Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stop! Look! Listen!

Grade 4 has just come off an energetic, powerful and honest day. Students were given the opportunity to stop, look and listen. We all took a day out of the classroom and organized a retreat. The purpose of the retreat was to elevate students' energy levels and create a unique and different opportunity and experience. The power of removing ourselves from the sometimes stagnant classroom environment was abundantly clear. It gave off a strong sense of seriousness and automatically increased our motivation. Today was a very special experience for the students. They had to think about the personal growth they have gone through over the course of a year. So often we all board the "teaching train". It full steam ahead till the close of the school year, without acknowledging the changes that have occurred which have shaped who they now as people and as learners. Where we are going is important, but we need a barometer that measures the distance traveled by looking back to where we once were.

Over the next few days Sam and I will be talking about skills, knowledge and understanding. Our goal is to have students stop, look and listen to the choices they have made that have impacted them in both negative and positive ways. I am going to detour for a bit... Someone asked me today what the difference was between knowledge and understanding. Allow me to explain a little more on this subject. To know something is factual. This explains the "what". To understand is being aware of all the intricate details of "how" and "why" things are the way they are. Knowledge is surface learning. Understanding is much deeper than that. Example: two people from different races are in a conflict situation. I may know what they are fighting about. But, if I have not traveled to their country or lived through their experiences somehow then I will never understand their perspective and situation. Sam and I will be explaining to the students that knowledge comes first, understanding comes second. Very much like a 2 step process. An aware student knows about the skills, knowledge and understanding that they have developed. The difference here is for them to make connections between the 3 elements and compound and construct a world of meaning.

I think the word "reflection" is mis-used and often abused. Be careful when you use this word as students soon realize that reflection means writing - a lot! I want to introduce the term "looking back" as a disguise. Use graphic organizers to build awareness about their learning journey and use it as a scaffold for writing later. It alleviates a lot of pressure and gives a real focus, especially when students are interested in writing about relevant and meaningful things about themselves.

Take the time to get on and off the "teaching train" and blow off some steam. It is extremely powerful and above all rewarding.

Strategy: Have students share their ideas in an open discussion. Avoid having students read off their work word for word. Invite a conversation to happen as this will trigger other ideas where students can make connections and increase participation. Ensure that students interact with different people each time.

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