“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” — Confucius
I just finished reading “Damned Nations” by Dr. Samantha Nutt. This book is all about the various social justice issues that are taking place and how we have, so far, not dealt with some of the overriding problems that allow war, terrorism, poverty and illiteracy to breed and grow. Needless to say, what I thought might have been helping “change the world” may in fact be contributing. Nutt is one of the co-founders of War Child. This book opened my eyes and is now, on my list, of books I will recommend over and over.
This book reminded me of my incredible ignorance. I try to be world-wise, yet I am foolish to think that reading is enough.
I am plagued with this ever-present question of whether I am “smart” enough to be a teacher.
If I recognize the limitations of my own knowledge, am I equipped to help students discover their own ignorance? Because isn’t this what we ultimately are searching for? A student who understands they don’t know everything becomes a self-guided inquirer, or a self-directed learner. That’s my goal.
To improve teacher practice, do we need a teacher-wide admittance of our knowledge limitations? Will this help re-frame the classroom away from the teacher as “beacon of knowledge”?
I do want to acknowledge that I recognize the difference between information and knowledge. The difference is an important element in our media saturated world.
I know so little, yet my ignorance is an important factor in my teaching. Should it be for all?
I have been engaged in the process of making my classes student-directed, inquiry-based communities of learning. I have worked hard to build the sense of camaraderie and ownership in the room for every student. I think it’s a process worth following.
But then, as I walked through the downtown core of my community, I see many people who are disconnected. I see people struggling to make their way through this life while social services are available, opportunities can be had, but whatever it is, they resist the feeling of community. They never feel like they belong.
Is this true of the one or two of the thirty kids in my room? Does the learning community mimic the broader community? Will there always be the marginal ones?
When classes are quantitative, students assigned to a seat and sitting in rows, they are easier to manage. Keeping track of them is normalized. When involved in a dynamic, inquiry based classroom, it’s not easy to keep track. That may be part of the struggle for teachers and why they are reluctant to “buy-in”. The management is not inherent.
Does giving up control, offering autonomy and parsing ownership provide more opportunity for the disconnected to stay disconnected? Or does it give a student a better chance to hide?
As school work moves more in the direction of connected collaboration, does this offer students more opportunity to get credit without making the demonstration?
Some top songwriters get credit for writing a song in which they’ve only polished one line. Is this happening in my open, distributed classroom?
I had this great conversation with a student the other day who has been struggling in my class. This student felt disconnected, was uninterested and proceeded to ask for “more regular English”. As this conversation continued, I asked this if they felt they were a member of the community and they said, “No. I don’t know anyone in this class.”
“How can that be? We have done so much team-building, group work and in fact, you’ve done real well on some of those projects.”
“Yeah but … these aren’t my people.”
To a certain extent, I understand. Then, on the other hand, I don’t get it. I watch this students interact with classmates and this student is fine. Not the most talkative, but not the quietest. This student, on the outside, seems connected. But, obviously, doesn’t feel it.
How am I going to connect this student with our learning community? How could I have missed this?
That said, I do take solace that this student felt comfortable coming to talk with me, though it is more than half way through the semester.
Does the nature of a student-directed, inquiry-based learning community lead to some members feeling disconnected?
I was stuck in traffic today. The blessed curse of driving into and out of Toronto during the day.
The thing is, I’m usually that guy.
That guy who weaves in and out of lanes, trying to find the fast one. That guy who speeds up and then has to slam on my brakes when the traffic inevitably reminds me of where I am. I’m usually that guy.
But not today. I’m relaxed and at ease. Nowhere to go, by no set time. I was operating at the timeline of life.
And I had CBC radio.
I’m a fan of CBC radio. No, I’m not pompous and a left-wing liberal (ok, one of those maybe), but I listen to it as a reminder, to myself, to wonder.
The thing is wondering can get away from us. It slips through the door somedays, to only return tomorrow. Life has a way of leaving the door open like that.
Being stuck in traffic on a day with no schedule allowed me to find that old friend and I got to thinking, do we do this enough? Allow our students time to wonder? Or is that something they should do on “their own time”?
The thing is we spend so much time talking about thinking, that we sometimes forget about wondering. There is a difference. Wondering doesn’t have to follow the logic, it doesn’t have to be specific or on task. It doesn’t have to be something you are even interested in.
CBC radio reminds me. Shows like Ideas, Spark, As It Happens, are all a collection of randomly produced wonderings. They make me wonder about the things that don’t enter into my thoughts. They never play a lead role in my life. Yet, they make me wonder.
Now, as I wrote this, I got to reflecting that I do wonder at times, but usually, I have access to Google to clear up any wondering. Google makes wondering efficient. There’s something wrong about that. There’s something unnatural. Yet, I do it. Often.
So, I don’t know.
Do we spend enough time wondering?
Today, the room is quiet. Silent, really. I have no clue why.
I haven’t told them to focus on their work. I haven’t told them to sit and be quiet. They just are.
The reason I suspect is that they are choosing their work today. They have been given an opportunity to ask a question and uncover the answer. The only thing I ask of them is to document the process. Keep track of their pathway to learning.
One student is asking the question, “Why do we play video games?” He is on his way to discovering the relationship between challenge, exploration and accomplishment. He will probably start looking differently at school too. I’m going to send him the way of Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk.
One student is asking the question, “How do we determine who the greatest in a sport is?” He is on his way to discovering the relationship of criteria, statistics, media and the power of heroes. He will hopefully start looking at celebrities and athletes differently, more analytically, while still being swept up in their brilliance.
One student is asking, “Why is school important?” She is on the way to establishing her own criteria of effective learning and in doing so will demand more of teachers she encounters. She will take this and rethink every assignment, every lesson and become more of an active participant in her own education.
These questions are just a sampling of what my students are learning. With this process, they are learning communication skills, reading critically, writing, connecting. They are learning how to be active in their world and not passive citizens. They are questioning to establish what interests them for their future.
Each student is exploring their own interests. It may be the first time that some of them have been given the time, resources and support to self-select their learning.
The room is quiet, but the learning is turned to 11.
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