Friday, March 16, 2012
I Want To Go Back to Kindergarten
Then came the structure of the activity. A quick video to pique our interest, followed by a three or four minute talk from the facilitator. Then, it was time for us to discuss a scenario in our groups. There was some joking, a bit of banter with another table, and it was down to business. We had choices on how we wished to approach the activity, and were going to report out to the rest of the group when we were finished. Our discussion was lively, and we had multiple contributions from each member of our mixed group. The time came for us to report out as groups, we gave our impressions, got feedback, exchanged thoughts, and moved on. It was very relaxed and incredibly productive.
While sitting there with my colleagues, I suddenly had one of those moments when I stepped outside of myself and pictured watching us from a distance, learning as a group of professionals. But then I pictured a very different learning situation. With uncomfortable chairs. In rows. Facing forward. With someone speaking at us at the front of the room. With limited opportunity to interact with those about us. For 75 minutes without a break. About a topic in which we might have limited (or no) interest. And while this may not describe every classroom in every school around the world, if we asked our students, I wonder how many might say that this is not too far from their current learning reality.
Recently, I had the opportunity to see Larry Rosenstock (founder of High Tech High) speak at the Spring BCSSA Conference in Vancouver. He said something that resonated with me when he stated "secondary school classrooms could learn a great deal from kindergarten classrooms". I started to think back to my own Kindergarten classroom and a few that I have visited over the course of my career. I remember comfortable furniture, sitting on the carpet working in small groups, gathering as a class on the beanbag chairs during story time, self-directed time to visit learning stations around the classroom, hands-on manipulatives and activities, even singing and dancing! I loved Kindergarten. I loved going to school (although my mother would remind me that I cried pretty hard on that first day of K). I loved telling my parents what I did at school that day. I loved learning.
I also had a chance to reflect on my experiences as a Kindergarten teacher. Let me qualify that--my VERY brief experiences in the form of three teacher-on-call days early in my career. With my high school training, I strode into those classes thinking that I would whip the little rascals into shape and have them eating out of my palm in no time. Seriously, how hard could it be?
Wow, was I ever wrong.
I discovered in about 30 seconds that if Kindergarten kids are disinterested, they will literally stand up, turn around, and start doing something that they are more interested in. I quickly realized that Kindergarten teachers must constantly engage a group of students that can be VERY difficult to engage. By incorporating a multitude of strategies that address different learning styles, senses, and levels of ability along with a student-friendly learning setting, Kindergarten teachers do a tremendous job of captivating their students and instilling a love for learning.
As a result of these contemplations, I want to explore a two additional threads with our students over the next couple of months in my "If I Could Ask Students Anything About Schools", focus group project:
- What happens to levels of student engagement between Kindergarten and high school? What are some of the reasons that this engagement level changes?
- What are things that we can do in terms of physical learning spaces, classroom amenities and school amenities (such as the library) that might help increase the engagement of students in their learning?
I know that many educational jurisdictions are going to be looking at different pieces with respect to student engagement such as curriculum, instructional techniques, and assessment practices. I agree with all of these efforts wholeheartedly. However, after reflecting on my own learning experience last week and thinking about how engaged young students are in their learning, I wonder if we can't look at some simpler solutions in the way that we set up our classrooms and our schools that can pay some immediate dividends.
I look forward to talking more to our students in the next few weeks.
Perhaps we will be going back to Kindergarten!