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.