When I was teaching high school there were usually two reasons why a student would have difficulty focussing on tasks; either there was an external issue that I wasn’t aware of (maybe they were still processing something which happened over lunch, maybe they were preoccupied with a relationship issue or maybe something was happening at home) or the lesson I was teaching didn’t meet their learning style or interest. More often than not it was the latter.
I was reminded of this today during a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. Jack has a little friend; an amazing, creative, spontaneous, energetic little friend. He is fiercely intelligent and his ideas just burst forth. In a situation where the children are expected to be still and answer questions, these personality traits may come across as intense, off-task and disruptive.
But they couldn’t be more wrong. These intensities aren’t disruptive and they are far from off-task. They are a strong drive to know and understand, to share and express ideas.
“Children do not wait for our permission to think. Indeed, children are bursting with ideas that are always impatient to escape through language (and we say a hundred languages) to connect and communicate with the things of the world.”
~ Louis Malaguzzi, Founder The Reggio Emilia Approach
Jack’s little friend reminds me of Jack in so many ways. Jack is creative and spontaneous, he’s energetic and intense. Teaching Jack can be either extremely stressful or incredibly rewarding. It all depends on me.
How does Jack learn? When I ask myself this question, my eyes are open to him; I watch him play, watch him create, watch which books he chooses to read, which art materials he chooses to use; I see him.
I know that he expresses his understandings through his hands. I know that he uses his whole body to share ideas; jumping around as he talks. I know that his drawings are inspired by the music in his head; humming and singing all the while.
I know that spoken stories soothe him; that he will sit and draw alone happily if he has an audio book playing. And I know that he recreates his understandings visually with materials he can manipulate.
I know these things now. And when I teach the way he learns, everything connects. Jack is engaged, questions are flying everywhere, there is a buzz of enthusiasm.
When I don’t, when I lose track of whose learning this is and instead create learning experiences based on my learning style, (and probably worst of all) when I can not relinquish control; insisting that we complete the activity, things never go well. No learning of any value happens.
The only thing Jack learns is that my ideas and my ways are more valuable than his and that he needs to conform to my ways. And that is NOT something I want to teach him.
How do you feel when you are teaching or spending time with children? Do you feel energised most of the time? Or do you feel a little stressed, anxious and even a bit deflated? I think a lot of how we feel about teaching and the time we spend with children has to do with our approach. Are we teaching in the way our children learn?
How do your children learn? Or the students in your class? What languages do they use to express themselves and their understandings? Do they like to represent their ideas through building and drawing like Jack? Or are they logical and deliberate; creating lists, following steps, practising their handwriting and creating plans? Maybe they express themselves through writing, or through music and dance?
Maybe they need to move their whole bodies; and so find sitting still difficult, preferring instead to create bold strokes with a paintbrush or delve their fingers deep into a lump of clay. Or maybe, instead of completing writing practice sheets, they prefer to label drawings and write letters, or take on a more sensory approach; writing letters and words with water.
We need to take time to really observe our children; learn about how they learn, and engage in a continual dialogue of reflection so we can teach so they can learn. If that means changing our entire style of teaching, then so be it! It’s their learning after all.
Jack is using the Photographic Atlas of the Body. It’s quite an interesting book with all the workings of the human body captured in the most minute details. It’s really fascinating.
Jack is also working with our Spielgaben set. If you’re interested in investing in a set, Spielgaben offers an 11% discount to An Everyday Story readers. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org mentioning An Everyday Story and they will reply with a discount coupon.