So, part of the Perfect Chaos that is our family includes huge disagreements about what makes a good movie. David and I definitely don’t agree on movies most of the time. A few days ago, David turned on a movie that I definitely don’t think of as quality cinema. I’m pretty sure it didn’t win any awards, and it definitely was not one that made me smarter. However, a question asked during the movie has gotten me thinking almost consistently about what we are doing in the classroom and what it means to be a life long learner.
The movie simply asked the question, “What do you want to learn,” and it asked the question of students. Last night, I posed that question to a class full of teachers that are graduate students and the silence was deafening. You see, somewhere along the way we decided that asking students what they want to learn wasn’t an important part of the learning process. Not only do we not ask students what they want to learn, we also don’t ask teachers that when we are planning inservice days or professional development. With so many options for professional development available, especially in this time when so many things are being offered virtually and at reduced rates, why are we not asking that question?
How many of us, as educators, have been to a professional development day or an inservice day where there were multiple options available, but none that fit what we needed at the moment? One of the reasons we go to conferences is because those conferences offer something we are choosing to learn. I’m not saying we should get rid of things like standards and curriculum mapping, but I am wondering what would happen if we asked our students and colleagues what they would like to learn.
To go beyond just asking that question could have some pretty far reaching implications. We know that students who hate reading can sometimes show reading growth when they are allowed to work on reading with material they are interested in as opposed to making them read from the reading books. Why don’t we do more of utilizing the things students enjoy to teach them the things they need to know. I realize that most of us try to do this as teachers, but I am hung up on what the implications could be if we truly asked our students what they want to learn and then follow through with it. Could that change the mindset of a student who hates school? Could it make us dread inservice days less if we were asked that same question?
In all honesty, I asked our 12 year old last night what it would be like if his teachers asked that question (as a side note, he has very good teachers). His response was stunned silence at first. Then he started talking about how awesome that would be. When I asked what he would want to learn, his response was that it would be awesome to look at some things in Chemistry and Physics. When I explained that it couldn’t be that way all the time, he responded that to even have a portion of a class one day a week where he got to explore and learn what he wanted to learn would totally change his feelings about going to school.
I know a ton of teachers that try to institute things like genius hours, and I love that concept. I really do wonder what would happen if we really started asking what people wanted to learn and followed through with those answers. What if we allowed true exploration to occur during professional development? What if inservice days were devoted to the things that the teachers in the building would like to learn because they feel it would make them better teachers? How could this work to change the morale in a profession that is constantly being asked to do more and be more with less support?
I guess that just leaves one question.
For some reason, I feel like this could be the one of most important questions we ever ask.