Wednesday, March 30, 2011

So What Am I Good For?

Today's anthropology class with my grade 11 students was 'interesting'.  The topic was 'collapsing societies' and before sharing the TED talk with Jared Diamond, (author of Guns, Germ & Steel), I wanted the students to wrestle with the idea first.  In order to block their default response (go to Google/YouTube and look for the answer) I asked them to jot down some ideas on paper first.  The looks on their faces was priceless.   "Paper? Miss, are you OK?  Hey Miss, I don't have paper or even a pen!"  (We've been mostly painlessly paperless this year.)  But they found the necessary implements and after a few minutes, we generated an impressive list of possible reasons for why societies collapse, including examples to support our hypothesis.  Half way through the TED video, I paused to explain the idea Diamond presented and then the conversation began to amble its way into the 'not exactly on topic but great conversation' area.  That's when I heard this.

My student, Corey, said, "Students learn most outside of school".  Say what?  Say that again?  He did.  I asked him to give me examples and explain what he meant, but of course he knew full well that I understood (and agreed with) him. They had just completed their Personal Learning Network assignment where they provide a screen recording (posted on the class wiki) of the tools they use to become independent learners.
From Dean Shareski's photostream on Flickr

So I asked him, "Then what am I good for if you learn so well outside of school and don't need me."  He replied, "Teachers are the tour guides and the students fill in."  (By 'fill in' he meant take responsibility for learning.)  But here comes the best part...Corey continued to say (by now he was really on a roll and had everyone's attention), "Teachers have to get over the fact that they don't know everything and that they can learn from their students."  By now, everyone else is getting involved and coming up with interesting metaphors for the role of teachers and students; coach, game show host, and on it went!  (I guess they think I'm entertaining.)  Corey added, "We want to feel like we are talking to one of our friends" and Leigh said, "We shouldn't be afraid of our teachers".

On days like today, I feel like the luckiest person in the world, even if I do have report cards staring me down.   My spirits were lifted by their candid comments and insightful observations.  I was not threatened by their comments because I feel comfortable in my educational coach role.  I want to engage students in deep understanding of issues.  I want to provoke discussion and show them that they are smart enough to figure things out for themselves; and when they do, I know that I've done my job - for today.

Next time I go to class, I think I'll go prepared to record that conversation.  I've been 'threatening' to turn our classroom discussions into podcasts.  I think the time has come!

1 comment:

  1. I love this post! I have had similar conversations with students and I also relish the opportunity to engage with them in the dialogue about our ever-changing roles. Bravo to you and thanks for sharing!