Three students, three different outside interests. Three students that are taking time to create, develop skills, or produce professional work.
She’s writing a novel and is 30,000 words in.
He plays hockey four to five times a week.
He’s illustrating a children’s book for me.
Each of these projects are self-directed, have full student engagement, require these students to work tirelessly at developing the requisite skills and demonstrate them. Yet, things that happen outside of school count for nothing in it.
It seems that timing is everything because she’s demonstrating her English skills but unless it was assigned between 8-2:30 it seems that that demonstration doesn’t count.
Why don’t extra-curriculars count? Why don’t we assign credits to those students that demonstrate the elements of courses on their own time? Why do we require students to perform the tasks we assign as proof of skills and abilities?
I’ve floated this idea to some students, just as a supposition, their response, “Yeah, good question. But it’ll never happen,” or “Who’s doing the evaluation of these products?” or “How do you know it was that kid who did the painting?” or “Aren’t some sports teams harder and require more dedication?” or “What about access to resources, they aren’t equal?” All good questions, no simple answers.
But I’m left unsatisfied. I’m left thinking about the work that they’ve done and thinking why aren’t we encouraging this. Why aren’t we legitimizing their efforts?
I know, I know, people are going to ride me for suggesting we should provide extrinsic rewards for their work and undermine their intrinsic interest. I agree with that argument too.
However, while we’re counting, should extracurriculars count?
Jason Fried author of the great book, ReWork delivers an interesting talk titled, “Why work doesn’t happen at work.”
The educational implications are clear.
We are the managers. Our lectures, lessons, activities are the meetings. Are we the reason students are ineffective in their learning? Are we the distractions? How can we shift it?
Many teachers will say that students cause their own distraction. Is it because we’ve already cut up their day for them? Is it because we’ve only given them learning “moments”?
We have to rethink our role in the classroom.
Fried challenges us to develop a culture of deep thought, a chance to find flow, and an opportunity longer than 15 minutes to find creativity. I think he may be on to something.
I strongly recommend reading ReWork by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. It is a great book that questions our ideas of work, the office and how to be more efficient and effective. Their business success is an interesting story too.
Conrad Wolfram — TedGlobal 2010 http://www.ted.com/talks/conrad_wolfram_teaching_kids_real_math_with_computers.html
Just because paper was invented before computers, it doesn’t necessarily mean you get more to the basics of the subject by using paper.
To truly see myself as a co-learner, I’ve had to make a big step. I did something I’d never done. It changed everything. I gave them the curriculum document.
You know the one. The document loaded with edu-babble and overall expectations. The booklet that sums up why we are here in class everyday. I gave it to them. Let them read through it. We had to decode some of the language. We even had to talk about the relevancy and redundancy of many aspects.
Then we talked about what we’ve done so far. What expectations they’ve demonstrated. We talked about what standards they’ve achieved. We talked about ways that they could demonstrate the skills necessary to achieve success that are connected to their interests.
I gave them the information I had and joined them in the discussions about what, why, and how we are learning. The second half of the course will be very self-directed. They need to demonstrate these expectations. We’ve changed the vocabulary, an assignment is no longer that. Instead, the work they do is an opportunity to demonstrate the skills. They get it now.
I think removing the blindfold and framing the learning at the middle of the class has changed the dynamic. The individual discussion is now about how they can demonstrate what’s expected. Not about numbers or assignments.
Even more so, it is not about the assignments I create and they comply with, but rather it is about their ability to demonstrate that which they know they must. It is heavy stuff for them. It has always been talked about abstractly. Now they know what it is. I’m expecting them to start looking at the curriculum documents for other courses. I’ve encouraged them to do it. I’ve encouraged them to look for alternative ways to demonstrate their skills in other classes. I guess some teachers aren’t going to like that.
But then again, it’s not about them. It’s about the students.
Timing is everything. As I have mentioned before, my Grade 11 classes are putting together an e-book. In hopes of publishing it tomorrow, we have been working steadily. And then today it happens.
The class is focused. Engaged on the task. Those that have already finished are working on the cover, acknowledgments, etc. I don’t want to assume all students were being quiet, just working, learning. Then the bell rings.
Our 75 minute window was closed. Students were told to move along, whatever was keeping them interested no longer mattered. Their focus, unimportant. Not one student was packed up ready to go. And yet, they were told, get out.
Not five minutes into the next class, I see four of my students (who have moved onto different classes), milling about, dragging their feet to go to their next class. Unengaged in their education.
I understand the purpose, or at least the concept, of a set period where students move through a variety of subjects ensuring they get a breadth of subject coverage in a day. But the rigidness of which it is upheld, baffles me.
As Dan Pink states in Drive, the students were in “flow”. They were in that state where time and surrounding ceases to be a factor. The task, and in turn the learning, was all that mattered.
We need to find a way where we can engage students into that flow and then maintain it. We have to allow students a flexibility in their schedule. Yes, that may sound crazy, but if learning is at the centre, administration and teachers must work around it and find a way to make it work.
I have no illusions that this is easy. I also have no illusions that this is my class every day. In fact, there are many days where kids are pried away from wood-shop or auto when they’d prefer to keep working. I say, I think it is time where we consider that as important.
Let’s make sure we aren’t setting our students up for learning only until the bell rings.
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