Two questions inspired my imagination recently.
The first question was, “What if we stopped giving homework?”
This question came to mind after reading an article by Heather Holland about a school in New York that decided to stop giving homework. Here is a link to the article: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150305/kips-bay/elementary-school-dumps-homework-tells-kids-play-instead
The second question of the day was “What would happen in your school if kids could go to any class they wanted to, all day long?”
It came at the end of today’s #satchatwc on twitter, guest-hosted by @McLane_Ryan. I was thinking that this should have been the only question because it could have inspired so much interesting discussion. Maybe it will be a future stand-alone topic, you never know! Then, Shelley Burgess shared a link to Ryan McLane’s blog post about what happened when he really tried this in his school. Here is the link that she shared http://ryanpatrickmclane.blogspot.com/2014/02/thinking-of-doing-teach-like-pirate-day.html . And, just to be thorough in citing my sources of inspiration and thinking… McLane’s Teach Like a Pirate day grew from the book by Dave Burgess who blogs at http://www.daveburgess.com.
WHAT IF WE TRUSTED KIDS TO BE WHO THEY WERE CREATED TO BE?
These two questions really come down to one idea for me. I am an idealist at heart. My feeling is that we are born with some innate sense of right and wrong. It is also part of human nature to be curious and inquisitive. I want to believe. I want to trust that people will be good, will do good. I know that to be human is also to be a learner. It's who we are, it's what we do. So, I wonder what would happen if we assumed these things to be true about our students. I think, they will find and sense the intrinsic value of these pursuits. What if…
Out there on the playground.
What if we let kids… build things, climb things, go UP the slide?
What if we let kids… solve their own problems, create their own games?
I don’t mean leave them alone. I mean give them space and time and tools. I think we should be available to help and support and to provide. People out there on the internet, in schools, and even on Facebook, are talking about, writing about, and advocating for more recess. And, parents and teachers are protesting the withholding of recess as punishment. We want kids to move. We're concerned about the over-diagnosis of ADHD. We are fighting an epidemic of obesity. Maybe it starts with our concern for healthy movement and the need for exercise, but I think the benefits of recess freedom and more recess are even bigger. I think recess is about brain development, creativity and innovation. Have you read about open playgrounds? When I was a head-start teacher, a pre-school teacher, we were encouraged to provide props for play on the playground (pieces of hose, a sheet, logs or boards, wheels…). Wow! The power of creative play, and hours of open ended problem solving! What if older students were given (trusted with) the same kind of freedom?
Some schools are trying it! Read about Recess Without Rules at http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/01/recess-without-rules/283382/
In the classroom.
What if we let students… choose their books, their activities, their projects?
What if we let students… ask the questions, find the answers?
The idea is not new. Educators have known about the power of choice for a very long time. When my sons were in elementary school, they had an Imagination Celebration every Halloween. It was a time when teachers offered a classroom activity that was creative and inspired by their own interests. Kids got to choose where they went, what they would learn about, and they loved it! When they were in middle school, they had elective classes offered during a time of the day called X-Block. Teachers offered interesting classes around ideas that may have nothing to do with their academic topic, their area of endorsement. Students decided whether to help run a sporting event for the Blind School, to make movie, or to build a sculpture in the art studio... I believe this elective option of choice (for both teachers and students) is still in place. I hope so.
But, it is easy to get caught up in the expectations, the curriculum goals, and the tests to come. It’s easy to forget about choice as we map out our lessons for the year, with the content standards spread across the teacher desk.
I also know, that hours can disappear as I search for knitting patterns online, or talk about a book with fellow curious teachers in an edchat on twitter. If the desire to learn comes from a genuine driving question, a need to know or a true curiosity, we simply have to find the answer! We can spend hours researching, experimenting, learning…. when the question comes from a genuine passion or need to know. That is why I was eager to create a maker-space in my classroom. That is why I love free choice time. This is why my next goal is to begin some form of “genius hour” and why I am reading Pure Genius by Don Wettrick. Want to know more? I have read, and you can read about project based learning and choice at http://www.geniushour.com. I know that I need to remind myself to make a time and a place for students to choose their own learning adventure.
What if we let families… spend time as they choose?
What if we let families… make family time their own?
What if families… were responsible for the learning that happens at home?
A few years ago, my school re-worked our homework philosophy. There was a lot of discussion about the importance of homework, and the need to form responsible habits. Teachers talked about how kids need to spend more time practicing skills. We developed a recommendation that students spend 10 minutes per grade level on homework (10 minutes per night in 1st grade, 20 minutes in 2nd grade etc…) but, we also included a nice list of things that could be considered “homework”. The policy, signed by all of the teachers and sent home, included a list of enrichment activities. It included things like practicing an instrument, discussing a movie, or going for a walk. Some teachers interpreted this policy to mean they have permission to send homework that will take the suggested time; this math page should take my 3rd graders 30 minutes. I like to interpret it to mean it’s not necessarily my responsibility to send work or to enforce completion. I offer open ended writing prompts, and reminders that reading is important. I send links to IXL.com to practice math skills. I am happy to offer suggestions, lend my books, and give homework. But, I want to encourage families to use family time to reinforce their own values. The family value being reinforced during homework time might be the pursuit of an academic task, but it also might be something else entirely!