Friday, February 27, 2015

I don't want to be an instructor.

We've all had those days -- the type of day that makes you happy, feel successful, and well, basically on top of the world.  The type of day that you wish you'd been observed, because the stars aligned, everyone was engaged, and you felt that for one brief and shining moment, you were a capable teacher.

Two days in a row, my friends, two days in a row.  

And I have no desire or goal to hold out hope that I'm on some sort of success streak, because dollars to donuts (what does THAT even MEAN?) it will all come crashing down around me sometime next week.  I just hope that the aforementioned observation is not happening when the inevitable happens.

Constructivism, Instructivism, Connectivism

I've been using Socratic discussion as a means for student engagement and advancing lesson directions for a long time.  The time passes quickly, the kids enjoy both participating and listening to the discussion, and when the planets and stars align, I sit back and nod to myself, silently muttering "this is GOOD STUFF."  The wonderful folks at Te@chthought recently shared specific names for the various types of instruction in which most high schools root their lessons -- try these on for size:

 We've all been seated in a classroom taught by an Instructivist.  Understand that there is a time and a place for such lessons -- often in an acquisition lesson, if you're LFS savvy -- and I work my hardest to keep from being the deliverer of such a lesson.  Gifted kids, especially, do not hang on every word.  Not even every OTHER word, in a lecture, and being told how to experience new learning is anything but a desirable characteristic for most gifted kids.

In my recent self-diagnosis, I've decided that I am a strong proponent of Constructivism.  It's both terrifying and freeing to have students defining their own learning and outcomes.  Case in point, the darling first grader who was working hard today to discover, implement, and launch the Xylo program for Dash and Dot.  She had seen the xylophone accessory in the box of supplies I tote from building to building, and was anxious to try this for herself.  (Her teacher was not nearly as excited, having only seen Dash play the xylophone one previous time, while under the control of her 29 year old son in her living room.)

Eureka, my friends!  Not only did we successfully choreograph a dance to the catchy tune of "This Old Man" performed on the xylophone by Dash himself, the choreographer and musical director, without any prompting from her teacher, put down the controlling ipad and went immediately to her journal to record her findings.

I was amazed.  I was astounded.  I was shocked that a first grader used punctuation, including quotation marks, commas, and exclamation marks correctly, all the while asking for no assistance with composition or spelling.  Previously, she's recorded code that she's written to command the robots, while learning a bit about both coding and story sequencing as she experimented with cause and effect.


 









Don't get me wrong.  I'm not advocating for the elimination of teachers -- heck, I'd be out of a job.  adventure.  But the joy that can be experienced by a teacher when students are working through an independent discovery process is something akin to the excitement parents get to experience when their kid comes home with an exciting story of accomplishment.  

This Constructivism thing has some serious merit, and through ongoing encouragement -- with both first graders and high schoolers -- I've seen the fruits of the spirit of patience.  
When I began teaching, many an administrative walk-through focused on "wait time."  Administrators with actual stopwatches would report that I, (or whatever teacher was the focus of the observed lesson), had given the kids less than 5, 10, 0r 15 seconds to consider and respond to a prompt or a question before pouncing on them with an answer.  I found myself silently counting "Mississippis" in my head, forcing enough wait time to allow for, well, no criticism of my teaching.

So in the next few weeks, I'm purposefully sharing the conceptual lesson design with students, hoping that they will own their own learning just a bit more.  Maybe they'll become connectivists, reflecting a bit more than normal, or encouraging others to search for deeper answers.

And maybe, just maybe, high school kids will be motivated by the story of a little first grader who crossed the unwritten boundaries of computer science, music, and writing, without a single prompt, to share her enthusiasm for learning.