Taking a back seat
One of my favorite things at The Innovation School is inquiry. It is essentially asking questions and figuring things out as we go. I love inquiry because it is the closest thing we get to life in school.
Throughout the year, we have different inquiry blocks or themes. I have some guiding questions and ideas and I let the students decide where we take our learning and projects. I generally propose ideas, conversations, activities, and field trips to trigger their curiosity. I metaphorically ‘drive the bus’ and the students learn along the way, getting what they want and need at each ‘stop’.
Recently, I have been experimenting with the inquiry process. Not because I saw a problem with it but I feel like there is something missing and I do not know what that something is.
In December, I observed one of my students doing some work on the side when he had extra time during the day. (My students have been creating their own schedules through learning tasks and learning opportunities each week. Their time varies and fluctuates for each student.) He would finish his tasks and eagerly grab his computer. He was so engrossed in what he was doing and I knew it was some kind of work.
I watched him more closely. Day after day, he would absorb YouTube videos, writing notes, looking up things, pausing his video to check our space for supplies. I finally asked him what he was working on; he shared he wanted to learn how to build an arcade machine. His notes contained the supplies and materials to purchase, as well as steps and instructions he was gaining from his tutorial videos.
I did not tell him to get a notebook or take notes. I did not tell him to find something to do when he was done with his tasks. I did not tell him to do anything he was doing. He just knew to do it because he wanted so badly to build this machine. I was fascinated and intrigued.
This is what I have been wanting for children: learning by living, learning on their own accord while I can decipher all the skills they are gaining. They are just doing the work. I can prompt them later for the reflection on skills and add standards to their creations.
I want kids to explore any learning that inspires them to the point they do it outside of our time together. (He shared with me this week that he was working on it at home because he likes it so much.) I did not make him do this or even give him this idea. It was all him.
I know all kids can do this. I have read about it and seen glimpses of it at my previous school and rays here at TIS. But now, with this happening organically, I am jumping at the chance to hand over the steering wheel.
I asked all the students to decide what they wanted to learn, do, be. Add something to their knowledge, create something, anything. While some were quick to come up with ideas, others needed more one-on-one conversations to choose an exploration.
So far the students have been working on these things:
My students are aged 11-14 and will need guidance, support, and ideas for a path forward. Along the way they will...…
- get stuck and want to give up; I will be the cheerleader.
- not know what to do next; I will brainstorm ideas and ask questions.
- need money to create and bring to life their work; I will show them how to write grants and do fundraising.
… - make mistakes along the way; I will be there to listen and remind them this is how we learn.
… - lose hope and not believe they can do it; I will show them how far they have come.
- be proud of their work and themselves and I will be too.
Each child has gifts and strengths to explore. It is only my job to let them.
Learning is a byproduct of living. If I can get out of their way and let them live, they will learn. Learning is not something we impose upon children. We have thought this for years and it is time to stop. Children will learn what they want to and need to when the time is right.
I will continue to play different roles when it comes to being their teacher. But I know the driver will not be one I take often, if ever. It is a seat I have given up to watch them live their lives. The backseat is a beautiful place to be when I get to watch these minds at work. It can be difficult when I have so much more experience. I catch myself trying to help too much. I quietly remind myself they need the experience, the lessons, the work in order to gain life.
All of this reflection started with me observing one student more closely. Allowing students to live the way they want (learn what they want). The Innovation School middle school will continue to be a place of learning by living. I will continue to shift myself to the backseat so the young people can live and learn and I get to go along for the beautiful, amazing ride.
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