Monday, February 3, 2014

When Will Kids Take Ownership Over Their Learning?

When we open up our classrooms to something worth learning about.

I just had one of the best experiences of my life as an educator. It's all because a student took ownership for their learning, and a teacher set up her classroom to make that possible.

Let me tell you a story that (forgive my silly adjective) is so cute beyond belief, it just has to put a smile on your face.

One of the required classes for our 6th and 7th grade students is a course called World Cultures. Students explore different cultures, build intercultural empathy, study languages, and engage in the sciences of sociology and anthropology. One unit in 7th grade is focused on the work of Jane Elliot -- more commonly know as the "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise. If you've never watched the video, you should. What a courageous learning experience for a teacher to design -- particularly when you consider the context of the time.

After watching the video and discussing with their peers, students were exceptionally engaged. They drew conclusions about the past, found parallels in the present, and made connections to their own experiences. They were IN. So in in fact...

...that during lunch on one of the days they had been discussing the video, a student used his school iPad to do more research on Jane Elliot. Low and behold, he dug in so deep he came across of phone number. And being a 7th grade boy still navigating the boundaries of social more, he called it! He called it three times in fact!

Jane was in the shower. Seriously. Haha, so after seeing three missed calls in a matter of minutes, and assuming it was something important, she called back. Here we are...a 7th grade boy in the midst of a very loud lunch room is having a chat with someone he learned about in class. He explained to her that they watched her video in class and were all very interested in her work. I can only imagine what Ms. Elliot was thinking.

Following lunch, the students returned to class.

7th Grade Boy: "Guess what Ms. Miller -- I just called Jane Elliot!"
Ms. Miller: "No you didn't."
7th Grade Boy: "No seriously...I just talked to her! She was like a grandma...she asked about the weather."
Ms. Miller: "What!?"

Ms. Miller, being the gracious and wonderful teacher and human being that she is, promptly emailed Ms. Elliot to thank her for being so kind to her student, and to also tactfully apologize for her student calling her at home! Ms. Elliot, being the gracious and wonderful teacher and human being that she is, promptly shared how touched she was by our students' interest in her work, and offered to set up a Skype session to answer questions and interact with the class.

I love this. Don't you love this!?

Such a wonderful example of students driving their own learning, pushing beyond the 50 minutes of class offered to them, leveraging technology and communication to make connections that would have never been possible without, and ultimately deepening the learning and engagement for the entire class.

Today I had the privilege of sitting in on the Skype session with Jane Elliot. I don't use the term 'privilege' lightly. She is an amazing woman of strong character who is unapologetic in how she criticizes our teachers, schools, and society at large for perpetuating the acceptability of racism.

She was not polite. She was not careful. She was real.

video

The students were shocked, excited, surprised, engaged, and invested all at once. They heard about the realities of the ills of our world. They thought about things they were never asked to think about before, and had the chance to deconstruct a perspective that isn't readily available in their daily lives.

I honestly wish you could've been there too. It was unbelievable. Not a single person walked out of that classroom without deeply evaluating the role racism plays in our society, and their part in it...myself included.

THAT, my friends, is an example of a student taking ownership over their learning. THAT, my friends, is the definition of authentic engagement.

THAT, my friends, is an experience every student (and human being) deserves to have.


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