Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Old Ball and Chain...

Several years ago, students were working on perspective pieces in my classroom.  They had their own choice of topics, but needed to view a situation from at least three other perspectives aside from their own.  The graphic to the right survived that assignment and is taped inside my closet door at school to remind me of why I do what I do...

"Some teachers" are labelled drinking coffee,  watching as kids struggle to reach the pinnacle of achievement, knowing that often the gifted kids are stretching, yet feeling like they are chained to under-motivated students looking for a free ride.    

It's a feeling shared by many high-ability students who don't truly feel as if they are achieving their full potential at the expense of some students who have no interest of even attempting to get "over the bar" established by standardized testing goals.

My job is to keep this feeling at bay for as many of our high-ability kids as possible.  I absolutely, undeniably, can say that the kids that I work with are amazing.  They are motivated, they are excited, they are searching for immersion opportunities.  They're looking for chances to experience MORE, all the time -- not MORE work, not MORE homework, not MORE beyond what teachers are expecting.  They're looking for MORE THINKING.  Opportunities to interact with people who can give them the why behind the information they're studying.  The chance to ask deeper questions, some of which aren't ever going to be on the test.

People who see that my students keep working if I walk out of my classroom are confused.  This is not normal.  In my world, it is entirely normal.

Because often my kids are more focused, engaged, and organized than anybody else in the building because of their interest in their personal passions.

Talent Development Opportunities - (TDO , because everything in education is an acronym)

Today I talked to kids about the following:
  • The Harrison Report to Harry S. Truman and the motivation of Polish Holocaust survivors to emigrate and establish businesses post WWII.
  • Civil War Era fathers, both Confederate and Union, and their diaries and letters demonstrating their commitment to a legacy for their kids.
  • The Culper Six - George Washington's Spy Ring -- and a road trip to Long Island to see some primary sources and a museum curator who has a passion for this topic.
  •  Cedar Shingles and architectural models.
  • Personal Libraries and zoning restrictions (for outside share-a-book projects)
  • The decay of organic apples, as documented by multiple artistic endeavors.
  • Understanding and learning German II content independently.
  • Acrylic landscapes
  • The motivation and determination/steadfastness necessary to write a novel.
This is a short list of the many independent study projects  underway in my classrooms this year.  There are more, these are just the ones that were actually under discussion with me.  Could I have imagined these and assigned them?  Absolutely not.  Would they have engaged in these topics with this level of passion and commitment if they had been assigned?  Unlikely.

Yesterday, some of the kids witnessed an adult with a similar level of passion who let his research and interest guide his project.  Mr. Drescher's presentation touched many -- and I'm happy to report that it will soon reach many more.  (I received a message that he is headed to at least two other classrooms -- one in New Jersey and one back here at Donegal, as a result of his "meeting" new teachers interested in his passion on facebook yesterday.)

This fact didn't surprise my learners at all -- they get it.  THEY understand that they can learn when they get the chance to explore.  They understand that the opportunity to set goals, establish deadlines, and search for material that isn't readily available or at the fingertips or tongue tips of their classroom teachers makes them better researchers.  It's not about ME telling them the answers -- it's about all of us discovering what is out there and exploring it until we're finished.  (See a related blog today from Mind/Shift.)

See what I mean about the best job in the world?  I teach kids to care about thinking.  Sometimes it hurts.

I'd rather it hurts because they're thinking too hard than because there's a ball and chain around their neck keeping them from an unknown destination.