Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When a link to an article titled How to stop discipline issues forever popped into my Facebook feed, I clicked on it, obviously. Discipine, classroom management... those topics always seem at the forefront of what teachers need/want to solve, learn more about, and seek advice on.

The ASCD Edge blog post by Mark Barnes was interesting, if brief and incomplete in its how-to methodology. But the basis for the commentary was simple - get students focused on something that interests them and discipline problems will disappear.

In theory, I agree wholeheartedly. Engaged students are just that - engaged. They are focused on the project in front of them, and will give it their all to completion. Make it fun, make it interesting, make it relevant, and students WILL do it.

Let's step away from theory and into the real classroom though. Some subjects lend themselves more readily to project based learning - social studies for example comes to mind. Learning about places, people, cultures, all are easily student driven, given the right guidelines and guidance. Tell the kids what their outcomes should be, and set them free to learn and explore. Just some close monitoring, prodding, guiding, and most students will meet the objectives set forth.

Other subjects aren't so easily conformed to project based learning, at least in my mind and experience. Math is the worst it seems, the most impossible to allow students to direct themselves. With a subject so skill based and sequential by nature, allowing students the freedom to design, explore and meander mentally through the material seems fraught with disaster.

Reading and writing also seem to require a bit more direction from an instructor, giving guidance, advice and skills along the way. Much of the 'work' can certainly be individualized to meet the needs of students' interests, allowing them much freedom and leeway in the choice of reading materials and writing topics.

Anytime someone advocates allowing students to direct their own learning, I approach the thinking with caution. I'm all for choice, knowing choice gives students power, which is an effective tool in engagement. But I also believe students need to attain a certain basic set of core skills and knowledge in education. I don't see the average student motivated enough to accomplish this on their own with little guidance/instruction from a teacher.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

There's a lot to be said for being 2 years old again and being able to dress up, putting on an entirely new persona and becoming someone new for a little while. This morning as my granddaughter donned the princess gown and high heels, teetering around the house slipping and trying to balance, complaining about how scratchy the gown was, I couldn't help but smile obviously, but I was also a bit envious. When 50 is knocking loudly on the door, the reality is you've now decided what you want to be when you grow up. Sometimes, I jokingly say, "When I grow up, I want to be a landscape architect" or "When I grow up, I want to be a geologist" bemoaning the loss of the options. In reality, I love being a teacher and even given the chance to start over, I would likely choose the same path.

For many of our students though, they can't see past today to envision their own possibilities. Talking with colleagues yesterday, we talked about the career paths of our own children, the choices they've made, the choices we think are right for them, and the downfalls of our high school's preparation of students for making those choices. Cuts in education have led to few vocational programs being offered. A one-size-fits-all curriculum prepares, or tries to prepare, all students for college. In reality, many kids aren't college bound, for a variety of reasons. But does school really show them other options, explain to them the possibilities, help them explore the many other worthwhile opportunities out there?

The two colleagues I was talking to have 6 children between them. I have 2 of my own. One of mine went to college, undergrad and grad school, right out of high school, and has a lucrative career in the avionics communications field. My younger tried college for several years but it wasn't for her. After a variety of jobs, she has gone back for a certificate in phlebotomy, a much shorter, cheaper option than a 4 year degree, but one with a reasonable salary and benefits. Of the other 6 children belonging to the my colleagues, only 3 are out of high school, with 2 in college, and the other recently joining the Air Force. One of the others will be a senior in the fall, with no clear after-high school goals in mind yet. While he is a great kid, a bright kid, a very likable kid, he probably isn't college bound. Does that mean he is 'less'? No, it just means we need to help him find HIS path whether it is some type of vocational training that will lead him to meaningful, gainful employment, or some other option. His younger sister, a sophomore, has already set her sights on the medical field. We need to help her focus her dreams and prepare her for those. Little brother is still in elementary, but I can already see him working in the Department of Natural Resources, either as a conservation officer or fisheries/wildlife biologist.

The point is... all kids are different, with different educational needs, different paths they will choose in the future. We just need to make sure we, as educators, are not only preparing them for these paths, but telling them their many varied options instead of assuming they will all go to college, and teach them accordingly. For all we know, someday, that young lady WILL become a princess... or a geologist.... or a landscape architect... or maybe 'just' a grandma :)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Up early on Saturday morning, enjoying the peace and quiet, looking out my patio door, I see my"kid garden" along the patio edge, full of gifts of various flowers over the years. I'm always amazed at how these flowers always seem to thrive. This lily is one of my favorites, I must admit. The first year, it was a gangly, spindly plant that didn't look as if it would survive the ride home from school. But I planted it alongside the other mismatched flowers that I've planted over the years, gifts from students, plants that didn't fit somewhere else in my 'grand scheme' of gardening. These plants hold a place of honor edging the patio, instead of tucked away hidden where no one might notice them.

Over the years, this lily has managed to survive. It is no longer gangly . Instead it is a glorious bush of blossoms - 18 open this morning, with many more buds waiting for their turn to shine.

My lily is like a middle school kid.....

they come to us, a little mishapen, a little gangly, not all that gorgeous on the outside at times...

but filled with potential...

just waiting to be planted in a place of honor....

wanting and needing to be tended and cared for over the years....

until they bloom magnificently into adulthood......

Thank you all my middle schoolers who have given me plants over the years. I've enjoyed watching the plants grow and mature and blossom, just as I've enjoyed watching you do the same.