Friday, April 14, 2006

What Power Do We Have To Change Our Relationship With Time?

We have arrived at a tipping point at school, to use the language of the day, around the issue of time.

What Power Do We Have To Change Our Relationship with Time?

Right now- the question for me is how we use our time, not just Use our time, but view our time, live our time. ….and I want to ask myself, do I let Time define my teaching? Does time set the tone in my classroom? Is Time defining us as educators?

I think we are letting our reaction to time run us into frenzy, command us at a pace we can’t sustain. It seems every moment we are together we are complaining about how little time we have and how we are relentlessly interrupted and disrupted and now, as our school year is ending,…
All this dissatisfaction and frustration occurs at an even higher pitch…

We won’t be able to address this issue constructively until we shift the whole way we are looking at it. # 1 we need to stop complaining. And #2 we need to ask ourselves some deeper questions: Questions that will get at the root of what is really upsetting us. Blaming is just a way to avoid taking responsibility.

As Albert Einstein said:
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."

I don’t believe that TIME works against us
(only our thoughts about it.)
Why every day- it brings a new sunrise and children who are growing.
Every day
new beginnings, openings and possibilities.
even between the fragments,
these moments occur
- and they do! - between subjects, between classes, between lunch and recess. .
unforgettable ones, transforming events, even pivotal times. And they happen in our classrooms too. And yet, we miss so many of them.
We are so focused on getting to the next thing
So often, I fear we rob ourselves daily of the TIMES we could truly relish
In our teaching, with our students, with each other, in our daily routine of rushing.

I think we need to give up trying to perfect the art of time management. It has been the sure cause of stress. And before we try to re-do our schedule, I propose we think about when, how and where we create the atmosphere we want for our students. I know I value the time we spend appreciating books- reading aloud, and discussing books for book club. Those are good blocks. And I feel just as strongly about Writing Workshop. ….giving children a space to write their thoughts and feelings- explicitly saying: I value what you think and what you notice and IT MATTERS…for me this is the essence of how learning can empower and free ……When I re-evaluate the meaningful work we are doing in our classrooms, I am proud of the way we use our time and the way kids spend their time. I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that

childhood is more a space than a time.

I think we can teach everything with respect for this space-cultivating reflection and awareness- nourishing ourselves and our students simultaneously with the mindset of helping kids access this space within them for learning, creating, asking….wondering …..risking….
….yes, especially math…..and science and art and poetry……… we can and do plan lessons and activities that inherently engage kids and encourage kids to explore, create, investigate, discover, and make connections. I don’t think creating these “timeless” spaces requires extraordinary extended periods of time…..
Just a conscious awareness and commitment on our part..
When we’ve had a day of those engagements, I contentedly think,
“The school day is just the right length!”

Let’s start the whole TIME/Schedule discussion anew…by asking ourselves what we value, what we want kids to experience and how we want them to experience various activities and between times at school.

At the end of the day, instead of thinking of all the things we didn’t do-
Think of all we did do!
Remember those moments you shared with your students?...right now I am thinking about the poems my students read to their classmates and the excitement they found designing Cuisenaire structures with surface areas of exactly 100 sq. cm. There were countless “timeless” moments …and too many of them go unnoticed
Time and time again.

We need to know- and trust that we don’t need to do more than we have time to do!
What if we believed we had the perfect amount of time? And everything happened just as it should? On time? What would happen to our stress levels? And then without that stress, wouldn’t we be better teachers?

Let’s get out of our stuck places and work together to ensure the meaningful work of all our days.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Habits of Mind in Math Learning and Teaching

I was thinking about math and the students who are so "quick.” Many of them have to talk themselves out of being "impulsive," while so many of us have to talk ourselves into persevering without losing confidence.
Somehow in math we don't draw on the habits of mind we might readily apply when writing an essay or reading for deeper comprehension. Why not? Have they not been modeled?
Surely many students exhibit the habits of mind they need in writing and reading and in thinking about big ideas in history.....
why don't they automatically transfer them to math?
Is it the environment of math class? Is it a setting where students compare themselves and judge their success in comparison to others?
What are the questions we should be asking ourselves to bring clarity to this?

Sometimes parents approach me because they are convinced their children have a problem understanding mathematics. Often the whole thing isn't a problem understanding mathematics at all. It is something deeper but it fascinates me because we see this time and time again. (This is especially documented in girls during their MS years).

I fault the way we teach and the institution of school and want to figure out how we can change- so that all students can feel successful.
This shouldn't happen in math or any other subject.

One response to this problem (of some kids being so quick while other lose confidence even with what they know) is to give more problem solving to students at an early age....... (at my elementary school we have been doing this regularly) i.e., we are trying to expose our students to problems that no one will readily that all our students deal with the space of not knowing.
Then it is interesting to see how they react. ...define and see themselves....accept and push themselves......or simply give up

Certainly it is where we can all grow...(whether we must control our
impulsivity or learn strategies for persevering)

Facing the unknown
in the broadest of all about being human
and learning is so much about
asking questions
that can't even be answered....

(what do we really know anyhow?)
But back to math

How do we assess understanding? How young are children when they begin to form this misconception that getting the "answer" quickly means you are a better math thinker? How do we as teachers, perpetuate this myth? We have witnessed intuitive math thinkers and applaud them but why does that have to undermine those whose minds are meandering, wandering, and thoroughly enjoying exploring their way....following another type of intuition....the
foundation of discovery!

Sometimes kids have "test skills" but they can't apply that knowledge in a problem- solving situation.....They can test to prove quickness, but what does that really tell us about their thinking? I've had kids who can't memorize their facts (rote) and yet they show strong higher order thinking skills...which I place a much greater value on . Often these very strong thinkers are slammed in MS in 5th and 6th grade for not having that rote ability, where rote procedural and memorization skills are constantly assessed as if they are measures of understanding.

How do we overcome our own blocks? Our own triggers (or tendencies) to
freeze and lose confidence?

Over time, I have come to appreciate that:

When I understand something, I feel calmness in the air around me.
When I don't understand something, and I think I should, I get upset. (I think this happens to kids all the time in school)
The key, however, has been for me to learn that: When I don't understand something --- I believe and trust that I will come to understand it in time, and therefore, I am fine....

even if that time, is mine and mine alone...

To arrive at the last stage, takes maturity and confidence in oneself-
Are our school's fostering that type of growth?

Rilke’s over-quoted quote is worth quoting again:

Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart.
Try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms
and like books written in a very foreign tongue.
Do not seek now the answers, which cannot be given to you because
you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now....perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer...

Life long learners trust the process of living the questions.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

How Do We Help Create Life-Long Learners?

Two terms that always get me going are "life long learners" and "risk takers". If there is anything that has kept me going as a teacher and a learner it is the hard lessons I learned at Hampshire College. There I had to struggle through the process of describing the "mode of inquiry" I used to complete a project, and the actual topic of the project came second in importance. I had to prove that I understood how to solve problems or do research in an area of study before I presented the actual project. This requirement is why I can learn new things, take on new projects, and conceptualize on a big scale -- I am always looking at what is behind the idea or the concept - - perhaps I should say the big idea rather than focusing simply on the content. This is the gift I believe we are supposed to be sharing with students. This is the gift that leads to life-long learning.

I work with kids who are both potential life-long learners and risk-takers (in a good way) -- kids who are jumping out of their skin to move forward and desperate for the next thing to do and might be willing to struggle with deeper meanings or the messy process of focusing how to learn. So often, however, because of their competitive instincts (or parental pressure) these students become satisfied by succeeding where ever rote response is required and become learners who are fine with learning superficially as long as they maintain their "top of the class" label. We should challenge these kids to reach beyond and try to really comprehend the underbelly of everything they learn, rather than rewarding them for success by letting them think they are "winning" for rote or formulaic responses. In truth, they will never be truly satisfied because deep inside they really know that there is more to it than this.

I think it is the responsibility of schools to educate life-long learners and risk takers, rather than to focus on rewarding those who achieve the highest mark, however easily or cheaply obtained...