Half-empty? Or half-full?
There is MUCH talk about project-based learning, inquiry, and student-centred learning. This thrills me to bits. There is also a focus on technology in the classroom. Awesome! We are ALSO getting geared into assessment and evaluation… always good. (In spite of one’s thoughts on standardized tests, most of us agree that if we are TALKING about assessment there is a chance to DO SOMETHING about assessment… and as educators, this is necessary and a reality.) And finally, we are collectively taking time to focus on learning skills. Yahoo!
So what about teaching and learning?
Can we incorporate all of these things in our classrooms?
Where do you begin?
As a proponent for TPACK, that’s always my starting place when I plan any unit or area of study. I ask myself- how can I mesh content (curriculum), my existing best practices (pedagogy) and integrated technology? (With the gift of Internet access and multiple technology devices, this is wonderfully, blissfully, thankfully my starting point.) I factor in the modified expectations for my students with special needs and behaviours, and struggle to think of ways to modify or accommodate. Then, as I create a vision of where I’d like to go with my students, a nagging new-age voice rings in my head, reminding me that it’s not all about me… Where will my students take this? (Okay, sometimes she’s angelic and I appreciate her, but as a creature of habit I sometimes audibly sigh as I realize the planning isn’t done, nor is it ever going to be black and white.) So with that in mind, I USED to make a rough forecast, attempting to guess where it might go, and march into the classroom with a hope and a prayer. My “plan” alongside the student-centred variables.
NOW it’s becoming purposeful. So what has shifted?
When we teach with a deficit mentality, we focus our starting point on where we are, what the student’s needs are, and what we hope to accomplish. That’s not always so bad. The risk of this thinking though, is that the deficit is the problem, and we need to try to fix it. Alternatively, when we switch to an abundance mentality, we see the starting point as the personalized, individualized starting point. Like a staggered start on a running track, every participant is offered a fair and equitable opportunity to create a meaningful learning experience. With personalized goal-setting, fair means getting what you need, and the success criteria becomes attainable for everyone.
It’s SO EASY to complain. It’s SO EASY to find ourselves saying “who has time for this?” or “what if the technology fails?” or “how is it fair for this student to have this expectation and this one to have another?”. When we truly put our students first, it is also easy to quiet that negative voice. We all know differentiation is a requirement, a good thing, and with a strength-based approach our students create their own unexpected and wonderful learning opportunities. The abundance model allows the learning to not only shift to the student, but also provides the added bonus of allowing the educator to sit back and OBSERVE the learning. Share in it. Record it.
Alright. I admit, this is an easy model for people like me to grab on to. My brother once said to me, “Geez Lindy. Not everything is always all good. If you saw a train wreck and hundreds of people were dead you’d say, ‘oh look! That dog survived!'” And he may be right. But as I look at our schools, I see many educators who really do take their time to know their students. I love the conversations I have in the hallways with students- past and present- and their stories come to me year after year.
This article talks more about how to get there with your students. For many of us, it’s a small step to take. As educational leaders, wouldn’t this be a happy learning environment if all educators were given the opportunity to embrace the abundance model? (Please don’t say sure, they can do it now. Are you supporting it as a best practice? Acknowledging it when it happens?) As parents, wouldn’t we love to know our children were supported in their ownership of learning? (Do you advocate and share your child’s special gifts, interests and talents?) As students, wouldn’t you feel valued and empowered to make learning your own? (Do we offer this as a choice in our classrooms? Do we enable the student voice to be heard?)
We live in an abundant society, and perhaps this is why it is easy to see deficits.
Inquiry, project-based learning, integrating technology, and assessment (and feedback) blend very well with an abundance mentality. The glass is not half-empty, nor is it half-full. The glass, for every teacher and every student, is just the right size, shape and style, and always full to the brim.