Since becoming a professor of education, I have noted some things, now being on the “other side” of the elementary classroom.
In speaking with students, particularly those of an advanced, intellectual nature, I find, most disappointingly, that many students dislike school.
This is disheartening for two reasons: one, because thinking back to my own education, as an advanced intellectually gifted young woman, I loved school. I eagerly attended each and every day, even with no pull out program or enrichment classes back in those “olden” days.
Two, because many of the students who share this sentiment are the best and the brightest of our time.
They possess the knowledge, creativity, and unique abilities that should be nurtured and honed in order to be leaders, innovators, creators and doers of our future.
With this knowledge, I took it upon myself to begin researching how a new classroom could look; a classroom that students might enjoy.
Most listed specific characteristics of their classrooms including flexible seating, hands on activities, and having a choice in what activities to work on as well as the freedom to take an activity further in a self-directed manner if the interest was there.
I also found that these characteristics not only intrigued gifted students, but all students.
Kids don’t enjoy sitting still all day.
I am an adult and I cannot imagine sitting still for an hour, much less eight hours.
Kids do not enjoy listening to a single person speak all day while they remain quiet.
Kids do not enjoy hearing concepts they already know, and kids do not enjoy waiting while someone else catches up.
Now I know plenty of classroom teachers who will take me to task on this – arguing they don’t have the time or freedom to turn every lesson into an interdisciplinary, hands on constructivist “free for all.”
To that, I always say, “why not?”
I spent 18 years in the classroom, self-contained classrooms, departmentalized classrooms, gifted classrooms; and I have taught students from the second grade to seventh, and there has never been one single time that students preferred a worksheet or multiple-choice test to an activity in which they had work together to solve a problem.
Students should be producers, not just consumers of knowledge.
It is time consuming; the planning that goes into an interdisciplinary problem-solving lesson, working to incorporate math and language standards, sprinkling in a bit of art and culture, and possibly the scientific methods, but the payoff is huge.
For example, when students have a good time, they are engaged.
When students are engaged, they learn. So there’s that.
I always had a much better time when I was actually having fun, and seeing my learners having fun always made me feel happy and justified.
To borrow from Browning’s work of Sarto, “A learner’s reach should extend his grasp.”
Administrators: give your teachers the freedom to plan together and try new methods!
Respect them as professionals equipped to prescribe the proper learning treatments for their students.
Professional Learning communities are all the rage right now.
Differentiation is happening; it just needs to be fun!
When teachers plan together, the learning is fluid and learners can take ideas from one subject into another.
Parents: ask your teachers what they are doing to find and develop your student’s talents. Do they know how your child learns best?
Do they make provisions for your child’s strengths, talents, and special interests to be recognized, developed valued?
How do they help them become aware of their own talents and interests and appreciate those of others?
What enrichment opportunities are offered that are not merely “busy work” or “more of the same?”
Creating a relationship with your child’s teacher is vital in understanding what is going on with your child at school, and forming a triad of care among yourself, the teacher and your student.
After all, they do spend 8 hours a day, 180 days a year in the school environment.
Let’s all take steps to make sure it is as pleasant and productive as it can possibly be for all involved.
It just makes better sense to have fun.
Liverett, a Laurel native, is a professor of education at William Carey University.