Tag Archives: Why School?

Response: Hackschooling: Is This the Future?

I read a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog called Hackschooling: Is This the Future? about a TEDtalk by a teenage boy about redefining schools.

He has a valid point. Learning comes from passion.

The whole picture is not just about making schools centered on individual interests without the training– there’s a fundamental point that he makes about the relationship of his teacher (or guide) to his work. He chooses the topic and someone teaches him how to explore it, question it, and master it. Logan clearly has teachers who work with him to learn the necessary skills to execute research, write about it, and then deliver an eloquent speech. Redefining does not mean taking teachers out of the equation; it means that the child’s passions are merely vehicles for teaching skills.

Big Brother or Teacher?

For me, reading books side-by-side encourages some really interesting discoveries of connections and parallels– I’m sure it does for most readers. The last few books I’ve read for professional and personal reasons are 1984 by George Orwell, Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, and Why School? by Will Richardson. You might think that there isn’t much in common, but I’ve applied what I’ve read to my teaching… a little from each book, and it’s quite critical.

All three books discuss teaching the next generation. Solomon interviews families who have children with different identities than their parents (homosexuality, deafness, dwarfism, autism, schizophrenia, etc.). In his search for the answer about whether or not he should have children, he discovers families who have embraced their children’s differences and found communities to foster healthy growth, independence, and comfort in their identities. The communities are mostly centered around who the child is versus who the parents are (the way it should be, right?). This got me thinking about teaching. We are constantly listing out skills that all children must have or teaching from a list, and we won’t leave any child behind. Why aren’t we embracing their strengths– even those who aren’t exceptional?

In 1984, I found a similar theme– an organization designed to squash out the individuals and their independent thoughts (presented in a different light, of course). Isn’t that what we do when we try to teach every child the same thing? The other thing to reflect is how the Party disseminated all of the information– whoever controls the present, controls the past. When I think about my classroom and how I’ve been teaching, I know that everything has been filtered through me– scarily Orwellian. The plethora of information I digest comes out in a smaller portion for my class to understand, but after reading these books, I’m uneasy delivering information the way I so comfortably did before.

I do work hard to find factual information to present, yet was I really able to describe the horrors of slavery? I also presented it as the past– what about now? How do we get our fruits and vegetables to market? These are thoughts I’ve had, but there seems to be a piece missing if I’m not talking about the whole picture of human history from multiple perspectives. How can just one person do this?

This is where Will Richardson’s book played a part. The problem is how I present– Am I teaching in a way that leads my students to these questions or am I teaching in a way that only leads them to the questions I can answer? Considering what’s developmentally appropriate has a role, as well… Filtering and breaking down information into digestible chunks has primarily been done on a group basis. How can I open my students up to all of the information I can without scaring them? Do I teach more controversial topics as fact and open the exploration to less controversial or safe topics?

These are just some of the thoughts racing through my mind this morning. What are your thoughts?

A change for me…

I am a planner. I plan for everything in my life, sometimes months in advance. I know when I’m going to run out of essentials like coffee filters, toothpaste, etc. Even before I run out, I get extras to back up the ones that will run out. This kind of planning is evident in my teaching as well. My reading lessons are structured the same way each week: Monday-class book, Tuesday-language work, Wednesday- current events, Thursday- class book. Not only do I have this structure in place, I also have articles printed and ready to hand out for the next month. I have homework packets prepared weeks in advance. I have idioms and figurative language picked out to teach for the next few weeks as well. The students benefit from the structure, but the sole source of information is me– I am filtering everything that comes into the class.

After reading “Why School?” by Will Richardson, I made a huge jump (for me, at least). I sat down at the beginning of my group, and told them that I am also a learner, and I read a book that changed my thinking about the way I teach. I explained that I am going to start by changing our article day. I gathered my four weeks of printed articles and had them watch me drop them into the recycling bin. I explained that I wanted them to be in charge of what articles we are learning, not me.


One by one, they each had a turn clicking through and picking an article on Time for Kids while the screen was projected onto the SmartBoard. On a day when we would usually do round-robin reading of a pre-selected article, we all learned about the bounce-back of the tiger population, what school lunches look like in five other countries, the Kids Choice Awards, and the debt crisis in the United States. They were interested in their peers’ selections, had insights and interests I never expected, and were excited to be in the driver’s seat for their own and their peers’ learning.

I ended up teaching them skills to navigate the computer while they were reading, discussing, and comprehending more material than we usually would. They learned about the format of a URL and how to zoom a web page for a closer look. Who knew I’d be teaching those skills to my third grade reading group?

I let go, and they learned… By the way, I learned, too! Wednesdays will look so different to me now– I’m looking forward to what I’ll learn about next time. I’m also contemplating the other days and how I can implement a learner centered curriculum in my classroom for both me and my students.