Over the Christmas break, I spent a great deal of time reading, listening and watching a wide range of media. I have consumed more than I should have in relation to US politics, plus research and discussion on climate change and current environmental concerns. I live by the philosophy of know better, do better so this culminated in a range of actions and lifestyle changes including choosing to eliminate meat and dairy from my diet, establishing a worm farm to reduce wastage and a range ethical shopping changes. Several realisations ensued, in particular, how hard it is to determine the ingredients or origin of many products that I would normally purchase with the assumption they are locally sourced. My growing understanding was also supported by healthy debate and the need to justify my actions to a range of friends and family. Some were quick to raise stereotypical vegan memes whilst others acknowledged they could probably make some better choices themselves. My learning was self-driven, in my own time, at my own pace and to be honest, when I was most open to acknowledging these issues and I had space and time to respond.
Until widespread access to the internet, there was a ceiling on learning, limited to the expertise of the teacher, whether that be formal settings such as the classroom or the parent-child relationship. Now that ceiling is broken and we are inundated with information. Our greatest challenge will be to create environments where our students can design their own interesting questions to answer, not teach them answers to questions that already exist. Creating learning that is active as opposed to passive about issues they actually care about or create their own responses to issues that don’t have straightforward solutions. We should endeavour to construct space and time for them to delve into issues that are meaningful to them and then provide the time to enact responses and changes themselves, whether personal or within their community.
Opportunities are endless, but our time is limited, so what we value most will take precedent. My goal this year, is to question these priorities on an ongoing basis. To keep in check, that what time is being used, and the choices I make about other people’s time, whether they be staff or students, is used to address the most important priorities.
After reading ‘The “Why” of Writing’ by George Couros I was inspired to tell my own classroom story of how the “Why” of writing has impacted on one of my students in particular. Teaching special education, especially students with speech and language difficulties means that communication can be a challenge. Imagine struggling for 14 years to be heard, understood or even have the opportunity to contribute. Imagine people turning away because they can’t understand you, the frustration of wanting to tell, explain or ask but your ability to move your tongue means you cannot make the right sounds and your words become distorted and unclear. Imagine struggling to write, sitting in a class where you practice basic sentences that are functional but not expressive or meaningful over and over again. See the student disengage with learning, with people, with ambition.
If we really want to improve the literacy of our students, we need to look just as much (if not more) at the purpose, at why they are writing, as to simply the strategies and process. I have seen the evidence within my own family, that the why of writing means more than anything.
I too have seen the powerful impact that purpose can have.
Enter a dynamic, resourced classroom with people who take time to listen, to figure out your language, who share experiences and take time to ask for help to understand. The language barrier becomes their challenge to overcome not hers. Enter the iPad and laptop. Enter edmodo and email. Welcome to the world of immediate response! Welcome to the “why” for writing.
I have seen this young person blossom, become engaged with her world, make new friends and contact old ones. She enters the classroom desperate to talk about our conversation on edmodo from the night before and never leaves before being reassured that I will check for a message or remind a colleague to check for theirs. Within 5 minutes of entering the classroom, she can be “logged on” and sending messages to peers, to me, to other staff. She constructs meaningful sentences and is motivated to “get it right” because she is desperate to be understood. Responses and replies reinforce and motivate her to keep going.
Having the “why” has engaged her in literacy, increased her self confidence and enabled her voice to be heard. It drives her learning and the improvement follows! I am excited to see in the near future, how blogging will impact her and her peers as we start connecting with people all over the globe!
Aren’t we responsible to find the “why” for all our students?