October 20th was National Day of Writing and that day all I wrote was a four page newsletter. After seeing a few others' posted writing, I jokingly tweeted to ask if my newsletter would count for my writing for the day. I did get a gracious reply that my newsletter would in deed count, but it came with a hint that maybe I could write a blog post about something that was going on in my classroom. Honestly, my first response to this request related to my very long To Do List. My thought was I would love to, but when. I feel like I have been running a marathon since walking on campus this year, which I am sure is a feeling many educators can relate to. This is not meant to be a complaint, I love my job and feel lucky to do what I do. However, it just seems like things have been coming at me so quickly lately that I am barely having time to process them. Then I thought, that might be a problem. Maybe this little hint could be used as a wonderful reminder to me to slow down and take that needed time process what is going on. Not just for myself, but for my students as well.
This past summer some of my colleagues and I participated in an online book study for the book Nonfiction Mentoring Text by Lynne R. Dorfman and Rose Cappelli. Which is is wonderful book about using mentoring text to teach nonfiction writing. It was through these online conversations that I was able to really reflect on not just what I had read, but also on the writing instruction in my classroom. However, there was one question during this study that seemed to relate not just to writing, but to so much of what I try to encourage in my classroom.
“ What does noticing and questioning look like in your classroom?” Which I responded:
Honestly, student questioning and observation is what we do on a regular bases in the gifted program. It is really just in their nature to question. Big part of my job it to help channel this energy by providing and guiding student in the use of graphic organizers and formats like Big 6 (http://www.big6.com/kids/), Super 3 (http://www.big6.com/kids/K-2.htm), Challenge Based Learning (http://ali.apple.com/cbl/) so that they learn to take their essential questions and do something with them. It is not enough for my students to ask questions, finish projects or piece of writing if it isn't also about what did that child learned that can be apply to the next time he/she has a question or a real world problem. The ultimate goal is to lead students into thinking for themselves and owning their own learning.
As I reread my response this week, it got me thinking again about what are the things that our students are going to need to know to go forth into their futures. Is it really going to be about memorizing information that can be found with a Google Search or is it going to be more about their ability to apply strategies and solve problems? Maybe when it comes to curriculum we need to not look for scripted programs. Rather ideas, activities and frameworks that teach students to research, investigate and problem solve. I have heard several times in the last couple of weeks about the importance of staying in the question and I feel this is so important. However, this is going to mean that we, as educators, need to be willing to step out of the way to allow our students time to explore and come up with their own answers. It means that we don’t begin our lessons and/or projects with an idea of what the end product will look like. It is an uncomfortable, but necessary place for us to be. Truth is, I want to have students that grow up to be adults who ask questions, research problems before jumping to solutions and this must start with me. Over the last couple of years, I have begun to see my role, as an educator, change from being The Expert (using the term loosely) in the classroom to becoming more of a Guide. I am still in the learning process, but I feel there are a few essential things necessary for me to be an effective a Guide. To be a Guide I must: give my students room to explore, provide a framework to help guide student thinking and exploration (ex. CBL, Big6), be in the question myself, ask questions that promote students to reflect on their process, remember that the real learning is in the process and to encourage my students along the way.
In a nutshell, these principles really bring me back to Oneco's Gifted Program's motto (which I stole from a tweet) and what I hope the program represents “WE ARE A LABORATORY, NOT A FACTORY”.