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Unforgettable learning experiences…


I recently saw two different jobs being advertised.  Which one would you want to apply for?  This one?

We are currently looking for an individual with the energy and passion to create an exceptional student experience.

Or maybe this one?

We are currently looking for an individual with the knowledge of developmentally appropriate, activity-based teaching and learning. Strong oral and written communication skills. Preferred experience with reading intervention. Ability to work effectively with others. Demonstrated skills with instructional technology. Experience with SRBI.

It does seems as though in order to make ourselves feel more powerful and respected teachers are slowly turning how kids learn into some deep mysterious process that requires years of education and vast knowledge of everything from how the brain works, to the coolest and newest technologies that are supposed to improve learning in the classroom.  In order for learning to occur teachers are also supposed to embrace failure, grit, and data.  Just 10 minutes on something like Twitter will fill your brain with all things that all great teachers must do in order to have their kids learn.  And if you are not doing them, how will your kids every be successful and learn?

Learning is not a complicated process.  Schools put many roadblocks in the way of learning, and then we spend years of college, 1000s of hours of reading, and summers on the internet looking for ways to get around the roadblocks and improve learning.  Teachers can spend a lifetime trying to overcome the unnatural situation we put kids into–we can spend years trying to figure out how to force a kid to learn.

Over and over during the course of my life I have found that teachers who put all their effort into creating exceptional learning experiences have had classrooms in which kids learn simply because they want to.  Create an environment in which a kid wants to know more and wants to create more and learning will take place with no tricks needed.  Knowledge of brain cells and SRBI and rubrics  becomes more important when the class is required to cover some mandated essential question, with mandated sources, on a mandated subject, with a mandated outcome,  In ideal conditions give me one match and I can start a fire.  When it is stormy out I will have to resort to all sorts of tricks to force that fire to get started.

I have really pulled back on my teaching during the last few years.  Meaning I have done less teaching and “more” trying to create an environment and activities that allow for learning to “naturally” happen–as “natural” as can possibly happen in an artificial academic environment.  A few years ago every unit we did had an essential question and was “authentic.”  It was for a real purpose, and for a real audience.  I found the more “real” I made class the more artificial it became.  The internet told me it was supposed to be better that way, twitter told me I would be falling behind if we were not doing things that way.  Most of those people on the internet and Twitter and conferences were not even in the classroom Blah…

When I was twelve I went to summer camp.  A forester named Chris Fagan visited my group one day and we walked with him to the mess hall.  Along the way he stopped and talked about the trees he saw.  He was amazed at what he saw and shared that amazement.  It infected me and the other kids.  Some kids ended the walk knowing 20 trees, and I am sure there were some that knew only three.  But each kid in our group saw the forest in a different way when we walked the trails that week, and we saw ourselves in a different role.  I am positive Chris did not set out to make me reconsider my impact on the environment during that 30 minute walk. I am certain he didn’t try to make me into a future camp counselor. I am positive he did not try to get me to one day become a backpacker who would take kids deep into the Rocky Mountains and take other kids on that same walk.  All three happened…because of that walk?   I can’t be positive of that.  He just gave me 30 amazing minutes with his passion–no tricks, no tests, no standards, no ulterior motive.

This year I am going to re-commit myself to creating exceptional learning experiences for kids.  I am going to re-commit to letting them do amazing things and rely less on all of those “tricks” that are supposed to get kids to learn things.  Kids need to want to learn.  Try teaching a thesis sentence before a kid wants or needs it and you will be reteaching thesis sentences all year…or you’ll have to come up with all sorts of “tricks” to get them to learn how to write one.

So where did all the above thoughts come from….

Each year I make a class commercial that I share with parents and students.  Last year’s video  — check it out here — was becoming a bit showy.  It was complicated, epic in length, and was filling up with mostly clips and quotes from past years.  I decided to make a short commercial that would only have quotes from last year’s kids and clips from last year’s activities (opps, one from the year before snuck in). What I realized is that everything I wrote above was coming true.  I did not have many clips of big exciting things that we did, not a lot of clips that were for some special audience or purpose.  But still kids learned, became strong, and changed.  As I read the students evaluations I did not notice any big changes from previous years.  The activities might not have been as “big” and “special” as those in past years but they were organically grown by the students.

I do try to show evidence on my blog that this sort of environment does lead to learning.  You do not have to learn how to force feed students to get them to grow, you just need to provide exceptional learning experiences. That is a tough sell for parents which is why I have a meeting the very first week of school in which I introduce my class, myself, share what we do, how we do it, and this year will end it all with a three minute commercial to show that exceptional learning experiences lead to unforgettable learning experiences. 

(psst…turn up the volume way up!!)

Classroom Commercial 2014-15 from Moran Mustangs on Vimeo.
 

Second job description was for a local elementary school teaching position, the first one was taken from a local business 🙂 

dd

 

4 comments

  1. Hi Paul,
    What you have narrated here corresponds to my (more than 35 years) of experience as a designer and consultant in the field of education. A few quotes from your article are worth more than a series of lectures or workshops at teacher training institutes. These are some of things on which I absolutely agree with you:
    “…teachers are slowly turning how kids learn into some deep mysterious process that requires years of education and vast knowledge of everything from how the brain works, to the coolest and newest technologies that are supposed to improve learning in the classroom.” And “Over and over during the course of my life I have found that teachers who put all their effort into creating exceptional learning experiences have had classrooms in which kids learn simply because they want to. Create an environment in which a kid wants to know more and wants to create more and learning will take place with no tricks needed” Also as example of the walk with the forester -” He just gave me 30 amazing minutes with his passion–no tricks, no tests, no standards, no ulterior motive”. I feel that all teachers should read this article. And I would love to be in your class ( I reside in Kolkata,India).
    Regards
    Raj

  2. Awe. Some.

    Loved your commercial! And love how you intentionally capture so much of what happens with your kids. Makes me want to go back in time, become a kid again, and spend time in your class.

    glennw

  3. Hey Paul,

    Thanks for reminding us all that it’s about creation, as much for you as for the students. Oftentimes what is conventionally thought of as “teaching” is what happens when the environment you initially created was lacking in some way.

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