The Kids Are Alright

There is no doubt that I have a non-traditional approach to education. I don’t see a lot of value in worksheets, ‘telling’ and compartmentalizing subjects. I believe in hands-on, cross-curricular exploration centred around student interest. A focus on community, mindset and developing skills that will enable to be successful later in life. Most importantly, I believe that EVERY, SINGLE STUDENT has the ability to succeed. All of them. Even the ones that are disengaged or that have less than desirable behaviours. It might not be easy, but it really is possible.

I had a few interesting conversations in the past few weeks, with various educators. The highlights of these chats include

  • My students can’t handle hands on activities. They’ll just misbehave.
  • My students are too weak, I can’t waste time on inquiry.
  • Inquiry doesn’t work for my students, they don’t care or wonder about anything
  • I teach grade 6, we can’t waste time on that, we have EQAO
  • You’re crazy
  • What about next year? What if they have a traditional teacher?

So, some valid concerns and comments. It can be scary to step away from the ‘norm’. For years we have been told that we don’t need to recreate the wheel; but we do! The wheel is broken! It may not be easy; particularly if you do teach in a school where students don’t have a lot of home support. I have spent countless hours modelling what a ‘conversation’ looks like. I understand that not every student comes equipped with the skills needed to jump into rich conversations and to utilize technology appropriately. Isn’t that even more of a reason to teach them? Students learn through doing. Having an academically weak, disengaged class is even more reason to get them moving, inspired and learning!

I teach grade 3. I understand the pressure of standardized testing. I also recognize the value of providing ample opportunity for students to engage in rich conversations using math vocabulary and sharing strategies through activities such as Number Talks. They are able to develop skills in one format and then transfer them to another. Believe in them. They can do it.

I also have faced a classroom of 7 year olds that had no interest in the provocations I was presenting to them. They had no wonders. How is that possible? Turns out, they just thought what I was sharing was lame. Go figure. Easy fix; I set up a wonder table and had students bring in items that they were curious about and then I found ways to incorporate curriculum into these topics. This group has evolved into a team of scientists that are curious about everything; they question so much of their world and have developed research skills to find the answers to their wonders.

We talk a lot about student mindset. I would like to suggest that teacher mindset is even more important. If you believe in your students, set the bar high and guide them in the right direction they will amaze you.

I leave you with one image. The 15 year old, high-school drop out version of me. The couch-surfing punk rocker. The girl that didn’t understand traditional math, that was pulled out for regular resource help and that was too scared to ask a question because she didn’t want to look any more stupid than she already felt. The kid that almost failed grade 8, the one that really, really just wanted to succeed. Don’t write off kids like me. Give them all a chance. They deserve it and they can do it.

Engage them! Inspire them! They can handle it!

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