Last week was the climax of a big paradigm shift for me. I have been moving towards this need that I could not name at first. This desire to let the “kids be kids” and teach to the moment not my pre-written plan. Before break it began to settle more in place as a focus on the “journey not only the assessment.” But that wasn’t it either as it wasn’t the assessment I was struggling against exactly. The beginning of this quarter it became more clear that it was a desire to shift the lens to focus more intently on the process rather than the product. To arrange the week in such a way that I was helping teach critical thinking and questioning not just clear instructions. I am no good at following directions so I imagine even worse at giving them!
After reading David Orr’s writing on ecological imaginations I felt spurred to look towards my personal teaching philosophy. I was not satisfied with only presenting the material and running a smooth lesson. I wanted to structure my week in such a way that scaffolds an experience not just content. Possibly, beginning the week by introducing wonder that will lead to questions that inspire action. I wondered what is the best way to empower my students to think beyond my words and challenge their own assumptions? I wondered if I could assess the impact of this process through truly student driven investigations. Is this possible in less than a week?
Leading up to the last SOP week every little thing came together just right to scaffold the teaching experience. With a clear goal of hoping to help our students ask more questions, we started the week. We prepped our intentions with great clarity from the very beginning and we were very intentional about not giving answers to naturalist inquiries but instead we left the questions hanging and offered them tools to look it up themselves. We lead several observing and question asking activities throughout the week.
Our final day we were on campus and I was set to tackle an investigation. We had “a secret hope that one of their questions would actually be the investigation for the day!” We took them to the wild zone and it was their turn to go through the process on their own. We flipped over a log and let the process begin. With all their great questions we were really interested to see if any could lead to an investigation. We wrote them all up on the board and started discussing how we might change them into investigable questions. We eliminated some questions and rewrote others to be testable. After a quick vote the students decided to test, “Do all dead trees have moss?” So test it we did!
After spending the week with these amazing students, watching kids be kids learning the process of science and loving it, I feel like I have tasted what it means to really teach. I don’t have all the words to describe it yet but it is as if the greatest teaching involves giving the students the tools and knowledge needed to survive their adventure and stepping back and letting them move through the landscape of learning. Along the way they will need moments of help and guidance is the journey is appropriately in their Zone of Proximal Development. More than ever I feel like the process of learning is happening whether I am there or not. It is how I enter the story and the knowledge, tools and opportunities for adventure I help create that matter in this business of teaching.