone has a task to do. Students are chatting, but engaged. I have essentially two "silent" times in my day...independent reading and the minute and a half it takes during timed tests. That's a glorious minute and a half.
Yet within all that busy-ness and movement, students are learning. Sure they are learning important content deemed necessary by the powers that be in the state house, but more than that...they are learning HOW to learn. They are the experts, and I drive them and push them toward becoming independent learners who seek out their own outcomes. It's not because I'm too lazy. Heavens no. I don't have the luxury of laziness. It's just that I want THEM to have control of their learning.
Here's why. The world is changing more rapidly now than ever before in the history of the earth. Technology created today is already on its way to becoming outdated tomorrow. Yet if I teach students the crucial business of LEARNING, this doesn't matter. If they have the skills of analyzing, making connections, and seeking answers...they will SUCCEED!
That's why we need to take a step back. Analyze our own need to formulate our students' learning experiences so exquisitely that we miss the point. It isn't about checking off all of the little boxes and making 15 slides in a Keynote presentation to our liking. It's about giving them the freedom to create. Mess up. Discover. Wonder. Be unique.
Because within that process, we will find that we have truly succeeded in facilitating something much greater than we ever hoped for.