Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Learning from Their Perspective

Everyday Ann and I learn with our students. 
Sometimes they bring new ideas to the table.  This week they suggested graphing the improvement of our community behavior, while setting personal goals based on the data, in an effort to positively affect the synergy in the classroom (totally working).  Sometimes they provide evidence to support our thinking.  Conversations this week about emotions and colors confirmed how daily infusion of the Arts has passionately impacted authentic connections (totally amazing).  Sometimes they motivate our daily plan.  Our one-on-one conferences have shown us how much they truly love to read and share their love of books (totally heart-warming).  Sometimes we are just purely inspired.  An individual student taught us how to celebrate relationships through personalizing Valentine’s Day cards to us in a unique, artistic way (totally impressive).  These are the instances we treasure because they truly provide the “AH-HA” moments we need to propel ourselves forward, with our own personal goals and the goals we have for our students and program.  Their voice always shows us another way, another thought, a different perspective.
But how often do we learn FROM their perspective?  How many times do we sit with them, at their angle, to attack the same task we have asked them to accomplish?  Do we solve the same problems, ponder the same question, or attempt the same challenge? 
Ann and I are advocates for listening to student voice and empowering them during the learning process.  Their thinking always pushes us to reflect more deeply about our practice, lesson scope, and projected journey.  When we look at a task or question through their lens we can view it for what it really is and analyze the relevancy of its existence in our learning environment.  This year we have raised the bar for ourselves and look for every opportunity to join them in learning moments.
For instance, I posed a multiplication problem recently in math (stretching students into thinking about a new operation, decimals, and money- also a little formative moment for Ann and me).  Many students came to the answer quickly, but only solved it one way.  But then I asked them to think more deeply and work with their partner to solve the problem using 3 different strategies.  I did receive many googol-eyes due to the fact that we were entering new territory.  I gave them a hint that they needed to consider multiplication the “cousin” of addition.  The googol-eyes turned to twinkles, and the conversations unfolded.  Students worked for 10 minutes with high-engagement, and I decided to take the opportunity to figure out how many ways I could solve the problem.  I absolutely love math and truly enjoyed the time to play with the possibilities.  The benefit of permitting myself the time to do this, while joining in on conversations around me, allowed my thinking to become even more flexible to new ideas and strategies I had not considered.  I was inspired by the strategies the students had discovered through this process, and after 10 minutes students had recorded more than ten examples on the whiteboard for all of us to ponder.  This moment proved incredibly more powerful and impacting than if I had showed them 5 traditionally great ways and gave them time to practice. 
Other times if Ann and I sit WITH our students AS students, in a moment of full-on engagement, we can assess from a different perspective.  By becoming students ourselves, we have the opportunity to hear different conversations.  Those “insider” conversations that unfold naturally with their peers during the learning process can only be captured from the angle of sitting amongst the group, rather than over the group.  We gather our own supplies and thinking, and we participate as an equal learner in the moment.  And often we joke with them, “Don’t bug us, we’re learning!”
One day I was sitting amongst a table of 5 other students participating in a science experimentation process, led by Ann.  Our focus was on variables, along with the scientific process.  I was enthralled by the conversation of the other learners in my group, but was also captivated by the discoveries at the table groups near us.  The learning going on all around me was priceless, AND I also was having my own pivotal moments of learning during the inquiry process.  I even announced to my group at one point, “Seriously!  I wish I could come to this classroom everyday as a learner!”  One of the other students looked at me perplexed and stated, “Uh, you do.”  A complete DUH moment for me, as she was absolutely right.  Ann and I ARE the learners we expect our students to be every day.  We bring nothing less into the classroom.  It was then that I realized the students had not thought it was bizarre that I had sat amongst them as a LEARNER during that lesson, because that is how they view us in our classroom. 
Most recently, Ann and I both joined them during art time, creating our own watercolor paintings [see mine above; I learned specific strokes to add texture to a watercolor, expressing emotion through color…very exciting for me!].   No one was shocked...except maybe the visitors in our room J.  For us and our students, it was business as usual.  Occasionally we bantered back and forth to one another, shushed the group when our favorite songs came on our classroom playlist, and joined in conversations about the techniques being used by the artists at our tables.  Learning should be fun, sometimes unruly, but always focused.  Our students often do not need us to manage them during this time, in fact they prefer we step out of their way.  Or even more, they thrive off of occasions when we put our “learner hats” on and join them in the moment.
We live by the motto that if we do our jobs right, they won’t need us to manage them, provide them resources, or confirm their thinking.  As self-managers, resourceful learners, and confident thinkers genuine learning for them can occur.  We love the days when the classroom runs like a well-oiled, flexible machine in true synergetic motion.  These are the days when marvelous, awe-inspiring moments occur;  when we stretch our arms up and yell, “Hizzah!”
So our advice based on our lessons learned this year?  Become one of them.  Take the time to learn from their perspective.  Listen to the valuable dialogue that unfolds.  Interact from the learner’s level of conversation.  Share your own ideas and cooperate as an equal participant in the learning process. 
There is always more to learn about a topic, or a new perspective to discover, when you allow yourself the freedom to let go and allow the students to be the teachers.  They will lead to down a powerful learning journey.  And it will be so worth it.

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