Are Students Allowed To Learn?

I love how my Twitterfolks push and prod my thinking through their sharing. This morning Susan Morgan, (@scmorgan) shared a blog she was reading, so I went to explore and found “Remember.”  In it, the author starts by saying, “Let’s be honest. Kids aren’t going to remember what we teach them. Not the content at least and not most of it any way.” and ends with, “I don’t remember all my teachers taught me. I remember who they were.”

I’ve pretty much spent this weekend reflecting on what my kids are learning with me, so this blog really struck home. “My kids” include not only those in my math classes I teach daily, but those with whom I work around the school. ALL kids are free to set up appointments with me–our gifted services are NOT exclusive and you do not need to be identified to work with me. (It is perceived as somewhat exclusive, though, because not all kids DO work with me.) This reflecting on what I’m doing with kids and how to grow it out, though is partially due to Matt Guthrie’s comments in # 8 here.

At 1:10 AM this morning, one of my students wikimailed me and asked, “am i allowed 2 come and see u for lunch on Wednesday i want 2 make another page so more people will come 2 see my wiki. :)”

Let’s let go of why this kid was up at 1:10 on the computer, and look at the message.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know my kids are doing some interesting things on wikis, USUALLY at home.  (The latest–Nicolas recently attempted to use crowdsourcing and William downloaded the software we use in our FabLab work and is posting his projects from home.)  I have worked hard to gain them an audience, they have followed suit  and sent their wiki URLs out to family members and friends in other places, and they regularly check their clustrmaps for feedback and change what they’re doing based on that.

The kid who sent the message, though, does not have regular contact with me. She doesn’t take home a school iPod any more. She’s not currently in any of the groups I run. Yet she gets on wikimail regularly and we do talk at least once a week, usually on the weekend. So what’s behind this message?

I think she realizes her wiki is quite bare, compared to others, and she either thinks she needs my permission to do stuff, or she doesn’t know what to do. Given that the iPod situation was one that involved a trust issue, she may be wary of not meeting my “approval.”

But the language she uses–“am I allowed to” REALLY bothers me.  Kids come into my room for lunch all the time to work on THEIR work–their passions and creations that they don’t have time or opportunity to do in their classrooms. Why does she feel like she may not be allowed to? I WILL  be talking with her on Wednesday to address those feelings–on both sides.

“Our children come to school every day & spread their dreams beneath our feet. We should tread softly” Sir Ken Robinson (Thanks to @maragem for this quote.)

What is it about structures in schools that make kids wonder whether they will be “allowed to” get help on something important to them?  What have I done (or not done) to perpetuate that?  How can we change the structures and the feelings kids have so that they CAN pursue learning during the school day above and beyond that they get exposed to with our state standards?

Exactly what is it my kids are learning by creating on their wikis and blogs, and will it matter to them some day?  What WILL they remember from our math classes?  Will it be content?  (I think so, but that’s another post.)

Do school wikis and blogs HAVE to connect to their school learning or can it be an outlet for that learning they do outside of school every day?  Or, can or should they do both, as my kids’ do?

How can we ensure that this place called school is truly about meaningful learning and connect to those students who see learning as a hobby because school learning doesn’t fit?

And how can we ensure that EVERY teacher thinks about meaningful learning?

This conversation is happening a couple of other places right now as well.  Join in!


10 thoughts on “Are Students Allowed To Learn?

  1. Great post, Paula. I was struck by the “am I allowed to?” school structure you mentioned. It occurred to me that this phenomenon isn’t just restricted to kids. I wonder how many teachers across the nation feel they must pose this question to their principals before tinkering with new and innovative ideas? Or, principals to their supts? So on, and so on. We’re so fortunate to be in an environment where ideas are not only heard–they’re nurtured. This story (like so many others you share) means one more future leader will recognize the power of seeing learning as a hobby. And, will likely influence others to do the same.

  2. Don’t you love that post, Paula? It has stuck with me, too. And it made me return to my own school days, trying to remember. Sigh. What we say and do matters so much.

  3. OK-as a parent-new to this site and these discussions–I want to add a comment. Does this child get the support from home to do what s/he chooses? By this I mean, does s/he have to ask permission for everything they do? (tv, computer-which might explain the late night usage, free time). Maybe, that’s all the child was asking–permission–with support from Ms. White. I also think that for a child to learn outside the state mandated ideas at school, they have to be encouraged-supported-directed to learn at all times–not only during the school day. My own son loves Discovery Channel and History Channel–he adds quality facts to our family conversations every day! Anyway–just one parent’s point of view.

  4. Interesting you bring up that next level of “am I allowed to?” During Tuesday’s workday, I was interested in what Pam (@pammoran) was going to say to the vertical teams. A friend mentioned to someone downtown that I was feeling this way and the Central Office bigwig responded, “Tell her she can come if she wants to.”

    I hadn’t felt like I needed to ask permission to go listen to my Sup’t. speak. I found it interesting someone above me in the hierarchy of jobs needed to give me permission.

  5. Making that list would be a good inservice activity. . .perhaps asking people to do it ahead of time, so the time together could be spent sharing how we felt as we made our own. Thanks for sharing that link, Susan!

  6. Thanks for joining in, Martha! The fact is that most educators, at least at some level, recognize exactly what you say about your son–that our kids OFTEN learn more–and differently–out of school than they do in, and we should be paying more attention to that and providing opportunities for kids to use those skills IN school. I agree that the role of the parent is important and appreciate that you provide those opportunities for your son.

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