I never cease to be amazed at kids’ capacity to learn when they are motivated. In particular, I amazed with how much kids can learn on their own. I think that sometimes that us adults get in their way far more than we think we are or we should. I think, if given the chance, kids will learn far more than we give them credit for.
This past therm in Science I did something that I had never done before. Our unit of study was human body systems, so I spent a day talking about the things that the kids already knew and laid out the things that the kids were supposed to know at the end. The students then needed to come up with a plan that laid out how they could learn what they were supposed to learn and how they would present their learning at the end. From that point forward I let them go. My role was more one of a facilitator than a dispenser of knowledge. I gave them some structure for their data collection and laid out deadlines for pieces of the project, but other than that I moved around the classroom giving advice to some, checking the work of others, and fixing technical issues of others. At the end the students presented their learning to the group. I also did a short interview with each kid to see how much they had retained. It was awesome. I was amazed with the depth of understanding of the material that most kids had.
Why don’t teachers (myself included) not do more of this? There are two reasons that I can think of. First, this kind of learning is chaotic and messy. I think that most of us have a difficult time giving in to and embracing a less than structured learning environment. The second is control. I think that most teachers are control freaks one way or another. It is difficult for us to hand over that control to anyone else.
So, what can we do? I think we need to give up that sense of control that we cling so dearly to. We need to better embrace a little bit of chaos. First and foremost we need to get out of kids’ ways and let them learn.