Class Update 3 - Learning should be viral

This is my latest update in my series about changing to a student driven classroom. There are two things that happened in the past two days that caused me to reflect and reevaluate some of my thinking. The first was a rather remarkable thing that happened this afternoon in class. Students were working on a variety of activities both as groups and individuals. One of the groups was discussing a novel they were reading, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. In the midst of their conversation about character development they went off on a tangent as 6th graders often do. The tangent they went off on was a discussion of the first book in this series being turned into a movie. They proceeded to discuss the characters in the novels and who would play them in the movie. While this may seem like off task behavior it was actually a fruitful conversation.

Students started talking about different descriptions within the novel to justify their choices for the actors and actresses. This included specific page numbers and direct quotes from the novel. As a teacher, I was just sitting back and letting this conversation move forward. Then something kind of cool happened…other students started joining the conversation from other corners of the room. It was spontaneous and almost viral the way the conversation spread. To me, this is how learning should be, spontaneous and viral in nature. It should start whenever, wherever, and be free of restrictions.

The other thing that happened was not as positive but equally valuable. I had a handful of students that were working on a series for reading standards for the past few days. During a meeting with them earlier this week I discovered that they were heading in the wrong direction. The work they had been doing was misguided and off target in terms of the learning standards. Rather than chastise them for a lack of progress, I got upset with myself for missing their missteps. I spent the rest of the period working with them to get back on track and give them the attention and guidance that I should have from the start.

What I learned from this experience was that some kids need more direction and I can’t assume they are doing what needs to be done. I gave up more control in my class and provided my students with more freedom but that can come at a price. In this case, I needed to provide more direction and guidance than I had provided. There are some students in my class that are in complete control of their learning destinies, but others such as this group, needed some help identifying and pursuing that destiny.
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