Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bringing out the little kids

I like how Shor draws the connection to little kids and how we all started out as very inquisitive and curious children. On page 17 he says:

People begin life as motivated learners, not as passive beings. Children naturally join the world around them. They learn by interacting, by experimenting, and by using play to internalize the meaning of words and experience. Language intrigues children; they have needs they want met; they busy the older people in their lives with questions and requests for show me, tell me. But year by year their dynamic learning erodes in passive classrooms not organized around their cultural backgrounds, conditions, or interests. Their curiosity and social instincts decline, until many become nonparticipants…participatory classes respect and rescue the curiosity of students.

I guess as a Spanish teacher I see the reemergence of the young and curios kids in my classroom. They are not allowed to use English so they have to use what they can to get a point across or ask questions. A lot of times it’s like listening to toddlers talk and I have to figure out what they are trying to say. I love how Shor said that participatory classes ‘rescue’ the students’ curiosity because the desire to question and interact with us and each other in our classes is vital. In my class it is imperative that they participate…so much so that they get two participation grades a week. But I also know that you all also need students to participate to develop discussions and debates in your subjects.

On Friday we had a professional development day and a curriculum expert, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, came in and did a full day workshop with us. She was amazing, if any of you ever have the opportunity to go to anything of hers I would recommend it! Anyway, she mentioned almost the same idea. I think most of us would agree that the literacy skills are something that all of our kids need to improve. She emphasized participation and active classrooms to also promote literacy. She promoted participatory classrooms in all subject areas to get all kids used to the terminology and 'languages' that each of our subjects use.

It was interesting to see Shor promote participation to promote independence, creative thinking and social change. To connect the two, when students don't understand what is expected of them because they don't understand the language/terminology we (or our textbooks, tests, etc.) use, how they be expected to participate? The level of anxiety they feel is already high and they have up to 6 different teachers in one day that expect/allow 6 different things. Maybe in my class they can participate and are allowed to speak out, but in math they are expected to sit and be quiet, and in English something else. On top of all that they also have the social intimidation of being wrong or 'stupid' in front of their peers. With all of that already against them, we have to do everything we can to promote participation, curiosity and independence in our classrooms.


  1. I agree...It is very difficult for students to juggle and manage their roles in each class. Also, each teacher has different expectations for the students.

    Another problem we encounter is each student has certain classes that they are interested in and their curiosity grows.

    After reading the article and your comment, I started to think about how important extracurricular activities are in our schools. These are more opportunities for students to participate and for their curiosity to grow. All too often the schools that cut these programs (sports, art, and theater), are in poorer communities. These communities are also labeled as "low performing". What can we expect if we keep taking these learning opportunities away from these students?

  2. Joanna -

    That same quote stood out to me. It's funny with little kids it is k=constant stimulation, but high school kids are more often than not sitting at a desk. Also, so many students will admit in their end of quarter reflections that they do not participate a lot because they are scared they will be wrong. I hate that fear of not being accepted by peers stimies their curiosity. It makes me wish they had the mindset of younger chiildren who don't care what they say :)

  3. Joanna,

    I also do reflections like Jill just mentioned. At the end of each quarter they are to reflect on their effort, work, etc. and set goals for the upcoming quarter. Often the shy students will write that they want to participate more, but I have not seen an improvement yet. I think that the students who dominate the participation so much intimidate them. I wonder also if these shy students participated in elementary and just "shut down" in middle school. Do they have the social skills to jump into a discussion? It's sad to think that their curiousity is maybe masked because of this....

  4. I love the quote that you chose Joanna. It was one of my favorites because it is so interesting-- and so true! It makes me sad to think that students who are so curious and interested in topics just slowly fade and become apathetic. I think one of the reasons that I shy away from moving to the high school is because on some days my middle school students still have a little bit of questioning in them. They aren't quite ready to shut down completely. I know that a lot of this has to do with the social but I wonder part of if it is developmental though. . . teenagers often feel that they know all they need to know, so maybe turn off the "questioning function" which only returns for many in college? Maybe they mute their question function to 'save face' in front of their peers. (Maybe that is a far fetched idea. . . )

    Kristen, the point you make about the extra curricular activities is so true. I think of my co-taught kids and how it is fortunate that when they go to the high school, many of them have the opportunity to enter a vo-tech program. I think in their cases they are afraid to look stupid in a regular classroom, and are able to explore and question in a more hands on way.

  5. Joanna,

    This quote caught my attention too. I am very close with my nieces, all four under 5. They are so inquisitive. They ask a million questions every day. I feel every year students lose some of their sense of inquisition. By the time they are in high school there is barely anything left, unless they are very interested in the subject. Students are required to take many courses which does not leave them too much room in their schedule to choose what they are interested in. At the higher level, students are inquisitive in material they are interested in.