Patrick Higgins, Jr.

Pushed to Joy

In reflection, teaching on September 23, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Two articles came across my bow today, one right after the other, and each pushed my thinking a little farther down a path.

Will writes today about an article he read in BoingBoing by Cory Doctorow rehashing Jon Holt’s How Children Learn.  While I’ve not read Doctorow or Holt, Will pulled a quote from Doctorow (as he was discussing Holt’s title) that matched squarely to my experience sitting in for Erica Hartman tonight at Back to School Night:

Most resonant for me was his description of kids’ learning unfolding from the natural passionate obsessions that overtake them.

As an administrator now, I am asked to observe teachers in their practice and give them feedback on specific areas.  Like students have preferences, there are some teachers we prefer to observe because of the mindset we leave with–we are reaffirmed, we’ve learned, and we can spread that knowledge to others.  Those teachers engage and push, and in many ways provide students with access to a very raw emotion, one we rarely associate with school these days, unfortunately: joy.

Immediately below Will’s post in my aggregator was one by Doug Johnson entitled Joy in the Classroom.  Aptly titled, Doug also pulls from a text, that of John Dewey:

What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win the ability to read and write, if in the process the individual lose his own soul? – John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

Several parents came up to me tonight and said very clearly: “this is not what I remember about school,” after watching Erica‘s remote presentation about our Connections class.  And I took great comfort in that.  Others remarked that they were so glad that their children were getting the opportunity to push their thinking, and that their son/daughter couldn’t wait for this class because they never know where they will end up by the end of the period.  To me that means they are digging it.   And to Paul C who commented on Doug’s post, that joy is synonymous with engagement:

I wouldn’t say that all learning is necessarily joyful. Personally if I am engaged in the topic at hand, time flies and I am consumed by my pursuits…

Equip students with the dynamic learning skills necessary to pursue life long quests.

They’ll forget the content but remember the fire.

Doug also posted Steven Wolk’s list of 10 essentials to bring joy into school experiences:

  1. Find the Pleasure in Learning
  2. Give Students Choice
  3. Let Students Create Things
  4. Show Off Student Work
  5. Take Time to Tinker
  6. Make School Spaces Inviting
  7. Get Outside
  8. Read Good Books
  9. Offer More Gym and Arts Classes
  10. Transform Assessment

After reading those posts, I immediately did two things: first, I followed Doug’s link to his article entitled Designing Research Projects Students Love, and secondly wrote and sent an email to two teachers whose classrooms I have spent some time in this week who completely impressed me with their ability to push their students to joy through whatever means necessary.

They’ll remember the fire. That works for me.

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  1. Thanks for attending my Back to School night. In this post, you talk about pushing students’ thinking. I can tell you that teaching this new Connections class has pushed MY thinking and my students’ thinking. I can’t say in this first month that I am always pushed to JOY:); because being pushed can hurt sometimes, mentally and physically. But, I have had more students tell me they love class in the first month of school than the past 7 years- so that is worth it.

  2. I liked this post. Today I helped a teacher help his student make a graphic organizer using inspiration. The student were required to take the teacher’s notes and turn into a web. What I saw was the students were just rehashing what came from the teacher’s lecture and it was labeled technology integration. What was missing was a student activity for student to tinker and inquire. I walk into many classrooms and so many teachers miss the mark. This post pushed my thinking. Thanks for sharing

    Bill

  3. Erica and Bill,

    Thanks for the comments. Many schools are coming to a point in their instruction where we have to be ready to take that radical next step–that cognitive leap. However, what I am finding, like Bill, even in places that are pushing their thinking, we run into examples of using new tools to do old jobs. It’s frustrating, especially when the end goal is to provide students with the best way to learn and grow.

    Erica is correct; this class is exciting, and our students are intrigued and excited. However, my goal is to make sure our pedagogy backs up that excitement and our outcomes match our expectations. Exciting stuff!

  4. Patrick,
    In elementary school, for the most part, I feel like we “get” this. I watch excited kids walk into school and leave school each day with a smile on their face. But then we send them off to middle school…and it is like they are visiting another planet. Kids are assigned busy work, classrooms don’t look inviting and many of the teachers don’t seem to try and connect with the students.

    I know it isn’t like this everywhere, but I wish more secondary schools felt the urgency of bringing joy to their teaching and learning.
    For those who are doing it…spread the word and help us inspire those who don’t!

    Thanks for this post. It reminds me to keep fighting the good fight!

  5. Melanie,

    Ahh, middle school. Many characterize it as a wasteland, and strangely enough, the data I have looked at, mostly standardized test scores, tend to bear this out; something is afoot. That physical reaction to learning changes when they enter the middle grades. Granted, there is a lot to say for the physiological side of this issue, but you raise a great point: what are the characteristics of the elementary classroom that breed student engagement? I have half a mind to send middle school teachers to observe elementary classrooms next month….

  6. Thanks, Patrick, for helping spread the need for joyfulness in the classroom!

    All the best,

    Doug

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