8/1/12

The More I Learn. . .


It may sound cliche, "The older I get, the more I have to learn", yet it is so true.  I have had my nose to the ether for months now and I am constantly making new connections and gaining new insights on teaching and parenting.  My thinking is constantly changing and stretching so that posts I write three months ago, three weeks ago, sometimes three days ago, no longer quite fit my thinking of today.  I wonder if I should place a disclaimer on my blog.  "Each post is a snapshot in time, my thinking or understanding in that precise moment."  I have never in all my years of schooling been as much a learner as I have been in the last two years or more precisely the last 6 months.  I find it no coincidence that my greatest leaps in connections and understanding have occurred since I have been writing this blog.  For me writing is thinking, on a protein shake.

I read recently the idea that 21st century teachers must be learners and be able to learn alongside their students rather than leading their students by the nose.  The idea is not a new one, but it made me think.  I have really always been a learner.  I went from grade school through graduate study with barely a pause then right into teaching.  But, I had so much schooling that I started to think that, at the ripe age of 25, I knew stuff.  Till that time, my learning had mostly been directed by someone or some institution other than me.  As I reflect, I can see that experience shaped the teacher I was back then.  I was versed in integrating curriculum and arts with learning goals and standards of the day.  I was skilled at creating an environment that kids wanted to be in and created with them an environment safe for learning.  But one goal that eluded me was facilitating inquiry learning on the large scale and in areas other than science.  Small scale projects or lessons were all I could manage.  It frustrated me, because I knew that this was key to my growth as a teacher and to expanding the learning of my students, and I just couldn't wrap my head around how to pull it off in a large scope.

After being home a while and sending my children to school I became passionate about leaerning all I could about ADHD, Autism, Giftedness, learning disabilities, and the neurological factors of learning.  Now, thinking about returning to teaching, that passion had turned to learning how to apply those new understandings to classroom practice in this new and exciting age of teaching.  I have become an internet Wonder Woman surfing through heaps of information online and off, and sifting through the junk to get to the jewels.  Most important of all, I have discovered my learning self again.  I am a learner in my own right and not solely led by an institution, but self directed by my own growing understandings and questions.

I am there.  Right now, I am "In the zone" of learning and I can see why this place is so important for teachers to be in.  Now that I have learned, once again, to ask my own questions and make my own connections I can see how important it is to ask the same of my students and children, but more importantly I can see inquiry everywhere.

For instance:  What is community?  Community is a first grade concept.  It is a universal concept that withstands time and place.  Whenever or wherever you live, community exists in some form.  Community encompasses a whole world of learning for first graders still exploring the people and world around them.  Every piece of the curriculum, math, literature, science, history, civics, economics, writing, arts can be tied in to it's place, or importance to the community, be it classroom community, school community, town community, or country community.   But what do six and seven year olds know about community? What questions do they have?  How can they contribute to the community in a developmentally appropriate way? And how can I use all these questions to guide my teaching?

The concept provides a whole to a curriculum we may risk seeing as lots of parts.  How deep can learning go if everything we learn about is then reflected back to it's place in the larger scheme of Community?  This method of organizing the curriculum provides meat for students already craving opportunities for comparing, classifying, executing and critiquing,(to name just a few) and provides the framework necessary for others to learn those skills as well.  Now having asked my own questions and sought my own answers I feel better prepared to facilitate this type of inquiry in a classroom.  But surely, some may ask, what about the parts?  There are so very many parts, bits of information that these kids need to learn, how do I make sure that the nuts and bolts are firmly in place at the end of first grade?  In all my glorious revelation about inquiry, I know that explicit teaching of certain skills must occur as well.  For some reteaching, and practice will be required to achieve certain skills.  The amazing thing that teachers need to remember is that though certain skills elude some children and require a larger effort and close monitoring and assessment by teachers,  the apparent disadvantage does not need to prevent or preclude the children from making large connections in their world that are meaningful and important to making sense of and being prepared for life in the 21st century.

Of course, as I have said, these are my thoughts today at 9:31 am on August 1st, 2012.  I am a learner and all thoughts and ideas are changing in large and small ways at all times.  It is my goal to return to teaching or somehow use my understandings to help improve the learning or teaching of others and most importantly myself today and in the future.

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