So…….as I was chatting with Alyssa and Sarah last weekend, they spoke to what many of us call authentic learning. Of course, they didn’t use that phraseology–they spoke in their native tongue, describing how some of what kids are asked to do in school is “boring” or “rushed” or “just for a grade”. They weren’t exactly giving their work with me great props either (just in case you thought I was getting off easy), and that’s okay, because I had asked for feedback, not pats-on-the-back. This is what I’m realizing:

  • They have incredible interests and curiosities, and when they write from these places, they become deeply attached to their creations. When I ask Studio kids about their writing, they become animated in much the same way that new parents often are. They share their discoveries and confess their frustrations and uncertainties in a way that reveals a powerful kind of intimacy.¬† I never noticed this when I was in the classroom, routinely assigning students essay topics and providing them tightly defined paths toward addressing them.
  • They are eager to get themselves to connected to others who are just as interested in writing as they are and just as skilled in providing support and feedback. When I chat with Studio writers about finding and building communities for themselves, they mention how alone they often feel in their pursuit of this inside of their schools. They often wonder aloud why all kids aren’t as excited about writing as they are. They want an engaged, supportive community of young writers to blossom up around them as they sit inside of their English classrooms each day. I wonder if this is even possible? I wonder what it would take to move kids from passive to active to leading the learning.

Last week, Paula White and Steve Shann provoked much larger conversations around related themes (and more), and since then, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on the effect that choice has on our ability to learn, grow, and establish truly meaningful relationships with people. I’m not suggesting that we do not benefit from experiences that are assigned to us. I’m just considering how different things might be if we all felt AS obligated to help kids discover who they are and what they really love to do as we feel compelled to prepare them for fourhundredthousand assignments that have little to do with this at all…. “for their own good.”

I’m thinking kids might have an easier time finding community as well–online and off. That was the basic gist of my conversation with Sarah and Alyssa last week. They want to write about the things that matter to them and be surrounded by others who are doing the same and who are excited about it. When they have these opportunities, their writing simply flows. They are in the zone. As a teacher it’s hard for me not to interfere with all of us. I feel pressured to teach and direct and enthrall them all the time, because I CAN, that’s why! And if I’m not, then I begin to worry that¬† perhaps I’m not earning my keep. Keeping my fingers off of the controls is a tall order, and the reality is that Studio brings fewer of the challenges that teaching writing within the system might.

These are the questions that scare me a bit: how much of our time are we wasting? How much of theirs? And how much talent is being squandered?

If we were somehow able to better nurture the unique talents and passions and needs of our students, I wonder if they would perform better and benefit even more from assigned experiences that they may be less interested in, simply because they had greater expertise in defined areas of interest and a signficantly stronger sense of self.

I think so much of this has to do with shifting from the positioning of teaching/telling to facilitating/questioning and more importantly–sitting quietly and inviting them to explore and inquire as well. Not around the things we are interested in or most passionate about….but around the things that make them who they are and who they are longing to be. Incidentally, this might have little to do with writing. Or mathematics. Or science. Or history. Or……….the use of technology.

What do you think?

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