Friday, October 2, 2009

An Observation

I spent Monday and Tuesday facilitating a group of visitors that were here from Casper, Wyoming.  I've been doing a five year project with the staff at Paradise Valley Elementary (it's an excellent little school... the leadership and staff are amazing)!  We've set up visitation classrooms and facilitators for teachers from around the Casper area... amazing teachers!  They were here to talk hosting and facilitating...

     We were in a colleague's second grade classroom, watching her reader's and writer's workshops (and some specific word work as well).  The beauty of observing a classroom is the depth of talk among children when their teacher is conferring with another student across the room...  One little girl said, "Hey, while Mrs. B. is busy, let's pretend this is school."  Problem solving at it's finest.  The thing is, when Mrs. B. is with her students there is no pretending--everything is real, honest, authentic, sincere...

     There's a beauty in watching a teacher like Mrs. B. work with children... after our first day together, during our debrief, we synthesized our observations into four categories:
  • Evidence of Language - it's grounded in conversation, each word is explicit and metacognitive (student to student and teacher to student), the language is challenging and scholarly
  • Evidence of Trust/Community - there's a rhythm, a specific cadence to every interaction, trust is at the heart of learning
  • Evidence of Choice/Independence - the learners see themselves in control, they use questions to deepen their understanding, their self-image is well-defined and contagious
  • Evidence of Thinking - thinking forms the crux of each interaction, each conference nudges the thinking to greater depth, the room itself permeates respect for each learner and his/her individual needs
     The rituals and routines of the workshop are guiding individuals to independence through a subtle undercurrent of trust... every child's thinking is acknowledged, not necessarily confirmed, but acknowledged... "Hmm... you should think more about... That's grand, have you thought about..."  There's no doubt that Mrs. B. loves her students (in the most professional sense of the word).  And with rigor, intimacy, and inquiry alive and well, students don't have to pretend... they are in school and in school the way it should be!
     I wish every child had a teacher like Mrs. B.  One whose interactions with children are not contrived and controlled by mindless activities and fill-in-the-blank thinking, but are instead honest and heartfelt and most of all, authentic.   It was a grand two days!

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